Sean Yoro | Art on the Fringe

Mike Misselwitzsean yoro hula

sean yoro hulaPairing Paddle with Paintbrush

New York-based Hawaiian-born street artist —Sean Yoro— takes a different approach to paddling

Floating—by way of paddleboard—tethered under a New York overpass or anchored aside a cracked cement canvas draped with twists of rusty rebar—Sean Yoro makes art on the fringes.

Street name Hula, Yoro practices his classically-trained fine-art endeavors—his current project being an oil-based portrait series of nude women—within the raw and residual sector of art deemed “street;” not exactly fit for the MoMA in the regard of New York’s art aficionado echelon.

Yoro’s proclivity for the street fringe is steeped in Hawaiian heritage.

“I grew up on Oahu, and in my teenage years I was really attracted to the graffiti scene there,” Yoro says. “I thought I wanted to do tattoos. Then I stumbled into a portrait drawing class in a community college. The next summer I moved to New York to pursue fine art.”

There, floating in the murky fringes of the Big Apple, Yoro’s fine, street art was born.

In addition to its social fringes, in many cases Yoro’s paintings also fringe legality. He won’t name locations when discussing his work, which is tortuously ironic given that cultivating brilliance from rundown, forgotten ruin stubbornly translates to “defacing property” in the rigid rulebook of the law. In effect, Yoro’s art is mystified, appreciable only by opportune, happenchance passersby. And, given its oil-based composition, these intrinsically fleeting portraits last only as long as the weather permits—lending a quality with parallels to the likes of Burning Man—a masterpiece one moment, an empty plain the next.

Most literally, Hula’s art is on the fringes because he paints all his subjects, fantastically realistic paradoxes of naked beauty pitted with ruined rubble, every stroke right down to the waterline.

sean yoro hula




“The concept came to me randomly,” Hula said. “I was doing underwater portraits for these girls in another painting series. I loved getting creatively in the zone underwater. I realized I wanted to paint women interacting with the water. But I didn’t quite know how to make it happen physically.”

The most unique aspect of Yoro’s work—his floating studio atop a standup paddleboard—was the cornerstone that put the concept in motion.

“The paddleboard was the last piece of the project that really sold me. At first I didn’t think it was an option. I thought it would be too unstable. Then I tried it and it was a done deal. The paddleboard was all I needed.”

The sui generis of an exceptionally talented fine artist-turned-street painter operating by way of a paddleboard art studio beyond boundaries in urban waterways is not lost on mainstream media. Since starting his project last summer, Yoro’s been profiled in news outlets from Huffington Post to CNN to The Guardian.

With all the positive responses Yoro’s work has received, he no longer needs to operate in secrecy to perform his artwork.

“I’m getting a lot of legal walls around the world now, where I’m either permitted or commissioned to paint,” Yoro said. “So my plan is to just travel around the world and keep jamming on this project. This is the tip of the iceberg.”

But beyond the exposure and the breakthrough success, in urban nooks and pavement playgrounds worldwide, Yoro can still be found with a paddleboard and a paintbrush, somewhere on the fringe. —Mike Fields

See more of Sean Yoro’s work.

Paddling art of other sorts.

All photos: Aaron Austin

sean yoro hula