There are probably not a lot of people who have been saving up for a trip to Maui just to hit the art scene. After all, Miami has pretty much staked its claim as contemporary culture’s ultimate beach destination.
But Gaugin, Picasso, Cocteau – all were card-carrying members of the big city culturati, who often sought escape to sunnier climes. And Loupe artist / painter Khalilah Birdsong did much the same, leaving her landlocked urban boomtown home of Atlanta for the slower-paced life on Hawaii’s most popular island.
“After visiting Hawaii a few times over the past few years,” she explains, “I was recently pulled to move to Maui from Atlanta to start a new life in this wonderful and intriguing land. I’ve settled in Upcountry Maui, abundantly rich in culture, nature and beauty. My painting practice has been acutely impacted by the rich colors and intensity of this tropical paradise, unhindered by outside forces.”
For her, Hawaii’s tropical remoteness – the closest populated land mass is 2500 miles away – makes for a particularly visceral living, and thus creating experience.
She’s also part of the exciting new art app Loupe, which allows for the easy streaming of a well-curated collection of contemporary artists right on your computer, phone or television screen. It allows that challenging contemporary art is decidedly more accessible, while also maintaining an impeccable sense of taste.
And as part of an ongoing BlackBook/Loupe series, we asked Ms. Birdsong to share those places in Maui which most inspire her creativity.
From Top, by Khalilah Birdsong: The Crowd Fervor, The Land of Expansion
Khalilah Birdsong’s Most Inspiring/Artistic Places in Maui
I don’t know anything as poetic as the visual and audible rhythmic cadence of a churning Hawaiian ocean – to sit upon its shore, delight in its graceful power and spy its voracious appetite, watching the thunderous waves rip curling, arching and undulating from its depths. This cadence is deeper, richer here, without a continental shelf.
Marveling at her jagged basalt rock, and trees sprouting from the shoreline greeting the sun, the mountains and volcanoes rising up in the distance, sprung to life from some millennia ago. These are the shorelines of Maui, where I come to be inspired by her glory.
The lush and prolific flora in Hawaii is verdure of dreams. The rain soaked hills of Upcountry Maui are a marvel to behold, with their lush, varied green landscape and colorful blossoms. Protea, heliconia, awapuhi and a variety of palms reign supreme, all proving their worth and inspiring the beholder with their stoic beauty. Be sure to take a day to drive to Hana, complete with 620 curves, 59 bridges (most one-lane) dating back to 1910, through lush rainforest with haunting views, waterfalls and serene beachside enclaves. Return to civilization via the backside of Hana to experience the serene and undaunted towns via Kaupo and Ulupalakua. The views and the colors are enough to take your breath away.
Mighty Haleakala, from below she’s towering, menacing, a real jagged beauty. Take the drive up her winding slopes to find that up close she is comprised of soft rolling hills of undulating crevices upon which cattle graze and telescopes stargaze, capturing the vast universe above her. View the magnificent Hawaiian sunrise from her summit each morning (reservations now required) or take a drive up late afternoon to see the sunset from her peaks.
Upon the Ocean
The mighty Hawaiian Pacific Ocean, with its cobalt, turquoise and ultramarine water is like a gift from the Hawaiian gods. The various hues of the sea…the truest blue an eye can behold, unfettered by plankton like waters closer to land masses. They ombré into one another so splendidly. Descend from your perch on the seaside and ride upon her cobalt blue waters, a dynamic way to see Maui from a different perspective.
The peaks and valleys of her mountains, born from volcanic eruptions millennia ago, are a magnificent sight to behold from a kayak, paddleboard or surfboard. In late fall and winter, the whales venture down from Alaska to give birth to their offspring, teach them how to sing and breach the surface. When you’re on the water, be sure to stay steady when whales appear next to you and be respectful of their space (150 feet away, per Hawaii laws). To grace Hawaii’s ocean is a calming, serene and meditative experience that impacts each rider in a unique way. Be cautious, as this powerful ocean can also be unforgiving.
Maui Arts & Cultural Center
The MACC is a place to celebrate creativity through personal and shared experiences of the arts, where you can delight in popular and innovative artists, as well as in contemporary and performing arts. They are committed to the past, present and future of Maui through entertainment, education and cultural programming. Half of their offerings celebrate regional and local culture with the finest Hawaiian artists. Their programming represents a high caliber of contemporary artistic accomplishments that spring from the rich cultural traditions of the past.
