Tahiti Pehrson is an artist from Northern California. Both of his parents are artists; his father, an art professor and his mother, an accomplished artist. Tahiti grew up doing oil paintings, but for the past 15 years he’s been making these beautiful paper cut sculptures and illustrations. He’s done commissioned illustrations and graphics ranging from The City Arts Commission of San Francisco, XL Recordings, Kanaga System Krush to Toy Machine and Telegraph Skateboards. TMG was lucky to pull Tahiti away from his tunnel vision work ethic to discuss his life and the art that evolves from it. He talks about smuggling Bibles into China as a kid, the order of nature, and his current project Active Synchrony, among other other things.
You have a dope name, but why did your parents name you Tahiti?
Well my dad’s family is actually Swedish and my mom’s dad was adopted so I don’t really know.
My Dad was into Paul Gauguin; especially his paintings from Tahiti. So I think that is where it came from. It’s an interesting body of work. It’s paradise with just a touch of mental illness. My brother’s name is Galen after my uncle, which apparently translates to crazy in Swedish. What can you do?
What was it like traveling to Mexico, China and Europe?
When I was fourteen I smuggled Bibles into China. It was 1986. I had started going to church with my neighbors and One day they asked if anybody wanted to go to China. I was like, is this a joke? Who doesn’t want to go to China? So nine months later I’m in Hong Kong Customs with five adults I don’t really know and a suitcase of contra band Bibles about to fly to Beijing. There are armed guards everywhere. It was the first time I actually thought about what was I was doing. I didn’t go there in search of art, but I certainly did find it. You can see the flow of time in Chinese art. There is a cumulative stillness that has built up over time.
Is there any connection in your work between your reference to Guilloché patterns and conspiracy theories?
I think there is a complex and organized pattern in nature that works together in this synchronous engine that pushes life forward. There’s neurons firing, sending and receiving electrical pulses. I always think about how incredible it is that everything sticks together. Conspiracy theories are easily glamorized and I think they are less connected.
A lot of time it’s two guys named Brad price fixing over lunch rather than an organized grand scheme. Sometimes I think it’s easy to romanticize patterns where it creates intrigue and ignore obvious patterns that are more integral but less seductive.
In an interview you did with Strictly Paper, you were asked, What’s the weirdest thing you have ever done with paper? You said, “Buy stuff.” Cowrie Shells were known as one of the first forms of money through out parts of Africa, the Middle East, India and China. Is using a shell as currency any weirder or more relevant than using paper?
It’s odd that little paper handbills represent the most powerful thing on this planet. Shells almost seem stranger. This amazing thing lives its life growing a shell in the shape of a Galaxy and later ends up being five bucks. It’s all about the symbol of power. As soon as we used our pattern skills to trap animals we needed a system for trade. This is where the idea of worth and debt came from. It’s sort of evolved to this sense of self worth. Money, it’s the classic siren song.
Are there any themes in your work that consciously connect to the global economic crisis, politics or world issues?
I’m working on some money pyramids for a show at the Bellevue Museum of Art about money. I just want to explore. It seems like a lot of artists as they get older, go from making art that is a statement to art that is a question. Ultimately, I want it to be inspirational beyond sociopolitical lines. I’ve been accused of being light on meaning, but I think meaning can be light on truth. I want to make work despite and in spite of the vampirical nature of all that stuff.
You dropped out of San Francisco Art Institute after a year and a half. Although both of your parents are artists, were they alarmed at all? What gave you the confidence to take an alternative route to where you are today?
No, I don’t think they were concerned, I mean they let me go smuggling into a Communist super power as a minor. I had been on my own for a long time at that point. I didn’t have a lot of confidence that things would work out. I worked horrible jobs and just worked on stuff all the time. My friends always helped me with jobs doing album covers and shirts and I did tons of art shows and spent all my money driving to them. Finally a friend of mine hooked me up with a string of commissions that lasted three years and that helped me get into a position where I could just work all the time. There were some scary times and even now I have to work really hard all the time. But it’s good, I love working. I never get a block or a time where I can’t work. Sometimes my body hurts too much but I’ll still find something to mess with.
Can you tell me about the show, Active Synchrony, that you’re currently working on for the University of San Francisco?
Yeah, it’s Jan 13th thru Mar 3rd 2013. It’s going to be a little more organic than some of the geometric stuff, but still related. The show is about all the little transactions in nature, the way things are organized. How things move and work together on a very base level. There is a lot of structural stuff and large pieces. People often tell me they want to be inside the work, so I want to work on something like that. I like the idea of getting people inside the work.