2018 marks the second time the Freaky Tiki Surf-ari will get to spotlight someone in the Tiki scene who’s finally getting wider recognition for their contributions to said scene. Last time was for a musician who was part of the original rise of Tiki culture and this time marks an artist who was part of its modern day revival: Dawn “Sophista-Tiki” Frasier.
To paraphrase Critiki, Dawn Frasier has been part of the Tiki art scene even before there was a Tiki art scene. She had been painting Tiki art and collecting Tiki items (in addition to Mid-Century Modern furniture) during the 80’s, at a time when such things had fallen out of fashion and could be obtained for next to nothing. She spent part of the early 90’s living in Fiji, where she was inspired by the patterns on tapa cloth. This inspiration stuck with her as she continued hone her craft upon returning to Seattle in the 90’s. The revival of the Tiki art scene started in 1995 and you had better believe Dawn Frasier was still doing her thing. Otto von Stroheim’s Tiki News magazine was a factor in the Tiki revival. He hosted various parties and art exhibits in Los Angeles and kept doing the same after moving to San Francisco in 1996. That was also the year he saw some of Dawn Frasier’s tapa-inspired works in a store window and sought out the artist behind them. She then appeared at Exoticon and was also part of an art show called “Exotica Primitiva: Then and Now” with notable Tiki artists Shag and Bosko. The event, which was von Stroheim’s first group Tiki show in San Francisco, was put together to promote both the release of Tiki News #8 and the reissuing of Martin Denny’s Forbidden Island and Primitiva on CD. Unsurprisingly, Ms. Frasier’s artwork also appeared in that particular issue and she went on to provide artwork for Tiki Oasis (another von Stroheim creation). Her work appeared in other exhibitions, solo shows, books, magazines and conventions over the years that followed.
According to an interview given in volume 9, issue 1 of Tiki Magazine, a joking dare from fellow artist Ken Ruzic led her to primarily paint in only two colors for a year. But she enjoyed the results so much that she continued to work with blues and greens for many (but not all) of her “Moodxotica” paintings. Complaints from some galleries about having to deal with the glass coverings on her watercolor paintings led to her doing more work with acrylics as well. The 2000’s saw her creating her “Sophista-Tiki” brand and doing work for Party Partners (who she still occasionally does work for).
That all sounds great, right? Sadly Dawn Frasier had to put up with a lot of crap in the Tiki scene. And I’m not just talking about usual stuff artists have to deal with (although she had to deal with that too). Most retrospectives and looks at the history of the Tiki revival flat out ignore her. I’m ashamed to admit I’ve been a fan of her work for years and had no idea of her role in the revival until recently. You know there’s a problem when the person behind an annual Tiki celebration like the Freaky Tiki Surf-ari failed to notice the importance of Dawn Frasier’s work despite having previously looked into the early days of the Tiki revival. But it gets worse. Sure, lots of artists have to deal with trolls, but how many of them can say they’ve had a troll set up fake websites designed to look like their official web presences? Dawn Fraiser can and thankfully it looks like she finally managed to get them all taken down. Her being left out of a major art show and a book about the history of the scene was particularly hurtful for her. Her announcement that she was leaving the Tiki scene in 2017 was fueled by that, stalking and a particularly nasty situation involving someone ripping her off. She is planning on releasing a magazine which will give all the gory details on why she left the scene (and the complete history of her involvement in the world of Tiki), so I dare not say any more. What I will say is how she noted how the harassment and fake accounts stopped after her announcement of leaving the Tiki scene. She also remarked on how, after awhile, people started appreciating her work again and how some of the techniques she had been criticized for are now starting to gain acceptance among other artists. Hopefully this will be covered in the magazine as well.
But Dawn Frasier can never truly leave the Tiki scene. She may have stopped attending shows to sell art, but I understand that she still submits paintings to certain Tiki shows and still has supporters in the scene. Her appearances on BossaNova Life and Tiki With Ray alone are proof of the latter (along with proving her contributions to the scene are getting more attention). Besides, how could any Tiki fan resist her paintings, prints, clothing, fabrics, rugs, party decorations and various other goodies?
So here’s to you, Dawn “Sophista-Tiki” Frasier! We here at Gravedigger’s Local 16 salute you for all of your hard work and contributions to the Tiki revival (which eventually led to the creation of the Freaky Tiki Surf-ari). Just in case the funny business with the fake websites starts up again, here are direct links to the official Sophista-Tiki Facebook, Etsy and Instagram accounts.
UPDATE: As there have been some Tiki fans visiting who might not be horror fans, I thought I should break character to clarify something. When I say things like “gory details” and “dare not say more” in regard to Dawn Frasier’s magazine, I’m just playing up the horror angle by giving the article the “Count Floyd” treatment. I don’t have any secret or insider information about what Dawn Frasier will discuss in her magazine. Everything you read here is everything that I know the details of. I’m just as curious to see what her take on the matter is as you are.