A Cozy Little Art Show by Hiroki and Setsuko Morinoue

Wayne Muromoto
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald

There’s a fine little shop/art gallery in an awful location for parking on Kamani Street, just off of Ward Avenue. It’s called Fishcake, and it’s where you will find Hawai‘i Island artists Hiroki and Setsuko Morinoue’s art show, “Big Fish, Little Fish.”

If the parking gods have mercy on your soul, you just might find street parking in this light industrial area of Kaka‘ako, but probably not. Or you could park right in front of the store in the 15-minute loading zone, dash in and hope you do your thing within that span of time.

Why even mention the hell of finding parking in an art review?

Because the entire experience of traveling, of being in the surroundings, of interacting with people are also part of the “art experience,” not just the artworks hanging on the walls themselves. And journeying to Fishcake is a world apart from visiting the Honolulu Museum of Art, or the Hawai‘i State Art Museum. In those sanctified halls, the works of art are hung on immaculate white walls in air-conditioned and humidity-controlled galleries, or placed on exhibition boxes, like religious relics. The art is separate from our every day world, things to behold in all their Art-ness, with a capital “A.” You look at the art and indulge in Big Ideas, in art theory, history and the Meaning of Life and all that sort of stuff that would impress your date.

The opposite end of the art-viewing spectrum, I suppose, would be looking at artwork for sale on the Honolulu Zoo fence. Or works that go begging for a venue and end up on the walls of restaurants, pretty much ignored as background color by patrons intent on taking cell phone foodie photos and ignoring the art as so much background decorations, like the wallpaper and potted plants.

Pity the practicing artists, because venues in the broad middle are so few and far between in our town, and without such shops and frequent patrons (and buyers), most artists in Hawai‘i do it as a side business or a dedicated hobby. That is, unless, you find a patron (including commissions from the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts), a hot topic that tourists will indulge in (like surfing or ocean scenes full of dolphins and turtles), or you simply move away to greener pastures.

Although located in such a dusty, pot-holed and maze-like environment, Fishcake has gamely tried to survive as a business and as a venue for artists since 2007. More power to owner Maura Fujihira and her team for supporting the arts. The square, stucco building also houses Fujihira’s interior design company, an artists’ working space and a small coffee bar. You can sip on a cup of Joe while perusing the show and other artworks strewn around the shop.

As for the show itself, it is a look back at some of Hiroki Morinoue’s past woodblock prints influenced by his visits to Japan and some recent works he did while thinking about the deforestation of Brazil’s rain forests. Setsuko Morinoue’s (Hiroki’s wife) works are primarily high-fired utilitarian clay pieces, bowls and dishes in muted, restrained whites and indigo-colored blues.

“Big Fish, Little Fish” is not a grand, opulent show. It’s a small, humble one with pieces sandwiched between other works on the walls and on tables and podiums, so you sort of stumble around trying to pick out the particular pieces. This is so unlike looking at art at the aforementioned Honolulu Museum of Art or the Hawai‘i State Art Museum, but it’s just another way to view and appreciate fine art.

The woodblock prints are manageably sized, most slightly bigger than a sheet of writing paper, and bear Morinoue’s distinctive restrained color schemes and a Japanese-influenced sense of clean, spare design.

While the concurrent show of woodblock prints at the Honolulu Museum of Art, “Celebrating the 150th Anniversary of the Meiji Restoration and Immigration to Hawai‘i,” closing Jan. 27, featured woodblock prints from the late 1800s in very traditional ukiyo-e style, Morinoue’s woodblock style owes more to the broader, simpler style of nearly abstract shapes of prints from the 1930s forward by artists like Munakata Shuko. Technical virtuosity, like depicting every strand of hair on a kabuki actor’s head, is not the point. What matters is the sense of design, of shapes and colors and abstract concepts, although you can pick out depictions of “objects,” like the texture of a plaster wall with glowing red cracks, a rock from a Japanese garden and so on. These are prints to meditate on in a quiet room.


Setsuko Morinoue’s ceramics are understated, as well, and more of a practical nature, priced and designed for regular use. The stoneware cups, plates and saucers are from a traditional influence of blue-and-white porcelain and the stoneware ceramics as well as indigo-dyed fabrics popular in the Japanese mingei (folk art) movement. The mingei movement did not aspire to expensive artworks that were put on display in the hushed quiet of a museum, but rather to be used as art that suffused one’s every day life.

As to the entire experience, viewing the artworks in that cluttered environment was, to me, just another more informal way to enjoy visual art, pot-holed roads and all. It took me back to the late 1970s and ’80s when there used to be several such galleries that have since faded away, such as Charlene Tashima’s Gallery EAS on Makaloa Street, a block away from Ala Moana Center, and Following Sea at Kahala Mall. They used to be art galleries/gathering/connecting places for local artists, opening and performing spaces that barely pulled a profit in good years, but really supported the aspiring artists in our community. Soaring real estate prices and other economic issues took their toll on those spaces so that the few remaining private galleries cater largely to the tourist trade, not so much to supporting an array of different local artists. Too bad.

Maybe Fishcake is a small reminder of those times when we artists were all young and full of optimism, done today in a slightly different way for a different era, for a new generation to discover and enjoy, potholes and all.

“Big Fish, Little Fishcake” will remain on view through Saturday, Feb. 2, at Fishcake (307C Kamani St.) in Kaka‘ako. Gallery/shop hours are Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday viewing is by appointment.

Wayne Muromoto is a former Hawai‘i Herald staff writer. The Waialua High School and Cornell University alumnus also spent 10 years teaching art and digital art at a private high school. He now teaches digital art and digital photography at Leeward Community College. Wayne also continues to pursue peace through a bowl of tea as a practitioner of Urasenke tea ceremony.


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