Brooklyn-based artist Kahealani infuses her art with the gorgeousness of her own spirit. There is a delicate care and decisiveness that goes into creating each piece. Her photography asks us to seek beauty in spaces that have largely been categorized as too urban or industrialized to evoke positive emotion. Her paintings beseech us to look inward and then put forth love into the world around us.
Lustre Lune Art, her online business, is a refreshing wind blowing through the art corners of Instagram and features her photography and abstract artwork. Her series “the sky speaks to me,” consisting of metal photo prints, and “in be|tween,” a prose-painting series, were exhibited in Brooklyn’s Almondine Bakery in 2018. We spoke by FaceTime about what it means to create, how we find inspiration, and creating art in a difficult social climate.
DW: What is the inspiration for your name?
Ki: I wanted to represent my Chinese-Hawaiian heritage. Those roots. Kahealani is my painter-photographer essence. Kahealani is very rooted in my Hawaiian-ocean-deep-mountains-of-green essence. Lustre Lune is my Instagram business. I just love nature and the moon.
DW: What media do you primarily work with?
Ki: I started out working with watercolor painting. I was drawn to watercolor because it had a flowing essence and it was malleable. It’s not set in stone and that’s how I am as a person. Then I discovered iPad Pro, which was gifted to me, and I discovered digital art and Adobe Sketch. It opened up my world. I can use pastel, acrylic, watercolor, any pen or pencil I want. I don’t have to have any of the supplies with me. I love the mobility of taking it anywhere. When I get inspired, I can work anywhere. I like to say that I use mixed media for sure.
DW: Describe your workspace and your creative process.
Ki: I absolutely feel like my iPad is a space to create. It’s little, but the possibilities are endless for me on there. If I do any watercolors, I do them at home in my one-bedroom, small apartment in Brooklyn. I always sit in front of my windows because I like to be inspired by nature.
For me, if we’re talking about the artistic process, it’s about creating even when I don’t want to do it. At the beginning, I felt like I had to be inspired all the time to create. That I had to have some spiritual moment. And now I recognize that I absolutely don’t need that. I just need to get to my iPad or sit down and put the watercolors out. And then, it just comes. For me it’s just been an encouraging way, not shameful at all, to just do it. Then I feel better.
DW: I identify with that as a writer. Sometimes you don’t want to, but I just sit and let whatever happens come out.
Ki: And you never know what’s going to come out. Sometimes I am inspired with my poetry or something I want to draw from something I see on the subway or when I’m walking home from work. Then I just stop and write the poem, if I can stop.
DW: What new projects are you working on?
Ki: I am in the process of writing a children’s book. Not only have I been writing for it, but I want to do my own illustrations. But I am open to collaboration. It’s a children’s book about acceptance. It’s a message that I want to share with what’s going on in the world right now. You can be whoever who want to be even if it’s not like the person sitting next to you.
DW: Would you say your art is visual poetry? Or paintings that are paired with individual poems?
Ki: I like what you said! I’ve never thought about that. You know, when I’m creating these pieces there is a flow to it. All my pieces come from deep in here [points to chest]. It’s never like this externalized “Oh that piece is just there.” It’s not just out there, it’s in here [points to chest again] and it literally gets on the page or iPad. I guess I could see it as visual poetry because often times I want to include poems with it or words written on there because I feel like they go together. They want to be paired together on that space.
DW: How do you classify your art? Is it mostly abstract expressionism?
Ki: Yeah for sure. For me that just means I want the viewer to be able to come up with their definition of what they see in the hopes that they’ll see something that transforms them.
DW: What was the inspiration for your Sky and Stone Series? (Instagram: #skyandstoneseries)
Ki: This series means a lot to me. I still take pictures for it every day. I was inspired to do Sky and Stone because I had just moved to Brooklyn from Seattle, a place that was very green and very beautiful with lots of trees. Brooklyn is beautiful in its own way. What really struck me about Brooklyn was this contrast with the sky being so huge and vast and Brooklyn being overcrowded and small in that sense. So I wanted to pay more attention to that and opening myself to being transformed in some way by paying attention to the sky and its vastness and not so much to my feeling small and insignificant in that way.
I wanted to be transformed by taking more characteristics of the sky like taking more space as a woman or reaching out to others when I need help. Or, even just being there, being a beacon of light if a stranger needs something. Or, being complex because, if you’ve ever looked at the sky, it’s so multifaceted and multilayered. It’s so beautiful.
DW: What artists inspire you?
Ki: Okay, it’s a long and convoluted list. Here we go:
Annie Leibovitz—She gets in the dirt, she gets on her knees to really capture something. I like to do the same, get on my knees in filthy New York and take the photo.
Kahlil Gibran—He’s a poet who wrote The Prophet. The book is moving. You should check it out.
Tina Maria Elena Bak—She’s an artist on Instagram. She works with sensual watercolors and is very sex positive and women-centric. They celebrate the womxn’s body. The colors inspire me to the sensuality around me. Not only in myself, but in the sky and nature.
Anne Lamott—I’m reading Bird by Bird right now. Lamott is in recovery and I not only relate to that but, as a person and an artist, we feel like we have to be “on” or going through something to be inspired. And she’s like no, you don’t.
I wanted to be transformed by taking more characteristics of the sky like taking more space as a woman… – Kahealani
DW: I’m surprised you didn’t say Basquiat because a couple of your pieces remind me of him.
Ki: Do tell me more! Interesting. I see what you’re saying. I think his work is amazing, but I’m not focused on him. But I’m glad you mentioned him because I just saw his work for the first time at the museum. I do love his work and you know, there’s a poem in there somewhere. I feel like he was taking things that he also saw outside and putting them in there. I want to read more about him.
DW: Living in the era of 45, do you see your art as resistance? How so?
Ki: Yes. I feel like a lot of my pieces are resistance because sometimes it’s pretty direct like “This is not ok.” One piece I have is with the white hammer of justice coming down on minorities. The sense of white supremacy wanting to be erected again. It was kind of cartoonish, but I didn’t care. Some of the others are not as direct. Those are pieces that are about the love I have for my wife. We are going against the grain of being a lesbian couple in Brooklyn trying to make a way, make a family. The Sky Speaks to Me [series] is resistance because I want people to stop paying attention to the news and go outside and look at the sky.
DW: What advice do you have for finding inspiration in a largely negative social climate?
Ki: For me, it’s permission to rage. If I don’t allow myself to get pissed…to look at my Instagram feed and other stuff and then just be really upset…then I’ll be stuck in it. You’re allowed to pay attention and look at what’s happening and be upset by it. Through that rage I know I’ll get to a place where I can find the answer to what energy or message I want to put out in the world. Not even to combat the negative energy, not lying down and dying, but just sending out energy when all this stuff is happening.
In a way it’s like when you see these beautiful flowers somewhere random and you’re like “How are you existing here?” Especially in Brooklyn. There are some houses that are abandoned and there are weeds everywhere, and suddenly there is this humungous peony bush sprouting out of the concrete. And I’m like “How are you still existing, how are you still living in a place where no one is taking care of you?” That’s kind of how I feel like, for us, in this environment. I’m still going to be that peony bush. I’m going to live for a while and maybe I’m going to die for a couple seasons, but I’m going to come back. You’ll see me.
Kahealani is a photographer, poet, and painter who lives in Brooklyn with her wife and loveable pup. You can peruse her work on Lustre Lune Art.