Little-known artist favors principles over prominence
By Rod Ohira
Advertiser Staff Writer
|Ivan Hosoi carries his painting, "Lotus," to his home in Waimanalo.
Photos by Jeff Widener The Honolulu Advertiser
Ivan Hosoi thinks it's one of his best pieces, but it may well end up in his collection of unsold works.
At 59, Hosoi has been trying for 40 years to earn a living as an artist and is still unknown. "Since 1993, I've sold one portrait (of a member of the Aluli family) for $150," he said. "Most of my art I give away."
The most he has received for his artwork was $1,500, for a drawing on rice paper of an Olympic diver that he sold in 1976.
"Aloha 'oe" will be on display in the Honolulu Hale courtyard this week and next. "It's my first public showing for anything, and it's at City Hall," Hosoi said. "I'm really excited."
His wooden structure, which used to be a storage shed for tractors, doubles as Hosoi's home and studio. He survives by doing odd jobs.
"I just paint now, still with the hope that one day I can support my habit," said Hosoi, who has worked as a carpenter, taxi driver, tree trimmer, janitor and deliveryman for California museums to make ends meet.
"It doesn't matter if I don't make it," he said. "Art, to me, is sacred because of tradition. It's a struggle to achieve. I'm always going to stick to what I believe is creative truth."
Hosoi is a graduate of Kailua High, the now-defunct Chouinard Art Institute and the University of California-Berkeley, where he earned a master's degree in fine arts. He is also the grandson of the Hosoi Mortuary founder. In fact, he was born at the mortuary in Nu'uanu and once worked there as a funeral director.
"I stay away from galleries because I know what they want, and I don't paint what they like," he said. "I don't tread on their territory to make money. If that's a detriment to my art ability, so be it. Every night, I pray that I can paint another painting the way I want to do it."
Hosoi keeps his Bible within reach. It's helped him get through some tough times.
His 33-year-old son, Christian, once a skateboarding superstar with his own line of "Hammerhead" boards, was convicted of possessing crystal methamphetamine and sentenced to 70 months in prison in September. Christian Hosoi is serving his sentence in Nevada.
|Ivan Hosoi says his refusal to betray his beliefs has kept his art career largely anonymous. Art, he says, is sacred because of tradition.|
"To me, it means a change is happening," Hosoi said. "I did it (the painting) on lauhala to include Hawai'i. People throw lauhala away, but to me, it's sacred. My deepest thing is to paint what I feel with some meaning to a culture."
Hosoi plans to use a tatami mat for his next project a memorial to the 1941 Pearl Harbor attack.
"The actual line in art is the root," he noted. "Einstein said if you cannot draw it on paper, it doesn't exist. Most painters cannot draw, but I can draw."
He has an artistic identity. But like many others, all he needs is an audience.
Reach Rod Ohira at 535-8181 or firstname.lastname@example.org.