If Art Could Talk

Frank B. Shaner is a lot like his art: playful, colorful, and both bring a smile (it helps that he’s a stand-up comedian!). They also both have a knack for hanging around Assaggio restaurants: the Ala Moana and Kahala locations, to be exact. Walk in the door at Ala Moana and you’re greeted with a clownish conglomeration of faces and eyes, and a splash and swirl of color that rings of music and festivity, there’s piano keys caught up in that swirl and abstract suggestions of food – those two pieces and many more liven up the restaurants’ walls and the diners’ experience.

Frank B. Shaner

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The artist in his studio

But it’s a bit hard to define Shaner’s “style.” Even he shies away from it.

“I hate to be pigeonholed,” he says, “even though it can be good, because it sets people at ease. They’re more comfortable observing something familiar. When you sort of throw it all in a pot like a big stew, people get confused, ‘Who are you? What kind of art do you do?'”

He does Hawaiiana, color and black-and-white, rounded things and blocky things, nature and machinery, Picasso-inspired mugs. What it all has in common is that it’s fun, and that’s what he’s aiming for, “to bring joy, when people stand in front of it and go, wow.”

A radio personality for 33 years, he turned to art only recently.

“I was a doodler,” he says as he attacks the paper table setting with my pen. “That was the extent of my art. One day I was doing a Hawaiian radio show with my partner Brickwood Galuteria (now a state senator). It was 9/11 – carnage and death shook the world. After the whole day being in the studio, I got in my car and drove around just to relax, and ended up at this art store. I started buying paint and canvases, and I went back to my apartment and started to paint. It’s like it slapped me on the head … and I’ve painted every day since.”

He jumps up to fix a crooked painting between bursts of thought on Monet, Van Gogh, Picasso, Dali, Anthony Hopkins. He might not have officially studied art, but he certainly knows his artists, and museums. A black-and-white piece on the wall, City by the Bay, is his loving tribute to the vibrancy of San Francisco, with a montage of museums, sailboats, trolley cars, film. He talks of travel and the excitement of big cities.

He compares his work approach to that of Sir Hopkins, straight from brush to paint to canvas, without a lot of planning.

“The painting dictates how things go,” says Shaner. “Not to say I have no say in it. I do answer back. I have this great conversation – and all of these paintings, they’re very chatty (laughs).”

He recalls one particular incident where one of his paintings got a bit cheeky:

One of the waiters said, “Frank, we had a complaint about your artwork. I was sitting a couple down by one of your paintings. They said I don’t want to sit here. I asked is anything wrong? The lady said this painting disturbs me, can you move me?”

“That was the best compliment I ever had for one of my paintings,” says Shaner. “It actually disturbs, so it’s working. I mean, if it just sits there … Paintings do chatter. They talk a lot. They vibrate off the wall.”

In all these years, Shaner has not yet “come out of the art closet” to have a show. But, he says, this just may be the year for it.

Viva l’arte e buon appetito!


Tutus, Tights, Satin Slippers

A flurry of chins in the air, shoulders back, arms raised gracefully, long legs, toes en pointe – a delicate vision made more so by the flounce of champagne and pink tutus. Sometimes one takes center stage, twirling and leaping, bending and rising again, and then a dozen more join in, before they glide along on tiptoe into pairs. They rearrange themselves in shifting patterns, a kaleidoscopic image, all angles; a bud opening its petals and bursting into full bloom; an explosion of fireworks as they run and jump in turn in a feverish grand finale.

Next comes a trail of young ladies each in a colorful leotard: yellow, blue, purple, pink, green. Their steps are springy, the cadence playful. One moment they’re doing cartwheels, the next they’re on the ground, their arms and feet cycling in swimming strokes. It’s the girls (there are boys, too) who make up some of the junior classes at the School of Hawaii State Ballet. They’re rehearsing the dances they’ll be performing May 26 at 2 p.m. and again at 6 p.m. at Mamiya Theatre on the Saint Louis School campus. In all, about 15 classes comprised of 150 students from age 3 to advanced will lace up their satin slippers to whisk away the audience for an hour and 45 minutes through a ballet wonderland.

“The exciting and interesting part is you see the progression from pre-ballet, the ones who know nothing, all the way up through the levels, and we have some modern work, too,” says director John Landovsky.

His dancers compete in top international competitions at home and in Finland, Bulgaria, Moscow. They also move on to join the most prestigious companies in New York, Boston, San Francisco. In fact, the films Mao’s Last Dancer and Center Stage, feature Amanda Schull, a Hawaii State Ballet alumna.

Tickets to the upcoming show are $20. For more information, call 947-2755 or email info@hawaiistateballet.com.