Close your eyes and imagine being clocked in the face. Rather than experiencing pain, imagine this punch as positively life changing. As absurd as this may sound, it is the precise phenomenon that is Pow! Wow! Hawai‘i (PWHI), the international mural festival revered as one of most unique experiences in the global art world. The weeklong event, curated by artist and founder Jasper Wong, assembles over 100 artists locally and from around the globe, who unite to paint murals in the Kaka‘ako district of Honolulu, O‘ahu. The event includes gallery shows, a lecture series, art and music programs, concerts, and live-art installations. All of this occurs amid some not-so-average electives, including: shark swims hosted by Pangeaseed, exclusive historic and cultural site visits, and spontaneous late-night-drunken karaoke sessions at the 50-acre Utopium estate, to name a few.In addition to the festival being an incomparable experience for anyone (even remotely) involved, the intriguing aspect of PWHI is its capacity to open minds, beautify disconsolate spaces, and encourage conversation and collaboration.
One of this year’s most commanding murals is located at the infamous Lana Lane, adjacent to the festival’s headquarters.The first time collaboration, entitled Iron Pueo, is the work of Czechoslovakian-born Ales ‘BASK’ Hostomsky and Australian artist, David ‘MEGGS’ Hooke. The two (coincidentally both redheads) had never met prior to their mural-turned-print collaboration. Though they have differing styles artistically, BASK and MEGGS found commonalities in their construction, strong use of texture, dark imagery, and iconic comic art undertones. Another mutual thread – solo gallery shows scheduled with 1xRun in Detroit this fall – prompted MEGGS and BASK to bunk up and bond during their time in Hawai‘i. Their positive outlooks on the first-time collaboration and the intent to channel the aloha spirit made for a smooth process, from start to finish.
The Iron Pueo theme progressed organically between the two artists. BASK, the PWHI virgin, and MEGGS the PWHI veteran, sought to connect to the reputable, deep-rooted spirituality of the Hawaiian Islands. Through research and his desire to be educated, MEGGS discovered the pueo (Hawaiian owl), a sacred creature in Hawai‘i. The pueo is highly respected and widely recognized as a physical manifestation of an ancestral guardian in the Native Hawaiian culture. MEGGS, with the intention of conveying his respect for Hawai‘i and its people, suggested featuring the pueo as the center of the collaboration. BASK, on the other hand, had a vision to incorporate the iconic Iron Man image, due to its personal significance having had recently worked on Iron Man 3 (and something he describes as “a childhood dream come true”). Naturally, BASK related his Iron Man influence to the pueo’s attributes as a protector or guardian and its representation of wisdom and knowledge in the Hawaiian culture. MEGGS’ previous work using comic art allowed for an easy stream of ideas to incorporate BASK’s Iron Man image into the pueo face.
On day one of the festival, kāhuna (traditional Hawaiian priests) performed wall blessing ceremonies, which gave BASK and MEGGS a sense of acceptance and contributed to a positive collaborative and cultural experience. The mural’s synergism, color, and energy protrude from the two-story wall, undeniably capturing the attention of onlookers. Some stare at it for hours deciphering every layer, baffled at how this immaculate work of art was created and wondering what the story is behind it. Wonder no more. Read on below for the full candid conversation as the two caught up after PWHI to discuss their mural-turned-print collaboration with 1xRun and Serio Press, life in the art scene, and ginger superpowers (of course).
MEGGS: Hey man, good times in Hawai‘i. I’m stoked on how the mural came out and I’m really proud of the collaboration. I hope you feel the same way.
BASK: Yeah I agree, one would think we paint together regularly because of our concept and execution. I think that’s because we both took in as much of the Hawaiian energy on a deep level, which was conveyed through our work. There were no egos involved, only the inspired desires to give the best that we had and I think that permeates out of the finished piece.
M: Agreed. Even though the two of us had never met before painting Iron Pueo, I knew of your work and that you were a fellow ginger, so I had a good vibe that things would blend nicely!Have you painted many collaborative murals with artists you didn’t know previously?
B: I’ve done lots of collaborations with artists in the past, but working with you was the first time I collaborated with someone I hadn’t met before. However, I was very familiar with your work so that made it easier to adapt to the situation. Trust and respect for your counterpart is the most important tool when collaborating with someone. This is the reason that up until PWHI, I’ve only worked with artists I knew. Although I never met you in person, I had a great level of respect for your work going into this. Our styles and the end results of our work are different, but a lot of the ways we construct our work is similar. That made it easier for me to envision what Iron Pueo could potentially look like. As we started to discuss what we were going to paint at Pow Wow, you decided to feature the Pueo owl. What inspired you about this owl that made you want to feature it?
M: When we started talking about a composition that would work, we settled on the front view of a pueo face, split in half, which is a style that we share and makes for an even contribution to the wall. I’d done the same thing with Phibs the previous year and liked the idea of this consistency. After researching various aspects of Hawaiian history and culture, I was drawn to legends and images of the royal monarchs, war, and the heavy influence of ʻaumākua (deified ancestors who assume the shape of various animals) in everyday life, even in present day Hawai‘i. I discovered that the pueo was the perfect way to convey my feelings about Hawai‘i both spiritually and graphically. And by the way, I think that the way the two images meshed works really well. Iron Man features strongly in some of your previous work – what’s the story behind that?
