Creatures rising among lava
By Shar Levine
Over the past nine months, lava and silhouette sculptures have begun appearing in the lava fields in the Kohala district. A baboon sits on a mound of dirt on the way to Waimea, a hoot owl is perched on a fence, a St. Bernard dog with a stick tail stands guard in a field and running pigs cavort under the sign for Parker Ranch.
Even islanders are perplexed. Who is behind this new form of art?
Ed Vasquez, a retired engineering technician, is the kind of person who looks at lava and sees sculptures.
"Mother Nature has done most of the design work," he says. All that is left for him to do is add a few well-placed pieces of lava or the odd bit of coral, and a work of art appears from nothing.
The 80-year-old bubbles with enthusiasm as he describes his work. After he retired in California, he discovered he had the eye and the artistic ability to sculpt. He took classes to hone his skills and soon became adept enough to create a bronze bust of President Ronald Reagan, which resides on the aircraft carrier CVN 76, while another is found at the Ronald Reagan Ranch Center in Santa Barbara.
He and his wife, Dorothy, moved several years ago to the Big Island, where he continued his work as a sculptor.
His pieces include crows on a wire, a bear, a turkey and even Godzilla. His most impressive piece is the imposing T-rex, which he says is a "work in progress," with a medallion eye that spins in the wind.
Always a Navy man, he gives the locations of his work in terms of longitude and latitude: for example, his St. Bernard dog can be found at N 19 degrees 54.383, W 155 degrees 45.309.
Ed is working on his next project, a bas-relief of famed Hawaiian artist Herb Kane, and the local art community is paying attention.
Archie Macareg and his partner, Marcia Ray, are noted Big Island artists whose work appears in galleries and private collections around the islands. They began noticing Vasquez's lava sculptures as they were on their way to work at the Hilton Hotel at Waikoloa Beach.
"We should do something like that, too," said Macareg, and the couple began their own foray into what they call "guerrilla art."
They make their silhouettes from particle board and cover them with dark paint. They mount the board on stakes, which they push into the ground. The artists have an impressive number of wooden silhouettes hidden around Kohala, where sharp eyes might spy a duck, dog, iguana, panther, monkey or silverback gorilla hiding in the bushes, holding court in the lava beds or even hanging from trees.
"The people who work at the resorts have to leave home early in the morning," he said. "They have nothing to look at, day after day on the long bus ride. We thought we'd give them something to look out for."
Next time you're driving around the Big Island, keep your eyes open for dark figures hidden in the lava. You might be surprised at what you find.