[an error occurred while processing this directive] Armstrong Sperry Has Prisoned the Elusive Atmosphere of the South Seas in Water Colors

by L. T. G.

The Honolulu Advertiser, Sunday Morning, July 12, 1925


Note from the webweaver: The whereabouts of the paintings mentioned in this review are unfortunately unknown today, but may have been destroyed in a studio fire a few years later in New York. Chances are good that the pictures seen in a photograph of his room in Tahiti are probably among them, however.


Can that elusive sensation, known as the lure of the South Seas, be given life on a small square of canvas?

One did not believe it possible until he found himself in the same room with the picturization of the Society Islands which Armstrong Sperry, New York artist, exhibited on Wednesday and Thursday at 240 Lewers Road.

Taken straight from the heart of Polynesia and glittering like light-struck, many-faceted jewels, the young man's oi8l and water-color subjects are allive with the poignant beauty of those romance-haloed islands and are pulsating with the wander-lust that lies dormant in every civilized breast.

One of the most remarkable things about the subjects is that thye [sic] were all done during a short five months -- "sandwiched in," as the young artist expressed it, from January to June in the time when he was not assisting Kenneth P. Emory in his work as ethnologist of the Bishop museum. The young man went south on the Kellum yacht last November and has since been visiting the islands adjacent to Tahiti.

Papeete Market

There is the white yacht Kailimola one realizes, swaying at anchor beneath the purple pali faces of the island of Moorea.

There is the Papeete market with the mist-shadowed garments of the vegetable vendors silhouetted against the first light of a Sunday morning while baskets of South Sea fruits are arranged enticingly on neutral ground.

There is the swift fall of the southern night beneath the gathering shadows of a frowning ridgeline and the last gallant flare of a red-flowering tree in the gloom.

A red-roofed Tahitian village nestles beneath thw towering mountains of the windward side; and again, a brown, mat-sailed Gilbert Island canoe is drawn up upon a white hot beach from a sea of unearthly blue.

There is the chief of the Village of Faanui, Bora Bora stepping home from a luau, robed in a red pareu and carrying a pan of poi-- the keen eyes and royally held head bespeaking the highest Polynesian type.

Then there is Temaramauruarii of Tahiti, the "mad queen of the moon," whose exquisite face is set off by a flat wreath of tropical flowers; and a Tahitian Mona Lisa, whose inscrutable smile, enhanced on either side by a red and white hibiscus, is due to eyes that no matter where one may be seem to follow.

And then there are the boats.

It is the boats that one finds most fascinating, after all, for it is they as Armstrong Sperry has seen them, that typify the island life of the central Pacific.

Dancing Natives

The "Vahine Raiatea" is there-- anchored to Main Street, Papeete. A tinty inter-island schooner bobs in the backwaters, her rigging hung with ywllow bananas and her hull [?]eaming scarlet below the turquoise waterline. A dark-hulled steamer [?]mes into port outlined against the misty blue of the mountains while a [?]g red scarf, released at the deck rail by some careless hand, curves into the scene.

Then there is carnival-time in the harbor where a white barque dressed in her sails, overshadows the dancing natives on a platformed, double-canoe; there is a fishing schooner on the ways, the red hull and proppeller monopolizing the foreground and finding an answering gleam in the gay shirts of the workmen gathered round; and finally, among many other glimpses of the colorful island craft, there is a pearling schooner, hull out, pitched in the pale green light of the first fullness of day, its lights and shadows worked out in variations of the same tone and giving conclusive proof, that color can be quite arresting when confined to the less vivid shades.

Hawaiian Scenes

Several Hawaiian scenes, no less appreciated because of their familiarity, are scattered through the group. One views with delight, for instance, the perfect representation of the red popcorn stand beneath the spreading algaroba trees in Kapiolani Park!

Sperry has travelled widely. He studied in New York under Luis Mora and George Bellows and spent some time at Calorossi's in Paris. His South sea work will be exhibited at his studio in the former city this winter.

The young man's hardest task, he believes, will be to convince critics in that eastern city that his colors, laid on faithfully under the dazzling light of the Polynesian sun, and are not exaggerated.

Hawaii knows they are not-- but will others believe?

That, however, is part of the lure of the South Seas.



This page last updated Friday, 04/03/09, by Margo Burns, margo@ogram.org
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