When The Surf Surges, This Man Paints

Clark Takashima captures North Shore waves one fine stroke at a time

When The Surf Surges, This Man Paints

With the sounds of Donovan Frankenreiter wafting out of Waimea Valley, we caught up with O`ahu's own Clark Mitsuru Takashima. This self-taught (mostly) artist is leading a movement worldwide he's named "Fine Surf Art", which is, exactly what it sounds like. Takashima's Impressionist-styled paintings of North Shore waves has gained him a reputation as "the guy" who can capture the force of nature in a brush stroke. It's earned him commission work as one of the most successful muralists in Hawaii—along side a fellow named Wyland—who recently signed Takashima to his Haleiwa gallery stable of artists.

As the circus that is "The North Shore" during Triple Crown season begins to wind down, we sat with Takashima to talk art, the scene, and what it means when the waves "get serious". Read on...

B on Hawaii: So you're here at Waimea Audubon Society for the annual Lifeguards Party and fundraiser. What's the draw this year?

Clark Takashima: As you know, each year, the lifeguards up here, who protect the wild seas and everyone in it, put on a little party in the valley and donate all the proceeds to a charity in need. This year, it was for Pancho Sullivan's daughter [who was recently diagnosed with a heart ailment that came with hefty medical bills]. To be out here just helping her is one thing; but the job these lifeguards do all year round is pretty spectacular too. I donated a number of prints, some pen-and-ink drawings and an original. It's a nice time to get together with some friends, slip away from the surf scene. Somewhat...

B on Hawaii: Yeah, somewhat. Tell me, have you always been such a prolific painter? Where did it all start?

Takashima: I have, actually. My father taught me to draw. From there I just rolled with it. I think I sold my first painting—a seascape, of course—when I was fifteen years old. I studied some art at Pearl City High School, until I graduated in 1981. I then took various classes at Leeward Community College. I lived in San Diego in the early 80s, where I was in the Marines. I started working in the stage lighting business back in Hawaii in the mid-90s. It allowed me to travel to Europe, to see the masters that I had been emulating for so many years already.

B on Hawaii: Did you continue that work back in Hawai`i?

Takashima: The whole time I was away, in California and traveling through Europe and Asia, I was dreaming of being back in Hawaii, sitting on the shore, watching the waves roll in. I couldn't get it out of my head. So I came home. I did lighting crew chief work for basically all of the big rock and roll concerts, Merrie Monarch, plus a lot of the T.V. shows that were shot. It was grueling work. I couldn't even surf.

B on Hawaii: What a crime! So now...

Takashima: I surfed today. It felt so good. Just after they called the Pipeline contest off for the day. And I'm back to painting and creating full time. Nothing has ever felt more right.

B on Hawaii: When you got back, it seemed that you were "paying the bills" with a lot of mural work.

Takashima: The first mural I did was at Pipeline Cafe in 1999. Since then, I've done over 100, incluing a scene of Positano at the Sergio's Italian Restaurant at the Hilton Hawaiian Village. From there, I began to get some commission work on residential homes. I did them in Niu Valley, the North Shore, then all over. It's pretty rewarding work. As I'm sure Wyland has told you.

B on Hawaii: I understand things really turned up for you this past Spring.

Takashima: Yep, that's right. Me and a Clark Little produced a little show called "The Two Clarks". It basically started because people kept calling me Clark Little. Everyone knows the difference now! We held it at the Wyland Gallery in Haleiwa last December, and drew a heck of a crowd. The owners of the gallery were so happy, one thing led to another, and Wyland signed me on to show my work there on a regular basis. It's a real honor. And it's been the start of Clark [Little]—and a handful of artists around the world—branding this new genre of Fine Surf Art.

B on Hawaii: How have people, critics, etc. responded to that?

Takashima: It's funny: People always seem to see surf art and they assume it's realism. Artists trying to paint the ocean to look as real as possible. But it's not even remotely that limited. It's interpreted so many different ways. Look at Heather Brown [Editor's Note: Brown is another Wyland artist, which we also profiled in an earlier piece]. My style it more Impressionist—heavy brush strokes that I want the viewer to see... feel. But again, it's just one style.

B on Hawaii: What's on tap for 2010 in the Fine Surf Art world?

Takashima: I'm working with people like Brown, Little and a handful of others to produce a huge show that will most likely happen in October of next year. It's called "SIX to EIGHT" is my attempt at putting the Fine in front of Surf Art. To open dialog for surfers to build a vocabulary on environmental issues and become effective stewards for our oceans. By holding a Fine Art Show, it might break down some walls that separate surfers and non-surfers. Surfers are sometimes thought of as an exclusive group with local issues and such. So I hope this show becomes a platform for a wider acceptance and understanding of the surfing lifestyle. Surfers are becoming more articulate in communicating the sport these days. Instead of "only a surfer knows the feeling", if armed with an understanding of the conditioning we go through, the knowledge of the ocean and the act of catching a wave, more people will be educated on why its so important to care for the ocean.

B on Hawaii: Can you explain to the newbies what Six to Eight means?

Takashima: When the weather man calls the surf at Four to Six, the waves are fun, but manageable. When he says they're "Six to Eight", well, that becomes serious business.

You can view Takashima's work at his web site: www.ClarksSurfArtHawaii.com or email him at Clark@ClarksSurfArtHawaii.com

"People always seem to see surf art and they assume it's realism. Artists trying to paint the ocean to look as real as possible. But it's not even remotely that limited. It's interpreted so many different ways." —Takashima