Ian Kuali’i, Jersey City Artist, on Hawaii’s Magic and Fatherhood

by Michael Mantovani
jersey city artist ian kuali'i

Certain types of art are described as having a Monetesque quality to them in that, the closer the viewer gets to the work, the more disjointed and sloppy it appears. Certain types of artists place deeper import on the work as a whole, rather than the sum of its intricate parts.

The work of Ian Kuali'i is just the opposite. The Maui via Jersey City artist's pieces at first appear in a way that is almost indescribable, as lines and negative space create images which appear chaotic and almost incoherent. But the closer you get to one of Kuali'i's pieces, the more apparent it becomes that intricacy, deftness, and precision are just as important to the overall work as the texture, color, and patterns that he employs, and the more impactful the art becomes when you realize that you glean just as much enjoyment taking it in from afar as you do getting in as close as possible.

Taking cues from wheat pasting, graffiti, and other decidedly urban styles, and melding them with his own traditional Hawaiian background, Kauli'i has developed a style that inherently his own, at once grimey like a city sidewalk, yet breezy and flowing like a tropical landscape.

jersey city artist ian kuali'i

‘The Natives Are Restless’ hand cut paper, acrylic and spray paint triptych on three 7’x4′ wood panels, 2014.

I recently spoke with Ian about his art and influences, and how being a new father impacts his art.

Where ya been, man? I haven't seen you in forever.

IK: Oh man! I've been traveling a bit, and when home, sort of hermit crabbing so I can stay focused on my craft.

Judging by Instagram, you've been all over the place! What's been the coolest place your art has taken you?

IK: All the way back home to Hawaii. I moved halfway across the globe to NJ/NYC from Maui about a decade ago for my Hip Hop/Punk Rock pilgrimage and recently got invited to fly back and paint a massive mural with my peers during Pow Wow Hawaii 2013. I know that it sounds corny, but Hawaii truly is a magical place. Gods still exist there for real.

If you had to move somewhere tomorrow, where would you go?

IK: Probably into an amazing Victorian in the heart of the Mission District of San Francisco. I feel like the quality of life out there is ideal for the current Ian.

Without naming your preferred materials, how would you describe your art?

IK: The meditative process of destroying to create. Xacto renderist.

What is it about your medium that drew you to it? It's so unique.

IK: The early works of Kara Walker and seeing these huge powerful installations she was doing all with black paper silhouettes.

Name your biggest influence. One artist, one non-artist.

IK: Artist Doze Green and non-artist Manly P. Hall hands down!


IK: Because the knowledge I continuously learn from these two — Manly P. Hall in his writings — is limitless.

jersey city artist ian kuali'i

‘Nova Lux’ freehand cut paper 7’x12′ installation in the window of the Kimball Gallery at the de Young Museum Golden Gate Park, San Francisco

You recently welcomed a beautiful baby. Congratulations, first off!

IK: Thank you!

So how has fatherhood changed your process? I'm sure it's not easy making art with a little one crawling around.

IK: I've always been pretty good at multitasking so not much has changed with the recent arrival of Luna. Just an extra challenge gifted by the Universe which I gladly accept.

How does Jersey City influence what do you do?

IK: These days it inspires me to people watch and spend as much time in the studio creating to transcribe their energies visually.

What do you miss about the "old" Hudson county?

IK: The 58 Gallery and lower rent.

Where do you see this area in five years?

IK: I see it as an over priced extended Manhattan playground for the transient upper middle class who can't afford to be in NYC proper.

What brought you here?

IK: Hip Hop, Punk Rock, and my art.

What keeps you here?

IK: The accessibility of all the things in life I want and don't want. You know, that fast-paced, unstable electromagnetic energy which only NYC and Hudson County can offer.

And lastly, I love you. And I miss you. Let's hang out soon.

IK: Love you too, man! Let's link up soon. And keep me posted on your upcoming rock shows.

Check out more of Ian's work at iankualii.com.

About the Author/s

All posts

Mike fronts a white hot rock band. He hangs out with freaks, weirdos and stranges from all walks of life. When he's not playing his guitar, he tends to be writing. Or watching his massive TiVo archive of The Honeymooners and Jeopardy. Go ahead. Ask him anything.

Related Articles

Leave a Comment

Yes, I would like to receive emails from The Digest Online. Sign me up!

By submitting this form, you are consenting to receive marketing emails from: New Jersey Digest. You can revoke your consent to receive emails at any time by using the SafeUnsubscribe® link, found at the bottom of every email. Emails are serviced by Constant Contact