Artist’s unforgettable memoir

15 04 2010

Once upon a time in 1994, not too long ago, I went to a Hawaiian place, a place of healing.

Through the treetops I could see glimpses of the Ko‘olau mountains. Patches of sunlight danced on colorful impatiens, and the sound of civilization gave way to the melodic symphony of the shama thrush. How enchanting, I thought. This feels like paradise. The trail skirted dense bamboo on one side and cultivated ti plants on the other. I could hear the stream running, and farther along, soft voices below. When the view finally opened up I saw up close the back of an amphitheater-headed valley, and, below me, a stretch of green terraces planted with kalo. To the left was a small house. This was unforgettable ‘Ioleka‘a, and Anita lived here.

Anita’s Place Kaiwikee Edge of the Forest

Anita was an inspiration to me. I met her through our work with Ka Lahui Hawaii. She took care of the land, and it took care of her. I met the family members who together with Anita own the private Native Hawaiian kuleana, and after a while they welcomed me in to paint the landscape.

Over ten months, starting in February when the ‘awapuhi ke‘oke‘o (white ginger) bloomed — I still recall the sweet scent — and until a solo show exhibiting the work opened,  I hiked in and out many times and made more than a dozen oil paintings, starting with “Anita’s Place” that developed into the triptych above.

I attached pontoons to my easel to prevent the legs from sinking into the mud of this lo‘i land. I learned to smell and listen for the rain, just in time to cover my palette and don my rain gear. Sometimes Ei Nei the golden retriever would keep me company, but only until the mistress returned.

On November 5, 1994, a day after the show opened, I wrote:

I am so glad I made these paintings. Things are different at Ka ‘Ili ‘Ioleka‘a now. The goat’s gone. Got loose and took off. The papaya tree’s down. A couple more lo‘i are being prepped for planting. One of the mango trees on the trail fell. More people and the laws of nature bring constant, dynamic change.

Anita and I picked ho‘i‘o for the art show reception. One needs a good eye to spot those fern buds. Anita refused payment, even though I explained that was her income. A gift from the ‘aina, she said.

For a month the paintings are on exhibit at Leeward Community College. People like them. They really look at them. It is as though some folks have never seen a painting. It’s refreshing to see some of the green of the windward side of the island over here where it is drier. Sort of like a shot of menthol, a visitor said. When art evokes an emotional response, when it communicates, then it is successful. These images are.

These images stop people. They are scenes that people can relate to. They bring back memories and stimulate discussion. Instead of talking about budgets and college programs, they talk about their childhood experiences in the lo‘i, or on the ‘aina, on a neighbor island, when they went hiking, or … What more can one ask for in a response?

Gloria Foss, my teacher, attended the opening, and I asked her for a critique. She said there was almost no blue or violet as local color, but predominantly greens and reds, although I used blue and purple in the mixtures. In other words, it appeared that I’d used a limited palette. “Push the green as far as it will go, into blue,” she said. “Use cloud shadow to put more violet in the mountains. Use more cloud shadow everywhere to develop focal points. Focal points, yes. Work on developing those. That’s why the piece “Anita’s Place” works well. You’ve set up the little house as the focal point.”

The Leeward Community College Foyer Gallery was set up by Melvyn Sakaguchi when he was provost as a place where emerging artists could show their work and receive a little technical assistance from the college before heading out further on their own. Alan Leitner, the curator, thinks the campus galleries will become more important because they will be the places where the reviewers and critics go to see art.

Most of the ‘Ioleka‘a paintings went to buyers on opening night, and I donated some of the proceeds to Ka Lahui Hawaii. I still have the 90-inch-by-24-inch triptych and a couple of favorites in my collection.

Copyright 2010 Rebekah Luke
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2 responses

28 05 2010
Rebekah's Studio

It’s a blessing. I’m so grateful.

28 05 2010
Kaylene Sheldon

You have such an exciting life, so vivid, colorful, beautiful, and total enjoyment. I really like the pictures. Your mo’opuna is so beautiful, she is going to love you and love doing art. I miss Hauula very much but was lucky enough to have a new supportive Puohala ohana as well.

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