Simple strokes


POSTED: Sunday, November 22, 2009

A philosophical view on life governs Stephen Little as he goes about his busy days serving as director of the Honolulu Academy of Arts. Now, he shares that viewpoint with the art community in “;Ocean of Emptiness,”; an exhibit of his paintings at the Pegge Hopper Gallery.

The fact that Little is creating art is surprising to most, and Little admits that “;few museum directors paint.”; But what probably is the best surprise is the revelation that Little is no less than a Renaissance man. His work combines his scholarly focus in Japanese and Chinese traditional painting with Taoist philosophy and nuclear physics.





        On exhibit: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays to Fridays and until 3 p.m. Saturdays, through Dec. 12

Place: Pegge Hopper Gallery, 1164 Nuuanu Ave.


Call: 524-1160




“;The nature of how the world is put together, according to the science of nuclear physics, is something the Taoists already understood: The world is always shifting. The idea that anything is fixed is a total illusion,”; he says. “;These paintings are ambiguous; their meanings are elusive and very fluid. They reflect the way I look at the world.”;

Little has always been well regarded here for his expertise in Asian painting, dating back to his first stint at the academy as curator of Asian art from 1989 to 1994. After serving in a similar capacity at the Chicago Art Institute, he returned to Honolulu in 2003 to head up the academy.

His interest in Taoism was a short step from his Asian art focus.

What's less known: “;I'm deeply influenced by several years of study of nuclear science and astronomy,”; Little says. “;My early intention was to become a nuclear physicist.”;

LITTLE BEGAN painting at age 20, and he's been at it off and on since. But in February, he “;got serious and made it a regular discipline. I decided the time was now, or it was not going to happen.”;

So, after full days at the museum, Little paints into the night.

“;I'm a night owl anyway. I wake up after 10, and by midnight I'm really going,”; he says. “;I love the night because it's silent.”;

The paintings on the walls at Pegge Hopper Gallery spring specifically from a work Little painted back in 1975. He calls it “;the mother”; of the collection: “;It's become a talismanic object for me: I go to it for inspiration.”;

Not surprisingly, Little's overall artistic style is rooted in his Asian-art background, guided by a Taoist perspective of simplicity, fluidity, flexibility and balance.

“;I'm influenced by two Chan monks of the 13th century, painters who lived 700 years ago. They created inks on paper, works of real economy that (reflect) a whole world,”; he says. “;The minimal look of my work partly comes out of that. I like a lot of empty space—spare, uncluttered space.”;