New Art on the Block


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Artist Jasper Wong Is An Admitted Cartoon Fanatic. He Grew Up Loving Everything About Animation, Comics And art, and still indulges in cartoons and comic books. “Probably more than any grown adult should admit to,” he adds. “But it’s always been a love affair of mine since childhood.”

This love affair grew as he left Hawai‘i to enroll at California College of the Arts in San Francisco, where his horizons broadened.

“I was exposed to a greater art world being out there,” he says of his collegiate experience.

But during his time on the West Coast, he realized that art school only taught him so much, focusing on conceptual skills rather than the process of taking an idea to physical form. He jetted off to Hong Kong in order to take his art beyond paintings and gallery work.

“I knew that China was the manufacturing capital of the world,” he says. “I knew that Hong Kong was a gateway to that, especially if you’re fluent in Mandarin.”

Upon his arrival, efforts to get his artwork in various venues were rejected.

“I was told I was the wrong kind of Chinese,” he says. It seemed Wong, an American-born Chinese, lacked the Chinese-mainland art that was such a hot commodity at the time.

“Many galleries told me there wasn’t enough potential in selling my work because I wasn’t born in China,” he adds.

Rather than give up, he decided to do his own thing and started his own gallery up a steep hill in the main part of Hong Kong—an abandoned restaurant forgotten for 10 years.

“You really had to want to be there to even see the show,” he says.

The first show at his gallery was dubbed POW! WOW! There, he pushed the artistic process, which resulted in blank walls along the interior of the gallery.

“I felt, a lot of times, when you go to a show, the process is more interesting than the final work itself,” he explains. Friends in Hawai‘i convinced Wong to bring POW! WOW! home.

Upon completing its fifth run, POW! WOW! Hawaii saw more than 100 eager artists from around the world create wondrous murals along the bare walls of Kaka‘ako’s nondescript industrial complex, but in its humble beginnings, the festival hosted just 12 artists. The growth of POW! WOW! Hawaii is good for Wong, who has seen many talented local artists leave the islands because the feeling of progression in the industry was largely lost. It is a sentiment he hopes to change, as he strives to put Hawai‘i on the map as an artistic center of the world.

What started in Hong Kong in a forgotten part of the city has allowed Kaka‘ako, then-Honolulu’s forgotten district, to thrive with color, inspiration and beauty.

“It was ideal for what we were doing,” Wong says of Kaka‘ako. “We wanted to beautify a neighborhood that was largely forgotten. That’s the most rewarding feeling, to give back to where you’re from.”

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