I attended ArtCenter way back in the 1950s. My parents were concerned that I, a budding artist, was going to struggle at making a living. This was particularly true of my father, a staunch Republican capitalist and died-in-the-wool businessman who frequently referred to art as “frosting on the economic cake.”
My senior year, I found myself deliberating between ArtCenter and Chouinard. I was leaning toward Chouinard, which seemed artier and more to my tastes. My mother implored me to consider ArtCenter, for the simple fact that the College was and is a place where creatives can transform their skill sets into a long-term career.
Far away from my ArtCenter bubble, seismic changes were occurring within the art world. The Abstract Expressionists were revolutionizing New York City. Some decades later, the concept of modern art would be further commercialized as the likes of Andy Warhol rose to prominence. There was definitely an emphasis placed on doing things differently.
At ArtCenter, it was never about doing things differently. It was about doing things well. My education was almost musical in that sense: I had to master the basics of my instrument, which was fine art, before I learned how to play jazz. Instructors like Lorser Feitelson and Harry Carmean helped me understand the basic beauty of line, and what it meant to really capture something in a drawing.
I eventually became obsessed with drawing human forms. One of my major influences was Marimekko, the Finnish design icon whose purposefully flat design work and vivid fabrics concealed tremendous dimensions. Seeing Marimekko fabric designs in the 60s was my first “eureka” moment. Many of my early attempts at painting saw me trying to do my own version of Marimekko.
I loved ArtCenter so much I ended up marrying into it! My ex-husband was Bruce Hopper, a fellow alum, and a brilliant designer in his own right. We lived in Milan in the early 60s, where I eventually landed a gig designing seasonal concept posters for the high-end Italian outlet, La Rinascente. After two years in Milan, we moved to Los Angeles with plans of starting a family. Neither of us particularly liked it there, even though Bruce was from Glendale. It was around that time, after six years of marriage, that we began charting a course for Hawaii, where I reside to this day.
Neither one of us had stepped foot on Hawaiian soil before we made that decision.
Before long, we had an apartment overlooking the ocean, with a view that stretched from Diamond Head all the way to the airport. Hawaii had only been a state for four years before we arrived, and it still felt tranquil and new then.
It was around this time I started painting. Acrylic paint did not exist at ArtCenter, believe it or not, so it was a thrill to explore what, for me, was a new medium. I became familiar with the local art scene and ended up discovering a treasure trove of photos at the Honolulu State Archives that would alter the course of my career.
They were photographs of women: women, sitting on mats, playing ukuleles, and never smiling for or even acknowledging the presence of a camera.
These incredible photos went on to inspire some of the work I’ve become most well-known for. At no point did I look at these photographs and think to myself, “this is my brand.” It was pure inspiration. It was my second “eureka” moment.
I always thought of myself as a designer first and visual artist second. I’m not an impressionist. I don’t obsess over light, and shadow. I am a product of ArtCenter. I appreciate typeface as much as I do brushstrokes. That’s not to say I don’t love the old masters. At the end of the day, that’s just not me.
From Picasso’s “Guernica” to the George Floyd murals that have recently sprung up across America, art has remained a vital reflection of social change. I do sometimes worry that we’ve become oversaturated, and that the abundance of stimuli we consume every day eventually starts to cancel itself out.
What I do is, in the grand scheme of things, is modest. My work is a reflection of my unwavering respect and admiration for Hawaii and its people. I want to be clear: when it comes to Hawaiian culture, I am a bystander, an observer. My only job is to help ensure the integrity of my chosen home.
More than anything, I thank my lucky stars that Bruce said to me, all those years ago, “let’s go see what Hawaii is like.”
BFA 56 Fine Art
Owner, Pegge Hopper Gallery, Honolulu
Former Illustrator for La Rinascente