• Wed. Sep 28th, 2022

Bosko Hrnjak: the mid-century creator

Bosko considers Tiki mugs to be equal to any other sculpture.

Even if you didn’t know anything at all about artist Bosko Hrnjak, you might get a pretty good idea of ​​who the man is and what he cares about just by taking a look around his sprawling property – and amply decorated – on the edge of Escondido. Like Daniel Pinkwater’s Mr. Plumbean, the colorful children’s book hero The big orange spot, Bosko might say, “My home is me and I am here.” My home is where I love to be and it looks like all of my dreams.

After passing the (usually closed) gate with its warning signs, you’ll find yourself in the midst of an array of exotic plants, preserved rocks, a mix of antiques, half-planted ceramic shards, and a few large-scale outdoor art installations, all set against a backdrop of rugged mountainous beauty. There are numerous studio and store spaces; soft exotic music escapes from one of them. And you’ll certainly notice the impressive A-frame hut in which he and his wife, musician Truus de Groot, were married about two decades ago.

Tanks to note: Bosko Hrnjak stands in front of one of his installations.

Despite his succession, Bosko is best known for his work as a Tiki artist. He’s one of the small handful of people primarily responsible for the rebirth of what his friend, writer Sven Kirsten, dubbed “Polynesian Pop” – America’s creative reimagining of island recreation havens in mid-century. Legions of bars, restaurants, hotels, bowling alleys and apartment buildings were created in style in its heyday, only to disappear quickly after the aesthetic trend reversed. Bosko spent his early years in the San Gabriel Valley in Los Angeles; his time there has brought him into an intimate connection with some of the ruins of the Tiki dream world of the region. And it left a permanent impression on which he has drawn since. His distinctive contribution to the Tiki revival has been twofold: he was the first artist in decades to carve wooden Tiki figures, and also to craft the elaborate ceramic mugs intended to hold tropical cocktails. He considered the latter to be a completely unrecognized art. More privately, he has created his own home Tiki bar, the extremely cool Kapu Tiki Room, which is located here in his courtyard – “a museum, a tribute to the first movement”. (You might not be able to see the private version, but San Diegans can see Bosko’s maximalist interior designed for San Diego’s False Idol bar at any time in Craft & Commerce.)

A charming and talkative speaker who is as humble as he is enthusiastic, Bosko will tell you all about the Tiki part of his creative life as he walks around providing what he says he can turn into an hour or three visit. time. , depending on your preference. But you’ll quickly learn that there is more to Bosko than Tiki. “I could spend three hours just talking about plants,” he warns me, just before showing me some of his rare early cycads. “They are pre-flowering; as old as dinosaurs. I want to hear about the plants – and also the stories of William Westenhaver and the Witco furniture, and the weird instruments around the house, and the swizzle sticks and the matchbooks – but more than that, I want to make sure that I hear of Bosko working in the wilderness. I want to see some of the many photographs he has taken in his efforts to document both the desolation and the startling beauty of the desert world around the Salton Sea and its environs.

Deserted RV in the desert.

Photo owned by Bosko Hrnjak copyright 2018

Fortunately, he forces me and we enter one of his studios. Bosko has many stories to accompany his photographs, and he delights me as we flip through a portfolio, an Imperial County map laid out beside it. One has to do with being chased by a man posing as a police officer, from whom he and Truus have escaped. Another, with the discovery of a hotel with a hall full of organs that once belonged to “some kind of musician in Downey” at some point in the past. By the time of his second site visit, the instruments had been completely destroyed by vandals. Many stories feature the motif of households whose residents either died or simply took off without leaving much of a trace – just sad, humble, and untouched memorials. The desert is strangely teeming with them, hidden from view of the entire Imperial County.

Like Tiki’s endangered urban and suburban realms that he has explored for decades, the wilderness provides another creative hotspot for the artist, and he regularly exploits it for the discovery of artifacts and inspiration. There is a common thread for Bosko: “This is just mid-century America, and where the empire has been since its heyday. That’s the object of all the work… It all kind of revolves around that, to varying degrees.

The Salton Sea Once an icon of the sweetness of life, it is now becoming a mass of poisoned dust.

Photo owned by Bosko Hrnjak copyright 2018

Some of his photographs of the desert went to the Salton sink project, a collaboration with Truus that the couple presented in Amsterdam, which combines images and music to evoke the dismal atmosphere of the Salton Sea, that once scary and sacked dream, a body of water created by a great accident which, in another age was a hotbed of bustling seaside resorts and smiling vacationers on water skis. The entire place once served as a vibrant icon of the good Californian lifestyle. Today the sea continues its gradual metamorphosis into a mass of toxic dust.

When this project originated a little over a decade ago, Bosko hoped that something good that was environmentally friendly could come out of it. Back then, he says, there was still some hope, at least more than today. “At the time, you could still have saved him,” he said. He was not very lucky. Despite the power of the work and the importance of its subject, “Nobody wanted to touch it”.

But the photos remain – go see them at saltonsink.com – and Bosko is still busy with his activities: paintings, Tikis, cups, urban archeology. Follow his work at tikibosko.com.