Tom Kerr’s Nebraska @ Absolution

I remember seeing Tom Kerr’s tattoo flash drawings illustrating lines from Bruce Springsteen’s iconic 1982 album Nebraska on Instagram around two years ago. As a long time fan of the musician, I was an immediate intrigued. The album, famously recorded in Springsteen’s bedroom on a four track recorder, stands as one of the New Jersey native’s most celebrated works, devoid of the stadium rock scale and instead focussed on Springsteen’s intimate Americana story telling. I reached out to Tom at the time and he told me of his plan to draw imagery for every song, I was excited to see what would come from the project. It may have taken some time, but finally the suite is ready for exhibition as a complete body of work. As you can imagine, I was excited to sit down with Tom and we sermonised about Springsteen, Nebraska and the process of making these works…

I have always found, depending on prevailing tastes, that it can sometimes be hard to admit that you are a Springsteen fan, you never know response you are going to get! For some people, it’s still the flannel shirt and Born in the USA, but there is, of course, this whole other side to Springsteen. How did you kind of come across his music?

My dad is a huge fan, so growing up, Springsteen classics were always playing, especially Born in the USA and Born to Run and stuff, but I think getting older and being a young adult, I just resented Springsteen and thought for so long it was just dad music. Then my really good friend Dan, who probably has the best taste in punk music I know, was like, have you listened to Nebraska? I was like, nah, I don’t really rate any of Springsteen’s music, it’s all dad rock or whatever. I think he said something like, forget everything you know about Springsteen before you listen to this album, it’s not a big band, there are no saxophone solos or type of shit. I was really into lo-fi music, recorded songs, and I got more and more into that and through that I went back to Springsteen’s wider catalogue and listened to Born to Run and that’s when I fell in love with all the classics. You get to an age when you realise the music your parents loved is good. As a kid, you push so hard to be like, I don’t want to like the music my parents liked, I’ve got better taste than they do. But then you grow up and realize that Elton John and Springsteen and Cat Stevens, and all those dudes are flawless musicians…

The idea of Springsteen being ‘dad rock’ was so strongly entrenched from his mega star status in the 80s, but I was always more into his early, kind of romantic street poet aesthetic, the storytelling, the Magic Rat and stuff like that, and then Darkness on the Edge of Town, The River and eventually Nebraska continue that storytelling vein in a darker tone. Born to Run is about escaping, but those later albums are about being trapped, or what happens when you don’t get out, and I think as you get older, there’s something about that idea…

With Nebraska, the songs are so well done, you listen to Johnny 99 or Highway Patrolman and they go for three minutes and you know everyone in the song, you know about their dreams, their aspirations. The song ends and you are like, how have you painted such a picture with like three chords and just like talking about these guys? He tells us how characters went to war, how the farm didn’t work, about having a brother who is a loose cannon and shit, I couldn’t tell someone that much information in just three minutes…

They are short, yet they are almost cinematic in scope and vision. The other interesting thing is Springsteen’s influence on the New Jersey punk scene, right? The Dropkick Murphys, The Gaslight Anthem, he’s had this interesting standing where the broader public have this perception, but the people in the know have a different understanding…  

I think it comes from digging a little deeper. Born in the USA was his commercial success, it was in the 80s and there was so much marketing when they made that album, they made him shave and go to the gym to look like a working-class farm boy or whatever. But in reality, if you look at photos from Greetings from Asbury Park, he’s wearing a beanie, he has long hair and is wearing bell bottoms and shit, and he’s the complete opposite of what most people think of Springsteen…

The ripped arms, the sleeveless flannel shirt, the headband, but then you go back to that earlier ‘Skeeter’ persona, the leather jacket and the oversized beanie, the scraggly beard, hanging around in Asbury Park, playing bars like The Stone Pony…

The E Street Shuffle kind of stuff…

Born in the USA is interesting though, it is really misunderstood, it is actually an album that’s way darker than everyone perceives, there is actually a kinship with Nebraska

