With the opening of Artists of Hawai‘i 2015 less than two months away, many of the artists are in the home stretch. Last week, curator of contemporary art James Jensen made a round of studio visits to check on their progress.
On the third floor of the University of Hawai‘i’s art building is the studio of the exhibition’s youngest artist and New Zealand transplant Lauren Trangmar. At first glance, her as yet untitled series looks like pages torn from a 19th-century anatomy textbook.
“My prints juxtapose conventions of representation drawn from both the past and the present to create a picture of knowledge that is encyclopedic, yet on closer inspection, highly eccentric,” explains Trangmar.
To put it another way, Trangmar’s series questions the biological source of creativity. Her work references human anatomy using fictional body parts that creators perhaps wish they had. The print Creative Organ depicts what looks like a human heart, with elements of brain tissue worked into it. Above the heart are four tentacles with eyes attached on the ends.
As Jensen pored over the digital prints, Trangmar discussed aspects of her process. “To get the look I’m going for, each of the prints are drawn by hand, scanned into a computer, touched up with Photoshop,” says Trangmar. “It’s a fairly labor intensive process. One print will take months to finish, and by the time I’m done with them, my Photoshop files can have as many as 500 layers per print.”
With the bulk of her works completed, Trangmar and Jensen discussed framing options for the prints—how different frame styles and glazing can affect the tone of the work—and how they would be arranged in the space.
Just down the hall from Trangmar is Emily McIlroy, whose 7- by 13-foot painting Sky Burial was laid out on the floor in the center of her studio. Like Trangmar’s work, Sky Burial is deceptive at first glance. The work appears to depict the beauty and grace of seemingly harmless hummingbirds, yet upon closer inspection, a darker and more chaotic element is revealed.
The work is an attempt at reconciling how two polar-opposite qualities can exist in the same space. How can beauty and grace exist with chaos and violence? How can something be so fragile yet so aggressive? The dichotomy inherent in these questions is something McIlroy has explored since the loss of her twin brother in 2007.
How can hummingbirds represent these ideas? “They look harmless and gentle at a glance, but up close they show a darkness, they’re very combative towards each other,” says McIlroy. “When you blow these creatures up, they look like warriors.”
Continuing the common thread of works that appear to be one thing from far away and turn out to be something different upon closer inspection is Alison Beste, whose series of Oil Tanker Sunsets—as the title implies—are photographs of oil tankers that look like sunsets. Beste has been keeping us informed about her series through her own blog posts on the project’s concept and process.
With a jazzy rendition of “La Vie en Rose” softly playing in the background in her home office, Beste showed Jensen layout possibilities of her work she had drawn up on her laptop. For Beste, deciding how her work will be arranged is an important part of communicating the narrative of her series. While some images are clearly tankers, others could easily be confused for a real sunset. The “wow” moment of this series is when it’s revealed that the sunsets are actually oil tankers, but if the tankers are revealed too early, it could diminish the impact of the narrative.
With roughly 100 images taken for the series, Beste is now in the process of narrowing down which works will make it into the show, what kind of frames she’ll use, and what, if any, kind of gloss she will use.