A shower of shirts
By Paula Rath
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Paula Rath
Grant Kagimoto's Cane Haul Road creations are beloved Island classics. The artist's subtle wit and local sensibility have struck a chord with Island folks for 30 years. He somehow manages to capture the essence of a local icon, animal, food or flower in a phrase and graphic that elicits a chuckle every time.
Since he produces 12 to 15 designs every year, Kagimoto estimates there are 500 to date. To celebrate his 30th anniversary, Kagimoto is reissuing 12 of his most popular T-shirt designs (see box).
"I didn't expect that I would do something that touched people's lives. I'm pleasantly surprised when people get so much pleasure from my work," Kagimoto said, with characteristic humility.
For him, "it's the emotional rewards that are the most important." Artists such as Kagimoto certainly aren't in it for the money, of which there is precious little.
Kagimoto sees Cane Haul Road as "part of a movement in the '70s that believed our culture has value and we don't have to look outside ourselves for inspiration. It's all right here. There was Booga Booga on stage, the Brothers Caz in music and Bamboo Ridge in print."
The name Cane Haul Road was conceived by ceramicist Marie Kodama. In 1975 a group of artists and crafters, including Kagimoto and Kodama, was looking for a name for the hui they were putting together to help promote their work. When the members eventually went their separate ways, Kagimoto kept the moniker.
"As the sugar plantations faded, I was afraid it (the name) wouldn't work any longer," Ka-gimoto said. "But many of us are here because of sugar cane." It was the plantations, he believes, that brought about the blending of cultures in Hawai'i. "In the past they had to work together, bringing about an Island blend of cultures, food and language. This helped create a tolerance for each other," Kagimoto said. "Now we choose to have a mixed society. It's like our family parties, when I look around the room and there's a variety of faces. It's not homogeneous, now it's a mix."
Will he ever run out of material for his T-shirts and towels? "Most artists feel that you go to the well so often and then one day it's gone. That's never the case with me. I keep a sketchbook with me all the time" to write down ideas and art, he said. "I always have more to call on."
Kagimoto's mission going forward is tolerance. "I'm afraid we're going to lose some of that, as we grow in population and get so crowded — that we'll lose our roots and that sense of being from a small island," he said, so we have to get along together.
That's a message we can expect to see reflected on his T-shirts and tea towels in the coming years. Rest assured that it will not be preachy. Rather, Cane Haul Road art will be witty, whimsical and, oh yeah, off-the-wall.
Cane Haul Road is sold at Wabi-Sabi in Kaimuki, Mango Season in Mo'ili'ili, Novelty World in Ward Warehouse and Gift & Gourmet in Downtown Honolulu.
Reach Paula Rath at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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