TWOONE: Politics, painting and a forgotten world

by Sonia Sly

I first met Berlin-based artist, Hiroyasu Tsuri, aka TWOONE in Napier a couple of years ago for an arts story I produced for RNZ National. He was in the middle of painting a Chatham Island Shag on an incredibly large wall as part of Sea Walls - a project run by international organisation Pangeaseed who advocate for environmental awareness and protection of marine life and ecology.

Hiro's work often takes him to great heights. Image supplied.

Hiro's work often takes him to great heights. Image supplied.

Artists from around the globe had been selected to take part in the project, alongside a handful of New Zealand artists. What struck me about Hiro was his international perspective, but also his abstract, painterly mark-making style.

“I feel like I have been artist as long as I can remember [because] I always made paintings, drawings and objects since I was a kid.” - Artist, TWOONE

Born in Yokohama, Japan, the 33-year-old has been working full-time as an artist for the past eight years. He’s fortunate enough to travel for international mural commissions and gallery exhibitions.

An immense amount of stamina is required when working on large scale projects, and as an artist who explores a range of different mediums he isn’t afraid of the challenge.

The wall he painted in Napier was right next to the ocean port. Every morning and evening before and after painting, he found himself diving into the ocean for a swim - an opportunity he doesn’t normally have access to.

TWOONE in front of his partially painted wall in Napier, 2016. Photo: Sonia Sly

TWOONE in front of his partially painted wall in Napier, 2016. Photo: Sonia Sly

“I felt like a lucky kid [and] it was great experience working with a great crew of people [and] for great cause. I loved New Zealand for its rich nature and kind people [and] I’d love to come back some time,” he says of the Sea Walls project organised in New Zealand by award-winning Napier artist, Cinzah Merkens.

“I do enjoy working on large paintings at the moment, as I’m still experimenting with my tools and processes around making bigger marks - I love how it can involve dynamic physical movement."

Hiro studied Visual Art and New Media at Swinburne University in Melbourne and is currently getting ready for an upcoming exhibition in Paris, entitled 'Statue From Forgotten World.'  The title is taken from one of his previous series of paintings.

Public statues are the main theme and the exhibition is comprised of 20 artworks featuring colourful paint drags, blotches and gestural brush, spray, and pen strokes. Hiro has been exploring the idea for over a year and the first work he painted was St. George in Melbourne.

“I was in Melbourne looking at the statue after reading the news about global warming, ocean pollution, the refugee crisis and wars,” he says.

“My imagination traveled to the future where those statues are still standing in the same nature that is taking over the planet after all of humanity is gone.”

Hiro has applied strange and vibrant colours. Light boxes also a feature in the exhibition, adding another texture and layer of meaning, illuminating the detail.

Statue of poet by TWOONE

 “I do have a fascination with fluorescent light, but I’m not sure why,” says the artist who continues to revisit the light boxes in his work. Hiro also enjoys working freestyle, while other times he works to a plan. Ordinarily, it’s a combination of both.

“I always make small watercolor paintings too [and] I paint whatever I have in front of me. [It could be an] empty bottle of an alcoholic drink, rubbish...a portrait from one of my photographs, or whatever is in my mind.”

If the ideas aren’t coming as quickly, he takes to the streets with his camera and goes for a walk or hops on his bike to refresh his mind.  

Hiro’s day begins around 7 or 8 in the morning, starting with yoga and running. By 9am there’s admin work to attend to and afternoons are hands-on in the studio where you’ll find him painting, taking photos or sculpting. His day often ends well after midnight, completed with a beer or whiskey, only to repeat the cycle again the following day.

Hiro is prolific and working across different media allows him to explore a range of themes and techniques. But I can’t help but wonder if he ever experiences anything akin to writer’s block. The answer, according to Hiro is, ‘No.’

            14. Histry study by TWOONE

“I [have] never struggled to pick up a paint brush [and] I think it’s because I always have projects and artworks on the go. So if I get stuck on one project I work on another,” Hiro says.  

Hiro’s style is loose, yet controlled. There's an element of rebellion and you can almost feel the streaks of paint flying off the page, or wall as if each component is alive. Encroaching playfully on his prickly marks is the interplay of brilliant streaks of colour - it's like one rebellious act, upon another.

The 33-year-old describes the act of producing artwork as a conscious way of exercising his body and mind. As part of his process, he strips away his own judgement which allows for a more flawless end result, and greater fluidity and freedom. He says painting informs his identity.

“I find new way of thinking and a new attitude comes out of myself,” he says.

For Hiro, isolation in the studio is a means to get to know himself - a place to explore new media and methods and investigate different subjects.  

Part of that self exploration comes back to recognising his surroundings and seeing his environment each time with a fresh set of eyes. He’s spent the better part of 15 years living away from Japan, and it's difficult to pinpoint any identifiable Japanese aesthetic.

“I can’t articulate how [my culture] influences my arts practice [because] I don’t know the other version without this influence. But I guess my versatile interest and output format may have been [more] influenced by living abroad,” he says.

21.Statue of Violinist by TWOONE

21.Statue of Violinist by TWOONE

Since moving to Berlin, a political undertone has begun to filter more and more into his work. Politics, he says, is inescapable in Europe in comparison to living in Japan or Australia.

“I guess [I’m] starting to understand what's happening in politics from reading a lot more about it so I see the effect of it in our lives, but politics are way more visible in Europe, [because] there are lot of countries in one land.”

Being based in Berlin has opened up opportunities for the artist. While he doesn’t feel he’s completely 'made it' as an artist in Berlin it hasn’t exactly stopped a steady stream of work from flowing in. When his exhibition “Statue From Forgotten World” has finished he'll travel to Madrid for a painting gig, followed by mural work in France, and later, an exhibition in Melbourne in October.

Hiro says one of the challenges of being based in Berlin is the language barrier. But being surrounded by a creative network has been enabled him to get his work out to where it needs to be.

“One thing I have noticed in Berlin [is the popularity] of obstruction [style] work [in comparison] to the Australian art scene, which has less realistic representational paintings, so I guess I am pushing more of that in my work at the moment,” he says.  

Hiro has a cool, edgy style that is also reflected in his personal aesthetic. He has a uniform, of sorts, that he wears while painting and he sees clothing and fashion as a 'tool.'

“Some people use [fashion] to express a statement, [but] I use it to switch my mind [so] when I put on my studio pants, denim jacket and Dr Martin boots I feel like something [has] switched on in my head - when people can use this tool effectively, I think it's great.”

His 'uniform' as you'd expect, is splattered with paint. Hiro believes that clothing as a 'tool' can conversely be used or applied to negative effect:  “When that happens it becomes meaningless, or [those people] get consumed by it,” he says.

Utility is also something the artist also prizes. Not a day goes by without his leather jacket, which was given to him by a friend - Australian street artist, Stormie Mills: “I wear it pretty much everyday and it works as a bag [because] I put everything in the pockets!"

To find out more about Hiro aka TWOONE head to his website. 


Statue From Forgotten World opens 8 June - 7 July 2018 with the opening reception on 8th June 6-9pm. 

Place: Galerie Mathgoth Paris/France

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