LAHAINA - Ken Auster captured the "Best of Show" painting and a $1,000 check during the eighth annual Maui Plein Air Painting Invitational.
"It only took me eight years to get into this prestigious winners' circle," smiled Auster, an oil painter from Laguna, California.
"But the real reward was coming back to Maui, swimming in the ocean and painting. Winning was the icing on the cake."
First-time Maui Plein Air Painting Invitational artist Hiu Lai Chong of Rockville, Maryland, was inspired to paint the Sugar Cane Train. “That’s why I enjoy painting outdoors. When you capture the history and culture of a place, it helps you create meaningful artwork,” Chong said.
Auster was one of 25 prominent artists from the U.S. Mainland and Hawaii who participated in the invitational held in West Maui from Feb. 16-24.
In addition to Auster's "Best in Show" painting, artists who earned top invitational awards were Colin Page for "Artist Choice," Randall Sexton for The Irvine Museum Award, Scott Prior for the Makana Aloha Foundation Award, Thomas Jefferson Kitts for the Pioneer Inn Quickdraw Award, Auster for the Pacific'O Restaurant Award, Ronaldo Macedo for the County of Maui Office of Economic Development/Hawaii Tourism Authority Award, Michael Clements for the Maui No Ka 'Oi Magazine Award, Carleton for the Kaanapali Land Management Corp. Award, and Pierre Bouret for the "Honor Hawaii, Honor Maui Award." Michael Clements, Colin Page and Scott Prior received honorable mentions.
"While artists took coveted honors, the real winner of this invitational was the community who experienced it," said Rhonda Pang, event coordinator.
"The events were fascinating to watch; truly inspirational," said a three-time invitational attendee from Canada.
A Minnesota visitor thought the artists created impressive paintings, and she loved Maui's beautiful setting.
Even the event website (www.MauiPleinAirPainting.org) received high marks from a couple from California.
During the eight-day invitational, artists were seen around the island capturing Maui's natural beauty, historic and cultural sites and island life. The artists and their creative works also attracted a record number of art enthusiasts - more than 2,750 visitors and residents attended the invitational.
Kapalua part-time resident Julie Ford was one of this year's art buyers.
"I'm thrilled to upgrade my home with some of the beautiful plein air artists' work," Ford said. "Watching the artists painting at various locations was such a fun and interesting thing to do. I'll treasure the paintings I bought and will look forward to returning in February of 2014 to add more to my collection!"
"This year was a terrific event," said Lynn Shue, owner of The Village Galleries. "The energy was so high, all the artists supported one another, and we had strong support from our sponsors and volunteers. I'm so proud to have been able to host this event in my gallery for the past eight years."
While the Maui Plein Air Painting Invitational brought together old and new friends, missing from this year's event was Big Island artist Darrell Hill, who passed away in early February.
To pay tribute, the invitational dedicated this year's event in his honor, and artists wore orange ribbons throughout the various functions. One of Hill's paintings from the previous invitational was also exhibited in The Village Galleries in Lahaina next to this year's new works - just as it had been done the prior seven years when he participated.
"It was our way to express our gratitude for Darrell's wonderful life," said Lahaina artist Macedo, cofounder of the invitational.
"He was a great artist, a great person and a true friend. He will be missed."