Russell Sunabe - Painting

Matt Tuohy
By Matt Tuohy
Friday - October 31, 2008


Russell Sunabe - Painting

Painter and art professor at Kapiolani Community College Russell Sunabe invites viewers to find their own interpretation in his paintings. His mind’s eye obviously had reason to put certain strokes of paint in one part, a smudge in another and paint over figures, but he leaves the final say to you.

“It’s about painting,” Sunabe says about his works, “and the whole language of what painting is today, bringing in all the different kind of ideas that come from different movements.”

His works are on display at KCC’s Koa Gallery as a part of the Local Motives exhibition, and are symbolic of either his childhood memories or contemporary issues - like the loss of Hawaiian and local cultures - in an allegorical and postmodern style. All terms and reasoning behind the work aside, Sunabe says there are many ways to interpret his paintings.

His piece Instinct depicts a boar being brought down by two white hunting dogs on a strong dark-green background. “Hunting with dogs is a primal experience,” he says. “But on the other hand, I think of superpowers and where we are in the Middle East. So I guess the dogs are war dogs and the pigs are the smaller country.”


Another piece, Ocean, shows two men holding a hammerhead shark on a rocky shoreline. The idea came from a childhood memory of camping on the beach.

“On one occasion, these guys in a small boat hauled in a shark, and once they brought it onto the shore they started butchering it on the beach,” Sunabe recalls. But he still encouraged me to come up with my own story and interpretation behind the painting, which led me to think of the dangers of fisheries and over-fishing.

That is his main goal for this exhibition: for people to view his paintings and decide on a message and meaning themselves.

The professor was born and raised in the small plantation town Hakalau on the Big Island and spent his college career at UH-Manoa, where he earned his master’s in fine arts.

Stray Dog

He then spent several years in New York in the late 1980s and early ‘90s participating in art shows at Hunter College, EB International in Spanish Harlem and the Clock Tower Gallery in Tribeca.

Sunabe eventually returned to Hawaii expecting to work in the plantation fields but found he could make a living as an artist and teaching art in college. Since then, Sunabe has taught at UH-Hilo, UHManoa and now at KCC.

For more information on the exhibition or the gallery, visit


Obake World

Girl Fest Exhibition

The ARTS at Marks Garage is hosting Girl Fest Hawaii’s art exhibition featuring 19 female artists from Hawaii, the Mainland and as far away as New Zealand.

The exhibition is part of the larger Girl Fest event that features plays, musical artists and an expert panel in a discussion of women’s rights on an international scale.

“The theme is Freedom First, so the artists are given the opportunity to express their points of view, where they’re at or what has affected them or someone they know with regard to freedom and liberty centered on women’s issues,” says Kathy Xian, Girl Fest’s non-executive director. “We have pieces that center on sex trafficking, child prostitution, poverty to lighter things like getting out of school.“She notes the youngest artist is 11 years old, and the eldest is in her 60s.

A selection committee comprised of four members chose the art, performers and other parts of the show.“No one person decides,” Xian says. “We discuss the pieces as a group and then figure out what the artist is trying to say.” There also was a call to artists to create works for the show’s theme, from which most of the works came.

Featured artists include Henriata Nicholas and her Maori-inspired paintings from New Zealand, and Suzi Childers with her photo essay on children in impoverished countries.“Her work is really powerful,” says Xian of Childers.“She captures the look of each child, and there’s definitely a power behind that.” She mentions how the subjects, though young, have the chilling look of someone who is much older.

This is the fifth year Girl Fest has run, and it has used Marks Garage, for which Xian has high regard, to showcase its art since its inception.“I don’t think the city of Honolulu understands what a really great resource The ARTS at Marks provides to the art community here,” she says. “Nowhere else, not even in San Francisco, have I found such a collaborative, community-centered venue that is beneficial to the public but also open to working with the public in such a great way.”

Another facet of Girl Fest to keep an eye out for is the play My Real Name - a performance about women lost in the sex trafficking world. The play starts at 3:30 p.m. Nov. 12 in the Hawaii Design Center’s Cupola Theater.

For more information on Girl Fest, events and artist listings, visit

The gallery’s hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and admission is free. For more information on the gallery, visit

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