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Star-Bulletin Features

Thursday, January 18, 2001

By Ken Sakamoto, Star-Bulletin
Mark Kadota poses for a straight picture in front of
his "conceptual art" portraits at the "Surfaces"
exhibit at 605 Kapiolani Blvd.

Artist Kadota sees the
beauty of imperfection

By Suzanne Tswei

Don't run out to get your eyes checked yet. That blurry picture you're looking at is one of 40 portraits by Mark Kadota on view in the News Building.

Many of the Hawaii Newspaper Agency staffers, who have to walk past the gallery everyday, hate the show, saying the images are ugly and scary.

Comments like these please the artist.

"These pictures are not about beauty, the kind of beauty you can see with your eyes. I want people to look beyond the surface and see people for who they really are. The beauty that is under the surface," Kadota says.

In the exhibition, Kadota's wide circle of artistic friends don't come across as good looking by any means -- although in real life they are far more attractive.

Kadota collection
Self-portrait of the artist, Mark Kadota.

John the San Francisco painter looks like a three-faced monster from outer space. Jay the museum curator looks like a disfigured ghost with a skin condition. Aunty Lolena the Hawaiian language expert from Niihau looks like she's posing for a police mug shot.

Most times it's darn right impossible to decipher the human faces in the blurred photographic portraits. But that's the whole idea.

"We judge people for who they are by their appearances, but we are not always who we project ourselves to be," Kadota said.

The portraits dominate the exhibit titled "Surfaces," which runs through Feb. 28. Also included in the show are a series of abstract paintings inspired by the Hawaiian landscape, and colored prints of walls Kadota has photographed in his world travels.

Kadota purposely distorted the portraits, or he allowed the images to be mangled with the help of his subjects. He asked them to sit -- but not still. He encouraged them to move and take on different poses as he snapped their pictures without advancing the film.

The multiple exposures led to portraits that aren't flattering or predictable. Then Kadota scanned the portraits into his computer and printed them on watercolor paper using a digital printer.

On exhibit

Bullet What: "Surfaces," photography, paintings and performance art by Mark Kadota
Bullet Place: The Honolulu Advertiser Gallery, 605 Kapiolani Blvd.
Bullet Dates: 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays, through Feb. 28; opening performance 6 to 9 p.m. today
Bullet Admission: Free
Bullet Call: 263-1159

"I never knew how these were going to turn out. I left everything to chance. I knew they were not going to be flattering images, and sometimes they can be grotesque," Kadota says.

Still, his friends gladly obliged, acting out their inner selves before the camera. Sometimes full of confidence, sometimes timid, sometimes silly.

"I wanted the idea -- not the result -- to count. This is conceptual art. It's about the idea that people and things are constantly changing. One minute they are this way and the next they are something different. Nothing is constant, or always beautiful," Kadota says.

No one, and nothing, is perfect. But it is our imperfections that make us endearing, Kadota says.

"For example, I am criticized for constantly changing. I paint, I do ceramics and photography. I do performances, I make videos, I write music, I play different instruments. I don't want to do the same things all the time."

Life is about exploring new ideas, new experiences, Kadota says, and he has lived a life of constant change. Born and reared in Santa Barbara, Calif., his upper middle class life came to an end with his father's death when Kadota was 16. His mother went to work at a relative's flower nursery to support her five children.

"His death changed everything. We had to really make do with what we had. It taught me to be independent," Kadota says.

He moved to Hawaii when he was 19 and lives half of the year in Waianae and the other half in Europe. He has traveled the world and supported himself solely with sales of his art work.

Kadota knew at a young age that he wanted to become an artist. He remembers seeing a painting by he Dutch master Rembrandt in a museum and asking his parents to buy him some oil paints.

"At first, they didn't want to buy me oil paint. I think I was only about 8 then. So they bought me one of those paint-by-number sets. I threw away the numbers part and used all the paint," Kadota says.

His parents saw he was serious about art and bought him oil paints. That launched his art career but Kadota had no formal training. He avoided art lessons in high school because he did not agree with the teacher's ideas about art, and he attended college for less than a year.

"I was pretty rebellious. My idea of art was different. But I always excelled in art and I always did art (on my own.) And I always liked doing portraits," Kadota says.

His earlier portraiture work didn't involve making pretty pictures either. He was interested in portraying the emotional and psychological aspects of his subjects, and the results were disturbing to his mother.

"She hated them. She used to say to me, 'Why can't you just paint flowers or something nice?' The pictures were spooky to her because she thought the eyes would follow her around the room. Where ever she went, she thought the eyes were looking at her," Kadota says.

But his parents always were supportive of his art pursuits. Their understanding gave him the freedom to explore avant-garde ideas, he says.

"I believe the artist's job is to do things to challenge people. The artist doesn't have to something beautiful all the time, but bring something into people's lives to make them see differently," Kadota says.

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