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SXSW: Pow! Wow! Hawaii and SprATX Artists Please Stand Up

Didn’t see that one coming, did ya? Move over delicious delicacies and make way for two tasty artists I have had the extreme pleasure of doing life with. These two profoundly talented, yet extremely different, friends are scaling the art + life scene in our uber creative Austin. I have been blessed to witness both of their journeys from arriving into the city to career moves and leaps of faith. They are changing the streets of Austin by spreading joy, passion and love to all they meet and all who meet their work at any given turn through the city.

Lucas Aoki + Mike (Truth) Johnston. Brothers of Life. Brothers of Art.

mike and lucas and other guy

Mike (l) and Lucas (c)

Today, Mike and Lucas join me for lunch to share a bit about the beginning of their journey, what inspires their art and their brotherhood.

LoveJoy: Share with me the first time you two met.

Truth: We met in NYC more than 10 years ago – Erin (Mike’s wife) and I were in town for the marathon. Ellen (Lucas’ wife) brought us to a bar and I remember speaking very slow. (Lucas and Ellen met in Argentina and had just wed in NYC).

Lucas: At the time, I had a few illustration projects going on but wasn’t so deeply involved in art. I remember Mike’s sketchbooks and his shoes he painted on.

Truth: When y’all moved to Austin, and Erin and I would come back for summer visits (from Shanghai or Kuwait), we would challenge each other to add more drawings in our sketchbooks…I remember when you were living in Hyde Park and I would see more paintings in the back of the house.

Mike "Truth" Johnston

Mike “Truth” Johnston. Mural under bridge on Lady Bird Lake.

LoveJoy: What inspired you to move forward with your art?

Lucas: I was stuck in life. I was in one of those spots where I was feeling sorry for myself. In automatic mode. Not thinking, just working. Doing a job I didn’t like. Having no motivation for life. I knew if I really wanted to just “do art” I had to face it. I had a love for life and I wanted to move forward and be the best version of myself.

Rob (a cousin-in-law) introduced me to the “The Artist’s Way” and I knew I needed a method. A way to face those fears. I was writing every morning before I would go to work. For months. It helped me understand what my fears were. What I wanted. What was my potential? What were my desires? It didn’t happen over night…the drive was there. The feeling of wanting to move forward was very strong. I was inspired just to do that. It’s really been a very interesting process, it never ends. It goes through ups and downs, through a lot of doubts. There’s self doubt. It’s an ongoing process. I do see the brighter side. I try to stay focused and stay positive.

Lucas Aoki

Lucas Aoki. “The Mysterious World of Mr. Thomas” Oil on Canvas.

LoveJoy: Truth, you recently had to take a jump of faith and dive into your art. How has that process been for you? (He left his 12 year tenure as an art teacher)

Truth: Everything happens for a reason and I knew it was time. I had projects I was already doing on the side so I felt warmed up and had been transitioning for the last year. It was my turn to follow my passion. I’m super grateful for doing it (teaching) and there were steps along the way that helped prepare me.

Mike "Truth" Johnston. Acrylic on canvas.

Mike “Truth” Johnston. Acrylic on canvas.

LoveJoy: How do you center your work around the idea of LOVE?

Truth: The main form of art that I get excited about is street art. Since I know many eyes will see it I try to think about what gets me excited and that’s art that’s positive and inspirational. When I create a piece a part of it is for me but a part of it is also “how can this impact somebody else?” and “how can this brighten somebody else’s day?”. Sometimes it’s just the image. Sometimes it’s the image and words. And sometimes I am just having fun with it. I try to stick with things that will be positive and motivate people, like the phrase we talked about earlier: Letting love drive you. The work would make people feel encouraged versus beating them down.

Mural by Mike + Lucas and more of the SpraTX crew

HOPE Outdoor Gallery: mural by Mike + Lucas and more of the SprATX crew

LoveJoy: You both create with a very playful and thoughtful, emotional energy. You bring out such different emotions in people. I have personally experienced the joy of seeing many people respond to your pieces, live painting and otherwise. Can you share your process on choosing your subject matter and what drives you?

Lucas: I try to stay away from the thought, from the actual thinking. I have a hard time dealing with negative thoughts or with over thinking. My art is to stay away from that. I’m trying to be a channel. A mediator. The person captures the energy in the air and puts that energy on a canvas or whatever medium. I don’t think of art as a task. I see it as the way I express my love and that I am something for this world. How my existence makes sense. Me being the best of myself. That being said, art is just a part of it. I don’t want to overthink it. It could be anything. My art is 100% of my art when I am flowing and I try to bring this energy to the surface. The rest isn’t up to me, it’s up to the viewer. We have the idea that we want people to like our work. The best of myself is going to be when I’m authentic with myself. When I’m looking within and expressing it out. And when the viewer, those who really interact with my art, makes a connection that’s fantastic.