Nebraska was all demos. I think they did The River and they toured it and then Bruce wanted to break off from the E Street Band and become a solo musician or he wanted to break off from the concept of what The E Street Band were doing, so he recorded these demos and when he took them to the label, they were like, this isn’t happening, so he went back in the studio and did Born in the USA. In the Born in the USA tours they do live versions of Johnny 99 and a few more of the demos that were in Nebraska actually ended up on Born in the USA, like Working on the Highway. I think they tried them all as full band songs and half of them just flopped…

Born in the USA was written to be much more sparse, right? Originally the songs were stripped down versions, the title song was more bluesy and, of course, No Surrender is the most punk song in his catalogue…

We learned more from a three-minute record than we ever learned in school… So good!

But it’s lost in that full band bombast…

Even the song Born in the USA, when you ask a person on the street if they know the lyrics, most people are going to say, I was born in the USA and I was sent down to kill the yellow man… It sounds really redneck, like I’m proud to be an American and shoot Commies and all that sort of shit, but then you listen to it and it’s like, I lost my job at the plant, I came back and no one thinks I’m a hero, all my mates are dead, they didn’t come back, it’s the same narrative as Forrest Gump

Born in the USA was co-opted by Ronald Reagan and the Conservatives as a rallying slogan and it has just never escaped that association. Although, since Springsteen came back with The Rising, and his role post as a sort of post-9/11 poet laureate figure, his politics have been made much clearer. His work has always fluctuated between big arena sounds and more intimate albums, like The Ghost of Tom Joad and Devils and Dust, but Nebraska definitely stands out…

Apparently, when they finally got into the record pressing stages of Born in the USA, he still had the tapes for Nebraska and every single time he got into a room with an engineer, he was like, we’ve got to put it out. I think they finally agreed to do a small run as a mini album, but it was recorded so poorly that every time they tried to cut it to a record, the lathe would bounce out of the record. They went through like five engineers or something to finally actually mix it properly because it was just like boombox recordings and the mics were too loud or there was not enough going on…

As a musician yourself, does the story behind the making of Nebraska, which Springsteen recorded on a four track in his bedroom, add to the allure of the album?

Yeah definitely. There’s so much information around and half of its fake, half of it is bullshit. The best story I’ve heard about it was that it was recorded on a Tascam four track, so to bounce it down to tape, you then record it on a boombox or a normal two track or stereo tape recorder. So, Springsteen bounced it down from a four track to a boombox and then he’d take that boom box out on a row boat and go fishing in an estuary. Apparently the boombox fell into the water and he waited for the tide to go out to get it back. The boombox was fucked but the tape was fine, so they washed out the tape and that’s why it’s got so much filth and grit to the music. It’s a great story, but I have no faith in it being real…

A real fishing tale…

Four tracks have a tape speed, so if you have a 40-minute tape, if you record on half speed, you get like 80 minutes. A lot of people think that Springsteen had the tape speed like just slower, but then whoever mixed it down for him, knocked it back to 12 o’clock, so if you try and play guitar to the songs, they are like a quarter step out of tune, and not in E or E flat, but like halfway between, which gives it this weird quality. I think people subconsciously resonate with it because it’s not an E chord or an E Flat chord like most bands would write music in, it’s something slightly different…

So, you play his songs?

Originally, I thought it would be cool to put on the show and have a different musician play each song from the album. I’ve got Johnny 99 and Reason to Believe down, but the rest of them are so hard to play. I don’t know if it’s because he recorded the guitars and then did vocals over the top, or it’s just his style, but there are some sentences I just can’t get through being able to strum it right, especially Reason to Believe and the bit about the preacher standing with the Bible and the congregation’s gone home, it bounces up and down differently to the way you strum a guitar. It’s probably just his style, but every time I get to that mark of the song, I fuck it up, it’s so hard…

So, the exhibition is based on your response to each song?

