story by Julia Steele
photo by Ann Cecil
Bernie Moriaz holds up an exquisite sculpture of a horse—in mid-stride, full gallop, its head high. “This was inspired by a piece of broken plastic,” he says, “that kinda reminded me of a torso.” And that’s just what the copper-wire horse is built around: a scratched, clear piece of discarded plastic that has become its middle. But the horse is only the beginning at Bernie’s art studio, the very beginning. Look around and everywhere you see the mundane transformed: Among the hundreds of pieces are an ‘ukulele player made of chicken wire and an old shovel, a grinning dog made of rebar, a jumping marlin made of hubcaps, a honu (turtle) made of sheet metal. Bernie has an eye that he began honing as a young boy in upstate New York while out looking for arrowheads—the search taught him to look for shape, for texture and to see things not with the eye but with the imagination. Later, in the woods, he found old cars and tractors slowly disintegrating, and he began to make art around those. “The start of my love affair with rusty metal,” he says wryly.
For three decades now, Moriaz has lived on O‘ahu, changing the detritus of the island into art. He took the corrugated tin roofs of wrecked Waipahu plantation houses, for example, and used them to make aloha shirts that he painted with sugar-era scenes. “What stories those roofs could tell,” he remembers thinking when the inspiration hit. And yet, despite his constant use of found objects, he says, “I don’t consider myself a recycling artist. I just like to work with different things in the spirit of exploration and serendipity. It’s a journey.”
Bernie pulls out paintings: of doves, liliko‘i flowers, his sister. He shows collages, masks, more sculptures. He talks of his dream to turn his five acres above Waialua into an art center where people will come to pick fruit, wander and create. For the time being, he teaches two classes here—one on landscape painting, the other on working with copper and corrugated tin. He welcomes students. “People have gifts,” he says. “It’s important that you’re conscious of yours and that you use it. It’s a crime of nature not to. It’s who you are.” HH