the Love of Tiki
by Leslie Rosenberg
past weekend, retro culture connoisseurs from across the country
gathered in Atlanta, Georgia for "Hukilau
2002", a three-day festival of all things tiki, featuring
artists, artisans, performers, cocktails and cuisine. Visitors
were treated to live music, attend lectures on the history of
tiki culture, and a tiki bazaar of exotic wares that offerd a
slice of Polynesia.
pop is all the rage, with tiki-themed books, housewares, and CDs
showing up on store shelves nationwide. But those unfamiliar with
the island aesthetic are left wondering, just what is tiki
trend started in 1934, when a man by the name of Don Beach,
a.k.a. Don the Beachcomber, opened a Polynesian-themed
eatery in Hollywood that was part tap house, part funhouse.
There, guests could enjoy tropical Asian cuisine and exotic
rum punches while surrounded by flaming torches, rattan
furniture, flower leis and brightly colored fabrics. More
than a decade later, a fellow named Victor Bergeron, better
known as Trader Vic, adapted Don's formula for success
and opened his own chain of tropical taverns, including
locations in Oakland, San Francisco and Beverly Hills.
Around this time, the soldiers were returning home from
World War II, bringing with them stories and souvenirs
from the South Pacific. Americans fell in love with their
romanticized version of an exotic culture, and Polynesian
design began to infuse every aspect of the country's visual
aesthetic, from home accessories to architecture. The
carved tiki head made its debut, and became emblematic
of the Polynesian pop movement that flourished from the
late 1940s through the early '70s. For a brief, glorious
period in history, the tiki was king.
sometime in the 1970s, the party endedat least for a while.
Tiki style became passť, as disco glitz swept the nation. It wasn't
until the mid-1980s that a new generation of artists began to
unearth the artifacts of an earlier era.
a cinematographer, I was always into visual extremes, and I liked
going to thrift stores in the '80s because you could still find
[interesting] stuff," recalls Sven Kirsten, author of The
Book of Tiki. "Tiki mugs were considered ugly and something
they wanted to get rid of, so you could pick them up for 50 cents
or a dollar."
the next ten years, others began making the same discovery, and
tiki wares gradually became coveted collectibles. Eventually,
the mainstream media got wind of the trend, and the buzz about
a lost art form began to grow.
is part of that great big retro revival that pop culture is capitalizing
on these days," says Shag,
a.k.a. Josh Agle, whose career as a painter and illustrator flourished
after he started creating works with a tiki motif. "There has
been a big interest in mining the popular culture of past eras
to inform and style the popular culture of today, and tiki fits
in with that theme."
will never get as big again as it was, because it was really a
zeitgeist phenomenon in its time," adds Kirsten. "But today, it
can work in the sense of fulfilling a need that is still there
for exotic romance." We've grown jaded, he explains, and we know
there is really no paradise on earth. But the rational realization
of this does not negate the fact that we still have an emotional
need for that ideal. "Tiki culture allows one to recreate that
in your own backyard in a playful way. It doesn't have to be authentic,
but it fulfills your need for romantic exoticism."
we all use a vacation from reality once in a while?
above article is an excerpt from "Paradise on Earth: America
Rediscovers the Delights of Tiki Culture", which will
appear in the Summer 2002 issue of ATOMIC. To read the
full story, look for the issue on newsstands, or subscribe
online right now!