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Illustrated man

March 6, 2008
By RICK CHATENEVER, Maui Scene Editor
Under the heading of Nice Work If You Can Get It, consider Maui artist Tom Sewell. Last August, as the island was getting crispy in the drought, Tom was finding a new way of staying cool … and hot. He spent three labor-intensive days photographing two barely clad supermodels in sultry Haiku “Hidden Gardens.”

What he came up with fills five full pages in probably the most popular single issue of any magazine in the world, the current Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition.

Sewell’s work is highly visible in Maui’s fine art circles. His new “Family of Man,” a video piece in which photos of faces blend, one into another, is in Art Maui 2008, running through April 6 in the Maui Arts & Cultural Center’s Schaefer International Gallery. His work regularly makes the jury selection for Art Maui, the island’s most prestigious annual exhibit.

In Schaefer Gallery’s previous show, “Vintage,” featuring most of Maui’s leading artists over the age of 60, his multimedia installation, “Dr. Saito’s Office,” raised eyebrows and sparked that old question, “Now, what, exactly, was the difference between art and pornography again…?

His mammoth, multimedia “Engima of the Mill,” also in Schaefer Gallery in 2006, pushed the envelope of video technology, turning agriculture into art, mill labor into ballet, welding arcs into brush strokes and machinery into sculpture.

But the combined audience for all of that is a tiny fraction of the 69 million sets of eyes examining his photos in SI.

He calls the figure “astonishing,” and that’s not even counting the line extension offshoots, the calendar, the Web site, the “making of” videos.

The project came about when Sports Illustrated’s creative director Steve Hoffman stayed in the guest accommodations of Tom and Michelle Sewell’s home and studio in Haiku.

“He happened to come for a night. He was a friend of a friend.” Tom showed him some of his photos in his studio, Hoffman went back to New York, and a few weeks later, Sports Illustrated was on the line.

Tom told the magazine he would do the shoot if he could do it his way. With his chief assistant Harley Brown, he led models Jessica White and Yasmin Brunet and an 18-person crew into unusual north coast settings.

Erosion on Baldwin beach washes the sand out for a few weeks each year, leaving gnarly roots exposed, like tendrils reaching out for the girls in the photos. There’s a similar feel — bikini girls in peril — to the jungly shots in an abandoned, overgrown Haiku mill.

The issue also features a number of bikinis created by Debbie Kowalski Wilson, owner of Maui Girl & Co. in Paia. Another chapter was shot in Lahaina, adding a distinctive Made-on-Maui feel to the edition that annually adds fantasy to the other Sports the magazine regularly covers.

The shoot was a crazy adventure, Tom says. The models, so used to hair and makeup entourages attending to their every beautiful need, were exposed to the tropical realities behind the fantasy. Mosquitos, for example.

For someone whose real life is like most guys’ dream life, he’s bemused by it all.

He thinks of himself in the third person, he confides, like a character in a story.

One with great pictures.

• Contact Rick Chatenever at

Article Photos

Tom Sewell with some of his Sports Illustrated shots

The Maui News / LEHIA APANA photo



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