Maui Arts & Entertainment

Maui artist Kirk Kurokawa named People’s Choice winner of MACC’s Schaefer Portrait Challenge

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Kirk Kurokawa in front of his portrait of Uncle Masa, Schaefer Portrait Challenge 2022 exhibit at Maui Arts & Cultural Center’s Schaefer International Gallery. (Photo credit: MACC)

Maui artist, Kirk Kurokawa, won the Gene & Ruth Freedman People’s Choice Award as part of the Schaefer Portrait Challenge 2022 for his portrait, entitled Uncle Masa, oil on panel.

Masa Motooka was born in Hāna, Maui and later served the country as a Nisei Veteran, a Corporal 5 in the Military Intelligence Service (MIS), which played a decisive role in the victory of the American forces during World War II.

The Gene & Ruth Freedman People’s Choice Award carries a $5,000 cash prize made possible by the generosity of the Eugene and Ruth Freedman Family Foundation and was presented by Rick Freedman and his sister Penny during a recent reception in the Schaefer International Gallery at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center.


“Kirk’s realistic style of painting as seen in Uncle Masa appeals to many people,” said Gallery Director Neida Bangerter. “He gives us a story with carefully thought out compositions, as seen in the Japanese style chabudai table with Uncle Masa’s juice, Kleenex box and back scratcher. The soft worn leather chair and the sparkle in his eye endears his subject to viewers as if we are right there listening. His use of pigment and glazing techniques render a perfect play of light on his subject, including a faint grisaille gray background with the Nisei Veterans Medallion, acknowledging his service in the US Armed Forces during WWII.”

Kirk Kurokawa is a Maui-based painter, muralist and artist. He received a BFA with distinction in Illustration from the California College of the Arts. His paintings focus predominantly on “simple, everyday life moments”.

Although he often paints native birds, flowers and locals of Hawai‘i, he is best known for his portraiture. He has been in every installment of the Schaefer Portrait Challenge, and was awarded the Juror’s Choice Award in 2006 and the People’s Choice Award in 2015, and acknowledges that the Challenge 2003 launched his career. He was commissioned to paint Hawai‘i Governor Neil Abercrombie’s portrait in 2017.


The first runner up for People’s Choice votes was Maui artist Jon Hunt for Reyna With Aloha, second runner up position went to Kaua’i artist Natasha Young for Daddy’s Girl. Visitors to the gallery had the chance to cast their ballots for their favorite piece in the exhibit, with more than 3,000 visitors passing through the gallery to see the exhibit.

Schaefer Portrait Challenge 2022 is a statewide juried competition that features 48 portraits of the people of Hawai‘i. Jurors were Carl Jennings, Codie King and Jan Sato.

The exhibit will be open through Saturday, March 19 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Schaefer International Gallery at the MACC. Admission is free. Face masks required while inside the gallery but no proof of vaccination required.


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