You can hear the Hawaii in the rhythm of her name and you can see it in the rhythm of her work. Kalani Engles paints a world that is unfailingly organic, a people-less world that is animated by human touch and idiosyncrasy, a fecund fever-dream of the natural world. The style of Engles’ work is an intriguingly sourced stew of modernism. She readily admits to an admiration for Arthur Dove. And there is a distinctively American stamp to her work. Milton Avery, Charles Burchfield, Stuart Davis, perhaps even the baroque undulations of Thomas Hart Benton come to mind as well. Yet style and influences are beside the point with Engles, it is the vigor of her images that is of paramount significance.
There is a shifting, which is seamless and effortless, between figuration and abstraction and back. While one can discern series, and even periods, in her oeuvre, there remains a startlingly serene one-mindedness also, a self-assurance which has been earned hard the old-fashioned way. But all of that hard labor, in the American Grain, to borrow a title from the poet William Carlos Williams, is not the product of a puritan perfectionist, for there is no question but that the work is unabashedly hedonistic, rooted in Engles’ direct, sensory, sensual, experience of living. Like a tropical plant, the work grows on you, its tendrils pull at your lapel, thorns and petals and leaves sway in a hothouse wind, they threaten to sweep you off of your feet and, with an exuberantly bold palette, to take your breath away.