Inspired by an internal vision


POSTED: Sunday, February 01, 2009

  The Contemporary Museum entered the new year auspiciously, thanks to the generosity of collectors Thurston and Sharon Twigg-Smith, who donated their extensive collection of works created by the late American artist H.C. Westermann. Through Feb. 22, the museum is exhibiting 43 of the 64-piece collection, alongside other works it owns by the artist.

Westermann was an interesting figure on the post-World War II American art scene because of his independent streak; while other artists were into minimalism and abstract art, Westermann was “;essentially a figurative artist,”; says Jay Jensen, deputy director for exhibitions and collection, who curated the show.

“;Basically, one would describe him as a maverick (because) he always worked according to his own vision.”;

Westermann drew inspiration from his own life experiences, which included fighting in World War II and the Korean War.

“;Those experiences had a profound effect on him,”; says Jensen. “;He was a gunner, and he saw lots of kamikaze attacks, ships going down, soldiers dying. He used art to exorcise a lot of that.”;

One of Westermann's iconic themes became the “;death ship,”; fueled by his war experiences. “;The ship came to symbolize a death trap,”; he says. “;They were void of life, drifting aimlessly with no home port. It's a very serious subject.”;

But Westermann could also be funny. One of his most humorous works is a sculpture of a common rock, chained down as though it is an important specimen. Another is his version of a “;bigger and better mousetrap,”; a beautiful sculpture adorned with fancy scrolls made of plywood and an actual spring device.

Jensen says that although Westermann “;was one of those artists who weren't fully appreciated in their lifetimes,”; his mark on the art scene is an important one: Westermann reintroduced personal narrative to the making of art, influencing those artists who came after him.

Needless to say, the Twigg-Smiths' gift is an especially coveted one for TCM.

“;Quite a few other museums probably courted the Twigg-Smiths,”; Jensen says. “;The fact that they kept the collection in Hawaii and put it in a public collection is a wonderful gesture.”;

The Contemporary Museum, 2411 Makiki Heights Drive, is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays to Saturdays and noon to 4 p.m. Sundays. Admission is $8, $6 students and seniors, and free for children. Call 526-0232.