Sean Yoro—aka HULA—smashed onto the street art scene last year with the release of a series of signature water murals and has been pushing his artistic limits ever since. Originally from the island of Oahu, Hawaii, and now based in New York, he grew up surfing and dabbling in different types of art: graffiti, watercolor, tattoo, and portraiture. His striking and hyperrealistic portraits are often found in abandoned locations and are fleeting—they “have their own lifespan,” Yoro told CNN, because their precarious positions (often along the water’s edge) mean that nature will swallow them up in a few days. While his figures are lovely, they are meant to evoke more than aesthetic appreciation. One of his goals is to ignite a sense of urgency toward combating climate change. His work is meant to represent “the millions of people in need of our help who are already being affected from the rising sea levels of climate change.”
Yoro's most recent project with The North Face has taken him to the Arctic, where he hopes to create a larger-than-life ice mural that’s connected with Inuit culture. In order to capture the authenticity of the Inuit experience, he first fostered connections with locals, including a woman featured in the film, Jesse Mike. While Mike’s prior experience with artists and filmmakers who have come to document Inuit life have been frustrating, she found in Yoro an “indigenous brother.” Part of her struggle involves fighting for a better life for indigenous people; she loses many members of her community to substance abuse and suicide every year. Mike also expressed disappointment in the way the public views the threats posed by climate change: “For most people it’s about the polar bears, not about the people. Inuit want to make it about the people,” she explains. She believes Yoro’s work can make that important connection. Yoro wants to represent them and share what they have on their minds. The message Mike wants to send is straightforward: “Inuit are a very skilled, smart, awesome people, and you kind of have to be to survive in this environment.”
Painting ice murals is logistically tricky and sometimes dangerous. While Yoro has made ice murals before, the unpredictable forces of nature at work in the icy waters off the coast of Baffin Island, Nunavut, are the most challenging work conditions he’s ever faced. While scouting for the right icebergs, Yoro was often trapped between drift ice and pack ice. He and his crew had to camp on the ice, particularly troubling because the sheets often flip over. And once Yoro found a location, he had to constantly race against the tide and the effects of climate change—the quicker the iceberg moves, the faster it melts. The work itself is painstaking—his portraits are the product of loose brushwork and tight strokes of sharp lines, and can take anywhere from one to four days to complete, depending on the size and level of detail. But the finished product is worth the effort, as you can see in the film above.
All of Yoro’s works are intended to be temporary installations, and he uses only environmentally friendly, non-toxic oil paints. “I do think we are headed in the right direction with the actions we are taking to fight global warming,” the artist says. “But we are late in responding, and we need to quicken the pace of action if we want to keep this world safe for our future generations.”