Where it is hot all year round and the ocean caresses the beaches, we paint more in swimsuits than in sweatsuits in a basketball court like in New York. We left to meet San One, originally from the very exotic island of Hawaii, in this period straddling the COVID and the holidays, to get away from all the continental turmoil. And for those who are not going to leave and those who are not going to go to Hawaii, this tropical note will spice up the daily life of our dishes. At 24 she shares with us a bit of her extraordinary journey.


Why choose San One? What does mean?
San and Chan are words used after names in Japan to usually describe or address people. The word “san” is usually put behind a name to add respect or prestige. Since I am a female, with Japanese ancestry, when I was a child I was always called “chan” after my name because it’s feminine and cute. I grew up more like a boy and I wanted to be addressed as San when I was a kid. So I named myself San when I got older. I also really like letters. Since I can do a  3 letter San or 6 letter burners for San X One. I write San One, so my Instagram is san-said-so, because of I-said-so. Haha

Why want to be called San, is it not nice to be a girl in Hawaii, or men have more liberty?
I wanted to be called san since it tends to be attached to a name with respect to prestige. Being a girl who is my size, and looks at how I do, people always called me cute names instead. I didn’t feel connected to the pink, dollhouses, and gentle ways that were associated with girls. I liked to do yard work, and build things. To be a girl in Hawaii is overall fine, there are no significant gender roles. In the graffiti scene, being a girl, in general, can be odd, or hard to find.


You make also hunting, is common in Hawaii for one woman?
Yes, I try to hunt every weekend with my dogs. It’s not common for females at all, at least not on Oahu. It is almost always guys who hunt. It’s really hard work, I go to the mountains on Friday and come out Saturday night. I sleep in a trash bag with my dogs, and we walk for two days. We hunt to provide food for our families, and it’s a long tradition in Hawaii, from Paina times, what people like to call a luau today. Pigs are one of the top invasive species in Hawaii and contribute to our declining population of native and endemic species. Little Hawaii actually has the longest list of species that are endangered to go extinct, and literally never come back again. Most of these species that are disappearing in our lifetime only exist in the Hawaiian islands and nowhere else in the world. Controlling the invasive species is really important and there’s only a small percent of hunters on Oahu.

Since how many times you paint?
I paint every chance I get, I have a lot of side hustles so if it’s not painting it’s drawing portraits. I’ve been painting for at least 9 years … since I was in high school. You’d think I would be better at the painting by now haha…


Why do you choose writing?
I prefer painting in a ditch in Hawaii instead of a paid wall. I never really considered myself to be an artist, I just started writing because I was not one. When I was 14 I taped shoulder to get someone to buy me paint (you had to be 18) and took myself to a ditch and taught myself from there. I was in and out of homelessness so I wasn’t into the cute and pretty art, I liked graffiti and wondering how people got away with doing it.

Why you prefer to paint in a ditch?
I prefer to paint in a ditch because that is where I personally believe most of the real graffiti is in Hawaii. The paint spots are where people really demonstrate what they’re capable of, and see who is getting up. I feel like if you want to be in the graffiti scene, you need to paint in the graffiti spots. Not storefronts or someone’s house.  In a ditch, no one will tell me what to do, what to paint, or where. Its free game.


You studied painting at school?
I did not study painting in school.  I had basic art classes in high school that everyone was required to take, but I don’t think I did too good. I had a tendency to break the rules and requirements of the assignments. It was more structured “art”, and I was a little rebellious at the time.

What did you study?
I went to school for landscape architecture/environmental design. It has a lot to do with my obsession with plants, and our endangered species. Being able to restore our native habitats through plants.


Hawaiians are very concerned about this? And what do you put yourself in for that?
I can’t say for all Hawaiians, but in general, there are protests almost every day in regards to the desecration of cultural or historical areas. Hawaiian islands are actually divided in a pie type of way, from the mountains to the sea. It’s called an ahupuaʻa. This is a self-sustaining system that for the most part Oahu no longer has. We get our water from aquifers, which are pockets of clean water underneath our islands, water travels through permeable surfaces (land with grass, lava rock, any surface that water can sink into) and then into the aquifer. If we overdevelop and pave too many roads and surfaces we won’t get enough clean water in the future. Some Hawaiians fight for the culture, some fight for the land, some fight for all. It’s essentially the same thing. Other islands are still intact. Oahu specifically has the most issues.

Is that the kind of thing that made you want to paint, to express yourself?
I think it was some type of unconscious release for me. When I paint a piece that’s bigger than me, it’s exercise, flow, my whole body is involved. When I freestyle a piece, I don’t know how it’s going to turn out. And when it’s done, and I can step back and look at what  I did, it just does something to me. Not sure how to explain it, but I think a lot of writers can relate.


