The allure of ideals is that they bear an aura of romance. Lofty and sweeping, ideals allow us to wallow in our higher sensibilities and glory in our humanity. The fine artist, ideal dictates, reveals Truth and Beauty. Hear the harps and violins?
For most of us, with noses so close to the grindstone we can’t ascend to a lofty perch, real liberation comes in the doing, the practice, the sweat. When we look up occasionally, hopefully we’ve moved forward and maybe learned something. Then we scrub the dirt (or paint, as the case may be) from under our fingernails, shrug the knots from our shoulders and get back to it.
Artist Allyn Bromley’s career chronicles a path of study, practice and sweat, while the fruits of her hard work allow her to both embody and challenge the finest ideals of printmaking.
"She’s a skilled printer. Even though she’s broken boundaries, she knows exactly what she’s doing in execution," says Laura Smith, executive director of the Honolulu Printmakers.
"Allyn is a first-rate printer, technically very interesting," agrees Jay Jensen, associate director and chief curator of the Contemporary Museum, which is exhibiting a survey of Bromley’s work starting June 26. "She has made (singular) large-scale works, when prints are traditionally smaller works made in editions. She mixes screen prints with other media … printing many layers and going back in by hand with acrylics, adding collage, mylar or found objects. She’s printed on polymer clay. She’s always been an artist who challenges customary expectations."
‘ALLYN BROMLEY&MDASH;FINDING LATITUDE’
» On exhibit: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays to Saturdays, June 26 to Aug. 15
Cost is $8 (free to museum members). Call 237-5230 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
» June 26: 11 a.m., gallery talk with exhibition curator James Jensen
LEST ONE characterize Bromley as a renegade, all this off-shooting from tradition came only in the last couple of decades after a long career as an arts educator in the University of Hawaii system.
Bromley, a single mother of two, started out her tenure teaching at Leeward Community College in 1972 after being educated at UH-Manoa, the University of Colorado, the Rochester Institute of Technology, the University of Washington and the Pratt Graphic Center in Manhattan.
In 1982 she took over the printmaking department at UH, and one of her lasting contributions was the development of a top-notch screen-printing studio, described as one of the best in the country. She also helped put printmaking on the map in Hawaii.
"At Rochester I got a great education. I learned to be a good technician," she says. "It took 17 years to break with tradition. I wanted to be exacting and pass that on to my students.
"When I was getting close to retirement, I thought, ‘I can do what I want,’ and I wanted to paint directly on top of my prints. That was a big breakthrough because it was considered blasphemy to touch the surface of prints."
She deems her biggest breakthrough as treating her own print work as objects in artwork rather than an art form in itself. Since retirement she has given new life to old prints by constructing complex 3-D sculptures with them.
"Though the prints are often unidentifiable, they’re a link to her past," Jensen says.
IRONICALLY, while Bromley, 82, has ventured into creating 3-D mummies to explore mortality and "the last decade of my life," Smith and Jensen say she’s one of the most dynamic people they know.
"Her activity level, energy level and general personality lend her the vibrancy of a much younger person," says Jensen. "She’s never lost that quality. A lot of her work is physically demanding, but she remains independent."
No doubt the artist’s inextinguishable zest for the next creative challenge has its roots in her mother’s nurturing: Bromley’s mother was also an artist before she became a homemaker.
"I always drew. I never stopped," she recalls. "I attended the San Francisco Museum School at age 9. It was a good thing—10 cents a morning. Parents should encourage their kids that way."
And while Bromley’s been collected by Hawaii’s most prominent art institutions—the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts, the Honolulu Academy of Arts and the Contemporary Museum—she has little interest in what she’s already done, according to Jensen. "She’s very forward-looking," he says.
For the upcoming exhibit, Bromley is collaborating with Ann Bush, chairwoman of UH’s graphic design program, on an installation that will be constructed of the Contemporary Museum’s publication catalogs.
The work allows her to explore conceptual art, new territory for this lifelong artist. "It’s more idea-driven than formalistically driven," she explains.
It’s an interesting piece for a survey show. Yet the inclusion is classic Bromley.
"In a retrospective, it’s good to be prospective as well," she says.