By Lynn Cook
Special to The Advertiser
"No laugh, my first drawing teachers were Conan and Tarzan," says classic-style painter Brook Kapukuniahi Parker. He is a gentle giant of an artist who looks like he might have stepped out of his own epic paintings of the ruling chiefs of Hawai'i.
"As a kid, I waited and saved for the new issues of the classic comics. No kidding, I learned to draw from those black-and-white adventures," he said.
Parker uses the dynamic lessons learned from pop art to fuel his paintings of Native Hawaiian figures from history — ali'i, warriors, ancestors. As MAMo, Maoli Arts Month 2010, begins on O'ahu, featuring the work of dozens of Native Hawaiian artists from all islands, he is a vital representative.
He credits his dad — writer, Hawaiian historian, genealogist and painter David Parker — for inspiring him to draw. The senior Parker was honored by MAMo at Bishop Museum in 2008.
"I just watched my dad and copied him. I drew on anything, even paper bags. I borrowed his books. The books became my teachers," Brook Parker said.
The Parkers are direct descendants of John Palmer Parker, founder of the Parker Ranch on the Big Island, and his wife, Keli'ikipikaneokaolohaka.
"She was a descendant of Kamehameha. Those chiefs talk to me," Brook Parker says of his ancestors.
Art lover Robbie Alm agrees. "I saw giclee prints of his paintings at the Native Hawaiian Chamber silent auction. I kept going back.
"I couldn't believe anyone could make history come alive like that," Alm said, adding, "we may not know what those ancestors look like, but I am sure Brook sees them. They come right off the canvas!"
Last week, Alm went to visit the artist and left with five original paintings that will be displayed in his Hawaiian Electric Co. offices.
"I want everyone to come visit the ancestors," he says.
"My dad called one day," says Parker. "A lady contacted him to do some illustrations for Hawaiian children's books, and he was too busy."
The lady was 'Aha Pūnana Leo author Lilinoe Andrews. Together, Andrews and Parker created a series of books.
Parker says it was like study for a research degree. Meanwhile, he worked a day job, as a sales rep selling house paint.
As Parker was drawing, he also learned to carve stone and wood, creating museum-quality Hawaiian weaponry.
"Those are mostly gone, sold to pay the bills," he said. "It's all about being able to take care of my family. I created the art, I can do it again."
Parker is 48. He and his wife, Drena, have five children. With his wife's agreement, five years ago Parker quit his job to do art full-time, and began working with acrylic paints. His work began to sell.
"I love to paint battle scenes. A mural of Kakuhihewa would be amazing. He was the King Arthur of his time, just without the drama of Lancelot," he says, thinking bigger with each challenge he meets.
Parker will be one of nearly 50 artists featured when Maile Meyer, founder of Native Books, opens a new MAMo Gallery in Chinatown on First Friday, May 7. Sculptor and painter Imaikalani Kalahele will curate the gallery; meanwhile, Kalahele's art will also be on exhibit at the Louis Pohl Gallery, and Kalahele has created a massive sculpture to display at the center of ARTS at Marks Garage.
Meyer says the new gallery echoes Brook Parker's statement that his paintings are "about Hawaiians, by a Hawaiian and created from a Hawaiian point of view."