Latest Schaefer exhibit offers history and artistry of Hawaii’s sport
For this Midwest-born writer, the lure of the ocean and dreams of riding waves influenced many childhood and teenage plans thanks to a steady stream of 1960’s songs by The Beach Boys (pretty much anything by them), Jan & Dean (“Surf City”) and The Surfaris (“Wipe Out,” anyone?). There was nothing more exotic nor romantic than the Beach Party movies raptly watched every Saturday afternoon, as this aspiring surfer girl identified with and emulated Annette Funicello’s sweet-but-steely Dee Dee and Sandra Dee’s feisty Gidget, while nursing a heavy 7-year-old’s crush on Moondoggie (that never went away . . . sigh).
As adulthood arrived, those ideas burst, when visions of riding Pacific Ocean waves (rather than Great Lakes lapping shores) crashed in my face and splintered that dream into more pieces than the bones that would likely break if this non-swimmer tried to surf.
Personal dreams may have died, but surfing, along with its folklore, still fascinates. Luckily for all admirers of this sport and culture, a new exhibit has opened in the Schaefer International Gallery at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center in Kahului. “Surfing Hawai’i,” curated and designed by Gallery Director Neida Bangerter, is a delight for island residents and visitors alike.
This exhibit features multi-media art, most of which is newly created by six surfing legends — Pete Cabrinha, Charlie Lyon and Noble Richardson of Maui; Wayne Levin of Hawaii Island; and Peter Shepard Cole and Mark Cunningham of Oahu — and one waterwoman, Carol Bennett of Kauai. In addition, numerous historical surfboards are on display, along with a replica of legendary Bob “Ole” Olson’s board-shaping workshop.
“The surfing community in Hawaii is statewide, multigenerational and tight knit,” Bangerter points out. “This exhibit speaks to them about an ocean sport they love and share. For tourists visiting, they can learn about the origins of surfing in Hawaii [over 3,000 years ago], the work of the artists and see a timeline of very cool surfboards.”
The idea for this exhibit first popped up in 2014. Lyon and Cabrinha spearheaded the proposal to create a surfing exhibition of art created by talented surfers and waterpeople.
“The premise of my original idea was to break the sterotype of the ‘surfer,’ and show through the works of four artists the individualized expression that goes beyond popular surf culture,” explained Lyon. “Neida has created a much better exhibit that goes deeper, and offers the viewer a broader and richer experience.”
While the enthusiasm was there from all involved, it took a few years to organize and develop the show. Lyon and Cabrinha were essential consultants to Bangerter as she assembled this exhibit.
“Surfing Hawai’i” is more than just an art exhibit — it teaches guests a bit of history about the sport as it began in Hawaii. A left turn upon entering the gallery takes visitors on a historical journey as they are greeted by a massive redwood board called “Manuku,” which was typical of the boards used during the 1930s and ’40s. Next to it is mounted “Number #1 Girls Paddle Board,” a patented board designed by Tom Blake in 1932. Made of genuine African mahogany, it is outfitted with a brass drain plug — and boggles the mind of non-surfing viewers who are left wondering how one would carry it to the beach.
The beautiful boards showcased at the start of the “journey” are on loan to the Schaefer from the personal collection of Pohaku Stone, a Native Hawaiian maker of “papa he’e nalu” or “wooden surfboards,” who uses traditional tools and methods to craft new boards.
Informative posters throughout give historical information about the sport, the cultural aspects, Hawaiian legends and more.
Continue meandering through the gallery and prepare to be awed. The artists curated for this exhibit are talented, and whether you see them as surfers-who-do-art or artists-who-surf becomes irrelevant. The pieces on display catch the eye, spark emotion and awaken brain cells while validating the artistic as well as athletic merits of these individuals.
Known world-wide for his contributions to surfing, windsurfing and kitesurfing, Mauian Cabrinha was introduced to art at a young age by his mother who was a painter. Photography became his chosen medium almost by default as he wanted to document his time at exotic locales during his professional windsurfing days.
He has built up a large portfolio of images, which he now uses in his work. Using block print, silkscreen, paint and, most recently, carving into the wood canvas, Cabrinha builds arresting collage pieces.
“I’ve always liked the way that collage tells the story,” muses Cabrinha. “You can choose to see the entire image as one, or you can push in closer and see many subplots to the story.
