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by Kim Sweeney

Janetta Napp, 'Out of the Wish Series: Slowly Spreading'
10 x 22”, Oil on canvas

Through the double doors of the UH Manoa Gallery, guests are confronted by two monolithic paintings that evoke a reductive construction site. Side by side, the monumental abstract modernist paintings ‘Untitled 13’ by Marc Thomas and ‘Nocturne, counting stars’ by Kalani Largusa are an impactful welcome to “Honolulu New Painting Invitational.”

‘Untitled 13’ is a weighty, monumental black and cream wall-sized painting recalling monochrome analog TV stand-by screens that would pop-up during technical difficulties in live air broadcasts prior to the days of digital streaming. However, upon closer examination, playful hues of fuchsia, neon yellow, and cobalt fleck out, creating noise in the projection, introducing breadth and light in an otherwise heavy construction.

Marc Thomas, 'Untitled 13'
96 x 126", Oil, acrylic, wax, graphite, and mixed media

Largusa’s 'Nocturne, counting stars,' answers on the opposite wall of 'Untitled 13' with a collision or constellation of wet paint, cement, linear geometry and scraped paint textures. The artwork presents a reductive meditation on wayfinding through the built environment of an expanding cityscape. In this way, Largusa and Thomas introduce the active construction site, the collision zone, that marks the state of contemporary painting in metropolitan Honolulu.

Kalani Largusa, 'Nocturne, counting stars'
84 x 84", Acrylic and water-base media

“Honolulu New Painting Invitational” brings a survey of 40 established and emerging Honolulu painters together in one place; neighbor to neighbor, indigenous to diasporic, street artist to abstract minimalist, altogether creating a concert of colliding visions on place and identity in the contemporary Pacific.

Curators Debra Drexler, John Koga and Maika Pollack assembled this particular web of alumni painters, creative community leaders, teachers, museum workers, indigenous cultural practitioners, and environmentalists to discover what contemporary painting means for Hawai’i now. Non-linear in exhibition design, viewers are encouraged to buzz between different visual conversations, some in harmony, some in contrast, but each a stakeholder in this changing community.

Lawrence Seward, 'Untitled'
40 x 36 x 2", Oil on wood panel

Being the first show to open in the gallery since the pandemic, and in the shadow of the recent Maui fires, the artists of the Invitational bring a lively cornucopia of electric hues and bodied textures to celebrate the return of the wider creative community to UH.

The artworks of “Honolulu New Painting Invitational” exhibit diversity of subject matter, theme, tone, and style mirroring the array of artistic voices in the community. To the credit of this amazing roster of artists, many of whom are nationally and internationally recognized, the decision of what themes and pieces to discuss is particularly difficult. Many works take varying trajectories. Some aim to capture natural beauty in minimalist hyperrealism, others reimage street art in experimental materials. With such a wealth of saturated imagery, this review highlights the perspectives of indigenous artists and artworks first as anchors to understanding and contextualizing prominent conversations on migration, urban development, and memory.

Nanea Lum, 'Loli i ka 'ūmalu'
54 x 64", Ink and oil on canvas

The Invitational features a number of Native Hawai’ian artists to whom painting is contextualized in a framework of cultural practice and resistance. Nanea Lum is a contemporary indigenous Hawai’ian artist and cultural practitioner who folds the practice of painting into her wider program that includes land-based ceremony and kapa-making (the indigenous Hawai’ian practice of making textiles from wauke bark). In an interview with The Offside Magazine, Lum references the honoring of spiritually interconnected forces of nature, land, and community in her work, ”There’s been questioning of what you mean by spirituality—is it abstract expressionist painting in spirituality, or Hawai’ian spirituality, but this just happens to be something that looks like a painting?”

Outside of the typical modernist framework, Hawai’ian indigenous context painting becomes more than an artistic act, it is a summoning of past and present, a move of cultural resistance against American erasure. Lum's piece, ‘Loli i ka’ ūmalu,’ reinterprets in earthy paint strokes an image of a woman performing a sacred ritual that she has used before in her kapa printmaking series.

Solomon Enos, 'Sentient Time'
36 x 48", Acrylic on canvas

Solomon Enos is another indigenous Hawai'ian artist who contributes his vision, this time in the form of an abstract nebula colored with ocean blue and provincial periwinkle against reddish oxidized earth, blood red and void black. ‘Sentient Time’ harkens to the artist’s fascination with Hawai’ian creation myth, but rather than depicting a narrative, Enos offers an abstract emotive portrait inspired by the artists’ reflections on climate change and the Pacific. Differing from his usual graphic novel inspired science fictions, ‘Sentient Time’ embodies the timeless dichotomies of life; light and dark, death and life, pain and beauty collapses into something we call the present.

