Artist, author Herb Kane dies at 82

DeSoto Brown
DeSoto Brown
Nainoa Thompson
Nainoa Thompson

By Jim Mendoza - bio | email 

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Herb Kawainui Kane once said his beliefs ran counter to contemporary theory -- the one that teaches artists to paint from the inside out.

"I don't want any of my own identity in my painting. What I try to express is the identity of the subject," he said in a 2008 interview.

His favorite subject was Hawaiian history. Through vivid colors and broad brush strokes, Kane brought an ancient culture to life.

Like his depiction of the battle on the Nuuanu Pali, his paintings were the culmination of hours of study.

"He didn't just create it out of his own mind. He researched what really happened and then turned it into a picture for us today to get a sense of what happened," said DeSoto Brown, Bishop Museum archivist and collections manager.

Kane's interests revolved around his love for Hawaii. Born on the Big Island, he studied art in Chicago.

Besides painting, he authored books and became a pioneer of a project that would sail into history.

"From my lens, he was the father of Hawaiian renaissance. He was the driving force in that movement," Nainoa Thompson said.

That movement included the Hokulea. Kane helped design and build the sailing canoe and served as its first captain in 1975. He founded the Polynesian Voyaging Society.

"He created the transformation with Hokulea but he imbedded it primarily in learning systems in Hawaii where we can always continue to celebrate him," said Thompson, the Voyaging Society's executive director.

Those who knew him say despite the public accolades for his art pieces that were displayed in galleries around the nation and on seven U.S. postage stamps, Kane was a private person who lived a quiet life

"I think that would be an adequate description of him but, again, friendly, too, and very open and very supportive," Brown said.

Kane was so supportive he gave Bishop Museum blanket permission to use his artwork to further Hawaiian study.

Kane died Tuesday night in his hometown of Kona. He was 82. His death came on the 36th anniversary of Hokulea's first launching.

"We don't have Herb to go next to and hold on to and have him show us the way. But what we have is thousands of people that are his students that have been inspired," Thompson said.

Friends say Herb Kane's legacy will live on in a huge collection of art he's left behind and the method behind his master pieces.

"In order to make the people appear lifelike you have to empathize with your subject. There's no other way," Kane said in that 2008 interview.

"His love of his Hawaiian culture is right there in his paintings," Brown said.

Herb Kane's catalogue of accomplishments can be seen with the eye, but there's a depth that goes beyond just colors on canvas.

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