Kamea Hadar: How this Hawaiian artist paints a 12-story mural

written by Sherry Liang, CNN

Honolulu, Hawaii-based artist Kamiya Hadar has lost sight of the number of murals he has painted in his career—his best guess is at least 50 over the past decade.

He painted a larger-than-life portrait of former US President Barack Obama next to a Honolulu law firm and wrapped his Lamborghini in floral art vinyl. He once spent two months painting on an upside-down location when the owner of a Vintage Cave Café in Honolulu wanted him to paint his arched ceiling “like Michelangelo,” Hadar recalled in a phone interview.

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 largest and most complex project to date in terms of space. (longest 15 stories).

Measuring 155 feet tall and 60 feet wide, Hadar’s mural pays homage to “Aloha Ambassadors”—surfing champions Karissa Moore and Duke Kahanamoku, who have both set records in their generations.

Moore made history in July as the first female Olympic surfing champion, when the sport of surfing made her debut at the Games. Decades before Moore was born, Olympic swimmer Kahanamoku earned his nickname “the father of modern surfing,” when he popularized the sport of Hawaii centuries ago around the world. This mural depicts two Hawaiian icons side by side in Hadar’s signature photorealism – a blend of fine art and street art styles.

“Hawaii is a special place, and the people here are full of ‘Aloha,’ which is that love, that friendliness,” Hadar said. “Carissa and Duke are a lot of Aloha ambassadors, and they’ve spread that Aloha all over the world.” He added, “I try to do the same with my art. I think that with positivity and oh, you can make the world a better place – a happier place.”

Kamiya Hadar sitting in front of Obama’s mural. attributed to him: Courtesy of Andrew Tran

Ballet meets breakdance

Growing up in Hawaii, Hadar has been painting his whole life. As a teenager, Hadar said, he traveled abroad to France, Spain, and Israel for a “traditional” artistic background. He was trained by a French Impressionist painter in Paris and studied at Tel Aviv University.

While he was training, Hadar said his friends back home were practicing other art forms, such as tattoos and graffiti.

“What I like to joke about is while my friends were learning break-dancing, I was doing ballet,” Hadar said.

Kamiya Hadar's painting by Carissa Moore and Duke Kahanamoku will be the largest and most complex to date.

Kamiya Hadar’s painting by Carissa Moore and Duke Kahanamoku will be the largest and most complex to date. attributed to him: Courtesy of Andrew Tran

In 2010, Hadar and his high school friend Jasper Wong formed Pow! Wow, photo gallery turned into a mural. The festival traveled to more than a dozen cities, produced nearly a thousand murals and greatly influenced the development of Hadhra’s visual style. He explains that the artists he worked with also taught him how to expand the range of his paintings.

“The very traditional aspect of painting, along with the culture of street graffiti art, has turned into great murals for people,” Hadar said. “This is where my world and that of my high school classmates who were graffiti artists intersect. And now we’re all muralists.”

mural building

Painting a high-rise building requires careful logistical planning, from looking at vantage points for passersby to learning how to safely hang next to a 15-story building with swinging stages—the same infrastructure that window washers use.

Kami Hadar climbs buildings for weeks at a time to complete the tall murals.

Kami Hadar climbs buildings for weeks at a time to complete the tall murals. attributed to him: Courtesy of Andrew Tran

Then there are the elements that Hadar cannot control. He said the coating of outdoor urban foliage is “at the mercy of nature” – wind, humidity, heat, sun and rain can all affect the coating and sway phases. While in Taipei in 2014, Hadar watched his drawings of “Dreams of Taipei” “fall into the sewers” on a particularly rainy day, he recalls.

Physical effort and planning aside, Kamiya said, watching the progress day in and day out is fun.

“It’s nice to be tired at the end of a long work day, but see exactly what you achieved that day,” Hadar said. “It’s good to have that tangible reward.”

As for his inspiration, Hader says it can take many forms. Sometimes it’s a message, like a public service announcement for voter turnout. Other times, it’s the person—like his two-story painting of Obama, titled “Hapa” (the Hawaiian word for half, or mixed-racial heritage), drawn on copies of Obama’s 2008 speech on racial equality.

Hadar also draws on his personal experiences—after becoming a father in the summer of 2016 (in the middle of painting an Obama mural), he found himself drawn to projects depicting fatherhood.

“She’s now at the age where she knows this is her father’s drawing,” Hadar said of his 5-year-old daughter. But he doesn’t think she understands the depth or scale of his frescoes yet.

Kamiya Hadar mural 10 floors "research" It depicts a father and daughter.

The 10-story mural “Holi” by Kamiya Hadar depicts a father and daughter. attributed to him: Courtesy of Ryu Yamane

sense of place

Hawaii – as a place and a source of inspiration – is ubiquitous via Hadar murals.

Hadar said that “sense of place” is important to the indigenous cultures of Hawaii. For example, the land is traditionally divided by the boundaries of natural waters into areas called “ahopua”. Hadar researches these boundaries in his planning stages and takes expert guidance to respect the land and its history.

“I grew up all my life in Hawaii…but I am not a Native Hawaiian,” Hadar said. “When I touch on a lot of these topics, I talk about ancient Hawaii, I talk about Hawaiian culture, using Hawaiian words. Those are all things I’ve learned. I try a lot to always be sensitive to the indigenous Hawaiian community.”

Hader said the building’s mural will last anywhere from five to 20 years before it wears out. In the meantime, he hopes the scope and themes of his work will inspire people to “do what they want to do,” even if that means expanding a 15-story building.

“I believe great art can come from love and aloha,” Hadar said.

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