by Julia Steele
A few decades ago, Hanapepe was a wild little town with opium dens, bordellos and gambling parlors, a renegade place for immigrants who’d dropped out of plantation life. Then its fortunes changed, and it started a slow slide into quiet decrepitude. Now it’s changing again, as artists transform it into the "art capital of Kauai": Ramshackle storefronts are becoming attractive galleries, and every Friday night, Hanapepe hosts a town party to which any and all are invited.
photo by Jim Shea
At the forefront of the transformation is Arius Hopman, whose two-room gallery offers an instant immersion into the Garden Isle’s landscape. Arius works in watercolors and photography; his muse is the island and his work allows the viewer intimate encounters with Kauai’s beauty: a sunrise walk on the beach, a view of Kalalau’s cloud-misted spires.
Arius, like so many who have settled on these Islands, arrived here after a long and varied life. He was born in Kashmir to a mother who was a renowned sculptor; her subjects included Gandhi, Nehru and the Shah of Iran. He was trained as an artist from childhood, grew up in India, Iran, Italy and Switzerland, and in 1963 wound up in Taos, New Mexico, a place he loved for its mix of cultures: Anglo, Hispanic and Native American. He created adobe architecture and developed solar energy technology, which he shared with countries including Tunisia, Bolivia and Honduras. Then he lost everything and wound up on a beach in Maui. Eventually he made his way to Kauai, a place he is thankful to call home.
"I sense a sweetness about the Islands, a quality of tolerance and generosity of spirit," he says. "It evokes the same kind of feeling in me." When he is not in his studio, he is in the wild working. "Almost every month, I hike the eleven-mile Na Pali Trail to paint," he says, telling of a cave where he keeps a stash of paints, brushes and paper. "It’s my health insurance plan. I walk in an old man and walk out a young man."
Arius Hopman Studio & Gallery