In December 2019, a brilliant artist who brought true light and laughter to the people he knew, passed away due to a senseless crime. For many on this island that he called home for 15 years, the news of his death was the first time that they were introduced to the name Shingo Honda. But for others, the name belonged to a multi-faceted individual, best known for his art and winning personality, that they had the privilege to know during his dynamic life. Now, thanks to the artistic community that was always a fundamental piece of Honda’s world, his work will be shown to Big Island residents and visitors, giving them the opportunity to get to know and remember him through his work.
Shingo Honda: The Man
The Shingo Honda that people will remember is the man who, most of the time, had a smile on his face and a paintbrush in his hand. Honda was many, many things — a Buddhist priest, the survivor of the bombing of his hometown (as well as an attempted nuclear bombing, his town was the first target for the Enola Gay, which ended up flying to Hiroshima due to rain), and an artist who helped define an entire movement. And while most of his artwork will live on, stretched across canvases, photographed to freeze his whimsy in time, or written about in various works, it’s who he touched throughout his life that guarantees that his memory will live on.
Honda was a partner, a friend, and a member of a variety of tight-knit artist communities that stretched around the globe. His relationships and connections are what truly made his life so brilliant.
“Shingo was such a nut, such a character. He had more friends than anyone I’ve ever met,” writer Lynne Farr shared about her partner. “He was very funny and physical; he would’ve made a great actor.”
Farr’s love and admiration for Honda is clear both when she speaks about and writes about him.
Honda had the personality, and the life, that inspires stories. When his friends talk about his life they brighten as they recount his trips to Burning Man, his love of fishing, his fondness for Champagne Ponds, and one of his impressive career-highs, showing his work at the Guggenheim. So far he’s inspired at least four stories: some of the best parts of him were immortalized in the words Farr wrote in her Off the Grid series of books, and her most recent book that captures his spirit above all others, Speaking Shinglish: A Cross-Cultural Love Story.
Honda and Farr originally met in Los Angeles while she was in a period of transition, seeking out more in life than her career as a TV comedy writer was giving her. While she was busy trying to “discover what might possibly be more important than a joke,” Farr mentions in Speaking Shinglish, she met Honda at the Zen Center in LA. After a bit of aggressive flirting (by American standards) from Honda, Farr agreed to their first date, and their beautiful relationship quickly blossomed into a wonderful love story full of fun and excitement.
After 14 years and a city life that was as exciting as it was interesting, LA lost some of its luster due to gentrification and a rise in crime. The couple sought greener pastures and ended up in the verdant rainforests of Mountain View. Their Glenwood home allowed the couple to live off the grid and really get back to nature.
Shingo Honda: The Big Island Community Member
It was at this Glenwood home that Honda would sit on the back porch every morning, surrounded by the songs of tropical birds and the lush greenness of the rainforest and eat his breakfast. This simple daily ritual was one of the things that Honda loved most about living on the Big Island, and for that he would often thank Farr for prompting them to move to Hawaii. “Thank you for my wonderful last life,” Honda would tell his partner as he enjoyed his morning coffee.
While the death of a neighbor is never the catalyst that you hope for, caring about Honda and Farr brought the Glenwood community together in ways that other events typically can’t. It was their neighbors who helped look for Honda when he first went missing, their neighbors who walked the community with dogs and guns looking for the assailant, and their neighbors who attended all of the court dates and hearings, constantly supporting Farr and showing their love for their community member. One neighbor even slept in his truck on the road outside of their house on the night of Honda’s death to ensure that Farr would be ok.
Though Honda’s death was incredibly tragic and shocking, it managed to show more of the beautiful side of Hawaii’s people than it did the ugly side. “I can never thank them enough,” Farr explained. “His death brought the community together, even people who had never spoken to one another. It caused everyone to be on each other’s team,” she continued.
Shingo Honda: The Artist
One of the best ways to honor Shingo Honda after his passing, whether you knew him or not, is to get to know his artwork. His art career spanned six decades, starting with his first show in 1967, a group show with two other artists in Tokyo. After that, Honda would show his art in 40 individual shows and 80 group shows in locales ranging from Thailand to Texas, from Maui to Melbourne.
The majority of his shows were in Japan, LA, and Big Island, the places where he spent most of his life, places that inspired his work. The big cities showed up in collections like “Parallel,” a series that places strangers upon a canvas together, living their lives in parallel to one another. Likewise, Hawaii Island was represented by vibrant works that included banyan trees and monstera leaves, leaping from the canvas or hiding behind a rainy day in Honda’s mind.
Honda wasn’t one to be contained by one style or one medium; the work that he is well known for, the work that had him showing his art to visitors of the Guggenheim Museum in New York City, was installation work. In fact, his work in this medium became an example of the Mono-Ha art movement that emerged in the mid-1960s in Tokyo. Translated as “School of Things,” the Mono-Ha movement was decidedly anti-modernist and utilized more natural materials like rocks, sand, wood, cotton, and metal. It thrived on minimalism and was seen as ephemeral art — most of the installations and sculptures couldn’t be recreated or purchased, and typically ended up in the trash.
Luckily, these impermanent installations were photographed so that his fans can continue to enjoy them.
Shingo Honda: The Show
The ephemeral theme was always constant in his art, throughout the rest of his life. The East Hawai’i Cultural Center (141 Kalakaua St. in Hilo) is hosting a retrospective of his art, called “Impermanence,” and will include works on paper, canvas, and a variety of print forms. The opening reception is on Friday, February 7, starting at 3 p.m. The gallery will stay open until 8 p.m. for First Friday. The exhibit will run through February 28.
Even if you’re not an expert on art, Honda’s work has a way of touching people. Even Lynne Farr has trouble choosing one work, in particular, as a favorite.
“He changed his work so often, I was always falling in love with the ones that were on the wall, and then he’d change them, and I’d fall in love with the new ones,” Farr said.
Big Islanders now have a way to truly appreciate Honda, from his first life to his last life. Whether you knew him or not, be sure to visit his show and pay tribute to this man who meant so much to the world.
When saying farewell to Honda, it helps to keep something in mind that he said about his “Parallel” series that is as true today as when he created the series at the turn of the 21st Century: “Our paths may never cross again, but in this parallel world, there’s something that we share: we’re not strangers.”