News Column

Artist donated much of his work to benefit isle charities

June 18, 2014

By Steven Mark, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser

June 18--Hiroshi Tagami, an artist and amateur horticulturist who with partner Michael Powell developed a uniquely charitable business model, died Friday. He was 85.

Tagami captured the energy of the islands with a variety of vibrant, lively paintings, all created in heavy oil paint applied by a pallet knife. "It's almost like sculpting with paint," said Powell, who learned the technique from Tagami. "He could paint everything -- portraits, abstracts, impressionistic things, landscapes. He could do everything. It was amazing."

His life's work of more than 7,000 paintings was displayed at the Tagami and Powell Art Gallery and Gardens, a Kaha­luu estate he first established with Richard Hart and later ran with Powell.

His works were also displayed at local establishments such as C.S. Wo and Sons, in private collections and at galleries around the world.

His partnership with Powell was kismet. Tagami first met Powell's father, Frank Powell, who was admiring Tagami's work on the fence at the Hono­lulu Zoo. Powell had brought $300 "in mad money" for his stay in Hono­lulu and wound up giving all of it to Tagami.

"He said, 'You know what? I really believe in you, and I'm going to give you this money as a gift and I think it might help you get started in your career,'" Michael Powell said. "'And then someday, when you're on your feet in your career ... send me a painting. That would be great.'"

Tagami did far more. A chance meeting with the Powells later that same year in New York introduced 11-year-old Michael to Tagami. Eighteen years later Powell moved to Hono­lulu to work in the banking industry, eventually studying painting with Tagami and joining him at the garden and gallery.

"It's one of those things that makes you believe in connectedness and karma," Michael Powell said.

Tagami & Powell developed a business model that served the community in more than just aesthetic ways. Instead of exhibiting in commercial galleries, they sold their works through charitable organizations, with a portion of the proceeds going to the charity.

"We would give away about 35 percent of all the artwork that we created in a year, and we made enough back to pay for our frames and materials, and then the lion's share of the profits went to the charities. This enabled us to give freely to all the people that asked," Powell said. "Hiro­shi had always been generous with his donations to charities."

Tagami had a lifelong interest in flora and fauna, which is represented not only in the lush gardens of his Windward property, but all over the country. In the 1970s he was part of a group that traveled through the Amazon region collecting plants.

"Many of the beautiful ornamental plants that we have here -- heliconias, anthuriums and different things -- are here because he brought them to the United States from South America," Powell said. "He just walked through the jungle collecting plants.

"His philosophy was very pure. He said, 'When I find something very unique and rare, my philosophy is to share it, because these things should be shared.'"

The garden and gallery were open by appointment to the general public, but it became so well known that the Dalai Lama paid a visit. That gave Tagami a chance to display his seemingly mystical connection to animals.

"Hiroshi used to be able to go outside and put his arms up in the air and call the birds to him," Powell said. "I have a photograph of him and the Dalai Lama standing in his garden ... and the wild birds flew down to them and ate."

Tagami was born at Schofield Barracks, the sixth of 12 children, and worked on plantations while growing up.

His artistic talent surfaced early, but he was not able to get any formal training until after his military service in the Korean War, when he took art lessons at the Hono­lulu Academy of Art School.

As it turned out, they weren't needed. His teacher wound up giving him money to pursue art.

"He was essentially self-taught," Powell said.

Powell said Tagami had a reflective view of his artistic talent, once telling him that "my art is more like the nectar on a plant that would draw the bees or the birds for nourishment. My art is something I'm grateful for, but more importantly it draws people to me, and then I have life experiences with these people that are quite profound."

In addition to Powell, Tagami is survived by many immediate family members.

A memorial service celebrating Tagami's life will be held at 10 a.m.July 5 at Unity Church of Hawaii, 3608 Diamond Head Circle.


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Source: Honolulu Star-Advertiser (HI)

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