Confessions of a Sculptor

Maria Kanai / Feb 2012 / Ka Leo

Nicole Naone, a 24-year-old BFA student at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, has a studio in the Art Building that’s as eclectic as her personality. Cluttered with headphones, canvas pieces, clay sculptures, melted crayons and a South Korean flag, the room speaks volumes of the experimental, candid artist who will be participating in the weeklong Pow Wow event. “I don’t remember not doing art,” said Naone. “Like I have to breathe, eat, sleep … I don’t think I have a choice of whether I do it or not.”

With commissions already under her belt, Naone dabbles in a wide range of styles that allow her to create pieces for different customers. “I’m just lucky in that I haven’t been pegged as any one thing,” she said. One of her most recent works, a large-scale line drawing, was featured in Mark Kushimi’s Art & D show at The Human Imagination downtown.

However, she declares sculpture to be her favorite. “If I could make a living just doing sculpture, I would – and I hope that at some point I can,” she said.

Naone also models, a job that she keeps separate from her art. “I’m definitely trying to phase it out,” she said with a wry smile, recalling art shows where she has been mistaken as a model rather than the artist. “A sculpture says my name on it, and I’ll literally have people come up to me and go, ‘Are you a model? Is it your birthday?'”

As an up-and-coming female artist, she has often met skepticism from both artists and audiences due to fierce competition in Hawai‘i. “[The art scene] is predominantly homosexuals, and I’m a heterosexual,” she said. “It’s predominantly white people, I’m Puerto Rican [and] Hawaiian. It’s predominantly rich people, I’m like the poorest person I know. And when you get into sculpture, it’s all guys.”

She has even been accused by her own art department of not making her own work. “I don’t look like somebody who cut up over 2,000 pieces of wood and made a table, you know? That’s not what it looks like.”

Despite the hardships, Naone has tough skin – she credits modeling – and draws inspiration from her family, friends and the world. She considers the teachers in the BFA program her best resources. “Bug your professors and demand to be taught,” she advised. “I don’t care if they’re tired, or if they’re old; they know more than we will know for a while. So bug ’em.”

At the end of the day, she is humble and honest enough to recognize she is still learning. “My work is more experiments, and trial and error for what’s to come,” she said, describing her overall artistic style. “I hope I don’t just find one thing and just beat it to death and be painting whales on the side of the building for the rest of my life. I don’t want to be ‘that’ girl. I always hope I can evolve.”