From an interview with Chandra Quinlan for Aloha Magazine

Like many artists, Richard Obenchain’s love for art began early. He was sketching at age four and paintings with oils by the time he was twelve. Yet, although art was in his bloodline – through his father and great-grand uncle Willis Berry, a “semi famous” Midwestern itinerant painter in the nineteenth century – life as a professional artist had never been a realistic option for him. “I was never really encouraged to pursue art,” Obenchain explains. “Besides, art was not allowed as a major for my Navy ROTC scholarship. And, since my family’s makeup of engineers, architecture was sort of a compromise.”

Born in Brooklyn, New York in 1944, Obenchain’s family moved to Pennsylvania in the 1950s. Upon his graduation from Upper Saint Clair High School, Obenchain attended the University of Kansas, where he received his bachelor’s degree in architecture with a minor in botany in 1967. While he was still in school, the Navy sent Obenchain on summer cruises, and Hilo (where he resided after moving to Hawaii in 1988) became his preferred port of call. “I loved it,” he says. “Consequently, I started going there every year on vacation, and finally it got to a point where I never went to any of the other islands. It seemed like a place where time had stopped, and I always sort of fantasized about living there but never thought it was possible.”

Upon graduation, Obenchain served in Vietnam as a navigator on the USS Kannebec and as an advisor to the South Vietnamese Navy. He recalls, “It basically was raising pigs and chickens in a self-help program for the Vietnamese.” By 1971, Obenchain’s military duties were fulfilled and he settled in California, working as an architect for a firm in Palo Alto. After less than two years, however, he ventured out on his own, doing architectural renderings and illustrations. “It paid very well. I only had to work one week per month, and it was probably during that time that I started having enough time to devote to painting and to take it seriously,” he says.

He has taken it seriously enough, in fact, to have been commissioned by the Hughes Aircraft Corporation, the Bob Hope Cultural Center, and Sunset Magazine. His works can also be found in the National Tropical Botanical Garden on Kauai, the Santa Cruz Historical Museum, and numerous private collections throughout Hawaii and California. Obenchain’s works are carried at Artspace in downtown Honolulu. It is apparent that Obenchain has a true reverence for nature. “Painting is about seeing, and so what is interesting to me in nature as a painter is the visual stimulus that it gives me,” he says. “Before I came here, I was doing large-scale paintings that tended to be close-ups of plants – banyan trees as well as palm trees out of the California Desert. Since I moved here I’ve sort of stepped back.”

Obenchain’s penchant for painting oils on large canvas or wood panels best explains his lack of public exhibits. “I haven’t had any one-man shows since 1986,” he says. “I don’t make a lot of paintings every year, because the ones I do take a long time… it’s hard to stack up enough paintings to have a show. I like the idea of investing that much time in a single piece of work. There’s something to be said about putting that much energy into one painting. I’m very much into the craft of painting as well as just painting.”