We had the good fortune of connecting with Dwight Hwang and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Dwight, any advice for those thinking about whether to keep going or to give up?
During my 20+ years working in the film and animation industry, I kept a quiet hobby to keep myself sane. I never expected this hobby to become a full time career while my film career became an occasional hobby. From creating a short film back in 2000 that got accepted into the Official Selection at the Cannes Film Festival to a well sought after storyboard artist in Tokyo for both anime and live-action films, it was far from being an easy choice to drop all that I knew and loved for an obscure hobby that very few people had even heard about. But between 2016-2018, I had become depressed. I felt like I had plateaued when there were so many more things I wanted to accomplish in film. Much of my experiences overseas didn’t quite transfer over to the US when moving back stateside. Frustrated with the culture and the internal politics within studios, I felt like I was suffocating artistically. The 12 hour minimum work days, six days a week whether it be in a windowless studio or a chaotic film set, eventually broke me down as I desperately wanted to spend time with my newborn son, who I rarely got to see awake aside from photos and videos sent to me from my wife. Something had to change. During this time, I could feel my passion for film waiver, which was frightening to me. I once was so bright eyed and full of energy. Sleepless nights, no problem! 12 hour shifts, exciting! Don’t get to go home, sure, why not?! None of these things appealed to me anymore. Instead, it made me increasingly complacent. I was burnt out. And when I was burnt out, I would go fishing and occasionally bring home a fish to create Gyotaku art from it. Gyotaku is a centuries old Japanese folk art where one would brush calligraphy ink onto a fish, rub paper onto it to create a print. Much like Japanese woodblock printing, but it was the fish itself that was the slate. People close to me who knew of or noticed that I was no longer the spry filmmaker that I once was would suggest that I try doing that instead. Every time I heard someone say this, I felt offended in a way. I didn’t want to give up on film…or at least that’s what I made myself believe. Exiting what I had worked so hard in for so long frankly felt like a failure. It wasn’t until one evening, the pressure was too much and I broke down and sobbed. Things had to change otherwise this would simply continue. It was at this time when I received a message from someone at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art if I would be interested in doing a show with him, apart from the museum and at a separate venue. Though I agreed to it because I felt like I had to, most of me wanted to crawl back to my storyboarding job. In hindsight, I was in such denial and ungratefulness to even think that I didn’t want the opportunity to exhibit with this curator, but that was honestly how I felt. But eventually, when I finally decided that there was no going back and that I was going to pour all of my heart into this, if for no other reason than to spend more time with my son. About half a year from that point, things just started exploding. People took notice and marveled at my art. People like Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia and Jeremy Wade, host and star of “River Monsters”. NOAA scientists and seafood chefs. Commissioned artwork for hospitality such as the Four Seasons to being featured in Forbes. In 2019 alone, my family and I had traveled more and met more people than we had in the last decade. I felt artistically fulfilled once again. And for the first time in my life, I was no longer worried about finances. For the first time in my son’s life, his father was ever present. Looking back, it was all a process for me to get from point A to B. Now that I’m here on the other side, I have no regrets and no wish to be where I once was. I miss my many film friends and have even sat on a working set for a week just to be with them again and enjoy the camaraderie. But even that is only possible because I am now genuinely happy inside.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
Dwight Hwang, in tandem with his wife Hazel, continuously strive to fine tune their process and push the many perceived limits of this folkart while restricting themselves by using only the original materials of this age old tradition of Japanese Gyotaku. Conveying subjects at different perspectives and angles. Creating depth within scenes that were often considered impossible. It is their wish to instill an undeniable sense of life and motion to these underwater creatures that they hope will inspire and awe those that look upon them. “My many years in Japan have taught me some very important things. However, one that stands out and remains to sculpt how I view the Japanese approach to life and artistry is the cultural love and admiration for simplicity, fleeting moments and the ‘Perfect Imperfection’. To take a flawed subject and emphasize it to the point of it becoming beautiful.”
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I’d probably create an itinerary that starts at the crack of dawn to visit the commercial fishers of San Diego, go surf fishing and do some coastal foraging and return in time to cook up a fun and memorable meal with what we acquired throughout the day.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
My wife, Hazel, who works with me in tandem to create this art. Michael VanHartingsveldt – the curator mentioned NPS – Nature Printing Society Catalina Offshore Products Primetime Seafood Patagonia NOAA
John Trox Archi Prudencio