Hawaii Through Tagami’s Art

It’s said that Hawaii is as pretty as a picture, but judging by local art, no truer words have been spoken.

Every time I go to a Sunday open house here, I find myself more drawn to the original local art work on the walls than I do to the layout of the kitchen. There’s good reason for this. The beauty of the islands overwhelms a camera and taking home a perfect rendition of a scene is very difficult. Being a photographer myself, I’ve struggled with this for years. But art…art is the exception. Local (and world) legend Hiroshi Tagami is at the top of this medium.

This celebrity of the Hawaiian art world recently retired after a 50-plus-year career of creating light-filled watercolors and oils of the islands’ most memorable scenes. He is a child of Oahu’s plantation years, when he labored as a young boy to help with the family income.

He tells the story of being harshly treated by the plantation luna (overseer), when he stopped his work in the sugar cane fields to look around at the surrounding landscape. But he tells this story with gratitude, for it taught him that he never wanted to work under those circumstances again. This also gave Tagami the drive to later pursue his art career, which started off in the mid-60s when he hung his art from the Honolulu Zoo fence (a viable art venue that continues today).

As his career progressed, he created his own venue for his works in the form of an amazing botanical garden and house in Kaneohe. Open one day a year to the public (or by appointment only), he displays his amazing art and horticultural genius in this open-air location. When I visited two years ago, I was able to meet him in person and was impressed with his soft, unassuming and friendly personality. His art just blew me away, as did the fact that he remembered me when I saw him again at his last formal showing.

If you are curious and want to see some stunning examples of his work, I recommend a visit to the Hilton Hawaiian Village. Last time I was there, I saw at least five massive landscapes by him. The premier design store C.S. Wo & Sons (702 S. Beretania Street) also has about five or six of his worksi, but when they are sold, there will be no restock. Call the Kaneohe house (808-754-7887) to schedule a private appointment.

Whether you want to buy his works or just admire them, I would highly recommend looking into the art of Tagami. It’s a guaranteed way to magnificently see the sights of Hawaii again.

Posted by: Bruce Fisher