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by Scott Yoell

Echoing the vibrancy of Pop Art and Neo Expressionism's emotional use of vivid color harmonies, the paintings & drawings of Keith Tallett are a punchy flow full of lyrical quality. 

At first glance Keith’s glossy fetishized surfboard-like surfaces could be categorized as a manifestation of late Pop or Post Pop eye candy, like the highly polished works of such contemporaries as Jeff Koons, Pharrell Williams and Takashi Murakami.  But after time spent and closer inspection the viewer realizes that the artist is present in both concept and gesture.  Brush strokes, squeegee lines and minor cracks and bubbles in the resin reveal a ‘trace’ that is definitely ‘hands on’ and very far from a place of mass production.

Although strongly influenced by artists like John McCracken, Chris Ofili, Fred Tomaselli & Raymond Saunders; Tallett’s artwork draws from a deep rooted connection to his native Hawaiian heritage and that of surfing culture. It was during graduate school at the San Francisco Art Institute, punctuated by bad critiques and visits home, that Keith began to look at the physical practices/activities & materials that resonated with him. As an accomplished surfer and 2nd generation surfboard shaper, a craft learned from his dad; he realized that his work needed a radical change and decided to clean out his studio and begin re-contextualizing the process and materials used in the surfboard industry. Keith began making his pieces through a patient process of woodworking, resin, paint, fabric application, and finishing.  In end, a highly crafted creation with a hint of a ‘do it yourself’ cottage and garage aesthetic. 

In viewing his work, it is easy to see the use of patterning in colors, materials, and surface treatments. For example, Quiver (hotcoat), series and Hyperfreak, fluorescent series, large 4'x6' door shaped slabs share similarities in all three of these areas. It is in the hue and presentation that the artist creates radically different effects. Playing with fixed and dependent variables helps Tallett to open the viewer up to the plurality of perception. Emphasizing the details of the surface, the interrelation of numerous colored parts, and the overall feeling of the work, is therefore key. 

In his painting series ‘Fifty Greatest Surfers of All Time,’, Keith presents a large number of works on paper hung in a grid ten high by five across.  Together the works remind you of the power and impact of abstract values; swells of color united by repetition, color codes and symmetry. Yet the title of the work as in most of Keith’s paintings and drawings alludes that the content is more than ‘beauty as meaning’. That the issues surrounding Keith’s work are found in the blurred lines that define authenticity as a cultural production and commodity; where the merging of space age surfboard material with that of the natural becomes a metaphor for native verse nonnative.  As Keith Tallett has put it, “The process itself becomes a way of creating dialogue between an ingrained cultural knowledge, and my investigations as a contemporary artist.”



Studio notes

Keith Tallett was born and raised in Hawaii, and after extended time away he now lives and maintains his studio on the Big Island. He has a BA from the University of Hawaii at Hilo, where he was inspired and mentored by the late Wayne Miyamoto. Keith also received an MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute and there he cites as strong influences, Mildred Howard and Sam Tchakalian. He has exhibited at such venues as the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco , Track 16 Gallery in Los Angeles, and Franklin Parrasch Gallery in New York.  Keith's upcoming shows include The Arts at Mark's Garage in Honolulu, October 2010 and the Wailoa Center in Hilo, 2011.   His work is currently on display at Ironwood Gallery at Ironwood Custom Framing & Design. Keith teaches drawing and painting at the University of Hawaii at Hilo and is the co-founder of Mahi’ai Creative, a Big Island based studio providing media and design to non-profits and public agencies. More of Keith’s work can be seen at

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