Strokes of Genius
Somewhere in the nosebleed longitudes of the northern hemisphere, floating among a sea of sweating icebergs and weeping glaciers, a masterpiece is melting.
It’s the latest installment from Hawaiian-born portrait painter Sean Yoro, street name Hula, who’s using his now famous technique of painting portraits from a paddleboard to draw attention to the crises of climate change and rapid sea level rise.
The series—a collection of stunning, somber portraits painted abreast rapidly
melting icebergs—is titled A’o ‘Ana, Hawaiian for “The Warning.”
Yoro’s technique is something different. He pairs classically trained portraiture with
the gritty influence of New York street art, polished with the grace of his Hawaiian heritage.
He’s labeled a street artist, but his work manifests over seas rather than sidewalks. His
portraits are labeled fine art, but they wouldn’t be found in a museum. Yoro paints at the waterline, giving both an air of emergence to his subjects and a fresh dimension to his viewers’ imaginations. And perhaps the most impressive aspect of Yoro’s work: he does it all from a ten-foot inflatable SUP studio.
Yoro’s portraits are eerily realistic and carry sullen expressions, starkly contrasting with their surrounding landscapes, which are carefully chosen as part of the overall vision for each piece. For Yoro, the aesthetic of a painting’s environment is as important as the painting itself.
Because the locations of his pieces are rarely disclosed, he uses photographs to showcase his art, further mystifying his work by juxtaposing the imperfections of a painting’s environment with the purity and precision of his painting.
Yoro’s work gained international notoriety earlier this year when the captivating imagery from his breakout project went viral. It was a portrait series of nude women painted on dilapidated walls among the rubble and rebar of obscure, unidentified canals around New York City, and it was publicly adored though media attention from outlets like CNN, Huffington Post and SUP the mag, along with an international audience of art enthusiasts.
The recognition Yoro received from his New York series allowed him to escape the secrecy he traditionally needed to protect himself from legal issues involving art on public property. He’s since been commissioned for a slew of work on legal canvases across the globe. “I’m getting a lot of legal walls around the world now where I’m either permitted or commissioned to paint,” Yoro told SUP earlier this year. “My plan is to just travel around the world and keep jamming on this project. This is the tip of the iceberg.”
Tip of the iceberg, indeed.
For his most recent, perhaps most profound project, Yoro traveled to Iceland with a sincere and somber statement for the world. He scoured the frigid Atlantic for the ideal canvases and painted through the night to avoid being seen. The breathtaking portraits his project produced are evocative, heartfelt statements on the threat rising sea levels pose to the planet. Weeks later, they have undoubtedly already disappeared into the sea. The ruin of Yoro’s masterpiece, by the ruin of mother nature’s masterpiece by mankind, is the essence of A’o ‘Ana.
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