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Artist’s evolution

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    “Tall Carved Shino,” above, “Night Water,” and “Black Rock Path,” are new works by David Kuraoka. The tiled pieces in particular, with their 2D canvases, challenged the artist.
    The “Black Rock Path” by David Kuraoka.

The stereotype about art is that it’s all about freedom, stretching the imagination, pushing creative boundaries.

But all that stretching and pushing requires dedication and discipline alongside a free mind, says ceramist David Kuraoka.


» On Exhibit: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays to Fridays and until 3 p.m. Saturdays, through July 9

» Where: Koa Gallery, Kapiolani Community College

» Call: 734-9374 or e-mail

"I could cut bananas, there’s my flower farm, and sometimes friends come by and say, ‘Let’s go to the beach.’ But I say, ‘No. I gotta practice.’ It’s a drill," says the Kauai native, who lives most of the year on the island but spends the fall teaching at San Francisco State University, where he is a professor emeritus.

"I work in series to be able to compare my work. If you only do one or two great works, it doesn’t matter. There’s no reference. You need to create a reference for yourself."

Kuraoka’s latest tile works are on exhibit at Koa Gallery in "Night Water."

Renowned for his work in raku and pit firing, he started the annual, wildly popular Raku Hoolaulea in 1976, having already established raku at San Francisco State in 1971. It is the longest-running raku program in the nation.

Kuraoka exhibited in solo shows at the Contemporary Museum in 2003 and the Honolulu Academy of Arts in 2006. Last year his work was shown along with that of iconic artist Jun Kaneko at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center. Kuraoka was named a Hawaii Living Treasure in 1987.

MOST RECENTLY, Kuraoka has been challenging himself in the 2-D world, wherein he glazes clay tiles that he and his assistants make by hand in San Francisco.

When Kuraoka retired from the university in 2007, they made 120 tiles for him to take home to Kauai for glazing. He went through those rapidly. In 2008 they upped it to 350, and it still wasn’t enough. Last year they produced 400 tiles. Since half of the tiles crack during firing, either because the glaze is too thick or the tile too thin, Kuraoka needs that many to push himself in new directions.

He begins the process by sketching his concepts on graph paper, shading in areas and drawing out textures. Then he colors in the sketches with felt pen, and even laminates them to see how shine affects his ideas.

He says it’s tough to work on a flat surface after having been a 3-D artist for more than 40 years.

"I’m learning the feel of 2-D; I feel better with 3-D. There’s no form to fall back on," he says of the 2-D works.

But he won’t compromise his commitment to evolution.

"For this show I eliminated all my pit-fire works. I won’t depend on that; I already know they’re beautiful."

In the end, past 3-D work influences new 2-D, and that in turn shapes new 3-D.

"The influence goes back and forth," says Kuraoka.

As for the inherent surprises of firing, Kuraoka says "there’s a degree of spontaneity" in ceramics.

"You have to give yourself up to the process, go along with it," he says.

"The process teaches me what I like. You have to find the accidents and use them."


Students or recent graduates of the University of Hawaii system are being sought for a student art competition tied in with the redevelopment of the Kakaako district.

Selections will be displayed in the form of a banner, which will be posted on the exteriors of buildings in the district. The first exhibit site will be the corner of Cooke and Pohukaina streets.

Two winners will be awarded $500 cash prizes.

For more details, e-mail


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