With a desire to express himself, comedian and media personality Frank B. Shaner moves from the mic to paint palette.
Toward the end of 2011, popular radio personality Frank B. Shaner did his last stint as host of the morning show on KUMU radio. After seven years, his contract was not renewed. At the time, Shaner was quoted as saying, “At this particular point in my life, we’ll see what happens. There’s a whole new realm, a whole new world out there that’s starting to open up for me.”
To be sure — the art world.
As a voice in radio, a mentor to many local musicians, the founder of the Annual Frank B. Shaner Hawaiian Falsetto Contest and the winner of a Na Hoku Hanohano Award for a comedy album featuring many of his humorous voices and personas, Shaner is no stranger to art and media … but “pushing paint” was never in the picture. Not until September, 11, 2001 (9/11).
Like most everyone, 9/11 changed the way Shaner viewed the world … taking him down a path he could have never imagined. “I became a different person,” Shaner recalls. “For most of my life, I have been in radio but on that day — after working around the clock broadcasting news feeds from New York — I was exhausted. It was extremely painful and numbing to talk about these tragedies for hours and seeing the rubble of broken lives.”
Tired and confused, Shaner walked out the door of the studio and into a local art store, where he bought canvases, tubes of oil paint and brushes of all sizes. “I had never painted a stroke in my life. The closest I had ever come to creating any art was my incessant doodling on cocktail napkins and scrap paper,” Shaner says. “However, I was so affected by that day and its events, I have since dedicated myself to painting every day.”
His first piece was an oil painting that’s still in his possession … a small 5”x 6” painting of a clump of trees. “Then, I painted fish swimming along the coastline … why? I have no idea,” he says.
Shaner says painting is like a portal, “a way out of my skin, to get off this planet, get away from humans. When I paint, I’m free!”
He readily admits that he has no idea what all his art means, as he explains his paintings are like ocean waves — unpredictable. But perhaps it really isn’t the artist’s job to tell viewers what things mean. It’s our job to make meaning out of the virtue of the artist’s imagination, talent and skill.
Here, amongst his art, Generations Magazine sits down with Shaner for a Q&A session. We could start circa 1950, O‘ahu where Shaner of mixed race — Hawaiian, Chinese, Portuguese, German, Irish — grew up … but his mind’s eye takes us on another sort of journey …
GM: Where were your hanabata days?
FS: I grew up on planet Earth, but I came here in a most unusual way, I must say. You see, my family would stop on Earth on our way to Jupiter for our annual vacation. Stopping on Earth is like pulling into 7-Eleven. I got out that day just to pee and my family left me stranded. They took off! I ended growing up in ‘The Great State of Kapahulu,’ where I had the pleasure of eating manapua from the Chinese man who walked down Makini St., right across from the rose garden. He had two barrels dangling from the ends a bowed bamboo draped across his shoulders. And, man … the manapua were fat and heavy. Sure, flies would fly out of the can and they were fat as well, but we survived and the memories — from playing street football to eating mangos dangling just out of reach — are cherished. I love this planet Earth … I think I’ll stay.
GM: Any childhood experiences that are still on your mind?
FS: As long as I can remember I never understood school. I just didn’t get it. Back in the day when I was attending Waikiki Elementary students had to hand carry their report cards home to their parents. My father, who was a cop back then, was usually the one who read mine. I remember this one school year that was particularly bad for me. He read the report in front of me, looked over the top of the card and then looked down at me and said, “Son, I know one thing for sure, you’re not cheating!” He was a good man.
GM: Even though you didn’t care for school, didn’t you receive a college football scholarship?
FS: Yes, I had a full-ride scholarship to play football at the University of Idaho and played defensive tackle. They must have thought I was pretty good to award me full tuition for four years, but I was restless with the whole thing. I had just spent three years in the Army and coming back to school was quite an adjustment back in 1969. When I became a junior I gave it all up, got on a plane and flew home to start my life and never looked back.
GM: What/How did you get into broadcasting?
FS: From 1970, I worked as a tour escort for Tradewind Tours for nearly 10 years. I picked up groups up at the airport, briefed them in the mornings, prepared them for the island tours of which I made all of the accommodations and travel plans. I got to meet and greet people from all over the world and show them my state. It was a great learning time for me. From that experience I knew that my life would be centered around people in some way. It got me ready for what was to come.
In 1978, I heard Kamasami Kong on the radio and he was having so much fun. I decided I wanted to do that. You see, in college I studied broadcasting, hoping to be a play-by-play sports announcer. I had a college radio show as well and played contemporary Hawaiian music for one hour. The signal only reached about one mile off campus, but the experience was an introduction to being ‘on the air.’
One day I answered an ad to be a radio jock at a local radio station, AM KIKI. They asked me if I had any experience, and I explained that I did a college radio show and for the last 10 years I talked to thousands of people in the tour business. The radio station said I needed more experience, and I asked how was I to get experience if they wouldn’t hire me? Then I said, I’ll work for free! And right then and there the general manager said I was ‘hired.’ I ended up being everyone’s gopher, did odd jobs, learned production, watched jocks do their shows and learned from them. Within a matter of six months I was working my own show once a week from midnight to 6 a.m. every Sunday. I was off and running …
GM: Did you have a mentor?
FS: J. Akuhead Pupule wasn’t a mentor of mine but while riding in the back of my dad’s ‘59 Chevy Impala on the way to school every day, Aku’s show caught my attention. What I remember the most was how I could hear the newspaper he was reading rustle pass his mic as he turned the pages. It was magic to me.
