From an interview with Chandra Quinlan for Aloha Magazine
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
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
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.
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.”
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.”