Aquarium moves closer to opening humpback whale exhibit

KA MO‘OLELO MOANA

Artist Hilton Alves paints a new humpback whale mural at the Maui Ocean Center. -- Maui Ocean Center photo

On Oahu’s north shore, the tranquil town of Kahuku is defined by Hawaii’s natural beauty and fusion of local cultures. Nestled between the dramatic Koolau Mountains and world-class surf destinations, it’s home to a small community that enjoys the simple life away from the bustle of urban centers, with one individual who has a talent for transforming Hawaii’s seascapes into works of art.

Born in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Hilton Alves grew up to become a waterman, community leader and skilled painter. He was always inspired by the beauty of the ocean, expressing his creativity through art mediums including large-scale murals. Hilton began his global quest to paint “101 Perfect Waves” in Kalihi, Oahu, where he painted the Banzai Pipeline over 14,000 square feet of wall space. Hilton is no stranger to Maui, as his third Perfect Wave of Honolua Bay is painted on Lower Main Street in Wailuku.

While the winter months in Maui are notorious for generating the big waves that Hilton paints, it also brings in one of Hawaii’s most anticipated visitors: humpback whales.

Humpback whales are not a foreign subject matter for Hilton, but a whale mural at Maui Ocean Center is definitely a first. As Maui Ocean Center moves closer to opening the Humpbacks of Hawaii Exhibit & 3D Sphere, in addition to the recent sightings of humpbacks in Maui waters, the timing was impeccable for Hilton to create two whale murals at the aquarium.

The first mural was a revitalization of Maui Ocean Center’s dolphin water feature. Working with the aquarium’s exhibit designer, Chris Masterson, the vision called for an image of a mother humpback whale escorting her young calf, an iconic symbol of the great humpback whale migration to Hawaii. Using nothing but an image as a reference, Hilton used an airbrush to paint the mother humpback without the use of templates or guides. A repurposed humpback whale calf model brought a 3D element to the refreshed water feature.

Behind the scenes in the Humpbacks of Hawaii exhibit hall, Hilton was tasked with the unique challenge of painting the underside, ventral pleats of a humpback whale along the curved wall of the 3D Sphere. The challenge wasn’t just painting a life-size image on a 54-foot wall — it was painting the image across a curved medium. Without being able to see his canvas from end to end, Hilton had to maintain a mental image in order to keep the scale consistent across the curve.

Within a week’s worth of work, Hilton’s lifetime of experience transpired into two incredible works of art.

Murals are often centerpieces of communities and landmarks that helps create a sense of place for residents and visitors. For Maui Nui, humpback whales have largely contributed to Maui’s identity and why living here in the islands is so unique.

Hilton is one example of how the ocean continues to inspire us to find ways to connect with nature and share it with those around us. It’s an opportunity to involve the community, schools, private institutions and local governments to help bring the ocean to public view with a purpose, whether to highlight environmental challenges or celebrate the beauty of nature.

* Evan Pascual is the marketing and public relations coordinator at Maui Ocean Center. “Ka Mo’olelo Moana,” or “the Ocean Story,” is a monthly column submitted by Maui Ocean Center staff members. The center is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily in Maalaea. For more information, call 270-7000.

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