Robert Kuikahi celebrates the beauty of brokenness
Prison can limit and restrict artists, but Robert Kuikali finds it therapeutic and self-soothing to sit behind the scenes, creating or sketching his crafts.
“Art releases my stress; it gives me peace of mind. When I feel overwhelmed or weighed down with negativity, drawing or sketching helps clear my mind,” said Kuikahi.
The 44-year-old artist has been incarcerated for 25 years, on a seven to life sentence. He tries to be positive in sharing his creating ways.
Art is his favorite form of meditating, which also helps him when connecting with people.
Kuikahi began creating his dolls and named them “Hope Not’s” in 2014/15 at the R. J. Donovan Correctional Facility which had a pilot program in Art and Corrections. Later, he was transferred to another CDCR institution that wouldn’t allowed him to continue with his hobbit-like dolls. This is when he became more determined and creative by starting to sketch his dolls instead of making them.
As a result, the characters seemed to come alive, creating a story behind all his paintings.
The style that Kuikahi has developed with the Hope Not’s is a direct result of being limited and restricted.
He began making a 3-D form of little dolls by using recycled materials. When he was no longer allowed to create 3-D dolls, he switched to 2-D and started painting the Hope Not’s on a brown paper lunch bag. He also used cardboards and old packet folders that people were throwing away.
Kuikahi estimates he has drawn approximately 400 Hope Not’s.
The Arts and Corrections program is not available in all state prisons. Kuikahi faced multiple setbacks in one of his previous locations where the prison administration confiscated his paint.
He was more determined and refused to give up and started using whiteout or soot and ashes for pigment. His brushes were also confiscated, and he learned to paint with his bare hands.
“They can limit my access to materials, but they can’t limit my imagination or my will to create,” Kuikahi said.
“Every time I grab a pencil and start sketching, I am free!”
He has one Hope Not’s figure, sitting down and holding a damaged heart captioned “If It’s Broke Why Fix It?” According to the artist, the idea behind this particular painting is that going through a breakup or a failed relationship is painful, especially inside prison where distractions or the possibilities to rebound, as people in the outside world would, are absent.
Kuikahi said with this painting, he asks, ‘”Why put ourselves through that pain?’’ When asked by SQNews if he was in a relationship, Kuikahi said, “No.”
Kuikahi’s styles vary from making dolls, sketches and paintings, to drawing wildlife.
What he likes the most, however, are portraits. To him, this is the most challenging, but also the most rewarding.
“When catching someone’s likeness or their loved ones’ on paper and seeing their reaction and enjoyment, the feeling I get is indescribable,” Kuikahi said.
Kuikahi has been donating his art to various charities, including but not limited to the Children’s Hospital of Orange County.
When asked why he considers donating art important, he said “It is a way to give back and make a positive impact in someone’s life.”
Kuikahi is working on putting together artwork for “Humans of San Quentin,’’ a nonprofit organization. .