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Marcus and Michele Santos are among the thousands of Brazilians who now call Hawaii home. photo: Sergio Goes
Vol. 8, No. 5
October/November 2005

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The Sea Inside 

Story by Liza Simon
photo by Jim Shea

Carol Bennett has always been intent on marrying her two loves, swimming and painting, and she got the perfect opportunity a few years ago when the state commissioned her to create a mural of a submerged universe. The 220-foot piece now hangs at the Honolulu International Airport, and travelers transiting through the WikiWiki Bus terminal can enjoy a visual plunge into Carol’s world: From a realistically rendered swimmer in the first panel, the mural spreads out into vibrant geometric patterns that turn out, on inspection, to be close-ups of tropical fish. "Swimming to me isn’t just about exercise. It’s about going to a very special place," says the artist—whose images deliver all of us to that seductive destination.It’s a destination Carol came to gradually. For decades, she wryly jokes, she "lived a double life," commuting between Kauai’s south shore and Los Angeles. On Kauai, she swam through even the roughest waves and rendered female swimmers on canvas in underwater reverie. In Los Angeles, to pay for art school, she took a union job as a scenic artist for motion pictures, apprenticing to vets who had painted backdrops for such films as Gone With the Wind and Hello Dolly! She got her BFA with honors and bought a small house on Kauai—where she eventually moved after "aching for the island’s beauty." She began painting commissioned pieces: Faraway hotels from Nairobi to Tahiti hired her to make murals, as did banks, corporate offices and foundations, and today over 100 of her creations grace public places around the globe. But the core of her imagery still comes from Kauai and the ocean that surrounds it. Reflecting on her airport opus, she says, "When you walk through the door and see that mural, you think I’m going to go to the ocean, I’m going to look at fish, and I’m going to trip out on them.’"