“Unlike my work at Cabrinha Kitesurfing, where we go through great lengths to plan, organize and execute our product development, the art of collage can be really loose and spontaneous. I welcome that.”
As the son of two artists, it’s evident in Lyon’s work that he learned ways of looking at the world that only artists seem able. He is represented at this show by very different-flavored pieces.
Having begun his art career painting surfboards in Santa Cruz, Calif., Lyon got to know the shapers of the boards. Recognizing the skill that went into each board, Lyon wanted to honor these artisans. Two of the pieces in this exhibit, “John Mel, 2018” and “Jeff Timpone, 2012” pay homage to the unsung artistry of shapers Lyon has known. Both images are painted on boards shaped by the subjects.
“I always saw [shapers] ability to shape a customized functional form as an art form all in itself,” Lyon admitted. “The shapers would interview and empathize with their client, then create a shape that would enable them to achieve that feeling and express their individuality.”
Lyon is equally known for his striking palm tree images. For the “Surfing Hawai’i” show, he painted “Pleasure Craft” on a surfboard, wrapping the palm fronds around to the back of the board — ‘like a hug,’ he described, chuckling.
On the advice of his father, he turned his focus to painting from memory, thus evoking more dreamy imagery than would be garnered from painting from photos, which he had been doing. This allowed him to “… simplify, calm down, observe and be present.” Father truly knew best.
Wailuku Elementary art instructor Richardson showed early artistic promise as a student of H.P. Baldwin’s visual arts teacher Janet Sato. In his humble way, Richardson easily credits many people with his growth and development as an artist.
His skill at capturing people makes his work stand out. Whether looking at the two brutish, heavily tattooed figures in “Lokahi,” the beauty of the feminine of “Punahoa” or the powerful gaze of a young Duke Kahanamoku in “Mahi’ai, 2018,” the viewer cannot help but feel a connection to the people in the paintings.
“I want to paint people I have a connection to, or subjects that have a strong rooted love for the story I am telling,” noted Richardson. “When I choose my subject . . . I am giving you real people, places and subjects to think about, but most importantly to be aware of.”
Winner of the 2009 Schaefer Portrait Challenge’s Marian Freeman award, Richardson deeply considers even what he paints on, wanting to mingle the surface of raw fiber with freeform burl wood. His goal is to give the viewer a “sense of unaware freedom and respect for the natural world.”
Richardson’s connection to Maui comes through in his work with his choice of subjects, choice of medium and execution of those pieces.
“The essence of what makes Hawaii unique to this world, and the connection and strength we get by simply living here, has driven me my whole life.”
Hooked on photography since the age of 12 when his father gifted him with a Brownie camera, Levin admits he is “over photo-educated.” Studies at a number of universities and art institutes, a stint in the U.S. Navy, time spent photo-documenting his world travels and life experience has led Levin on quite a ride.
The photos selected for this exhibit were taken of surfers below the water’s surface. The perspective is magical. Oncoming waves appear as roiling storm clouds moving quicker than the brain can process.
Using a Nikonos waterproof camera, Levin initially tried color images, but he noted that everything was murky blue-on-blue. So he switched to black-and-white film and found his winning formula. Many of the surfer images in this show were taken in 1983 and ’84.
“The work came alive,” marveled Levin. “I was better able to control the contrast, and the B & W gave a more surreal aspect to the images. Were these figures diving under waves, or were they flying through the clouds?”
He admits that things happen so fast under water that the images are often different from what he thought he photographed. With just his camera strapped to his wrist, a face mask and fins, Levin has created unique and visually stunning surf images.
Bennett is not a surfer, but she swims seven days a week at a popular surf spot on Kauai and has observed many nuances unique to surfers.
Well-known for her “Women in Water” series, which depicts swimmers caught just below the water’s surface, Bennett is also responsible for the glass canopy at the Hawaii State Art Museum sculpture garden.
Bennett’s pieces for “Surfing Hawai’i” are strong and massive. Two real-size representations of surfboards at 8-feet-6-inches tall bookend her wall in the exhibit. When seen from a distance, the boards appear to be simple, colorful beachy images. The real delight in her work is at closer inspection. As one approaches, details are uncovered, telling a more satisfying story, and as Bennett relayed, “secrets are revealed.”
“These are darker and more abstract than the ‘Women in Water’ pieces . . . I phase in and out of different ‘filters,’ “ she admitted.