Later I came to know Bob Zix (Kamasami Kong). He was a huge star in Hawai‘I and his antics on the radio captured my imagination. Later, as a mentor, Bob started me on the journey of a lifetime in radio goofiness. We are friends still … some 35 years now. He’s a big media star in Tokyo, Japan these days.
GM: If you weren’t in broadcasting, what would you have done?
FS: I have no idea. Like painting, I threw everything into the ‘art of broadcasting’ and talking to people without seeing them for years. I was passionate about what I was doing, relating to people every morning, having fun and acting goofy and getting paid for it. I never thought of doing anything else. It paid the bills and more.
GM: How does art offer you a new/different “voice”… a voice beyond comedy and radio?
FS: Art is a very subjective form of communication. It’s like stand up comedy, what I believe to be funny some might think is not that funny at all. As in art, what I believe is interesting others might not think so.
I believe art should move the viewer emotionally. For example, my art is displayed at Assaggio (Ala Moana and Kahala), and one evening a waiter at the Ala Moana location told me that there had been a complaint about one of my paintings. He explained that a lady wouldn’t sit under this particular painting (a large 36”x48” black and white oil on canvas called Patent Pending) because it upset her and she couldn’t eat. So she asked to be moved to another table. I laughed for a moment and said, ‘That’s the best compliment I’ve had on my work so far!’
The painting was doing its job. Moving people and creating a kind of energy force. I guess to answer your question, painting lets me scream at the top of my lungs on canvas. It’s a personal expression for myself, and if people find it interesting or amusing … or even disturbing … well, there you have it.
GM: Without any formal art training, what is your process for learning?
FS: As soon as I paint a line or splash color onto a canvas, the learning starts. Each painting has a different form of life to it. The painting will tell you what steps to take, what kind of line or stroke of the brush to use. Then you make the next move. You follow that path and continue on. It’s very important to sit back and look at your work in progress. Stare at it for awhile, listen and observe. Sometimes the next day brings a whole new look to your work from the night before. Every painting is a new learning experience. I learn by doing.
GM: I know it’s difficult to describe, but can try to explain the connection between the disaster of 9/11 and your self expression with art?
FS: I’m not sure if 9/11 has had any impact on my painting, all I know is that it was on that day I started to push paint around. I’m not sure if the event of the day was the impetus that started me painting but that day was the day I picked up a paint brush and started this venture that has changed my life.
GM: What do you hope to share/express with your art?
FS: Not sure what the meaning is, all I know is that I paint every day and it goes deep into my na’au (gut). I look at my paintings like how some people like to scrapbook … each painting has a personal meaning to me. All my paintings are like my own children. When someone purchases a painting I demand that they send me a photo of it hanging on their wall … and that I can call them at least once a year.
GM: You’ve mentioned a few times that you’ve painted every day since 9/11. Why is your “daily paint” important to you?
FS: There is a lot going on in my head and at this point in time I’m trying to satisfy all aspects of my thinking by painting my thoughts.
GM: Is art a hobby and/or a revenue source?
FS: Neither, it’s a burden at times …
GM: We know that some of your time spent away from your art studio is spent with us … writing your column Frankly, As Always and joining our publisher Percy Ihara on the radio with the new Baby Boomer Show every Saturday. We’ve heard you say that you’re “not ready to be called a senior” … why not?
FS: ‘Cause I’m not ready to submit … to be called kupuna, senior … when you’re referred to in these terms people have a tendency to put you in a pigeon hole. I hate pigeons, they smell and are foul and they have become a pain to society and I don’t think I’m ready to be called that, so don’t ask me that question anymore. Let’s move on.
GM: In reading your past columns in Generations Magazine, you seem to be quite nostalgic. You seem to find value in the past … if so, does this play out in your art or thought process?
FS: No, my art is a spontaneous combustion. When it starts happening, and when the paint starts flowing, step aside because it flows like hot lava rushing, gushing and moving down the side of a steep volcano.
In regards to my column in Generations Magazine, I love to write and what better thing to write about than the past? It’s clear, it’s revealing, it’s comforting. Through writing you can find out a lot about society, how we live today and how we prepare for the future.
GM: Regarding The Baby Boomer Show, what do you hope to share with listeners by coming back to radio?
FS: I just love radio … and doing it once a week is fine right now. I’m not trying to make any statement. It’s a new canvas, different players now, different circumstances, different sound … and that’s a good thing.
GM: I know you love to golf, why?
FS: I love the game of golf. Golf is like life … Each hole represents a new day. What ever happened on the last hole — good or bad — we should learn from it. Take the good plays with you, and try to learn from the bad.
GM: What is a good day for you?
FS: Listening to the rain outside my screen door as I paint on a large canvas, stopping every once in awhile to listen to the rain pelt the giant leaves of the ‘ulu tree that stands just moments from my screen door. And in the background, Oscar Peterson playing jazz.
GM: Do you know what your next canvas art will be? Anything in the pipeline?
FS: Well, I’m starting to sense great emotion — pain, suffering, hope — large globs of paint, dark hues, shadows, heavy lines softened as they penetrate the light. I see light bouncing off collar bone. I see a tide rising like a cleansing, like bathing, like entering the ocean just off the Diamond Head side of Waikiki early in the morning … There is nothing like it. Ah, planet Earth — you got to love her! And I do… and so it is.
If you want to hear more from Frank, tune to AM 690 every Saturday at 4 p.m. His artwork is displayed at Assaggio Ristorante Italiano at the Kahala and Ala Moana locations.