Esthetic of Hawaiian Art

In some ways, the traditional Hawaiian esthetic reminds one of the Art Nouveau movement. Both Hawaiian and Art Nouveau designers believed that all the arts should work in harmony to create a  Gesamtkunstwerk, a “total work,” in which form, function, line, pattern, color and texture were ideally melded together into a harmonious expression. Traditional Hawaiian culture takes this esthetic a step farther, insisting that the spiritual qualities of the work also be in harmony with its tangible expression.

Items from skirts, to water gourds, to homes, to canoes were conformed to this esthetic before their physical creation, with appropriate prayer and sacrifice made from the first impulse of creation.

For example, the creation of a water gourd began well before the plant was harvested – with the spiritual cleansing and filling of the farmer as he prepared his digging stick to loosen the soil. Each phase, from preparing the ground, to planting the seeds, to guarding the crop, to harvest, to decorating, to final cleansing had to be carefully observed. “What use,” the traditionalist thinks, “to have a beautiful object if it is spiritually unclean?”

And how much more pleasurable to have a beautiful gourd which delights the eye which sees it, and the hand which touches it?

Above is an ipu pāwehe, a modern gourd I cured in the manner of the “tattooed gourds of Kauai.” Every detail to make it a fine water gourd was attended to. Even the shell stopper was selected because the pattern on the shell resembles the pattern I incised and dyed into the rind.