September 1, 2017

Varez's Hawai'i

        Dietrich Varez makes wood and linoleum block prints celebrating the history, nature, and mythology of Hawai’i.  When I came across his work this morning I immediately recognized it from a trip to Hawai’i some 10 or 15 years ago.  He has a very distinctive style: always printing in brown, filling backgrounds with stylized patterns, often incorporating borders and motifs inspired by traditional Polynesian designs, especially Hawai’ian two-color quilts.  In all of the examples I have here I like the wavy rays of the sun filling the sky.  Together with the sun being dark instead of light, it’s almost a physical presence.  Clearly this is a handling of the sky that Varez returns to, but in other examples he uses other patterns, and more rarely plain white.
        The jellyfish in today's first piece are especially fun, and if you look closely you can see that the large jellyfish is wafting the baby Maui along the ocean like a cherub on clouds.
        I particularly like the self portrait, which seems a little more personal than many of Varez’s other images.  It’s also an illustration of printmaking process, as Varez shows himself with brayer, blades, and ink, pulling a new impression from a block.  In the background, flowers fill the sky above the fuming volcanoes.
        The last piece may be my favorite, though: a pleasing composition and patterns for a simple but pleasing subject of nature.
       Varez is one of the best known Hawai’ian artists, but at the same time he makes a point of remaining an art “outsider.”  In some ways his attitude is quite similar to mine.  He says “Some people have told me that until I start charging more, I'm never going to become a 'known artist.' I think that's nonsense. You either like the print or you don't, and that shouldn't have anything to do with the price. My goal is to make art -- at least my art -- available to 
common people.”  On the other hand, unlike me, Varez doesn’t limit his editions, but just keeps printing and printing, often until the block wears out!  He also seems to be a bit of a recluse.  At any rate, he’s found his niche and stuck with it, and it seems to be a very popular niche, too.

[Pictures: Keiki Maui, block print by Dietrich Varez;
Self Portrait, block print by Varez;
Hulu Ula, block print by Varez (Images from Art Prints Hawaii).]

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