It’s one of those gorgeous mornings in Haiku, where the clear blue sky seems to go on forever until, inevitably, it finally collides with the deep green jungle. The sun is hot, and it’s streaming into the window at the Treehouse Gallery. A bright pine scent is also wafting into the studio, dispensed from a nearby table saw. As the saw lets out a shrill shriek, the artist Em sings.
I’m sitting with Taylor Binda, one of the co-creators of this North Shore artist cooperative, which occupies several rooms in the Pauwela Cannery. They will celebrate a year of monthly shows on July 30, and Binda says she’s learned a lot since opening the space.
“We have had ebbs and flows,” says Binda. “Maui is known for that. All the people here now are not the same as in the beginning. We started about a year and half ago. The one year birthday this month signifies one year since our first show. We were throwing a welcome back party for the other Treehouse founder, Jesse Lenihan, who travels a lot. We decided, ‘Well, we might as well throw art on the walls,’ and that’s how our monthly shows got started.”
Every month since then, the Treehouse Gallery has put on a themed show on the last Saturday of the month. This month’s theme is the Birthday Luau.
“This year our Birthday show is kind of a retrospect,” says Binda. “This is what I’m going hang. This is all work that I have done since I got here. In that same vein, we’re doing this show for the gallery. The Treehouse started as an idea on a Home Depot run with my friend Jesse. I was getting material for a project that I was doing at a yoga studio. It was a huge piece of plywood the size of this wall and I was living in a tiny bedroom in Paia. I was thinking that I can’t really be doing these projects in my house, it would be nice to have a space. I think any artist can dream of having a studio.”
For Binda and Lenihan, it was an idea worth exploring.
“You think of Andy Warhol and Jackson Pollack with these huge rooms to go crazy on,” says Binda. “That was our inspiration, and our dream. Jesse and I thought it up, and he handled a lot of the logistics and I handled a lot of the cheerleading. People have come to us from all over; Jesse worked at the coffee shop, so we’ve connected to artists in all these different ways.”
They’ve filled the different rooms in the space with different artists, all of which contribute to the rent and the shows. There are individual studio spaces, and big front rooms for the gallery shows. Binda says those rooms have evolved and sometimes also gets used for movie nights, or watching TED Talks through a projector.
“I’m moving through a shift to be able to devote more time to my artwork,” says Binda. “I let go of a job. I’m 28, so I’m in this Saturn return thing, and I see that influencing my artwork. This piece here with the unicorn is the oldest one in my collection; it was made before I got here. As you can see, it’s really full. There are a lot of layers. There’s a lot of stuff. Then when you look at some of these other pieces, they’ve lightened up. They’re in lighter colors. The Pele Moonlight piece right there is one of my favorite pieces, inspired by a trip to the Big Island. Refining and simplifying is something that’s happening to my work. My palette is changing. I lost someone close to me in the midst of it, and the butterfly wing piece is a spirit transformation symbol for me. It’s a funny thing about showing your art, too: it’s so exposed. You’re saying to the public, ‘Here I am on a wall. Look at me. I feel naked.’ But it’s fun, too. It makes you grow, and it feels good to talk about it. ”
Painting is Binda’s main medium but she plans on expanding into textiles.
“I draw and use oil pastels sometimes, but most of what I’m doing is using upcycled canvasses and paint,” she says. “I get a lot of my canvases from friends leaving the island or from the thrift store. I get paint from the paint recycling program here. I studied fashion–I also make clothes–so I would love to do more textiles. I think my art would be great translated into fabric. I want to upload some of my artwork to the Society 6 website to have some durable goods made. People could order duvet covers with my prints on it. That is just cool. I like the idea of getting art into the world–it doesn’t have to be this mysterious thing on the wall that someone did sometime. It can be accessible.”
The Treehouse Gallery Birthday Luau show takes place on July 30 and starts at 4pm. The show will include DJ Chad Kistler on vinyl and a tea ceremony. The community is invited. Rumor has it that Lenihan will be back again too.
“A big part of what I’m so proud of looking back a year later is the whole transformation this place has taken on with the help of so many people,” says Binda. “This place has so much potential to grow. People get stoked when they come to our shows. I think it inspires people’s playfulness. To just create. We are happier when we have that in our lives.”