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Keeping it ... Angry!


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POSTED: Sunday, January 25, 2009

  "Rabid pandas are invading Honolulu," begins the press release sent by Nuuanu Gallery at Marks Garage. Indeed, the downtown gallery is home to pandas big and small, some painted on walls, others on wood, some shaped into vinyl toy figures, one even on a condom machine—and all are rather vicious-looking, baring fangs, grimaces and angry roars.

These are the signature creation of the internationally renowned hip-hop artist Aaron Martin, aka Angry Woebot, who decided to depict the animals as something other than the lovable, docile creatures they've been portrayed as in Asian culture.

"I do it in a comedic way," he says. "They're so vicious-looking, but everyone laughs at them."

Martin does this so well, and his works appeal to so many, that when he showed pieces that weren't pandas, it's the people who turned ... well, if not vicious, than rather disappointed. And that left Martin feeling boxed in with his angry animals.

"But I rode with it. It's hard, because I'm recognized for them, so now I try to switch stuff up," he says, referring to his work in varying media to produce the pandas. "I gotta learn to evolve."

MARTIN, WHO was born in Hawaii and also raised in Nevada and California, says he's been interested in art all his life; his grandfather was a painter and sculptor and his dad liked to draw. "Everyone in my family does some kind of craft or art medium, whether its music or (visual) arts."

Martin became enamored of graffiti art as a young boy, but it was as an adult living in Seattle that he taught himself to create art in other media. After an accident in 1999 that kept him house-bound for a year, Martin used the time to teach himself painting and sculpting. "Seattle's an art-driven city. I never got to go to art school, so that was my schooling."

He's come a long way since then. Six years ago, Martin went professional in California. He's hired an agent, and this year promises to be a busy one. He heads to Berlin in March for a three-man show; in April, he travels to Vienna; in June, he's part of a two-man show in Auckland, New Zealand. Martin also does freelance graphic arts, and his vinyl figures are wildly popular on the vinyl toy scene.

"I never expected to get this far," he says. And the best part? "I get to see the world and meet people from different cultures."

The Angry Woebot exhibit runs through Feb. 7 at Nuuanu Gallery, 1161 Nuuanu Ave. Gallery hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays to Fridays and until 3 p.m. Saturdays. Call 536-9828.