“I don’t believe in coincidences,” proclaims artist Ryan Hawaii, sitting on a sofa in Denmark Hill’s Forty Seven LDN Gallery surrounded by works from his current exhibition, Made From Dirt.
At first glance, the exhibition is all over the place. Quite literally, with collages, sculptures, and clothes adorning the walls, a back room dedicated to an installation piece, and a pop up shop downstairs. The word coincidental comes to mind when observing the repetition of symbols in the various mediums of work, but approaching the works again, themes of technology, warfare, and utopia come into play with an evident beginning to a conversation.
“We’re almost in a feedback loop where fashion is about fashion and art is about art and all the influences of the last 30 years are coming back into peoples’ work now and [the works] also [indicate] how fast all technology moves,” says Hawaii, concerning the astronaut and rocket imagery in the works displayed.
The futuristic ideas are carried through with words such as “UTOPIA” and “A World Without Death” strewn across his collages. Hawaii plays with notions of a fantasy, futuristic land, but in conversation he emphasizes his preoccupation with mortality rather than further exploring the feedback loop he mentions. Citing spirituality and religion as inspiration, specifically Buddhism and Rastafarianism, Hawaii explains that he’s a firm believer in the idea that “the energy you project outwards comes back to you”.
He continues to cite specific topics such as reincarnation, war, telepathy, and serendipity as the main influences of his works for Made From Dirt. Attempting to formulate his thoughts on physicality and spirituality, Hawaii, after a short pause, says: “you can’t prove that I have a life outside of this [exhibition space] because you can see me right now, but when I’m not there you can’t see me so creating things—art—is like you’re almost leaving relics behind of your existence”. Another form of having children, he later concludes.
Hawaii’s focus on spirituality and religion is a departure from his actions and works that made him known. The multidisciplinary artist’s highly publicized unofficial takeover of Selfridges during Virgil Abloh’s Off-White presentation along with his work in his boyband, Neverland Clan, has branded him as a punk artist. When asked about it, however, Hawaii isn’t very keen on the title, explaining that work also needs to be done within the system and not without it alone. “I’m all about paying homage [to those] that kicked down doors that I don’t have to necessarily kick down and I also want to kick them down for other people as well.”
Nevertheless, the young artist is a strong supporter of the punk mentality and is appreciative of what punk means in 2017. “It’s definitely broader than it was. I’d say that there are a lot of punks out there that don’t look like punks necessarily, [they don’t have] a uniform anymore. It was definitely one of the most important cultural movements within the last 100 years because you see it in hip-hop now, you see a lot of people taking punk influences and techniques and elements and even with gal-dem and stuff like that.”
The show’s title, however, tries to incorporate an image of genesis and instead refers to Hawaii’s roots. “It’s representative of having a working class background, myself and my family, and doing the best with what you’ve got, especially when in the art world, there’s not a path you can follow. You have to scrap and dig around with what you can.” The quote “made from dirt” originated from one of Hawaii’s first works on a G-Star jacket, where (as he puts it) “it first lived”. The dirt signifies fertility all the while proudly proclaiming the impurity and uncleanliness associated with the substance. The more general notion of such paradoxes, albeit perhaps unintentionally, is continuously showcased throughout the exhibition.
While there is a strong contrast between Hawaii’s handmade words and DIY aesthetic with collages on cardboard paper and more technological, utopian ideals, he seems to teeter between the two, wanting to explore other types of artistry, but still championing his original means of creating. “I really enjoy the imperfection of working with your hand and how I could do two jackets that I intend to do the same, but they will never be the same. The uniqueness and the fact that I actually touch the work with whatever I’m doing at the time—[it’s] an important thing for me because it’s the energy you put into things. So if I physically put the energy in it, that’s a more powerful thing than by certain digital formats.”
Hawaii tends to shy away from his bolder ideas and admits that in his work there is a form of “subverting it down a little bit and reducing that to one image in a collage or one symbol because [I] think people are quite oblivious of what’s really going on,” continuing onto say that he attempts to “not to go too heavy with the commentary” as art can have purely aesthetic values and work as a form of escapism. Rather than declaring the works from Made From Dirt as his relics, as previously mentioned, the artist believes that, most importantly, “it’s an exhibition, that’s the primary thing”. Pausing, however, and a with a sheepish grin, he continues, “but it’s nice to know that looking at everything and seeing that that was at that time or what I was thinking or feeling when I was creating everything”.