Big Mahalos to Innov8 magazine and writer Sonny Ganaden for including Keith in “Art in Bloom”, the series of articles on Hawai’i artists in the the March/April 2013 issue of Innov8 (GO! Airline’s inflight magazine). Check out the article “Tropical Expressionism: Big Island Artist Keith Tallett“, by Sonny Ganaden at their website in volume 23, page 32 here: http://www.innov8magazine.com/innov8-viewer.html. Or read it below!
by Sonny Ganaden
WHEN HAWAI’I ISLAND ARTIST KEITH TALLETT WAS NOTIFIED HE WAS TO BE AWARDED A NATIONAL GRANT TO SUPPORT HIS WORK, IT COULD NOT HAvE COME AT A BETTER TIME. “I WAS IN SHOCK ACTUALLY,” THE MULTIMEDIA ARTIST SAYS OF RECEIVING A JOAN MITCHELL FOUNDATION GRANT, AN ANNUAL AWARD NAMED IN HONOR OF THE INFLUENTIAL NEW YORK ABSTRACT EXPRESSIONIST. “I’M SURPRISED BY HOW MANY PEOPLE KNOW ABOUT IT NOW TOO. I’VE BEEN WORKING AS A SKILLS TRAINER FOR KIDS WITH AUTISM, AND WHEN I WAS IN THE SCHOOL CAFETERIA LAST WEEK, A GUY SAID, ‘THAT’S YOU AH, IN DA PEPAH. NICE AH YOUR ART.”
From Hilo public schools to national contemporary art circles, Tallett’s art has been getting attention everywhere. Like many Hawai’i artists, Tallett has made personal sacrifices for his calling. He spent years as an instructor at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo, and, along with his wife and fellow contemporary artist Sally Lundburg, organizes and works with a cooperative of artists called AGGROCulture.
“I’m a maker,” Tallett says of his process. “That’s my roots, growing up outside of Hilo. My mother’s side was plantation workers. They made all sorts of crazy items like quilts – anything they couldn’t buy, they made. My dad makes surfboards. That’s how I got into painting. I picked up creativity through osmosis.” For a series titled “Tattooed Williams” (named after a type of banana that is ubiquitous in the islands), Tallett took organic items that would ordinarily start rotting in the tropical understory of his Pa‘auilo home, spent hours tattooing them with local phrases, and then photographed the work at their moment of decay. The resulting images are works of staggering beauty. “It’s about assimilating into a culture with tattoos you see everywhere now,” he says of the series. “But it’s also about the ephemeral nature of everything. We put all this baggage on ourselves and on others. In the end, it goes away, but it was still worth it.”
With the Joan Mitchell award, Tallett will be able to continue to interrogate the motifs of himelf and his community, underwritten for at least another year. “Right now I’m working on a series on camouflage,” he says. “I see it everywhere out here in the country. I go to the gas station, and there’s a guy wearing four types of camouflage, and his buddy has three types. I’m like, ‘Wow that’s a piece right there.’” He is also working on images of Hawaiian flags, both the present state flag, which has been in use since 1845, and the Kanaka Maoli flag, which has become a symbol of the Native Hawaiian sovereignty movement.
For Tallett and his family, getting national recognition validates a life of creativity. “The biggest struggle for Hawai‘i artists is, ‘How do we get out of Hawai‘i?’ For me, to get this national nod feels amazing. It confirmed my decision to make art in Hawai‘i. It gave me the confidence to take a chance with my materials and ideas.”