Family is family –needless to say we were more than thrilled (ecstatic to say the least) when the stars aligned, and an OG member of The Standard family, NYC artist Romon Yang aka ROSTARR, who is now based in Bali, was able to come and apply his vision and epic brushstrokes to The Standard, Huruvalhi Maldives, our first island resort in Asia. In 2014, over three chilly days in November, he painted his rooftop mural masterpiece, “Ceci N’est Pas Une Grosse Pomme” ("This Is Not a Big Apple”), which featured RO’s signature interlocking calligraphy in zen-like black strokes on white at Le Bain at The The Standard, High Line. For the Maldives, he did something totally different, no less epic, with a crew, bamboo scaffolding, surrounded by the clearest water on Earth, he painted ‘Nest Of The Rising Sun’.
To start off the journey, Ro made a pitstop in Singapore to paint the gallery of Siri House during the launch of The Standard, Huruvalhi Maldives in Singapore. It would be an understatement to say the guests were captivated, watching Ro was like watching a live meditation. It took three hours for Ro to cover the walls in his own kind of poetry. And from Singapore, off he went with his family to start the mural of The Standard Spa, unless you were there watching him in motion – it’s hard to picture what went on – so just before leaving on a seaplane from what was his island home for 10 days, we caught up with him to see what it was like to paint a mural in the middle of the ocean.
The Standard: After finishing your creation for The Standard, Huruvalhi Maldives, how do you feel?
RO: I feel very inspired and super happy about everything that I did here. It was a very amazing experience not only to just paint but to paint in such a beautiful environment and a chance to work with the locals. I had a really great team helping me and I learned a lot, to say the least.
"I started to adapt and learn a lot and actually became more Maldivian, like my crew who were very comfortable on the scaffolding, the super high height with no safety belt and barefoot painting." - ROSTARR
How did the experience change for you as the piece evolved and as you got to be in the nature and work with the crew more?
At first when I started painting it was very difficult in dealing with the rudimentary scaffolding and how things go out here in general. But I started to adapt and learn a lot and actually became more Maldivian, like my crew who were very comfortable on the scaffolding, the super high height with no safety belt and barefoot painting. It’s interesting when I started I was wearing shoes and socks for better footing and as the days rolled by I started wearing flip flops and at the end I was barefoot just like everybody else, hanging from a bar, painting and not really worry about falling down or feeling nervous because usually I’m afraid of heights. I grew with the experience and when I was feeling my most nervous at the top, painting I would just look around and hear the sounds of the waves and just how beautiful my surroundings were, so it was a very zen, calming experience. Such a special experience to be out here in the Maldives.
We noticed you have a crew now, what was that experience like? How was the exchange of knowledge and conversation?
It’s interesting because I usually never work with anybody, it’s just myself or somebody just mixing the paint and leaving me to paint on my own so I’m very much of a soloist kind of artist when I do my thing. So to have a crew of 4 people helping – it definitely help me to figure out how to work faster and more efficiently with the crew. Because it wasn’t a typical type of painting experience, the walls are very rough and I have to paint each line like 5-7 times, even still then it wasn’t opaque enough. So having this crew was not only helpful, it taught me how to work with people, with a crew in the future. An interesting exchange was my crew was from Bangladesh, they really tried to communicate in English as much as they could and also teaching me words in Bangladeshi. I would even play Bangladesh or Indian Funk for them and they really liked it. We really grew together and they’re like my brothers now, Bangladeshi brothers. I call them the B-Team, like the A-Team, you know? It was really nice working with them, I’m gonna miss those guys. Hopefully they take that knowledge that they learned from me and push themselves to do something different or further their artistic paths, maybe.
What is your most memorable moment?
Well, my most memorable moments were some good and some bad. The most memorable one was me painting on top of the scaffolding, at the tippity-top, maybe like 8 meters high and there were pretty much nothing behind me, like a bar or anything holding my back and I’m just holding onto the top of the roof tiles and literally my fingers were digging into the wood like a cat, you know? My whole body was tense and it was a really nerve-wrecking experience, I had to overcome my fears and those are the moments I don’t really like but at the same time I had to face them and it was good to do that here.
Another amazing moment was when I was painting, when my music would stop playing, I didn’t want to get up and turn the music on again so I’ll be painting and just hear the waves crashing and then my Bangladeshi crew would just start singing these love songs or sad songs in Bangladeshi. It was a beautiful moment looking at the stars at night and hearing the waves crash with them singing. Definitely one of my favorite moments that happened.
After having completed the mural and being on the island for a day, what would you say it represents, what emotions?
I feel like the island is definitely about enjoying the sea and nature and being at one with that because you’re constantly in the water, it’s so gorgeous and warm and it’s very shallow so you can walk very far into the water and it was very beautiful to walk around and be on a very remote island. It’s very safe for my kids, they pretty much would just take buggies back by themselves and we always knew where they would be. Safety and fun and beautiful nature.
The blue enhances the sea, how did your color selection come about?
I usually work in black and white but in this case I felt it wasn’t the best color choice to use. After doing research on the Maldives and on the color scheme that The Standard were using, I definitely felt that I want my piece to vibrate and take hints from what was around me and so I chose a light, almost sea blue and a bright almost Indian orange and a white as well. Those colors are very strong but at the same time they vibrate when you look at them. So I wanted that feeling of radiance and of the vibrations.
And the sun, how did it come about?
Well, after working on a few of the walls I realized that there’s a peak at the top. Painting the spa, the spa is a very special place, I love spas so much – it’s kind of a sacred place, a place of healing, a place of, you know, gathering and getting the essence of relaxation. So I just thought that being out here with my painting and the sea, we are drawing power from the sun and we’re all her children in a way – this place is powered by her.
The relationship between your technique and style and the Dhivehi script, what do you think?
I’m very much influenced by scripts from all over, Arabic, Chinese, calligraphy. I love Indian and Dhivehi scripts, I love hieroglyphic and somehow my style really matches with the vibe out here and with most of Asia in general because it [my style] forms from those influences but in an abstract way.
Any last words?
All I can say is, it was probably the best experience I’ve ever had painting in such a beautiful environment. It was hard, I learned a lot and I felt that I’ve taken something with me back that I’ll never forget for sure.