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“Troped Tropicalia” by Ashley Bickerton

This past First Friday in July, in the ground floor Artizen by MW Café Gallery at the Hawai‘i State Art Museum, local artist, art patrons, and aficionados gathered for the unveiling of The Hawai‘i Artists’ 2018 Portfolio Project, with new works on display and available for sale by O‘ahu-based artist Lawrence Seward.

Curated by former Contemporary Museum cura- tor Michael Rooks and presented by the Friends of the Hawai‘i State Art Museum, a nonprofit organization created to sup- port and promote the Hawai‘i State Foundation on Culture and Arts (SFCA), the exhibiting works of these artists will be joined by three others at the next First Friday on August 3: Ashley Bickerton, Paul Pfeiffer and Garnett Puett.

It’s the latest exciting initiative intended to boost visitor interest in HiSAM, the free museum that operates as a venue for the SFCA’s Art in Public Places Program, the first such program of its kind in the United States. Construction crews on tall scaffolding outside, currently working on a renovation of the building, may give the appearance that the museum is closed but in reality, HiSAM remains busy as ever. In fact, the current portfolio show comes close on the heels of a similar ex- hibition last year that helped serve as a membership drive for the museum.

“It began last year, with six artists who donated prints to create a 50-set, limited- edition portfolio of artwork as a gift for visitors who signed up at a certain mem- bership level. We sold out of that portfolio membership level in a month; it was eye- opening to see how much support there is in the community,” says Joyce Okano, president of the Friends of HiSAM.

Fifty guests that sign up at HiSAM’s “benefactor” membership level for $1,000 this year will each receive a similar six- piece portfolio of prints by artists in the current exhibition. For collectors, this rep- resents quite an opportunity considering work by many of these artists, including Ashley Bickerton and Paul Pfeiffer, can regularly fetch tens to hundreds of thou- sands of dollars at auction.

Bickerton, one of the original members of the Neo-Geometric Conceptualism artist movement that challenged the mechanization of modern life in New York City during the 1980s, has shown work at MoMA and the Tate Britain. His piece in the portfolio show, the malformed “Troped Tropicalia” is an abstract digital exploration that is equal parts Cubist and pop art, drawing from parodist takes on the works of Paul Gauguin and Willem de Kooning to create a hybrid more similar in bizarre style to the likes of George Condo or Kenny Scharf.

San Francisco Art Institute and Hunter College graduate Paul Pfeiffer is a recipient of the Alpert Award for Visual Arts from CalArts and the inaugural Bucksbaum Award from the Whitney Museum. His work manipulates digital media to recast pop culture’s visual language to explore how the Internet and cable television project racial, religious and technological constructs. In “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse,” an ongoing series of photographs that share the same title, Pfeiffer samples and edits archival images from the NBA. His print for this show removes all contextual details of a basketball game, leaving a lone figure suspended in crucifix formation before spectators.

Garnett Puett, now a fourth-generation commercial beekeeper on Hawai‘i Island, became known in the 1980s and ‘90s for welding steel armatures and creat- ing one-of-a-kind “apisculptures” with the help of as many as 90,000 honeybees adding to the sculpture with beeswax. His print, “Forged Dance” is a detail photo of a cluster of sculptures inspired by the flight path of honey bees that perform “dances” to tell other worker bees the direction and distance of floral pollen sources.

Artist Yvonne Cheng, who specializes in Indonesian-style batik cloth dyeing and whose large-scale commissioned murals can be viewed in the Hilton Hawaiian Village’s Kalia Tower and the Grand Wailea Resort on Maui, focuses on strong, sculptural Hawaiian women as an iconic theme in her artwork. Her screenprint of an untitled brush and ink drawing of a woman was hand-pulled onto mulberry paper, with each print featuring natural imperfections.

Of the O‘ahu artists in the exhibition, Princeton-educated Hawai‘i sculptor Kaili Chun began her career under the tutelage of renowned ceramicist Toshiko Takaezu and master woodworker Wright ‘Elemakule Bowman, Sr. Her print in the Portfolio Project is “‘Ama ‘ama,” one image from a set of five, inspired by a 1996 speech made by her father, past Kamehameha Schools president Michael J. Chun, in which he questioned the interconnectedness of education versus knowledge.

Mixed media artist Lawrence Seward focuses on human psychology, environmental issues, and social change in his artwork, which has shown internationally at MoMA, the Whitney and Richard Heller Gallery in Santa Monica. “East Side Happy (Looking East)” for the Portfolio Project is a digital print taken from an original oil on panel painting of the back of a mask. In the background is the back slope of Kohelepelepe; in the front are two blooming flowers and a makeshift grin.

“This exhibition is an opportunity for locals and visitors to see these globally recognized artists’ works in Hawai‘i,” Joyce Okano says. “It’s not often you get to see these eclectic works together.” sfca.hawaii.gov