The paths artists choose to take, most times, do not follow a straight line. They curve in and around school, personal projects, personal demons – work – but inevitably the paths they take are intertwined with other artists around them. Though they may not know it, they have somehow influenced, been affected by one another. These are some of the archetypical artists on those paths.
Photos by Aaron Van Bokhoven
Excerpted from Women of Hawai‘i
My career as a professional artist began in New York City. My father made a trip to the Art Center to talk to my teachers to see if I really had talent. He had to be sure I was going to succeed and wouldn’t end up starving in a garret. My teachers assured him I was going to do fine. I remember he paid $99 for the plane ticket.
New York didn’t intimidate me. I think because I was sure I had received a good education. I felt good about my portfolio, and I knew I could depend on myself to work hard. I tramped around town looking for a job wearing my high heels and white gloves. I was 21 years old when I was offered a job at Raymond Loewy Associates, an industrial design firm, even though I really wanted to work for a magazine as an illustrator. I accepted.
While there I met my future husband Bruce, a graphic designer. In late 1960, we decided to go to Europe, and after traveling and living in our VW van for four months, we decided we’d better look for jobs. We took our portfolios to La Rinascente, a department store in Milan, and we worked there for two years. That’s when I started to take myself seriously as an artist and, I believe, when my style began to develop.
A desire to start a family eventually brought us to Hawai‘i. Everything seemed so vibrant and lushly organic. While Bruce worked hard to establish a graphic design business, I worked as an art director at an advertising agency and took care of the children.
In 1968, I began to visit the state archives to study old photographs. I was intrigued by the faces of the Polynesian people. Their open and unself-conscious gazes stared at me from another era, and I was inspired to paint them. My first paintings were sketchy and rough, but they attracted the attention of my friend Mary Philpotts, who commissioned me to do 22 paintings for Kona Village on Big Island. My career as a painter was launched.
My first experience creating serigraphs, or screen prints, was in Sand Island at a signmaker’s shop, where signs such as “No Parking” were printed. It was a makeshift, jury-rigged sort of operation. Termites would be flying around the shop and falling into the ink. We’d get an edition of about 120 out of every 300 sheets of paper. The mortality rate was incredible. But the serigraphs sold well, and that encouraged us to keep going. My serigraphs and posters caught the eye of Larry Winn, a mainland publisher of fine arts. He helped me understand how to combine business and art, and my work began to get widespread distribution outside the Hawaiian Islands.
When I first started to paint Hawaiian women I felt they had not yet been depicted in a contemporary style. So I used my drawing skills in combination with graphic imagery to portray the fortitude and some of the sadness that I had seen in the old photographs. Although I don’t know many Hawaiian women personally, their beauty has become etched in my mind. I know them from the outside only, and have never dared to invade their privacy.
Since I have lived in Honolulu for more than half my life, I feel like kama‘aina in spirit. I realize how fortunate I am and how much support this community has given me, both as an artist and as a woman. I hope that through my art I have given something back.
Linda Yamamoto, sculpture lecturer, UH Mānoa
By Lisa Yamada
It’s the first day of spring break at the art building at the University of Hawai‘i and for the most part the campus is quiet, absent of the normal hum of students milling around in between class. I’m here to interview art student Dana Paresa, and we’re looking for a good spot to photograph her portrait, an area with nice lighting. “Linda’s probably here in her office,” she says. We head up to room 204, and sure enough Linda’s there with two other students working around her.
“There’s some gems here, like some teachers that make going to UH worth it,” says Dana. “Like Linda, who’s working today because it’s her free day – stuff like that inspires me.”
Linda Yamamoto has been teaching sculpture in the art department since 1992. Her class, kinetic sculpture (sculptures that move) and 3-d sculpture are among some of the school’s most popular. “Everyone tries to get into her class,” says Timo Lee, a former student of Linda’s. “Her class is always one that fills up the fastest!”
Timo recalls a project she worked on for kinetic sculpture in Linda’s class: “I wanted to make dancing elephants, but I was having a hard time calculating the measurements, like how tall the legs have to be. Linda totally helped me in trying to make the elephants dance, although it didn’t come out so good anyway.”
In an art imitating life kind of way, Timo (a travel industry management major and art minor), like her elephants, didn’t quite dance like how she or Linda envisioned she would after college. But she’s doing something even better. As a popular deejay on KTUH and along the local club circuit, Timo’s managed to find something she’s passionate about: making people dance.
Linda recalls when Timo was a student at UH: “I remember when she was just talking about applying for a spot at KTUH, and now, how she’s progressed, has made me really proud.”
Currently, Linda is working on a project that involves 70 bronze-cast frogs teaching a chubby bronze baby about life. “But the story is that you shouldn’t trust frogs to mentor your baby because they’ll teach a baby about anything,” she says. There are frogs smoking cigarettes, running with scissors, holding condoms, gambling, and even two frogs wedged in one cup.
I guess sometimes art doesn’t imitate life, at least not in terms of Linda as an instructor. “You know that joy you get out of making art?” she says to me, already knowing the answer. “I know not everyone can continue it because real life kind of sets in, but I always hope my students find that niche for themselves that gives them the same sense of accomplishment and joy, even if they’re not physically doing art.”
