Native Intelligence: Hawai‘i Island

The Waterman's Colors

Story by Meghan Miner Murray. Photos by Dana Edmunds.

From his bright red Adirondack chair on the M. Field gallery lānai, Mike Field surveys the afternoon scene in Hōlualoa. Drivers of lifted trucks, speckled with the muddy aftermath of recent rain, navigate curves through the one-block Hawai‘i Island town. Mike throws shakas at all of them, greeting drivers by name.

“What can I say?” he muses. “I’m a passionate groupie of small-town life. It’s authentic—self-reliant and real.”

Born in Guam and raised by a single mom (also an artist) on O‘ahu, Mike, now 50, has spent the last eighteen years in Hōlualoa. His two kids attend high school across the street, and the family lives mere minutes from the gallery, which occupies the 1920s-era Kona Bottling Works cottage. The cottage’s white walls and high beams draw attention from the street and inside to the bright oranges, reds and blues of his tropical prints and wearable art.

His fine art prints, sketched by hand and then rendered via computer, resemble 1950s pop art: Clean and simple lines depict Island scenes drawn from a lifetime spent surfing, sailing and paddling canoes. Surfers float beneath tangerine sunsets, sarong-clad beauties gaze out to sea and sinuous palms defy gravity beneath wispy clouds. “These scenes could have been yesterday or one hundred years ago,” he says. Many also contain hidden details, like the ‘iwa birds that have become part of his brand. When he’s aboard his sailing canoe, far from land, the birds are a symbol of hope, he says. “I see them as physical or even spiritual guidance. When I see them, I know things will be a lot better.”

One of Mike’s favorite pieces depicts a man staring out from behind a beached canoe, under a moody sky and looking toward a distant island. When he looks at the image, he becomes the man. “I think about the craft I created or rigged and how I have to rely on myself,” he says, smiling. “It always makes me think: I can sit here on the beach, or I can go.”