Kind of, I’ve basically just drawn the image each song painted in my head. When I drew them, I wasn’t tattooing yet, I was still building, but I would draw after work three nights a week and I eventually just ran out of ideas. I had listened to the album a couple times and it hadn’t really resonated yet, but I valued Dan’s taste in music so much that I was like, it has to be good if he recommended it. I ended up working on a job by myself and instead of using a work radio I just wore headphones and I listened to the album. I used to always skip Nebraska [the first song and title track] because Atlantic City is such a banger, but I finally listened to Nebraska with headphones and the lyrics were clearer and the song is just about a guy and his girl killing ten people and getting the chair. I just thought it would be pretty cool to draw a guy sitting on an electric chair with his girl sitting on his lap. I was drawing so much after work and I just needed more briefs, so I was like oh, I’ll try to Atlantic City next week and then after I’d done three songs, I was like, well I have to do the whole record now and then they just sat for ages…

It became a ritual…

Every week, yeah. Instead of listening to the album, I would just listen to the one song I had to do that week, all week, to really try and close my eyes and think what the snapshot would be.

What was that process? Did you find yourself gravitating towards types of imagery or certain phrases?

Yeah, certain phrases…

Was there a consistency across the phrasing that you were picking out of each song? It seems to me a pretty cohesive album…

I think probably being a New Zealander and listening to songs written by a Jersey boy recorded on tape or whatever, lots of things in my head kind of had that Sopranos or old American movie type stuff. For Mansion on the Hill, I just had this big American, gothic-like Addams Family mansion…

There is some really memorable imagery throughout the album, like in Atlantic City: “Well, they blew up the Chicken Man in Philly last night…”

So good. There’s a really good newspaper photo of the Chicken Man’s house, his front door is like Ground Zero, like there’s just weather boards everywhere. Originally, I thought the Chicken Man was a go-to fried chicken spot and they blew it up because it had been abandoned or fallen apart, like the Santa Monica pier where the Z Boys surfed, which had fallen into such disrepair the Fire Department never showed up. I was like oh, the Chicken Man must be a restaurant, and then I read about the crime families and stuff, and it’s actually a guy…

Were you doing research to inform the imagery as well, or were you wanting a more pure response to the lyrics?

I think with the tattoo style and so much being reference based, I was trying to find actual references to draw on and still trying to capture the imagery from the song. The drawing I did for Johnny 99, I found a shot from a hostage scene in a movie, but then I had to draw one of them as Johnny 99, and one of them is a gas station attendant, so I had to research clothing a gas station attendant would have worn in America in the 50s or whatever, and try and make it look a little bit old school. So that was fun, having the image in your head and trying to draw it and portray it as more than a feeling because at the end of the day, it isn’t actually an image, it’s just an overall vibe that you’ve got in your mind…

Did you revisit any over time?

They were drawn and that was it. I think too, because the idea was to do one a week, and because I’m always trying to find shortcuts, one of the songs I didn’t initially rate that much, like My Father’s House, I would have been quite happy to skip it and just do it at the end, but I just knew if I did all of them and left that one until the end, I would have just skipped it and never done it. As a result, having to listen to My Father’s House for a whole week, by the end, I was like, this is such a great song…

So, when you were originally drawing them, were you drawing them as tattoo flash?

Yeah, the expectation was just that people would get them tattooed. People responded to them really well, but no one actually got them tattooed. I drew them ages ago, so I thought I will see what happens, if I tattoo them or not. But then a couple of years ago I was like, I need to do a zine and an exhibition. The space at the shop [Absolution] was already booked out for like a year, but I saw that the 40th anniversary of the album was coming up in two years’ time so, I thought, two years is ages away but it would work. It flew by because of Covid, so I was like oh shit, two years already! Time to do the show…

It feels like a traditional tattoo style is a really good fit with the album. I know the most immediate association is the black and white album cover image, but if you were to turn Nebraska into an art style, I kind of think it would be black and white photography and traditional tattoo flash…

