Illustration / Local

Gainesville Artist Kana Handel and the Art of Childhood

By: Mariko Turk

If you’ve ever wandered around Gainesville’s arts festivals or local boutiques, you have probably seen artist Kana Handel’s arresting images of children in richly colored dreamscapes, riding painted horses, swimming amongst lily pads, wearing birds, elephants, and teapots on their heads.  Originally from Tokyo, Handel now lives in Gainesville, and the central Florida landscape has never looked more charming.  Paynes’ Prairie is evoked in “Daiji Daiji on the Prairie,” shown below, which also features a typical Handel child–rosy-cheeked, sans adult supervision, and quite un-bothered by the fact that a White Ibis is nesting in her hair.


The worlds that Handel creates in her artwork are both striking and subtle, surreal and serene.  Handel achieves these effects by using mixed media techniques, working with a variety of materials from ink and water colors to paper scraps and milk. Most of Handel’s work features children, but she thoughtfully complicates any potentially simple notion of what the presence of children and childhood in her work means:

“I do not necessarily paint for or about children, but for the child in all of us. When people look at my work and I see their eyes shining like a child’s, that makes me very happy. Because there are already too many negative things in the world, being the artist that I am, I want to create positive energy in my work. I do not avoid reality but believe imagination can help us heal. So even though realism shows up from time to time, most of my work is figurative and narrative–in that I love to tell stories. I filter all of the things that are going through my head–nature, politics, love, war, spirituality, peace–and they all come out through my brush in a story. And it’s even better if the story you see is different than the one in my head; we are creating together.”

View more of Kana Handel’s artwork on her website, at the Harn Museum of Art on UF campus, and at the Artisan’s Guild Gallery in downtown Gainesville.



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