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Artist Duane Preble: Proceed With Reverence

Sarah and Duane Preble

At the University of Hawaii at Manoa, Art 101 is the foundational art appreciation class that even non-majors often take. The course used to be held in the cool, dark Varsity Theatre where one hundred students at a time could witness the treasures of the world glowing on the big screen.

Now, the Hawai'i Arts Alliance is honoring a UH professor who touched a lot of lives in that auditorium.

With his slight build and sandy hair, artist Duane Preble is a soft-spoken educator. But in his classes, Preble would get excited about ideas like reverence, honesty and truth discovered through working with materials like paint and clay.

We had a chance to talk in 2015 at his thoughtfully designed home/studio in Manoa--solar-powered, sustainable materials, open to nature. For Preble, there are no walls between art and life.

"Esthetic engagement is working with the things of life in a way that is beneficial and constructive to yourself and everybody around you," he said.

Preble maintains that esthetic engagement with materials, like clay or wood, is a way of learning things.

"Qualities of awareness, qualities of commitment, interacting with great sensitivity--and I use the word reverence because that's almost what it takes to really understand what you're working with," he said.

Assignments for Preble's Art 101 class included, of course, a self-portrait. Preble assigned a collage on the topic, "Life is..."

He just wanted to get you engaging with materials, making something.

"It's an interactive, live, ongoing process of staying in the moment, staying tuned in, fending off fears and intentions, to try to really be in the now."

A chef juggling ingredients and cooking times, a painter guiding the flow of colors, or someone expertly hammering a nail---Preble said you have to be in the flow, both directing and letting things happen.

As for cutting corners, or glossing over details, Preble said, "You can't separate how something is done from the result. In other words, honesty in the process leads to honesty in the product, so the truth of the product depends upon that. It's built-in honesty that is demanded."

Duane and Sarah Preble co-authored Preble's Artforms, a textbook of art and appreciation used around the world.

This year, the Hawai'i Arts Alliance is presenting a joint celebration of the 2020 Alfred Preis Award to Duane Preble and the 2021 Preis Award to exhibition designer, educator, Tom Klobe.

The online event is set for this Saturday at 7 p.m.

Find out more at the Hawai'i Arts Alliance website.

Noe Tanigawa covered art, culture and ideas for two decades at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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