On The Record: Jason ‘Newkon’ Ulep
BY KALANI WILHELM / Special to the Star-Advertiser
Art and life has always been one in the same for Jason “Newkon” Ulep.
Before sketching elaborate works of colorful inspiration for the world to see, Ulep’s art obsession began in his hanabata days doodling on the walls of his room with crayons.
Fast forward to the present and Ulep is the senior graphic designer for FOX, an internationally recognized action sports and clothing brand and one of the industry leaders in the world of motor-cross, BMX, surfing, wakeboarding and mountain biking.
With the company’s substantial presence nationwide and overseas at retail chains like Tilly’s, Pac Sun and Zumiez, Ulep has spent the last three years taking the brand to new heights. He owes it all to life lessons learned in Hawaii for shaping his identity.
Had it not been for the trials and tribulations and influx of support from friends and family rooted here, he might not have ever found the desire or the courage to push his potential to the limit.
“Like I tell everyone up here (in California), there are hundred guys better than me back in Hawaii, I just got lucky because I made the choice to try and make it,” he said.
The Hawaii art world will welcome Ulep home next weekend with an art show in his honor at the Prototype store in Pearlridge Center.
The showcase, “Dead Man Walking,” will not only celebrate Ulep’s rise from young graffiti artist to professional graphic designer, but also symbolize the old adage of a local boy who did good for himself.
The four-hour exhibit will also feature the art acumen of over 30 local and internationally recognized artists such as Katch, Aaron “Woes” Martin, Beak, Pancho and Alex Garcia.
“It’s such a dream come true, that I almost have to pinch myself every morning to make sure it’s real,” said Ulep, who now resides in Irvine, Calif. “My life as a designer has been a blessing and one I never saw coming.”
Ulep will bring anywhere from 50 to 80 original art pieces for the occasion and said the show was four years in the making. Since he moved to California in 2009, he has worked with L.A. street brand Kallusive and been a graphic designer for iconic surf culture brand Maui and Sons. He’s also designed for big brands like Skechers and Town and Country.
“I left Hawaii with no real warning,” he said. “I’m a dead man walking, doing better than I ever have before. Coming from a small plantation town called Waialua … never would I think this could have been possible.”
In the mid 1990s, Ulep was a talented street artist going by the name “Newkoncept.” Tagging illegal graffiti with an arsenal of spray cans was his game.
The thrill of claiming a wall was the ultimate rush. The problem was, he was also running Hypersquad Dance Company at the time, a business pouring in tons of positivity for aspiring young dancers.
Newkon, the artist who loved his graffiti was in conflict with Jason Ulep, the positive role model and young business owner. He vividly remembers feeling like he was living a double life and guilt quickly set in.
“What made it a tough balance was that a lot of people looked up to me as I was a strong figure in the community,” Ulep said. “What scared me was that I knew the consequence of being a graffiti artist.”
Thankfully, Ulep decided to focus on business before illegal pleasure. The decision was not necessarily by choice; he just didn’t have the time to both.
It took 10 years for Ulep’s passion for urban street art to rekindle to the point where he was embraced by artists of all styles. Live painting demos, commissioned murals and exposure via local and national art shows soon followed. Needless to say, his passion was updated and reborn and remained ever since.
“I owe everything to Hawaii and to everyone who was on this journey with me,” he said. “Being around kids, and the street scene helped me remember just how much I loved doing art.
“Art is one hundred percent more accepted now. The most wanted graffiti artist or vandals, as the media called them 10 years ago, have emerged into rock stars. From clothing brands to traveling the world painting murals (and) designing toys, the possibilities are endless.”
With Ulep’s vision and purpose clearly defined, he hopes to instill similar hopes and desires in the next generation of young artists simply by believing limitations are just a figment of one’s imagination.
“I’d like to show the kids from Hawaii that I know we’re far away on a little rock in the middle of nowhere, but dream big and it can be done. Take a chance and do it.”
Kalani Wilhelm covers nightlife and music for the Pulse. Contact him via email or follow him on Twitter.