“I bounce between different mediums, tools and surfaces to keep things fresh and interesting. I sometimes make an entire painting without using a brush at all.”
Some of her studies and to-scale models used for the main pieces are included in the show, and give clues to her process.
Peter Shepard Cole
Creator of some of the most “moving” pieces in this show, Cole paints images from photos he has taken while swimming in the surf at Rocky Point on the North Shore of Oahu. Viewing his paintings feels like being adrift in the ocean, with waves sloshing around.
Masterful use of light on deep blue water gives the illusion Cole has chosen color photography for his medium — but think again. Using surprisingly large brush strokes, as witnessed from a study he made to show his process, Cole wields oils on canvas to produce realistic ocean snapshots.
Most artists of the school of realism use the tiniest of brushes to achieve that near photographic quality. Cole, on the other hand, has honed his process to involve action, with “brush strokes mimicking the flow of the sea, so it usually doesn’t feel tedious when I am painting, but rather exhilarating.”
He also doesn’t use a grid or projector, other often relied upon devices of realistic painters.
“I want my seascapes to feel alive and to suggest movement, so there must be a degree of freedom and spontaneity in my process” explained Cole. “Otherwise, things will appear stiff and dead.”
Cunningham humbly scoffs at any suggestion that his work is “the ‘A’ word.” By virtue of its inclusion in this show, he is proven wrong and surely deserves adding “artist” onto his resume.
His pieces employ using old, weathered, broken pieces (notably fins/skegs) he finds scattered over the ocean floor and water’s edge when he is surfing or snorkeling.
“I always wonder, ‘Whose board was it on? How many waves had it ridden? How long has it been sitting on the bottom?’ “ relayed Cunningham.
This inveterate beachcomber readily admits to loving the “thrill of the hunt,” as he puts it, but laments “this ‘art stuff’ sure has cut into my water time.”
When asked what finish he applies to his pieces to get the almost pearly finish present, Cunningham looked slightly perplexed, before breaking into a wide grin announcing that the “finish” the guest was asking about was simply the result of the skeg being tossed about in the ocean, and barnacles and such growing on them. He later admitted that he does occasionally apply a light “lacquer,” but not much.
“All these items were once shiny, new and for sale at a retail outlet. They’re now old, worn, weathered, beaten up, discarded and forgotten.
“I hope I’m representing the inevitable passage of time that happens to everyone and everything,” added Cunningham.
At this time, there are no plans for this exhibit to travel to any other gallery, so this is the only chance to see this wonderful assembly of top-notch art. Good to note, too, many of the pieces are available for sale.
“Surfing Hawai’i” runs through Feb. 17 and is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, as well as before Castle Theater shows and during selection intermissions. Admission is free.
For more information, call the gallery at 243-4288 or visit www.mauiarts.org/exhibition-information.php.
“These artists are conveying the memory, knowledge and observation of surfing in their work, telling multiple stories that connect to that theme,” concluded Bangerter. “It’s an endless wave.”
* Catherine Kenar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Related events to “Surfing Hawai’i” exhibit
7 to 9 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 10 at Castle Theater
Filmed by the father of the surf film genre, Bud Browne, this film is a celebration of the sport and the generations who defined it, capturing the pure joy and mystery of riding waves. Showcasing over 50 of surfing’s greatest legends (George Downing, Buzzy Trent, Gerry Lopez and Duke Kahanamoku), contemporary surfers including Kai Lenny, Anna Trent Moore, Andrea Moller and Paige Alms will talk about the influences and ambitions of their careers following the film. Tickets are $12 (plus applicable fees)
Observe & Play Family Day
10 a.m. to noon, Saturday, Jan. 12 at Schaefer International Gallery
Families are encouraged to view the exhibit and engage in hands-on art making fun. Admission is free.
Surfing Hawaii exhibit-related lectures
2 to 4 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 27 at McCoy Studio Theater
“Women and Legends of Surfing”
Hawaiian-language immersion educator Pulama Collier, born on the northeast shores of Maui, will share her knowledge about spirituality and sport and the legends of Hawaiian women in surfing.
“Selling Hawaii with Surfing, 1880 to 1980”
Author and historian DeSoto Brown will explain Hawaiian surfing as it appeared in a century’s worth of advertising and other parts of pop culture. Admission is free.