Keith is honored to be included in the June edition of Ka Wai Ola – the monthly newspaper published by the The Office of Hawaii Affairs (OHA). Mahalo to Mary Alice Ka’iulani Milham for writing the article! Learn more about OHA at their website – http://www.oha.org/ Link to the article online here – http://www.oha.org/ka-wai-ola/iune-2013 – or read it below!
Stretching the Bounds of Contemporary Art
by Mary Alice Ka’iulani Milham
Growing up in Hilo, Big Island artist Keith Tallett never thought much of the recycled surfboards he helped his dad make. “Why couldn’t he just go buy one?” he wondered. But that early hands-on experience was a profound influence in the life of the artist Tallett has become. Today, his mixed media creations -paintings, drawings, photography and sculpture- are on the cutting edge of contemporary Hawaiian art.
“His work offers a fresh take on Maoli art and is a major leap forward not only for contemporary Maoli art in Hawai‘i, but also for contemporary art in general in Hawai‘i.” says fellow artist and gallery owner Drew Broderick.
In February, Tallett was one of 25 artists nationwide honored with a 2012 Joan Mitchell Foundation Painters and Sculptors Grant. Made to encourage contemporary artists, the $25,ooo grants are based on nominations. The award has allowed him to quit one of his three jobs and cut back his hours at another to spend more time making art.
At 43, Tallett is coming into his own as an artist, melding his life experience and cultural inheritance with the artistic sensibilities instilled in graduate school at San Francisco’s Art Institute.
“The voices of professors critiquing me are gone and I can just soak everything in, I guess,” says Tallett, who lives with his wife, Sally, and daughter Kia‘i in a home he helped restore on his mother-in-law’s 5-acre farm in Pa‘auilo.
The practical reason for moving home to Hawai‘i Island a decade ago was the birth of his daughter and the desire to raise her in the environment he and Sally grew up in. Retreating into the relative isolation of Hämäkua also allowed him to stretch his wings. “Here, it’s like, there’s no major art scene. So it’s kind of nice. because you’re free to explore art in your own way,” Tallett says.
In addition to crafting traditional wooden surfboards (papa he‘enalu), he uses surfboard materials – fiberglass, resin and bright colored spray paint – in his art to create a slick look that draws viewers in.
Tallett says he first became aware of what it is to be “Polynesian” in the early ’90s when he spent time, between earning his bachelor’s degree and starting graduate school, in Western Samoa, the Cook Islands and Fiji. Living with a Western Samoan family for two months, he was as indelibly marked by the simplicity and self-reliance of the people he encountered as he was fascinated by the pervasive tattoo culture they shared. So much so, in fact, that he almost made a career of it.
In the end, grad school won out, but his interest in tattooing didn’t die. He began practicing the art while still in school and later studied under Tricia Allen, the renowned traditional Polynesian tattoo artist. Eventually, this interest evolved into such provocative creations as a banana tattooed with Pidgin in bold black lettering.
“I guess life experience and culture experience, for me, is like a big thing in my work,” says Tallett. But it’s the ideas behind the art that fuel Tallett’s creations; things like the duality evident in bumper stickers that say, “Welcome To Hawai‘i, Now Go Home.”
“It’s kind of like a weird mixed message. And I think that’s the other part, that angst part of like, we need this but then we really don’t’ want it, you know?” says Tallett. “I think that’s the thing with artwork … making something shouldn’t solve anything it’s just bringing up more questions.”
A founding member AGGROculture, a Hawai‘i-based art collective creating, showcasing and promoting cutting edge and challenging concepts in contemporary art, he’s currently working on pieces, re-conceptualizing Hawaiian flags and images Mauna Kea, for his upcoming show at SPF Projects in Kakaako. The show, his first solo show, runs June 13 – July 14 at SPF Projects at 729 Auahi St. in Kakaako, with an opening reception Thurs,. June 13, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
For the official press release about the show – http://keithtallett.com/militia-at-spf-projects/