Artist celebrates 40 years painting Maui landscapes

Artist celebrates 40 years painting Maui landscapes

November 24, 2013
By RICH VAN SCOY – Staff Writer (richv@mauinews.com) , The Maui News
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Curtis Wilson Cost is the quintessential Maui landscape artist.

He has more than 500 original oil paintings to his credit and the “longest running one-man gallery in the state of Hawaii” at Kula Lodge. Friday marks his 40th anniversary of painting bucolic Maui.

“I’m capturing the stuff that’s disappearing here,” said Cost. “The last 40 years is almost an archive.”

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Keokea Picnic in a 6 piece solid Hawaiian koa wood frame.

 

“Keokea Picnic is a depiction of one of the first pastures we ever set foot in,” said Curtis Wilson Cost of an experience he and Jill Cost had 40 years ago, shortly after arriving on Maui. It is the newest painting by the Maui landscape artist.

He gets a lot of compliments from old-timers who grew up on Maui.

Jill Cost, who is Curtis’ wife and business manager, shared a story about an elderly resident who descended the steps to the Curtis Wilson Cost Gallery below the Kula Lodge restaurant.

“The old guy had tears in his eyes. He said, ‘You’re keeping my childhood alive.’ ”

The portraits of a dirt road winding through a green pasture to a plantation-era home, a cistern below a blooming jacaranda tree, or a taro patch beside the shoreline invoke memories for many residents.

“Old-timers recognize the details,” said Cost. “They’ve been here.”

Cost estimates that 30 percent of his original paintings remain in Hawaii and the rest are scattered around the world. That’s partially due to his aforementioned gallery, which has been at the same location at 15200 Haleakala Highway since 1985. It’s a can’t-miss location for visitors traveling to and from Haleakala National Park.

“There’s a wealth of subject matter,” said Cost of his Upcountry landscapes. “There’s the temperature, the view, the rural atmosphere, topography. There’s stuff that grows here that is not tropical.”

Influenced by the Hawaiiana landscapes of Lloyd Sexton and Howard Hitchcock, Cost was “looking for my own thing to do” when he arrived on Maui in 1973 at the invitation of Maui resident David Silva. He had just finished an apprenticeship under his father, landscape painter James Peter Cost, in Carmel, Calif., and didn’t want to return to “congested” Oahu, where he had graduated from Kalani High School in 1969.

“We went to a garage sale on Polipoli Road (in Kula), and I said, ‘This is it!’ ” said Cost. He hasn’t turned back since.

While Cost has painted rugged lava coastlines and hidden locations in Hana, his “center of gravity” remains Upcountry when it comes to subject matter. It is where he makes his home with Jill and raised his two children, Julia and Elliot. It is also where he paints in his home studio overlooking the south shore and the West Maui Mountains.

For all of their success, Curtis and Jill had modest beginnings on Maui. Silva had 10 acres below the Kula Lodge. He let the couple, who will celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary Dec. 27, stay on the property when they first arrived.

“It was the tail end of the hippie era,” said Cost. “We bought a VW camper van for $400.” The property had a “teepee” platform with running water and a kerosene-fueled hot-water heater.

The couple lived in the camper while Curtis worked on his first Maui landscape paintings.

“We were not hippies,” said Cost with a chuckle. “The whole intention was to paint.”

Cost sold his paintings at Village Galleries on Maui for 12 years before opening his own gallery. A lot of his sales are prints of original oil paintings.

“The prints have been phenomenal,” said Cost. “It is a big part of the business.” They also help the bottom line because Costs’ oil paintings take a long time to complete.

This year, Cost has completed six paintings. “Jill thinks it’s two,” said Cost with a laugh. “Two are commissioned. I spend three times more (time) on a commission because I want to make sure the customer is satisfied.”

To mark his 40th anniversary painting landscapes on Maui, Cost recently unveiled “Keokea Picnic,” a pastoral landscape. It will be released as a print.

An anniversry celebration will be announced after the first of the new year, said Jill.

As for the future, Cost hopes to travel more to Italy. It is his ancestral home. He would like to search for relatives there and, of course, paint the rural landscape.

* Rich Van Scoy can be reached at richv@mauinews.com.

Moving Right Along

I’ve been so involved in painting that I’ve neglected writing an update to the blog. I’ve come a long way since the last post and I’m nearing my final phase.

Below is a shot of the canvas as best I could shoot it in my studio lighting. The piece is so large that it is impossible to get it properly exposed, but I’ve managed to take a few  acceptable renditions.

Note that there are still a few areas of underpainting in the foreground middle and right, as well as the center left edge. The rock wall on the right middle is also under paint. Nevertheless, details have been layered throughout the piece. I’m proceeding at a great pace and will most likely be finished soon.

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A few detail shots of the center of interest

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Light reaching into the left middle-ground

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Keokea Picnic in a 5 pc Solid Hawaiian Koa Frame

Keokea Picnic in a 5 pc Solid Hawaiian Koa Frame

 

Keokea Picnic Color Sketch

Keokea Picnic Color Sketch

In the beginning…

This is how it usually begins. I get an inspiration, which leads to a sketch and then to a canvas. In this case, I was on my bike riding slowly up Polipoli road glancing out at the wide pastures rolling off to the ocean below me. A cluster of clouds had opened up a beautiful pattern of shadows and light on the ocean surrounding the island of Kahoolawe way off in the distance. I stopped my bike and pulled off to stare. The ocean glistened as the light reached all the way across the hills in my direction. These are always nonverbal moments, but they scream at me nonetheless. “Paint me,” it insists. “Remember this moment, because it won’t last.” It never lasts. It vanishes within seconds, but the memory is burned into emotional memory, and translated into graphite. In this case, the pencil became a watercolor impression, and before Christmas this year, it will be an oil painting.

I’ll be posting updates along the way.

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