Kosta Kulundzic’s Hawaii Apocalypse, on display at SPF Projects until August 25, puts Saint George the Dragon Slayer, the patron saint of soldiers, chivalry, and horsemen, right in the center of paradise. This medieval legend has everything you could want: a brave hero, an evil villain, and a damsel in distress. O‘ahu becomes the unexpected setting for religious violence and comic book catastrophe.
Placing a 4th century hero in modern O‘ahu with guns is like placing Maui at the center of the creation myth for Long Island.”When I came here, I was surprised by the military presence and churches in such a beautiful place, and Saint George popped into my mind immediately,” says Kulundzic. It is oblong and ridiculous, but Kulundzic’s assertion is correctly placed: Hawai‘i has a giant floating golf ball in harbor to protect us from potential ICBMs; the best private schools on O‘ahu have religious affiliations; most of us have a Bon Dance that we are attending during this time of year. The ubiquitous presence of these can dull us to their prevalence and that makes it difficult to appreciate the impact these institutions have on our lives.
Hawaii Apocalypse N° 10, Kosta Kulundzic, oil on canvas, 20cm x 40cm, 2010-2011
The original story goes like this. Pre-sainthood, George kills a dragon that was about to eat a sacrificial virgin offered by the nearby town that had been terrorized by the dragon. In return for his bravery, George calls for the whole town to convert to Christianity.
Kulundzic flips the classic narrative on its head. Taking place in modern times, St. George changes from hero on a white horse in full military armor and regalia into a ‘Merica-fuck-yeah bro with automatic weapons, going from selfless hero to gun-toting religious nut. The dragon is changed from pathetic, colored lizard into a beautiful creature of nature. The whole legend becomes all the more absurd, blurring the lines between a hero and his villain. I am left feeling ambivalent to the hero and sympathetic to the beast that was to be killed. Luckily, Kulundzic populates this story with more than just our hero.
Waikiki Burning N° 2, Kosta Kulundzic, oil on canvas, 130cm x 97cm, 2013
Kulundzic’s diverse cast of characters is the strongest part of his work. They provide an immediate connection into the ridiculous action taking place. They show no remorse over the violence perpetrated and proudly drape their giant lizard victims over lifted trucks on North Shore dirt roads. They stare defiantly toward the viewer, proud of their fresh kills. “It was important to have people from Hawai‘i appear in the paintings,” says Kulundzic. “You paint better with tenderness.”
Beautiful and imperfect, each character is pushed to the foreground with brilliant colors that create a picture-perfect landscape of O‘ahu. Everything is presented with an unapologetic stroke. The combination of violence, strong faces, and vibrant colors reminds me of someone crossing a Caravaggio with Steve Dillon’s Preacher. And for good reason, Kosta draws inspiration from classical art as well as movies, video games and graphic novels. “They are part of my history,” Kulundzic says. “Each image influences the other. I cannot deny a part of myself.”
Kosta Kulundzic’s Hawaii Apocalypse, curated by Trisha Lagaso Goldberg is currently showing at SPF Projects from July 18–August 25. An artist talk will take place on August 1 at 7 p.m. SPF Projects is located at 729 Auahi St. SPF Projects is located at 729 Auahi St., Tue. –Thurs. 7–11 p.m. and Sun. 1–5 p.m.