HERE ON THE BIG ISLAND
By Kelly Moran
The Man in the Sculpture Garden
In 1969, Henry Bianchini and his family were sailing their trimaran from San Diego to a new life Hawaii. From far out at sea, they saw Kilauea erupt at Mauna Ulu. It wasn’t obvious, at that moment, but the Bianchinis would stay and make their home here, and Henry – Hank to his friends – would become one of the Big Island’s most respected and successful artists.
He works in many media. As a painter, he does oil portraits and abstracts on canvas. As a sculptor, he works in ceramics, wood, stone and cast concrete, not only carving individual pieces but joining them in assemblages and collages. And as a metal-worker in bronze and steel, he employs heavy machinery and wields a welding torch to make both sculptures for display and artistic but utilitarian pieces such as driveway gates. His studio is almost as big as his house, and behind them both is a half-acre backyard sculpture garden that is also his largest gallery.
Some of his works are whimsical and abstract, like “Enlightening the Spirit,” installed at Ha’aheo Elementary School, near Hilo; or “Rain Woman,” which is in a private collection. Others, like his statue of Hawaii’s King Kalakaua, installed in downtown Hilo’s eponymous Kalakaua Park, are life-size and naturalistic.
“Rain Woman” stands in a private collection, overlooking Hilo.
Still others mix the figurative with the imaginative, as he showed last month when he unveiled his latest grand-scale work. It was commissioned by a longtime patron in Los Angeles who wanted a sculpture, in his late wife’s memory, to be installed at his synagogue. Called “A Plea for Peace,” it incorporates symbolic Hebrew letters into the figures whose arms are raised to plea.
“A Plea for Peace” has been installed in a Los Angeles synogogue.
Making it, took Bianchini back to 1941, when he was six, on St. Thomas, in the Virgin Islands. His father was an Italian-American from New Jersey, serving in the U.S. Navy, and married to a Moroccan Jew from what was then called Palestine. When Nazi submarines started prowling the Caribbean, his and other service families were evacuated; so he has long had empathy for families who were lost elsewhere, in the war, and how important it is, still, to remember.
Sculptor Henry Bianchini with his new work, “A Plea for Peace.”
It wasn’t his family’s first or last move: before Hawaii, he’d lived in New Jersey, San Diego, even the Canadian province of Newfoundland. “Maybe it’s because we moved around a lot when I was a kid,” he said, “but in my art, I tend to skip the details and go straight to the essence. I look at everything, at the big picture, which is why my sculptures are typically simple. I have to describe myself as an ‘artist,’ but that word is inadequate. I’m multi-layered and adaptable.”
If you ask him about the key influences on his art, he’ll respond: “Picasso and Matisse – but that doesn’t say it all. I could get into specifics about the periods in those artists’ creative lives that inspired me – the years when they were the bridges between Post-Impressionism and Modernism. But that doesn’t say enough, either. Maybe it’s better to say my art is a kind of jazz.” (In his youth he did, in fact, try playing jazz saxophone, but quickly realized that his real talents were in the visual arts.) “I say jazz, meaning improvising on a theme,” he explained. “Where it starts – the inspiration – and where it ends – the finished work – is what I see in its entirety.”
There’s more about Henry Bianchini, and photos of his works, at www.henrybianchiniart.com.