Images by Bryce Johnson
In a mountainside studio overlooking Kaua‘i’s alluring south shore, a handsome French bulldog named Sunny strikes a pose. This canine is the muse of artist Sally French, whose work portrays him in a variety of ways: In one, he exhibits the perfect dog shaming pose, petrified perhaps as a result of some recent bad behavior, while another shows him stoic, the perfect canine specimen. The portraits are simplistic in form, seemingly a departure from the works French has become known for—sexy kitties posed as strippers, a self-portrait of sorts on “candy ass pink,” a tattooed kitty punching the living daylights out of a nameless masculine form that personifies roadblocks for the artist. Her work deals in visual narratives, as she calls them, depicting her personal life and the environment around her. What about Sunny? “Look at him,” she says of her sweet-demeanored dog. “I can’t help but use that face.”
French’s space is filled with almost every artistic tool imaginable. A wooden cabinet filled with drawers carries supplies like sugi line, wood floor pieces, alligator clips, charcoal, glass weights, s-hooks, and of course, dog clippers. It all makes you want to grab a brush and start painting. French believes she has the perfect recipe for artistic ingenuity, which is why she offers artist-in-residence retreats at her Kalaheo studio. “There is a surge of energy that comes with a new experience, a change of environment, and a defined amount of time to react creatively to it,” French says. “Artists tend to push through their walls of resistance and see solutions not available in their own working spaces.”
The California native knows how necessary it is for artists to collaborate with other creatives, get outside their comfort zones, and push their limits—in fact, she “double dog dares” them to. At the studio, French provides workshops and weekend intensives for visiting artists, which can include accommodations in her beautiful home located above the studio. Weekend intensives are composed of four days of studio work and consist of groups of up to five. The artists work only in printmaking with a focus on monotypes, which involves applying paint to a plexiglass plate and running it through a press to create a reverse image.
Prior to opening her studio to other artists two years ago, French used it privately for more than three decades after moving to Hawai‘i from San Francisco, where she had attended the San Francisco Academy of Art, teaching figure drawing while majoring in illustration. While there, she was part of an art collective that saved a turn-of-the-century hotel called The Goodman Building from demolition, using their rent money to paint the façade and create a public art space. (Today, the building is still designated as an artist live-work space.) She also painted murals, including one at Jefferson Airplane’s mansion on Fulton Street. “They paid my rent at the time, and I had all my art supplies on their tab,” she recalls. “That’s all I was paid, but it was fine with me since I could listen to them practice.”
French has exhibited her art in nearly 40 solo shows at various locations, including Heidi Cho Gallery in New York City, the Contemporary Center for the Arts in New Orleans, and The Contemporary Museum on O‘ahu, now known as Honolulu Museum of Art’s Spalding House. “Fumiko, Keeper of the Meek,” a digital print from her Wunderlust: The Keepers’ Tale series is currently on display at the Hawai‘i State Art Museum’s new exhibition. Based on her daughter, Aimee, Fumiko, one of eight keepers living in the land of Wunderlust, “watches over the young, guards the weak, sets the calendar, yodels, and yells all news throughout the land.” It’s a visual narrative not unlike the one unfolding at Double Dog Dare Studios. “When students are ready for what I can offer them,” she says, “it’s really quite magical what happens. I have found that artists always rise to the opportunity and create some of their best work in this studio, and this in turn stimulates me to create my best work.”
To learn more about becoming a visiting artist at the Double Dog Dare Studio, visit doubledogdarestudio.com. To see Sally French’s work on Kaua‘i, visit Gallery 103, located at The Shops at Kuku‘iula.
This story is part of our Companions Issue.