“Universal Art” – The Honolulu Star

Paia Contemporary Gallery opened two years ago, the brainchild of artists Alejandro Goya and Kenn Briner. Their aim was to offer a space exhibiting works from an art-centered, rather than commercial, mindset.

“This gallery has a very different feel and look. The art is not jammed; it’s displayed in a more respectful way,” Goya says.

Longtime Maui artist Ben Kikuyama says Paia Contemporary has the feel of a Chelsea, N.Y., gallery: “an open room with white walls, stark, but everything is about the art.”

Kikuyama, a contemporary artist who’s worked full time on his art since 1986, has been extensively involved in Maui’s art community. He says he’s crossing his fingers that Goya and Briner succeed, because “Maui has a stigma for commercial work.”

“I hope they can bring up the awareness of the level of work being produced on this island,” Kikuyama says. “Alejandro has a pretty good eye for talent and work. One of the things I’m excited about is that they’re bringing in a good selection of contemporary work. It’s hard to find nonrepresentational contemporary art in this state.”

This month the gallery features the paintings of Maui’s Tony Walholm, president of Ebb and Flow Arts, and Florida’s Babette Herschberger.

Goya says the gallery provides “a more universal experience rather than a local one. We’re not trying to fill a niche. Customers from New York and San Francisco are my biggest collectors. They’re saying we could have this gallery anywhere in the world, not just because of the (caliber of the) artists, but because it’s run by artists and for the way it looks. People who love art love to see art this way. They have a good experience here, and they return before they leave.”

In fact, Goya says he has repeat clients who return annually, and some visit three or four times a year.

“One client owns $100,000 of my work. Art lovers, if they have the means, will purchase what they want. We’ve grown rapidly from featuring four artists to 15, so when customers return they always see something new.”

But it’s not only the financial rewards that motivate these gallery owners.

“This is a gallery that works with artists and collectors,” says Goya. “As an artist, I was not free to meet collectors. Now I know them as friends, and through this gallery there’s a growing sense of community. When we have events here, a lot of artists come in. They interact with each other, have a drink of wine. It’s not just about picking up a check.”

Kikuyama says Paia Contemporary’s success inspires him as an artist.

“They’re refreshing,” he says. “You sort of feel alone because not a lot of artists here are doing their art full time. I’m lucky, but it’s always a challenge and a struggle. It creates a different atmosphere when someone is succeeding.”

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