Artist Sean Yoro, who goes by HULA, completed his first mural along the Saint John harbour in 2017. HULA, who is originally from Oahu, Hawaii, is back in Saint John for the second time. Combining his love of fine art with his love for the ocean, HULA paints murals based on environmentally and socially conscious themes while balancing on a paddle board.
Tell me a little bit about your background. Where are you from?
My name is Hula. My real name is Sean Yoro and I’m a street artist. I mostly paint out in nature and I’m from Oahu, Hawaii.
At what point did you start surfing?
Me and my brother have always been (surfing), growing up in the water. Probably 5 or 6 was when we started, so it was so natural for me to throw my paints on the surfboard and start painting along the ocean.
When did you start painting murals and how did it occur to you to combine them?
So I had originally moved up to New York after just stumbling into art at 18. I moved the very next summer with this naive plan to paint for galleries around the world and if I could do that in New York I could be successful as an artist. It ended up being a much longer, harder path of 3 or 4 years before I started actually gaining some momentum as an artist and showing my work in galleries. Then I realized that I wanted to branch out into street art and the best way for me to do that was to combine what I love about growing up in Hawaii and what I love about the fine art world. I’ve always had the ocean as a kind of underlying passion where I really want to be for most of my life and being able to use it in my inspiration in fine art and then again being directly able to use the ocean to create my street art seemed (like) such a perfect concept. (I started) creating the first concept of I think 5 or 6 murals out in New York along these abandoned docks. From there it just kind of caught fire…and then (I) was able to expand out in other environments and I really wanted to have these deeper underlying messages with issues as far as climate change and social issues, so I began working out on icebergs, and then we went to some forests, and then my last project this last year was (an) underwater project.
I always kind of have an idea in my head (that) being an artist means you have to find this hidden recipe that is going to be your thing as an artist…To be able to expand more and find what limits there are in nature – that’s the fun part. It was really fun to try something completely different underwater and (work) with these reefs. It’s been an exciting journey…There’s a lot of keeping focus and keeping kind of close to what’s going on in the world especially climate wise…I always say it’s a good and bad problem…because every time I look at the news there’s new inspiration to draw from. It’s a crazy time right now, but I do feel motivated to just keep moving and find what else fits.
When you’re working underwater how does that process work? How do you get the paint to stick?
It was…the longest I’ve ever spent on a project on the back end of prepping and everything, but It was probably a 14 month process. The original idea was to create this artificial reef while free diving and doing the whole mural, so I had to create eco-friendly materials. We used a lot of metal and cement that is typically used with artificial reefs but then I (had) the problem of figuring out how to get this paint to stick underwater. We ended up creating our own kind of wax sticks that would repel the water but would be able to hold the pigment underwater. Once I got that out of the way it was just the training involved with free diving. That was a whole other 6 to 8 months of straight training. It was a lot of ups and downs. I got hurt the first three months. I blew my eardrum out so we got out of the water and then had to go back into the water. I didn’t realize how much your body had to adapt to the pressure and a lot of technical things that needed slow growth and process…because usually I’m just like ok, let’s get this done, let’s get this done. I’ll do whatever it takes, run however much I need, get my cardio up, and I’ll be able to hold my breath forever. It wasn’t the case.
You use a lot of natural elements in your art. What’s that like? It must require a lot of patience?
Yeah, that’s probably the greatest thing I’ve learned is how to do your best calculation of what nature’s gonna do. I’m really quick with how to problem solve on sight…I need that extra kind of edge to get me to create…it’s more excitement in the process of creating.
What’s it like working with the high tides?
I was telling Discover Saint John when we first arrived for the second time I feel like we’re veterans coming back and everything’s going to be fine. This time we’re just kind of fine tuning the process. There’s always these variables that come up, (but) we’re on schedule. We’re a little ahead of schedule actually.
When people see this new piece what do you want them to take away from it?
I knew this piece was going to get preserved because they were able to take this whole piece out which was really cool. I’ve never worked on an ocean mural where it’ll last, especially on this scale. I wanted to also add in a lot of the uniqueness of Saint John because the first time we came we knew nothing about the community here, the people, even the surrounding (areas) like Irving Park and St. Martins…(There are) so many pieces to Saint John that make it up and it’s such a niche little spot that I wanted to really represent it…With this one…it’s very different…(with) a lot more colour than I usually use. I am really excited to get everything painted on because it’ll all come together in one unique little composition.