It’s hard to make something as mundane as a baby pacifier look abstract and arty, but David Hamma does it.
Hamma is one of two honoree artists in this year’s Solo Exhibition at the Hui No’eau Visual Arts Center, sharing a space with the experimental playground of Oahu artist san shoppell.
I went to the Hui expecting to see something good, and boy was I right. Unlike most other art exhibits, this one is a true room of the artists’ own.
“It’s their space to do with what they want,” said Programs Director Inger Tully, who has been with the Hui for five years. “The artists are personally involved in all facets for the show—the planning, the installation, the invitations, the lighting. It’s an excellent learning experience for them.”
The Hui receives between 15-20 applications each year from budding artists throughout the state. Both Hamma and shoppell submitted applications for the past three years before they were chosen to take their turn.
On the surface, Hamma and shoppell’s work seems to have nothing in common. Look closer, though, and you’ll see how they both speak to very different sides of human nature and need.
With Hamma’s work, we sense all the stirrings of a new parent—protective and giving, yet vulnerable all the same.
“A lot of Dave’s newer work is about being a dad,” said Tully.
To her interpretation, “Year of Sundays” celebrates the one stolen day of the week when he gets to create his art.
Working with prints, etching and painting, Hamma’s work spurs mind associations that are Rorschach in nature. He’s a fan of ink lines and black blobs, doorways that let darkness creep in, and long, sinuous arms—outstretched and waiting.
“I’m interested in the cycles of growth and decay, death and rebirth,” Hamma said in his artist statement. “Although nature is very much alive in my work… I am not trying to replicate the beauty of the plants, trees, oceans, etc., but to hopefully extract some essential quality or lesson from them.”
“Coleus Occurrence” is a good example of this. An experiment in many media (acrylic, goucache and spray enamel among them), we see hands reaching down from a spit of fiery orange toward a loosely formed bundle below. A sweat lodge lingers in the upper left corner, and a blanket of flame nettle cushions the foreground.
In a flash of firing synapses, I could see autumn dying… an unquenched longing… or even the white heat of a baby’s birth. Introspective, abstract, somber at times, Hamma left me wondering just what is going on in his mind.
One room over, san shoppell got me out of the artist’s mind and into my own. Her exhibit, “running with scissors” is gregarious, ironic, active and fun. With shoppell, we leave the parent in us behind, and suddenly, we’re all kid.
Enter the exhibit by choosing your own affirmation in the form of a sticker: “I am an artist,” or “I am a work of art.” Shoppell wants the viewer to do more than stand back and look—she invites you to become part of the art.
“I challenge viewers’ notions of what is ‘acceptable behavior’ while viewing art,” she said.
In this exhibit, you’re allowed to break the rules and do things you wouldn’t be able to do in a gallery—touch things, eat things and even draw on the walls.
For example, “YOU WERE HERE” encourages viewers to draw their human outlines on the wall, which has now become a growing work of permissible graffiti. “Empty Your Pockets” calls viewers to create their own “pocket self portrait” on a photocopy machine, adding to the montage of copied keys, gum wrappers and credit cards.
“When we saw san’s application, the committee thought, ‘Hmm, it’s a little risky, but let’s try it,’” said Tully.
Now they’re glad they did.
“She put a lot of thought into each piece,” said Tully. “We see people come in here and play and giggle for more than a half hour.”
Among other notable pieces is “freedom risk,” two business card boxes with blank cards and a Sharpie marker. Participants write what they believe to be a risk—going for your passion, being truthful, flying a hot air balloon—and what they believe to be freedom—liking who you are, changing your mind, flying a hot air balloon. What is risk to some is freedom to others. Shoppell is a master at taking the seemingly simple and making it profound.
Toward the end of her work, shoppell includes a big bowl of candy she calls “we could all use one.” Not wanting to neglect my own inner child, I took my Sugar Daddy to go. MTW