Former Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie has chosen Maui artist Kirk Kurokawa to paint his official portrait, according to a spokesman for the Hawaii State Foundation on Culture and the Arts.

All governors dating back to Sanford Dole, who served from 1900 to 1903, have had their portraits painted.

Portraits of the last six governors — John Waihee, Ben Cayetano, Linda Lingle, George Ariyoshi, John Burns and William Quinn — now hang in the ceremonial room in the governor’s office at the Capitol.

Former Gov. Neil Abercrombie, seen here in the governor's office last year, has chosen a Maui artist to do his official portrait.
Former Gov. Neil Abercrombie, seen here in the governor’s office last year, has chosen a Maui artist to do his official portrait. PF Bentley/Civil Beat

“It’s kind of unbelievable,” Kurokawa said Tuesday when asked how he felt about being chosen. “I’m just really honored. Being from Hawaii, it leaves me kind of speechless.”

The budget for Abercrombie’s portrait is $40,000, which covers $35,000 for the artist’s fee, which includes framing and shipping, and $5,000 for an unveiling ceremony slated for next summer.

Abercrombie and his wife, former First Lady Nancie Caraway, were expected to have picked an artist by Dec. 31 under the initial timetable. But the arts foundation, which is overseeing the project, struggled to connect with the former governor, who had been busy traveling and starting a consulting company in Chinatown.

Abercrombie narrowed the initial list of 46 artists down to seven by July. He and his wife interviewed the final two candidates recently before deciding on Kurokawa.

Kurokawa said the interview a month or so ago with Abercrombie and his wife went great.

“I really felt comfortable with them,” he said. “They’re good people and I really enjoyed talking to them.”

Kurokawa was born and raised on Maui, and uses his ethnically diverse upbringing as inspiration in his art, according to his website.

He describes his art as a contemporary approach and a willingness by the artist to be “of his time.”

“I’m trying to tell an honest story of who the sitter is, of who this portrait is of,” Kurokawa told Civil Beat. “That’s what I’m shooting for, to have something that’s going to be a modern classic that will last a long time and will portray who the governor really is and what he’s done for us and our state.”

Abercrombie has said every artist who applied to do his portrait was “superb,” with each one offering a “compelling element in their style and in their approach that warrants serious reflection and contemplation.”

Lingle, a two-term governor after Cayetano, was the first governor since John Burns, who left office in 1974, to choose a local artist. She picked Christy Fujii to paint her official portrait. Lingle was also the first to be depicted wearing a flower lei.

For decades, Abercrombie was well known for his big beard and ponytail, signs of his rejection of the establishment at the time. He became more clean-cut over the past 20 years, cutting off his ponytail in 1997 and keeping his beard trimmed.

Abercrombie hasn’t divulged any clues yet as to how he’d like to be portrayed in his portrait.

Gov. David Ige, who defeated Abercrombie last fall in his bid for a second term, will ultimately decide where Abercrombie’s portrait will go once it’s finished.

Without some rearranging or the removal of a portrait, it will be tough to fit it in the ceremonial room with the other recent portraits. Staff has been working on this logistical challenge.

Kurokawa said before he can start painting he has to wait for the state to finish its work on the contract for him to sign.

“I’m ready to go and I’m sure the governor is ready to go,” he said.

View the past gubernatorial portraits below.

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