Dana Paresa, Art history major
As told to Lisa Yamada
When I was in elementary school, boys would ask me to do drawings for their girlfriends, and they would pay me in candy. I guess my first major “art” project was in preschool. I remember drawing a comic, and it was getting printed in the school newsletter or something. And they lost it, so I had to draw it again real fast. As far back as I can remember I have been doing art.
Now with my art, I like changing my face so that I don’t look like myself. You know who Leigh Bowery is? Or Amy Sedaris, how she can warp her face to look even 50 years older or like a dude? I’m really interested in changing identities. A lot of people do political art, but I’m just not into making art that has that kind of statement. I like more of a personal change rather than an outside one.
My biggest worry right now is not finding a job after I graduate. Since The Contemporary Museum and The Academy of Arts are merging I don’t know if there’s going to be that many opportunities. I eventually want to work in a gallery, so I’m taking a museum interpretations class, where we go to galleries and talk about how we trick people into thinking that things are important. You’re really getting into people’s heads and trying to assume what they’re going to do by placing something a certain way. You’re just considering their next step and making it easy enough for them to swallow the concepts.
I feel there’s always that decision artists struggle with after graduating: Do you want to cop out and make money because you know you can just paint a palm tree on a beach and sell that? I don’t want to feel stuck having to make touristy arts, though, because that’s not why I’m doing it in the first place. It’s not like I think I can make a lot of money after this anyway.
I’m pretty confident, though, that I’ll find something in my field. I’ll just keep trying until I do. I’m not going to just say, “Oh well, I guess I’ll just work in an office or a restaurant.” I don’t like that whole Picasso thing either, you know, like the I’m-pained-by-my-paint kind of thing. I don’t feel like you need to be a tortured soul to create art. I think you just have to step out and try something different. Regardless, I don’t think art should be made for anyone else but for yourself. If people like it, they’ll like it because they can relate to it. I think having that kind of connection with art is more fulfilling than doing it for any other reason.
THE TORTURED ARTIST
Ted De Oliveira, musician, artist, storyteller – (Is there anything he’s not good at?)
By Sonny Ganaden
To hear Ted De Oliveira play his set late on a weekday evening comes as something of a shock, especially if you know him. After spending the last several years making friends and simultaneously ostracizing them with his occasional demons, the raw emotive power of his talent onstage conveys the occasional transcendence of someone who’s actually experienced the content of the lyrics, of an artist working through personal history.
For Ted, that history includes moving to Mānoa Valley at the age of 6 from Rio De Janeiro, Brazil with his two siblings and musician parents. “At some point my mom got me to stop playing Mario Kart and into guitar lessons with this gypsy guitarist that looked like Leonardo da Vinci, long white beard and everything,” says Ted. “Back then I was just playing lots of bar and hippy chords, trying to sound like Fugazi or Rage Against the Machine. I played a lot as a teenager, with everybody I could too.” In his teenage years, he also began experimenting with electronic music, amongst other things.
–To find out more about Ted’s EP Front Business, CLICK HERE–
Those other things have gotten De Oliveira in trouble. To say that Ted’s music is worth a listen without presenting a full picture of him would be like recommending Dr. Jekyll for your annual checkup without mentioning all that pesky Mr. Hyde business. As he says it, “After I graduated from high school, there was a slow descent into the O‘ahu club scene. For a while I was breaking, beatboxing and playing guitar in Waikīkī. When I’d get too high, my dad, who was driving a taxi at the time, would come by and force me into the taxi.”
Now, a few busy months out from a recent stint locked up, Ted has taken charge of his future. “I’ve been sober now for one year, three months, and a little change. For me, it’s both a burden and a badge of honor. If I make addiction bigger than it is, then it’ll just snowball and overtake me. But if I say I’ve been there and don’t demonize it, then it won’t grow on my shoulders and come back.”
The music De Oliveira has been releasing on the web has been anything but simple. In March he released Front Business, an album combing electronics over haunting vocals. A legitimate music critic could spend paragraphs attempting to corral the album into terms like chillwave, glitch, whatevz. We may have reached the event horizon where musical stimulus can be anything that a skilled artist can conjure using zeros, 1s and modified voices colliding in an infinite number of possibilities. A few of the instrumentals sound like Japanese nuclear engineers programmed one of those three foot tall humanoid robots to do something useful, like skateboard, and it was at A‘ala Skate Park doing 50/50 grinds and kickflips on a First Friday.
De Oliveira certainly has not burnt all bridges on his road to recovery. Local artist Landon Osamu has been creating some fairly hilarious images to promote Front Business, with posters up around town of Ted as a smoking Pee Wee Herman, Ted as the man with the golden voice, Ted as a giant chain-smoking baby. Designer Joseph Pa’ahana created the cover art with a space-age, jump-suited Ted receding into a rainbow galaxy. With his upcoming EP Halfway House, so titled because it was written in an actual halfway house, De Oliveira may use more of the brilliant guitar and vocals of his live shows. In May with the blessing of his parole officer, he will have taken a trip to mainland China to record the soundtrack of an indie documentary about traveling and changing.
Knowing he’s still on the edge, Ted’s been careful to keep his hands far from idle. “Look dude, being in a cell means a lot of time, too much time, to think. So since I’ve gotten out, I’ve had a lust for working, almost panic working. And I think the work is good for us.” In keeping the demons at bay, those busy hands are making work far better than good.