It’s pour­ing in Honolulu, the kind of rain that can be heard from in­side a bustling art gallery dur­ing a show. I’m hur­ry­ing through the down­pour, avoid­ing gi­ant pud­dles, when mo­ments later, artist and cu­ra­tor Lisa Shiroma ap­pears in a knee­length gray dress and tall black boots. Her hair is jet-black and is pulled back into a pony­tail. Un­like the weather and the color pal­ette of her at­tire, Shiroma’s de­meanor is warm and bright. She opens the door of the Koa Gallery at the Kapi‘olani Com­mu­nity Col­lege cam­pus and ush­ers me in.

The cozy gallery is on the first floor of the Koa Build­ing, where KCC’S art depart­ment is lo­cated. Since it was built in 1980, many re­spectable artists have shown here—ke­ichi Kimura, Isami Doi, and Lu­cille Cooper, to name a few—who have paved the way for other lo­cal artists to gain recog­ni­tion within the com­mu­nity. Shiroma, the gallery man­ager, gives me a tour of the space, where Mixed Me­dia Minia­ture, an an­nual ex­hi­bi­tion pre­sent­ing the works of more than 150 artists of dif­fer­ent medi­ums, is on dis­play. Hang­ing in it are two paint­ings by Shiroma, one of Grumpy Cat, the In­ter­net-fa­mous fe­line whose pouty face gar­nered him mil­lions of views, and an­other of Boo, the adorable Pomera­nian dog with 19.3 mil­lion Face­book likes. “I think peo­ple are nat­u­rally drawn to an­i­mals be­cause they have a spe­cial abil­ity to make peo­ple feel com­forted and un­con­di­tion­ally loved,” Shiroma says of her work. “In my paint­ings, I try to cap­ture the twin­kle in an an­i­mal’s eyes to make it look more life­like. I think the eyes are the most im­por­tant part of the paint­ing, and I spend a lot of time try­ing to make them look right.”

Shiroma, who is in her mid-30s, calls her­self some­thing of a late bloomer. Al­though she won awards for her art as early as kinder­garten, she didn’t re­al­ize her full po­ten­tial un­til af­ter she had al­ready grad­u­ated with a bach­e­lor of arts in psy­chol­ogy from the Univer­sity of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. “At the time, I was work­ing with an autis­tic girl, al­ways en­cour­ag­ing her to do art—sort of like the un­ful­filled wishes of a par­ent,” she re­calls. “But then I re­al­ized it was me who re­ally wanted to do art.” She en­rolled at Kapi‘olani Com­mu­nity Col­lege and be­gan work­ing as a lab as­sis­tant for the sculp­ture in­struc­tors. Shiroma had a knack for sculp­ture (Titty Bar, a bronze choco­late bar with boobs, was dis­played in the Ja­panese Cham­ber of Com­merce’s Com­mit­ment to Ex­cel­lence ex­hi­bi­tion), but it was paint­ing that es­pe­cially res­onated with her. “It all started in 2012 in my last se­mes­ter of school, when a friend sug­gested I paint a cat wear­ing an aloha shirt drink­ing a Mai Tai,” she says. “It was fun, so I painted an­other cat drink­ing a cos­mopoli­tan. I’ve been paint­ing an­i­mals ever since.”

In ad­di­tion to be­ing the gallery man­ager, Shiroma is also an art teacher at Kuhio El­e­men­tary, a part-time in­struc­tor at the Honolulu Mu­seum of Art, and does small-scale metal cast­ing in sil­ver and bronze for lo­cal jew­elry de­signer An­dromeda Hen­dricks. Since cu­rat­ing her first show in 2012, when Koa Gallery di­rec­tor David Behlke asked her to pool a few stu­dents to present at KCC’S 220 Grille, Shiroma has or­ga­nized shows in such places as Kissaten Coffee Bar, W Bistro (now closed), and UH’S sculp­ture court­yard. “In­tro­duc­ing the artists to each other at the open­ing re­cep­tions was like the ic­ing on the cake,” she says. “The artists, who would iso­late them­selves and work all the time, had a chance to show the fruits of their la­bor and get val­i­da­tion from their peers.”

Lisa Shiroma’s paint­ings cap­ture the twin­kle in an an­i­mal’s eyes. “They are the most im­por­tant part of the paint­ing,” she says.

“It all started in 2012, when a friend sug­gested I paint a cat wear­ing an aloha shirt drink­ing a Mai Tai. It was fun, so I painted an­other cat drink­ing a cos­mopoli­tan. I’ve been paint­ing an­i­mals ever since,”

says artist and gallery man­ager Lisa Shiroma.

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