Parker, Brook Kapūkuniahi (on native art)
Brook Kapūkuniahi Parker is a descendant of John Palmer Parker, the founder of Parker Ranch on the island of Hawaiʻi. He was born and raised in Kahalu‘u on the windward side of Oʻahu on three acres of lush family land where he lived with his mom, dad, and five brothers. Brook currently resides in Kalihi with his wife Drena and five children. Brook deftly recalls scores of names and stories of his family members of both present and past generations. Although he joked that he is normally bad with remembering names, a long list of genealogical connections of people associated with the Parker family flowed easily from his memory. Passionate about Hawaiian history, Brook works as a full-time artist, creating and sharing his beautiful artwork through his website. His creative paintings, which take us back into the memories and celebrated histories of the Hawaiian people, have been shared and appreciated by various organizations, including the Queen Liliʻuokalani Children’s Center and the Polynesian Voyaging Society. Brook’s work is currently being showcased at the Disney Aulani Resort. Brook believes strongly in the importance of kuleana and genealogy and uses this passion for Hawaiian history to lecture and share stories of the kūpuna with the world.
HA: Could you tell us a little bit about your background, what influenced you most in your passion for art? Do you only work with paint?
BP: I was raised in a large family and my father was an artist and historian whose subjects were the kūpuna. My first teacher, my father, left a big impression on me. As a child, my father tells me that when I was little used to grab the color crayons and paper grocery bags to draw on. Growing up around art and all the Hawaiian implements around the house that were acquired by my dad through trade, I watched quietly and learned from my dad, trying not to bother him. Over time, I learned to create art using pencils and marsh pens, but would like to do clay, bust, and wood if I could. I also learned to draw anatomy from Conan comic books and Frank Franzetta comic art. It wasn’t until I attended some night classes in art that I received any formal training. Besides my father, mentoring time spent with my dad’s friends: Herb Kāne, Wright Bowman, Mel Kalahiki and Francis Ching continues to have a great influence on my work. You know, I am normally bad at names, but Hawaiian history and the stories of kūpuna have fascinated me since I was a child.
HA: To me, your memory of names and events is quite impressive. Can you tell us about the manaʻo that goes behind your work? How do you know that a person in your painting looks a certain way?
BP: I cannot stress the importance of the Hawaiian perspective. Early morning is when I get my inspiration, otherwise I use the knowledge of our ancestors and dreams to create my artwork. This Hawaiian point of view comes out in what I produce and is backed by the research that can be found through my library that includes books from my dad as well as standard Hawaiian history books like Ruling Chiefs and others by Fornander, Malo, Kamakau, and other great Hawaiian scholars! When you read the stories, you pick up on how big they were by what they could do, how they were described, and even by knowing their genealogical descendants and what they look like. Today, certain traits, like the brows, nose, jawline, and even eyes are passed down from parent to child. Families might recognize their ancestors through the paintings. For instance, a descendant of Alapaʻi recognized their grandfather in my depiction of Alapaʻi.
HA: Amazing! Brook, can you share with us how you see art as a part of modern Hawaiian lifestyles?
BP: I think it’s important for our people to be passionate about our history and genealogies. If art is what moves you, be passionate about it and find a way to connect to who you are inside. For me as an artist, this passion pushes me to do the research so that I can do a good job for my kūpuna. This hana noʻeau enables me to provide for my family, live my passion for art, and immerse myself in Hawaiian moʻolelo. Although there were people who told me that I couldn’t do it, I did. I learned from watching my dad. Sure, I took some classes, but I learned a lot through mentorships with my dad’s friends, other artists who worked in different mediums. Finally, I learned that I needed someone who I could trust to handle the business side so that I can be free to create.
HA: Speaking of creating, what’s up next for you? Where can people enjoy your work? Do you think that you will ever go back to get a formal degree in art?
BP: Currently, I am working on the research and artwork for the Russian meeting with Kamehameha and a scene of the Keoua twins on the beach in Kaʻū. Besides this, I am also working on several other pieces that are in the works, between sharing my art and knowledge of the kūpuna with the community. Samples of my artwork can be viewed on my website at www.hawaiianatart.org.
Of course, one day, I would love to go back and get that palapala but for now, I am happy to share my passion with anyone who will listen.