Story by Heidi Pool | Photography by Rob Ratkowski and Sean Hower
Ever since missionary and teacher Edward Bailey began documenting his beloved Maui on canvas in the mid-nineteenth century, artists have had an ongoing love affair with the beauty of this island. What better way to start the new year than with events that invite an immersion into the culture, the people, and the heart of Hawai‘i through the eyes and talents of its artists?
Maui Plein Air Invitational
“We paint history,” says Ronaldo Macedo, founder of the Maui Plein Air Painting Invitational, now in its seventh consecutive year. “We capture a specific moment in time that will never be exactly repeated.”
During this weeklong event, which runs from February 18 to 25, twenty-five of the country’s best plein-air painters will gather on Maui to produce works on location all over the island. At week’s end, 100 of the paintings will be on display—and for sale—at an artists’ reception sponsored by Maui Nō Ka ‘Oi and held at the Village Gallery in Lahaina.
Painting en plein air (outdoors) became popular in France in the 1850s after the invention of the collapsible paint tube. Prior to that time, artists kept their paints simmering on a stove so they wouldn’t harden. The paint tube did more than merely free artists from their studios—it opened up new possibilities for capturing the essence of nature.
“The best way to paint a landscape accurately is to be outside,” says Jean Stern, executive director of the Irvine (CA) Museum, who presents a lecture during the Invitational and judges the works in the final exhibit. “Maui is perfect for plein-air painting; there’s clear and intense light, and the colors are true.”
Indeed, plein-air painting is all about the light. While the Invitational includes several timed competitions—such as the Sunset Paint Out and the Pioneer Inn Lahaina Harbor Quick Draw—plein-air artists are always in a race for time, usually completing a painting in two to three hours, before the light changes.
For Macedo, the Invitational isn’t just about capturing light. “We capture the heart and soul of Maui,” he says. Having Mainland artists join their island counterparts brings fresh eyes to the event. “Often, visiting artists find things to paint that we [who live here] have overlooked.”
The Invitational depends nearly entirely upon sponsors and volunteers—and has strong community support. Many visiting artists are hosted by local families. And the event gives back to the community. “Every year we give at least one space in one of our workshops to a local high school art student.” Proceeds from art sales also fund art scholarships and projects.
Is there a protocol for approaching an artist working on location? Since time is of the essence, “it’s best to just watch,” says Macedo. “If the artist invites conversation, it’s all right to chat.”
For a schedule of the Invitational’s competitions, receptions, lectures and exhibits, visit www.mauipleinairpainting.com.
Celebration of Hawai‘i
Each year, Viewpoints Gallery in Makawao hosts Celebration of Hawai‘i, a multimedia exhibition that asks invited artists to explore a specific Hawaiian theme, and gives those artists—and art aficionados—opportunities to immerse themselves in the culture, guided by respected practitioners.
“Celebration of Hawai‘i enables us to connect more deeply with our host culture,” says Maui artist Joelle C. Perz, who serves as Viewpoints’ artistic director. Such connection can help artists achieve a more authentic voice.
This year’s theme highlights ancient and contemporary forms of the spiritual practice of hula. Last October, participating artists had the opportunity to go on mountain, valley, and ocean walks to see first-hand the way hula connects with nature: how practitioners collect banana and ti leaves for the haku lei that encircle their heads, the shells and feathers for kupe‘e that decorate their wrists and ankles.
“Since the mountain is the altar of hula, we learned that paintings of mountains, for example, also relate to the theme of the show,” says Perz. “It opened up our eyes to the possibilities.”
So does the multimedia nature of the show. While you’ll certainly see paintings of dancers, the variety of media represented—oil, acrylic, pastel, watercolor, wood, ceramic, stone, metal, fiber, photography, jewelry, glass, and kapa—allows for a diverse interpretation of hula.
Throughout the exhibition’s run—January 14 to February 15—art enthusiasts can attend demonstrations, workshops, and talk-story sessions on Hawaiian cultural themes. An artists’ reception on January 14, at 4 p.m., will feature a hula performance by kumu hula Gordean Bailey and her Hālau Wehiwehi o Leilehua. A portion of sales benefits the Hawaiian organizations involved with this year’s show.
Viewpoints Gallery is located at 3620 Baldwin Avenue in Makawao. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. (808) 572-5979; www.viewpointsgallerymaui.com.
Maui Open Studios
This February, nearly 100 Maui artists and craftspeople will welcome the public into their workspaces for the second annual Maui Open Studios. Carolyn Quan, who produces the event, says it “provides an opportunity for art collectors and enthusiasts to interact with artists in their studios, and to gain insight into each artist’s inspiration and method. Many artists also give demonstrations of their processes and techniques.”
Modeled after similar events in the San Francisco Bay Area, Maui Open Studios takes place over four consecutive weekends, beginning with an opening celebration and preview exhibition at Maui Tropical Plantation on Saturday, February 4, from 6 to 9 p.m. The next three weekends divide the island geographically, with open studios in West, Central, and South Maui on February 11 and 12; North Shore and Upcountry Maui on February 18 and 19; and East Maui, all the way to Hāna, on February 25 and 26.
“I continue to be amazed by the number and quality of artists here on Maui,” Quan says. “This event allows noted as well as emerging artists to showcase works in their own relaxed environments.” Indeed, last year’s Open Studios drew more than 6,000 visits to artists’ workspaces.
Abstract painter Wanda Russell says Open Studios allows artists to show off a larger body of work than most galleries have room to display. “My pieces are large, and I work in series,” the Kīhei artist says. “Guests to my studio can see the progression and choose whichever painting resonates with them.”
Steve Preston, who now lives in Kā‘anapali, says last year’s studio tours “were the highlight of our visit to Maui. We were so taken by the quality of the art, the open friendliness of the artists, and the creative energy we experienced.”
Guidebooks for self-guided tours will be vavailable at the preview exhibition, and at various retail locations throughout February. For a schedule, participating artists, and locations distributing guidebooks, log on to www.mauiopenstudios.com.