Vivid colors,Whereas some women her age -- "just say I am in my early 50s" -- would be resigning themselves to the inevitable aging process, painter Sally French keeps finding more fuel for the fire.
Artist Sally French
comes to terms with
life through her art
By Suzanne Tswei
"My work is more in your face. I am expressing myself in more blunt terms. I am choosing to use more shock elements to make an impact," French says about her latest work on exhibit at The Contemporary Museum at First Hawaiian Center.
As a woman who sees a world obsessed with money, youth and pop culture, French was never timid about speaking her mind. She has tackled weighty issues like Hawaii's high cost of living and escalating real estate prices in paintings she described as "big angry art."
In the current show, she's introducing a not-so-cuddly Pikachu to say what she thinks of the ubiquitous cartoon character from Japan. In a large red painting, blood is oozing out of Pikachu's belly button and the word "danger" is above its head.
"Pikachu is not a cute cartoon character. It's a symbol of greed. It's all about corporate greed. Pikachu is not what's good for our children. It's all about money. It's about big corporations making lots and lots of money," French says.
Then there are the subtle but unmistakably male body parts in other paintings. The inspiration for the sexual undertone in these works comes from her own aging experience and her children's coming of age, French says.
"There are a lot of changes going on with my body. As a woman, I know I am on my way out. I have to deal with the issues of growing older and losing my sexual identity," French says.
In sharp contrast, her teen-age son and preteen daughter are blossoming and finding their own sexual identities. The irony is not lost on French.
"Here I am wrestling with the question of who am I as a woman, and there are my children with their hormones. I'm losing mine and they are getting theirs. I live in an interesting household right now -- we are all in our hormonal adjustments," French says.
Despite her age, French still sees herself as young, vibrant and with plenty to say. She plans to begin another phase of her artistic career with bolder and more confrontational paintings, such as the latest series, which would be more marketable on the Mainland.
"I started out as an emerging artist in the '70s in San Francisco. I still feel I like am emerging. That hasn't changed. I am ready to take my work to another level," French says.
But the reality is she sees her body slowing with biological changes beyond her control. Her anxiety is revealed through her paintings, which can be deceptively cheery with bright colors and child-like images. French draws and paints herself as the cartoon icon Olive Oyl and a tin duck in her characteristically textured works.
"It's so embarrassing to be putting my life out there. It's like pulling a veil off yourself. I don't really want to share everything, but you have to be honest. I hope I still keep a sense of humor about all these things I am going through," French says.
French is looking forward to getting past this phase of her life and moving into a freer and perhaps more creative period. She says she's looking forward to the time her children leave home to leave her free to devote all her time and energy to her art.
"Not that I don't love my children. I love them and our relationships are good. But I want to move on. The point is I still want to play. I am the incredible shrinking woman (personified by a deteriorating but speeding duck in a painting.)
"This duck is still moving. It may be falling apart and its wheels may be broken. But it is still looking for the party."
French's exhibit was awarded an individual artist fellowship by the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts. Other artists showing at the downtown museum include Buck Silva, Rich Richardson, Ian Gillespie, Katherine Love, Cade Roster and Jason Teraoka.
What: "New Paintings by Sally French," "Versus vs. Verses: Recent Work by Buck Silva," "Cowboys and Idioms: Recent Works by Rich Richardson," and recent works by Ian Gillespie, Katherine Love, Cade Roster and Jason Teraoka
Where: The Contemporary Museum at First Hawaiian Center, 999 Bishop St.
When: 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday, through Jan. 10
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