Article in Hand/Eye Magazine

Posted on May 11, 2012
Article in Hand/Eye Magazine

Leslie Mehren wrote a great article this month about Keith and I in Hand/Eye Magazine.
Link to article in HAND/EYE Magazine or read it below…
Mahalo Leslie!

Provocative Hawai’ian

BY Leslie Mehren | May 3, 2012

Keith Tallett and Sally Lundburg are two vibrant Hawai’ian artists whose life and work gracefully intertwine. Partners in the truest sense of the word, they maintain individual styles and influences, yet create from a confluence of shared experiences and constant dialogue. Although both artists reference Hawai’ian culture in their art, they shun the notion of being relevant in a merely regional context. They prefer to see themselves as part of the larger conversation surrounding contemporary art while relating to issues that are particularly relevant to Hawai’i today.

Citing artists such as Georgia O’Keeffe and Donald Judd, who fled urban life for distant locales in the American west, the couple found the freedom to continue their art practice in the remote calm of a Big Island farmhouse. After years of living in San Francisco, earning degrees at the San Francisco Art Institute and participating in a lively arts community, they chose to return to Hawai’i before the birth of their daughter, Kia’i. It wasn’t just the surfing that brought them home. They knew they were building a future and could strike the right balance for their careers.

Both artists agree that Keith’s work is the more overtly Hawai’ian, with its inclusion of Polynesian tattoo patterns, tiki imagery and pidgin words emblazoned across tropical fruits and flowers. Keith blatantly challenges the notion of what it means to call something Hawai’ian, even something as seemingly innocuous as a guava fruit. The ubiquitous guava is not indigenous to Hawai’i, but was imported and allowed to become an invasive species on the islands. To Keith, it represents the kind of falsified culture imposed on Hawai’i by outside influences and assumed to be authentic. The image of a guava inked with Gothic pidgin slang could easily be interpreted as a self-portrait, a reflection on the artist’s own struggle with his identity and the terms that others try to pin on him.

As both a practicing Polynesian tattoo artist and a second-generation surfboard shaper, Keith is reviving awareness of Hawai’i’s diverse art traditions. He recently began handcarving traditional surfboards, called papahe’enalu, from native woods. Last year he was awarded a Cultural Apprenticeship Grant from the Folk Art Program of the Hawai’i State Foundation on Culture and the Arts. This grant will enable him to study with Tom Pohaku Keali’iahonui Stone in a project titled Pae Ka Nalu – Traditional Wood Board Building. “I’d been building boards from all kinds of materials,” said Keith, “including stuff that was going to the dump and things from Home Depot.” Some people questioned whether those boards could really be considered papahe’enalu, but for Keith it was all valid in the context of advancing the craft.

Defining Keith’s artwork in formal terms is nearly as tricky as inking a ripe guava. His painting, sculpture and iconography have evolved over the last two decades into an amalgam of Hawai’ian culture packaged with razor-edged wit and conceptual art theory. Observing contemporary life and paying homage to his roots, Keith straddles two distinct worlds with complete ease. No matter if he is shaping a surfboard, executing an intricate tattoo design, or patterning a series of canvases with layered tire treads, his work is on-point, articulate and original.

If there is a meeting point for the two artists, it is in their willingness to adopt new materials and methods to meet their needs. Sally’s focus began with photography, film and video, but she has migrated into installation work, including wood logs and nests of twine and branches into her piece titled “the disappearing place” at the 2012 Biennial of Hawai’i Artists at Oahu’s Honolulu Museum of Art. For that groundbreaking installation, Sally received the Ellen Choy Craig Award, which is given annually to an Hawai’ian artist of exceptional merit. “Sally is fearless,” says Keith. “She has an idea, attacks it and if it fails she still makes something good come from it.”

Hawai’i’s richly layered ecosystem inspired Sally’s series, “Epiphytes and Invasives.” The series examines parallels between the social development of post-contact Hawai’i and processes of adaptation in nature. Epiphytes, plants that grow on other plants, abound in rainforests, as can non-native species when left unchecked. Immigrants and natives, invaders and adapters, all run through Sally’s imagery. The intersection of diverse lifeforms melds with a poetic compassion and a documentarian’s eye for human experience and storytelling.

Keith and Sally collaborate as half of an arts collective called AGGROculture. Together with artists Margo Ray and Scott Yoell, they are showcasing urgent issues like the recent conflict between APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) trade liberalization and local land use rights. AGGROculture embraces art’s ability to provoke and inspire, which is not what people normally expect from the paradise of Hawai’i, but it is what you’d expect from two of Hawai’i’s most provocative young artists.