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Written by Sherry Liang, CNN

Honolulu, Hawaii-based artist Kamea Hadar has lost count of the number of murals he has painted in his career – his best guess is at least 50 in the past decade.

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

But for four weeks, from October to November, Hadar painted a 12-story building at the corner of South King and Pensacola streets in Honolulu, for his most complex and largest project to date in terms of square meters. (Its largest is 15 stories.)

At 155 feet tall and 18 meters wide, Hadar’s mural pays homage to “aloha ambassadors” – surfing champions Carissa Moore and Duke Kahanamoku, who are each record breaking in their respective generations. .

Moore made history in July as the first Olympic champion in women’s surfing, when surfing made its Games debut. Decades before Moore’s birth, Olympic swimmer Kahanamoku earned his nickname “Father of Modern Surfing,” when he popularized the centuries-old Hawaiian sport around the world. This mural depicts the two Hawaiian icons side by side in the iconic photorealistic portraits of Hadar, a hybrid between fine art and street art styles.

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

Kamea Hadar seated in front of his Obama mural. Credit: Courtesy of Andrew Tran

Ballet meets breakdance

Raised in Hawaii, Hadar painted his entire life. In his teens, Hadar traveled abroad to France, Spain and Israel for training in “traditional” fine arts, he said. He apprenticed with a French impressionist painter in Paris and studied at Tel Aviv University.

While training, Hadar said his friends at home practice other forms of art, such as tattooing and graffiti.

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

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

Carissa Moore and Duke Kahanamoku’s Kamea Hadar painting will be his largest and most complex to date. Credit: Courtesy of Andrew Tran

In 2010, Hadar and his high school friend Jasper Wong formed Pow! Wow !, a festival of galleries-exhibitions that have become murals. The festival visited more than a dozen cities, produced nearly a thousand murals, and greatly influenced the development of Hadar’s visual style. The artists he worked with also taught him to enlarge his paintings, he explains.

“This very traditional side of portrait painting, combined with this street art culture of graffiti, has turned into large-scale murals of 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 basically muralists.”

Build a mural

Painting a multi-story building requires meticulous logistical planning, from considering the views of passers-by to learning how to hang securely on the side of a 15-story building with scenes swivel – the same infrastructure used by window cleaners.

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

Kamea Hadar climbed buildings for weeks to complete murals. Credit: Courtesy of Andrew Tran

Then there are the things that Hadar cannot control. Painting outdoors leaves Hadar “at the mercy of nature,” he said – wind, humidity, heat, sun and rain can all affect the painting and swing stages. While in Taipei in 2014, Hadar watched his painting of Taipei Dreams “crumble” on a particularly humid day, he recalls.

Kamea said that physical effort and planning aside, watching day-to-day progress is rewarding.

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

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

Hadar also taps into his own personal experiences – after becoming a father in the summer of 2016 (right in the middle of painting his Obama mural), he found himself drawn to projects depicting fatherhood.

“She’s now the age where she knows it’s daddy’s drawing,” Hadar said of her 5-year-old daughter. But he thinks she doesn’t yet understand the depth or scale of her murals.

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

Kamea Hadar’s large 10-story fresco “Huli” depicts a father and his daughter. Credit: Courtesy of Ryu Yamane

A “sense of place”

Hawaii – as a place and source of inspiration – is omnipresent in Hadar’s murals.

Hadar said that a “sense of place” is important to Native cultures in Hawaii. Land, for example, is traditionally divided by natural water boundaries into areas called “ahupua’a”. Hadar studies these boundaries in his planning stages and takes expert advice to respect the land and its history.

“I grew up my whole life in Hawaii… but I’m not originally from Hawaii,” Hadar said. “When I bring up a lot of these topics, I’m talking about ancient Hawaii, I’m talking about Hawaiian culture, using Hawaiian words. These are all things I learned. I try a lot to be still. sensitive to the native Hawaiian community.

A building mural will last five to 20 years before wearing off, Hadar said. In the meantime, he hopes the breadth and subjects of his work can inspire people to “do whatever they want to do,” even if that means climbing a 15-story building.

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

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