If you saw President Obama up against the Confederate flag, would it stop you in your tracks? On a recent meander through the Calabasas Fine Arts Festival (yes, the Californian region of recent Bieber and Kardashian renown), this painting compelled me to ask the artist what the heck it meant. Which, it turns out, is the whole point of Kaleo’s “cerebral pop art” — and so integral that he’s trademarked the phrase.
“I really love pop art, in and of itself,” says Kaleo. “But I wanted to create layers and do something that actually gets people to think, rather than just enjoy the image. I wanted to evoke more emotion.”
Scars and Bars certainly rouses a reaction. Some folks love it. Others have told him that he shouldn’t have put Obama on the Dixie flag (!!). For Kaleo, who grew up poor in Pasadena, the love child of a European-American mother and a Hawaiian-Spanish-Puerto Rican father, the dialog around this piece makes its own statement. “It shows far we’ve come since the time of the Dixie flag to have a black president elected… and yet how far we still have to go.”Besides being thoughtful, down to earth and charming, Kaleo is a natural hustler, faux-hawked and hawking his art at fairs around LA. He’ll hit ten in total this year, all while promoting his brand through every social media channel going. Celebrity obsession juxtaposed against a commercialized image to tell a story that’s in our collective consciousness? I’m in! After viewing the “Images of Irony” in his tent gallery, I had to see more.When Kaleo invited me to his studio in Santa Monica, I didn’t expect it to be at the Real Office Center on Arizona. As he gives me a tour of the space for small companies, I start to understand why. With Kaleo in the house, besides being a business incubator, the Santa Monica ROC location is also an artist incubator — although Kaleo seems to have the exclusive. His art adorns almost every surface in the building. Real Office Centers CEO Ron McElroy commissioned the tables, above, and bought other pieces to infuse the cubicles with a creative vibe. Kaleo, whose name means “the voice” in Hawaiian, grabs a Starbucks under his Start Ups Brewing custom light box, where the mermaid’s lei winks at both his Hawaiian heritage and to ROC’s new Honolulu location.Then, it’s down to Door Number Bruce Lee: Kaleo’s studio in the basement parking garage.Why use a drop cloth? Then you’re just cleaning up the magic.Inside, Kaleo takes off his sunglasses and gets to work. His latest series, “Positive Pop” gives iconic commercial slogans an inspirational angle. It’s his top seller.Kaleo didn’t take a direct path to this studio, where he works while standing, under the apoxy resin Mona Lisa gaze of three presidents. After playing college football, he jumped into music industry. He got signed, but didn’t quite make it… and ended up becoming a gold broker. Just when he was agonizing about losing his soul to a job that paid well but gave him no intrinsic satisfaction, he had an inspiration for his “Images in Irony” series. He stockpiled canvases for a year before approaching a gallery. Now, with galleries in London, Dubai and LA, Kaleo’s following his bliss. He plans to dress that bliss with his new line of Artwork by Kaleo T-Shirts, launching soon. If you’re in the Bu, July 26 & 27th, hobnob with him at the Malibu Art Show. Living the dream, Kaleo, living the dream!