A writer’s quest for an art piece that sparks joy at International Marketplace’s galleries.
✏️ NATALIE SCHACK
📸 CHRIS ROHRER
My walls—and my mind—are blank.
It’s been six months since I moved into my apartment and while my collection of retro credenzas, planters (one is shaped like a turtle!), and mid-century lighting fixtures have increased exponentially, one thing remains starkly apparent: the lack of wall art. In some places, worn scrapes in the off-white paint cry out for attention—or coverage—like an open wound. Yet I’m paralyzed.
Personality? I have one, don’t I? I’m not a robot, so I must have opinions. Can’t such opinions be displayed as art and pull some double duty around here for once? I try to remember the things I love, which feels a bit like listing ex-boyfriends. I like misty, rainy days, for instance (normally). I like travel. (Don’t I?) But how do I hang those bits of my heart on my sleeve—or my walls? I hit the galleries and art boutiques at International Market Place to find out.
At the National Geographic Fine Art Galleries, there were photographs of misty, rainy days and poignant travel scenes in Morocco and Japan. Perfect, right? There were intense and breathtaking scenes: Larger-than-life images of a lion crouched in the reeds and making unsettling eye contact with you, a volcano’s glow bouncing off clouds in the distance, a group of circling sharks in a shadowy blue.
I linger on a photograph of a lone traveler bundled in furs and on horseback. He’s surrounded by a frozen landscape, what looks like the edge of the world. It’s a moody, dreamy piece—a recreation of a famous 5,000-mile journey a Cossack made across Siberia in the late 1800s to ask the Russian tsar to protect a native tribe from corrupt local officials. No one thought he would live. It’s a quietly triumphant, resonating image that dances on the edge of the unknown. And it’s beautiful.
But is it quite right for staring at while blearily drinking my morning coffee at the dining table?
I ask for help.
“Some people come to me, like, ‘I like swans,’ so we have a swan picture,” says senior fine art consultant Kalei Kamekona.
“So some people know what they’re looking for?”
“But mostly not.”
“Mostly not. Sometimes the art finds you.”
The scene in Tabora Gallery is a far cry from the dark, dramatic niches of backlit photographs at National Geographic Fine Art Galleries. Instead, it’s a hodgepodge of experiences: Serene, elegant gallery walls of scenic, island oil paintings in one corner, ethereal sculptures of sea turtles gliding gracefully through the air in another, whimsical tropical landscapes in a third. Some spark joy, but others something else: Peace, perhaps. Or, an awareness of the divine.
I ask the dealer for guidance, but she’s similarly hesitant to lead. It’s your journey, she basically tells me, in so many words. I can’t take it for you. “Art is so personal,” she muses. “Someone can love still lifes, someone can love sea life, someone can love bronze sculpture.
“They know when they see it.”
Perhaps I should be focusing on a color scheme, I think, as I enter Greenroom Hawaii, a gallery with cheery, graphic prints, work by local artists, and island-inspired aesthetics. I think of my plants and my little Japanese tansu cabinet, my vintage sideboard, and all their dark colors. Should I be looking for a woodsy painting? A casual beach scene? Something lighthearted and bohemian, fit for a modern little Honolulu jungalow?
Heather Brown’s work, with its stylized waves and chipper, surfer vibe, adorns one nook of Greenroom Hawaii. “It is all about the connection to the person buying it,” says Brown, who puts a piece’s personal weight before how it will fit a room when choosing art. “I find most people are looking for something to really remember this time and space forever—a person or a specific place at a certain time of day and certain season. We like art that really speaks to our heart, so it is not necessarily a distinct style, but the feeling we get when we look at a piece.”
So, it’s personal. Purchasing artwork can’t be instructed and perhaps it can’t even be rushed. It’s about the sparking of joy or nostalgia or peace in a way that only the right creation can. It’s not necessarily knowing anything about art but about falling in love, about knowing what you like. I wander through the racks of prints and paintings waiting for that special spark. When I find it, I’ll think: I would drink my morning coffee in front of that any day.