Kirk Kurokawa, Maui-based painter, muralist and artist, has won the popular vote and the Gene & Ruth Freedman People’s Choice Award for the Schaefer Portrait Challenge 2022 for his portrait entitled “Uncle Masa” oil on panel. According to a press release from the Maui Arts & Cultural Center, the award — which includes a $5,000 cash prize made possible by the Eugene and Ruth Freedman Foundation — was presented to Kurokawa by Rick Freedman and his sister Penny at a recent reception in the Schaefer International Gallery located within the Maui Arts & Cultural Center.

Kurokawa’s “Uncle Masa” painting features Masa Motooka, born in Hana, Maui, who served in World War II as a Corporal 5 in the Military Intelligence Service. Motooka’s portrait has him seated on his soft worn leather sofa with his juice, Kleenex box and back scratcher placed within arms reach on his Japanese-style chabudai table that’s in front of him. The result, said gallery director Neida Bangerter, allows viewers to see the “sparkle in his eye” and “endears his subject to viewers as if we are right there listening.”

Kirk Kurokawa in front of his portrait of “Uncle Masa” during the Schaefer Portrait Challenge 2022 exhibition within the Maui Arts & Cultural Center’s Schaefer International Gallery. (Photo courtesy of Maui Arts & Cultural Center)

Bangerter continues to say in the press release that “Kirk’s realistic style of painting as seen in ‘Uncle Masa’ appeals to many people. He gives us a story with carefully thought out compositions … His use of pigment and glazing techniques render a perfect play of light on his subject, including a faint grisaille gray background with the Nisei Veterans Medallion, acknowledging his service in the U.S. Armed Forces during WWII.”

Kurokawa received a bachelor’s degree in fine arts with a distinction in illustration from the California College of the Arts. Although he often paints native birds, flowers and locals of Hawai‘i, he is best known for his portraiture and predominantly focuses on “simple, everyday life moments.” Kurokawa has been in every installment of the Schaefer Portrait Challenge and acknowledges the Challenge in 2003 helped launch his career. He was awarded the Juror’s Choice Award in 2006, the People’s Choice Award in 2015, and was commissioned to paint Hawai‘i governor Neil Abercrombie’s portrait in 2017.  

The first runner up for the People’s Choice votes was Maui artist Jon Hunt for “Reyna With Aloha,” and second runner up went to Kaua‘i artist Natasha Young for “Daddy’s Girl.” Visitors to the gallery between Jan. 11 and March 19 had the chance to cast their ballots for their favorite piece in the exhibit. Over 3,000 visitors have come to the gallery to see this exhibit.

Schaefer Portrait Challenge 2022 is a statewide juried competition and features 48 portraits of the people of Hawai‘i. The jurors were Carl Jennings, Codie King and Jan Sato.

For more information about Kurokawa, go to 


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