At the time, my main medium was a Sharpie pen and black colouring pencil. It still is now, but instead of using a Sharpie I use a point 6 Artliner, so it’s just a little bit smaller. But the thing I love about a Sharpie, especially for text, is that if you make the text too small, things like a lowercase E, get the bleed in the eye of the E and it becomes solid, it’s the same as if you were using a typewriter and the ink was too runny, all those things close up. In traditional tattooing, because the lines are so bold, if you do them too small the lines go close together, so all the designs have to be very contrasting to the skin that you don’t tattoo, so all the lines have to be far apart. So, for instance, if you are tattooing a hand, you don’t bother doing all four fingers because you know it will just blow out and become black, so you imply the form. On Nebraska because a lot of the songs are demos, a lot of the details are implied; the harmonica solos, and you know when he does those high pitch screams, I feel like a lot of those are his way of saying this is where the sax solo would go… Because it’s just a tape recording, there’s no thought put into it. I will play four bars, and I will whistle, or I’ll play harmonica, and in the studio we can decide whether it’s going to be sax or synth. That’s kind of the beauty, because its good enough. People will be led to believe it’s a conscious decision and it’s the same with tattooing with a really big needle, you are kind of governed by how much freedom you have, so the decision you make is that less is more, I guess. You can sort of imply something in same the way you would imply a sax solo by just humming, and people will go I love how you are humming that bit and you go, I didn’t know what else to do…

When you look at the works now and when you think about displaying them, does it make you more aware of the album’s narrative?

I think what hammered that home was the introduction I wrote for the zine. I wrote it as a dedication to everyone who is described in the album; everyone who ever felt like going on a killing spree with their girlfriend, or wanted to live in the big mansion on the hill, or fell out with their parents and that sort of shit. The last song is Reason to Believe, so it comes around to a dedication to all these people who went through all this shit and somehow, even though you are at the end of your rope, there’s something to believe in that is bigger than we all are, and then the album just ends. So, there is that conscious story-telling that is so good, you can’t believe that the sequencing hasn’t had a heap of thought put into it, we’ll close it out with this song about faith, and he doesn’t even mention that it’s in God, he just mentions that there is something that makes you get out of bed each day…

That reason can be so many things; the person you wake up next to, the vision of that house you grew up in, everything that precedes that song can be one of those reasons to believe…

Like in Open All Night, I drew a nice car, but he talks about having this car up on blocks, working on it. It’s probably a shitter, but he loves it and that’s probably his reason to believe, this rad car…

Cars are such an important image in Springsteen’s songs…

Nebraska is about the first ever spree killer, the first person to kill in a car crossing state lines. In his autobiography, Springsteen talks about how his Nana or someone told him in an electrical storm you can’t get electrocuted in a car because of the rubber tyres, so in the book, he’s like, when I was a little kid whenever there was a lightning storm I would run out of the house right into the car, and then I proceeded to write songs about automobiles for the next 40 years of my life. His whole career comes back to this story of cars being like a saviour…

So, what do people need to know about the show?

It opens at Absolution on Friday the 30th of September, which is also the 40th anniversary of Nebraska, technically it would be Saturday, Friday in America, but yeah, it starts at 6pm. I’m thinking I might give away a prize for the best Springsteen outfit, but I’m going to try and encourage people to think outside the box and not dress like Born in the USA Springsteen, which I think is the whole point, educating people that there is a Springsteen behind the Boss. Like Dan said, forget everything you know about Springsteen, this is the record. If you don’t like Springsteen yet, hopefully this one is the one…

I’m not sure how I’m going to lay it out yet. It’s rare to not see a tattoo artist use an iPad now, even I use an iPad, but back in the day, you used to do everything on tracing paper first, then you would do a nice one on paper. I’ve still got the tracing paper drawings from these works, so I’m thinking, because Nebraska was a demo album, I might hang all the final artworks and then around the corner I might hang all the tracing paper works and the lino cuts and all that sort of stuff. I was thinking I might use a string line to line everything up but I might leave it up, highlighting that Nebraska was a working idea that wasn’t supposed to be finalised and left like that…

What’s the one line from Nebraska that you think best sums it up?

