Artist raises eyebrows with use of WWII pillboxes in Hawaii

Published On: Jun 04 2013 07:25:08 AM HST   Updated On: Jun 04 2013 07:25:35 AM HST

An artist who visited Oahu late last year has caught the attention of officials from the Department of Land and Natural Resources.

Known simply as Eoin, the artist from Dublin, Ireland spray painted several pillboxes at the Ka Iwi State Scenic Shoreline and Ka'ena Point State Park with his signature female eyes that appear to be gazing at a distant horizon.

"I'd probably put it down as scenic art," Eoin told KITV4 in November during his visit to Oahu. "It really wouldn't be street art or graffiti in my eyes.

Eoin began seeking out desolate, unforgiving landscapes for his paintings after drawing his first set of "eyes" in the Irish town of Bantry as part of a beautification project. The piece received so much positive feedback that Eoin began painting more of the murals -- on abandoned buildings, broken-down cars and even rock formations. 

"Things just kind of lined up and it kind of made sense for me to put my work in those places," he said. "That's where I feel it's most connected."

Eoin said reaction to his pieces at the two Hawaii state parks have been almost entirely positive. He also said he knew better than to paint rock formations, having been told native Hawaiians would consider it desecration.    

"The reason why I chose the pillboxes was they were put there on the land; it was a man-made thing added to the landscape," he said. "The reaction to it is great, like everybody can relate to what it is and take their own interpretation from it."

However, officials at the Department of Land and Natural Resources view Eoin's art in a completely different light, preferring to call it graffiti. Under Hawaii Administrative Rule 13-146-32, "No person shall intentionally or wantonly destroy, injure, deface, remove, disturb, or possess in any manner any public building, sign, equipment, monument, marker, or other structure."

"It's an unauthorized activity in a state park, and therefore, is in opposition to our rules," said DLNR director William Aila. "Some people might think it looks pretty and it looks artful, but it's still there without permission and it doesn't fit in the theme of a natural park."

Eoin's artwork at the Ka Iwi State Scenic Shoreline has already been painted over by DLNR staff, but his murals at Ka'ena Point remain. If the artist were still on Oahu, he could face DLNR fines of up to $200 for each pillbox he spray painted. Aila says wiping out graffiti is a constant problem for the state agency, and it drains both dollars and manpower.

"It detracts from the normal maintenance, (and) it takes away money that could go to upgrading toilets," said Aila. "It takes away time from our people to take care of landscapes, so any graffiti is unnecessary."

Eoin said his goal with the Oahu pillboxes was to inspire, and he never meant to break any rules. In fact, he'll often go out of his way to leave natural landscapes as they were after taking photos of his artwork.

"If there was to be trouble, I have no worry about going and painting over them," Eoin said of his pillbox pieces. "It's purely as a positive message for people to enjoy. If people are hiking out to these places, would they rather see a lot of scribbles on the wall, or something that they can connect with, or take photos with?"

Eoin has been steadily gaining recognition for his art and is currently planning a very large mural (100 feet by 20 feet) at the peace lines in Belfast, a series of barriers in Northern Ireland that separates Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods.

"I'm very excited for that piece and the series of large works it will be accompanied by," Eoin wrote in an email to KITV4.

Eoin was invited to Hawaii last fall by 9th Wave Gallery, a collective of local artists based in Waialua on Oahu's North Shore. "It's not a dog-eat-dog kind of thing you know, everybody's kind of supporting each other," said Eoin.  


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