About Dietrich Varez

Dietrich Varez remains one of the best-known artists on the Big Island, famous for his vibrantly colored, uniquely stylized paintings, block prints and book illustrations that often celebrate ancient Hawaiian myths and legends. He was especially fond of the legends of the Volcano Goddess Pele, and has portrayed her numerous times in his works.

Dietrich worked for decades with complex block prints whose templates are carefully hand-carved out of linoleum. Linoleum is probably best known for its use in 1950s and ’60s’ vintage flooring. It’s not easy to get—Varez had to get it from a factory in his native Germany—but it allowed him to carve his master plates with incredible precision, creating lines so thin they could have been drawn with a fine-point pen.  “I can get all the detailing out of it that I want.”

Varez was born in Germany in the midst of World War II.  His father did not survive the war.   His mother met and married an American GI during the occupation of Germany, and she and Dietrich went with him to Hawai‘i after the his tour of duty ended.

“I went from Hell to Heaven,” he said. “Hawai‘i is my salvation, and I’m trying to pay it back for all it’s given me and still is giving yet.”

In 1968, he moved to Volcano, built a cabin there, and began tending bar at Volcano House. “I would make wood carvings of Pele and stand them on the bar as I worked there. The carvings, cut from firewood, sold well enough to encourage his career as an artist. But a big breakthrough happened when he rolled one of those carvings in ink, pressed it against paper and made his first print. He took some prints across the street from Volcano House to Volcano Art Center. They sold, and he was encouraged to make and sell more.

He’d always been fascinated with the legends of Pele, and they proved rich subjects for his art. Some of his favorites were the ones about the relationships of Pele with the island’s plants, such as the ‘ohelo berry, which is one of her favorite offerings. “You’re not supposed to eat ‘ohelo berries until you first toss a few over your shoulder or in the direction of the crater for Madame Pele.”

 Because his stories and artwork were carefully researched and respectful—and because he shared them freely with members of the Hawaiian community, he kept good relationships with them: “In all the time I’ve been here Hawaiians have never objected to them,” he maintained.

That same generosity he admitted, caused some friction with the “art world.” Varez refused to issue limited editions of his works or to destroy his master plates after a certain number of copies, as many artists do to maintain their value. His prints are still priced to sell to everyone.

“There are three things that go into a work of art. One is the materials, another is time, and the third is the vanity that you invested in it, he says. “I’ve thrown out the vanity.”

Our beloved Dietrich passed away on August 14. 2018. His spirit lives on within every heart that has ever, and will ever enjoy his very special artworks.