Painting Cultural Awareness

Carol Chang
Wednesday - July 28, 2005
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Solomon Enos in his studio, which was
once the realm of artist Pegge Hopper

A native Hawaiian artist, says Solomon Enos, needs “sustainable insanity” and fervent drive to bring the world up to speed on the mo‘olelo of the ancestors.

“The excitement about Harry Potter is nice,” he concedes. But where are our stories? We associate more with Mickey Mouse than Kahekili.”

At 29, Enos is making up for that deficit as fast as he can. His murals are all over town, his vibrant paintings of Hawaiian gods hang proudly in island homes, and his illustrations have already enlivened several children’s books. He’s been called the next Herb Kane, and he’s honored, but feels he is far from ready or worthy of the comparison.

Enos at Bishop Museum
where some of his work
is on view through Oct. 16
in the show ‘Na Akua Wahine’

Between multiple projects and ideas for more, he’s a whirlwind of excitement and splattered paint. “All my pants have a little paint on them,” he admits, relaxing for 60 seconds in his Nuuanu Valley studio. The expansive, airy room doubles as his home, and the floor is covered with paint.

It’s Pegge Hopper’s paint actually, as it was once her studio. He points out his-and-her paint dribbles, solemnly studying the old wood floor. “Here are her pastels; mine are there, darker in color.

“The energy is already here from Pegge,” he adds, looking up. “Her beautiful women — I’m putting them into action — from sitting down to standing up to action. I have them climbing up mountains!”

He grabs a stack of pencilled sketches of just such scenes, many of goddess Hi‘iaka-i-ka-polio- Pele, which are destined for a two-volume account of her adventures, translated from original sources by Puakea Nogelmeier. (Nogelmeier’s delighted to work with Enos and predicts this important project will be “the maturation” of his work. “Solomon is like a Labrador pup,” he says, noting his own mellower style. “We resonate and share the enthusiasm, but he’s like bouncing with excitement, as I’m crafting my work.”)

Sculpted Hawaiian action figures pose on a studio shelf. They’re destined for his animated “Poly Fantastica” — characters “with Polynesian elements but with fantastic weapons and helmets.” Hundreds of related sketches, furiously spawned from the pen of this steadfast Ninja Turtles fan, lay about his creative nest.

Close to his heart is an upcoming book from Bishop Museum Press. Akua Hawaii: Hawaiian Gods and Their Stories is a collaboration of Enos and author Kimo Armitage to present young readers with the stories behind 30 gods and goddesses.

“They’re opening people’s minds to the real culture that exists,” says Daniel Anthony, Enos’ manager and good friend. “And the text is so eloquent, people from 3 to 40 years old can appreciate it.”

“It’s an amazing book,” agrees Armitage, noting the meticulous research. “It’s the best I’ve ever done. We want to give our Hawaiian children a sense of place — where do you come from? Who are you? If you understand your connection, you won’t let anything bad happen to you.”

Enos with some of his superhero

All three men are standing in Bishop Museum’s vestibule, surrounded by blown-up posters of goddesses created by Enos using an opaque water wash that he loves. The exhibit Na Akua Wahine features multiple artists and is on view through Oct. 16, offering a glimpse of the treat in store when the Akua Hawaii book is released next month.

“Kimo and Solomon were able to bring Hawaii its own heroes’ stories,” says Blair Collis, director of the museum’s press. “We’re pleased to be able to do such a book.” Akua Hawaii is only the fourth children’s book by BMP, he adds. “Kimo has several successful books in the market, and I’m very impressed with Solomon’s ability and love and mission in life.

“The art is quite beautiful for all ages to enjoy.”

A Waianae High School graduate, the gentle and playful artist grew up in the Enos family compound at the back of Makaha Valley, one of four sons of parents and community activists who gave their full support to his creative bent — even if he did start out with monsters and space aliens.

“I was the only one not playing football,” he recalls. “I was sitting in the house drawing.”

Enos has since blossomed as a mentor at Hoa ‘Aina O Makaha, an assistant at MA‘O Farm, a delegate to Colombia’s indigenous people, a flag-bearer for the guardians of Makua Valley, a creator of live mural events, a performer at poetry slams, an artist for the Hawaiian Sovereignty Education Program and for Hapa’s beautifully packaged Hapa Maui CD; a consultant for UH-Manoa’s online Coral Reef Game; an exhibitor at Hale Noa, Mark’s Garage, Diamond Head Cove Health Bar, Native Books, workspace, Aloha Aina Cafe, Borders, the state capitol and Makaha Marketplace.

Says Hapa’s Barry Flanagan, “Solomon is one of the young, true genius artistic visionaries of 21st century Polynesia. It was one of the great experiences of my almost half century of looking, studying and absorbing art to be in close range of this Zeus as he hurled lightning bolt after lightning bolt at all involved in the making our our latest CD.”

Now a trim 175, he recently shed 100 pounds from his 6-foot frame; he’s almost quit smoking, and he gave an invocation for the 2005 Legislature.

Last fall he presented an art lesson that Nanaikapono Elementary School fifth-graders will never forget. A pilot project of Bishop Museum, the “Science and Culture of Art” matched Enos with museum educator Nancy Ali and classroom teacher Sonia Peralta to get the keiki excited about art and akamai about science in six easy lessons. It worked, and Enos gets much of the credit.

“The students made a set of trading cards, and they just loved it. They went crazy over it,” says Ali. “The best part was Solomon’s enthusiasm. He just exudes energy. The students light right up every time he’s in the room.”

“They were so engrossed, they didn’t want to go home,” adds Peralta. “And they were thrilled to meet someone from the Waianae Coast who was a positive role model. Many recognized his name from earlier visits with his father, Eric Enos, at Kaala Farm learning center.”

Digital animation is his newest passion, which he sees as a way to elevate Hawaiian storytelling to global heights. Terms like “media sovereignty,” “multicultural fusion,” “mo‘olelo industry,” “indigenous science fiction” and “the ultimate canvas” fly about. And he hasn’t even slurped his first coffee of the day.

“I allow myself windows of time. I’m ahead really, but I think I’m behind. I fall asleep by accident; I eat by accident. Still I’m not getting enough done — I only have six hands.”

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