The work of some of Guam’s contemporary painters can be found right off the tarmac as travelers arriving or departing through the A.B. Won Pat International Airport will discover what is probably one of the largest collections of paintings produced by some of the island’s most established artists.
Artists of the 1980s and 1990s
During Guam’s economic boom of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s artists came and went but a few emerged and left their mark throughout the island. Painter Sal Bidaure whose massive two-story mural, commissioned by the Bank of Hawaii, continues to strike awe with its audience in the lobby of the financial institution’s main Hagåtña branch.
Bidaure, who is no stranger to commissioned work, has numerous large scale paintings highly reminiscent of Mexico’s master muralist, Diego Rivera, that still grace the lobbies of several prominent hotels and resorts throughout the island. One of his most popular works span approximately seventy-feet of concrete retaining wall near the Guam Hilton in Guam’s tourist district of Tumon.
Creative art venues
Most people would be hard pressed to find major art venues in which to view the local arts, but Guam’s airport is a great repository of culture in the form of monumental-sized works. Art work on permanent display throughout the departure and arrival gates was created by Guam’s most well known artists.
Of the airport group, a few of the more established artists still practicing their craft on island include Adriano Pangelinan, Jose Babauta, Jeff Skvaril, David Sablan and Greg Flores. Other unique two-dimensional installations at the airport from artists off island include Carrie Brewster and a pair of large murals by Edward Crisostomo and internationally known marine artist John Wyland.
Without the existence of a Guam museum or permanent public art gallery at this point, local artists have found creative means in which to showcase their work. Local galleries are very few in number. For this reason locations in which to find major exhibitions of contemporary painting vary from restaurants, showrooms in car dealerships, hotel lobbies, banking institutions, local cafes and the University of Guam atrium.
Artists of the 1970s and early 1980s
During the 1970’s and early 1980’s, one of the island’s foremost art critics as well as being an established artist in his own right was the late Marvin “Monty” Montvel-Cohen. Through his writings and association with the University of Guam, Montvel-Cohen paved the way for many self-taught contemporary painters and emerging artists alike returning from abroad after receiving a westernized style of art training. Many contemporary Pacific island artists gained exposure and popularity from his published art reviews in the Pacific Daily News.
Artists such as Adriano Pangelinan continue to carry on Montvel-Cohen’s stylistic tendencies through his Fauve-like color scheme intermingled with imagery rich in depicting the island’s cultural traditions.
Other frontrunners during this prolific period included David Sablan, Jon Medina, Jose Babauta, Ron Castro, Arman Germar and batik painter Judy Flores, who early on were some of Guam’s most sought after artists.
Contemporary progressive styles
Around this time, four other Pacific island artists with contemporary progressive styles emerged. Mark Dell’Isola, Vivian Chargulaf, Monica Baza and Ric R. Castro had full-scale exhibitions of their works that can be described as bio-morphic, non-objective and abstract expressionist in style, giving island audiences new experiences that they were not used to see coming from Chamorro artists.
Traditional nostalgic images of representational work and modern abstract painting were now seen side-by-side and both would convey a sense of the island culture.
One of the broadest collections of modern works can be found at the University of Guam’s business college. Here one will find canvas paintings that fill the skylight atrium with some of the islands top artists with several triptychs spanning twenty-two feet in length such as Ric Castro’s trompel’oeil scene of Guam’s economic history from ancient Chamorro society to Spanish era to post-WWII painted to appear like a giant carved storyboard. Robert Sajnovsky’s fascinating silkscreen box installation also discombobulates the viewer by creating an ambiguity of colored layers that merge as one.
Two contemporary painters, Jeff Skvaril and Ron Castro, have large canvases displayed in the main lobby of First Hawaiian Bank in Maite. Both artists depict the human element in figurative works performing various tasks such as fishing and weaving, but it is Skvaril’s work that attempts to abstract his figures into faceless simplistic forms using a modernist approach that borders on Cubism.
One of the most enduring collections of paintings is by self-taught artist David Sablan. A collection of his work is hung in, of all places, a McDonald’s fast food restaurant in Harmon. Medium-sized gems that are barely noticeable at first are framed in heavy dark mahogany with images that illustrate the day-to-day life of ancient Chamorro society. Sablan paints with precision that resembles a cross between primitive outsider art and one who’s mastered the skill of modeling the forms with a photo real surface quality.
Another consistent supporter of the local arts community is the Hilton Guam Resort and Spa. Aside from having occasional rotating exhibits, audiences will discover a permanent display of colorful acrylic paintings occupying the Tumon hotel’s Marianas Ballroom by Guam’s own Jeff Harris, who is now a renowned cartoonist syndicated by Gannett newspapers across the U.S. mainland.
Other unconventional venues in which to discover outstanding collections of contemporary painting done by locals can be found in another Tumon hotel, the Pacific Island Club’s lobby and Internet Business Center and Shell headquarters skylight atrium located near Guam’s Greyhound Racetrack in Tamuning. Bank of Guam’s main branch lobby in Hagåtña and the Garden Villa Hotel in Tumon also showcase Guam’s contemporary artists.
By Ric R. Castro, MFA
Associate Professor of Art, University of Guam
For further reading
Feldman, Jerome, and Donald H. Rubinstein. The Art of Micronesia: The University of Hawaii Art Gallery. Honolulu: University of Hawai`i Department of Art and Partners, 1986.
Flores, Judy. “Art and Identity in the Mariana Islands: Issues of Reconstructing an Ancient Past.” PhD thesis, University of East Anglia, 1999.
Guam Council on the Arts and Humanities Council. “OFFICIAL WEBSITE | Guam CAHA.”
Isla Center for the Arts. “Isla Center for the Arts | University of Guam.”
Kihleng, Kimberlee S., and Nancy P. Pacheco, eds. Art and Culture of Micronesian Women. Mangilao: Isla Center for the Arts and Women & Gender Studies Program, University of Guam, 2000.