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The Van Gogh of Kekaha

Honolulu Magazine, 1981


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James Hoyle is racing the clock. He stands at his easel every day from dawn to dusk capturing the Kekaha plantation town with his brushes, paints and canvas. The old people and the young people of the town watch as he renders their ancient, tin-roofed houses in pastels and oils. Sometimes the children help him mix colors and maybe even try out the brushes themselves. They may not know an impressionist from a realist, but they know they like Hoyle’s work. “The kids don’t miss a thing,” says Hoyle. “They ask about the little strokes that seem to vibrate. Their favorite colors are the hot pinks, the reds and the violets.” Hoyle must work all day, every day, because the Kekaha camp homes will soon be gone.

Amfac. Inc. is slowly but steadily tearing down the old plantation buildings. The saltwater-treated wood still keeps out the termites, and the rusted tin roofs still keep out the rain, but these structures from a decade ago can’t keep out progress. Although they have aged gracefully and their gardens and yards are trim and immaculate, they no longer meet building and health codes. Time has passed them by. Community landmarks like the Filipino Hall and the Spotlight Inn also will go. James Hoyle hopes to paint them all before they are nothing but memories.

Amfac will not displace the residents and build a motel or a parking lot. Kekaha is a sugar town, not a resort town. Instead, Amfac is constructing new homes where the old once stood. Some Kekaha people will buy their new homes from Amfac; others will continue to rent at the attractive rates set over 30 years ago. In the meantime, James Hoyle paints.

“These old buildings have a certain earthiness,” says Hoyle. “They’re part of the landscape. The rusty roofs match the red roads. The weathered wood blends in with the dark shadows of the land. It’s natural. It’s like a paradise to me as an artist.” In February the Kekaha Community Association organized a showing of Hoyle’s plantation paintings at the Filipino Hall. Some of his works are currently displayed at Rainbow Books and Stones Printsellers & Gallery in Lihue. Hoyle’s studio is in the old Japanese Language School in Kekaha. He’s been on Kauai only two years but has found a home here on the island’s west side. “My style is similar to van Gogh’s and Monet’s,” he says. “Van Gogh also liked to paint in village areas. Any of the impressionists would go wild here. They’d love the old Kekaha. It’s sad that it has to go.”
 


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