Mark Kushimi

That Hawaiian Look

You could spend several days in Honolulu without realizing you're surrounded by Matthew Tapia's designs. But they're everywhere: he's done street murals, signage at the restaurant the Pig and the Lady, a piece at the Honolulu Museum of Art, and, perhaps most prominently, the widely Instagrammed pool at the new Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club (; doubles from $207).

Tapia was born and raised on Oahu. He worked odd jobs - security guard, stock clerk - before his art was discovered by the owner of clothing brand Ecko Unltd. during a small show at the local mall. He was invited to do a project for the company, which led to four years of developing his skill as a lettering artist at Ecko in New York City. Once he returned home to Honolulu, he landed a steady stream of freelance gigs with Nike and other brands.

In 2015, the Surfjack reached out to see whether he would be interested in painting a phrase at the bottom of its pool. Tapia chose “Wish You Were Here," because "guests looking down from their balconies would be invited to come down to the communal area," he says. There were logistical difficulties: working around the schedule of the construction crew, daily pool cleanings, and the blazing midday sun. "It was a month of overnights," he says. "But it was worth it in the end. I had no idea people would respond the way they have." His retro lettering at the bottom of the pool has become the de facto symbol of the boutique hotel, bringing well-timed attention to Oahu's art scene - the island will host its first art biennial this spring. "Hawaii has always been cut off from the rest of the world," Tapia says. "But the amount of talent that's come out of here is mind-boggling. It's got to be something in the water."

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