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Star-Bulletin Features

Tuesday, February 27, 2001

By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
Shirley Hasenyager in her Kailua studio.


Hawaii's beauty inspires
Shirley Hasenyager's art work

By Suzanne Tswei

TRADITION demands that Shirley Hasenyager's etching remain a mystery until tonight's opening of the Honolulu Printmakers 73rd Annual Exhibition.

The printmakers annually commission a local artist to create a special print for sale. Before the exhibit, only the artist's name is revealed, not the print. The public is encouraged to buy the print sight unseen. Those who buy on faith are rewarded with a $20 discount and the excitement of the revelation.

We're breaking with tradition just a bit, to give art lovers a sneak peak at this year's mystery print and a last chance at that $20 discount. If you like what you see and rush down to the printmakers' office at the Academy Arts Center before 5 p.m., you can still buy one of 85 limited edition prints for $60.

Afterward, it's $80.

The gift print on presale for $60. After the
opening tonight, it will cost $80.

Fans of Hasenyager won't be disappointed. The artist has stuck to what she does best, pleasing Hawaiian landscapes. For the Gift Print 2001, Hasenyager came up with a serene forest scene inspired by the Volcano area of the Big Island.

"This is based on what I've seen on hikes around Volcano, but there really isn't a spot like it. It might look like a real place, but there isn't a place like it out there," Hasenyager said.

"At Kilauea" is a composite of various rocks, ferns and other greenery that Hasenyager had photographed on hikes in Volcano where she and her husband maintain a cabin. Hasenyager selected different elements from the photographs and her memory to compose a realistic looking forest.

"To get just one fern, I may look at 10 different photographs to do the sketch. The rock isn't a real rock. There may be some rocks like it, but I really had to make it up as I went along," she said.

Taking artistic license with nature is part of the creative process, but Hasenyager isn't one to deviate too far from a representational portrayal.

By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin

"I like realism, my work is not introspective. I like beauty and nature. I like the natural beauty that surrounds me everywhere in Hawaii. I am just not interested in the angst of society. We live enough with that and I don't want it hanging on my walls," she said.

Hasenyager is unapologetically old fashioned about her art, which a Maui gallery owner once unflatteringly called "suitcase art." Too pretty, too realistic, appealing to tourists who like to take home landscape art in their suitcases.

"I don't see anything wrong with that," she said. "I've been criticized for years for what I do, but it's what I do. Tourists see how beautiful Hawaii is. Why can't I do something that shows the beauty of Hawaii that tourists can take home with them.

"I hope what I do might make people look at something around them in a new way, or at least look at it. People should look at nature and appreciate it more," she said.

Hasenyager also has been criticized by other artists for keeping her work affordable. Her prints sell for $75 to $125. Her watercolors are priced from a few hundred dollars up to $750.

Although Hasenyager is known equally for her watercolors and prints, she prefers the medium of printmaking, which is demanding in the details but gives the artist more control over the final product.

"Let's face it, printmaking is icky. It's tedious, dirty, hard work. But there's something about it I just like. I like the feel of the paper. I like the techniques. I even like the ink. When I open a can of ink, it smells good to me," she said.

Hasenyager grew up in New Mexico and took a few art classes while attending college part time and working as a secretary full time. Marriage and motherhood interrupted her studies, and in 1963, she, her husband and their two children moved to Hawaii where she began taking art classes at night a few years later.

"It was always in the back of my mind that I'd take up art again. And I knew I wanted to do watercolor. I had not done it before. I just thought I'd like it," she said.

But watercolors, demanding a go-with-the-flow artistic sensibility, proved a difficult medium to master, Hasenyager said. It didn't help that she sat next to a naturally talented watercolorist in the class. Her classmate's accomplishments made her feel even more inadequate.

"I remember mostly fighting with it rather than letting the watercolor do what it wanted to do. But I wanted to do it, and I was making progress. Then suddenly something clicked and everything was working," she said.

Hasenyager discovered printmaking when she and her art instructor went to a demonstration. After scratching a drawing on a metal plate the size of her palm and making a print from it, she was hooked.

"I definitely prefer printmaking. I can plan things out better, but I am not saying it's easy work," Hasenyager said.

The inking of each print is critical, she says. After the image is transferred onto a metal plate, the artist applies the ink to the plate and then carefully wipes it off. There must be just the right amount of ink left on the plate before the artist can proceed with the printing.

"You don't want to over wipe or the dark won't be dark enough. But you don't want to under wipe either, or the light area will be too light," she said.

Hasenyager's print is of high contrast, with lots of highlighted ferns and rocks set forth by dark shadows. She mixed a green color with intense black ink to ink the plate, giving the print a soft look.

"The printing was really tedious," Hasenyager said about inking 85 prints.

"You can't hurry it. You have to be careful and you have to try to make them as identical as possible. But each one is different. People have to remember it's art, something made by hand," Hasenyager said.

On view

Bullet What: Honolulu Printmakers 73rd Annual Exhibition
Bullet When: Opening reception 5 to 7 p.m. today; show continues 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, and 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays, through March 23
Bullet Where: Academy Art Center, 1111 Victoria St.
Bullet Cost: Free
Bullet Call: 536-5507 for information about the exhibition as well as lectures, workshop and demonstrations associated with the exhibit.

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