In November, pop superstar Bruno Mars played at the Oracle Arena in Oakland. The morning of the show, he sent an excited tweet to his 38 million followers, accompanied by a picture of a painting of the singer. The artwork, which was hung in a backstage hallway, was made by a little-known Oakland artist, Jon Kalani Ware (who goes by the name of Kalani Ware).
Chances are you've never heard of Ware, but in the last six months, he seems to have become the recurring artist of Oracle Arena. Since July, he has been commissioned to produce paintings for J. Cole, Kendrick Lamar and The Weeknd. Oracle Arena also commissioned it to make an art piece for Tour 444 from Jay-Z, who stopped at the arena on December 16th. Ware said he is the first visual artist to produce concert pieces at the Oakland location. (Oracle representatives did not respond to requests for comments). The first piece commissioned for the J. Cole show was painted on the corridor walls, apart from the photos, nothing remains because it was painted due to the rapid turnover of events in the place. Each piece has been made on canvas, conserving the work for future use. "Kendrick's crew ended up taking the piece after the show," Ware said proudly during an interview.
Ware, an Oakland native whose grandmother is from Hawaii, began to draw as a child. He attended the University of Hawaii at Manoa, where he studied graphic design. It was a trip to the prisoner of war! WOOHOO! Festival in Hawaii that unleashed his desire to take advantage of his creative side more. "We are all born creative," Ware said. "I took art classes when I was a teenager, and I decided to try it and use it as my zen."
Although Ware's work continues to evolve, it now combines elements of abstraction and realism. His paintings contain black and white, brightly colored lines and graphic patterns. "Abstract work is subjective and open to interpretation, and certain colors attract people," Ware explained a few weeks ago, while showing some of his latest work at the Good Mother Gallery in downtown Oakland, where he had an individual exhibition in November.
Shades of blue, red and purple dominate most of his canvases. These colors represent their time in Hawaii: blue represents the ocean, while shades of red, orange and purple symbolize the sunrises and sunsets of Hawaii. The use of black and white, meanwhile, reflects the concrete jungle that is Oakland. Most of his paintings are made with oil, acrylic or spray paint.
Ware said Hawaiian artist Solomon Enos once challenged him to think deeply about his work and question its meaning. "He aha ka mana'o," said Ware, who told Enos. "When I paint something, I think about what I can give back to my community, my friends, my family, my society."
Ware also paints people, but these are not common portraits. One includes the silhouette of a woman, while another juxtaposes half of a face with color waves and a pattern block. "I'm very strategic about how I paint certain pieces," he said. "I do not want money to direct what I believe, but I have to be aware of what I think is nice and can also be sold here in the Bay Area and in other parts of the world."
Ware spreads the word about what he does to build relationships. "For every piece I create, I post it on Instagram and label art curators, art galleries and music festivals," he said. "I probably annoyed them because I tagged them all the time, but at least I got their attention."
So far, your efforts seem to be paying off. In 2016, her work was presented within the VIP area of the Outside Lands Music Festival in San Francisco. The work of art was printed on lanterns that hung next to the VIP tents. The same work was also shown at the Life is Beautiful Festival in Las Vegas and at the Kaaboo music festival in San Diego.
It was that hurried mentality that gave him the concert at the Oracle. As a promising artist living in the expensive Bay Area, Ware works full time to help fund his passion. His installation signs for 9 to 5 jobs took him to Oracle. While touring the space, Ware casually mentioned that he is an artist. "I knew it was a possible conflict of interest to say that, but I'm an artist struggling," he said. "I'm trying to strive to achieve my greatness, I'm building a brand."
Ware hopes to one day hold art workshops for young aspiring artists and follow in the footsteps of other local artists such as Jet Martinez and members of the Illuminaries and TDK crews by plastering murals on the walls of The Town. "I want the murals to bring a conversation about diversity," he said.
Meanwhile, he is still perfecting his style. "Artists have a specific signature that can be recognized anywhere in the world," Ware said. "I know I have a long way to go and I am enjoying the process."