Artist Allyn Bromley holds up her hand to reveal a middle finger that curves to the right. Her work Green Piece actually reshaped part of her body. “I cut out 300 pieces with an Xacto knife. Each piece takes a minimum of 20 minutes to cut out. You do the math,” says Bromley. “I’m going to look into buying a laser cutter.”
Opening March 13 is Natural Unnatural Supernatural, the latest installation in the Contemporary Art Gallery. That’s where you’ll find Green Piece cascading down a wall in leafy glory.
In 2010, Honolulu Museum of Art curator of contemporary art James Jensen was the curator at The Contemporary Museum, where he organized Bromley’s solo show Allyn Bromley: Finding Latitude. The exhibition included Green Piece. While working on Natural Unnatural Supernatural, which looks at themes of nature in art, Jensen recalled the work.
“He asked if I would be interested in including it in this show. I couldn’t even find it—it was in my studio in a box,” says Bromley, who was at the museum last week installing Green Piece. “It’s so weird, you spend all this time making stuff and you show it once in this community, where we’re so isolated there’s no other place to show it. Now I’m getting two bangs for the buck—I’m very happy to be able to show it again.”
Ask any artist or collector on the island what makes Bromley so special as a printmaker, and they all cite how she keeps pushing the envelope—at the age of 86.
In the case of Green Piece, Bromley took screenprints and cut away the paper, keeping only the printed images. “It’s not very traditional—it was a step forward for me. It’s basically my landscape. I like to make something a little more provocative as opposed to just a nice work of art, though this one doesn’t have a large political message.”
You can see a sister artwork, Kaka‘ako, in the Honolulu Printmakers 86th Annual Exhibition, on view at the Honolulu Museum of Art School through March 21. Bromley took Green Piece a few dirty steps further. “I cut out some of the same forms, but covered them with roofing tar, looking drippy and oily and awful. This one does have an ecological message.”
Bromley, one of Hawai‘i’s most revered artists and art educators, is the recipient of the Hawai‘i Arts Alliance’s annual Alfred Preis Honors, and was feted at the organization’s celebration on Jan. 18 at the Kahala Hotel and Resort. The award recognizes individuals who have demonstrated in word and action a lifetime commitment to the arts and education for the people of Hawai‘i.
When asked how she gravitated to printmaking, Bromley says, “Life is always full of surprises. I was teaching painting and drawing at Leeward Community College and one day they rolled this giant crate to my classroom and they asked if I could find a place for it. I asked, ‘What is it?’ ‘An etching press.’ Ta da! I said yes. I got into printmaking out there. Then taught at UH for 16 years.”
When asked to cite outstanding students she has mentored who are carrying on the printmaking torch, she politely skirts the question and says, “It’s a team effort to develop these people. Everybody has a part in that.”
She still leads the printmaking community with interesting projects,” says Vince Hazen, director of the Honolulu Museum of Art School and a printmaker himself.” She’s always pushing printmaking to new places, and that’s inspiring to all the generations following her.” She’s also still working as an educator—she is one of the museum’s most popular docents.
Bromley, with her trim figure and shock of Jeanne-Claude-red hair, has the energy of someone half her age, nimbly climbing a ladder to tack up strands of Green Piece. Every day she travels from her home in Mānoa to her studio in Nu‘uanu to work on her screenprinting. “It’s nice to have another place where you go to be yourself. It’s very peaceful and a good place for inspiration.”
And she keeps up on the news. “If you read the newspaper it’s easy to get inspired to make a statement. Current events are where a lot of my ideas come from. I get so righteously indignant about what’s going on. It’s also a good source of inspiration.”