This is Peter Chamberlain's digital print series, "Reconfigured Ear Series," comprising cut-up photos of men's ears.
UH faculty art finds strength in restraint
What intriguing contrasts appear lately in the artwork emerging from the University of Hawaii! Following on the startling energy of the last graduate students' exhibition, we see in this year's faculty show a remarkable retreat to a position nearly opposite that of the students.
Faculty Art Exhibition
On view: 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays and noon to 4 p.m. Sundays through Oct. 20
Place: University of Hawaii Art Gallery
Call: 956-6888 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Where the latter erupted in an unusual boldness of signage, expression, opinion and emotion as young artists addressed the impact of external affairs on their internal equilibrium, their elders seem to have retreated to a quiet, private formalism.
Nearly gone is the postmodern pedantry of recent years, in which viewers were assaulted with tract-length labels on artwork overeager to instruct. Instead, what we see this year is an introspective return to exploration of one's favored media, with the fortuitous side effect of elevating the purely beautiful.
This tendency toward formalism is generally more pronounced in 3-D media, which makes it even more noticeable now in the two-dimensional pieces, which in the past were more apt to point, sign, telegraph, if not shout their positions.
Jacqueline Chun's portraits speak to their subjects through deft, restrained use of painterly references, a photographic realism fading into wispy impressionism, even within the same painting. Don Dugal's "Moanalua," a four-panel screen that references the decoratively Oriental, even down to the painstaking brushwork -- but to oddly unbalanced, European surrealistic effect -- is among the best examples of boldness within formal constraints.
Suzanne Wolfe's ceramic art piece is titled "English Maebyong."
Peter Chamberlain borrows from his octogenarian mother's kaleidoscopic quilt patterns for his "Reconfigured Ear Series," a set of unearthly floral mandalas composed of cut-up photos of men's ears, their hairy centers vaguely suggestive and yet tightly bound within the parameters of the abstract compositions.
Charles Cohan, who excels at this kind of counterpoint between the real and its impressions, deals out 48 squares of lithographs, intaglio and relief prints that evoke our natural attraction to the patterns seen in nature, as well as those echoed -- naturally -- in human interventions.
A considerable number of works, in fact, explore patterns in nature that modulate into abstraction, whether ocean ripples or veins or clouds in the sky or in the mind's eye -- all remarkably restrained in color and composition.
Even the didactic surrenders graciously to formal aestheticism here, as in Suzanne Wolfe's "English Maebyong," a precious 19th-century European ceramic vase encased in a sliced-up Chinese porcelain. This straight-ahead statement about the hybrid origins of ceramic tradition transforms into a modernistic abstraction in its own singular category. Similarly, Linda Kane's "Disambiguation," an exercise of graphite dots on paper, reaches beyond the parameters of the formal study to throw the viewer into the throes of disorientation.
Gaye Chan's mixed media, above, titled "Close Your Eyes and Think of England," is a piece made with steel, gas caps and magnets.
Taken together, the overall impression is one of retreat, as if the prevailing Zeitgeist had sucked mature artists out of the streets and away from their podiums to take refuge in the private solace of art -- the safe harbor of formal studies and the grounding limitations of their media. One senses nonetheless an underlying intensity of emotion that suffuses the works with a vibrant beauty. Rebecca Horne's schoolbook sketches of various prison wards, for example, are overrun with hatch marks that methodically count off the days, soaking the charcoal renderings with suppressed emotion within the angular logic of the page.
A few pieces serve as exceptions that prove the rule, declaring the emperor without clothes in creeping threats to independent thought and expression. Fred Roster's "WMD (Woman of My Dreams), Stripped, Raped, Gagged and Tortured, Securely" is a finely crafted Statue of Liberty molded in wax and set with scores of pocketknives of the kind confiscated at the airport. Gaye Chan offers a smart "last word" on the ubiquitous, troop-supporting ribbon magnet with "Close Your Eyes and Think of England," an action figure made of cut-up magnets. Her subversive "Eating in Public" project, a political performance so wordy that it consists of a 32-page tract, nonetheless behaves itself within the tidy parameters of a civilized 'zine and, like many of the works in the show, speaks more strongly for its obvious restraint.
It's a mood you can nearly smell within the academia, this sense of uncertainty that isn't quite ready to lapse into fear. When art is understood to be too powerful to speak out loud, it offers a secret message of hope to those attuned to the inner tension supporting its most subversive quality: beauty.
"WMD (Woman of My Dreams) Stripped, Raped, Gagged and Tortured, Securely," Fred Roster's sculpture.