Star-Bulletin Features

Friday, April 27, 2001

Artist and designer Eddie Y uses a sand painting
technique for his projects.

Big Island artist
Eddie Y likes to
cut to the chase

By Tim Ryan

THERE'S THIS STORY about Big Island-based artist Eddie Y that he won't confirm or deny. On his 20-acre Hamakua Coast property in Laupahoehoe, at what he calls "The Pond" because of its natural waterfall, the Tokyo-born, University of Hawai'i at Manoa fine arts grad has a charcoal-fueled barbecue grill. And next to it is a device that looks a lot like, well, a flame thrower.

See, the mile-a-minute, here-today, gone tomorrow Y doesn't have a lot of patience when he knows he can speed things up a bit.

So after he fills the kettle with charcoal, as natural as someone might strike a match, Y fires up the flame thrower, spraying the coals with blazing heat until a minute later they're coated white and ready to use.


What: "An Evening of Fine Art & Fun" with artist Eddie Y
Place:: Island Art Galleries, 1 Aloha Tower Drive
Time: 6 to 10 p.m. today
Call: 536-5369
Also: Special guest Henry Kapono

Now, that may not have a lot to do with Y's art, but it provides a clue as to how quickly he wants to get things done.

Y, a graphic artist turned aloha-shirt designer and portraitist, is a former vice president of merchandizing for Hobie and OP Apparel, and has done hundreds of posters -- including four Merrie Monarch images from 1997-2000 -- and album covers for groups like Kalapana.

Y, who began abbreviating his last name years ago because it sounds cooler than his birthname, Yamamoto will have his first major gallery show in Hawaii at Aloha Tower Marketplace's Island Art Galleries from 6 to10 p.m. today.

He'll display for the first time his sand-and-pencil drawings depicting the ancient hula in various Hawaii settings. Other art displayed for sale will include Y's original art work for the Merrie Monarch posters and a year 2000 poster he did for the Waimanalo Health Center for which all proceeds from the sale will go the organization.

It took Y, 48, some three years to perfect his technique for the monochromatic sand paintings, a mixed medium using a colored pencil, acrylic paint, "layers and layers" of color similar to glazing technique, and sand laminated to a board.

Artist and designer Eddie Y with one of his
sand paintings.

Y also has been the official artist for several PGA golf tournaments in Hawaii and the 1994 and 1995 Ironman Triathlon World Championship in Kona.

He describes his sand paintings -- some as large as 20 by 30 inches -- featuring Polynesian models as "a Gauguin type of trip."

If you don't think you've ever seen Y's work, think again. For several years he's designed as many as four aloha shirt patterns a year for Reyn Spooner that sell close to $80 apiece. The designs reflect surfing, old cars, guitars, ukuleles.

"I'm a lifestyle artist," Y says.

His designs are also the inspiration for a line of merchandise from Island Heritage that include memo pads, greeting cards, picture frames, clocks, key chains, the list goes on.

Y moved to Hawaii from Japan at age 14 after a three-month visit with a rich aunt and uncle a few years earlier, and he has never looked back.

"I was 10 years old that first trip and I couldn't believe how beautiful this place was, that kids went to school barefoot, and everyone drove big cars," Y said. "I never wanted to return to Japan so when I finished junior high ... I begged my auntie to bring me to Hawaii to learn English."

During his college days, Y earned money painting signs and doing posters, while questioning his instructors' lessons and their artistic credibility.

Y's breakthrough came in 1976 when he hooked up with music promoter Tom Moffatt and designed the 104-foot long, 8-foot high barrier/poster fronting the Aloha Stadium stage for the Kalapana and Cecelio & Kapono concert. He also designed the art work for Kalapana's second album.

Then the lure of money and notoriety lured him to Southern California where he designed T-shirts for several major companies before Hobie hired him. For years, Y commuted every other month between L.A. and the Big Island, spending 30 days in each location. He helped Hobie rack up $30 million in annual sales, introducing silk-screened T-shirts to the Midwest and South.

"All these rednecks who didn't even know what a surfboard looked like were wearing Hobie shirts," Y said.

In 1992, he decided to cut his ties to L.A. and make a go of it here.

"Right now my favorite art is drawing women, their eyes, cheekbones, their lips; it all just turns me on," he said. "We're not talking a 'Baywatch' thing but a portrait that represents the real Polynesian lifestyle."

Y uses his own photographs as the foundation for his portraits.

"I want to draw and designs things that reflect what I believe, not necessarily for people who have never even seen the ocean or Hawaii."

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