Gallery exhibit showcases local contemporary artists

Photos by Leilani Madison

“Where Are We?,” the title of the current show at Gallery ‘Iolani, called forth a variety of surprisingly upbeat answers from Hawai‘i’s acclaimed contemporary artists.

Walking into the Jan. 31 opening of the show, I was drawn to the exuberant canvases of color harmonies by Noreen Naughton. “Still Life at Window” defied the notion of stillness with the most vibrant combination of heavenly blues, lively greens and palest of pink tones, all revealing a table by a window and a vision of infinite possibilities.

I asked Naughton about the show’s theme, and she explained that it was gallery director Toni Martin’s idea.

“I have just moved into a new home,” Naughton said. “And this is what I see from my window.”

The painting spoke to me of the radiance of the natural world–its bold, broad brushstrokes celebrating dynamic energies in strong and peaceful tension.

Just as joyous as Naughton’s oil paintings, David Behlke’s watercolors with pen and ink invited me into an imaginative world that seemed to have affinities with fairy tales. One featured the words “She Dreams of Her Prince He Comes from the East” above a lady in a hooded gown waiting on a balcony. She was Juliet and Rapunzel and every soul quietly waiting for her beloved. Her castle seemed like something from “The Arabian Nights” and suggested a delight in the sinuous calligraphy of Islamic art.

When I asked Behlke about his creative process, he laughed and showed me images on his phone. He starts with a pen and ink drawing of vertical and horizontal lines and then plays with watercolors to capture what appears in his imagination.

“It all comes out of the grid,” he marveled.

A sense of wonder infused his conversation as he shared his story of becoming an artist on the GI bill after serving in the Vietnam War. He recently retired from being a professor of visual arts and director of the Koa Arts Gallery at Kapi‘olani Community College. But he will clearly never stop following his passion for making art.

Mixed media works using wood and acrylic by Lori Y. Uyehara added a whimsical, playful feeling to the show and reinforced the sense of pleasure in the world even in this time of ecological and political crisis. “Shoreline” offered a richly colored underwater scene framed by bits of scrap wood and beach debris organized into a deeply satisfying abstract design.

Uyehara’s free-standing structures like the one called “Adaptation” are tower-like assemblages of found materials so beautifully put together that they seem inevitable. As I observed its many layers, I was attracted to a box containing a polished piece of wood supporting a turquoise blue egg. Has some imaginary blue bird of happiness found a way of perpetuating its life? Maybe that’s what the artist does as he or she transmits some irrepressible joy in creation.

Where are we? These artists suggest that we are at a moment of transformation, a moment where anything is possible including a renewal of all our best qualities.

The exhibit runs through March 31. For more information, go to the gallery’s website at

by Leilani Madison, Ka ‘Ohana Staff Reporter