Mural by Sally French illuminates Princeville Center
KALAHEO — Eight long arms embrace what was once a dark corner in Princeville Shopping Center.
Wrapped around the wall of the North Shore Company Store, contemporary artist Sally French created a 32-foot mural titled, “The Keeper Series: He‘e and the Golden Egg,” one of many public art displays supported by Honu Group and Princeville Center.
Nearly 100 artists and art lovers gathered for a blessing last week by Kelvin Ho at the unveiling of French’s mural.
The style is influenced by what she refers to as a blend of Chinese line-drawing, tattoo art and “ukiyo-e,” traditional Japanese wood-cut.
“Being in Hawai‘i it’s important to integrate other styles,” she said. “When speaking of Hawai‘i, there’s got to be an Asian influence.”
Cultural and environmental preservation are key components to the public art installations on the property.
“We want the center to be a gathering place where people can be surrounded by art,” said Mona Abadir, one of the principles of Honu Group and managing partner for Princeville Center. “Sally’s humor is the hook that pulls everybody in.”
Like much of French’s work the cartoon characters and vibrant palette are outwardly playful, and yet on closer inspection the viewer intuits loftier ideals at play. Nothing short of a 21st century mythologist, French’s story telling is as much a part of her work as the seductive pigments she employs.
“I have to have a narrative,” she said. “I love stories. As a child I was a voracious reader.”
Drivers glancing toward the center may catch the esprit of a raucous underwater scene or be confounded by the blue amoeba-like floating figures and octopus clasping a golden egg.
The he‘e (octopus) is representative of the island and of our highest self, French said. And the golden egg is a symbol of the island’s ideals and values.
“I want this to be a story of inspiration,” she said. “A reminder as people drive by to keep what you hold dear close — whether it’s family, culture or the land. Your golden egg should always come first.”
“He‘e and the Golden Egg” is a contemporary myth chronicling Kaua‘i’s evolution with the underlying theme of invasion. Because French’s stories require both an antagonist and protagonist, she chose the infamous Portuguese Man-of-war to represent both the invaders and distractions that pull our attention away from our values.
“Man-of-war is a play on words. The Man-of-war proliferate when the waters are stagnant, so this is also a metaphor of our present economy,” she said. “There’s this invasion of the Man-of-war and the octopus is the filter pulling them out.”
In French’s myth there’s a secondary protagonist warding off another Man-of-war in hand-to-hand combat.
“She becomes a voice for the island. You can’t talk about Kaua‘i without talking about the Hawaiian movement. (This character) is the voice protecting against the thoughts or things that keep you from your values. She’s your inner voice. The intuitive voice is always out there doing the work for you. You have to support that voice.”
Those familiar with French’s art will recognize the egg from previous works.
“That egg speaks to me of rebirth, hope and a vision for the future,” Abadir said. “It connects us all whether we realize it or not. This represents Kaua‘i and even bigger — the universal values of cultural importance. What Sally’s done I hope gets people talking abut it.”
Apropos of her work are tiny sketches and messages embedded in the mural that are only visible to those who come close to the piece. While she does describe her message as a heavy one, she always tries to “clothe these issues in humor.”
“I’ve embellished a plain, dark wall with a story and the story has a moral and the moral — I want it to be inspirational,” she said.
Spinning in from around the northern most corner of the building is a little mouse in a space craft, representing the viewer, she said.
“He’s been kidnapped. Like what I am doing to you. I am kidnapping your attention,” French said.
As a contemporary artist with regular shows on O‘ahu and traveling as far as Los Angeles, Chicago and New York, French is known for her irreverent and colorful wood panel paintings and photographic images.
To see more of her work visit Galerie 103 at Kukui’ula Shopping Village or visit sallyfrench.com.
Connecting business, community and the environment is the crux of Abadir’s vision.
“We have the same values — environmental responsibility and preservation of culture. Sally’s imagination and ability to express these shared values with humor is one of the strengths of the piece.”