Imagine a large image of a woman, done with charcoal on paper. It’s a dark image, full of shadow and dread. The woman is sitting on the ground, a blanket or sheet somewhat wrapped around her. Her gaze is down, and eyes closed. Stare at it long enough, and you can feel the dread and anxiety seeping into your bones.
It’s a self-portrait of artist Toni Rose, and it’s titled “11471920” (“I decided that I did not want anyone’s value of my work to be defined by titles,” Rose wrote in her artist’s statement on the drawing, explaining why she titles her works with numbers). Rose did not originally intend to paint herself, but decided to do so after her model failed to express the emotions she wanted.
“11471920” is one of more than 50 works currently on display at the Schaefer International Gallery. It’s part of the Schaefer Portrait Challenge, which has taken place every three years since 2003. It’s a portrait competition open to all Hawaii residents aged 18 and older. This year’s competition includes works from 57 artists from all over Hawaii.
“The portrait subject must be a person living in Hawai‘i,” states the 2018 Challenge prospectus. “Artists must have a direct relationship with the subject, to include live sittings. We encourage less reliance on copying from photographs and more one-on-one time spent with the sitter, for better results in capturing the vital essence of who they are.” Self-portraits are also acceptable.
The sheer volume of portraits is staggering. With nearly 60 covering the gallery walls, it takes about an hour to see everything. Each work is a person, captured in a wide variety of mediums, expressing the vastness of human experience.
One of the most unusual portraits is a mixed media piece by Jennifer J. Stephens, who grew up in Kihei. Titled “From the Ground Up,” it’s a wooden box filled with bits of burlap, twine, a door knob, matches, an empty spool, bird’s nest and, in the center, a small painting of Stephens’ face, with a wasp’s nest covering one eye.
Gabrielle Anderman did a self-portrait using charcoal on paper, though it reflects a clever irony she apparently didn’t intend when she started. Though Anderman does the portrait with charcoal, she’s clearly painting her image with a brush in her portrait. “[A]s the piece progressed, I was taken with the simplicity of the charcoal, and compelled by the idea of a charcoal drawing of a painter, painting,” she wrote in her artist’s statement.
Then there’s “The Song That I Hear,” a sculpture by Bon Moore, who was born in Japan and later moved to Kauai. The work is made of clay, coconut and human hair. It’s dramatic, like a mask, covered with weavings and spirals. “When I work with these materials I feel connected to Nature,” Moore wrote in her statement. “For me, this piece turned out to be more mystical than I see myself.”
The portrait competition has two prizes. The first is the $15,000 Jurors’ Choice Award (the prize money is sponsored by Jack and Carolyn Schaefer Gray). The jurors for that prize were Charles Cohan, a professor of art at the University of Hawaii at Manao; Carol Bennett, an artist on Kauai; and Jennifer Owen, a ceramic artist on Maui.
On Jan. 14, the gallery announced that Natasha Young of Kauai won the Jurors’ Choice Award for her work “Contemporary Artist.” It’s easy to see why: it’s a massive oil painting on canvas of Brennan, a “woodworker and tradesman,” according to Young’s artist statement. The image of Brennan himself is strikingly detailed, almost like a photograph. The lines of his myriad tattoos, his tousled hair and beard growth–though a painting, Young’s work is so sharp that you’d think her subject was standing next to you.
The second prize is the Marian Freeman People’s Choice Award, which is $5,000 (the prize money comes from Gage Schubert). Everyone who walks into the gallery gets handed a clipboard with a ballot to vote on a personal favorite. The winner of that award will be announced on March 9.
Schaefer International Gallery
Maui Arts & Cultural Center
1 Cameron Center Way, Kahului
Gallery is open Tuesday-Sunday, 10am-5pm
The Schaefer Portrait Challenge runs through March 18, 2018
Photo of Natasha Young with her portrait “Contemporary Artist”: J. Anthony Martinez
Photo of “From The Ground Up” by Jennifer J. Stephens: MauiTime