I woke up thinking about Hawaii

by Lorin Michel Sunday, August 9, 2015 8:55 PM

I love the desert. I love the harshness of it, the beauty of it. I don’t even mind the heat of it. I love the monsoons that arrive with a vengeance and wreak havoc on the land and houses below. I love the dryness mixed with the moisture and humidity, the reality of it. But every once in a while I find myself missing the ocean. This morning was such a time.

I’ve been to Hawaii just three times, once with husband number one, twice with Kevin and Justin, always with the destination of Maui. The first time we took Justin, we went by way of Honolulu so that we could see Pearl Harbor. I didn’t particularly like Honolulu. Just another big city, lots of traffic, though much prettier than LA.

When I went the first time, it was business retreat for first husband’s company, so we went with a bunch of people I didn’t know. I was probably the youngest in the group at 25 or 26. We stayed on Wailea Beach on the rainy side of the island, at the Stouffer Resort. It’s no longer there, replaced by another resort, but it was absolutely gorgeous. I remember the water sparkling, clear down to the sands below, regardless of the depth. It was warm, tropical. When we sat on the runway, preparing to leave, it was the first time I could remember not being ready to go home.

This was right after the top of an Aloha Airlines plane had ripped off in mid-flight. It was sitting on the runway.

Years later, after Kevin and I had gotten together (though I’m not sure we were yet married), we took Justin. When he was little, our summer family vacations had two goals: have an educational component, and be fun. We went to Washington (DC), Maine, Cancun. We chose Hawaii because both Kevin and I always loved it, we hadn’t been together, and we knew Justin – little fish that he was – would love it, too. We started in Honolulu, staying at the famous Hilton Hawaiian Village on Waikiki Beach. Justin was in the ocean within a half hour of arrival. We went to Pearl Harbor and saw the USS Arizona Memorial. Justin was surprisingly saddened by it. He was probably 7 at the time, but it affected him deeply. After Oahu, we flew to Maui for the rest of our trip. We snorkeled, we chartered a big sailboat, we had a wonderful time, so much so that we went back when Justin was a sophomore in high school. This was not a wonderful time. We took the road to Hana, through the rainforest and past the various waterfalls. We took the back way down, which you’re not supposed to do. In some places the road is barely wide enough for one car. It is often right on the edge of the mountain with no guardrail. We encountered cows, leisurely lying across the road. We went through a blackened lava field. It was like the dark side of the moon. But Justin was in his horrible-teenager phase. We couldn’t wait to get home; we were disgusted that we’d spent as much money as we did. That was our last big family vacation.

Our second trip to Hawaii, with our horrible teen

This morning, I woke up thinking about Hawaii. I have no idea why; I haven’t seen or read anything lately that would be lurking in my subconscious just waiting for an opportunity to manifest in a dream. Maybe I’m missing the ocean. Maybe I’m missing the tropics. Maybe I’m missing the slow, lazy pace of it. Maybe I’m missing the peace of it. When you vacation in Hawaii, you simply let the sound of the lapping waves, the wind dancing through the palm trees, the smell of fresh salty air carry you away. You sit on the lanai and you relax completely.

Maybe that’s why I woke up thinking about Hawaii. Maybe it’s my subconscious after all, telling me that after months of flying through life, it’s time to sit on the lanai and do absolutely nothing but listen to the waves and the palm trees, breathe in the wonderful coconut and salt air of the islands. And live it out loud.

A Kush kind of life

by Lorin Michel Sunday, May 26, 2013 12:51 AM

In 1965, Russia was still the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and covered the greatest land mass in the world. A communist state, it had been our enemy in the infamous Cold War since 1949, when Josef Stalin was still in power. After Nikita Khrushchev worked to de-Stalinize the country, the USSR began to have some openness and contact with other countries, but then he deployed missiles to Cuba in 1962 leading to the famous Cuban Missile Crisis that ended with President Kennedy’s success in getting the Soviets to back down. The Soviet Union, however, was not happy and Khrushchev was removed from power. That was 1964. By the next year, Leonid Brezhnev was making his play for General Secretary, a play he won. Until his death in 1982, the prevailing mood in the country was one that did not accept or even seek any kind of change. There was no openness, no aspiration. Art was not encouraged.

It was into this atmosphere that a baby boy was born.

Wind by Vladimir Kush, 1997

His father was a scientist and spent much time with mathematics and technology, though he also considered art and science to be in the same realm of intellectual technology, something inherent in man’s greater humanity. As a child of four, the boy would sit on his father’s lap and finish his father’s drawings. At the age of seven, he was attending two schools, the Russian version of an elementary school in the morning and then an art school, every afternoon and evening until 9 pm. He did math and science and world history and then was exposed to the world of art and artistic freedom. He drew, he painted, he learned about art history, especially about famous Russian painters but also those who painted during the Renaissance, the Impressionists of the 19th century and more modern artists. He was influenced by everyone from Botticelli and Dürer to van Gogh, de Chirico and Salvador Dali.

At 17 he became a student at the Surikov Moscow Art Institute. Then at 18, he began a mandatory two-year stint in the Soviet Army where he was lucky enough to be assigned the task of painting murals. After the army, he returned to the institute to pursue his passion for painting.

When the Cold War ended in 1991, he had the first foreign exhibition of his art. It was in Germany. Shortly thereafter he flew to Los Angeles with 20 paintings and a dream of making it big in the country that had long been his native country’s biggest enemy. With no money, he set up a table on the Santa Monica pier and drew portraits for cash. At night he slept on a bench. He scraped together enough money and bought a plane ticket to Maui where his first job was to paint a mural depicting prehistoric whales on the Whale Museum on Kaanapali Beach. It was 1993.

In 1997, he painted something called Wind and his life changed forever.

Webmaster by Vladimir Kush, 2000 (We have a giclee)

His name is Vladimir Kush and he is a surrealistic artist, a painter and a sculptor. His paintings are full of surprises and catalysts. They take you into the imagination of a dream, and allow you to stay awhile but they don’t allow you to get comfortable. Much of his work is actually uncomfortable. There’s nothing soothing about it; in fact, some is disturbing. But it is also fascinating.

We first became aware of his art when we were on Maui about six years ago. We went for a family vacation and stayed in a condo on Kaanapali. We were having terrible trouble with Justin at the time, emotional high school issues, and we had always loved Hawaii so we thought a family trip there would be a good way to get him out of his funk, at least for a week. It didn’t work, except for the one night we were walking through Lahaina and happened upon a gallery. I don’t know what made us go inside. Perhaps there was something in the window. Either way, in we went. We were there for hours, all three of us dispersing to look and wonder and be awe struck. The gallery was a Vladimir Kush gallery and we became completely absorbed into his world. We each had favorites; we all wanted to take one home.

We did come home with his book “Metaphorical Journey.” It begins like this: “From the beginning, Man has tried to fathom the meaning of his existence in a mysterious universe, often by forging a mythic/poetic picture of the celestial world. This insufficiency of knowledge made Man an artist. Myths were his works. With time, as Man’s knowledge of the world surrounding him grew, myths collapsed “into a thousand rainbow-coloured pieces,” as the Spanish novelist-philosopher José Ortega y Gasset put it. The instrument of their destruction was irony.”

Vladimir Kush in 2004, in his studio on Maui

Shortly after we came home from Maui, Justin started to change back into the boy we had always loved. How ironic that perhaps it was art that helped to pull him from his darkness. How wonderful that it was the surrealism of a man born behind the iron curtain, who escaped to paint on the mythical shores of Hawaii, that has given us all a Kush kind of life.

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