Honolulu, Hawaii-based artist Kamea Hadar has lost count of how many murals he has painted in his career — his best guess is at least 50 in the past decade.
But for four weeks from October to November, Hadar painted a 12-story building on the corner of South King and Pensacola Streets in Honolulu, for his most intricate and largest project ever, in terms of square footage. (Its tallest is 15 stories.)
At 155 feet high and 18 feet wide, Hadar’s mural pays tribute to the “ambassadors of aloha”—surfing champions Carissa Moore and Duke Kahanamoku, each of whom are record-setters in their respective generations.
“Hawaii is a special place, and the people here are full of ‘aloha,’ that’s that love, that kindness,” Hadar said. “Carissa and Duke are very much ambassadors of aloha, and they’re spreading that aloha all over the world.” He added: “I try to do the same with my art. I think with positivity and aloha you can make the world a better place – a happier place.”
Kamea Hadar sits in front of his Obama mural. Credit: Thanks to Andrew Tran
Ballet meets break dance
Hadar, raised in Hawaii, has been painting all his life. In his teens, Hadar traveled abroad to France, Spain and Israel for a “traditional” background in the visual arts, he said. He was apprenticed to a French Impressionist painter in Paris and attended Tel Aviv University.
While he was working out, Hadar said his friends practiced other art forms at home, such as tattooing and graffiti.
“What I like to joke about is that while my friends were learning break dance, I was dancing ballet,” Hadar said.
Kamea Hadar’s painting of Carissa Moore and Duke Kahanamoku will be his largest and most intricate to date. Credit: Thanks to Andrew Tran
“That very traditional side of portrait painting, combined with this graffiti street art culture, has turned into large-scale murals of people,” Hadar said. “That’s where my world and the world of my high school peers who were graffiti artists intersect. And now we’re all muralists really.”
Create a mural
Painting a tall building requires painstaking logistical planning, from considering the vantage points of passersby to learning how to hang safely off the side of a 15-story building with swing stages — the same infrastructure used by window cleaners.
Kamea Hadar climbs buildings for weeks at a time to create towering murals. Credit: Thanks to Andrew Tran
Kamea said physical exertion and planning aside, it’s gratifying to watch the progress from day to day.
“It’s nice to be tired at the end of a long day at work, but look at exactly what you accomplished that day,” Hadar said. “It’s nice to have that tangible reward.”
As for his inspiration, Hadar says it can take many forms. Sometimes it is a message, such as a public announcement of the turnout. Other times, it’s a person — like his two-story portrait of Obama entitled “Hapa” (the Hawaiian word for half or mixed race), painted over a transcript of Obama’s 2008 speech on racial equality.
Hadar also draws on his own personal experiences — after becoming a father in the summer of 2016 (while painting his Obama mural), he was drawn to projects that portray fatherhood.
“She’s now at the age where she knows this is daddy’s drawing,” Hadar said of his 5-year-old daughter. But he thinks she doesn’t yet understand the depth or scale of his murals.
Kamea Hadar’s 10-storey mural “Huli” depicts a father and daughter. Credit: Thanks to Ryu Yamane
A ‘sense of place’
Hawaii — as a place and source of inspiration — is ubiquitous in Hadar’s murals.
Hadar said a “sense of place” is important to native cultures in Hawaii. For example, the country is traditionally divided by natural water boundaries into areas called ‘ahupua’a’. Hadar explores these boundaries in his planning stages and is guided by experts to respect the country and its history.
“I grew up in Hawaii all my life…but I’m not a native Hawaiian,” Hadar said. “When I touch on a lot of these topics, I’m talking about old Hawaii, I’m talking about Hawaiian culture, with Hawaiian words. Those are all things I’ve learned. I try very hard to always be sensitive to the native Hawaiian community.”
A building mural will last five to 20 years before it wears out, Hadar said. In the meantime, he hopes the scale and subjects of his work can inspire people to “do what they want to do,” even if that means scaling a 15-story building.
“I think great art can come from love and aloha,” Hadar said.