A Whimsical Show Befitting This Season of Madness
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
There is a very fancy art philosophical theory that boils down to a simple concept (at least for me; academic art historians may consider my explanation too simple-headed): that art is not just an inanimate object. It is an experience. In other words, a work of art doesn’t exist by itself. It has to be created by an artist with a certain intent. Of course! But then art meets a viewer who brings his or her own past experiences and temperament so that the entirety of the artwork is based on the art through the artist’s intentions, but is also subsequently interpreted by the viewer.
That said, going to see “The Maneki Neko Show,” a group exhibit hosted by fishcake, almost turned into a disastrous experience. The main storefront for fishcake is on Kamani Street, which is one street ‘ewa of Ward Avenue. But parking in that light industrial district, full of small auto body repair shops, warehouses and furniture warehouses, was impossible. Frustrated, I finally parked in a large shopping center parking lot on Ward and walked across to Halekauwila, then turned on Kamani . . . and immediately, because I was shuffling my feet, tripped over a crack in the pavement, stumbled and fell forward. I had enough sense to aim for a low row of bushes, thereby saving myself from face-planting my head into the dirty concrete sidewalk. Instead, my face got scraped by the bushy leaves. I also suffered a few other scrapes that I brushed off. I continued the few feet left to fishcake, only to find that the main outlet was closed for the holidays. However, a small piece of paper in the window informed me that “The Maneki Neko Show” was currently at a “pop-up” shop at apt. #155 at the South Shore Market, about a mile Diamond Head from where I stood in front of a locked door.
So, with that inauspicious start, I was already in a pretty pissy mood by the time I finally found parking at the South Shore Market on Auahi Street, across from the former IBM Building. One side of the building is anchored by Nordstrom Rack and T.J. Maxx. The Diamond Head-facing side is an enclosed arcade of small boutique shops and eateries, including fishcake at apt. #155. Fortunately, my experience changed as I encountered the delightful artwork and so, rather than letting my clumsiness and frustration about how difficult it is to find parking in the Ward area make me grumpy and hypercritical, I let the playfulness of the artwork lift my spirits.
Fifteen artists created personal, modern art based on the Japanese tradition of the Maneki Neko statue. Maneki Neko are those chubby cat statues you see at business establishments. One paw extends into the air while the other rests on an old-fashioned Japanese gold coin. The cat (neko) is waving its paw to invite (maneki) customers and good luck and wealth into the business establishment. It has become such a common fixture in Hawai‘i that even businesses that are not Japanese-related will often have a Maneki Neko statue somewhere on its premises.
The featured artists are Tia Castro, Yvonne Cheng, May Izumi, Wendy Kim Messier, John Koga, Johanette Rowley, Lawrence Seward, Esther Shimazu, Bud Spindt, Jason Teraoka, Lonny Tomono, Mike Watanabe, Shannon Web, Suzanne Wolfe and Maile Yawata.
Unlike a museum show, however, once the pieces at the boutique store were purchased, out the door they went. I would have loved to have seen what Lonny Tomono has been up to since I’d met him years ago just after he had returned from spending many years in Japan studying under Buddhist temple carpenters. But, it appeared his piece had already been purchased. Hopefully, there will still be enough artworks left before the exhibit/sale closes on Jan. 20 for viewers to get a taste of the variety of works by the different artists.
When I stopped by around Christmastime, there was still an interesting array of interpretive Maneki Neko pieces left that would delight a viewer. It isn’t “high art.” It’s more like a lighthearted plunge into taking a traditional concept and playing with it to see how far an artist can take it.
For example, ceramicist Suzanne Wolfe uses the basic shape of a chubby Maneki Neko for her porcelain pieces, but created a wide variety of different glazed paintings on the surface, from traditional motifs of Chinese clouds and dragons to one covered with big black spots like a modern art abstract painting. Bud Spindt’s “Trekkie Neko” is a kiln-cast piece of solid glass, translucent blue and purple. The cat has a haircut, eyebrows and pointed ears like Mr. Spock from “Star Trek.” His raised paw has fingers in the shape of the Outer Space Vulcan sign for “Live Long and Prosper.” Wendy Kim Messier took the concept of the Maneki Neko and used it as patterns in a set of indigo-dyed noren hanging cloth screens. She also made several clever hanging lamps with shades and images of cats drawn on them.
Perhaps the weirdest and funniest piece to me was Esther Shimazu’s “Double Cat” stoneware ceramic piece. Shimazu, a fixture in the local ceramics scene for decades, has honed her wicked sense of humor and created a ceramic cat that looks sort of like that offbeat “Bill the Cat” from the comic strip “Bloom County.” Her cat has a textured surface like real cat hair. It rises up on realistic-looking hind legs. One paw is raised up, but not beckoning. Its claws are out, like it’s threatening to scratch you. Its mouth is open in a yowl and you can see its fangs. Its other front paw holds a kitten with a similar screeching expression and bared teeth. It may sound horrible, but it’s really hilarious in an offbeat, screwball sort of way.
I can relate to that. Our adopted 15-year-old grumpy cat named Speedy rises up just like that on her hind legs, sticks her front claws into the side of the bed and raises herself up to screech into my wife’s face, “Feeeeeeed me!!!!” every morning. Just like that.
If we never had a cat, I might not have realized how true to life that caricature of a cat really is. So, yes, you have to have some crazy experiences of your own, I guess, to relate to some of the art, sometimes.
“The Maneki Neko Show” continues through Jan. 20 at apt. #155 by fishcake at South Shore Market (1170 Auahi St.). Shop hours are Monday to Thursday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m.-9 p.m.; and Sunday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Call 800-6151 for more information.
Wayne Muromoto is a former Hawai‘i Herald staff writer. After spending a decade teaching art and digital art at the high school level, 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.