From May 25 to 30, Hawai‘i-born visual artist was in the Doris Duke Theatre, transforming the space as part of World Oceans Day Hawai‘i 2015. His mural, titled Beneath the Surface was produced in collaboration with the nonprofit Pangeaseed, which is dedicated to raising public awareness and education surrounding the conservation and preservation of sharks and other marine species through what’s come to be known as artivism.

Last year, World Oceans Day Hawai‘i brought a crotcheted mural by Olek and a giant vinyl sticker mural by Kozyndan to the theater. Ekudayo’s work marks the first time that the auditorium’s walls have actually been painted freehand by an artist, and will remain on view through the summer (a perfect pairing with the upcoming Honolulu Surf Film Festival, opening in July). I sat down with Ekundayo to learn about his creative process.

What was the inspiration behind Beneath the Surface and what is its message?
I was born in Hawai‘i and the ocean for me is a place with a lot of memories. It is like a gathering place for my family and friends so it always has this special place in my heart. When I was a kid I would go swim around and see all these crazy animals, especially at Hanāuma Bay. Back then it was different than it looks now. Now, it is kind of like brown, but maybe 15 years ago, it was super super colorful! Those are the kind of images that are stuck with me in my heart. When I got into doing graffiti, and later on into more traditional forms of art, color was the foundation of anything that I did creatively. I think a lot of that came from the ocean and just growing up in Hawai‘i and being around an island. The mural is like a celebration of all these amazing creatures that sometimes we do not even really take note of because they are so far deep into the ocean. So, when it can be brought up to the light it is amazing, because it is so different from anything that we see in our day-to-day life.

We are not really paying attention to the ocean—polluting it and endangering a lot of these magnificent sea creatures that I love so much. I have this central figure in the mural, floating among the sea creatures, and he is a part of what is happening around him. It represents the idea that one person can make a big difference. The energy that flows within them flows within him. We are all connected.

What was the design process for this mural?
Usually the way I go at a mural is have a general idea of what I want. Then I take that into a sketch phase where I flesh out the concept a little bit more and figure out the composition and where I want things. Then I just wing it from there. The thing I enjoy about painting walls is the freedom of not knowing exactly what I am going to get at the end. For this mural, I knew there was going to be a central figure and a hammerhead.

What happens if you make a mistake during the execution of such a large-scale mural?
I make a ton of mistakes. In the process of making a mural there are like a thousand things. And it is just me too so I am constantly correcting and adjusting. What I tend to do is that I make one line—when you know that the line is wrong your first initial instinct I think from being a kid is to erase it immediately—but what I have learned over time is that those initial mistakes, kind of like in life, you have to recognize them and appreciate them in a way so that you can move on. So, when I make a line that I know is wrong I make a line next to it that I think is right and then if that one is not right then I leave that one too and make another line until I get it exactly right and then I erase the other lines. So, it is like my mistakes that show me how to get to where I want to be. That is how I look at my art too it is all like a steady progression and growth.

Have you done similar works of art, and did this one pose any singular challenges?
I have done some rather large-scale murals. I think the biggest one I have done was a three-story building. Painting the Doris Duke Theatre wall was interesting because it was still a pretty big wall (60 feet), so the length of it did make a difference and the fact that I had to work over the chairs also made it a unique experience. I think this has been one of the more challenging projects physically and I feel like that will help me a lot for my next wall. Now, I can appreciate a wall on flat ground that I can just walk up to and paint. Experiences like this always help you grow as an artist.

I noticed that you always wore earphones while you were working in the theater. Does music play a role in your art making?
When I am painting or doing something creative I have to go into another zone. I could probably talk and listen to other people paint but I feel like something would be missing from the painting. That would be more like a demo. Putting on my earphones helps me go into another zone where I have to talk to nobody and just do my thing.

Is there any particular type of music you listen to in order to do that?
A lot of stuff that I listen to lately is instrumental. I listen to a lot of hip hop remix. I have been really into old 90s hip hop that has been remixed because that is the type of music I used to listen to a lot. So it is cool to see a resurgence of that style but remixed into something more updated. I like it because it is nostalgic. When I hear a song that is nostalgic I really get into it and it inspires me to paint. It gets me thinking—kind of like when you get reminded of when you first started doing something—of why I wanted to become a painter. So it is good to have things around you that remind you of those times.

How did you get into painting?
My dad used to draw, he was a really good draftsmen. He passed away when I was 11 and after that I picked it up. Drawing and painting became like a form of therapy for me. It was a way for me to deal with the tough stuff going on as a youth. When I was about 13, I got into graffiti and that kind of transitioned into wanting to learn more about art and art history. I went to art school and it has just been a steady progression from there.

Would you say you have developed your own personal style of painting over the years?
I started by creating work out of graffiti. A lot of what is really strong about graffiti is line work and movement. Those are the fundamentals of graffiti. Line and movement are the two big components of it all. I did not understand it at the time because it was not taught like that. I was learning about it but I did not know that was what it was called. I did not realize that was one of my strengths. As I went through art school the idea of movement and form was something I always wanted to develop and I kept doing that with my work. It all came together for me one day when I was walking around Manhattan in 2013. I had just finished painting a wall in New Jersey and I was walking around feeling the city. And all these years of painting just came together for me. It just made sense for me to use color, line and movement, and break it down to the most simplest forms of that. Realizing how just one simple line can show you a whole entire form. I did not need to do a whole bunch of rendering or building up a lot of layers to get across a point that I was trying to make. For me, this style and color on an all black background is like breaking down the things that I love about art and everything I have been studying for all these years to its simplest elements. It is like a natural progression over time for me, as an artist, to break it down and try to get to that essence of line. That is what I am striving for with my work and this sort of renewed approach or direction. The style is still mine and it is evident for people who have seen my old work to see how it has developed.

Beneath the Surface will remain on view through summer.