Art / To cope with the commercial limitations of the Honolulu art market, most of our art galleries behave like shops, showcasing an array of merchandise created by their assorted artists, rather than exhibiting cohesive bodies of work prepared for specific shows. When the Andrew Rose Gallery opened on Bishop Street a year ago, art makers and appreciators were thrilled by the concept of a real art gallery in Honolulu presenting shows that feature artworks made by an individual and intended to be viewed together.
With this in mind, I initially reacted to the Figures show at Andrew Rose with disappointment. Here, it initially appeared, was yet another amalgamation of disparate art objects brought together more for the reason that their creators belong to the gallery’s roster than for any cohesive commitment to the figure. However, upon closer inspection, connections between pieces thoughtfully curated by Rose became apparent, and the human form prevailed, if sometimes more in concept than appearance.
For example: In Passage, by Abigail Romanchak, nine prints hang in a circle. Each nine-inch square of paper contains the faded pink grid of a medical graph upon which she has printed a silver ring that gradually widens, from one print to the next, in a clockwise direction. The work seems to owe its simple, clean aesthetic to Minimalism; however, each ring’s edge appears burned or torn, suggesting a more corporeal nature. As with much of Romanchak’s work, a personal narrative lurks beneath her elemental forms.
“It’s a set of images that has to do with the birth of her son and being a mother,” Rose explains. “It’s about his passage into life.” Rose perceives the medical graph and the ring as contrasting “two ways to look at the experience of childbirth: one that is measurable to one that is experiential, and one that is mathematical to one that is visceral.”
The ring demonstrates the natural dilation of a woman’s cervix in childbirth, while the grids are printouts of a birth in which dilation didn’t happen and medical intervention was required. The intimate, organic expanding of the ring contrasts with the cold structure of the grid in a melancholy expression of both our animal nature and our dependence upon modern technology.
Similarly, and across the floor from Romanchak’s piece, the cool minimal appearance of Linda Kane’s Rack Attack belies a deeply personal motivation. Kane’s sister is a breast cancer survivor and member of Rack Attack, a team that participates in Susan G. Komen breast cancer awareness runs around the country. Kane made this piece after spending time with her sister and her sister’s team at a run in Boston. Nine identical rounded cones, each covered with a thin layer of smooth pink feathers, stand in rows atop a metal pedestal. The soft, feminine quality of the downy coats contrasts with the mass-produced, uniform shape of the cups. Arranged in a grid, they seem to suggest bullets or warheads, while their shape references the female breast and their color easily associates with the battle against breast cancer.
On the adjacent wall, the female form is more explicitly represented in a pair of paintings by Carol Bennett. Day 1 (one of two square wood panels) shares the same compositional template as would photographs of a swimmer, taken underwater from behind. The swimming figure here seems to have dissipated completely, leaving behind only the grain of the wood, a few graphite marks suggesting her body and the underwater glow of a swimming pool, represented by a light blue paint pour. Using more paint on the background reverses tradition, while the vanished figure might be seen as experiencing a loss of self, brought on by extreme aquatic peace. The wood grain and graphic imagery in Bennett’s paintings allude to Hiroshige’s woodblock prints, while the bright colors and banal subject trigger thoughts of David Hockney’s pool paintings.
Collectively, Figures includes a strong reperesentation of Hawaii’s leading contemporary artists–Charles Cohan, Wayne Levin, Bradley Capello and others–and provides an enriching display of various ways in which today’s artists express the figure and the human condition. Rose plans to hold a group show every holiday season exhibiting his artists’ works unified around a certain theme. “[This year] I chose this theme of the human figure and presented the artists with the idea over six months ago, so they’ve had time to work on this. It’s a very thoughtful group of work brought together by these artists,” Rose says, but this statement may come as a surprise to anyone who remembers Romanchak’s Passage from Hawaii Art Now at the Honolulu Museum of Art nearly a year ago. Likewise, Charles Cohan’s large scale print Wicket Cricket could be seen more easily as a b-side from his recent show of beautiful abstract branches than a piece made specifically for a figures show. And logic dictates that back in 2004 Wayne Levin didn’t photograph triathlon swimmers from below with this show in mind. Regardless of the somewhat hodgepodge nature of the exhibit, it is fun to see how different contemporary artists struggle to dip their toes into the arguably uncool genre of figurative art.