A Lifetime of Art

Satoru Abe opens a permanent collection for his work

At 82, Satoru Abe considers himself a little too old to be an artistic nomad, moving from gallery space to gallery space, at the mercy of landlords and rising costs of rents.

He thought he’d found a lucky spot when he moved into a church-owned space at 888 N. King St., but when they, too, were about to raise the rent, his brother Fred suggested buying a space and directed him to a building he’d seen at 905 Makahiki Way in McCully.

For the artist, it seemed like destiny. “I actually saw this building a long time ago,” he says. “We grew up in the area, and I remember when it wasn’t gray but painted a beautiful Venetian red. I told him, ‘Let’s take ’em.’ ”

The building is now home to the Satoru Abe Museum, housing the artist’s permanent collection as a legacy to his heirs. He’d become interested in creating a museum since the deaths of fellow artists and friends Jerry Okimoto and Tadashi Sato. He had watched their legacy sold off in pieces and scattered, and he didn’t feel like he had much time to manage his own affairs. He’s long believed he would die at 88.

“It’s a number that looks like the symbol for infinity. There’s no beginning, no end. It’s a beautiful number,” he says. “I hope I can make it.”

The inevitability of death has shadowed him since 1955, when his thoughts led him to paint an image of his spirit floating over mourners in a work titled “Three Mourners.”

Even so, the artist shows no sign of slowing down, whether in his public craft or private growth. He’s currently working on a bronze sculpture commission for the Maui Community College campus, involving the construction of five 11-foot tall trees surrounding a 7-by-15-foot and 18-inch tall depiction of the island of Maui. Titled “A Path Through the Forest,” the island will be split in two so visitors can walk a path between the two halves. The work and installation should be completed by year’s end.

Although much of Abe’s renown has come from his monumental public sculptures, his work over 60 years has encompassed painting, jewelry-making and paper sculpture. He’s recently revisited jewelry by taking classes in paper clay sculpture and also finds himself increasingly drawn to painting.

“Painting, you tend to do better when the mind is still,” he says, which is something he wasn’t able to do when he was younger and a blank canvas was a source of anxiety.

“I didn’t know where to start,” he says, attributing his fear to dyslexia. “Everything was always new to me. I always felt like an amateur.”

He’s since learned to start with a familiar color, yellow ochre.

“If I started with ultramarine blue, I wouldn’t know where to go. But when I start with yellow ochre, I feel comfortable,” he says.

According to Abe, forcing himself to keep going forward is part of being an artist.

“To be an artist, you have to do things that make you fearful, that no one wants to talk about,” he says. “It’s the only way to grow. It’s the only way you find something new.”

Satoru Abe Museum 905 Makahiki Way 945-3939 Open by appointment only

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