• Kelly Owens

Wayfinding with Doug Boyd

Updated: Sep 11, 2021

This painting in our living room is by my favorite artist, Doug Boyd. Sometimes on the weekends while we were living in Hawaii, we would go explore the local art galleries, but Doug wasn't in any of the galleries; he sold his art himself, hung up along the zoo fence in Waikiki. Every Saturday and Sunday he was there with a few other rebel artists of the island.

Most of his art incorporates the cosmos, which is why I am so obsessed with it: I am a lover of all things cosmos. As a little girl, my parents asked me what color I wanted to paint my room, and I said I didn't want just one color -- I wanted to paint the universe on my walls. They went out and bought my paint and let me go to town. The end result was our solar system on the wall across from my bed so that I could lie there every night and look out into the universe.

Doug uses the cosmos in his art to tell a story of how the ancient Hawaiians used the stars ("way-finding") to navigate. The boat you see in the painting is a representation of the Hawaiian Hokulea.

This piece had been sitting all by his lonesome on the fence in Waikiki for about five years when Sean bought it. Before taking the leap to move there, when we went on vacation to Hawaii in 2011 to scope things out. We walked along the zoo fence, taking in all that we saw. When we got to Doug’s section of fence, he nodded at us and said to let us know if we had any questions and then went back to whatever he was doing. I was immediately taken by his work. Then I saw the one — the perfect one — and mused to Sean about how I was falling in love with it.

Four years later, Sean bought me that exact one for our three-year wedding anniversary in 2015. At the time, we were then living in Kapahulu, only a mile or so from the zoo fence, and like most everyone else in Hawaii: we were totally broke. My disease had hit an all-time low only months before. We were scraping by before, but now, hardly. In those years passed for anniversaries, we always just got each other something small, but that year, we were on the same page. It had been a hell of a year and we wanted to give each other something to symbolize our future adventures. So without either of us knowing that that was what was on each of our minds, we set out to get each other anniversary presents.

I left that morning to buy Sean a used Canon t3i camera that I found on Craigslist to start his photography business. He had been taking pictures on his phone and editing them for a couple of years, but would never buy himself a camera. I knew that his creativity could flourish if he had one. With $125 in my hot little pocket, I met the seller at a parking lot in Chinatown.

Sean left that morning and went to the fence hoping to find Doug. They talked for a while and Sean told him how much I loved his art and then he pointed out the piece to Doug — that same piece I had dreamed of owning years before. He told Doug that I was eyeing it up for years and asked to buy it. Doug kindly took it off the zoo fence and handed it to Sean, who cradled it like a baby on the way back to our apartment, terrified of something happening to it on the way.

He walked into our little second-floor walk up on Ekela Ave and told me to close my eyes. I did. He sat it upright on our dresser, and said, "Okay, now open."

The image is literally of people navigating their way through life, onto whatever may come next, not knowing what that may be, but still going. That's why he bought it that day; when I opened my eyes, he told me we, ourselves, were in the midst of way-finding and that we had more life and adventure awaiting us; that this all-time new low with my disease wasn't the end.

Six years later:

We went back to Hawaii in July of 2021. Whole there, we were on a mission to go see Doug and tell him how his painting has hung in every home we’ve lived in since and how much it means to us. Sure enough, there he was — a little older, a little thinner, but those same shining eyes I remembered. We said hello and we told him the story of buying that painting and showed him a picture of it hanging in our living room.

“Oh wow, that’s a vintage one. I remember that. That hung on this fence for years. The ones that I hate, they love. The ones that I love take forever to sell. I loved this one.”

We talked with him for a while and he told us about his adventures as a youth — surfing in Buffalo on Lake Erie in the 1970s, even going to his van to take out a news clip with a picture of him in a full wet suit surfing there in below-freezing temperatures. He was on his way back to Japan when he stopped in Hawaii and never left, 42 years ago. He’s sold more than 3,500 paintings over those years. He’s never been in galleries and never wanted to be in galleries. He says he likes being able to be in charge of his own art and his own prices.

While we were visiting, another painting caught both Sean and my eyes. It was smaller but reminded us of our piece — just with the plumerias and hibiscus on each corner. We bought it from Doug that day. As Sean paid, he told Doug it was fitting — because the first was bought when my health was deteriorating, and “this one we’re buying while Kelly’s health is blossoming.”

Per my usual state of existence when my heart is overflowing with too much joy or gratitude — I was pretty weepy throughout the half-hour we spent visiting with Doug. His eyes smiled at me as I spoke through my tears. I’m not sure if anyone has ever cried over his paintings before, in front of him at least — but now at least one has. Artists, writers, rebels, poets — they all wonder if their work will have an impact. Maybe now Doug knows he and his work has.

We took this picture with Doug at the end of our visit — clearly, my face was pretty punky from tears.

As I sit here now gazing at our first Doug Boyd, I see him in his north shore bungalow, painting the universe — maybe now realizing that he helped us navigate ours.

September 10, 2021 Update:

Tonight I sat on my kitchen table in the dark

next to my husband

with our feet on the wooden bench

we should have been sitting on,

listened to the last crickets of the season,

and I talked about how the words I write that I love the most --

the words that I look at and say, "Wow -- that means something" --

are the same words that don't get much engagement

because they aren't the things that people are willing to think

nor will they admit to thinking

nor are those words popular to think --

those words that say that there is a power that burns within.

Those are the words that sit alone.

The words I write that I love the most sit alone, I say.

With the light from outside illuminating his face

in the dark of our kitchen

Sean looked at me and said,

"Don't you think that's exactly what Doug Boyd was talking about

when he said that the paintings he loved the most sat for the longest?"

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