- Chef Sam Choy
- 10 Years of Aloha
When I painted "Tiki Cat" I set out to paint the ultimate "low-brow" or "kitschy" piece of "Hawaiiana Tiki-Art".
Research showed the first art pieces called "kitsch" were made in Munich Germany in the 1860's - 1870's. One of the earliest is a lithograph by Frederick Dielman called "The Widow", it depicts a cat wearing a ruffled collar. The Idea for "Tiki Cat" was born: A cat …wearing an Aloha Shirt, playing the ukulele, standing on Waikiki beach, diamond head in the sunset colored background. A Tiki-Mug / exotic-tropical-drink before it, and a jungle-green lighted Tiki behind it. "Tiki Cat's" posed in a classical composition. I carefully figured out glamorous Hollywood lighting. Then came the hardest part - the months of slow exact rendering down to every whisker and grain of sand. I wanted this cartoon character to be as perfectly rendered as I could manage. Time was no object. Dollar per hour was not a consideration… much to my agent's horror. All that mattered was that this was going to be an important painting. The best "souvenir - tourist - Hawaiiana Tiki-Art" I could possibly make. Ten to 14 hours a day, I toiled… for days… for weeks… Three months later I was still painting.
One morning I got up… stumbled into the studio… looked at the cartoon cat still unfinished... and I was overcome by a wave of cold fear.
"What am I dong?" I gasped.
It's just a picture of a cartoon cat… and I'm spending my whole life painting it.
"This is crazy!" I muttered.
I stared at the cat. It was strange, bizarre, but beautiful… Then it struck me. If this piece of art scares me, then it must have risen from mere "tourist kitsch" to the lofty realm of "Real Fine Art". Like it, or hate it, this cat was so exactly rendered you could not help but stare at it.
"It's just a cartoon.. but it's ART!"
This is the essence of "Low-Brow Art". Happily, I picked up the brush and one month later I was finally done.
This painting is my best selling image. I can well imagine that long after I am gone "Tiki Cat" will still be selling in tourist shops all over Hawaii, just as I had hoped. I had touched the mutual fabric of our Hawaiian tourist / souvenir pop-culture" … if I'm lucky, maybe forever.
Side note; on close inspection you see a faint "death head skull" in Tiki Cat's eye. Why? My own cat saw herself as the "Alpha Predator", aka the "Killer Jungle Queen of her Paradise". Thus in all house cat's eyes, if you look close… in it is a reflection of that ancestor of the deadly jungle hunter. It's in a cat's nature. Robert Williams ( the father of Low-Brow Art ) once said; "All that is keeping you from being lunch for the sweetest house cat is your size."