Jaimey Hamilton Faris
It has been over six years now since my first visit to galerie 103. At that point, gallerist Bruna Stude had been in a downstairs space in Kukui'ula Village, Po'ipū for less than a year. I was thrilled to see this world-class gallery on the South Shore of Kaua‘i; it marked a new era in Hawaii’s contemporary art scene and art market. For the Honolulu Star Advertiser I wrote about how its white cube space featuring Hawaii-based artists proved that the Hawai'i arts community, “instead of endlessly comparing ourselves to other art centers,” could “simply take pride in the fact that we are part of a vibrant global art culture — that internationally important art can and does happen here."
Having returned to the gallery multiple times since, and most recently to see its new location on the second floor in Kukaui’ula Village, my belief is reaffirmed. Hawaii is home to many soulful and gifted artists who dig deep under the tourist paradisiac veneer to express deep cultural roots and philosophical propositions. In the six years since my last visit, Stude has represented many of these artists at art fairs around the world while also featuring them in shows at the gallery. Even as the raw experimental energy of Chinatown and Kaka‘ako in Honolulu, Oahu, continues to mature, galerie 103, tucked in a quiet corner of Kaua‘i, still represents the best continuous effort in Hawaii to support and actively curate formal elegance imbued with striking visions about the course of humanity.
Tom Lieber, Awakening | David Kuraoka, Momona
With the gallery’s most recent show, New Space/Fresh Paint, Stude celebrates the one-year anniversary of the second floor location by showing her stalwart commitment to her stable: a seemingly motley group of artists who make images and objects that range from pure abstraction to pun-filled pop. But no matter what their style, they all consistently offer beauty, humor, and a sober assessment of life itself.
In the front room,
Tom Lieber’s luscious gestural abstractions continue to anchor the
gallery with stately restricted black and white palettes with soft hints
of umbers, ochers and lavenders. Awakening and First Light, both
“freshly” painted this year, focus on areas of luminescent white paint.
These give the impression of ripples of light in the center of darker
energetic forces. It is amazing how Lieber seems to keep the best of
the second-generation abstractionist school alive without it feeling
forced, out of date, or too masculine.
Lieber’s paintings were paired with Stude’s own understated black and white abstract underwater platinum prints. These are incredibly responsive visual documents of the microscopic debris floating in the ocean. In the context of Lieber’s paintings, they resonate strongly as elegant gestural photos in which the artist collaborates with the vibration of the ocean and light to capture movement that would be invisible to the naked eye.
Both the paintings and the photos are balanced by David Kuroaka’s large ceramic and bronze vessels. Kuroaka is known for updating the Japanese wood fire raku tradition by using bold large organic forms burnished with rock salt, copper carbonate, and black soot to the point of exquisite sheen. His cast bronze pieces look at first sight like his ceramic vessels. Indeed, the faux raku painted surfaces of the bronzes are often paired with their ceramic cousins so that you can spend sometime determining the material relationships and difference between his two methods.
Wayne Zebzdainstallation, DavidKuraoka bronzes
The back gallery features galerie 103’s veteran pop-oriented artists: Wayne Zebzda, Doug Britt and Sally French. Stude highlights a few pieces from Zebzda’s recent 2016 show Old Man and the Sea. These text-based works inspire literary associations. As in many of his other works, Zebzda uses scrap metal and found objects that are then beautifully modified, crafted and composed to create objects that appear at first to be relics washed ashore. In sitting with them for even a minute, one begins to understand them as fresh and witty talismans of our Leviathan. We cannot forget the power of the sea and its creatures.
Doug Britt’s paintings and found objects sculptures are a bit more colorful and innocent than Zebzda’s. But they evoke an equally dark humor. Britt makes a few scraps of wood into something akin to a children’s bath toy. But with the words FREE SHIPPING stenciled onto the side, it becomes an eerie and uncanny object. We wouldn’t expect the litany usually reserved for Amazon.com to appear on the side of the toy. But there it is, a reminder that the logic of commerce has pervaded every nook and cranny of our lives.
And then of course there is impeccably crafted pop-surrealist surfaces of Sally French. Her whimsical and sometimes dark allegories featuring animals, vegetables,and sci-fi characters have consistently forewarned us humans of our hubristic impulses for decades now. Galerie 103 features two panels from the series Beebop: Over and Over and Olive Sucks Bees on Candyass Pink. The characters pop and zip around the backgrounds, flying hither and thither as their hives have been disoriented, presumably by us humans. These paintings like most of French’s work have a casual feel. Yet every funny gesture and mark has been placed there purposely—painstakingly layered and refined to create an immersive fantasy world for the viewer. When you get up close, you fall into her glossy painted surfaces, and into conversation with her fantastic characters.
While New Space/Fresh Paint celebrates the best of the gallery’s stable, there are other artists starting to make an appearance. Ben Kikuyama rounds out the abstractionist cohort and Chris Atkinson’s exquisitely carved marine debris sculptures complement the edgy humor of Zebzda, Britt, and French. New voices and images in conversation with known entities bode well for the future of the gallery. As long as Stude continues to find artists that balance the vibrancy of material exploration with deep themes of co-/existence, the art will continue to be fresh.