Art Maui 2012, which runs through April 20 at the Schaeffer International Gallery at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center, is a success by many standards. The 34th annual show is a lot of fun, full of color and life, sensuous like our beautiful island.
It's sure to be a crowd-pleaser for its local themes: Baldwin beach scenes, Upcountry landscapes, vibrant flowers, images from the sugar industry, tutu eating shave ice with the kids, hunting dogs in the back of a truck. The wide variety of styles represented - painting, sculpture, woodworking, stoneware, ceramic, photography, jewelry, furniture - make for an interesting experience.
The show certainly means success for the 128 artists, whose 144 works were selected from 513 pieces. It's an accomplishment to be selected for Maui's most prestigious annual show. It looks good on the resume, it looks good to prospective buyers, it's good for the ego.
The State Foundation on Culture and the Arts purchased four works: Pamela Andelin's oil tryptych "Pomestication"; Todd Campbell's tall, open vessel of Norfolk pine wood; Bob Flint's ceramic sculpture "Uila (Lightning)"; and Wilton Leauanae's "Inspiration at Hali'imaile." That's a measure of success.
Private collectors attended a special preview and made purchase pledges on the works of others, including Flint's companion ceramic, "Kakau" (Tattoo); Jennifer Owen's salt-fired stoneware piece, "Hale"; Pamela Hayes' pastel, "Baldwin Beach-Dawn"; Susan Brown's pendant necklace, "Tsunami"; Jefferson Stillwell's mixed-medium piece, "Time is Precious"; and Peter Naramore's "Hawaiian Pie Safe," made of Hawaiian walnut wood and panels of pierced copper in Hawaiian quilt design.
Look for the coveted red dot on the title card that indicates a work has been sold. (Boys on a field trip from Hana High and Elementary School one day recently amused themselves running around ascertaining which works bore the highest prices. They know that's success.)
It was success for Christine Turnbull's bronze sculpture, "Keeping it Together," to be named next year's publicity image for Art Maui 2013, and for three high school students, Kara Frampton, Pi'ikea Karlen and Kela Strickland, to receive $2,500 college art scholarships from a newly formed Art Maui fund.
But a deep back story to Art Maui exists, bearing a more potent definition of success. The show was founded in 1979 by Dick Nelson, Janet and George Allan and Marion Freeman at a time when the County Fair, the Front Street galleries, the Lahaina Arts Society, the Wailea Art Center and Hui No'eau were the main venues.
They wanted to pull together works from all over Maui into one cohesive annual show. They also wanted to generate a "discomfort zone," an impetus for artists to push themselves beyond their limits to create pieces not necessarily for sale that would increase "visual literacy" and help us perceive the world in new ways - visually, kinetically, tactically.
Fulfilling the first goal turned out to be easy. Fulfilling the second was not.
Juror Tom Klobe, a nationally recognized exhibition designer who helped with the founding of Art Maui, said of this year's show: "It's a statement of the state of the arts on Maui. Some will be disappointed it's not cutting edge, but there certainly are pieces that are thought provoking."
The first piece he chose was Margaret Bedell's charcoal drawing, "Blessings." "Drawing always takes a back seat to painting. It was so refreshing to see drawing with that vitality in it." Klobe was inspired by Claudia Johnson's handsome manzanita piece, "Memory," and found intriguing David and Hamada Vitarelli's wood sculpture, "Hina." "The piece sticks in my mind because I can't understand it. These are the pieces I like."
He also singled out Lynn Garzino's "Afternoon Sun," a strongly emotive oil painting of a Hawaiian woman, and Sidney Yee's acrylic on canvas, "here we go, Zack."
Other sophisticated critics approved of Andelin's beautifully colored and layered abstract oil tryptych that is given pride of place at the show's entry; Derek A. Bencomo's carved teak sculpture, "Victim of Changes"; Diane Epstein's photograph "Mirror Reflection"; Karen Whittingham's paper clay sculpture, "Mercedes"; and the encaustic mixed-media works of Arlene Taus Salomon.
What marks personal risk-taking? Who can tell? The off-island jurors selected for objectivity certainly don't review past DVDs of artists' work, so they cannot know who has stretched beyond their limits and who has not.
In the end it's up to the individual. Do you enter something safe, something you know will get in but you also know is not a stretch? Or do you bare all and risk rejection?
My friend Rik Fitch can't paint the happy scenes his collectors love anymore. His oil in the show depicts a listless Hawaiian warrior pushing a shopping cart. In it sits an ancient burial ka'ai, whose one remaining eye beams out a powerful signal from its prison.
The piece is so full of emotion and political comment that Fitch hesitated to enter it. "It felt like jumping off a cliff," he said.
* Laurel Murphy is a former staff writer for The Maui News whose "Keiki o ka 'Aina" column appears each Tuesday. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.