Friday, March 02, 2012

Puna'ikeonaona Keli'iho'omalu R.I.P.

Whole lotta changes of late in Hilo and the Puna District. We'll badly miss our big buddy Puna, who was the darling youngest son of Uncle Robert Keli'iho'omalu, the de facto king/prince of Kalapana. His funeral weekend began this afternoon with blaring horns and a parade in front of the Seaview subdivision, with his friends shouting "we love you Puna." I attended the evening pa'ina (party) at Uncle's, which was hugely crowded with family and acquaintances. Puna himself was in an open casket, which you don't see very often, or at least I haven't seen at all except on "6 Feet Under." In a way it was good to be able to say a heartfelt "aloha" to his remains, although very clearly the joyous spirit of the man was all around us much more than it was in the embalmed physical remnant.

Puna was one of my favorite models, although I only painted him three or four times in a representational manner. He posed in 2003 for my big mural for the Norwegian Cruise Lines Pride of Aloha (since decommissioned.) The photos I took were really more expressive than the mural itself, so I recreated some of the poses as smaller square panels which were in a later show at the Volcano Art Center. None of them capture his amazing vitality and joi de vivre, but they do show what a handsome Hawaiian/Tahitian man he was, truly representative of that beautiful family.

What I'll always remember about Puna, other than the sweetness of his character, were the beauty of his singing voice, mostly falsetto, the assurance of his ukulele strumming technique, and most of all the way he danced Hula so sassily, always with a huge flirtatious smile of immense happiness on his face.

What other change is worth mentioning?? Oh, I almost forgot: The Arthur Johnsen Gallery closed its doors for the last time this week on Wednesday, February 29. We loved our 6 year cruise in the world of retail art as a loosely knit hui of artists, but the street traffic on Waianuenue was sadly diminished this year and our rent was increased. So we made the decision to join forces with our friends over at the One Gallery at the corner of Mamo and Kilauea. This is a similarly old building with lots of character, and the location seems better and more central to the active area of downtown Hilo. We haven't worked out our individual hours but most of us will be working a shift there at some time during the week.

A Hui Hou!