B: I’ve always loved Iron Man for a couple reasons. First, his suit and helmet are fucking awesome, plain and simple. Second, he (Tony Stark) is a guy with lots of vices but he’s trying to do well despite them. That is something I can definitely relate to. But, my love for Iron Man came to a climax in 2012, when I was hired to do work for Iron Man 3. I did all of the massive backdrops that are seen in the Mandarins Miami hideout and the one he stages his propaganda videos in front of. I also did some set design on location when they shot in Miami and made a piece that was in Tony Stark’s lab. It was a dream come true and an incredibly rewarding experience. I know you can appreciate that because you share an interest in comic books as well, as displayed in your past work… who are your favorites?
M: Yeah, although I confess I’m not a comic-book aficionado. I love the graphic style and dramatic narrative of comics, especially super-hero based stories. Three of my favorite artists are definitely the legendary Jack Kirby, Dave Gibbons & Lee Falk perhaps… I was into the Phantom first & foremost as a kid. If you could be an existing superhero, who would you be and what would be your super power?
B: Although the expected answer is Iron Man, I think given the choice I’d have to go with is a classic, Superman. He kind of has it all: super strength, can fly, the ability to shoot laser-beams out of his eyes, and sees thorough walls. He’s like a one-stop-shop for all your super-power needs. Can you imagine the level of art you could make if you had all those powers to work with?
M: What about redhead super powers? Would allying be a good thing, or are you of the opinion we should never congregate in groups?
B: The fact that we are both gingers was something I saw only as a plus. People rarely see our kind waking together, let along working together. Two gingers in one place/project is still a safe number. But if three, four, or more redheads congregated, I think people would start to get a little uneasy. Society can’t handle that much ginger in one place.
M: Agreed! It’s a good thing we were the only two on the PWHI roster this year. This was your first year at PWHI, an annual highlight for me in the last four years. What did you think of it?
B: Well, I’ve been going to Hawaii for years now but only to visit my sister and nephews. This was truly the first time I felt I “saw” the island. To be surrounded by so many artists that I respect and admire was incredible. The best thing I can say I walked away with was life long friendships with some very special and talented people. You included. I knew the event would be a big deal but I never expected to form so many bonds on a personal level as I did.You’ve been a part of PWHI since it began. How did you think it went compared to the previous ones held?
M: Yeah, this has been my fourth PWHI. There has definitely been a steady upward growth of the event since the first one in 2010, and this year proved that by the scale of the festival and the caliber of artists and media involved. It’s grown from a small group, with more localized projects, to a big-scale art event that I’d say is officially on the global art map. One of the key aspects that makes it special is the group bonding experience of having artists spend a lot of time getting to know each other on a personal level, and connecting with the community. Our young artist-assistant Miele (Mouse) and local school kids visited during the week, which is awesome and rewarding. What message/advice would you send younglings when painting/making art?
B: Miele!!!! What’s up girl!! She was awesome. I loved the energy she brought to our wall and help she provided.I think the message I’d like to send, as cliché as it may sound, is to “follow your dreams.” When people come and see us paint they are watching people whom, despite crossing repeated obstacles, never stopped working towards something they love. They love to do it and are making a living doing it. The dream has become a reality for us and I want to convey that it can for them too if they are motivated enough. Since we’re getting deep, I wanted to mention that while working together in Hawaii, I saw a lot of people, friends, and fans of yours coming up to you. Some of them were artists just starting out in the game. What is the one piece of advice you can give them about the “art-world” that you wish someone gave you when you where in their shoes?
M: That’s a hard question as it’s hard to know where to start. To be honest, the more I learn, the more challenges there are, and the less I think I know. I guess I’d say that painting/producing work comes first and foremost. Through the process of ‘just doing’ comes the process of learning and growing and opportunity. Put your art out into the world, remain humble enough to improve upon it, and accept opportunities and challenges that come your way with an open heart and mind. Speaking of new opportunities, we coincidentally have back-to-back shows with Inner State Gallery in Detroit this fall. You’ve been there and I haven’t and I’m wondering what you think about the city’s dilapidation from a street art perspective?
B: Detroit is one of my favorite cities on earth. It’s so raw and open with creative possibilities. The city has been beat up so badly over the years that it speaks to the torment that most artists have within them. I have been to cities more aesthetically beautiful, but no city that I’ve ever visited or lived in has inspired me more that Detroit has. I am willing to bet that you will have a similar reaction when you go.
M: Yeah, definitely stoked to be heading out to Detroit. I’m really interested in witnessing the contrast of a large-scale city in the midst of such urban decay. It really seems like there is now a lot of opportunity and potential for the arts to thrive where industry has failed. That contrast and duality really fascinates me. I’m also stoked to be spending more time with the 1xRun crew. Staying with you all during PWHI was a lot of fun.
M: Oh by the way, it was great to bond with another kind-souled ginger. Have you ever heard people say that gingers don’t have souls? I often consider stealing the souls of others, especially if they had made fun of us for not having one. What do you think of that?
B: It’s funny that you ask. I have a collection of souls I’ve accumulated in a shoebox under my bed from people making fun of our kind. I like to pull it out once in a while and play around with them like a cat paying with a lizard or small mouse. So for anyone reading this that has ever made fun of a ginger kid, and thinks we have no souls, guess what, it’s you who doesn’t have a soul anymore. We took it. HAHAHAHAHA. The ironic twist of fate.
The Iron Pueo print is currently available at www.1xRun.com
For more information on the artists, see www.KnownasBask.com
Text: Miya N. Tsukazaki
Images: David MEGGS Hooke, Ales ‘BASK’ Hostomsky, Tre Packard, Jerry Tamayo, Ninni Johansson