Painter Kainoa Gruspe graduated from UH Mānoa in 2017 and has been showing consistently around Honolulu ever since. His latest show at Ars Café on Monsarrat combines the naïve imagery of a house, a T-Rex, or a happy face, with a paint application technique that looks like stacked magazines from the side. HPR’s Noe Tanigawa reports some paintings have a hundred layers.
“Some Paint to Look At,” new work by Kainoa Gruspe continues at Ars Café on Montsarrat until the end of the month.
Painter Kainoa Gruspe’s new paintings are funny and sly.
Gruspe: So I guess the two main characters in the paintings are the paint, the material of the paint itself, and then whatever the drawing is. The two main characters are fighting each other to get the center of attention, I guess.
The smiley face, for example, looks like someone excavated it out of sedimentary rock.
Gruspe: I just wanted to bring the child-like drawing and figure out a way in paint to legitimize that simple way of drawing.
100 layers of paint will yes, lend a certain gravitas. Gruspe isn’t the first to go thick—Anselm Kiefer used plants, Donald Sultan used tar, Bram Bogart --- mortar, Gruspe used drywall patch.
Gruspe: When people talk about value in painting, a lot of time they talk about the long amount of time the artist had to take to create this detailed image. Renaissance painters would glaze over in really thin layers of oil paint to get that glow. This was taking those ideas of the artist dedicating a ton of time but to one simple drawing that would layer over itself.
Gruspe: In this day and age with digital and everything, in order for it to be important that it was a painting, the paint itself has to be an important aspect of it. So this was me making sure that the paint was really important.
So important, in fact, that the drawing couldn’t exist without it. The drawing is no longer a mark, in many pieces, the “drawing” is created by vacancy where the paint is not.
Gruspe: One of my teachers introduced this quote to me by Phillip Guston, I’m paraphrasing, but it was a long time or many hours of preparation for a few moments of innocence.
Innocence, so hard to achieve, because it involves surprise---which is rare for our media saturated eyes.
And, it so helps to know a little about art history, to think about what painters have been tackling with their work besides just making an image. For those who have seen Walter de Maria’s Earth Room installation in New York, there's a real treat here. Gruspe’s green lawn floor piece comes off as that rare local rejoinder to an art historical conversation. You will have a chuckle.
Can you care what people are going to think?
Gruspe: If I cared what people would have thought, the paintings would have looked a lot different. I had no idea whether they would be thought of as good or not, but they were the only paintings I could have done at the time.
Note: Amber Khan, Gruspe's wife, works at HPR on The Conversation. Early on, when she informed me of their relationship, I remember saying, I'm glad I don't have to fake liking your boyfriend's work.