Hadley Nunes working in studio.
Rhapsody In Bloom

Creation happens organically at the sun-kissed studio of botanical artist Hadley Nunes.

Text By
Natalie Schack
Images By
John Hook & IJFKE Ridgley

“It pleases me.” Hadley Nunes thoughtfully rests one finger on her bottom lip as she stares intently at a wall in her art studio. She is contemplating a triptych of a nude woman in dramatic repose she has painted, and trying to explain how she will add a vibrant abstraction of a king protea. The unworldly bloom with dynamic planes and piercing contours is her current fascination, and has become a repeating motif in her recent work—a saturated, striking signature of who and where Nunes is in this moment in time. It is to be the final addition to one of the first paintings she created a full year ago for a June 2018 show at Halekulani.

“My favorite is this collage element. It captures this lightness and this reflective quality,” she says, gesturing at the third panel, where bits of collaged found paper with magenta luminescence and lime foliage stir dreamily at the subject’s feet. “If I put the drama of that flower, it would cancel out the poetry of what is only here that cannot be repeated. I can make paintings and paintings and paintings, but I cannot recreate that physical moment of poetry.” She pauses. “No, I’m going to have the flower be in three tones, in a neutral palette that repeats the motif, but respects the cadence of what’s already there.”

Nunes moved to Hawai‘i with her family when she was 17 years old before heading off to Smith College and then the New York Studio School. It wasn’t until she met her husband, who is from Kaua‘i, that she returned. Eventually, she set up shop at Lana Lane Studios, a warehouse in Kaka‘ako that now serves as a shared space for 20 artists. Here, her studio is filled with potted cacti and monstera, canvases in various stages of completion, and artifacts that inspire her, like a bowed and buxom Venus figurine perched primly atop a wooden block. A History of the World in 100 Objects and tomes of historical paintings sit neatly on a shelf next to Nunes’ color palettes, which are captured in swatches of paint lined up in orderly little rows on stacks of heavy paper sheets.

All these things—nature, the old masters, her obsession with color—guide Nunes’ creative journey toward that ineffable thing she haltingly describes as her artist’s language. She speaks of aesthetic phases in artists’ work, such as Pablo Picasso’s Blue Period or her own protea, as she explores how to articulate a visual vernacular all her own. Nunes, who majored in art and got her graduate degree in painting, has worked as an artist in one way or another for her entire adult life, and she is still deep in the middle of that journey. At the moment, it has led her to proteas and abstraction. “I’m interested,” she says, slowly, “in discovering an image that I’ve never seen.”

It’s hard to explain to others, of course, as one’s oeuvre is wont to be. But for that, Nunes has found another tool in the medium of flowers. As the floral director at Paiko, a botanical boutique in Kaka‘ako, she does everything from order the blooms to design arrangements to arrange the wares for sale.

“Painting is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Flowers are a more universal language,” she says, as she brings out a vase of cut stems and fingers the petals of a droopy variegated tulip affectionately. “I enjoy the placement and levels and flow, and the way there’s a rhythm. That’s what’s going on in the painting, space coming in front, space going in back. There’s negative space, just as important as the positive space. If I can use this as a bridge to the things that are important to me within the world of the painting, then it’s nice. It’s refreshing.”

She’s found that bridge in her flower-arranging group workshops, during which she invites visitors to her space, serves tea, shows her paintings, and then leads the ensemble in a collaborative floral design session. Participants select a single vase together, and then one at a time, different members add elements to the arrangement from buckets of botanicals. “It becomes the sum of its parts,” Nunes says. “It’s like a game. There’s an element of performance to it, but it’s definitely playful.”

The flower-arranging sessions have been successful, both as part of her workshop series, and as the focus of a collaborative film capturing the poetic group-arranging experience in a palm forest in Pālolo. This film is the seed for a larger artistic endeavor down the line. In the meantime, though, Nunes has that summer show and, of course, that fascinating king protea to keep her occupied.

That is, “Until I get bored with it,” she says with a grin. “Then, I’ll do something else.” For now, it’s the season of flowers.

*To view and learn more about Hadley Nunes, please visit her website https://hadleynunes.com/ or contact Halekulani Hotel.

Hadley Nunes hanging artwork up in studio

Hadley Nunes hanging up artwork in her stuido.

Hadley Nunes working in studio.

Plants and paintbrushes mix and mingle to spark artist Hadley Nunes’ whimsy in her workspace.

Tropical flowers inspire Hadley Nunes.

Plants and paintbrushes mix and mingle to spark artist Hadley Nunes’ whimsy in her workspace.

Blooming Brushstrokes

Season 2 Episode 5
Watch Episode
Group Flower Arrangement, acrylic on panel, 2018 24’ x 30’

Group Flower Arrangement, acrylic on panel, 2018 24’ x 30’
Plants and paintbrushes mix and mingle to spark artist Hadley Nunes’ whimsy in her workspace.

Hadley Nunes working in studio with flower arrangement.

Nunes’ paintings are bold expressions of color and form.

Hadley Nunes' studio.

Hadley Nunes’ studio.

Nunes picking flowers.

An exhibition of Nunes’ work debuts at Halekulani this summer.

You May Also Like