Harry Tsuchidana: Living in Color

Jul 19, 2016

(detail) Tora Series (Small), 2016. "Harry Tsuchidana: A Retrospective," continues through October 28, 2016.
Credit noe tanigawa


The Honolulu Museum of Art First Hawaiian Center is located at the corner of Bishop and King Streets downtown. Open during banking hours, there is free validated parking for the Museum through the parking entrance off Merchant Street.
Credit noe tanigawa

Successful artists today must Tweet incessantly, they do Instagram and Pinterest, they collaborate and interact with their audiences all day long.  Other artists, like those of the past, work alone for long periods, on art which often is not seen beyond their studio walls.  

HPR’s Noe Tanigawa reports that one of Hawai‘i’s most venerable artists has opened his life’s work for a new retrospective.

Maybe it started with Isami Doi, who studied in New York City and Paris in the 1920’s and 30’s.  He inspired a postwar generation in Hawai‘i to try their luck in the Big Apple—Tadashi Sato, Satoru Abe, Bumpei Akaji.

“These guys were like big brothers to me.  They treated me like a kid, you know younger brother, right?”

Painter Harry Tsuchidana, with the person who helped make it possible, Violet Tsuchidana, in his studio.
Credit noe tanigawa

  Harry Tsuchidana’s apartment in New York and back in Honolulu became  party central for pinochle and poker  thanks to his wife, Violet’s, hospitality.

“Because of her, we had a lot of gatherings.  When she came home, we say, Eh, we’re going to have a beer bust.  And she said okay!”

Violet Tsuchidana made it possible for Harry to work in the painting studio, because she was working as a teacher.

“And she never talked about the bottom line, you know, if it can sell or not.  That never came up.”

“I’d been exposed to artists too, so basically it was just a natural reaction,” says Vi.  For a vanished generation, maybe!  Tsuchidana did teach painting for the City and County and the Honolulu Museum over the years.

Although Tsuchidana’s early works look like Tadashi Sato style organic abstractions, by the 1980’s Tsuchidana began his Stage series of more geometric abstracts.  

“I always wanted to be a little different.  Once you learn how to play chess you don’t want to play checkers, because chess has more moves, right?  I have more moves, more freedom doing abstracts.  I can create colors, I can move things, so that’s the thing that excites me.”

The upstairs gallery at HOMA First Hawaiian features large scale works from the "Stage" series. Early and most recent works are a treat to see--don't miss them in the long gallery upstairs.
Credit noe tanigawa

Tsuchidana turns to fresh drawings from this morning and begins to point to invisible vectors that criss cross the works.  He uses orange, blue, and green accents to set off blocks of grey.

“Now this is eye level, right, the angle, on the second one to the top, you see the white area is more on this way, more on the center, slightly to the right, you saw, this way, this way, this way.  In the course of our day, everyone, we look at things from an angle.  So it applies to every one of us, that’s the intrigue on this.  I started this in 1979, it still intrigues me.”

"Holiday Patterned", 1961, by harry Tsuchidana
Credit noe tanigawa

  Do you find it’s important to work every day?   Do you?  “I think so.  It kind of greased me up.  If you put a paper in front of me I can do it.  I’m on all the time.  I’m on.  It’s a queer sensation.”

After dinner, Tsuchidana prepares the next day’s projects.  “So when I get up the next morning, Eh, I gotta go finish this.  I look forward to getting up to finish what I did the day before.”

Violet says, “Look at this part here.”  She's pointing to the wash that underlies so many works.  Tsuchidana had freely brushed a hazy film over the white paper before penciling in rectangles and a horizon.  Slips of blue and green peeked from behind a grey block like frosting on the edge of a cupcake.

“Imagine, I still feel excited about this thing after so many years!”  

Sometimes people don't know how/whether to contact an artist.  You might see works in a show, and just be intrigued, want to know more.  Harry Tsuchidana's studio number is listed.  It's 808-834-2146.   He's delightful to talk with, and has a lifetime of work to his credit.

More small works from the "Stage" series are in preparation for another exhibition.
Credit noe tanigawa