POW! WOW! Hawaiʻi
Creation and Community
Guest Contributor | Feb 19, 2018
Hawaiʻi has always been a place of creation and community. From the ancient days, Native Hawaiians made double hulled canoes to travel long distances together, to plantation days, when people of different cultures labored together and shared their lunches, forming the “plate lunch” we eat today. This sense of creation and community is something that Jasper Wong, founder of POW! WOW!, is very familiar with. Drawing in composition notebooks as a kid, Jasper was inspired by comic books, anime and Hanna Barbera. Combining his passion to create with the value of community he learned while growing up in Hawai’i, Jasper formed POW! WOW!
“The name comes from comic books. The idea was that POW! is the impact art has on the viewer and WOW! is their reaction to that art. Together, it’s a Native American term that describes a gathering to celebrate art, music and culture,” says Jasper. After high school, Jasper had the opportunity to attend college on the mainland. When he graduated from the Art College in San Francisco, he decided to move to Hong Kong, to push his learnings into something further. “You were really only taught conceptual thinking and technical skills in school. However, I was interested in how an idea transformed into physical form. China was the major manufacturing hub of the world, so I went there to learn more about the production process.”
Once Jasper arrived in Hong Kong though, he realized there was an unspoken divide between artists from China and Chinese-American artists, like himself. When he would try to get his art shown, he was immediately rejected because, in many cases, he was seen as an outsider. “In Hong Kong, the art industry was based primarily on investment. Similar in nature to investing in wine, you’ll buy wine and you would hold onto it for a number of years and then resell it for a profit. You would never actually enjoy the wine, which defeats the whole purpose of having wine. You’re supposed to drink and enjoy it! A lot of people would do the same with art. They would buy art that they felt would raise in value in future years and hopefully sell it but never actually enjoy the painting,” Jasper explains.
"We didn’t paint walls or murals per se, we just had a bunch of canvases and we just painted together and kept that process open to the public."
The Process Not The Product
At the time, galleries and buyers were advising clients to purchase art created by artists from Mainland China, so in a reaction to not being able to get his own work shown, Jasper created a gallery. He found an old restaurant that had been abandoned for 10 years, gutted it, painted the walls, put in a front door and…it was a gallery! He began to show local and emerging artists and flew in other artists from around the world. The first exhibition they did in that space was the first-ever POW! WOW!.
"I’ve always felt that the process leading up to the finished work is more interesting than the final pieces, so we wanted to share that aspect of art making,” Jasper says. At the end of the event, the artists destroyed the artwork to express how important it was to create art, without focusing on the financial gain or commercial part of it. Destroying the art influenced whether or not the art could be seen, but as Jasper puts it, the act was carried out “to remind us of the beauty of art making. To the days of how we all got interested in it when we were kids and we didn’t care about selling artwork, we just liked doing it and just enjoyed it, to harken back to those times.”
After the first event in Hong Kong, POW! WOW! had opportunities to host the next event in cities like Shanghai and Berlin, but Jasper chose to hold it back home in Hawai’i. The first POW! WOW! Hawaiʻi featured 12 artists who started off painting on murals and select streets in the neighborhood, but soon evolved into painting the entire Kaka’ako neighborhood. From there, POW! WOW! kept growing.
The POW! WOW! Vision
However, no matter how much they’ve grown, POW! WOW! always makes sure to stay true to their Hawai’i roots. “It’s how we try to take care of the artists and how we connect with the communities we’re in. Being based in Hawaiʻi, it sounds cliché but we always say it’s the aloha spirit mentality. We try to make sure that everyone’s taken care of and we put others in front of ourselves and try to make sure we work with the neighborhoods rather than invading them. When it comes to the festivals, we try to make sure when people come to Hawaiʻi, they end up loving the city, loving the state and they want to come back. So that they go back to wherever they’re from —whether it’s Poland or Asia or South America, and talk about how beautiful of a place it is and how the people are, we want to be stewards of that,” says Jasper.
By going into neighborhoods around the world, beautifying an area and creating art for the public, POW! WOW! hopes to share a sense of community and create a moment in time where people from all walks of life come together and share an experience, the love of art. And what ends up happening — from the “POW!” of the art being viewed to the “WOW!” effect it has on the viewer — is just as Jasper intended it all those years ago- the process of creation becomes the star of the show.
When asked what advice he would give to artists just starting out, Jasper says it’s important not to be molded into just one way of thinking or working, to play around a bit and try to combine different things together. He says, “I think through experimentation and risk-taking you kind of find yourself in all that and you shouldn’t be afraid to fail while doing it. If you paint and it doesn’t look good, don’t be afraid to admit it and learn from it, and start again. Just the process of creating is what’s important.”
Take a look here for the POW! WOW! Hawaii 2018 artists roster, as well as locations of their murals and more information on the event.