Can you tell us how you started?
I started painting big walls because I grew up in what some would call a tough environment and I needed a release. When I started doing graffiti I painted by moving my entire body.. the flow of that on a wall and creating something that is larger than myself helped felt good. Now I just freestyle every wall, because I do graffiti to feel good. Not to copy my black book for “art”, that sounds frustrating.

How is the writing scene in Hawaii?
Hawaii graff scene is definitely present. We have a lot of hidden talent. We have bombers, taggers, piecers like everyone else. The main difference would be our painting spots, they’re tropical usually in a jungle, abandoned building, ditch surrounded by greenery or by an ocean which makes it pretty awesome. I prefer to paint by the ocean so I can swim at the same time. Bikinis are everyday attire and very common here.


When you paint in a bikini, you think you broke the image of a writer from New-York by example, with another type of clothes warmer for the climate?
I’m not sure about broke, but in general, I’m painting at the beach, somewhere hot, where I can swim. In a way, it would be weird to be fully clothed in that sense. In Hawaii, I wear a bikini almost every day. It’s normal attire for many people. So it would be different from someone in New-York, or somewhere cold. If I wasn’t in Hawaii, I probably wouldn’t be in a bikini if it was cold.

They are many people make writing? Other girls?
We have a few small crews, some get up more than others. I’m in the crew “ask”, “ae” and “gu”. There are not many girls who paint here…. I’ve met a few who painted before or tried to but none who still paint. A lot of girls paint for the hype, but don’t really engage in the lifestyle. I tried to start a girl crew one time but it failed completely. No one wanted to get dirty.


What do these crews mean? With who?
ASK is known as a few things, Aloha-State-Kings is the most common. Its a bombing crew for the most part, but my homie Asalt who put me down kills it in basically everything. He has the best burners, he’s the most up, has some wild bombs and some crazy style. He bleeds Hawaii Graffiti.  AE is Aloha Escorts/Adult Entertainment with Ashen. This was the first crew I ever got put down in, many years ago. One of his burners is actually one of my first memories of graffiti. I might have been 10 years old, and I saw a huge Ashen burner in Waikiki-which is a superpopulated area- and was absolutely baffled on how he got there, how long it took, and how he even got away with it. As a child, I was very intrigued. I’ve seen graffiti around, but usually as background noise, but that Ashen burner was the first time it registered that real people were doing this. The last crew is GU, graffiti unlimited. Its an international crew, and it was something I was recognized for my social media, and not in person.

Your letters are very particular, where do you get this inspiration?
My style comes from Hawaii, I didn’t realize it was different until I traveled to paint. I was told it was a “tropical style”. I think it comes from the colors I like to use. I grow a lot of food and plants, so my color schemes come from what I see around me. Personally, I really like contrasting colors, I want it to be so bright your eyes hurt.


Do you paint often?
I paint when I can, living in Hawaii by yourself is really difficult if you’re a local person you’ve probably been homeless or knew someone close to you who is. Being able to afford paint can sometimes be an issue but I always get lucky!

You speak of the difficult living conditions in Hawaii, there is a strong unemployment rate? a lot of poverty? We all have an image of Hawai very touristic with surfers and vahiné, what is it really about reality?
There is definitely a very large homeless rate in Hawaii. There are people with general mental health issues, and drug abuse problems, but many of the people who are homeless are families with children who have jobs that don’t make enough money for proper housing. When I was houseless I slept in my truck, on the beach, or with friends. Many people live in camps in the jungle or a tent. Luckily the weather is not something that will kill us, but because of this other states send their homeless here on one-way tickets. It’s good since those people won’t die in the snow or desert,  but it’s bad since we are already overpopulated. There are many rich people here, but most of the rich are foreign. The price of housing is very high since many tourists come here and then don’t leave. There are many scenic places for visitors and locals, but it’s hard to ignore the displacement. There is a disconnect between Hawaii and Hawaiian culture. So people who have Hawaiian bloodlines tend to struggle since the illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy by America. Many people in Hawaii do not identify as American and only identify as Hawaiian. Living in Hawaii, and being Hawaiian are two very different things. Hawaiian is a bloodline with genealogy, being from Hawaii does not give you these genetics.
We have all kinds of job opportunities here, however, most people who have significant amounts of money usually make it off-island, then move to Hawaii. Many local people tend to move away to live easier lives. Most conflicts are from overpopulation, overdevelopment, loss of culture, and financial issues.
Hawaii has a long history of overdevelopment, culture loss, and governmental issues. It’s definitely possible for a foreigner to come here and experience racism/feeling unwelcome for being a foreigner if they happen to go to the wrong area or say the wrong things. Respect is very important here. If you respect the locals, you will probably have a great time here. Many of us do tend to have “cool” lifestyles, so I can see how it’s so intriguing for other people who don’t have tropical scenic places like us. It can be hard here, but many of the things I don’t require me to have money. Aside from work, I’ll go to the beach and paint some walls, then go surf, and chill for the rest of the day in the sun with bikinis that I make. It’s not all bad haha.