Lucas Aoki

Lucas Aoki. Oil on antique panel.

LoveJoy: Share with us your process on working together to create a public piece.

Truth: The very first project Lucas and I did together were on some old doors we found. We did a lot of planning and sketching beforehand. We enjoyed the process and I remember Lucas told me after “Mike, it’s important that you know, through this you really had your mind set on certain things.” (I was a really focused teammate) “And you should know that whoever you team up with next might not be so giving or as open.”

LoveJoy: (as we’re all howling with laughter) I remember this!

Lucas: I was coming from a background where I had no experience. I felt like I had too much guidance and Mike had that artistic process figured out and I didn’t. So I just wanted to have fun and make mistakes.

Truth: And I was too regimented!

monster mural MJ

Mike “Truth” Johnston “Everything is Bigger in Texas”

Lucas: Our next project was our first paid project together. It was challenging and fun.

Truth: The first project that I was super, super excited about doing together was the HOPE Outdoor Gallery and we took the front wall. I took half and Lucas took half and we met in the middle with a little bit of overlap. Just the fact that we were out there together. That was a big part of it. We are two completely different styles. Visually you can see that. People tell us we (our styles) go together well. I believe that but for me, even more important, is that experience to be together, to be working together. And of all the people that I’ve collaborated with Lucas is the one that I feel most comfortable with and definitely the one that I feel challenged by. I know that if there’s a day that we’re working on a project and I’m feeling tired that Lucas will step it up and I can’t be the weak link. I gotta be pulling my part and…

LoveJoy: Be the best you?

Truth: Yes. Be the best me.

Lucas: From the beginning there was a really good interaction. We had our quiet moments. We had our time when we needed to chat. We like the same music. Except for hip hop. Well, hip hop is ok. We had times when we support each other. There was a good dynamic. Apparently, that is something that’s not that easy to find. You can’t just paint with anyone. For our case, it really happens pretty smooth and gets to be pretty fun.

Mike (on top of the HOPE wall) and Lucas (on top of the ladder)

Mike (on top of the HOPE wall) and Lucas (on top of the ladder)

LoveJoy: Who is your biggest inspiration in the art world?

Truth: A group from Poland, the Etam Crew. There are 3-4 artists. They just do a phenomenal job doing kinda surreal, but lifelike images on the side of buildings that can be 6 or 7 stories high. These guys do an amazing job with their colors and shading. The way they create people is like modern day Norman Rockwell, with cool clothes and hats and birds on their heads. I love looking at their images and get inspired by that. They put together a really fun scene and it looks effortless.

Lucas: I feel like the question is like “what is your favorite song” or “what is your favorite movie” and I don’t have one. I just love things so much. There is just so much out there that gives you the idea of how much love, how much life, is there in the world. There are so many artists out there that are so incredible, so inspiring. This guy Greg Simkins, that goes by Crayola. He’s incredible. I make a real connection with Latin American artists. Franco Facoli from Argentina, he goes by Jaz. The list is endless. There are a lot of people that really inspire me, both in the street art world and in the fine art world.

Lucas Aoki "El Visitante" Oil on wood.

Lucas Aoki “El Visitante” Oil on wood.

Fascinating facts about the artists:

Truth is a pug snuggler, hip hop lover, treasure finder, repurposer (of all things paintable), lover of Jesus, godfather to my first born, and marathoner who decorates the world in joy.

Lucas is a master chef, woodworker, rock climber, baby whisperer, gardener, meditator, thinker, and lover of life kind of Renaissance friend.

Lucas and Mike have both been blessed by two incredibly supportive and beautiful wives that happen to be sisters… Everything happens for a reason.

mike and lucas

Lucas and Mike

If you’re in Austin for SXSW, catch Mike and Lucas LIVE painting on commissioned walls for the festival, a collaboration between Pow! Wow! Hawaii, SXSW and SprATX!

Mike will tear it up on Red River and 12th Street at the Brick Oven Saturday – Monday, 3/14-16.

Lucas will be painting at the Megalomedia building on Barton Springs, across from the Palmer Events Center – Friday-Sunday, 3/13-15.

If you happen to be MIA on these dates, follow @powwowhawaii on instagram to be a part of the magic!

Cruz holding an original piece by Mike Johnston. Noah carrying an original piece by Lucas Aoki. Paint on repurposed skate boards.

Cruz holding an original piece by Mike Johnston. Noah carrying an original piece by Lucas Aoki. Acrylic paint on repurposed skate boards. This was most definitely back in the day.


  1. Erin says

    I love the honest responses from these two wonderful artists! Inspiring post!!!

    Don’t forget the part about how they are both big fans of the….Kerby Crew! xoxo


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