An interview with artist Hula (a.k.a Sean Yoro)

  1. Please tell me a bit about yourself and how you got started as an artist. Are you born and raised in New York or ?


I grew up on Oahu, Hawaii where I spent most my days in the ocean. It wasn’t until my later teenage years that art caught my eye and I became obsessed with. I dabbled in everything from graffiti to tattoos to watercolor. Finally I stumbled into a portrait drawing class in college and knew I found my home in the art world. The following summer I decided to move to New York to chase this dream of mine.


  1. To find out a bit about your work. Did you start out doing street art or studio work? At what point did you transition between the two mediums and why?


I started out in the studio, creating paintings on canvas and wooden panels. I always knew I wanted to enter the street art world as well, so I had been trying different concepts out with murals the past couple years. The original idea sparked when I was working on a separate project. Since water has always been my main inspiration, I had the idea to paint these portraits of girls underwater. While doing the photo shoots for the paintings, I realized how much I loved to be in the water and still working creatively. From there, I knew I wanted to figure out a way to paint in water. The concept grew slowly by slowly, each idea building into a final form for the murals.

The messages I hope to capture with these murals were the connection and relationship I have with my environments. From growing up in Hawaii to moving to New York, I have had to adapt to the radical environment change and these pieces try to capture those emotions.

  1. What do you like about painting outside?

It feels very natural for me as growing up in Hawaii has taught me how to appreciate and adapt to your environment. Being outside with all the elements and creating new life with my paintings is something I could only dream of before.

  1. What do you like about painting inside?

With my studio work, I am really able to control much more, from lighting to surfaces, so I love being able to experiment with techniques and surfaces to push my creativity to the next level. I feel like both my inside and outside work help each other to keep growing.

  1. You live in New York, the graffiti mecca – where it all began. But from New York artists who I have talked to while they visited South Africa, the market is a bit saturated. So others like Shepard Fairey (who recently did a wall in Jhb) are also doing commercial work. Have you done any interesting collaborations with brands over the years? Please tell us about the experience?


Yes, definitely New York is very saturated with artist. That is one of the reasons I came here actually, I loved the challenge of standing out and fighting odds. I knew that I was chasing a wild dream and I didn’t want it to be easy. Like the old saying goes “If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere”.

Since I have only just made my street art public to the world, I haven’t worked with any brands yet, but I have been offered to collaborate with dozens of brands and events. I am working out which ones to commit my time to, but the next 6 months will be full of traveling and painting. I am more keen to work with the brands that are giving me full or most control of what I paint. Some of the offers are less collaborative and more brands paying me to paint what they want, which I learned from doing past commission work that those projects are never worth the money. I have to passionate about something otherwise the painting comes out bad anyway.


  1. New York is also an expensive city to live in. How are you making enough, as an artist, to survive?


Yes, you can definitely say that again. Its been a long struggle moving up here 4 years ago, to make a long story short I ran out of money the first year I was here. Ended up living in a tiny office space illegally where I would have to shower at a gym and eat canned food for 2 and a half years. I grew the most as an artist in those years; it was almost a survival game where I needed to succeed with my art to get myself out of that situation.

From then it’s been a gradual increase of success as an artist and now things have sky rocketed. I am more than able to survive off my art with my original paintings, prints, and brand collaborations.


  1. The inside/outside series is amazing. When I first saw the pics on Tumblr I thought the outside bits were paste ups, till I saw you on the surfboard. How/Why did you conceptualise the project, over how long did you do the inside and outside murals and goodness, how did you balance on a surfboard in the ocean while painting. Please take us through that entire process.


I explained how it was conceptualized in the earlier question. As far as balancing, it really helped that I grew up on a surfboard and is second nature to me. The board is also pretty stable itself as Stand Up Paddle boards are made bigger. The process for each mural is different for every location, but basically I do a lot of preplanning and research to figure out all the elements and variables that I may run into while on the water. From there, I usually set out 2-3 days to be painting on site depending on the size and conditions.


  1. 8. What excites you right now about being an artist?

EVERYTHING. I wouldn’t sacrifice this much for something I didn’t 100% love. Probably, the most rewarding aspect is creating something that people can connect with. Reading thousands and thousands of comments and messages from people who really connected with one of my paintings has given me the greatest joy. I hope to inspire the young generation to take risks and chase your dreams, never settle for a comfortable life.


  1. Who are some of your favourite artists right now that we should know about in South Africa?

I actually don’t have any favorite artists, I admire a lot of artist, but could never pick favourites. I am drawn to the artist, from music to visual, who truly create original works and ideas. It takes a lot of guts to go on your own path creatively and there’s much more chance of failure, but those who push through have really blown my mind.



  1. 10. Have you travelled anywhere outside the US to do some painting? What are some of your favourite cities in which you have painted abroad and what made them special?


I haven’t yet! My schedule is filling up for the next 6 months tho, from New Zealand to Miami, to back in Hawaii, I will be painting murals around the globe. Really excited to be able to reach so much communities and I feel honored for the opportunity.


  1. What are the chances of us seeing you or your work in South Africa (or any African country) anytime soon?


Hopefully very soon! I have a good friend who lives in Richards Bay and told him to scout some walls for me around SA. He told me “Finding you a wall in the water won’t be the problem here, its the hippos and crocs that will” Ha, but I hope to be over there again soon, love the people and waves so as soon as I can lock down some walls, I’ll be on my way!



  1. What projects are you working on over the next few months and where can people keep up with you online?


I have many different projects in the works right now that I can’t reveal yet, but really excited to be working on. I will be updating my IG – @the_hula and website




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