Referred to as a "grand master" of sculpture in Hawaii, Fred Roster has made an impact on local art that has been wide and deep. Fresh out of college in 1969, he moved to the islands thinking "Hawaii was the future," and he never left.
In those decades since, Roster earned a master of fine arts from the University of Hawaii, joined its faculty in 1971, and continued to make inarguably great art. The proof is in the pudding: His work is part of the collections of the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts, the Contemporary Museum and the Honolulu Academy of Arts, the Big Three collectors of local art.
But perhaps Roster’s biggest impact comes from his more than 40-year career as an arts educator at UH; he serves as chairman of the art department’s sculpture program.
Through Sept. 26, the Academy Art Center is exhibiting a retrospective, "It Seemed Like the Future: Works by Fred Roster, 1969-2010." Pieces reflect Roster’s preference for wood and bronze, including familiar "wheel" pieces, mango sculptures and works involving dogs and monkeys.
Though two-thirds of the work in the show was made during the past 30 years, Roster created several large pieces specifically for the art center’s gallery space.
CHRISTOPHER REINER’S HUMOROUS ART COMMENTS ON ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES
Also on display at the Academy Art Center through Sept. 26, in the Mezzanine Gallery, is "Out of State of Mind: Works by Christopher Reiner." The artist’s humorous assemblages from found objects — from doll parts to refrigerators — address litter, resource depletion and global warming.
"It’s barnlike, large and open," he says of the space. "Yes, the show’s a retrospective, but it’s also very contemporary. It’s a cross section of the work I’ve done."
The art incorporates influences from Roster’s life: his childhood in California, when he learned to build things; his love of dogs past and present; his evolving perspective on life; and his work as an educator.
In fact, amid the towering and miniature bronze and wood sculptures, assembled with screws (some handmade) and functional gears, are two instructive pieces. One is a scale model of the gallery, complete with tiny installed replicas of the real artwork. The other is a series of huge stacked shelves filled with everything from books and artwork to skeletons and dust.
Roster says the gallery model makes him "feel more secure with that big space, so it’s not so overwhelming. It helps me have insight and control over the space. I put the model in the show just because I’ve been a teacher since 1971, and teaching is part of my identity. The model helps others understand my thought process."
The shelving, meanwhile, was transported from Roster’s UH office, where it’s hung since 1979.
"In all those years, I’ll notice a part of a machinery, or a skeleton of an animal, or a rock, and I put it on my shelf so I can look at it," he explains. "In random stackings or pilings, I’ll find an unexpected relationship between the objects. A tooth of an animal and a piece of a machine, for instance. Or a branch and a rock; I think about the connection between plants and geology.
"I call it ‘A Hard-Working Collection’ because it keeps changing; it keeps producing new possibilities."
The long shelves hold more than 1,000 pieces, and it took about six hours to install because Roster wanted every item to look exactly as it does in his office, in exactly the same position. He found an assistant to help him with the overwhelming task.
"We photographed everything to make a template so I could re-create it in the gallery, dust and all," he says. "I even took extra dust to cover our fingerprints.
"That’s a good piece to think about in terms of this show," says Roster, ever the instructor. "It’s a collection of ideas and materials. It’s key to understanding the larger exhibit."
Vince Hazen, director of the art center, calls the exhibit "outstanding."
"Fred has a strong reputation in town as one of our top artists," he says. "His show is outstanding for its clever mechanics and superb craftsmanship.
"Art is about ideas and (aesthetics); the works have both aspects. Fred has philosophical ideas about things."
One series of work fueled by the philosophical are functional bronze wheel sculptures incorporating delicate branch figures from nature and tiny human figures. Some include vessels for collecting water that propel the wheel. The wheels are mounted on wood towers that Roster also built.
One of the artist’s earliest wheels was inspired by the Cold War, and wheel sculptures that have followed track Roster’s evolving philosophy.
"The one about the Cold War (discusses) being on a wheel. The fickleness of the breeze can push you to the top or bottom of the wheel. People can also be fickle that way," he says. "The wheel itself is a very condensed form of the passage of time."
That early wheel comprises human figures, but Roster later added branches to signify man’s ties with nature.
His latest wheel sculpture features just branches.
"I’ve come to believe that the way humans take care of plants is almost as essential as the way we take care of ourselves, because we’re so dependent on nature," he explains. "In the wheel sculptures, there’s a gradual transition from being human-centric to becoming more sensitive to other living things on our planet."