I probably change my mind every day when I listen to it, but right now it’s probably in Reason to Believe:

Take a baby to the river, Kyle William they called him

Wash the baby in the water, take away little Kyle’s sin

In a whitewash shotgun shack an old man passes away

Take his body to the graveyard and over him they pray

It all happens in the same breath of air, someone’s in, someone’s out. We are all just doing it. Reason to Believe is probably my favourite song on the album, as much as I love Atlantic City, but Reason to Believe is so good, there’s the line about the girl waiting for Johnny to come back, there’s the wedding, the preacher standing with the bible but the bride didn’t show and the congregation’s gone home. It’s a tough one, actually maybe it’s the opening line:

Seen a man standin’ over a dead dog lyin’ by a highway in a ditch

He’s lookin’ down kinda puzzled, pokin’ that dog with a stick

Got his car doors flung open he’s standin’ out on Highway thirty-one

Like if he stood there long enough that dog’d get up and run

It’s a vivid image, right?

It’s such a wicked lyric, like did he see that or just make it up? I like the idea of someone just standing there being like, c’mon, get up man, this can’t be it… It might come back to the death of the American dream, poking it with a stick is not going to get it going again, you just have to get back in your car and keep driving.

But it’s the reason to believe, it might not get up and run, but you can hold onto something, hope is always there…

Or you could be the dog, hoping someone might poke you and not just keep speeding past…

Tom Kerr’s Nebraska opens at Absolution Tattoo and Body Piercing, 6pm, Friday 30th September, 2022.

Follow Tom on Instagram

TUNE! with PK

One of the best things about the TUNE! project is seeing the diverse range of influences different artists reveal. The spectrum of musical collections is a great reminder that nothing is monolithic. It is easy to assume graffiti writers and street artists are all simple stereotypes (hooded vandals or hipster artists), the reality is, of course, not so monochromatic. For this edition of TUNE!, we talk to enigmatic local graffiti writer, photographer and urban explorer PK, who drops an eclectic mix of tunes, from Grace Jones and The Brian Jonestown Massacre to Dam Native and The Birthday Party, a perfect example of spiraling influences…

PK: Music is my second biggest obsession (the first isn’t hard to guess!). I think music is definitely the cooler of the two. I don’t often listen to stuff while I’m painting or going about my day now, but I have fun memories of boosting around on all night missions as a teenager listening to my punk cassettes and BBC One In The Jungle mixes. I wanted this list to have a bit of everything I enjoy but it got to like 50 songs so I cut it down to a lucky 13 that I think represents most of what I’ve been listening to recently…

Burning Witch – Stillborn

Lydia Lunch – Friday Afternoon

Joanne Robertson – Hi Watt

The Brian Jonestown Massacre – E to G

Flipper – Shed No Tears

Townes Van Zandt – White Freight Liner Blues

Alexander ‘Skip’ Spence – Grey/Afro

Scraps – Baby Baby

Grace Jones – Me! I Disconnect From You

Strawberry Switchblade – Trees and Flowers

The Birthday Party – Sonny’s Burning

Dam Native – Battle Styles

Marilao – F*@k Me Moon [Morph]

TUNE! is an ever-growing playlist of the music that inspires our favourite creatives – stay tuned for our next edition!

And That Was… August 2022

I am actually skeptical August even happened. I have the most fleeting recollections of some days that purported to be in August, but I have no certainty, such was the speed with which it passed. On the bright side of this hurtling stream of months is, of course, the impending arrival of weather conducive to art making outdoors – longer days, warmer nights and a bigger audience… But before we get to all that, let’s use all of our available resources to paint a picture of what happened in the mysterious month of August…

Jay Hutchinson @ Fiksate

We have been fans of Ōtepoti artist jay Hutchinson’s work for a while, so it was brilliant to come face to face with his hand-embroidered refuse in our favourite gallery. From a discarded Subway napkin to a greasy KFC chip box (both presented on chunks of asphalt), the jarring juxtaposition of delicate beauty and overlooked mundanity striking and alluring.