Confronted with the harsh realities of climate change and displacement, questions of the positionality and identity are raised by diasporic artists Saomulia Puapuaga and Eduardo Joaquin.

Puapuaga leans into his inspirations of nature and Samoan identity in the modern world. His two paintings, ‘Americanized Samoa and Beyond the Horizon,’ speak to celestial and oceanic wonder in a Polynesian-cubist alternate universe. Rendered in turquoise, ultramarine and emerald tones, ‘Beyond the Horizon’ portrays a mystical great beyond where clouds meet sea. ‘Americanized Samoa’ clashes a Samoan-patterned constellation in the background of the painting against a pop-art image of canned coconut water and a folded bill emblazoned with the Liberty Bell. Puapuaga paints to honor his identity and interpret his culture. His work, like many of those in the show, proudly puts Polynesia at the center of his world.

Saumolia Puapuaga, 'Americanized Sāmoa'
36 x 48" , Oil on canvas

Eduardo Joaquin is an emerging artist in the Honolulu art scene. He is known for his decisive, confident brush strokes and grotesque imagery, recognizing the darker emotions of migration and displacement. Joaquin’s diptych titled ‘Alupihan’ is a pop-art terror that is difficult to look away from. This large rendering of a bifurcated Giant Hawai’ian Centipede projects a violence and discomfort that is quelled only by the beautifully uncanny orange and indigo tints of the two halves of the centipede, referencing a ghastly gummy worm.

Eduardo Joaquin, 'Alupihan'
60 x 40" (diptych), Acrylic on canvas

Uneasy confrontations and collisions extend to other artists’ works that directly reference the environment of present day metropolitan Honolulu.

Amber Khan’s ‘Catch Bus Down Memory Lane’ is a quirky composition of locally favored media logos. The Toyota badge, a cockfight, and wispy silhouettes all float in a neither-here-nor-there 3D virtual reality space. Fascinated in the hyper-now of social media and commercialism, Khan’s piece describes memory’s process of churning hyper local iconography with mass media, processing and preparing content, to be splat back out on another virtual platform. Her energetic assemblage converses directly with Kainoa Gruspe’s ‘Assorted Matter, Twice.’ The two artists have a history of collaboration, and share a propensity for assembling disparate images and textures into introspective works inspired by “real life.”

Amber Khan, 'Catch Bus Down Memory Lane'
40 x 48”, Oil, flowers, and organza on canvas

Gruspe’s ‘Assorted Matter, Twice’ quilts together canvas squares coated with materials such as spackling, acrylic paint, house paint, grapefruit peel, wormhole, sand. The story-evoking materials are stitched and scorched together. A quilt square in the center of the arwork composed only of cut out thighs and legs from major league baseball cards is a playful point of contention.

Visually saturated and multigenerational, this show brings many acclaimed Honolulu artists together to imagine and reflect on place, self, and community. Not only does this show present an opportunity to view internationally recognized artists with their local mentors, it allows each to challenge each other’s views of present and future.

Jamie Allen, 'Early Riser'
22 x 30", Mixed media on watercolor paper

Featuring: Jamie Allen, Herman Pi’ikea Clark, Peter Cole, Solomon Enos, Kan-Ning Fong, Kathleen C. Grennan, Jeff Gress, Kainoa Gruspe, Kamea Hadar, Tommy Hite, Christina May Ho, Kathleen Jacobs, Matthew James, Eduardo Joaquin, Alina Kawai, Amber Khan, Sanit Khewhok, Kalani Largusa, Kenny Lui, Roland Longstreet, Katherine Love, Kenny Lui, Nanea Lum, Martin Machado, Laura Margulies, Emily McIlroy, Janetta Napp, Stephen Niles, Hadley Nunes, Kana Ogawa, Roxy & Matt Ortiz, Saumolia Puapuaga, Kamran Samimi, Travis Sasaki, Lawrence Seward, Kelly Sueda, Marc Thomas, Tiffany Torre, Tom Walker

Peter Cole, 'Point Panic 10'
48 x 48", Oil on canvas



Author KIM SWEENEY is a Master’s in Art History student at UH Manoa. She studies contemporary art with a focus in Southeast Asia and its global Diaspora.



Gordy Grundy, Editor-in-Chief




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Gordy Grundy