KAILUA-KONA — A once-popular fixture outside of Huggo’s on the corner of Alii Drive and Kahakai Road, Robert “Woody” Woodward occupied a spot under a banyan tree in the center of town for decades.
Painting and selling his work alongside the town’s most popular street, Woodward created both a rich portfolio of art and a large following of fans.
The artist, well known by both locals and tourists for his work featuring the island’s landscape and life in and around Kailua-Kona, left his usual spot years ago. Now 76 years old, Woodward is still painting, and has moved his work space from the center of town to his home in Ocean View.
“I got too old to drive from Ocean View all the way to town and back every day. I started falling asleep at the wheel,” Woodward said. “I have a short commute now, from my bed to my studio.”
Woodward’s painting has slowed down, from both age and the location of his studio, which makes him more difficult to find. He still does commissioned paintings, and his art can be found and purchased at many galleries on Hawaii Island. Woodward said his paintings can sell for anywhere between $35 and $2,000, depending on the size of the canvas and on the time commitment. Using oils and acrylics, Woodward’s paintings still follow the motif of island life.
“I paint what I call ‘Hawaiiantasia,’” Woodward said. “I make a lot of it up and a lot of it I do from memory. Like I do Magic Sands a lot of times, and what it used to look like years ago. It doesn’t look the same anymore. Town scenes, Alii Drive, the banyan trees, I do a lot of that, too.”
Woodward’s background as an artist began long before Hawaii became his muse. Woodward began painting and selling his art when he was in high school, and it became his career shortly after.
“I’ve just been an artist all my life,” Woodward said. “When I was in college, galleries kept calling and saying ‘We need more of your work, we need more of your work.’ So, I just quit college and started painting. And I’ve been doing it ever since then. And that was 1961, when I really first got started. And I painted all over — New York, New Orleans, Chicago, San Francisco.”
Success followed Woodward when he came to Hawaii in 1968. He first made his home on Oahu before coming to Kona and setting up shop outside Huggo’s, where he stayed for years.
“Huggo and I are friends, so he asked me to come down and paint in front of his place,” Woodward said. “That’s when the town was very small. We didn’t even have a stoplight in town.”
Woodward adopted the name Woody at the suggestion of a stranger who told him signing his paintings with the alias would help him sell more paintings. Woodward’s most successful day under the name Woody came in the 1980s, when he sold 19 paintings in one day.
“I hadn’t sold a painting in probably 10 or 15 days, and I was getting to be broke. I had probably like $30-$35 in my pocket at the time,” Woodward said. “So I worked late that night, and it was getting dark and it must have been 9 p.m. because I could paint underneath the street lights. And I was just starting to pack up and along comes, I call him, Jesus Christ. He had a white robe, sandals, a staff and long hair and a beard.
“And he pulled out a roll of $100 bills, and I asked him ‘Who the hell are you?’ And he said he was in the Tonight Show Band; Johnny Carson had sent him over. And all of a sudden the rest of the band came over, and they bought the rest of them. And by the end of the night, I had sold 19 paintings.”
His days as “Woody’” behind him, Woodward now signs his paintings using his full name. His art can be found at: Keoki’s Ono Fish ‘N Chips in South Kona, Pohue Plaza Gifts in Hawaiian Ocean View Estates, Mehe’s Ka’u Bar &Grill in Hawaiian Ocean View Estates, Treasure Island Gallery in Kailua Village, Third Dimension Gallery at The Shops at Mauna Lani, Gray’s Furniture in Kailua-Kona, Colette’s Custom Framing in Kailua-Kona and Ipu Arts Plus gallery in Holualoa.
“I used to paint one a day, sometimes two a day. Now, I paint one every three or four days,” Woodward said. “That’s if I decide to work. Sometimes I get lazy. I’m 76 now, so I don’t have as much energy as I used to have. But I still paint. I’ll paint till I die.”
Info: Robert “Woody’” Woodward can be reached at his studio in Ocean View by calling 797-1208.