KAKAAKO (HawaiiNewsNow) - Walk into the roll-up garage door at Aupuni Space, a community art hub and gallery in the older warehouse district of Kakaako, and at first glance you'll see what looks like a historic showcase of classic oil paintings from the Renaissance to Baroque periods.
When you stand in the middle of the gallery, with it's heavily worn industrial concrete floors contrasting with the freshly-painted white walls, it feels like you are being stared down by a hodgepodge gaggle of historical figures.
It doesn't take long to realize, though, that these are not original works of priceless art or even reproductions.
This show is actually making a bold statement about life in Hawaii.
Your perception of the art quickly shifts once you spot the Zippy's chili bucket worn as a crown atop a woman sporting a regal ruffled collar. Another subject sports a bright yellow Spam t-shirt under his armor. And then there's the nobleman with the Captain Crunch box as a hat.
The gallery says artist Tommy Hite has manifested these works from a broad spectrum of styles and distilled them into a "semi" singular style of his own —titling the show "Semi Neoclassical."
"They are just kinda like wacky, humorous, and whimsical, but they all play on this theme of Hawaii," Hite said. "This ground level that I see, and that I grew up with, and all these characters that I'm familiar with."
Hite has fused these classic paintings with symbols of paradise.
As in the depiction of a bearded man, who at first glance looks to be from the 19th century.
But on closer inspection, it's clear the man is wearing a bright green construction shirt and a tool belt — like you might see on the men working just a block away on the latest luxury skyscraper project.
Hite said he chose to paint the man as a laborer because he has grown up in a Hawaii that has been bombarded by development, sending many of his young peers' career paths right into the local construction boom.
The Chinatown bartender also personally knows the struggles and successes of living in the Aloha State, especially now that he has decided to pursue being an artist.
"It's showcasing ground level artists like me, emerging artists, just people that are really talented that don't really get a voice and don't really get a place to be shown because of their status I guess," Hite said, as he described the gallery.
Aupuni Space supports community-based projects and exhibitions that feature Native Hawaiian and Hawaii-based contemporary artists.
The space, which also operates studios to rent, opened less than a year ago and is run by Donnie Cervantes.
"We're open to people with new ideas and really showing younger artist's work" Cervantes said.
Some of the works done by Hite have already sold, and his opening night was a full house.
That's giving him hope, and it underscores Hawaii's ever-changing art scene.
He said, "I feel like right now it's kinda re-amping and it's like a great time to start showing work."
Hite's Aupuni Space show runs until mid-October at 729 Auahi St.