Alex Kilauano: When surf culture collides with art

Alex Kilauano kept deflecting our attempts to call him an artist. “I wouldn’t say I’m an artist” he told us more than once. But we kept pushing – probably due to all those years spent at Uni and our obsession with wanting to be cool and edgy. But from where we’re sitting, art is a big deal. It makes tangible our collective thoughts and feelings by pulling them out of the ether and tethering them here on earth for all to see.

Anyone who can make this happen is an artist.

Kilauano caught our attention with his collage work, a style that’s enjoying a resurgence thanks to artists like Karen Lynch. Collage art originated with Henry Matisse and Picasso and hit full stride in the acid imagery of the ‘60s. Art website Unframe describes collage art as springing from artists wanting to “depict the juxtaposition of existing traditions (Surfing!) compared with the excitement of commercialization and the new (Wavepools!)”

Alex is visually documenting the collision between surf and culture circa 2021. That fits the definition of art. So we applied a little pressure during our interview to see if he’d cop to being, well, an artist. Did we succeed at getting him to don the “artist” moniker and all the affected pretense that often goes with it? Read below to find out.

wave pool surf art
Collage art totally frees up what the artist can pursue with an image and often allows a closer approximation to what they see in their mind’s eye.

First, tell us briefly about yourself and your art study.
I’m mainly a video/editor/DP. I went to film school, studied cinematography and documentary filmmaking. To keep filmmaking fun and fresh, I take photos and frame grabs and collage them for fun. That’s how Aloha Visuals started.

Who are your influences?
My filmmaking influences range from Chris Malloy to Werner Herzog. I love to watch and study every type of filmmaker from documentary to commercial work.

wave pool surf art
Of course adding models to wave pool surf art doesn’t hurt the art’s appeal.

What do you hope to achieve with your art – social, political commentary?
I started doing these digital collages/art for fun. I needed an escape from filmmaking because at a certain point it, film, becomes more of a career rather than a hobby. I love to shoot and edit, but it became a job. During the pandemic, I was learning Photoshop and started to manipulate some of my favorite Ron Stoner photos for fun. After that, I would take photos I took or frame grabs from footage I shot and manipulate them in Photoshop. I wanted to make each photo a child-like wonderland of how I used to view surfing and the world when I was young. Imagining space, rainbows, and things that would rarely or never be in a surf photo. For me, it’s therapy. During the pandemic I made myself make something new before I started work, something just for me, that’s where the collages came from.

wave pool surf art
The bomb (left) and the bomb set at Kelly’s wave in Lemoore

Have you done any collages of wave pools?
I have done a few collages of wave pools! I’ve used some frame grabs I had from shooting Kelly at the Surf Ranch and cut up a drone shot I had! To me, wave pools are so much fun to shoot because you know exactly what you’re gonna get so you can really frame up the shot. It’s almost like shooting in a studio. But the ones I’ve done are a wave in a coffee cup, and a girl looking out at Kelly’s.

Have you ever surfed a wave pool?
I’ve surfed Kelly’s Surf Ranch a few times – shout out to Chris Grow for letting me get a few sessions there.

Your work has a wonderful Karen Lynch 1960s collage vibe – where does this come from?
Honestly, I’ve never heard of Karen Lynch until just now. I Googled it and, yeah, it definitely does have that vibe haha! I think it’s more about changing the way you see the world. I’m a big fan of the ‘60s and ’70s lifestyle photography, which I tend to use in some of the edits. I wouldn’t say I’m inspired by collage artists, to me I’m more inspired by surf artists like Thomas Campbell, John Severson, and Andy Davis.

wave pool surf art
Classic surfing by Cyrus Sutton and a stack of old Surfer Mags keep Alex’s work salted.

How do you navigate the art world to earn a living?
I wouldn’t say I’m an artist. I’d like to think I’m creative but that’s up for everyone’s interpretation haha. I would say I’m a filmmaker, and that’s where my main source of income comes from. But the collage art I’ve been making, not to sound selfish, is just for me. It’s a way for me to not think about filming dates, editing deadlines, and responding to emails haha. To me, I make them because I’m able to use a different part of my brain to make some type of art. To me, that’s absolutely important.

What is your favorite work of art and why?
My favorite artist at the moment is Danny Fuller. Anything from him is my favorite.

Alex Kiluano
Alex Kilauano. Image by Tanner G.