The museum’s once-in-a-lifetime show is in its home stretch. Don’t miss Abstract Expressionism: Looking East from the Far West—the last day is Jan. 21.
There is a painting in the show that made legendary Satoru Abe stop, point, and say, “That’s his masterpiece.” The work he pointed at—as he smiled almost imperceptibly, thinking about his mentor—is Isami Doi’s My Mystic Pilgrimage, which lives up to its evocative, spiritual name.
Here’s what exhibition curator and deputy director of art and programs Theresa Papanikolas wrote about it for the show’s audio tour (which you can hear through the museum’s app):
“Hawai’i’s Abstract Expressionists were a close-knit group, and their works often ended up in one another’s collections. Isami Doi was a friend and mentor to the sculptor Satoru Abe, and Abe owned this painting. For many years it hung in Abe’s studio and gallery in the Mōʻiliʻili neighborhood of Honolulu.
Take a look at the composition of this painting. Focus especially on the Buddha-like forms, which seem to hover over the painting’s vivid yellow ground. Works from this period in Doi’s career are thought to reflect his lifelong practice of Zen Buddhism. Doi turned to Zen often when he lived and worked in New York during the heyday of Abstract Expressionism, when New York was at the center of the international art world. Doi felt its energy and excitement, but rather than feeling fueled by this energy, he realized that he was overwhelmed. He was afraid he would become derivative if he got too swept up in the New York scene, and so he decided instead to spend hours in his studio, quietly painting pictures whose palette evoked distant Hawaii. His practice of Zen helped him through this period, for it gave him the tools to transcend his ego and paint from within.”