Ben Brough returns to the Big Island almost annually with his wife and children. But this trip he’s found himself incredulous and honored to be joining a group of artists participating in a documentary film called “MANA.”
“MANA” will be screened at the upcoming Kona Surf Film Festival.
His mission is simple: To help expose the magic of the place and give back to the community deeply rooted in his childhood experiences.
Brough is a 35-year-old, self-taught artist from Costa Mesa, Calif., who specializes in painting, illustration and collage.
His art has been shown internationally, as well as made iconic through brands such as Volcom, Dogtown and O’Neill. Some kamaaina might recognize him more as the surfer kid who was always in the water, on the beach or helping out at his grandparents’ former Old Industrial Area store, Papa Louie’s.
Brough grew up in a surfing family that moved from California to Kona when he was 6 years old. He lived on the island until 2002. His love of the ocean is deep. He has fond memories of riding waves, playing in the anchialine ponds and camping at Kohanaiki before development began and the distinct clump of “pine trees” was removed. Back then, Kona was a small village, void of big shopping centers — the farm fair was a big deal. Brough said the Big Island, particularly Kona, will always be dear to his heart.
“MANA” is a 40-minute documentary on 10 Southern California artists who share a skill and affinity for surfing and how interacting with the dynamics of the ocean affects their work, said Andi Campognone, the film’s executive producer, AC Projects director and curator at the Museum of Art and History in Lancaster, Calif. The artists include Brough, Craig Skibs Barker, Casper Brindle, Alex Couwenberg, Ned Evans, Steven Fuchs, Eric Johnson, David Lloyd, Ken Pagliaro and Alex Weinstein.
“Each artist approaches their work differently in their process, medium and styles, yet they all share a reverence for the power, beauty and complexity of the ocean,” Campognone said. “They are additionally unified by their strong community and family connections, each with a commitment to younger generations through art and surfing.”
Couwenberg and Campognone came up with the film’s concept. The couple has owned a home in Keauhou for six years and lives here part time. Couwenberg said they instantly felt loved by the island, are grateful for the friendships made, as well as appreciate the strong sense of community and aloha. He recalled how Campognone, feeling the island’s mana, cried upon arrival and a woman at the airport consoled her with one sentence: “The island picks you.”
Couwenberg said the film is a vehicle for the artists to reveal themselves, their art and their connections to nature, their families and each other in a different way, one he hopes viewers find inspiring, valuable, enlightening and worthwhile.
Along the way, what drives the artists and their processes will be exposed, he added.
Brough said he chooses to paint “beauty — things that leave a good vibe and often with a lot of humor.” He typically uses bright, vivid colors, which he said could be from his island upbringing.
His advice to artists, young and old, is to “paint what you like and always do what’s inside of you.” That’s what he’s done.
Brough knew he wanted to be an artist by the fourth grade and never stopped drawing. He would doodle on everything. At 16, he really started painting.
When it comes to the ocean, Brough said it doesn’t directly influence his art and he wouldn’t call himself a surf artist. Because he’s spent his whole life on the coast, he feels like the ocean is in him, part of his soul.
The truth is, he’s also always been connected to surfing and got the opportunity to travel as a sponsored surfer.
All of this helped fire his imagination and give him so much to draw from as an artist, but Brough said his art is “whatever comes out of me at that moment.”
Los Angeles-based filmmaker and f64 Productions founder Eric Minh Swenson is directing “MANA.”
He has produced more than 120 films featuring major artists, curators and collectors.
Celebrated cinematographers Marcel Morin and Sarah Mueller of Vitae Sessions are involved in the production. “Shooting in the spirit of Terrance Malick and Werner Herzog, the film will convey a serene, meditative mood where Zen philosophy, art principles, bravery and humility form a cohesive narrative” on Southern California art, surf culture and history, Campognone said.
Filming for this project started last year at the artists’ studios and will wrap up Friday in Kailua-Kona, where they will be working, surfing and living. Some of the artists have connections to Hawaii while others are coming here for the first time. Their schedule includes a blessing by kumu Keala Ching, followed by a trip around the island exploring sacred spots, Campognone said.
To give back, the film’s artists will be giving a special art exhibition Wednesday at the new Gallery MELD on Pawai Place in Kailua-Kona.
Joining them at the gallery’s inaugural event will be local artists Che Pilago and Pohaku Stone, Campognone said. For more information, call the gallery at 326-4108.
Campognone and Swenson will also give a presentation on “MANA” from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday at the Donkey Mill Art Center in Holualoa. Attendees are encouraged to bring a potluck dish to share.
In addition to the Kona screening, “MANA” will also be part of events next year at the Surfing Heritage Foundation and the Museum of Art and History in California.