The Bigger Picture

Kahiau Beamer SALT mural

At SALT at Our Kaka‘ako, artists Kahiau Beamer, Matt and Roxy Ortiz, Kamea Hadar, Santiago Otani, and Matthew James pay homage to the past while looking to the future.

Text by Harrison Patino | Images by Jonas Maon

As the future of Kaka‘ako approaches with every passing day, a select group of artists invite onlookers into the neighborhood’s past with vibrant murals inspired by its rich cultural history. After these painters, graffiti artists, and graphic designers are done sketching, printing, spraying, and painting at SALT, the 85,000-square-foot gathering place will be adorned with artworks that celebrate Hawaiian culture and the artistry of the people who have called Kaka‘ako home, painting a picture of Kaka‘ako’s past, present, and future.

Kahiau Beamer SALT mural

As an alumnus of Kamehameha Schools, Kahiau Beamer has always had a particular reverence for its founder, Bernice Pauahi Bishop. With his courtyard mural at SALT, the artist celebrates this strong woman of history with a series of portraits of Bishop, alongside symbols of Hawaiian culture then and now, such as kalo, poke, and ‘ukulele. “Over the course of her lifetime, she held a strong and hopeful vision for her people,” Beamer says. For the artist, this mural also represents a balance between the commercial growth of Kaka‘ako and the largely young, creatively driven demographic that lives and works alongside it. (Beamer has a studio at Lana Lane Studios.) “It helps open up a dialogue with the community and the developers,” he says. “It shows both sides.”

Wooden Wave SALT Mural

Chances are you’ve seen the whimsical, treehouse-inspired murals of husband and wife duo Matt and Roxy Ortiz around town. Together, the two artists make up creative company Wooden Wave, specializing in a combination of hand-drawn illustrations and large-scale mural work. For SALT, their contributions are the signage wall next to Bevy and the artwork that will be printed on stretched-canvas eaves shading a nearby seating area. “We’re hoping that in putting our artwork in this public space, we’re reminding people that art should be a part of your visual landscape,” Matt says.

Both of these creations emphasize Our Kaka‘ako not only as a place for artistry and creativity, but also as a bridge between mountain and ocean. As Matt puts it, “We were really drawn to the idea that this is going to be a gathering place, that we will be laying out where Kaka‘ako stands in relation to an ahupua‘a system.” By evoking the ocean, mountains, and sky in watercolor hues, the duo encourage people to embrace sustainability, and remind passersby that the modern city can, and should, coexist with nature.

“My paintings deal with what I believe are basic principles of the universe: fluid dynamics, particle dispersion, gravity, and heat,” says Matthew James, an artist who grew up in Mānoa and now lives in Brooklyn, New York. For his resin painting that will be affixed to a wall at SALT Our Kaka‘ako, he is manipulating these principles to create an aesthetic that is rustic yet elegant, abstract yet galactic, influenced by scientific photographs from the Hubble Telescope and topographic imagery. The process for it involves painting layers of resin and colors, then finishing with a top layer of acrylic and metal powders that will continue to corrode, revealing the layers beneath, and interacting with the salty breeze coming in off the ocean, resulting in a patina that will shift over time. “Kaka‘ako is not an ocean neighborhood, yet is right near the water. This piece brings a bit of the imagery of the ocean into the neighborhood,” he explains. “The metals and rust aesthetic used in the painting is reminiscent of the rough and industrial roots of Kaka‘ako.”

Kamea Hadar SALT Mural

Kamea Hadar is a busy man. As the co-lead director of the POW! WOW! arist network, he’s often traveling the globe overseeing projects or working on creations for clients like Hawaiian Airlines, Hurley, and OluKai. Hadar, who studied art at The Sorbonne in Paris, boasts a body of street art that has covered walls the world over, reaching audiences in Honolulu, San Francisco, and Taiwan, among others. His two murals at SALT are inspired by the legend of the naupaka flower, which resembles a half-flower and grows on shrubs in the mountains and by the ocean; the legend tells of lovers separated forever, one mauka and the other makai.The first mural, on the makai-facing wall, will feature a female figure and makai blues; the other, on the mauka-facing wall, will feature a male figure paired with mauka greens. “I enjoy the human form because of how much one can convey with an image of a face or body,” Hadar says. “From the moment we are born we are programmed to see and read faces, bodies, and body language. This makes it one of the most challenging subjects to paint as anyone and everyone can easily spot mistakes, but on the other hand allows me as an artist to convey emotion, tell complex stories, and more easily connect with my audience.”

“Art has been something I’ve been into ever since I was a little kid,” says Santiago Otani. His work, which draws heavily from the style of comic books and Saturday-morning cartoons he absorbed as a child growing up in Los Angeles, often portrays whimsical, color-drenched landscapes and idyllic scenes.

Although Otani was raised in California, he has close ties with Kaka‘ako—his grandfather grew up and worked in the industrial Honolulu neighborhood. With his mural, Otani hopes to celebrate the everyday people, including his family, who have called the area home, as well as the talent that has come from it. The mural will resemble a scrapbook, featuring ordinary residents of Kaka‘ako’s past based on Otani’s mother’s collection of old photographs of the area, alongside portraits of musicians also hailing from Kaka‘ako, like Gabby Pahinui and Danny Lopes. Says Otani, “The art is basically what I would call a celebration of some of the local heroes of the area.”