Eastside artist explores the fecundity of clay

KAPA‘A — When Renee Parker looks on the ground, she sees rich soil that provides nourishment for plants. As she gazes at a cluster of trees, she sees a fertile forest producing life.

That’s why it was natural for the Eastside ceramic sculptor to name her upcoming solo exhibit “Fecund.”

“I was looking at all my work thinking about a name,” Parker said. “I wanted it to be something ripe and exploding with life. I feel like that’s common in all my work.”

Parker will have more than 24 ceramic sculptures and vessels on display from April 7 to 30 at Art Cafe Hemingway in Kapa‘a. An opening reception for the artist will be held at 7 p.m. Saturday.

“My work has always partly been about beauty,” Parker said in between sips of tea in her Wailua studio. “A spider is so beautiful, but you don’t want it on you. But when you look at it, you see it’s graceful. It’s webs are so intricate, like a work of art.”

Beyond the doors of Parker’s airy studio lies a vibrant landscape filled with fruit trees, free-range chickens and flowering plants. Every so often, one of Parker’s 29 chickens cluck by.

“We call her Houdini because she always escapes the coop,” Parker said as she scoops up the hen.

It’s a peaceful slice of paradise adjacent to a busy Wailua roadway. It’s no wonder that Parker incorporates nature in many of her sculptures.

 “I’m definitely not a tortured artist here,” Parker said while taking in her botanical surroundings.

Once visiting her studio, it’s obvious how nature impacts Parker’s work. An orange trumpet-shaped blossom from her brugmansia tree and a flower from the end of a banana stalk outside have popped up in Parker’s recent sculptures.

“My art always had a flow to what you see in nature,” Parker said.

A horse, tea pots and intricately carved ceramic vessels are also among the new pieces displayed in the solo exhibit.

“I’ll work weeks and weeks on a piece,” Parker said. “I also like to work with a couple of pieces at the same time.”

Parker noted that she mostly works with clay when it’s in a dry state. She uses an array of metal tools to carve and design etchings into her pieces.

If an image strongly resonates with her, Parker said she will sketch it in her notebook, but most of the time, she gets lost in the moment with her clay.

“It starts out as one thing, and it will evolve, Parker said. “Sometimes, I don’t really know why I’m working, but when I see it in retrospect, it finally clicks. I didn’t realize how much September 11 effected my art until a few years passed.”

Parker lived in New York City for three years before purchasing a one-way plane ticket that carried her to Kaua‘i.

I felt like I needed to throw myself into humanity and see what my value was as an artist,” Parker said of her time in New York.

“When I was 10 or 11 years old, I came to Kaua‘i on vacation. I knew one day I was coming back. When I moved here, I felt that connection again.”

Currently, Parker teaches ceramic classes for students ages 6 to 12 out of her Eastside studio in addition to spending one day a month teaching ceramics to Kapa‘a Elementary’s grief club and classes at Kanuikapono Charter School in Anahola.

“There’s good life energy around me right now,” Parker said. “I think it’s so important for kids to have art in school. If I didn’t have art classes, I don’t know who I would be right now.”

Parker found ceramics when she was 15 years old, and threw herself into her art. While she didn’t excel in academics, Parker was able to graduate from high school early through a program that allowed her to take college-level art courses at the University of Indiana.

“If you find something you really, really like, you have to focus on it,” Parker said. “Do what you love, and it will get you there.”

At the moment, Parker’s priorities are raising her two children, teaching art classes to children and working in her studio.  

“I don’t do it for the money,” Parker said. “If no one bought a piece from me, I’d still be doing this.”

Want to go?

What: “Fecund,” a ceramic exhibit by Renee Parker

When: Opening reception 7 p.m. Saturday. Exhibit from April 7 through 30.

Where: Art Cafe Hemingway, 4-1495 Kuhio Hwy., Kapa‘a

Cost: Free

Details: www.artcafehemingway.com

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

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