Do you live for how many time in the street, and is very difficult to leave the street, how y made?
I’ve been in and out a few times….. I’ll still be working but not making enough for rent. I would work 3 jobs and shower at the beach. The most significant time was when I was dating a guy and we both slept in his truck in the mountains, woke up to the sunrise, and went straight to work. If you keep a positive attitude, and if you have someone there with you, it’s not all that bad. Besides, people are open to helping each other out. I would rather hang out with people with no money, and good intentions… instead of rich people who are shallow. Most people I know don’t have much, but we all are in it together, and help each other always. Nowadays I am doing really good, I still struggle but I can afford to have my own place. I just have to hustle really… Really hard haha…

You are native of Hawaii, I guess?
No, I am a local girl from Hawaii, not a native Hawaiian bloodline. I feel there is a huge difference. Seeing the desecration of native Hawaiian land first hand is what made me educate myself and become this type of advocate. I think education is key.


Can you tell us more about that desecration?
One major thing happening right now is on the big island, where they are building a 30-meters telescope (TMT)  on a beautiful mountain called Mauka Kea. There are so many political things involved in that. Thousands of people have been going there to prevent the massive structure of Hawaiian Land. Another is Sherwood, where people have been camping out in for months to prevent the buildings there. Another is Waikīkī, were originally was marshland, but now is famous for the hotels. Some know that these are sinking, and in the future, an estimated 50 years, will experience intense flooding. Another HUGE issue is the rail. On Oahu, they are currently building an elevated rail system that basically runs through the whole island. It’s a massive structure that’s costing millions of dollars and it’s super outdated. There’s just a lot of corruption and unconscious developers.

We are far from the image of postcards, industrialization and the problems that it generates are everywhere in the world, do you think that art can change something to that?
Yes, Art can definitely bring awareness in a non-violent way. I love graffiti because it’s free speech if you want to say something you can put it in everyone’s face so they pay attention. Art can make an issue universal, artistic, and beautiful at the same time. So yes.


You live off of your art?
Yes. I get paid to do murals for local companies, then use the free paint to do what I actually want to paint in a ditch somewhere. I prefer to freestyle in a ditch but I need to do legal murals to get the paint for it. I do what I need to do so everyone is happy. I make most of my money doing realistic portraits, mainly people who have passed away. But also if animals (usually dogs) and people in general. I also make vinyl decals (stickers) and vinyl heat press shirts for small businesses and people. I crochet bikinis and have a small business for that too and think art and graffiti wrap around every part of my life. I grow a lot of my own food and do landscaping which is where a lot of my color schemes and pieces come from.

Can you tell us how writing has come to Hawaii, since when does it exist? Who was the first, who are the bosses?
I am not sure exactly how it came to Hawaii, it must have been generations ago. There are OGs here, and people who have some wild history. It’s probably the only subculture where people from any age can get together and engage in a mutual activity.


What are your worst memories?
My worst memories related to graffiti are probably to do with my friends who had killed themselves. People in general who have been attracted to graffiti, at least in Hawaii have had tough lives and use graffiti as a type of escape. It’s a bummer, but I understand. I’m glad that for me I found a way out.

What are your best memories?
Best memories with graffiti are definitely the shit we get away with. Having successful nights out and waiting till sunrise and seeing it run the next day…. having great paint sessions with my friends, just pushing ourselves out there. Cause in society we are nobody. Graffiti is a culture that is all-inclusive. You don’t need to be a race or an age, it’s non-discriminatory. If you wanna get in the graff game, all you need to do it start.


Do you have a word for the end?
Hope you guys come to visit and paint some spots when you come! Even though life can be hard here, there are a lot of good things happening too. I’m stoked to be here and don’t see myself leaving, this is where my roots are. I pick happiness over money ANYDAY! Thanks for this opportunity! Cheehee…

Thank you for this great interview San One.

Instagram: San One

Instagram for Bikini of San: Kobrathelabel

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