“Les Grandes Dames.”
That’s how Michael Schnack referred to the three well-respected artists whose works he has curated for a late summer exhibit at Cedar Street Galleries.
Yvonne Cheng, Pegge Hopper, and Mayumi Oda have been a significant influence on Hawaii’s art scene for decades. Cheng’s colorful batiks, Hopper’s Hawaiian women in flowing muumuu, and Oda’s powerful goddesses adorn the walls of hotels, public buildings, and many a home in Hawaii and around the world.
While any of these women could have been a one-person show, Schnack chose to group them to highlight the significant contribution they have made to art in Hawaii.
“This exhibit is very representative of their current work,” Schnack said. “It contains Mayumi Oda’s original serigraph prints in limited series, acrylic paintings by Yvonne Cheng, and paintings in a variety of media by Pegge Hopper.”
The women agreed to join for a group show because of their respect and admiration for each other. Their combined works comprise a large block of the important art created in Hawaii over the past 50 years.
In 1967, Yvonne Cheng took a batik class at Bishop Museum and was captivated with the art form. Cheng, who was born in Indonesia in 1941, moved to Hawaii in that year.
She used batik patterns on the muumuu of Hawaiian women she painted and, in doing so, created her unique style.
For Cheng, painting the forms of Hawaiian women with their gracefulness and gentle movements “bring me a sense of peace and restfulness,” she said. “I found that the batik shapes of squares, rectangles, triangles, etc. flowed gracefully as the fabrics draped over their bodies.”
While Cheng no longer works with labor-intensive batiks, she still paints on large canvases. She mixes her own colors, rather than using pre-mixed shades. “Colors fascinate me,” she says.
”I am totally at ease drawing figures of Hawaiian women,” Cheng said. “Their faces have more variety, and fabrics drape so beautifully over their form. They never bore me.”
Pegge Hopper credits her emergence on the art scene in Hawai’i in the early 1960s to a stroke of good luck. She explains, “If Bruce, my former husband, hadn’t said in 1963, ‘Let’s move to Hawaii,’ I don’t know what I’d be painting as an artist. Being surrounded by the beauty of the islands and its people has been my source of inspiration.”
Hopper’s facility with color, line, and design soon drew a public audience for her paintings of Hawaiian women. “I‘m so lucky and so grateful,” she said.
But these days, she said, there is a new twist in her art.
“My current approach to painting and drawing at this late stage in life is to see what happens as I work, only to please myself, said Hopper, 84. “To explore new media and styles will hopefully keep my inspiration and discovery alive.”
“Making art has been a passion and fortunately a means of support,” Hopper said. “It certainly has helped me weather the ups and downs of life. I’ve always tried to do my best. I keep the hope alive that my next piece will surprise me. Being a struggling artist is the best life ever!”
Mayumi Oda, often referred to as the “Matisse of Japan,” once wrote, “My past does not seem to exist behind me, but is here with me creating the present.” How apt for a 77-year old woman who is still exploring, discovering, and creating. Oda has several projects in motion at the moment.
Oda is writing a biography which traces her transformations through the decades from an artist painting goddesses, to an activist warning against the use of nuclear energy, to managing an organic farm/educational community on Hawaii island.
She is also working on a deck of Oracle cards, similar to tarot cards but aimed at a younger audience. The cards, adorned with her paintings of goddesses, send a powerful message.
Oda says, “The goddesses are projections of myself and who I want to be. On my farm, I train women to work the land and be powerful. I call it “goddess training.”
She wants to be remembered not only for her art, but as a woman warrior for peace and the environment, and proudly declares her support for the Protectors of Mauna Kea, opposing a telescope project on Hawaii island.
Sustainability is very important to Oda. Through daily meditation, she says, “We can all live in harmony with nature and teach others to do it, too.”
CEDAR STREET GALLERIES SUMMER EXHIBIT
Featuring works by Yvonne Cheng, Pegge Hopper and Mayumi Oda
>> Where: 817 Cedar St.
>> When: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday, Friday through Sept. 8;
>> Cost: Free
>> Info: 589-1580, cedarstreetgalleries.com
>> Note: An opening reception is scheduled from5:30-8 p.m. Friday