Have you noticed anything different about the Art School’s sketch garden lately? In September, we gave the fountain—a marble basin topped by an arch framing a concrete formation—a new look. First we repaired the water pump, then replaced the centerpiece with a sculpture by Art School finance coordinator—and artist—Kamran Samimi. Now water splashes down seven slices of stacked stone.
“Vince and I started talking about the fountain almost a year ago,” Kamran explains. “I had the stone cut and ready for another project but that project fell through. It just so happened that it was the perfect size and kind of worked perfectly.”
Kamran, who joined the museum staff in 2016, has been making and showing art professionally since 2008. His stone sculptures, like his 2D work, are geometric abstractions of organic forms, created by layering and repetition. His materials and process are largely inspired by the landscapes of his hometown, Laupāhoehoe, in the foothills of Mauna Kea on Hawai‘i Island.
“This is the first fountain that I’ve made,” says Kamran. “I love the combination of these two seemingly opposing substances, but in reality they’re not in opposition—it’s our planet, water and earth. I think it’s a really beautiful yin yang kind of interplay between them. My favorite thing about this piece is seeing it change over time, there’s already moss growing on it! Even in the last few weeks it’s been absorbing that water and it’s getting this patina and this age and it’s eroding. The browns are a little bit more orange, the grays are a little greener. That’s exciting to me.”
Though Kamran normally works with Hawaiian lava rock, the stone for his stacked sculpture is basalt from a quarry in China—which is serendipitous because the fountain’s existing arch and basin are also of Chinese origin. According to museum archivist Dawn Sueoka, the fountain’s basin was fabricated in 1927 in Beijing according Honolulu importer Henry Inn who installed it in a garden behind the Fong Inn Building, his father’s emporium of Chinese art and collectibles in Waikīkī. Henry Inn donated it to the museum in 1989. “He was told it dated to the Ming Dynasty and originally came from the home of a Manchu prince,” says Sueoka, “but museum curators could not confirm or deny that attribution.” The exact age of the marble arch is still unknown.
This mini-renovation of the sketch garden is part of an ongoing improvement plan envisioned by Art School director Vince Hazen. “I thought that Kamran’s stacked stones would really rhyme with the pagoda, which is also stacked stone,” he says. This visual symmetry inspired Kamran to name his stone sculpture Pagoda. “The next process for him was to turn them into a fountain,” says Vince. “Like all art projects, as you think about its new function, that changes the design too. When he drilled the holes in the middle of each slab, that’s also when he decided there should be a spacer in between them too. I love that, how the water bridges the gaps between the stones. It creates more sound and a more visually dynamic piece.”
Prior to the installation of Kamran’s sculpture, the sketch garden also received a new set of stone benches, which, coincidentally complement the fountain in more ways than one. “When we looked into those benches, it turns out they were sold by the same company that Kamran was working with to get his stones so it also matches that,” says Vince. “There’s this visual rhyme with all these things.”
While he has no concrete plans to build more fountains in the future, Kamran says this project has shown him new possibilities for his stone shapes. “It was really fun working at this scale,” he says. “I would like to continue expanding into larger, human-scale or monumental-scale pieces.”
You can see new work by Kamran at the Hawai‘i State Art Museum gallery shop on Jan. 5, and on his website and on Instagram. Want to see him in person? He is a presenter at PechaKucha Night Honolulu #32: Abstract at the Art School on Dec. 1.