Local Series: Local Artist Aloha de Mele
My name is JT Ojerio and I am the artist behind Aloha de Mele! I’m super excited to share with you some of my favorite spots around Oahu. But before we get started, here’s a summary of Aloha de Mele.
I’m a local girl, born and raised here on the beautiful island of Oahu. I grew up mostly in central Oahu with family from the west side and the Big Island. In 2009 I left for college in Colorado, then onto grad school in Chicago in 2014 for my MS in Exercise Physiology and Pain Medicine. I eventually made my way back home in March of 2019 along with my best friend, my dog Mele, at my side. When I talk about my artist’s journey, the best ice breaker is revealing that I have no background in art whatsoever. I was not an artsy child growing up and spent most of my free time on the wrestling mat or at judo practice. My artist journey began just by chance at the end of December of 2017 when I started to sketch after I got bored during my recovery from hip surgery. Even though I fell in love with the process of drawing, I still continued on working as a personal trainer and full-time exercise physiologist for about 1.5 more years, only drawing on the side as stress relief. When COVID hit in March 2020, I decided to try selling some artwork for extra cash and one thing led to another and now we’re here!
What inspires my art is my love for Hawaii, florals, good vibes, and “mana wāhine” aka women of strong spirit, energy, and inner strength. Although much of my artwork includes bright beautiful flowers, my favorite pieces to created are black and white portraits of native women with an element of nature in it. Nature could be anything from the ocean, to leaves, to the crowd favorite a lei po’o or flower crown.
Lastly, before we get to the good stuff to do on Oahu, how I chose the name Aloha de Mele. Since I had never done art before, when I first started sharing my work my friends and family had a hard time believing that I actually drew the pieces. A friend of mine joked that I was lying, and my dog made them and so I decided to say that this was just some aloha (happiness) from Mele or some Aloha de Mele.
Speaking of Mele, I love taking him to the beach and one of my favorite beaches is Yokohama Bay/Keawaula Beach or as the locals call it, “Yokes”. Yokes in at the western most point of Oahu, at the literal end of the road. It’s known for being secluded, crystal clear, and in my personal opinion having the most beautiful sunsets on the island. Yokohama is also known for a big shore break so be cautious when entering the water and remember to never turn your back to the ocean.
If driving all the way west isn’t in your itinerary or you’re looking for a bit of a workout, I recommend checking out Makapu’u Tidepools near the eastern tip of Oahu. On arrival, you’ll start up the paved path that leads to the lighthouse. However, before you get there, there will be a break in the wall that leads down a sheer rocky cliff to these gorgeous tide pools. The tide pools are absolutely beautiful, crystal clear, and the endless ocean view is amazing. If you have time bring some lunch and chill on the rocks as you watch the waves crash and the blowholes at full glory. I’ve learned the hard way that the key things to enjoying the tide pools are: WEAR SHOES, pack an extra pair of socks, bring water, and use reef safe sunscreen. The tidepools are definitely a bit of a journey but 200% worth it.
Woah, even just talking about the Makapu’u Tidepools makes me hungry so let’s move onto the ono grindz aka “delicious food”.
Many would say that Hawaii is synonymous with the lovely spam musubi, which is pretty accurate considering the dish is tied to our history. Our obsession with spam stems from war time rations during WWII. Canned spam was a reliable source of food that did not need to be refrigerated and lasts basically forever. The word “musubi” is Japanese for a ball of rice covered with nori aka dried seaweed. Hawaii is such a mixing pot of cultures, particularly Japanese culture, and combining the spam with rice and nori became a norm during the war and carried on though the generations. There’s some debate about which place has the best spam musubi but my personal favorite is surprisingly ones from 7-Eleven stores.
Another great spot that’s close to Shoreline Hotel Waikiki is Duke’s Waikiki. Everything on the menu there is good, but the restaurant is known for their signature Mai Tai. There are many ways to craft a Mai Tai but Duke’s secret is using POG in the mix. POG is short for the uber popular Passion Orange Guava drink flavor in Hawaii and I love how Duke’s incorporates it to give their Mai Tai a local twist.
One of the perks of living in Hawaii is having an eternal summer and needing only one season of clothing. If you’re short a bikini I’d recommend heading to South Shore Marketplace in Kaka’ako and picking something up from Issa de Mar. The bikini brand was started in Hawaii and we love supporting local businesses. Right across from Issa de Mar’s shop is Kealopiko, a local brand that prides themselves on dyeing their fabrics and screen printing all of their clothes and home goods here in the islands.
For cute home pieces or gifts to bring back home, Aloha Home Market by Danielle Scherman in Kailua is the place to go, and I’m not just saying that because I sell my prints there. From jewelry to dog treats, banana bread and custom art pieces, everything at this farmers market is locally made. If all else fails, just going to the beach and relaxing is equally as fun.
Aloha a hui hou mālama pono!
-JT + Mele