"I hope through my art I have given something back," Pegge Hopper says of the support she has received from the local community. Above is "Pele," circa 1990.

Pegge’s world

The eminent Hawaii artist's works
appear in a new compendium

"Women of Hawaii," by Pegge Hopper

(Ten Speed Press, 122 pages, $27.95)

For all those who'd like to believe that artist Pegge Hopper paints with a roller, you've got your wish. Nowadays, she does.

But on walls, on walls. Not on canvasses.

"Right now I'm living my dream, which is to build a house from scratch," Hopper bubbled -- when she gets excited, it's like shaking up a fizzy drink -- "and I'm working with an architect, Jim Schmit, who's known me for a long time, so he's learned from my past mistakes. He did my gallery downtown and we really like minimalism."

The lot -- "Can you believe it!" -- is a vacant location on Pacific Heights that must have been pretty well hidden. Hopper loves the neighborhood and the close access to town, and the house-building is consuming all her energies these days.

"I'm not getting many 'Eureka!' moments; the house is a major deal. I'm kind of drained. But the lower half of the house is all studio -- big spaces, concrete floors and storage. I'm not an obsessed artist anymore. I'll be in there painting until I pass on, and in the meantime have a nice life. I'll be in a rocker, having a glass of wine and watching the sun go down."

As a graphic designer in Milan, Hopper produced posters like the one above.

A NEW RETROSPECTIVE of Hopper's work has just been published by Ten Speed Press, a company known for exquisite full-color works, including many prize-winning cookbooks. "Women of Hawaii" gives a broad overview of Hopper's path, ranging from her days as an advertising artist in Italy to her signature pieces that grace corporate lobbies. (See review, Page G12.)

Readers may be surprised by some of the pieces because Hopper made her fame with Art Nouveau-ish, meditative paintings of Hawaiian women that feature posterlike, complex compositions that give equal weight to positive and negative space. Hopper, more than any modern artist in Hawaii, has revived the color lavender. It's gotten to the point where anything similar is called a "Hopper." The woman owns the genre.

"Ten Speed is in Berkeley, and the publisher, Phil Woods, loves Hawaii," said Hopper. "They called me! I had another book that had totally sold out, and when Phil called, I went, 'Oh my gosh, what luck!' I couldn't be luckier.

"It's not a vanity thing; I wanted it simple, not a big, grand coffee-table book -- art books can be outrageously expensive -- and there's a lot of different things in it.

"I'm a drawer. Whatever it is, I'll draw it. I have a bit of a range, but I'm not like Picasso, going from pointillism to cubism to sculpture, just like that. No! I want to be an old lady painter -- I am an old lady painter! -- and work when I feel like it, without beating myself up about it."

Above, "Wood" was created when Indigo restaurant asked Hopper to paint a series of works based on the five elements of Chinese cooking: fire, water, earth, wood and metal.

ONE INTERESTING sequence in the book deals with motorcycles, which Hopper draws not just with sexy verve, but with mechanical accuracy. Some of the Harleys are old-fashioned knuckle busters; others are chromy Duoglides. All have riders who fly languidly along with the bike's power.

"I love motorcycles; they're so beautiful," declares Hopper. "It's their design -- you see how they work, there's nothing covered up. It's the beauty of the functional, and, as they say, form follows function. The older bikes look best. I don't like those newer Kikaida-kine bikes, but I can see how a guy would like one, because they're so fast.

"No, it's the older bikes that look coolest, so utilitarian. Jump on it and go, free as the breeze, a promise of liberation. On a bike you can see the world as you ride through it, and smell it and taste it.

"If I were 30 years younger, I'd be on a bike every day; I'd be a Harley girl. And all that chrome and throbbing power -- mmmm! mmmm! -- I just want to mount one like a horse and ride away. It's so sexy!"

"If I were 30 years younger, I'd be ... a Harley girl," Hopper says. "1947 Knucklehead" bears testament to that sentiment.

And what of a series of clouds she's painted, looking dreamily up into the sky? Hopper's clouds are very nearly abstract and yet exhibit masterfully tight control over composition and color.

Hopper paused. "Something different," she said. "I wanted to do something different. That's all. Believe me, when anyone buys one of my paintings, I love it. But I really love it when they want something from me that's ... different. It's like an actor who's been playing the same part for years -- he wants to try being someone else. The same thing with artists."

"Ho'olewa," an acrylic on canvas, from 1989.

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