Catherine’s oils record historic changes on Kilauea

When I began painting Kilauea in 2008, I never imagined that the landscapes I was painting would disappear in my lifetime, rendering my oils archival records of the past.

Before the 2018 historic eruption . . .

Kilauea lies in relative repose on Mauna Loa’s flanks. Dazzling glow illuminates a single gas plume, reflecting lava in motion inside Halemaʻumaʻu. Pele’s Realm (2016)

Back then, Kilauea’s summit area hadn’t changed much in almost a hundred years—until a glowing vent opened on the floor of Halemaʻumaʻu crater in 2008. Over time, the vent enlarged and the rising molten lava painted its gas clouds in a crimson hue. The swirling gases and dancing colors on the crater walls were phenomena that awed everyone who saw them—including me. Occasionally, the lava level rose so high that it spilled onto the crater floor! That new face of Kilauea became the inspiration for many of my paintings.

Halema‘uma‘u’s gas plume – a traditional manifestation of Pele – is carried on steady trade winds. Halemaʻumaʻu (2009)

In May 2018, a 6.9 magnitude earthquake shook the island of Hawaiʻi, the state’s largest quake in forty-three years. My husband Tom and I watched as vehicles bounced on Hilo streets and utility poles swayed, and we headed for home, three miles from the summit of Kilauea, wondering if our house was still standing. Thus began our three-month adventure bearing witness—in our constantly earthquake-shaking house—to a historic eruption of Kilauea and ultimately the 1600-foot collapse of Halemaʻumaʻu’s floor!

After the 2018 eruption and caldera collapse . . .

I was stunned and inspired by the starkly revealed power of nature as I gazed into Halemaʻumaʻu crater’s post-eruption visage. Eternal Change (2020)

Gases from the new, deep crater were illuminated in the dawn light. Elemental (2019)

A collapsed ledge, formerly caldera floor, is visible beyond the broken edge of the old caldera. (In October 2022, this vast ledge is poised to be covered with new lava and forever hidden from view!) The Cliffs of Halemaʻumaʻu (2020).

Deepening—Song for Pele (2020) reveals the water lake that appeared in the bottom of Halemaʻumaʻu in 2019, one year after the beginning of the historic eruption. The lake deepened and enlarged over time.

During the 2020-2022 formation of a new lava lake . . .

In December 2020, earth temblors shook Tom and me awake and we quickly made our way to the caldera’s edge where a new phase of the eruption had started. Lava was pouring out of the crater walls and into the lake!

Orange glow infused the gases as the water lake vaporized (left photo). Awash in the steamy glow of this new eruption, I was mesmerized at this magnificent display of Pele and nature’s power (right photo).

Halemaʻumaʻu’s deep chasm continued to fill with lava, and in the fall of 2022 the new lava lake was more than a thousand feet deep! Buried under hundreds of feet of new lava were the precipitous walls that had marked the crater’s collapse and the distinctive fallen ledges that had formerly been the old caldera floor.

A near constant flow of lava into the crater since late 2019 created an ever-deepening and expanding lava lake that continues to reshape Kilauea. Just Before Dawn (2022)

It’s humbling to live and work on an active volcano. I often feel vulnerable. Small. Definitely not in control. And those feelings have informed and deepened my relationship to life and art. Before I paint, I quiet my mind and let go of all that’s familiar—expectations, plans, thoughts, feelings. I sense my subject, and Qigong and meditation open the door to my color selection and composition. A still mind and patience are key as is letting go of “I” and control.

Art for me is a bridge to seeing and sensing our wondrous world of light and color, a way of perceiving that I call “see-sensing.” Through quiet and stillness, I connect with that rhythm as each brushstroke reveals the light and life of the painting.

Just Before Dawn receives the final knife strokes of oil paint.

To view enlarged images of my paintings, please visit my website painting gallery. Enjoy!

For a memorable, photo-rich virtual adventure through the two most recent Kilauea eruptions, visit my husband Tom Peek’s eruption blog posts Kilauea erupts! Pele returns to the summit! and Kilauea erupts again! Summit lava lake grows!

Art scans by Hilo Fine Art Center and photos by Tom Peek.

October 2022