Far from the mainland’s traditional urban graffiti canvases, Hawaiian artists Matthew and Roxanne Ortiz have developed a unique style of murals with a distinct set of concerns. Their murals and illustrations, which they create under the name, Wooden Wave, are designed to raise awareness about climate change and its impact on humanity’s future.
Roxanne tells The Creators Project that she hails from Lahaina, Maui, while Matt grew up on Oahu’s North Shore. Growing up in Hawaii molded the duo into people who love and appreciate the ocean and nature. The two first met in a painting class while in university. Matt majored in printmaking, while Roxanne pursued drawing and painting. Soon after, the two began collaborating on prints and paintings. Ten years on, they’re still at it.
“Growing up in Hawaii, we both developed a deep-rooted connection to the land and a strong love for the ocean,” Roxanne says. “We draw much of our inspiration from nature and because of this, we recognize how fragile our island ecosystem is.”
“The inclusion of sustainable technology and farming in our treehouse compositions is a lighthearted way for us to address some very serious climate issues,” she adds. “We hope our murals can function as entry points for discussion regarding the future of energy and food production.”
For the creative duo, treehouses also represent the ultimate symbol of adventure. When they begin conceptualizing a project they try imagine a narrative: who might live in the treehouse and what would they like to have? When they painted a mural on a Waikiki hotel, Matthew and Roxanne added surfboards, a canoe, and a clubhouse in the the shape of a pineapple.
“We are always keen on maximizing the amount of fun that can be had in our imagined dwellings,” Matthew says. “Which is why we often include halfpipe skate ramps, surfboards, tire swings, and other playful details.”
The two say that they didn’t always paint murals. It wasn’t until they were invited to paint one for the 2013 POW! WOW! Hawaii mural festival that they even considered it.
Unlike most other artists who created murals for the week-long event, Matthew and Roxanne had no experience with aerosol. So, they stuck to what they knew—brushes and acrylic paint. While it was a big creative challenge to expand the physical scale of their work, once they did, they were hooked.
“When we begin a new project we both brainstorm initial concepts for each mural,” Matthew explains. “My strengths lie in drawing, so I sketch out these ideas and together we go through several rounds of revisions until the sketch is highly finalized. Because our murals often utilize a lot of linear perspective it’s important that we plan them out precisely.”
“Roxy focuses on planning the color schemes and paint mixing,” he adds. “Between the two of us she’s much more organized, so she often handles overall project direction. Once we’re in the midst of painting the mural we each tend to gravitate towards our favorite subject matter. I like defining the architectural elements while Roxy favors detailing the plants and other organic features.”
Matthew and Roxanne work out of a warehouse in Honolulu called Lana Lane Studios. They describe it as a “rad little hive of artists” where they thrive off the inspiration and encouragement that unfolds in the space. The internet allows them to connect with clients across the globe, whether it be for mural, design or illustration work.
The Ortizes are proud to be part of a vibrant Hawaiian art scene that continues to grow. The state’s art community is a diverse scene, including Native Hawaiian (indigenous) art, the tropical land and seascapes usually marketed toward tourists, surf art, as well as conceptual and contemporary art shown in local museums and galleries.
“The POW! WOW! Hawaii mural festival has become a global brand and has really helped to solidify the validity of street art here,” says Matthew. “The inaugural Honolulu Biennial will be kicking off in March, and later in the year we’ll be in a group exhibition featuring artists from across the Hawaiian islands and curated by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center.”
Matthew and Roxanne note that another big motivation is inspiring the next generation of young innovators who will champion the ideas of ingenuity and environmental stewardship. For them, if they can get kids “stoked” on “sustainability concepts,” then it will have been a win.
Wooden Wave will be painting a mural this February at the 2017 POW! WOW! Hawaii mural festival. Click here to see more of Wooden Wave’s work.