August 1996

The Adventures of Buying Art in Hawaii
By Brian Dear

This month, we're featuring the work of Giorgio Nataranj, who lives on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. Giorgio is a friendly man with a charming smile and a rich Spanish accent who simply cannot help but paint anything within reach. You discover this within seconds of visiting his gallery --- an old coverted gas station along the side of the road in the south of Kauai. This is an artist with a sense of humour, if not mischief.

Out front near the roadside is a shelf containing "coconut postcards." When we saw them we knew we had to pull over and have a look.

There's a gas pump under the carport where cars used to pull up to get gas. It's now painted a shiny coat of black, and on top of the black are painted various planets and solar systems and galaxies. It's the cosmic gas pump. These days, it's for your karma more than your car.

Down the road from Giorgio's gallery lies the factory for RED DIRT SHIRTS. If you look closely at their print ads which are all over Kauai (and also on their RED DIRT web site) many portray a pretty model standing next to -- look closely! -- Giorgio's cosmic gas pump!

Propped up against the building near the pump is a toilet. It too has the Giorgio touch, which is not hard to notice: it's painted, and there are flowers growing in the old bowl.

Beyond the building alongside, there's an old truck; it too has received Giorgio's blessing, and it too is now home to flowers.

There's a saying on Kauai (known, after all, as the Garden Isle): "Kauai is so fertile, you could plant a broom in the ground and it would grow."

Giorgio's imagination appears to be the same way. If you stand in his shop long enough, he'll probably start painting you too!

Inside, the first thing you notice are the surf boards, his specialty. Giorgio takes old surfboards and gives them new life, not in the sea, but on the wall in someone's living room. His glossy, shiny surfboards depict everything from swaying palms to frolicking dolphins to cosmic planets and galaxies, like what's on that gas pump outside.

We were especially fascinated by a surfboard table made from two or three surfboards. Giorgio cut slits in two places on a long board, and through the slits ran two smaller boards. Now it's a table.

And then there's the wall, behind the counter, full of "coconut postcards." For some strange reason the US Postal Service will allow you to mail a coconut anywhere in the US without being first put in a parcel.

There are a few paintings in his gallery, as well. His paintings tend to be quite different than his surf boards and boogie boards. The paintings are in more of a Van Gogh style, with thick dabs of oil, almost creating a three-dimensional effect when viewed from different angles and different light sources.

There are, in fact, two less paintings in his store since we visited; we bought two of them. One was ready to ship in a day or two; the other had a different frame and we asked him if he could match the frame to the first. Of course, no problem, he said. It would just take a week or so.

Buying art is a very strange experience. A piece of art doesn't reach out and grab any two people the same way, it is a personal thing. Friends and relatives, upon seeing what you've bought, will often wonder what possessed you to spend hard-earned money for such. . . art.

* * * * *

Some time during May, a few weeks after we got home, we got a phone call from Federal Express.

"Hi, this is FedEx. Have you received a package from us recently?"

Huh? A rather odd question to be coming from Fed Ex. Was this some kind of sales call? A promotion of something?

"We have the top of what appears to be a large shipping crate and it's addressed to you and we were wondering if the delivery man arrived yet with the rest of the crate."

Pardon? The rest of the crate? Let me understand this, you said you have the top?

Imagine, please, a 30x40 inch painting, with a beautiful off-white wooden frame, placed in a custom-made, professional-quality, shipping-grade wooden crate, all sides of which, including the "top" (the side that covers the painting once the painting has been placed in the crate) are fastened together with metal screws placed every six inches. Now picture a FedEx agent calling us to tell us all they have is the top piece of plywood, with a FedEx label affixed to it, but. . . no crate!

At this point we started worrying. Had they lost our painting? Or worse, was it stolen or destroyed?

We made a desperate call to Giorgio on Kauai. He was rather surprised to hear about the problem. He could not imagine how the one whole side of a large shipping crate that was screwed together with several dozen wood screws simply came undone.

We, on the other hand, had no problem imagining how it could have happened. Falling off a forklift. Curious inspectors. Thieves. Knaves. . .

He said he would investigate the situation immediately and track down the crate using the FedEx tracking number.

A day or two went by, and then we got the news. Yes, the rest of the crate was found. Yes, that's right. Oklahoma. Yes, the painting was damaged. Yes, using the word "punctured" would be an appropriate description. Yes, in several places. Yes, the frame was destroyed. Yes, it can be restored. Yes, there is a slight problem. No more pieces of wood can be found for that exact style and color of frame. Yes, we'll have to search throughout the United States to find a supplier. Yes, we can fix the punctures. Yes, it will involve a little bit of new paint. . . Yes, it will take about three weeks before it's ready again. . .

Meanwhile, the second painting arrived safely. It looks great. It's now over the fireplace.

The first painting finally arrived on June 10. Intact. In a cardboard box covered with probably one full roll's worth of packaging tape. And handwritten admonitions like, "Do no lay flat!" and "Do not stack!" all over it. I opened it up and there was the painting, the frame surrounded by injected foam. The painting was intact. It's now hanging on a wall in the living room.

How to reach Giorgio:

1-3437 Hwy 50, Hanapepe, HI 96716
PO Box 196, Hanapepe, HI 96716

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