Seaside Session

It’s always great to to see familiar spaces get a spruce up and in mid-August, a popular New Brighton spot was the site of a communal re-paint, featuring a range of contributions, including Burga, Peaz, Tepid, Nemo and teethlikescrewdrivers. This evolving space is always good for a gander, full of intentional and accidental collaborations…

IRONS X Yikes (Kind Of…)

Yikes’ startled character, seemingly locked between brick pillars on Manchester Street has been a favourite for years, but a recent addition by IRONS highlighted the way pieces can become a harmonious pairing. IRONS’ painting above Yikes’ work feels entirely organic due to the green background echoing the older piece, a perfect understanding of how to seamlessly fit in…

Ikarus X YSEK

If the Yikes and IRONS juxtaposition was more a response from the latter, Ikarus and YSEK’s Sydenham collaboration was much more planned, a combination of each artists’ iconic style – the unmistakable letter forms of Ikarus and YSEK’s signature animal characters, in this case a blue-skinned lizard, all tied together with a sewer background and unified colour scheme. Chef’s kiss.

Black Panther 2 Trailer

OK, so technically it was released in July, but let’s just say I only saw it in August. The trailer for Black Panther 2 is pretty epic, adding new elements to the story and hinting at the handling of the tragic loss of Chadwick Boseman. Technically it isn’t urban art related, but as someone suggested, the mural of T’Challa spotted in the trailer looks like a Retna and El Mac collaboration, which is good enough for me!

What were your highlights in August? Let us know!

Tune! with Peaz

The next entry in our ever-growing playlist of music that inspires our favourite creatives comes from graffiti artist Peaz. With a mix of hip-hop, low-fi, pysch and blues, these cuts are a perfect blend and reflection of the artist’s tastes and a world view that is about the present and the importance of expression and experiences…

Peaz: I love all kinds of music, especially depending on which part of my life journey is being experienced. Everything from early psychedelic rock to the newer styles, doom, hip hop, blues, jazz and metal. Much like graffiti, I especially value artists with a message, who have a story to tell. There is a lot to be said for music and art that makes us look a little deeper and think a little differently. Most of the artists listed here constantly remind me of what’s really important in life and existing, much like being active as a writer. It’s about looking at the bigger picture and being here, now; living in every moment and expressing oneself as authentically as possible. It’s almost impossible to sweat the small stuff when creating and experiencing, so I suppose that’s what makes music more meaningful to me.

Horrorshow – Waiting for the 5.04


All Day – Wasting Time

Mac Miller – Ascension

@peace – Nothing

Avantdale Bowling Club – Home

All Them Witches – Effervescent

Dead Meadow – The Light

The Doors – Been Down So Long

Kid Cudi – Solo Dolo

David Dallas – Til Tomorrow

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Auspicious Victory – Hostile Body @ XCHC

I became aware of Hostile Body, an exhibition of digital art produced under the identity of Auspicious Victory, through somewhat cryptic social media buzz. I had recently been grappling with the rising profile of digital art through the lens of crypto currency, skeptical of the way digital art was being represented as PFPs and 8-Bit illustrations. But Hostile Body was presenting a much more considered, conceptual and interesting approach, layered in intense visuals and tied to reality in haunting way, it suggested the best of digital practice. With the exhibition opening approaching, I was fortunate enough to talk to Auspicious Victory and find out more about the concept…

How would you describe Auspicious Victory – is it an identity, an alias, is it something more conceptual? How has Auspicious Victory evolved over time?

Gender neutral and identity fluid (they/them), Auspicious Victory can be anyone or no-one. Auspicious Victory comes from Amarapura “The house of the immortals” and preaches simulation theory as fact. Part designer, marketer, performance artist, techno prophet, visual artist, and activist all in one. Auspicious Victory’s true identity is irrelevant as they will tell you. Auspicious Victory will eventually be “guided” by a collective of individuals who wish to support their cause, this format is a DAO, a De-centralised Autonomous Organisation, breaking new ground, with the crypto world coming together with the art world to create the first de-centralised artist.

