Circus artwork by John Keeler

John’s mural in my Hawaii home

What’s a circus without colour? We have been most fortunate that costumes and clothes, props and posters, stage sets and signs, buildings and banners and even vehicles have been the canvas for the artwork of John Keeler. Luckily, unlike most artists, he didn’t need surfaces to be flat and could paint pretty much anything.

John never produced art on a large scale. He would attend juggling festivals carrying a cardboard box with his latest fantasy T shirt concepts and get mobbed as he entered the gym. His airbrush masterpieces would be gone in minutes, snatched up by eager collectors. At one time I had over forty different designs myself. You definitely could say I was one of his greatest fans.

Most of our Hawaii festival T shirt designs were created by John and it was no easy challenge for him to come with new ideas but they were always magnificent. Like many artists he had trouble working to a deadline but managed to get it to Spinning Dolphin printers in time each year. Hawaii fitted in beautifully with his favourite themes of dolphins, whales and tropical icons like coconut trees, waves and pineapples, and he indulged.

Whenever I could find any spare money I’d commission John to create banners for our various organisations and these colourful canvases became treasures. They were featured as backdrops to all our events and also served as flags and standards in parades.

Juggling was another passion of John’s and he was more than just competent, mastering five clubs and five bouncing balls. While not fond of being on the stage he never hesitated to juggle on the beach (usually naked) in parades (semi-naked) or at parties (naked later).

John attended our first Hawaiian Vaudeville Juggling Festival in 1985 and later became a member of Bellyacres. He was a consistent contributor to our shenanigans and his handiwork can be seen throughout the history of Bellyacres, Hawaii’s Volcano Circus and the HICCUP circus activities. We persuaded, or bribed him, to spread his artwork everywhere from logos to posters and from signage to vehicles.

Being a peacenik hippie it was never hard to persuade John to contribute his art for our Jugglers For Peace promotions, especially when we were able to grease his palms.

When I needed a sign painter to transform the HICCUP circus van and trailer into traveling billboards John was only too willing to oblige and his artwork became well known and admired throughout the islands, wherever our circus work took us.

When we needed props for shows we called on John to create his magic and well he did.

His canvas for our Malama I ke Kai and Malama Ka Aina community shows in 2003/4/5 included our whole stage set. Nothing ever seemed too big for him.

Our HICCUP shows never failed to impress audiences with incredible colourful outfits. Our young performers wore some of the best and brightest costumes, outside of Cirque Du Soleil – thanks to John.

Undoubtedly Johns artwork has provided Bellyacres and our circus projects with a lasting legacy which, along with his comedic quips and corny puns, will be remembered long after his clowning around fades into a distant dream………………………………….

Published by Graham Ellis

As a child of the '60's with a wanderlust spirit I just followed my dreams and opportunities as they arose. My journey took me to some of the brightest and darkest places imaginable. I met amazing people on the way, some were famous and some are infamous. Some are just great friends with stories that blended with mine as we traveled together on land, on the sea and in the sky. We all share the renegade spirit !

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