Junk is fodder for duo's art


POSTED: Friday, May 01, 2009

Those looking to succeed in the new order of resourcefulness and economy can look to two local artists for their lead.





        Part of the “;art@town”; series featuring the work of local artists

» Where: town, 3435 Waialae Ave.


» When: 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays, through June 6


» Cost: Free


» Info: 735-5900 or visit www.townkaimuki.com




A joint art show by Maikai Tubbs and Otto, “;repurpose,”; on display at town restaurant, presents their perspectives on materialism, waste and reuse.

“;I like to use things that normally would be trashed,”; says Otto, whose pieces at town include paintings of killer ants and sculptures of orbs. “;People like to buy something that 'looks cute,' but when it gets old and isn't cute anymore, they throw it out. I like to recycle things in my art and give it another life.

“;You can papier-mache almost anything and make it your own,”; he continues. “;I usually use layers of newspaper to cover old canvases ... and they become brand new.”;

Tubbs says he's been “;a junk collector for as long as I know.”; It's a habit he believes is rooted in the thrifty values of his Chinese grandmother.

“;My Nana is always saving stuff. You know those slabs of wood from the kamaboko? She keeps all of those. She says we could use them as bookmarks,”; he says with a hearty laugh. “;And she's into containers. Coffee cans: saved. Mayonnaise jars: saved. My Nana has like five typewriter stands—which she piles more junk on. Sometimes when she's cooking, my auntie (tries to get rid) of things ... but if Nana sees her stuff at Goodwill or Salvation Army, she buys it back!”;

Tubbs says he's taken to raiding not only Nana's stash, but the trash bin at his apartment building as well.

“;I'm constantly thinking about what material would fit a specific theme—it's like a mathematical equation. The material itself lends a message,”; he says. “;Found stuff comes with a personal history, and it's fun to add to that: what the intent was, what it is now.”;

Tubbs' work at town includes colored plastic utensils melted and re-formed into pretty floral wall sculptures. He says the pieces are based on the wood-rose vine, an invasive plant in Hawaii popular with people interested in decorating.

“;This plant is pretty, but it takes over everything, killing things around it,”; he says.

The pieces are in character with his usual style. His works, he says, look attractive on the surface, but they usually possess a darker undertone if people examine them more closely.

There's irony, for instance, in the fact that the plastic sculptures are exhibiting in town, a venue committed to environmentalism.

“;They're such a green business, and I brought plastic into their restaurant,”; he says, laughing again. “;They (speak to) the abundance of plastic we have going on.”;

BOTH ARTISTS have vibrant, versatile careers in the arts. Tubbs, who teaches, installs exhibits and organizes Family Sunday at the Honolulu Academy of Arts, graduated in 2002 with a BFA in painting from the University of Hawaii. He's worked as a floor designer at a furniture store, a mannequin dresser at a clothing store and even co-owned a gallery with six friends for a few years (Lodestar in Kailua).

Otto (who, like many artists, goes by one name) has his hand in multiple artistic endeavors. Not only is he noted for his visual art, he's known on the night-life scene as bass player for the popular band 86List. The opportunity for that gig came when Otto was ... a baker of cheesecake.

“;I made my first cheesecake around January 2000 for my mom's birthday,”; he recalls. “;She loves cheesecake so much she had them flown in from a bakery in Denver. So I thought it would be the perfect gift.”;

Otto spent a day in a bookstore looking up recipes from various cookbooks and creating his own, narrowed down to four basic ingredients. The main goal, he says, was to make a cheesecake that “;when eaten blindfolded, a person would know they were eating cheesecake.”;

The result was a hit not only with Mom, but with various cafes around town, and Otto had a thriving business as a baker. During that time, Radio Free Hawaii was still on the airwaves, and Otto advertised his cheesecakes on the air with a musical commercial. That song was voted in as a listener favorite, which led to Otto dropping off a cheesecake at the station. That resulted in an offer to play bass in a band with one of the on-air staff.

“;It was like, 'Do you play bass?' 'No.' 'Wanna be in the band?' That was 12 years ago,”; says Otto. “;86List is on its fifth CD, and we recently played Pipeline to open for Flogging Molly and here at town for the opening of this show.”;

86List also toured California recently. For Otto, playing music comes in addition to his visual art, deejay and butoh-dancing pursuits. He's also been lauded for his theater performances over the years as Hedwig, in the musical “;Hedwig and the Angry Inch.”;

Coming up next: restarting Zine Fest in Hawaii, more cheesecake via a new bakery venture and producing the first Hawaii Underground Music Awards in October.

“;It'll have everything an awards show has. There will be a red carpet and performers arriving in limos. Everyone will donate their time, and the show is a 100 percent donation to the academy,”; he says. Otto's day job is at the HAA cafe.

The million-dollar question: How did this guy end up with his fingers in so many artistic pots?

“;Most of it has not been my choice,”; he confides. “;I have a hard time saying no.”;

But could this flaw be, in fact, the secret to success?

“;I'm just like Otto,”; Tubbs chimes in. “;I always say yes. My view is that it's always an opportunity. The motivating factor is to keep doing art.”;