The Popular James Jean Mural Has Been Replaced by a Mythical Creature

You can see the new mural at the Honolulu Museum of Art until March 2017.

Editor’s Note: Through our partnership with the Honolulu Museum of Art, HONOLULU Magazine publishes a monthly blog written by Lesa Griffith, the museum’s communications director and a talented Hawai‘i writer on arts, culture and food.


The museum’s new mural by Favio Martinez, aka Curiot.
Photos: Courtesy of Honolulu Museum of Art


For the second year in a row, Pow! Wow! Hawai‘i lent a visiting artist to the museum to paint a mammoth mural in the Luce Pavilion. Mexico City–based artist Favio Martinez, aka Curiot, scrambled up and down scaffolding in February, painting over James Jean’s popular blue-and-red big-eyed sprites to create Just Passing Through.


Mural artist Favio Martinez takes a break from his epic work at the Honolulu Museum of Art.


Known for his primary-colored murals that are heavily influenced by Mexican indigenous folk art, Martinez took a different tack, using pastel colors and drawing inspiration from the ancient Middle East, when cities such as Assyria’s Dur Sharrukin featured mythical creatures like winged bulls with human heads standing guard to the city and palaces.


“I thought it would be interesting to take on the challenge of doing something with megacities,” says Martinez about the design, “but I wanted to avoid making cities. So I based it on the hybrids that used to guard the entrances of ancient Mesopotamian cities. I imagine you entering and running into these creatures, sort of greeting you. It was part of the [concept of] megacities, and they asked me if I could work around that. Usually when you go to a big city, you’re just kind of passing through, for a job opportunity or whatever it is.”


When asked to paint the museum’s wall, Martinez already had his figure in mind, and thought it would work well for the site. He fleshed out the design from there. The muted colors are a result of recent experiments. “I wanted to get an iridescent effect.”


Wiry as a street urchin in Buñuel’s Los Olvidados, Martinez is a physical painter. For a week he climbed between levels of scaffolding, moving boards to create new layers that allowed him to reach other areas of the wall. He ate lunch on the scaffolding, with staff bringing him food and drink. Helping fuel him was a mix of hip-hop, classical, indie and rock music on his headphones.


Students from Queen Ka‘ahumanu Elementary School—including (front row, left to right) Leonardo Leon Licona, Marco Licona Hernandez, and David Valdez who are from Mexico—got to meet Mexican muralist Favio Martinez.


While Martinez was in residence, Art School director Vince Hazen brought over a group of Queen Ka‘ahumanu Elementary fourth graders to meet him. The students, who have an art class every Wednesday at the school, include three boys originally from Mexico—Marco Licona Hernandez, Leonardo Leon Licona and David Valdez.


They gathered at the base of the scaffolding before Martinez, like Alice peering up at the caterpillar on his mushroom. “Will there be any other animals?” asked Valdez in English. After a few more questions, the boys felt comfortable enough to switch to Spanish. When Martinez asked them where in Mexico they are from, Licona shouted proudly, “Michoacan!”


See it: Just Passing Through will be on view at the Honolulu Museum of Art through January 2017.


Travis Hancock contributed to reporting for this story.


Lesa Griffith is director of communications at the Honolulu Museum of Art. Born in Honolulu, one of her early seminal art experiences was at the Honolulu Museum of Art, when on a field trip her high school art history teacher pointed out that the ermine cape in Whistler’s Portrait of Lady Meux was not just a cape—it was visual signage leading viewers’ eyes through the painting.