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Nina Helms, New York Sculptural Illustrator creates “Makai”​

January 24, 2018

“Makai”- the story behind the lofty and chic coral-inspired sculpture greeting guests at Alohilani Resort Waikiki Beach​​

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.


 Preview (Opens in a new Window)

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/.

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