HoMA Select:

Li Huayi (b. 1948. Active China and United States.)
Pine Trees and Spring, 2008
Ink and color on paper
Gift of the artist, 2021


Repeat visitors to HoMA might recognize Pine Trees and Spring from the 2019 special exhibition Contemporary Landscapes: Li Huayi. The exhibition borrowed paintings from private collections around the globe, but this was one of a special few that the artist had kept himself for more than a decade since he first made it. Li came to Honolulu for the opening, and he was so moved by the beauty of our islands, and the warmth of our community, that he decided to gift the painting to Hawaiʻi. One of the events HoMA organized that Li enjoyed was a nature walk with museum visitors along the Manoa Cliffs Trail. He was interested in endemic plants, and especially fascinated by ʻōhi‘a lehua trees. The pine trees in his paintings grow in China in the high mountains, clinging to rocks and shaped by the winds into dramatically twisting forms. Similarly, ʻōhi‘a lehua are often found along the tops of ridges, remote hermits searching for quietude far from the “dusty world” of people. Li immediately saw a kinship between the rugged, weathered, and bent trunks of ʻōhi‘a lehua and his beloved pines.

Hikers know that recently a new sign was placed at the end of the Manoa Cliffs Trail, warning that Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death has been detected in the area. This fungal disease has already killed hundreds of thousands of trees on Hawaiʻi Island, and is now spreading. ʻŌhiʻa lehua are not only precious because they are endemic—they play a critical role in Hawaiʻi’s ecosystem, replenishing the watershed and storing carbon (bees also make delicious honey from their blossoms). Li’s painting is a poignant reminder of how delicate the balance of our natural world can be, and it is a sorrowful thought that some of the ʻōhi‘a trees that so inspired him during his visit might not be here when he comes again.

For more information on Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death, visit www.rapidohiadeath.org. Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death is also explored at HoMA in Joyful Return: Recover, as well as in Jen Goya’s upcoming installation in Artists of Hawaiʻi: Now, opening on September 16.

— Shawn Eichman, Curator, Asian Art