Category Archives: Urban Life

Trouble in Paradise: Street Art in Honolulu

We found this street art on a local newspaper box in the kinda gritty, kinda hipster Kaimuki neighborhood of Honolulu. It’s a further sign of continuing gentrification of this drab suburban patch on Oahu’s south shore. Truly, there’s trouble brewing in paradise. The opening of more high-quality third-wave expresso bars is only going to accelerate.

The Horror: Cash for Ukeleles

Smack in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, far, far away from any significantly large land mass or continent sit the Hawaiian Islands. This archipelago is a well-known paradise full of lush flora, beautiful beaches, dramatic mountain ranges, gorgeous waterfalls, volcanic landscapes and a warm, balmy climate where the water and air temperature are roughly equal year around. For better or worse, it’s a tourist mecca, but still a genuine paradise nonetheless.

Yet there’s a darker side.

It’s often overlooked that Hawaii is home to over a million people! A MILLION people hunkered down on a few small islands in the middle of the Pacific. That’s a million-plus humans planted on the most remote islands in the world! Most of these people are on the island of Oahu and its modern capital city Honolulu. There you’ll find all the features of a large metroplis — Freeways, skyscrapers, multi-level luxury shopping malls, and hipster-run third-wave coffee shops serving creative and obscure espresso-based beverages!

And like almost any major city there are homeless, crime, and some strata of economic misfortune. The last may be most visibly measured in the number of pawn shops in a city, easily spotted in the evening by cheap neon signage that cut right to the chase of the transaction terms.  

It’s a telling sign of contemporary Hawaiian culture when the pawn shop specifically says it offers cash for ukeleles, like the one pictured here in the Kaimuki neighborhood of Honolulu.

The iconic ukelele is Hawaii’s major modern contribution to the world of music and has become a symbol of its culture, even though it was invented in the 1800s and inspired by a Portuguese stringed instrument. Which makes it all the more poignant that there’s probably a person somewhere in Hawaii who is at this moment contemplating pawning their beloved uke so they can pay an unexpected medical bill or make their car payment. That neon sign, and the financial distress it implies, is in stark contrast to every popular image of America’s 50th state.

It’s paradise. But not for everyone, it seems.

Nostalgic Street Art Desperately Pines for ’80s NYC Cool

There’s a mini-era of years in the early 1980s in New York City when Andy Warhol, Grace Jones and Afrika Bambaata were each their own hot streak of underground influence and cultural relevance.

Warhol the uber-successful pop artist now in the latter part of his enormous career, as iconic himself with his shock of white hair as his Campbell’s Soup cans 20 years earlier.

Grace Jones, an androgynous alien born of art and post-disco club music, who was a Bond villain and a model.

Afrika Bambaataa, the genius behind one of early commercial hip-hop’s most influential, ground-breaking tunes, “Planet Rock,” and true pioneers of the genre from its Bronx roots through to the MTV music video era.

At the time, each was very much a product of NYC and helped define the look, style and sound far-reaching beyond its immediate place and time.

These are cultural heroes. In SoHo, downtown NYC, somebody ephemerally enshrined them as images on old, worn, black wooden door.

Ok, that’s cool.

But there’s something nostalgic about this. No doubt, the greatness and bona fides of these pop-cultural icons of cool is timeless and legit, and it’s great to know these influences and appreciate them, but the shrine feels like a momentary lapse of facile nostalgia, which, frankly, saddens us.

The Warhol-Jones-Bambaataa street art shrine feels suddenly like a cheap, all-too-easy artwork as wistful signifier of a deliriously idealized memory trigger of good times, of doing lines of coke at a SoHo loft party filled with downtown art-scene celebrities and a television showing MTV music videos with the sound turned down. A party where the DJ in the corner is playing Duran Duran records,  while the actual members of Duran Duran mingle with the actual Andy Warhol off to the side a few feet away. It feels like escape from the present and pining for a “better” time.

That’s sounds like it would have been a fun party. But we want to focus on the 2017, and we want new art to speak to the present and the future, even with all the scary, crazy political weirdness going on in America right now. In fact, we need to focus on the present and future BECAUSE of the all the scary, crazy political weirdness going on.

Ridiculously Instagram-Friendly Street Art by Kelsey Montague Causing Sidewalk Traffic Jams

The crowd of people snapping pix on the sidewalk along fashionable Abbot Kinney Blvd in Venice, in Los Angeles, seem for a moment like the scrum of paparazzi feasting on the presence of a mid-level Kardashian exiting the Chateau Marmont Hotel on a tipsy Friday night. But this is not the case.

All these folks, with their iPhones held aloft, dangerously stepping backward a few paces into the street and the path of oncoming vehicles, holding up sidewalk foot traffic, are taking pix of a piece of hyper-Instagramable street art by the artist Kelsey Montague. The artwork is beautiful and worth the pic, for sure.

Part of its appeal though is less aesthetic and more for the pure visual gimmick. For many, the allure is to be photographed standing in front of the artwork, positioned carefully between the two “wings.” So it looks like they have wings! Get it? Aaaaahh! So cuuuuuuuuuuuute!

The flow of moneyed (and/or credit-card debt laden) hipsters and tourists navigating the narrow pavement on this stretch of Abbot Kinney slows to a crawl as people pause to take photos or try to not accidentally photo-bomb somebody’s pic by walking into frame. There’s a bit of polite if determined jostling that goes on. It amounts to a kind of ephemeral, accidental choreography that, coupled with all the casual apologies, can be more mesmerizing to view than the artwork itself.

Meanwhile, cars slow down on the already tortoise-paced boulevard. Somebody driving by in a douchey banana-yellow Porsche 911 convertible audibly laments about “Fucking Millennials!” and a 30-something couple pushing a double-wide Bugaboo baby stroller, frustrated but sheepish, try their best to thread their way through the masses on the sidewalk.

The mural is in keeping with a series of “What Lifts You”  (#whatliftsyou, of course) paintings of butterfly-like wings Montague has been creating for years on walls all over the world. It’s become the thing she’s known for.

These detailed paintings are comprised largely of imagery drawn from the natural world, an assortment of flowers and leaves fashioned into the shape of wings. On the streetscape, it adds a wonderful touch of beauty and whimsy, turning yet another small patch of the world into an Instagram set piece.

(By the way, if you’re wondering how there’s nobody in the photo above, we took our pic on a slow Monday evening in the hot nano-sec between passersby. Luck. #blessed AF!)