For over five decades, Hiroki Morinoue has carefully observed the world around him, and his art has evolved, reflecting the changes he has witnessed. In this way, Hiroki Morinoue: Evolving Language is very much a reflection of the Hawai‘i Island artist’s life, and the narration of his life’s story. 

Adept in the practice of blending elements of Western and Asian art, Morinoue’s distinctive style invites the viewer to go back in time and examine the periods of his life, so as to fully understand the story behind each work of art. His early paintings reflect his childhood in rural Hawai‘i and display an authentic sense of place defined by the rhythmic, peaceful patterns of the natural landscape. 

Born in Hōlualoa, Hawai‘i in 1947, Morinoue fell in love with art through classes he took at the Kona Arts Center in his teens, where the innate talents of the burgeoning artist were quickly noticed and cultivated. Recognizing Morinoue’s potential to make a lasting impact in the art world, the Center helped him to raise enough money to attend the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland, California. 

After graduating in 1973, Morinoue traveled throughout the United States, making frequent stops at the country’s most picturesque monuments and national parks with his future wife, Setsuko Watanabe. Many of the works from this period were inspired by natural landscapes, conceived in realism and sharp detail. Throughout his cross-country travels, he created the majority of his art on the road, in the open-air splendor of the places he would capture on canvas. In the mid-1970s, Morinoue traveled frequently between the United States and Japan, where his fascination with traditional forms of art like sumi-e (Japanese brush painting) and mokuhanga (Japanese woodblock printing), took root—and it was in Japan that he developed his distinctive use of meditative and pared-down forms. 

While Morinoue’s collective body of work draws inspiration from many of the places that he lived in and traveled to, the natural beauty of the waters that surround, flow through, and sustain his island home, is consistently reflected throughout his work.

“Contemplating his work, one feels a strong sense that the elements of nature: earth, air, fire, and water, are what give form and balance to the world and must be safeguarded,” writes Assistant Curator of Contemporary Art Katherine Love. “Water, especially, stands out as imperiled and in need of protection. For it is water that surrounds and connects the islands of Hawai‛i with the rest of the globe, and this essential knowledge is a driving factor in the creation of these powerfully timely pieces.” 

The First Hawaiian Center exhibition program, a partnership between First Hawaiian Bank and the Honolulu Museum of Art, features rotating exhibitions of artists living and working in the islands, or with a connection to Hawai‘i. The upcoming exhibition, Hiroki Morinoue: Evolving Language, is on view from January 30 through June 26, 2020.




Hiroki Morinoue (American, born Hawai‘i, 1947) 
Iceberg Cube, 2016
Courtesy of the Artist