David Sandell is planets apart in ideaology from some of Hawaii's uber successful artists such as, say, Wyland or Pegge Hopper or Pam Andelin.
Yet, he's readily recognizable, a true legend in Wailuku. For decades, he's briskly walked up and down the streets of the county seat, carrying his artwork wherever he goes.
"I haven't driven a car since Jimmy Carter was president," says Sandell. "It's been over 40 years. I just stopped one day. You don't need to get me going about automobiles."
MAPA and the old Kress store
“Uncle Sol” Kawaihoa
So Sandell's home, workplace and destination of choice is Wailuku, where he's had numerous galleries and now an in-home studio.
"I have known David for 17 years, and he is just as unique as his art," says Lori Bub, owner of Lori's Hair Shack on Vineyard Street. "He sees the world in technicolor and is able to paint that way. He did a portrait of my son 13 years ago and it still hangs in my living room. It's amazing! Everyone should own a 'Sandell.' "
Born in the San Fernando Valley of California, Sandell came to Hawaii in the summer of 1969, picking pineapples on Lanai. The artist celebrates his 60th birthday, today.
"I was just 16 years old, hanging out and being a hippie," he says. "I was just like everybody else, desperate to get out of the old home town."
But he returned to finish high school, then came back to Hawaii and worked at the pineapple cannery in Kahului, on the advice Maui was more lively than little Lanai.
"I had always drawn cartoons, and so I immediately walked into the Maui Sun. Doing cartoons for that newspaper was my main gig for about, like, seven years or so," he says.
"I'm like a human photoshop," he continues. "People like me are becoming archaic because computers are putting us out of business. Plus, my life is even more compromised now that color was invented."
Sandell describes his dry wit as like, "Woody Allen before he lost his sense of humor."
Actor, singer and soon-to-be movie producer Eric Gilliom starred in "Get a Job" in which Sandell had a bit part as a bumbling artist.
"David Sandell is a wonderful artist and one of the funniest people I have ever known," says Gilliom. "Without a doubt, the jewel of Wailuku. There is nobody like that guy. He's worked with me on every show I have ever done. He did the artwork for the 'Rocky Horror Picture Show,' and much more."
In addition, he's created thousands of prints, silkscreens and T-shirts of Iao Valley, Iao Theater, St. Damien, Jack Nicholson, the Beatles and more. He's even written a beautifully illustrated book, "Moonlight Brand Wailuku."
"It all started with people asking me, 'Hey, can you draw my grandfather's old store?" It proceeded from there and it's written like a historic walking tour from hell. Remember the old Vineyard Tavern? It's in there. The old health food store, Molina's, you name it. I talk about bums in the alley here and getting my ass kicked there. It's just random snippets of the time."
So for those who want a steamy, lurid and visual tale of the old hippie days of Wailuku, this is the book for you. It's fortunate Sandell has plenty of copies available for purchase.
"I drew the entire town, street by street," he says. "The book is for when senility sets in so you can remember the old days. I even did a panorama stretching 400 feet long. But there was no way to reproduce something that huge."
These days, Sandell says the bulk of his time is still spent, "Hustling my art work." But he likes to go it alone and be independent.
"Artists hate each other," he says with that eccentric sense of humor. "We may join together to feed the hungry, but it's just a PR stunt."
He's vocal in other ways, too.
"It's not like I sit around and say, "I must create beautiful things that people covet.' I do remotely clever art with a little flair. I want people to think of me as a failed ad man on Madison Avenue. I never wanted to do beautiful sunsets or make the world a better place. I think that's so phony. I just want to pay my electric bill. It may sound cynical, but it's true."
He also says his appearances on First Fridays are "superfluous" and that "I'm not into that song and dance routine of owning a gallery anymore.'
He's happy as a clam with his humble plantation house and studio at 195 S. Church St. in Wailuku.
"I have a dog and a cable TV and a wife, Virginia. We've been married for 15 years. She teaches at Baldwin High School. My Sandell sign hangs at the front of the house, if anybody wants to see my artwork."
The Wailuku artist will be at home on his birthday, eating chicken pot pies and watching old movies.
You may call Sandell at his studio at 249-0234; or visit his website at www.sandellmaui.com.
* Photo of artist, story by Carla Tracy