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Hawaiʻi's colors and culture in 3D on the wall

Susan Maddux: A Kind of Homecoming continues at Arts and Letters Nu'uanu through December 5, 2021.
Noe Tanigawa
Susan Maddux: A Kind of Homecoming continues at Arts and Letters Nu'uanu through Dec. 5, 2021.

"A Kind of Homecoming" is the theme for a collection by Susan Madduxon view now in Chinatown. Maddux applies acrylic paint and dyes in color washes on canvas, then folds the material to create different forms.

She works primarily in tones from nature — pinks, greens, and iron oxide colors you might find at the very end of a plant where the stem turns into roots.

This is a homecoming for Maddux, who was raised in Mānoa, but moved to the continental U.S. after high school.

"I had things to do in New York, or so I thought," says Maddux. "To make art, to just live the life. To be young and to be in New York and feel like anything's possible."

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That worked, until Maddux got married and had a baby. She was doing fabric design and websites for a living, and painting Hawaiʻi landscapes in her studio, until her family made a fateful move to Los Angeles.

"That turned into quite an adventure. I got divorced immediately, and I've spent the last eight years finding my way. But it's been great actually. I found my way in a way I really didn't expect. And that has been to come back to doing art."

Maddux moved into a place with a recreation room she turned into a studio.

"I just feel this incredible relief as soon as I moved to LA," Maddux sits up straighter saying this. "I felt like a weight had been lifted off my head. I felt like anything was possible all of a sudden."

So what did you do?

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"In L.A. I had a creative explosion! And suddenly the child was going to daycare every day and I had all this time and I had this great studio. Which is another thing, in New York I never had that much time because I was always working."

Maddux began experimenting with colored and stained canvases.

"I was cutting them, I was collaging them, I was sewing them, reconfiguring them. I tried folding them, and immediately noticed the transformation that happened. It was such a gentle action my part, and yet it completely transformed the materials."

Then, Maddux put folded canvases together, and draped them on the wall. The effect is elegant. Especially in larger works that echo kimono shapes or the shape of ʻahuʻula, Hawaiian feather capes, as they hang.

"I had a hard time predicting what would happen exactly when I folded the paintings. There was this certain level of unpredictability and surprise. It was a magical process to me and I thought, Well, let's keep doing this!"

People started noticing her folded paintings, first on her own walls, then at a craft fair early on where Maddux says she didn't really fit.

But it led to another thing, and another. Maddux has been featured at the L.A. Design Festival, and other people are stepping in to market the pieces.

Maddux has just completed a four-week residency at Arts and Letters Nuʻuanu. She is heading back to L.A. now, where her art is catching on. Maddux recently signed with LES Collection by Lauren Sands in New York.

"I think there was a huge wobbly period, honestly, but once things got going, I was like, What, am I not going to do this? This is happening. I'm going to do it and I'm going to see what happens."

Catch “Susan Maddux: A Kind of Homecoming” at Arts and Letters Nuʻuanu through Dec. 5, 2021.

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