Uncle Benny Featured in Oil

Molokai Artist Honored at the Schaefer Portrait Challenge
By Siri Anderson

Molokai was well represented at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center’s signature exhibit, the Schaefer Portrait Challenge 2009.  Moloka’i artist, Stephen Garnin, was recently honored to have two portraits accepted for this prestigious statewide exhibition.  Jurors, including prominent and distinguished artists and academics Maile Andrade, David Behlke, Kimberlin Blackburn and Wayne Miyamoto, culled through hundreds of works of art to select fifty six portraits that represent a focus on “what really matters-the people in our lives: our family, friends, community”.

Steve’s portrayal of Benny Deluna captures the spirit and essence of a favorite son of Moloka’i.  Benny is vividly rendered in two different poses.  “Uncle Benny” features him with familiar ukulele in hand, intensely concentrating on making music, giving our Molokai community and friends much joy and laughter.  The other portrait shows Benny expressing aloha with his characteristic “shaka sign” in the cab of his truck.  It captures our interest because of the sophisticated geometric composition framing Benny.
The artist says “Uncle Benny Deluna is the embodiment of the Moloka’i character and lifestyle, and a personification of the aloha spirit.  His ukulele comes out, as if by magic, his voice ringing with homespun local animation and sincerity.  When I asked Benny to pose, his reaction was one of humility and surprise.  He has been incredulous throughout…which says much about him.  I am proud to have the opportunity to paint his portrait.”

Steve moved to Moloka’i to create art. He is a self taught artist now making art his life’s work. Specializing in both painting and wood carving, he recently completed a full sized canoe crafted from a local mango tree.  His “magical study” of woodcarver Bill Kapuni was exhibited during the last Schaefer Portrait Challenge in 2006.  

During our challenging economic times, it’s inspiring and encouraging to see artists recognized and celebrated through the Schaefer Portrait Challenge.  During the recognition assembly held on January 4, Maui artist Rich Hevner, received the Jurors’ Choice Award, with a cash prize of $15,000, the largest cash award in Hawaii art history.  The Marian Freeman People’s Choice Award, with a cash prize of $5,000., will be presented at the end of the exhibition.  Portraiture evokes a glimpse into the heart of someone-of the individual as seen through the artist’s eyes.  Beyond technical excellence, the competition required that the portrait convey the essence of the subject.

Both the artist and subject traveled to the Maui Arts and Cultural Center to be recognized and honored at the January 4th reception.

The exhibit will be on display from January 6 through February 22 at the Schaefer International Gallery.  Later this spring it will travel to The Contemporary Museum’s First Hawaiian Center in Honolulu where it will be shown from May 29 through September 8.


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