Kauai graffiti: Works of art, or public nuisance

  • Ryan Collins / The Garden Island

    Graffiti along the backside of the Kapaa Swimming pool reads, ‘Aloha.’ The swimming pool is a county owned facility. A work order has been placed by the county to remove the work.

  • Ryan Collins / The Garden Island

    Graffiti lines a concrete state-owned bridge at the Kuilau Ridge Trailhead.

  • Ryan Collins / The Garden Island

    The famous mural “Whaling Walls” done by Wyland at the Kauai Village Shopping Center in Kapaa.

KAPAA — If you’re walking on the Ke Ala Hele Makalae coastal path and you wander off the paved walkway — along the beach on the backside of the Kapaa Swimming Pool — you will find the word “Aloha” festooned on the building in red spray paint.

For some, the work is a mural, the harmless work of a nameless artist. Conversely, others see it as an act of graffiti, evidence of criminal behavior that needs to be eradicated.

“The County of Kauai is in the process of generating a work order to remove graffiti by the Kapaa pool,” the county said of the graffiti on the backside of the community pool.

No firm date has been set yet for the removal of the graffiti, but it’s something that will happen in the near future.

In a different location, a few miles down the road, several other “works” are done on the state-owned bridge that spans the Wailua River. The murals there tell stories of myriad things, but are technically illegal per state law.

State law mandates that anyone convicted of illegal graffiti, or damage created from it, to remove the graffiti within 30 days and to perform community service removing graffiti within a 100 yards of the crime for a period of two years.

The County of Kauai does not have a direct statute regarding graffiti on public buildings, but it’s something that officials have taken a proactive approach to over the course of the past two years as part of the beautification of Kauai.

Mayor Derek S.K. Kawakami is an example of the county’s proactive approach to murals being created locally in recent years. Kawakami was personally involved with several street art projects prior to becoming mayor of Kauai.

The county collaborated with private businesses and local artists as part of the last two Rice Street block parties, and also the county’s Life Choices office when they partnered with the owners of the Minimart in Kapahi, where local students created murals on business storefronts. Kawakami’s family owned one of the convenience stores that a mural was done on.

Additionally, while not a county project, Kawakami supported a mural project last month — the “Breathe Aloha” mural at Kapaa High School.

“Mayor Kawakami is interested in working with local artists to paint murals at some of our county-owned public spaces, such as parks,” said Sarah Blane, county spokeswoman in an email to TGI.

Lyle Otsuka saw to commissioning a mural at the Banyan Harbor Condominiums.

“It’s just a nice touch,” Banyan resident Patricia McGary said of the art in a trash area. “The mural dresses up the concrete wall nicely.”

Not everyone agrees on what is art and where it belongs.

Last year, artists spent three days creating a 40-foot-long mural depicting the island’s character on a wall fronting the oceanfront bike path in Kapaa Town — only to paint over it a week later.

The colorful artwork featured large capital block letters spelling “Kapaa” with inset images of jungle fowl, coconuts, hula, wahine and a shaka. But some did not appreciate the painters’ labor or their passion for art.

The mural was voted to be covered up by the community board and the landlord, said the business owner who paid the artists $500 for the mural.

The creators repainted the wall with plain white paint to accommodate the residents’ request.

David Flores, collaborating painter, said at the time, “We’re just trying to liven up this community.”

In other countries and cities on the mainland, communities have taken a active approach to street art.

Fort Collins, Colo., has created “Pianos About Town,” which is a collaborative project between the city of Fort Collins Art In Public Places Program, the Bohemian Foundation, and the Downtown Development Authority.

The project combines art and music for the enjoyment of the community. Pianos are painted in colorful murals from May through October, where community members can interact with the artists as they paint the pianos.

It’s a project that has not only added an element of street art to the downtown area of that city, but also has created a musical component that is free for the public to explore daily.

Ellen Martin is the director of the Art in Public Places Program in Fort Collins. She believes the project sparks imagination in the community.

“The project is in its ninth year and we have done over 100 pianos,” Martin said, adding that the pianos are moved to random locations within the city. “We put the artist, just like a mural, out in the public, painting and creating for the community to enjoy and interact with. We have seen with the painted (utility) boxes and with the painted pianos, it really brought art out into the street for the community to engage with the artist and see how art is created.”

Wyland is one of the internationally renowned artists that have created multiple murals in public spaces on Kauai, as seen by anyone passing the “Whaling Walls” in Kauai Village Shopping Center.

In August of 2017, Wyland redid the famous, “A Time For Conservation” mural which was originally created in 1991. The public was able to witness the mural take shape as he worked on it.

“We are proud to be part of Wyland’s legacy, with Kauai Village Shopping Center’s Whaling Walls. His artistry not only adds beauty to our community, but also reminds us to respect ocean life,” Cliff Ogata said during the dedication in 2017, who is one of the owners of Kauai Village Shopping Center.”

5 Comments
  1. Steven McMacken March 13, 2019 4:55 am Reply

    Harmless work? Hardly. It would be one thing if the art being painted were of a professional quality. The problem is, it isn’t. It’s poorly done and looks amateurish. Instead of being an attraction, it’s a distraction.

    Why is it that some people can’t leave well enough alone? It’s like being forced to listen to someone else’s loud music. Kauai is already beautiful and painting “Aloha” (or any other theme) on a wall in ugly block letters only detracts from its beauty.

    The world is noisy enough as it is. Quit adding to the noise.


  2. gordon oswald March 13, 2019 10:33 am Reply

    There should be mandatory fines, removal, and jail sentences for anyone over the age of 16 who defaces another person, entity, or government’s property with graffiti, PERIOD! We have become a stupid, politically correct, and broken society because we don’t teach our children what they need to know to grow up to be productive members of a cohesive society. Get tough now on law breakers, or we will all pay dire consequences in the future, if there is one!


  3. manongindashadow March 13, 2019 4:03 pm Reply

    Wait till you see the electric buses. If it ever get to Kauai. “It will be graffiti on wheels!”


  4. Rev Dr. Malama March 13, 2019 6:06 pm Reply

    Yes to ALOHA!!!! YES TO MORE ART IN PUBLIC PLACES, NO TO FOOD TRUCKS ……


  5. Austin K March 25, 2019 8:54 am Reply

    I personally believe that if the Graffiti that is being made isn’t inappropriate and looks DECENT it shouldn’t be taken down and it should be left alone. Unless the people who are arguing about this was Born & Raised on the island of Kauai, they have no right to decide on what our island should be like. If these folks lived here for a least of 12 years then okay, they can decide otherwise No. They should keep this piece of graffiti and add more colors and appropriate designs, I don’t see whats wrong with it. Some people are just sensitive, how locals feel should be always picked over money. Why take down something that represents our Island and the other Islands of Hawaii “ALOHA”. The word that stands for Love, it brings us confidence and joy in hard times. So No, I believe that this piece of art shouldn’t be taken down, just because newcomers think they can make the choices of our Island and disrespect even the little things that isn’t even inappropriate to our Aloha filled Community. – Austin K


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