ARTWatch: Rachael Ray Au Hoon’s U’i Gallery

The art of Rachael Ray Au Hoon is both a richly colorful tapestry of personal expression and a vital tribute to Hawaiian culture. Her work has been present island wide, from the walls of the Bamboo Grill, the Paia Mercantile, Maui Pack and Ship and the Whaler’s Village Museum, to name just a few. Now, Au Hoon has been commissioned to tell the story of the Westin Nanea through her art. She runs her U’i Gallery in Kahului and is on the cusp of becoming even more visible, as her spellbinding work continues to find a wide audience and resonates as a love letter to Maui. I spoke to Au Hoon about her artistic influences, her journey as a professional artist and how her family and upbringing is reflected in her work.

Barry Wurst: Your work strikes me as an expression of love towards Hawaii’s beauty and history. At what point in your life did this personal fusion of your abilities and passion for the aina come together?

Rachael Ray Au Hoon: I first experienced this passion to express my love of this incredible place at Baldwin High School, nearly 20 years ago in Janet Satoʻs art class, when we were asked to create a project. I created my painting, called “The Legend of the Taro,” which ended up winning the 2nd Congressional Mayorʻs award. My painting hung in the mayor’s office for a year!  That was when I found my calling to express this love of Hawaiʻi and it’s people through my art.
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BW: One of my favorite of your pieces, “Maui Starry Night,” reminds me of Van Gogh. Who are some of your inspirations for your work?

RRAH: That was one of my favorite commissioned paintings I received from Mark, who lives in Wailuku and loves the town and thought it would be really cool to have me paint Wailuku with a “starry night” sky.  I have always been inspired by the works of Van Gogh, implementing his impressionistic style and strokes, but Georgia OʻKieffe is also seen in my love for painting ti leaves and flowers, like lehua and ginger.  They are classic artists who I learn from in history.  But my art is also influenced by my junior high summer art classes with Phil Sabado, who inspired me to bring out the spiritual qualities in art – to allow things to appear through the creative process and to not deny their presence as the painting progresses, as it all happens for a spiritual reason.  Finally, I have been awe-struck by the oil paintings of my mentor, Anna Halldin-Maule, who paints photo-realism beyond compare, with the subject matter of the female form and fabric.  She taught me the glazing technique to achieve these results.

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BW: The use of light and reflection is one of the most striking qualities to your art. Your “Palm Island Sunrise” is an example of what I mean. Do you envision your art having those reflective qualities or is this something you discover during the creation?

RRAH: Yes, I love to have reflective qualities in my artwork, because this is what I find in nature and all around me… a reflection of the light of life.  The essence of this magical place Hawaiʻi glows and resonates with aloha and I try to capture this emotion of time into a single painting.

BW: Your art is sprouting up everywhere! What are some of the most gratifying experiences you’ve had in which people have come across your work?

RRAH: I love it when my art touches the lives of others and brings them happiness and aloha. There are countless gratifying experiences but, so far, the most significant of all was when I was asked for my portfolio by the Westin Nanea, based on a calendar they stumbled across with my artwork.  My portfolio made it all the way to the headquarters in Orlando and they have since asked me to work with them to help tell their story through my artwork in their new 390 room resort opening in 2017!  All because I gave a calendar as a gift  to a local person who visited my gallery earlier this year from the generosity of my heart who put it in the hands of his wife who is the cultural advisor to Westin!

BW: Oil paintings are primarily (though not the only) means in which you express yourself through art. Are there other methods that you’ve wanted to try?

RRAH: I prefer painting oil on canvas as it is a challenging art form enshrouded in history. But I have been commissioned to paint my first surfboard too!  I canʻt wait to try painting a bunch of surfboards actually for my gallery as I think it is such an interesting island style palette to work with!  I am also looking forward to creating fabric with my artwork to create apparel such as sarongs, scarves, clothing, and hats, etc.  I am also working with Maui Plastics to create a line of contemporary furniture with my artwork!  Currently my artwork is licsensed to companies in Hawaiʻi who create anything from cutting boards to coaster sets, greeting cards to calendars, mugs to mouse pads which are distributed to over 15 stores from Princeville to Kilauea, Pearl Harbor to Waikiki from small businesses to big Box stores!  I love creating functional art so you can experience my aloha no matter where you see it!

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BW: What did you learn about the business of the art world from your experience as a gallery director?

RRAH: I had an invaluable experience managing the Randy Jay Braun Gallery for 16 years but most important were the relationships created with people you meet from around the world.  They become ʻohana and customers for life who want to be a part of your adventure and story as it unfolds.   I learned that sharing aloha is one of the most valuable and rewarding experiences in customer service…like sharing Hawaiian proverbs to give insight to a couple on their honeymoon.  It may seem like a small gesture but it resonates in their hearts and minds and becomes a highlight of their honeymoon.  Likewise from just sharing knowledge and stories of Hawaiʻi when people visit our gallery they always leave feeling amazing with a dose of aloha!

BW: You’re a full-time mother as well as an accomplished artist. Have you begun to teach your keiki about creating art and what kind of legacy as an artist do you wish to instill in them?

RRAH: Everything I do is for my keiki and my love for them.  I teach them to look at all the beauty that Ke Akua has created around them, to appreciate everything in life, and to share this love and joy in everything we do – especially through Hawaiian language which reveals hidden meanings in the way of life of Hawaiʻi.  I want them to learn that the high mission of any art is to foreshadow a higher universe reality, and to crystallize the emotions of time into the thought of eternity.

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Rachael Ray Au Hoon’s U’I Gallery is located at 395 Dairy Road, Kahului, Maui 96793. You can view samples of her work at rachaelrayartcollection.com.

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About Barry Wurst II

Barry Wurst II
Barry Wurst II is a senior editor & film critic at MAUIWatch. He wrote film reviews for a local Maui publication and taught film classes at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs (UCCS). Wurst also co-hosted podcasts for Screengeeks.com and has been published in Bright Lights Film Journal and in other film-related websites. He is currently featured in the new MAUIWatch Podcast- The NERDWatch.

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