Sally Lundburg grew up on the Big Island’s Hāmākua coast; living off the grid and being home-schooled gave her lots of time to explore and create. She has been a practicing painter, mixed-media artist, and filmmaker since finishing art school, with her work appearing in galleries and museums in Hawai‘i and San Francisco, as well as in film festivals both nationally and internationally. She and her husband also own and operate a small business, Manukai Designs. One of her recent commissions comes jointly from the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center and the Aloha United Way. Her resulting mixed-media installation, Sink or Swim, examines the concepts of fragility and resilience—familiar themes within the economy and ecology of Hawai‘i Island. She joined HPA in 2016, bringing not only her perspective as a practicing artist, but also teaching expertise developed through residencies, studio workshops, and at the University of Hawai‘i.
What’s the best advice you ever received from a teacher, mentor, or coach yourself?
Five years out of art school, I was practicing as an artist and building a foundation of exhibitions and collectors. When I decided to move back home to raise my daughter, I was scared that I was turning my back on my career. Then, at a dinner party, Dewey Crumpler, the painter and muralist, told me: “Go home if that is where your heart is leading you. There are many ways to be an artist and you’re going to do your best work by following your heart.” And this is so true! My heart and my work are completely intertwined with Hawai‘i.
How does your personal practice influence your teaching and vice versa?
In my own art practice, the most powerful work comes from a personal place. So as a teacher, I encourage my students to act as investigators in their own lives: what resonates for them is what will resonate for the viewer. What’s important to them will most likely contribute to their best work. What I hope to impart to them is the ability to solve problems, to think creatively, to envision where they’re going, then figure out how to get there, whether they’re making art, or living life.
If you could trade classes with another HPA teacher for a day, who would it be and why?
Well, not trade … but experience. I’d love to take classes with Pualani Lincoln, our Hawaiian studies teacher. What’s she’s sharing with students in terms of knowledge of place—physical, mental, spiritual—is so important, for all of us.
Teaching can be such intense work. How do you find balance?
Surfing and bodysurfing is a huge part of my life in terms of letting go and regaining balance. As a very busy person, I’ve learned it’s about getting in the ocean, no matter what the conditions are, to take it where it’s at. Surfing gives me mental clarity through surrender of control and being strong at the same time. While you have to be physically fit to surf, for me it’s really of form of play and a way to find joy.
Do you have a favorite color?
Blues and greens live predominantly in my head—the pale green of the sugar cane field of my childhood, the dark greens of the forest around my home, and so many shades of blue, especially the grey blues of stormy skies blending with the ocean, when the rains come in. That landscape is embedded in me.