Hawaii's Public Art

On the Hunt: See the city with fresh eyes via this article, an artistic scavenger hunt of Honolulu’s best public art.

"Water Lilies"

Photo: Courtesy Honolulu Academy of Arts

A strong community of local artists? Check. World-class European and American and pieces? The work of Native Hawaiian artisans? Definitely. A practically required-to-be-taken-seriously-as-a-city Monet? Oui. Not to mention that Hawaii was the first state to establish an Art in Public Places Program, in 1967, which sets aside 1 percent of construction costs for the acquisition of art. We’re swimming in terrific public art. But when was the last time you went out and enjoyed this visual wealth? Take a field trip into the great gallery that is our cityscape. To help you, we’ve assembled a list of 10 must-see Honolulu artworks. You can’t call yourself local without having seen these pieces at least once.

1. "Father Damien"

Marisol Escobar, 1969


State Capitol, Beretania between Punchbowl and Richards

Father Damien’s boxy frame stands in front of the State Capitol Building, with cars buzzing by as he looks past a colonnade of trees to Punchbowl Crater. Marisol Escobar’s creation—winner of a competitive commission to honor one of Hawaii’s true heroes—inspired controversy from the start. Damien’s bloated face and gnarled hands reveal the ravages of Hansen’s disease. Rather than idealizing the man now known as Saint Damien, Escobar created an arresting image of suffering, strength of character and compassion.


2. "Water Lilies"

Claude Monet, 1917/1919

Oil on Canvas

Honolulu Academy of Arts, Gallery 10

Enter Gallery 10 and Monet’s “Water Lilies” is straight ahead, dominating the room with its woven brushstrokes of pinks and greens. Purchased in 1966, the painting is typical of Monet’s late period. This Impressionist superstar attempts to catch the fleeting effects of light, capturing flowers, sky and water as their relationships shift and flicker. Monet’s inspiration came from his own lily ponds in Giverny, France.


Herb Kane

Earlier this year, the Islands lost one of its most notable artists, Herb Kane. To read more about him and see some of his work, see John Heckathorn’s piece, “Herb Kane: The Last Interview,” in our June issue, archived at honolulumagazine.com.


Photo: Courtesy Bishop Museum


 3. Ahuula (feather cloaks)

Hawaiian artisans, 18th century

Iiwi, ‘o‘o, mamo feathers, olona netting

Bishop Museum

On the ground floor of Hawaiian Hall opposite the pili hale, stunning, yellow-and-red feather cloaks stand as regal and imposing as they did in ancient times. Fashioned over many years by master craftsmen working thousands of brilliantly colored feathers into bold, geometric patterns, they hold great beauty as well as powerful mana. “In Hawaii, the art forms achieved the highest level throughout the Pacific,” says Noelle Kahanu, the Bishop Museum’s project manager. “Here you can really see the legacy of excellence.”




 4. "Upright Motive No. 9"

Henry Moore, 1979


Tamarind Park, Bishop Square

British sculptor Henry Moore’s abstract female figure surveys downtown Honolulu from her elegant perch above a reflecting pool. Cast as an edition of six toward the end of Moore’s career, Honolulu’s “Upright Motive No. 9” was installed in 1983 in the space designed by landscape architect Jim Hubbard. “It’s always been a favorite of mine,” says Mike Schnack, owner of Cedar Street Galleries. “It’s a gorgeous piece and the placement and setting were really well thought out.”



5. "Untitled"

Jean Charlot, 1970-1975

Ceramic tile mural

United Public Workers Building, 1426 School St.

On a main Kalihi thoroughfare, Jean Charlot’s six large panels show Hawaii hard at work. From musicians and dancers to carpenters and janitors, the figures take shape in his characteristically blocky style, full of life and color.

Charlot lived and worked in Mexico for many years, participating in the muralism movement that infused art with social conscience and politics. He carried that sensibility through his many Hawaii works after moving here in 1949


6. "Na Lehua Helelei" (The Scatterred Lehua Blossoms)

Rocky Jensen, 1999

Ohia wood

Fort DeRussy, fronting the U.S. Army Museum

Five imposing kii stand at Kalia, the gateway to Waikiki, where the greenery of the Hale Koa grounds counter the high-rise hotels. Kamehameha stepped ashore here in his push to conquer Oahu and later presented the land to High Chief Kalanimoku for his aid in the crucial Battle of Nuuanu.

It’s a fitting spot for Jensen’s images of Kunuiakea (Ku), each kii representing a different aspect of the Hawaiian god. The title connects red flower blossoms to the blood of fallen warriors. Jensen carved the figures over a period of four years and also designed the semicircular setting with its pathway of smoothed stones. The effect combines imposing power and sacred reverence.


Photo: Courtesy Contemporary Art Museum

7. “L’Enfant et les Sortiléges” (The Bewitched Child)

David Hockney, 1983

Acrylic on canvas and wood, carpeting, velour, wool, laminated foam board and colored light

The Contemporary Museum

Step into the Cades Pavilion amid the gardens at The Contemporary Museum and you’re surrounded by bluish light, magical trees that form a forest with organic floating shapes and black figures. The air sighs with the music of Ravel’s 1925 opera L’Enfant et les Sortiléges. The museum’s installation piece was originally David Hockney’s stage set for the opera. In 1986, The Contemporary Museum acquired L’Enfant, outbidding several other museums for this piece from an important contemporary artist.


 8. “Ka Mooiliili” (The Dragon in Pieces)

Kazu Fukuda (Kauinana), 1998


Kuhio  Elementary, King Street near University Avenue

Rising up in front of Kuhio Elementary’s library building, large, rounded shapes undulate, the parts recalling the shape of teeth, an eyeball or vertebrae. These are the remains of a legendary moo who battled Pele’s sister Hiiaka that form the bumps and ridges of Moiliili. Encompassing history and culture, Kazu Kauinana’s sculpture complements the school setting and is obviously well loved. A recent visit found a father and daughter sitting on vertebrae “chairs,” a small puka held a pair of child-size silver sandals and the upright “fins” sported lei and ferns.


Photo: Courtesy Honolulu Academy of Arts

9. "Arc-en-Ciel" (The Rainbow)

Robert Delauney, 1913

Oil on canvas

Honolulu Academy of Arts, Gallery 27

Bright and charming, “Arc-en-Ciel” holds down one corner of Gallery 27. Painter Delauney is lesser known than the giants of Modernism, but he moved in their orbit. “‘The Rainbow’ is an especially fine example of Delauney’s work,” says Theresa Papanikolas, the museum’s curator of European and American Art. In the years following Picasso and Braque’s breakthroughs into Cubism, Delauney reinterpreted the new movement in terms of hue, using colored planes to provide the picture’s structure. This painting moves toward abstraction, but you can still pick out the Paris skyline and the tip of the Eiffel Tower piercing the large rainbow.


10. "The Arrival"

Carl Pao and Solomon Enos, 2010

Acrylic on panels

Sheraton Waikiki, main lobby

Don’t miss this recent mural, which curves off the Sheraton’s entryway. Carl Pao and Solomon Enos, among the new wave of Native Hawaiian artists, collaborated on this visual tale of colonization, growth and convergence. Using abstract forms to show the Islands’ first inhabitants—birds, fish, plants—life forms travel from right to left and shift to show man’s arrival (sails) and the turning gearlike form of Western influence and philosophy. The round seed at the center represents Po, the deepest mystery of life’s origins. Using a fresh palette and contemporary interpretation, Pao and Enos move beyond an idealized Hawaii and into the 21st century.