All photos courtesy of Sean Yoro
It has been a couple of years since we first came across the work of street artist Sean Yoro, who practices his art under the name HULA. Since then, we’ve watched and admired as the volume of his work has grown, along with their scale and notoriety.
HULA’s works are innovative because of their cultural dimensions as well as how they interact with the changing spaces they occupy. He paints images that relate and rely on natural elements, like icebergs, and water under bridges and docks. Although largely recognized for these pieces that exist in public spaces, Yoro also shows his work in galleries around the world. We recently reached out to him and asked him to share a little more about his story, message, and what happens behind the scenes for him in his journey as an artist.
1. Where are you from and how, if at all, does that influence your work?
I was born and raised in Kahalu'u on the east side of Oahu. Growing up in Hawaii influenced my art a lot, from being inspired by nature to using the ocean literally in my murals. I grew up a surfer and found a way to incorporate the lifestyle into my work. Hawaii also forces you to interact with your environment which I always look to do with the figures I paint.
2. What was the first piece you did that incorporated bodies of water? What did you learn from that first experience, and what skills did you have to acquire for pulling that first piece off that you carry into your work now?
My first successful mural I painted along water was Pu'uwai(Heart), which was a figure gliding sideways along the water. It was inspired by listening to heart beat underwater when every other noise is drowned out. I learned a lot from this piece, using trial and error to help me fine tune the techniques I use today. I had to learn to adapt to any conditions since I have to work with the unpredictability of nature. Theres never been a project with the same variables, so its hard to really compare.
3. Your art is not subtle...at least by nature of scale/size, it is quite a statement. How do you decide your subject. And once you decide, do you use friends/families as sounding boards, or do you find that it ends up creating more creative hesitation?
The initial concepts come from my sketchbooks, where anything and everything gets written or drawn in. I usually get inspired from nature so being outside and exploring really helps to get fresh ideas. Theres some pieces that I just want to create for aesthetic purposes and others with a statement/opinion behind it. I've done pieces geared toward Climate Change Awareness and it is much more satisfying to see my paintings exposure go towards good causes.
I usually don't bounce ideas off others, not because I don't think they could help, but I always want to keep the mystery of my next projects intact. I spend quite a bit of time refining the original concepts so everything is tightly knit once I start painting.
4. Process is often a huge part of the story with art that doesn't always get to be shared with the audience. Is there particular piece you did that comes with a special story-either the origin of its subject or with the actual process of painting it?
There's a lot of behind the scene stories that don't get told with my projects, especially since most my paintings are illegal and require sensitivity when making them public. One story I have fresh in my mind was from a project I did a month ago in the Arctic of Iqaluit, Baffin Island. We were on an expedition to paint on the tops of ice sheets in the middle of the ocean. Once we found a good piece of ice we set up camp and I started to paint. I had less then 5 hours before the ice broke into smaller pieces and we had to emergency evacuate the whole crew while I stayed on to finish as much of the painting as I could. The painting ended up getting sucked with the tide and smashed into rocks. Luckily I got off in time with my SUP, but it definitely was a closer call.
5. As a street artist, what is the biggest thing you want the viewers of your work to take away from their interaction with your art?
I always try to push the limits of what can be created. I hope people will be able to take away a new perspective and look at their environment/life with fresh eyes. I always liked the idea of street art because its accessible to the public and they can receive it however they want. Its always interesting to hear everyone's different opinions and what they think the painting is about.