Little painting

Not only is Honolulu Academy of Arts Director Stephen Little an authority on Chinese art and the author of books such as “Taoism and the Arts of China”—he paints too. His first solo show opens tonight at the Pegge Hopper Gallery in Chinatown.

He recently took a life drawing class at the Academy Art Center at Linekona. That, and watching his photographer wife Heloisa hand color prints for a gallery show in Paris relit what he calls “a fire that burned.” The first paintings he did were in 1972, when he was an undergraduate student at Cornell studying Chinese art history.

“I always wanted to be a painter,” he says. And the group of paintings on view in “Ocean of Emptiness” come out of the concept he started more than 30 years ago.

“These are all imaginary landscapes,” explains Little. “They are influenced by two things—years of studying Chinese and Japanese painting, especially one particular Chinese artist, the 13th-century Zen monk named Muqi (also spelled Mu-ch’i, and pronounced moo-chee). He is a fantastic landscape painter, very minimal. All of my paintings are mostly empty, acrylic on canvas. Generally I use only two colors, cobalt oxide and iron oxide. The other influence is ideas of the way the world is structured that I learned form studying astronomy and Taoism. I’m looking for images that are ambiguous, paradoxical, and elusive.”

The image here doesn’t do the work justice. It has an ethereal feeling, like coming upon a ruined, ancient world in the distance.

How does he feel about his first exhibition? Responds Little, “This is very frightening and exciting.”

Ocean of Emptiness, Pegge Hopper Gallery, 1164 Nu’uanu Ave., 524-1160, through Dec. 12

Read the Star Bulletin article.