As the wave of tiki resurgence washes over San Diego, bars and restaurants across the city are raising their humanoid glassware to the mythological tradition. Central to the culture are the stunning wooden sculptures that don the doorways and walls of your favorite watering holes. Local artist Patrick Sousa, whose work is born of a childhood interest in tiki and the Polynesian lifestyle, carves out his passion into the palm trees of San Diego, with commissions across the city.
PACIFIC recently sat down with Sousa and spoke about his burgeoning career in tiki artistry.
PACIFIC: How did you become interested in tiki?
PATRICK SOUSA: As a kid, we always went to the Polynesian hotel at Disneyland. It just stuck in my brain. It came back in 2009 — I wasn’t working until 10 at night, and I realized I wanted to make them myself.
Were you already artistically trained?
No, I wasn’t trained other than doodling. I’ve never taken art classes.
Did you have a mentor?
Bay Park Buzzy. I got introduced to him and went over to his house. He was nice enough to show me how to carve and how to use the chisel. If you were to draw a line down the center of the tiki, he would do everything on the right, and had me copy it on the left.
Do you remember having an “I’ve got this” moment?
I do. I made a tiki for my friend Brad, and I remember looking at it and saying to myself, “I actually know what I’m doing! I should keep doing this!” (laughs)
What was your first commission?
I live in (Ocean Beach), and Kyle McDonald, the singer from Slightly Stoopid, just walked into my garage. He has now commissioned two from me. I made them for friends too but, with friends, you don’t know if they are just being nice to you.
What’s your process in making tiki?
There are examples of tiki from each of the islands, and there are some people that only want the original designs. To purists, they want them to look ancient. For me, it’s hard to not feel like you are copying if you don’t put a little of yourself in there. I base it off something and go from there.
Where can we find your work?
At Raglan Public House; I put one in and then they commissioned me to make more. Also at Guava Beach Bar on Mission (Boulevard) at the front door, the posts outside of The Grass Skirt, and the giant tiki in the poke shop next door to The Grass Skirt.
Who do you look up to?
Bosko, out of Escondido. He’s been carving tikis since the ’80s, and did all the carving in False Idol.
Favorite tiki cocktail?
The Coronado Luau Special, old signature cocktail used in Hotel Del (Coronado) in the 1940s.
What’s your favorite thing about tiki?
You escape from everything. It doesn’t matter where the tiki bar is; once you are in there, you feel like you are on a tropical vacation.
Want to see the artist in action? Check out Sousa in his studio at vimeo.com/107968412. To see his work in person, visit Raglan Public House at 1851 Bacon St. in Ocean Beach, 619.794.2304, raglanpublichouse.com; and The Grass Skirt, at 910 Grand Ave. in Pacific Beach, 858.412.5237, thegrassskirt.com. To commission your own custom tiki, contact Sousa for scheduling and pricing at email@example.com.
Laurie Delk is an avid art historian, holding a master’s degree in art history, with concentrations in the modern and postmodern movements. She has taught classes at Tulane University, and has been published with several art publications including Sculpture Magazine and New Orleans Art Review. Send ideas for art stories to firstname.lastname@example.org.