Text by Alohilani Staff / Images by Various/Nina Helms
Known as an oasis of tranquility on the island Oahu, Alohilani Resort Waikiki Beach welcomes its guests with a grand and memorable sculpture meant to mimic the beauty that has taken shape outside its doors under the waters of iconic Waikiki Beach. As guests enter the resort and proceed to the front desk, they see this remarkable under-the-sea interpretation created by renowned New York sculptural illustrator, Nina Helms. Helms’ timeless art can be found in hotels and public spaces worldwide, and as highlighted on her website, her sculptures speak a narrative of craftsmanship and bold creativity- each custom made to her client’s visual dreams.
At the resort, Helms gifts guests with a one-of-a-kind commissioned bouquet of coral that adorns an entire back wall of the lobby- a piece she simply titled “Makai,” Hawaiian for “ocean”. It is elegant, striking, timeless, and fresh — like the resort itself.
We had a chance to connect with Nina recently and had the opportunity to hear first-hand what her inspiration was, and just as importantly, what she hopes guests admiring the piece get out it.
The sculpture greeting guests at the resort is impressive. What is the size and scope of “Makai?”
NH: The sculpture is 37 feet wide and 20 feet high.
When guests arrive and see the piece, what do you hope their first impression is?
NH: I wanted people looking at it to be transported to a place that is a little outside of everyday reality. They can imagine being underwater. I wanted to flip the experience that people have when they are snorkeling or scuba diving. Instead of the coral being smaller than they are, I wanted to give the viewer a different experience whereby the living coral garden is larger than life. I wanted to convey that grandeur of nature.
“Makai” is stylish and modern, and unlike other Old World bas-relief sculptures that are made of plaster, you use a pliable, but durable, resin for your work. Can you explain your approach?
NH: Practicality is important to me. My art might look delicate, but it won’t break. Plaster is brittle and would not have held up to my taking the pieces out of the molds, or the transport to Hawaii. The resin allowed me freedom of creation as I was able to bend the pieces initially when they came out of the molds before they hardened, giving me more opportunity to create more shaping of the pieces. The material is also very durable for longevity in a public space.
From beginning to end, how long did it take for you to create the sculpture?
NH: About six months. “Makai” actually has 34 separate pieces; each of the main ones measure approximately four-by-four feet and weigh about 10 pounds. It took a team of 5 people a week to do the installation. Scaffolding was erected, and initially painter’s tape was used to make a grid on the wall that mirrored the grid I drew on my sketch of the sculpture. Every piece was numbered, so I knew where to place it. The Alohilani executive team was supportive throughout the entire process; they understood it takes time to produce quality work, to do things right.
Art is very fluid and can sometimes take on a mind of its own. In that spirit, did “Makai” turn out exactly the way you planned or were there slight deviations along the way?
NH: The sculpture looks almost exactly like the sketch I initially did. Of course, I made adjustments along the way. I never know exactly how a sculpture is going to look until it’s installed. In that way, I experience the newness of the art, even for me, at every turn.
You made your first visit to Hawaii to oversee the installation and described that trip as “magical.” How does “Makai” help resort guests embark on their own magical Hawaiian escape?
NH: It’s one of the first things that people interact with when they come to this beautiful resort, and I wanted it to be a happy experience. Viewers get a sense of peace and spirit when they see my sculptures. It’s a time of quietude even in what can be a busy place.
Lastly, next time you come to Hawaii- what’s one thing you will certainly do (i.e. activity, culinary experience, etc.) that you didn’t get to do last time you were here for the installation?
NH: I most look forward to interacting with the people of Hawaii. They are so kind spirited and gentle. I also look forward to seeing my art installation in its completed new home at the Alohilani Resort. It was still under construction when I last saw it. Also, Poke bowls are not the same quality anywhere else in the world!
The resort is fortunate to have this stunning piece adorning its lobby. If you ever find yourself walking through Alohilani’s front doors, be sure to take out your cameras and snap some pics of this truly Insta-worthy piece of art (tip: the sculpture is back-lit at night, making way for especially dramatic, bold, and stunning images).
For more information on Nina Helms, please visit her website at http://www.ninahelms.com/.