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Treehouse Coworking’s June Artist: CJ Smith

CJ Smith’s, Manoa based ocean photographer, work is a duplicity of nature and the abstract. When viewers engage his images they see something beyond a natural scene: a triptych of a beach becomes a subconscious image of smoke; a reflection of water appears to be an abstract block of wood. “Moment, light, and composition,” Smith said as he explained the focus of his creative process. “That’s what I’m thinking. I don’t want to create a static image on the wall. I’m looking to create an engagement and energy with the viewer and the piece.”

Smith’s other work was comprised of more traditional nature scenes such as waves, dolphins, and seascapes, as he does not only focus on abstract imagery. “My main thing is to inspire, uplift, and transport the whole world one person at a time with beautiful imagery,” said Smith who conducted a gallery hosted at Treehouse Coworking on Friday June 18, 2018, and prints will be showcased there throughout July.

Smith’s love for the ocean and for photography started when he was a child. “I was thrown into the water when I was three months old,” said Smith. “Ever since I was little I loved the ocean. When I was about 11 years old, I picked up my first camera. Me and my brother would get the Long’s disposable cameras and go to North Shore, Makapu’u, and Sandy’s. We’d go all over the island trying to get barrels. That was the coolest thing you could do and was the most fun.”

Since childhood, Smith taken his passion to a new level. “About three years ago I set a self imposed challenge where I set goals in each area of life,” said Smith. “One of the goals was to get a piece in a public space.”

Not only did Smith get a piece in a public space but surpassed his goal tremendously as he now has galleries overseas. “I did an artist in residency program in Japan,” said Smith. “From there I had an exhibition in Ginza, ...went to Tokyo, from there I networked into the surf community and went to the Hawaii Festival [in Japan], and now I’m going back to Kyoto. It’s just the domino effect.”

Although Smith has gained recent notoriety, his ambition and inspiration remains humble. “I just want to live the most fulling meaningful that I could,” said Smith. “I have people that inspire me artistically; all the great photographers that came before me who helped pave the way: the Clark Littles, the Zack Noyles, the Brent Bielmenns, and all the great wave riders, they all inspired me.”

Although, Smith was inspired by notable ocean photographers and watermen, the person who inspired him most was his late brother. “One thing I’d like people to know is how my brother inspired me to do what I’m doing,” said Smith. “He struggled a lot with addiction and pain. So he really inspired me to live a life of wellness and fulfillment. I feel his presence with me, and having my opening show there [in the building he was treated] was really meaningful to me.” Smith’s late brother was treated in the same building that was later converted into Treehouse Coworking where his gallery was hosted.

Smith’s future is bright and he plans to feature photos globally. “I wanna go to all the major surf centers around the world,” said Smith.

Smith’s photo gallery will be showcased publically at Treehouse Coworking at 74 Kihapai Street in Kailua throughout July. More information about Smith’s art can found on his website at


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