The Illustrious Illustrator
Oahu-based artist Nick Kuchar has a way of capturing the “alluring unknown” in his artwork. Through his vision, even the most familiar places — at least to local people in Hawai’i — feel nostalgic, romantic, and evocative. Even a locale as central to our daily lives as Ala Moana can feel downright whimsical under Nick’s hand.
Recently, we sat down with the accomplished artist (Nick’s work graced the cover of Ward Village’s recent issue of Forward Journal) and avid surfer to learn more about the places, people, and lifestyles that have influenced this illustrious illustrator.
Tell us about your background.
I’ve been drawing and creating as long as I can remember. My mom has sketches of animals and cars that I drew when I was just 2 years old. My grandmother was actually a painter, too. But I had a teacher in high school tell me about Industrial Design, and I ended up earning a degree from Auburn University in that field. That experience allowed me to take my love of art and embrace it in a more digital direction, due to the software that was integral to our program.
Who are your influences, both artistically and culturally?
As an industrial designer, most of my influences are from the modern art movement. To me, that’s sort of the “glory days” of design, so designers like Raymond Loewy, Mies Van Der Rohe, Le Corbusier, and illustrators like Charley Harper, John Severson, and Rick Griffin (the last two having the most influence from a surf culture perspective) have really influenced me as the artist I’ve become today.
What is it about Hawai’i that drew you to this place, and then to eventually make art inspired by Hawai’i?
My wife and I moved to Hawai’i 12 years ago, initially because we loved the outdoors and we were looking for an adventure. What we found was beyond anything we could imagine. The local culture, flora, ocean, and mountains create such a hotbed of creativity that it’s hard not to be inspired on a daily basis. Most of my art imitates my life — whether intended or not — so you’ll often see our dog, our vintage Volkswagen, and other hints in my pieces.
A lot of your work appears to blend art and commerce, many of which are almost like travel adverts to specific places in Hawai’i.
I’ve always been drawn to typography and signage of the 1940-60s. I love the clean, purposeful lines and the whimsical approach to the travel prints of that era. The thought that you have a small piece of paper to capture the feeling of a place is challenging and intriguing to me.
Surfing also seems like a huge part of your work. Were you always a surfer, or did that take off in Hawai’i?
I grew up surfing in New Smyrna Beach, Florida — the shark attack capital of the world. The surfing wasn’t great, but it did get good sometimes in the winter, or during hurricane swells. But in college, I got my wife into surfing, and it was her idea to move to O’ahu. I still love to surf and try my best to hike or surf regularly, as it helps me connect to this island and the place that provides my inspiration.
Can you tell us how you came up with your cover for Forward Journal?
I thought a montage of all of the different activities in Ward would be fun and capture the feel and spirit of the area.
I reflected on what I would see on a day-to-day basis walking through Ward. It might be a surfer strolling to Ala Moana Beach Park, parents out and about with children, business people on their way to work and meetings. The iconic IBM building makes a subtle-but-familiar appearance in the repetitive pattern of its facade. It’s a great collection of folks from different walks of life carrying on their day to day in Hawai’i.
Where do see your art going in the future?
I painted a large 8’x8′ mural for my Haleiwa Arts Festival booth this year, which definitely took me out of my comfort zone. Experimenting with different mediums is a lot like riding different surfboards, as it makes you focus a bit more, and ultimately, [makes you] better at your craft. I also just came out with some small screenprints and new hats to offer my customers something a bit different and fun.
To learn more about Nick Kuchar, check out his website here.