Tahiti is the largest island in the Windward group of French Polynesia. It is also the name of an artist who uses number 11 blades to create cut-out kaleidoscope works of magic. He has been doing so for nearly 15 years. We had the chance to chat with Tahiti Pehrson about his work and how he was born to be an artist.
Where are you from?
"I am from Nevada City, California. I lived in the Bay Area for about ten years or so and decided to move back."
What’s your background?
"My parents are both artists and my dad was an art teacher. He went to California College of the Arts back in the late 50’s/early 60’s. My parents were the bohemian type so I lived without a television until I was about ten-years-old... I had a lot free time and art was always around in the house. But I didn't end up going to the San Francisco Art Institute until I was in my 30’s.
What’s your process like?
"These days I work so much—it’s crazy. I just finished two months of 16 hours days. The work in Vineet's remodel [pictured above] is a 4' x 10' piece, so it took a lot of long hour days to complete. The work that I've been doing lately is based on a fairly old type of Geo pattern; the kind you see on money. So a lot of my work is around that concept. And it seems like the piece worked really well in his place. I actually ended up working up with Vineet through Aimee Friberg, the curator at K. Imperial Fine Art. It was a great match and worked out really well. "
How would you say your artistic style has evolved?
"I always painted, growing up as a kid, and even throughout my 20’s. I was also into skateboarding and most of my friends were professional skateboarders. So it was only natural that I ended up doing a lot of skateboard graphics.
While traveling in Europe I went to several squatter-type art galleries in Berlin and in Geneva. All the energy there was really inspiring. But I never felt that kind of energy in school. Painting [at the time] seemed so flat and antiquated. I wanted something more. So I started doing street art in San Francisco and it was more exciting and invigorating. The exploration was a lot of fun and I started doing stencils and then grew from there. I found that the stencils were so beautiful all white. And here I am now—been doing this for 15 years."
What does being an artist mean to you?
"Being an artist means having the abilities to explore your ideas. It means that you can work one day, or have the day off, or just really be in the zone for hours on end. For me, the biggest and greatest thing is just being at home. It’s amazing—being an artist and getting to do what I want to do. But there was a time where I didn't think I would be able to actually do that. Now that I have a six-year-old daughter, being home with my child means a lot. So structurally, to be able to be with her and involved with work is perfect. But the structure of the [traditional] workforce gives me anxiety so it's nice to not be around that."
What’s the most memorable reaction from your work?
"People generally react positively. And although I appreciate kind words, I feel like I’m my worst critic so it's important for me to keep a level head about it. Having art shows are kind of like your birthday so it feels very congratulatory. But it's nice that my art appeals to a lot of people. Someone might like it and their mother might also like it as well! Some people respond by saying, 'I want to be inside of that'. I like that idea. Reactions like that help me move into other directions and evolve. I want people to feel like they are a part of my art."
What would be your ideal project?
"I would like to do something in the public works and public arena. I've applied to the San Francisco Arts Commission - Public Art and Collection... I’d like to try something that’s more permanent and large scale—so that people can interact with it. It seems like a good idea since my pieces have that universal element that is both seen as spiritual and scientific. It's the kind of art that is open to everyone’s interpretation. You start as a young artist telling your own story and then it comes to a point where you want to engage with your audience through your work."
If not an artist, what would you be?
"I have worked terrible jobs before, just to get by. But I was always still producing art. I feel like there’s no other option for me than to be doing what I'm doing now. I feel like there’s no other way. There was a point of time in my life where I felt like I had to either stop doing art, or do it for real. You have to set up your life so that there's no other option. I just decided to go for the work ethic. And that's how I'm where I'm at today.
...You know how people say, 'Live everyday like it's your last'. Well, I really feel that way. If this were the last day of my life, I wouldn't do anything else than what I'm doing now."
If you'd like to see Tahiti's work in person, his show Active Synchrony goes on from January 4th - March 10th in the Thacher Gallery at USF. It features his large scale hand-cut paper pieces and installations that have also been featured in San Francisco Magazine Modern Luxury's March fashion issue!
In the spring/early summer he will be having a solo exhibit at K. Imperial Fine Art in San Francisco from June 5th through July 15th. Too, if you're in the Washington State area, his group show titled Love Me Tender is currently at the Bellevue Museum of Art.