“Me and My Homies” — Kirk Kurokawa’s portrait of his family walking to the beach together won the Marian Freeman People’s Choice Award in the 2015 Maui Arts & Cultural Center Schaefer Portrait Challenge.
“Me and My Homies” — Kirk Kurokawa’s portrait of his family walking to the beach together won the Marian Freeman People’s Choice Award in the 2015 Maui Arts & Cultural Center Schaefer Portrait Challenge.
“The subject matter of people in their every day activities intrigues me because most of the scenes I paint happen in an instant. Sometimes it is so fast that we miss it or we don’t remember it,” says Kirk Kurokawa of his works., as shown above and below.
“The subject matter of people in their every day activities intrigues me because most of the scenes I paint happen in an instant. Sometimes it is so fast that we miss it or we don’t remember it,” says Kirk Kurokawa of his works., as shown above and below.

Artist Kirk Kurokawa is Living His Dream

Melissa Tanji
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald

Kirk Kurokawa was in the first or second grade when knew he wanted to be an artist.

“As long as I can remember, I have always liked art,” said the 44-year-old award-winning painter.

Like many youngsters, the Wailuku resident was fond of comics and animated movies. But he also had an affinity for painters like Norman Rockwell and local artists, including Hawaiian historian and Polynesian Voyaging Society co-founder Herb Kane. He was also impressed by the work of Maui-born artist Tadashi Sato, whose circular mosaic piece, “Aquarius,” graces the rotunda of the Hawai‘i State Capitol. Sato, who served with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team in World War II, made the iconic work from six million tile pieces that had been imported from Italy.

And now, Kurokawa is on his way to becoming just as famous as the artists he has always admired.

Last July, Kurokawa’s commissioned portrait of former Hawai‘i Gov. Neil Abercrombie was unveiled at the Hawai‘i State Art Museum. The oil on canvas portrait measuring 48 inches by 36 inches shows Abercrombie standing on a länai at Washington Place. It is now displayed in the ceremonial room of the governor’s office along with the portraits of Hawai‘i’s 17 previous governors.

Abercrombie selected Kurokawa from a field of 46 artists from across the nation who applied for the commission. Some had previously painted portraits of presidents, chief justices and members of Congress. The selection process also included an interview with Abercrombie, who said he was impressed with Kurokawa’s work and passion.

“I’m completely impressed and totally confident in not only his (Kurokawa’s) talent but his commitment to our values in Hawai‘i,” Abercrombie said of Kurokawa’s selection in a 2017 news release issued by the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts.

The 1992 Baldwin High School graduate said he was proud to have received the commission from SFCA, which paid Kurokawa $38,750, including his artist’s fee, framing, shipping and travel. At the time, Kurokawa said it was the “most significant” work he had done to date, noting that it is now a part of Hawai‘i’s history.

“I did feel confident in my abilities to paint a good portrait, but I definitely felt the weight and importance of the project,” he said. “There were parts of the portrait process that were very challenging, but the most stressful part is the anticipation of finding out what the community and Governor Abercrombie were going to think when it was done.”

From application to unveiling, the process took Kurokawa two years to complete and included several trips to O‘ahu to meet with Abercrombie and the selection team. Kurokawa said he spent about three months actually painting the former governor at his home studio in Wailuku.

Kurokawa, who is Japanese, Chinese and Hawaiian, was born and raised on Maui. He said his artistic interests were supported and encouraged from a young age. His mother enrolled him in art classes, where he learned painting, drawing and ceramics.

“I am not sure what drew me to art, but I have a very artistic family. I have a few cousins and family members that are artists, as well.”

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Melissa Tanji has been a reporter for The Maui News since 2000. The Maui native earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa.

Maui artist Kirk Kurokawa with former Gov. Neil Abercrombie in the sculpture garden of the Hawaii State Art Museum in July 2017 following the unveiling of Abercrombie’s official portrait. Abercrombie selected Kurokawa to paint his official portrait. (Photo by Shane Tegarden)
Maui artist Kirk Kurokawa with former Gov. Neil Abercrombie in the sculpture garden of the Hawaii State Art Museum in July 2017 following the unveiling of Abercrombie’s official portrait. Abercrombie selected Kurokawa to paint his official portrait. (Photo by Shane Tegarden)

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