Honolulu Printmakers tell the history of Kaka‘ako one pixel at a time.
Text by James Charisma | Images by Jonas Maon
Working seven days a week out of a studio space above Paiko in Our Kaka‘ako, the printmakers of .5ppi create hundreds of 11-by-17 inch prints that are set out to dry on the empty room’s carpeted floors. On the weekends, the team installs these prints using wheat paste, a traditional printmaking adhesive. What they are working on is the organization’s largest project to date: a mural wrapping the entire wooden fence that blocks construction from view at the square block that once contained CompUSA, commissioned by developer Alexander & Baldwin for their residential project called The Collection at 600 Ala Moana Blvd. The size of this mural? Eight feet high and a staggering 1,500 feet long.
The project is overseen by Duncan Dempster, the executive director of Honolulu Printmakers, who made it his mission when he took on this role with the organization in May 2013 to promote printmaking in Honolulu and statewide in hopes of sustaining a creative local community. As a past board member of Honolulu Printmakers and a University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa instructor, Dempster was used to seeing artists graduate from school and either leave their disciplines for careers in other industries, or leave Hawai‘i entirely.
“I think it’s important to have a community where an artist could stay [employed in Hawai‘i] in a creative field for life,” Dempster says. “For there to be opportunities for people to volunteer and work in the arts.”
In early 2014, as part of the Honolulu Printmakers’ 86th Annual Exhibition at the Honolulu Museum of Art School, Dempster coordinated with former Kaimukī art gallery Ektopia to host a supplemental program involving the community. For this project, Dempster devised a system with students from his intermediate printmaking class at UH Mānoa that allowed anyone to get involved with the project: Instead of using traditional woodcut prints, which require extensive training in carving, handling equipment, and so forth, participants arranged woodblock squares with varying patterns (representing light gradients) into 11-by-17 inch grids to create an enlarged, pixelated mural using a still image from the 1967 French film The Young Girls of Rochefort. These wooden grids were rolled through the press and hung on the wall to dry, slowly forming the massive 10-by-20 foot image. The group—and the process—adopted the name “.5ppi,” referring to the 2-by-2 inch woodblocks they use, which measure up to half a pixel per inch (in terms of an image’s digital resolution) to make up the final image.
“The takeaway, though, is really the experience,” Dempster says. “People coming together to work on something bigger than themselves, and the social element of the project. The art is sort of a byproduct of the experience.”
In June 2014, Interisland Terminal helped bring .5ppi’s modular system to the walls of the Kaka‘ako Agora warehouse, this time to create a 20-by-40 foot temporary mural in just eight days. Five months later, Dempster’s team was tapped by Alexander & Baldwin for 600 Ala Moana Boulevard.
Honolulu Museum of Art educator and artist Justin Davies is developing the mural’s imagery, a photo collage timeline of Kaka‘ako from the 19th century to the present day, composed of images taken around the area and from various local historical archives. For the sections facing Ala Moana Boulevard, exposed to drivers flying by at high speeds, the figures and landscapes are quickly impressive—epic, sweeping scenes from the past. For the parts of the mural on Keawe Street that are exposed to more foot traffic, there are images of the present and future presented at eye level and with greater detail, inviting exploration.
The process is ongoing. As of the writing of this article, .5ppi has completed three-quarters of the mural along Ala Moana Boulevard. They have prints ready to go for a few dozen feet further, and design approval for half a block beyond that. This stage-by-stage process will continue all the way around, until the mural is complete. It’s a long but rewarding process. “At the end of a day of wheat pasting, [when] you go across the street and see the entire fence and your progress, that’s my favorite part,” says printmaker David Randall.
The longer .5ppi works on the mural, the more things they encounter. Some are good things, like the drivers along Ala Moana Boulevard who spot the team working and shout words of encouragement. Others are not as good, like running into obstacles in the fence such as signs or warped wood, which affect the final image.
“When the entire project is finished, I think it’s going to challenge the viewer to pay attention to what’s happening here; make them work a little bit,” Dempster says. “Sort of have to slow down to experience everything. If you step back, you’ll see the bigger picture.”
To keep up with .5ppi’s progress, follow them on Instagram @pointfiveppi and pointfiveppi.tumblr.com. See more work by the Honolulu Printmakers at its upcoming 87th Annual Exhibition, on display from February 25-March 20 at the Honolulu Museum of Art School.