Visitors to the museum this past week were greeted by towering scaffolds lining the stairway to the John Dominis and Patches Damon Holt Gallery for the installation of a brand new Pow! Wow! Hawai‘i mural. Clambering up and down ladders was the mural’s creator, Favio Martinez, aka Curiot, as he layered pastel tones onto his mammoth painting of a sphinxlike hybrid creature, which is based on ancient guardian sculptures in the Middle East.
Curiot calls the epic work Just Passing Through, which befits the Mexican-born, LA-raised artist’s itinerant schedule of late, which has had him producing murals in Tunisia, Australia, Louisiana, Oregon, and his home, Mexico City, before making his first trip to the islands for Pow! Wow! The title also suits the museum’s tendency to host Honolulu’s passersby, whose visits to our café and the galleries behind the mural wall itself—currently housing the Tokyo-themed exhibitions Harajuku and Hiroshige’s City—will be illuminated by Curiot’s bright sentinel all year.
Taking a break from a mix-tape-fueled session filling in an upper corner of the creature’s saber-toothed mask, Curiot spared a few minutes to talk about his progress, inspiration, and the pressure of painting over the previous mural—James Jean’s popular Nervosa III.
How’s it going?
So far, so good. Once I finish the creature, then we’re good. That’s the most complicated part.
I noticed you jamming to some music while working. What’s on the rotation?
A mix of everything—a lot of hip-hop and classic and indie rock, and classical music. Even metal.
Does that mix make you improvise at all as you go along?
It depends. Sometimes it helps. If it’s just hip-hop and rock going on and moving real fast, and then all of a sudden classical music will come on and it’s like “OK, details! Slow down.”
Was the image you designed preconceived, or based specifically on this wall?
Yeah, I tried to play around with the composition of the wall. The mask I already had in mind, and I thought it would work for this.
What went into the color choices?
I wanted to get an iridescent effect, so I am trying to get that.
It looks like a pastel palette that you have made more futuristic.
Exactly. Usually I work with strong, bright colors, and lately I’ve been trying to experiment with other tones. But in the end I think I might cover the whole pink [background] up.
What’s behind the title, Just Passing Through?
Well, I based it on the hybrids that used to guard the entrances of ancient Mesopotamian cities. I imagine you entering and running into these creatures, sort of greeting you. It was part of the [concept of] megacities, and they asked me if I could work around that. Usually when you go to a big city, you’re just kind of passing through, for a job opportunity or whatever it is.
You’re known for producing work inspired by Mexican culture, folklore and myths. Why the change for this piece?
I thought it would be interesting to take on the challenge of doing something with megacities, but I wanted to avoid making cities.
As you travel the world creating murals, do you see yourself as an ambassador with a certain message?
Not really—I try to keep it open. Usually I’ll work on a theme for a certain style, until I kind of solve it or feel the need to move on.
What do you hope people will take away from seeing your mural?
I always just hope that the work inspires—just for them to want to do something creative. I’m fine with that. Usually, you might make a wall with a certain message, but it just doesn’t go across, and people always end up seeing what they want.
You’re painting on a wall that now has a history to it, with James Jean’s Nervosa III underneath yours. Does that create any pressure on you?
I liked the mural that was behind this. So it’s like, I need to make something that’s worth it, because something good just got covered up.