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John Koga

May 02, 2018

Sculpting A Movement

In Honolulu's creative community, John Koga has forged himself a sterling reputation not only for his innate talent as a multifaceted artist, but also for his unyielding commitment to building a better world for artists in the Islands.

To be sure, Koga's positivity, curiosity, and sense of authenticity is infectious and his well-established work has made him a central figure in Hawai'i's contemporary-art movement. Without Koga's leadership and keen understanding of both the importance of messaging and community building, it's safe to say that the current momentum propelling the arts forward in the Aloha State wouldn't be possible.

Hailing from the verdant valley of Mānoa, Koga credits his grandfather for sparking his love affair with art. "I grew up surrounded by his ideas, his energy, and his sculptures," recalls Koga. "Often, he would spend his days working on sculpture in the family garden. He was very influential in nurturing my way of viewing the world around me."

As an artist, Koga has been able to capture his vision using a myriad of mediums, including stone sculptures, whimsical plaster, and paint to name a few. His work, which has been exhibited throughout the world, has earned him widespread acclaim. And his sculptures, which feel dreamlike and cosmic, has drawn comparisons to Noguchi and Henry Moore. In response to a Ralph Pucci solo exhibit, Architectural Digest wrote that Koga's sculptures are reminiscent of "abstract shapes, stones, trees, and branches, giving a surrealist quality to familiar figures to his work…Koga's art is routinely inspired by the landscape of the Islands. Though he is best known for his modern sculptures, he has also created works as a painter and photographer and has experimented with media as diverse as driftwood and avocado pits."

At its essence, it's been said that art is meant to enrich the human experience. It gives the viewer an opportunity to hold a mirror up to humanity; it allows us to question, imagine, and reinterpret the way we view the world around us. And Koga, like all great artists, has never been shy with his art. Regardless of the medium, his work has a rebellious feel and it's clear that he knows exactly how to break the rules. "I think all mediums are welcomed into my problem-solving process. But I do like to adapt to the materials available and inspire myself to discover new ways of working with them. I don't like to constrict myself. For me, questioning and pushing boundaries is really a study of my values and relationships with people and nature. So, if 'causing a little trouble' in the art scene helps to get attention and engages the viewer in seeing lines, colors, shapes and forms that they might not have thought of even seeing, then that's good. I think breaking the rules also helps the viewer discover their own ideas and feelings about the art installation."

While Koga's personal work has seen him rise to the upper echelon of contemporary artist in Hawai'i, it's his complete devotion to supporting and nurturing other local artists that's made him an invaluable figure the contemporary art movement. Whether it's working hand in glove with the Honolulu Biennial or collaborating and mentoring young artists, Koga is there, sculpting, molding, and creating in all sorts of ways. "I think it's really important to share and work in partnership with other artists and people. This will allow collaboration with all types of artists and students, local businesses, and governments, allowing us to build community and a real economy around art. I truly believe that great art causes others to think and feel. If you can do that, you're doing something right."

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