French exhibit opens in Po‘ipu

KALAHEO — Suspended in a vibrant palette of color, a bulldog’s wide-eyed stare, a pair of outstretched arms and a collage of falling silhouettes draw the viewer into an unsettling world.

“This piece is largely about Fukushima,” said contemporary artist Sally French about her newest painting, “The Black Spring,” which is the title piece of her solo show on display at galerie 103 in Kukui‘ula Village.

Clad in paint-splattered khakis, French walks up to the large canvas hanging in her Kalaheo studio.

“If you look here,” she says while pointing to the layers of paint drippings splattered on the side of the canvas, “this painting has been exhibited three times in other forms. I put white over the whole thing and started it fresh.”

French quickly scurries across the room to another large painting titled “Danger,” which was exhibited in 2000 at the Contemporary Museum in Honolulu.

Originally, the large red painting used Pikachu as a symbol of corporate greed. For her current show, French reworked the painting to include the cartoon character Olive Oyl standing under an umbrella, shielding herself from the nuclear fallout.

“There’s no honor in my studio,” French joked about reworking her pieces. “At least until they are out of my way.”

In her solo show, “The Black Spring,” French unveiled two new works — “The Black Spring” and “Black Rain” — in addition to paintings that have previously toured the country. She reworked these previously exhibited paintings with her new theme in mind. Instead of completely starting new, French works with the painting’s former layers, adding new imagery and giving the piece an entirely new context — a process known as pentimento.

The paintings displayed in her solo show touch upon the catastrophic events that are happening globally and locally. 

“I think in Hawai‘i, we are so much part of Japan. In the arts, we are a part of Japan” French said. “The truth is, we are in the front of the train facing the East. … I feel like my work has to reflect Japan, because that’s what’s interesting living here.”

French weaves together humorous cartoon characters and a colorful palette to convey her stories.

“In my work, I like to have something for every viewer’s engagement,” she said. “If someone is across the room, and they like it they come a little closer … If you come really close, that’s where the personal work is. You will have already decided you liked the work to get to the intimate level of the piece.”

In the public arena, French’s work can be seen in the Princeville Shopping Center. Last year, she unveiled a mural, titled “The Keeper Series: He‘e and the Golden Egg.”

She also has paintings displayed in the Hawaiian Airlines terminal in O‘ahu, and in the Hawai‘i State Capitol Building.

“That’s the real reward,” French said about her work being publicly displayed. “It really doesn’t thrill me to have work purchased. I don’t make it for that, to be closed off. I want people to see it.”

See “The Black Spring” at galerie 103 in Po‘ipu through July 2. Visit to watch a webcast of the installation of French’s exhibit. Galerie 103 is open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Call 742-0103 for more information.

• Andrea Frainier, lifestyle writer, can be reached at 245-3681, ext. 257 or afrainier@


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