Suzanne Tswei

Local Color
Sunday, January 13, 2002


Marie Fontana expresses man's abuse of the environment in "The Ascent of Man," above, constructed of wood and painted with crackle paint.

Garbage as medium and message

The demise of humankind is contained in one picture frame in Marie Fontana's sculpture, "The Ascent of Man." A pair of clothes pins, symbolizing man and woman, compete for space with mounting garbage until they finally lose the battle and disappear from sight.

Bearing witness to the end of the world is a sparrow perched above, watching as man and woman turn from a vibrant green to the muddy brown of trash.

"To me, this says it all. We are not taking care of our environment. If we don't learn to change our ways, we are not going to be here that much longer," says Fontana, who likes to deliver political statements with her artwork.

Fontana is one of 33 Big Island artists whose works are on exhibit at the Academy Art Center at Linekona in Honolulu. "The Big Island Portfolio Invitational" opened Thursday and runs through Jan. 27.

"The Narrowing Window" is a metaphor for human behavior, which opens or closes the windows of our future depending upon how we act.

The exhibit, organized by Arts Pacifica Alliance, is an eclectic show with photography, paintings, prints and sculptures. A bigger version of this exhibit, involving more artists and more works, was shown on the Big Island last year.

Fontana, whose works were included last year, said the exhibits are good venues for her to preach her beliefs. "I hope people see my work, like my work, and get something else out of it."

Humankind still has a chance, Fontana said, if we all learn to recycle and live more frugally. She, for one, practices what she preaches.

Fontana lives on a 12-acre farm in Puna where half of her day is spent tending fruit trees, and flocks of geese, ducks and chickens, and the other half is devoted to making sculptures from odds and ends she finds in other people's garbage.

The Big Island Portfolio Invitational

Place: Academy Art Center at Linekona, 1111 Victoria St.
Time: 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesdays to Saturdays, and 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays, through Jan. 27
Admission: Free
Call: 532-8700

The fruits and the eggs from the ducks and chicken help provide food. The goose eggs give her beautiful shells for her artwork. Fontana also grows bamboo and "any plant that produces interesting seeds or pods" that she hopes will some day provide raw material for arts and crafts projects for other artists as well.

Her farm, including her workshop and studio, is powered by solar energy, and everything she applies to her farm is organic. No chemicals are involved, except for the paints she uses, which often are flaked rust mixed with a binder for a garbage-like brown.

"I have a very simple life, nothing fancy around here. I can get a lot of what I need right here on the farm, which is really more like a botanical garden than a real working farm," she said.

At 72, she has finally found her niche, Fontana said. She grew up in San Jose and worked for many years as a secretary, a job that held no meaning or challenges for her.

She lived and worked in many exotic places, including Ethiopia, New Caledonia, France, Spain, the Caribbean, Mexico and Guam. Her jobs have ranged from medical advocate for the poor, to nurses aide for aging Catholic nuns and arts-and-crafts teacher in a one-room school house.

Sam Rosen used found objects to create "Handle With Care."

Fontana, who was married for 18 years and raised five children, always wanted to be an artist but found little time for it until she moved to the Big Island 10 years ago. With money left by her mother, Fontana bought the farm in lower Puna and created a life to her own liking.

"I wouldn't trade places with anyone. I've never been so happy in my life," Fontana said. Her art has been working out especially well in the last two years, after she became inspired by the plight of the environment.

Her art materials change through different artistic phases, and her current phase involves bits and pieces of plywood that she collects from the dumpster of a cabinet shop.

"Minotaur Rising," right, is a handcolored relief print by Lisa Louise Adams.

The found objects are combined into assemblages with metal, screws and nails, as well as expensive wood turnery pieces (balls and other shaped wood pieces) she orders from mainland specialty catalogs. (The sparrow is created with the wood pieces and a clothespin for the tail.)

The wood assemblage is covered with paper and painted with her special rust paint to give the sculpture the look of metal. The process is time consuming and detailed and takes months to complete.

Wailehua Gray's painting, above, is titled "Yukimi-Gata."

But Fontana said she finds great satisfaction is being able to communicate her ideas through her art. "I am hoping what I do art-wise will provoke some thought. I discovered that's what being an artist is all about."

After the grand opening of the new Luce Pavilion Complex in May, the Honolulu Academy of Arts unveils yet another suite of newly renovated galleries Thursday. The new exhibit space for the art of India, Indonesia and Southeast Asia in its Asian wing is one of the events heralding the beginning of a year-long celebration of the museum's 75th diamond jubilee anniversary. Call 532-8700 for more information.

Do It Electric!

Gardening Calendar

Suzanne Tswei's art column runs Sundays in Today.
You can write her at the Star-Bulletin,
500 Ala Moana, Suite 7-210, Honolulu, HI, 96813
or email

E-mail to Features Editor

Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]

© 2002 Honolulu Star-Bulletin