Sally French: Sugar Soup (and the 99%)

Oct 11, 2019

Kaua‘i artist Sally French is quietly taking care of business in Kalāheo, on the Garden Isle. Painting and drawing is what it’s all about for French, and a tour through her show in Honolulu is a lot like a visit to her studio.

Award winning artist Sally French has sustained a vibrant painting practice in Kalaheo over the last 30 years, while continuing to work and exhibit on the continental U.S.
Credit Noe Tanigawa / Hawai'i Public Radio

Multi media artist Sally French says her work is Victorian wallpaper meets Disney and goes to Japan, comes back, digests it, and throws up.

But what does it look like?

Sally French. Blue Rounds 2. Mixed media.
Credit Noe Tanigawa / Hawai'i Public Radio

Well, this time, it’s called Sugar Soup, and large key pieces started as simple offset printed color fields back in 2001, right after 9/11. The color, you could call aqua, but it’s stronger, more like verdigris, the color of copper’s patina. Eighteen years after the original colors were printed, back in French’s Kalāheo studio, characters and worlds condensed out of the mists.

On the right, swarms of bees come roiling out of one corner, a chubby baby tips its nose up, there are birds, flowers, vines, mutating organisms, French says she’ll go in, and tease things out with her pencil, then work them.

"The drawing itself isn’t facile. It’s a very long process for me.  I like it. It’s laborious and I go very slowly into it, and yet I want the motion to be fluid. That’s really important and I want it to show movement, but I also like to spend a lot of time at this point of my drawing in this series.”

French points out that earlier work has been more gestural, freer. “But this is not. While I try to draw from the same kind of place, I like to spend time in that place, laying it in, and taking time in the process because that’s what I’m enjoying.  Why rush something that’s the most enjoyable part? I want to spend time there. so now I draw meticulously, not because I like to look at it, because I like to do it.”

Sally French. State of Affairs. Mixed media.
Credit Noe Tanigawa / Hawai'i Public Radio

What are you going for?

“I don’t know,” says French. “Going for my dreams. I change every time. If I analyze a body of work and I feel it's weak, the next time I do a body of work, I’m going to focus on that. There‘s a lot of blue-green here, I guarantee the next series of work probably won’t be starting there.”

French emphasizes there’s a lot of back and forth in her work.

“I really do like detail, but I can always spray it out.” French uses artist quality spray paint, often with stencils, to “knock things back.”

“I need strength in shape, so I use spray paint to define large shapes. It helps me to get in and out at that level, and it will carry the whole piece all the way through my little bitty hours and hours of drawing.”

Sally French. Mixed media. The 99%'s. 58/99, 23/99, 76/99, 24/99.
Credit Noe Tanigawa / Hawai'i Public Radio

Sally is kind of a small, wiry gal, but she carves big shapes with her aerosols. She prepares a ground, a kind of “atmosphere,” then zeroes in on area by area, adding, excavating, feeling for associations, for imagery she can tease forward. Subjects include, 1950’s style illustration, chickens, dogs, manga type characters, the Fukushima disaster, visual references to Japanese, Chinese, and other cultures.

For this series, French collaged marbleized paper, antique wallpaper, paper dolls, and other elements to these works. The elements are then drawn over, worked in.

Sugar Soup, new work by Sally French continues at Cedar Street Galleries through October 27, 2019.

Note: Sally French is the daughter of two early organizers of the Kaua‘i Society of Artists, Carl and Dawn Steinhart. The Steinharts owned Kahana Ki‘i Gallery in Kōloa. French now runs an artist’s residency out of her home and studio in Kalāheo. Find out more about Double Dog Dare Studios.