Artist and Wordsmith Adam J. Kurtz Delivers the Inspiration We Need for the New Year
He’s that sassy, smart best friend (and a new Hawai‘i resident) with the best advice to get you through the bad, ugly and WTF(!) days.
We’ve bought his art. We’ve featured his work in our gift guides. We’ve been inspired by his words. So, when we found out that Adam Kurtz relocated here, for love of course, we considered ourselves lucky. His witty, fresh and relatable outlook on life and all its crazy moments are on point and off beat. Now, he’s collaborating with local artists, popping up at Honolulu book shops and eating poke, pound by pound. “It’s better here than anywhere else, the real deal, sitting in sauce. Tamura’s, Alicia’s or Times are my favorite spots.”
Kurtz sells his artwork under Adam JK, a brand that has gained a global cult following since its birth in 2015. “It grew organically as I was making art in the form of, really, anything,” Kurtz says. “From postcards to balloons to keychains, my art is all about making something affordable and accessible that serves as a reminder or encouragement in some small way.” Because he’s a one-man operation, all his projects are a true representation of his unlimited creativity and he has the freedom to try various mediums, which we’re praying he does. “If I want to self-publish a handwritten annual planner, or a simplified tarot deck, there’s some context. If I want to create neon sculpture or an interactive wall mural, there’s room for that too. The glue that holds it all together is me. A real human person, making honest, direct, illustrative, slightly-dark work with short handwritten phrases and bright colors.”
His latest book, You Are Here (For Now), is a self-help guide to anyone feeling the psychological and mental effects of pandemic life—which is most of us. “Some of the topics are relatable in a light way (comparing ourselves to others) and others are still me being funny and real with you,” Kurtz says. “But it gets a lot heavier (some people think about dying sometimes).” And, when the climate does change, his words provide caring comfort, creative solutions and a kick-in-the-ass for those who need it.
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We caught up with the Toronto native, who is just as comical—and clever—as his artwork, while he was working on some tasks in his new Kapahulu home. His husband, Mitchell Kuga, is a seasoned culture writer who grew up in Central O‘ahu and recently shared his mom’s shoyu chicken recipe in Bon Appetit. “While many people dream of coming to Hawai‘i for a vacation, it’s unlikely I’d ever visit if not for meeting my husband,” Kurtz says. ”I’m not a warm weather guy and I sunburn easily! But after six Christmas visits, each longer than the one before, I started to get a sense of what life here could be like for us.” Their weekends are filled with ‘ono food—“I’ve been here long enough to have some controversial local food opinions which I will keep to myself because I’m still trying to make friends,”—relaxing at home to avoid crowds and playing pickleball with Kuga’s mom and dad. “We play for hours, taking turns, bringing musubis and manapuas, it’s safe and a lot of fun!”
As for future work projects, Kurtz is already working with the local creative community and hopes to continue joining shop pop-ups, neighborhood market events and cool collaborations—one of which launched last week. “It’s a special capsule collaboration with local streetwear brand Moon Collective, which similarly explores themes of personal growth and looking outside of ourselves,” he says. The line includes a T-shirt ($40), hat ($40) and limited-edition bandana ($15) available through Bās Bookshop.
And since we’re such fans of his work, and the punchy positivity it brings, we asked him to select his favorite quotes that’ll empower and inspire us for the new year. His own motto that he lives by is “things are what you make of them.” Considering the way 2022 started, with thunderstorms and another upswing in COVID-19 cases, we hear (and embrace) that.
Adam JK: “I believe in the power of a little something to keep you going, the cup of coffee or a cute notebook or any other pick-me-up that just makes you feel good. ‘Something to look forward to’ is an idea that I want to encourage and celebrate, because it’s not childish to want to feel better on a hard day or enjoy a small reward along the way to your bigger goals! This reminder is from my subscription mail art club project where I make sure members have something to look forward to by mail four times a year.”
Adam JK: “Sometimes we need to move past small talk and address the real shit going on in our lives. This might mean being honest with family members, this might mean defending our beliefs, this might mean having difficult conversations with a person we love that is on a destructive path. Ask yourself WHY you aren’t talking about something. Is it fear of the truth? Of being rude? Or being a burden to others? Most of the time the people that love us would be so willing to help if they only knew what we needed.”
Adam JK: “The sooner you recognize that life doesn’t have a happily ever after, the sooner you can enjoy the journey itself. New challenges will always arise. There’s always another thing to navigate or manage or deal with. The trick is to pace yourself so you can keep climbing. There’s also a whole paragraph about the Koko Head stairs in chapter seven because, holy shit…”
Adam JK: “It’s funny how a lot of advice is saying the same thing in different ways so it can connect with another person. This might sound like I’m saying “never quit,” but I’m not. I’m saying that it’s not over until you say it’s over. Every miss is information gained for the next attempt, and that will always be up to you. There are so many reasons why we fail at something but eventually, you find a way.”
Adam JK: “Listen, time actually does heal many wounds and so doing absolutely nothing other than “not dying” can actually be a pretty good plan. If that’s all you can muster, that’s plenty. Hang in there. Try not to worry too much. Good things are coming. Actually, a local boutique stole this art for their own magnet design. Guess I’ve officially made it in Hawai’i.”