Hawaii isn’t typically known for having an outsized cultural influence, but the Pow! Wow! mural festivals are creating a powerful orbit around the tiny island in the world of street art. With the Pow! Wow! Hawaii annual event at their core, they’ve grown into an international organization and proven that with the right vision, the Pacific island state could be the perfect staging grounds for the scene to advance.
Last week, they wrapped up their first Asia tour, with two separate festivals in Taiwan and Tokyo, drawing heavily on local talent. These artists brought with them a lot of Eastern influence, ranging from subject matter (including the traditional imagery of tigers and mythical creatures) to techniques that draw on the likes of calligraphy and ink brush paintings. The pieces push the conversation in a new direction, adding a another level of diversity to a genre that can often be overtly self-referential. But it’s more than just the artists’ backgrounds that made it an important moment, it was also their individual talent and the ability to organize them into a collective whole.
The tour kicked off with Pow! Wow! Japan, which was the more reserved of the two events. Their first mural was a blockbuster movie, a headline grabbing “Secret Mural” that took over four stories of the puzzle-like Shibuya Park Building in Tokyo. Five artists came together as collaborators, each working in sections shaped like broken shards of glass.
After that, it was largely a small-scale event. With the exception of the 12-story sumo character from Street Fighter, most of the pieces were ground-level works, and a lot of them were painted on what looks like temporary walls. However, there was still plenty of interesting work to be admired. Japanese artist Takizo Moro’s calligraphy characters of guardian angels watching over Chinese Zodiac animals, painted with white lines over a golden background, was a shining example. And the tiger by Colasa, who calls Taiwan home, brimmed over with energy.
Pow! Wow! Taiwan was the main event. There were more artists, many of them did multiple pieces, and the locals were bolstered by global stars like Nychos, Faith47, and Jeff Soto. The walls also seemed like more thoughtfully considered choices—maybe due to differences in landscapes and approval processes—and the artists integrated these interesting shapes and surfaces into their works. The 808 Urban piece slivers between windows, while the Caratoes mural is a jumble hovering over a variety of brick and concrete layers. Ano and Bounce’s mural ruthlessly covers all the windows and ledges beneath it, adding extra dimensions and confidence to the work.
Using a mix of splashy and transparent paints, Hua Tunan’s work vibrates with intensity and glowing colors. It doesn’t make notable use of the surface, but he’s proven the ability to incorporate street-level aspects into his work in the past.
By combining creative use of space, engaging content, and scale, Alex Lve Wang really managed to stand out. Climbing five stories, the style is an expressive one, comprised of simple characters filled in with complicated line work. He pulls the original grey concrete wall into the painting itself, blurring the line between the building and the artwork. There’s no clear border of where the mural starts and where it stops. It even draws in the blue of the gates at the bottom into the painting and far over to the adjacent mural on the opposite side of the wall.
Pow! Wow! first started in Hong Kong, but moved to Hawaii the following year, so it only makes sense they returned to Asia in force. Now with a home base in the middle of the ocean between Japan and Cali, the organization is literally positioned to become a bridge between West and East. And they can use the reputation they’ve built in America to cultivate and expose artists in Asia that may otherwise be overlooked. Through their events in Hawaii and this year in Long Beach, California, it’s clear they have strong organizational skills, an eye for talent, and can bring the best out of the artists involved. With the Asia tour under their belt, they’ve taken another big step and the rest of the world should watch where the next one goes.