A Renegade Artist’s Playful Creations

Petri with the baby owl he made for Small Town Coffee. Coco Zickos photo

Mixing creativity and stealth, Eddie Petri’s art pieces magically appear around Kaua’i, to the delight of many

Remember the car dressed up as a cat that mysteriously appeared in 2008 for several days at the intersection of Kawaihau Road and Kuhio Highway?

Well, the mystery has finally been solved.

Renegade artist Eddie Petri, who created the piece, still has a good laugh at how much fun it was to spark people’s imaginations and ignite a sense of mystery by leaving the curious vehicle on display in Kapa’a.

“No one’s forgotten about it. People are still wondering what happened to it,” he says.

The artistic public showing took much planning on Petri’s end.

He used 119 cans of foam insulation to cover his 1989 Honda Accord and form the intricate shape of a cat.

On the day the vehicle – which he calls “the good fortune kitty car” – was completed, he stealthily moved it at 4:30 a.m. to the location adjacent to Kealia Beach and was back home by the time the sun came up.

Little did he realize that the car would become the hot topic of the day, particularly on radio station KQNG-FM.

Until now, the mystery was never unraveled.

Same goes for another renegade piece Petri created that also was located in Kapa’a.

After the car, Petri was inspired to dress up a wall on a vacant lot for sale in town. At 5 a.m. he secretly painted the wall and added to it shimmering dolphins intended to sparkle in the afternoon sun.

Even though no one knew who did it, all the businesses owners in the area were pleased with the “breath of fresh energy,” says Petri.

The Eastside resident never really had any intention of becoming an untraditional or renegade artist. But Petri has become enamored with its subjective element in recent years.

“There is a lot of magic involved in a renegade piece because there is mystery,” he says. “People want to know why it’s there, who did it, what happened to it.”

All of Petri’s work is one-of-a-kind.

He also is responsible for the Hawaiian pueo that greets Small Town Coffee patrons outside of the store in Kapa’a. The idea to create the piece hit him after he acquired 55-gallon drums from a local business.

Eddie Petri and the infamous Cat Car. Photo courtesy Eddie Petri

“I try to use recycled materials as much as I can,” he says.

He thought that sculpting an owl from metal would give it the lines and texture Petri enjoys using in his artwork. Though he initially hoped to sculpt a horned owl, since he is fond of medieval, “pointy” art, he later discovered that the endangered native birds in Hawai’i are short-eared.

“Obviously, living in Hawai’i, I’m going to do a Hawaiian owl,” he says. “The pueo, the spiritual owl, the guardian, the protector – I was really intrigued by it because of the mask and the face.”

That signature face currently stands at a height where it can look any observer almost right in the eye.

He especially hopes that children will connect with the owl, which was actually designed to be a baby with ruffled feathers.

“When they see art, hopefully they’ll want to go home and do art themselves,” he says. “I’ll be the first and not the last to admit that we all have schedules and all our passions. They get put aside sometimes. I believe we shouldn’t postpone joy.”

Petri gains joy from creating art using a diverse array of mediums, and he is inspired by cultural and tribal arts such as petroglyphs, the Renaissance era and spiritually symbolic animals such as owls.

Over the past 10 years, Petri has completed many works using corrugated metal for sculptures, and says he has been morphing into a 55-gallon drum phase.

“What I strive for as an artist is to be completely unique,” he says.

Petri is originally from California, but lived in Honolulu as a child and moved to Maui after he graduated from high school on the Mainland. He has lived on Kaua’i almost 10 years.

As a child, Petri mostly liked to draw.

“Now I don’t have the patience to hold a paintbrush or a pen and draw whatsoever. I’ve evolved into other styles of art,” he says. “I’m definitely an artist by nature.”

While in high school, Petri started dabbling in metallic sculpture.

“I got heavily entrenched in welding of all sorts,” he says. “But I really passionately fell in love with gas welding. I like the flame, I like the torch, I like the heat; I love hot, burnt metal.

“It all just comes 100 percent from the heart.”

Petri, who owns the alternative building company Ultra Custom Installations, continues to use his talent to delight Kaua’i’s residents and visitors alike. In the future, the freelance artist would like to create more aesthetic pieces for the island.

“A lot of times we get trapped and don’t spend time with our creativity. Renegade art really does inspire people,” he says. “I believe we are all artists.”

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