Hui No’Eau Visual Arts Center
In 1849 native planters and farmers raised ‘uala (sweet potato) and wheat on these fertile grounds; then in 1851 it was home to a sugar mill (Maui’s leading export, as of late). These expansive historic grounds are now the current site of the Hui No’eau Visual Arts Center in Upcountry, Makawao. Founded in 1934, the Hui is a nonprofit organization offering access to visual arts instruction, exhibitions and artist studios. A visit to The Hui transports visitors, art aficionados and those who just appreciate art, to a serene creative environment, replete with ocean and countryside views high atop Maui. Its historic structures and gardens serve as a creative centerpiece in the Maui community.
Maui is home to 6,000 artists, and galleries are in no short supply. Most cater to island visitors wanting to take a piece of aloha back home. For contemporary art visit Art Project Paia, on the North Shore. There are no images of pineapples, birds or ocean scenes in sight, but rather fresh art of various unique materials that speak to and inspire my artistic sentimentality. When I’m in Makawao I always enjoy perusing the current show at Viewpoints Gallery, which has a good mix of contemporary and native Hawaiian art. Exit the door at the back of the gallery and cross the cobblestone path to see the glass blower at work in his shop.
If you’re on the Lahaina side of the island, all you need to do is take a stroll down Front Street and you’ll be met with an abundance of galleries – from fine art, glass blown art, ocean photography and sculpture to local artisans selling their creations under the big banyan tree (which you can’t miss). A must visit is to Lahaina Galleries (Lahaina and Wailea locations), and for more cutting-edge art in Lahaina, stop into DeRubeis Fine Art (Jim Carrey shows his paintings there).
Cafe Des Amis
This tiny, relaxed restaurant with its charming courtyard is my absolute go-to for brunch with friends or just an escape from the studio. The atmosphere transports you to a bohemian beach cabana, with live music and a lovely happy hour. Try the savory crepes and salad, with lettuces grown on the hillsides of Haleakala volcano. After your meal, take a stroll through the laid back town of Paia and browse shops, boutiques and art galleries.
Take a drive to Haiku (past Paia on the road to Hana) and settle in for the best sushi on Maui. Loved by locals and tourists alike, this Japanese restaurant is known for its fresh fish, big portions, impeccable service and wonderful ambiance. Try the sushi specials and signature cocktails. Nuka’s sister restaurant on-island, Paia Fish Market, has locations closer to resort areas in Lahaina and Kihei. On your drive back to civilization, take a moment to stop at Ho’okipa Lookout for unrivaled views of the north shore waves and the long-stretching Maui coastline.
Polli’s Mexican Restaurant
Mexican fare in Hawaii? Oh yes! Polli’s is the answer to locals’ craving for homestyle quesadillas, fish tacos and chips and salsa. This quaint Upcountry eatery is full of aloha spirit, and you will feel at home as soon as you enter the doors. Try the mushroom appetizer and wings (not quite Mexican, but some of the best wings on the island). Walk off your liliko’i margaritas in the heart of soulful, eclectic Makawao. Some of my favorite boutiques and galleries on Maui delight themselves in this historic paniolo (Hawaiian cowboy) town.
Mama’s FIsh House
Reservations are a must for this fine dining restaurant with the freshest seafood caught just offshore of its front steps. With one of the most uniquely Hawaiian atmospheres on Maui, the fresh fare is what dreams are made of. Quite honestly, at the right time of day (mid-afternoon), I’ve walked in with a smaller party without reservations, and have scored great seats at the second bar’s highboy tables, and enjoyed the same beautiful views that the main dining room boasts. Before or after your meal, take a stroll on the oceanfront grounds or frolic on the beach in front of the restaurant.
Tucked away across from the beach in Kihei, this cozy American dive has a wide variety of comfort food for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Dine in or take your munchies across the street for beach food. Locals love this place. Like most restaurants on Maui, ingredients are locally sourced.
Monkeypod Kitchen by Merriman
Chef Peter Merriman’s Monkeypod restuarants (Wailea and Ka’anapali) are a must visit. Sensational Hawaiian fare and with a vast beer and cocktail selection. The menu is always fresh, unique and exciting, the vibe low-key and relaxed. Highly recommend are the liliko’i mai tai, fish tacos and garlic truffle fries.
One of my favorite places for fresh house made noodles and Asian fare. Located way above the highway in Lahaina, this hip spot never disappoints. Recently featured on the Food Network’s popular Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, reservations are now highly recommended – or grab a seat at the bar if available. If the selection overwhelms, you can’t go wrong with the garlic noodles. Pork buns, shrimp tempura, pho, I could go on and on. All are taste treats. The cocktail list is wonderful with local fresh ingredients. On your way back to town, instead of driving back down the hill to Lahaina, turn right and take the scenic Lahaina Bypass (views for days!) and view the coast from above, with the islands of Lanai and Molokai looming offshore. This is a great place to view the sunset as well.