Take a Look Inside Honolulu Artist John Koga’s Mānoa Studio
Exploring contemporary artist John Koga’s custom-built home art studio.
Photos: Aaron K. Yoshino
Step through the front door of local contemporary artist John Koga’s midcentury home on Lo‘i Street and you enter two worlds. On the right side of the house, the living and dining rooms are spacious, with a minimalist arrangement of simple furniture, such as wood stump footstools.
Koga, surrounded by art projects, in his home studio in Mānoa.
But on the left side is “Studio Mānoa,” Koga’s two-story workshop filled with full-size sculptures, small maquettes of sculptures-to-be and paintings in progress. Moving walls in the back conceal storage for the artist’s work (as well as surfboards), and painting tools lie next to carpenter’s tools on an island workbench in the middle of the room. The space is a tribute to Koga, who specializes in not only painting and sculpting, but art installations and creative build-outs.
Art in progress is always at hand.
“This used to be a two-car open garage and a long cement driveway going out to the street. There was a little more yard that way,” Koga says, gesturing through the studio’s front wall.
Eye-level inspiration adorns a staircase.
The house itself was built by Koga’s parents in 1963. In 2016, Koga and his wife, Karin, worked with a draftsperson to draw up plans for a 600-square-foot studio inside the home; construction was completed in nine months. They added a wall with plywood behind the drywall so large artwork could be easily hung for display and a 280-square-foot second floor with big windows to bring in lots of natural light. “There was this idea that the second floor could cover the entrance hallway but I said no because it was gonna feel like a cave,” says Koga.
Koga’s garage-turned-studio now includes a second floor.
At any given time, Koga is working on at least a half-dozen projects. On the back walls are blueprints for future art installations. An open space at the front is reserved for painting and sculpture work; from there, the artist can look out through an adjacent open door to draw inspiration from the garden that runs along the perimeter of the property or from the towering Ko‘olau mountain range surrounding Mānoa. “I can be priming a canvas over here or molding a mockup of a sculpture there,” says Koga. “It’s a flexible space.”