New Brunswick

Tidal art: Hula creates a more permanent mural in Saint John Harbour

Artist Sean Yoro has been using the Fundy tides as his stepladder. Tucked away off Market Slip in Saint John, Yoro has been painting on a large aluminum canvas attached to the seawall, standing on a paddleboard.

Sean Yoro spent 11 days painting on a huge aluminum canvas in Market Slip

Sean Yoro, otherwise known as Hula, stands next to his painting in Saint John's Market Slip. He spent 11 days riding the tides to paint it on a large aluminum canvas. (Sarah Kester/CBC )

For the past week and a half, Sean Yoro has been using the Fundy tides as his stepladder. 

Tucked away off Market Slip in Saint John, Yoro, whose artist name is Hula, has been painting on a 28-by-40-foot aluminum canvas attached to the seawall, standing on a paddleboard and letting the water lift him up and down. 

When the tide is high, he paints the top of a head. When the tide is low, he paints the bottom. And those tides were his inspiration for the work as well. 

"It was completely inspired by just the layers that the tide reveals," he said. "I tried to kind of encapsulate Saint John and all the surrounding nature environments into one artwork."

The painting is designed to be seen in those layers. A tree sprouts out the top of what is revealed to be a woman's head. Around her face and flowing brown hair are little pink fish swimming in schools. And her collarbone, once the tide gets done to reveal it,  is coral. 

Saint John just got a new, permanent mural that will reside along the harbour and it was created by famous Hawaiian artist Hula. 0:35

"I love how, you know, I just put a single tree because I wanted to make it seem like a small little painting, and then it grows and grows and grows with the tide," he said. 

The painting took meticulous planning around those tides. Yoro painted 12 hours a day, often in six-hour shifts. He said he and his team planned it down to the minute because his concept meant there were parts of the painting that had to be finished before others could be started. 

As an artist, Yoro finds extreme weather and environments in which to create his work. He has painted on ice in the Arctic and under water. But Saint John and the Bay of Fundy was always a bucket-list item for him. 

Yoro was first brought to the port city by Discover Saint John in 2017 to paint a woman reaching out of the water in Pugsley Slip. But over time, the painting faded until it was almost invisible. 

So Victoria Clarke, executive director of Discover Saint John, invited Yoro back to create a more permanent installation. 

"We said, you know, if you could do it again, what would you do?" Clarke said. "And, you know, he said, 'I wish I was able to leave a legacy.'"

Some artists use ladders or scissor lifts to reach across massive canvases. But Hawaiian artist Sean Yoro, also known as Hula, has been using no more than the Bay of Fundy tides.⁠ 0:40

Yoro said the response to his last painting was enormous, and he would hear from people how disappointed they were that they couldn't see it when they visited Saint John. 

Discover Saint John partnered with Fundy Engineering to help design the metal canvas and figure out how to get it in, and then out of, the water. 

Clarke said the painting will come out of the water next week. Discover Saint John is still sorting details out about where the painting is going to be permanently installed but she believes it will be on the waterfront. 

Victoria Clarke, executive director of Discover Saint John, in front of the painting Yoro did in Pugsley Slip in 2017, which eventually faded away. (Julia Wright/CBC )

Yoro is happy the painting will have a more permanent home because he wanted to leave a lasting impact on the city that has stolen his heart. 

"This tight-knit community, it feels like are home back in Hawaii because it's … connected and very, just very welcoming and have that similar aloha spirit," he said. 

About the Author

Sarah Kester

Reporter

Sarah Kester is a reporter at CBC in Ottawa. She can be reached at sarah.kester@cbc.ca.

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