Hostile Body is described as a “multi-sensory” exhibition of various digital mediums, how long has Auspicious Victory been exploring digital art and what approaches are most interesting to them?

Auspicious Victory in this simulation was given their first PC in 1983. They learned to code in BASIC, their first program was an animation and they have created digital art ever since. In the exhibition, there is a piece of artwork created in 1999 that has never been seen before. 

Auspicious Victory responds to stimuli of all kinds and likes to collaborate with other artists. Working this way brings new perspectives and builds community along the way. The approach they are currently taking is to de-centralise as much as possible.

Deep State IX 2 E, 2021, stretched canvas, 1200mm x 1700mm

The rising profile of digital art has been tied to the cryptocurrency movement, but that unfairly obscures the longer histories of digital creativity, what does Auspicious Victory see as the biggest benefits of digital art making?

Yes, crypto is responsible for a lot of things but digital art is not one of them. Digital art was made before Auspicious Victory even entered this simulation. Digital art is anything shown on a digital screen. It’s that simple. Whatever screen you are looking at, a media professional or artist created it. There is so much media to choose from at present that we don’t even notice art when we see it.

Wow, the benefits… there are so many, where do you start? The benefits for oneself are instant gratification but this can also become a distraction. Digital art is easily shared and can be much more affordable than traditional fine art. Also you can weave deep messages and interactive experiences into digital art. You can express yourself in ways previously unimaginable. It’s corny but true, with digital art the only limit is your imagination. Digital tools are much more accessible, soon to be a commodity/service and allow anyone using a digital device with a screen to make art. 

Hostile Body presents the experiences and extremes of chronic and mental illness, has it been conceived as a very personal story or a more universal exploration? What threads have come out most clearly and how have they been explored through the digital mediums deployed? 

Auspicious Victory’s experience in this simulation is not exclusively unique. The themes are universal. Auspicious Victory encountered trauma on their journey, from this they sensed emotional and mental injuries, the data could be called pain.

In many of the pieces, the floating objects represent an aspect of an extreme emotional state, both low and high. These floating objects are held in stasis effectively freezing the emotion in time to observe and interpret.

The mood is largely determined by the colour palette; sometimes warm, bright and vivid colours suggest the high of a hypo-manic episode and conversely the darker more turbulent palettes allude to darker states.

The abundance of colour and texture in these works are a facsimile for mental over-stimulation. 

The landscape quietly or violently makes its presence felt in the background, reminding the viewer and the artist that storms are always brewing. But as all things, these too shall pass.

Deep State VIII U, 2021, stretched canvas, 1200mm x 1500mm

The exhibition is to be staged at the XCHC, how much of a challenge was ensuring the venue could successfully host the range of art? How vital was it that the venue was right?

No challenge at all. Auspicious Victory is not alone, there is a team of believers investing their time into similar projects and crossing paths with those talented people has been serendipitous and has led to creative and practical solutions. Auspicious Victory is grateful and acknowledges those who have gracefully stepped into the fray.

The venue is essential as most galleries wouldn’t do what Auspicious Victory want’s to do. XCHC is the perfect venue for this show. It’s a flexible white box. It’s intimate. It’s authentic and connected to a vibrant creative community. And its not afraid to try something new.

 Hostile Body opens 9th September 2022 at The XCHC, 376 Wilsons Road. Details and limited tickets are available here: https://events.humanitix.com/hostile-body-exhibition?accesscode=IBELIEVE

For more information about Hostile Body, visit the exhibition website: www.hostilebody.art

Counterfeit – A place for things that don’t have a place…

A few weeks ago, I was lazily scrolling through Instagram and a striking black and white image flashed past. I scrolled back and was drawn by the raw energy of a puffy face with a swollen black eye, the grainy image accompanied by a Gothic script reading Counterfeit. The stark minimalist look contrasted with a punky DIY quality and I was immediately intrigued, it was a nice contrast from a lot of the manipulated bluster of social media and I wanted to know more about this Counterfeit presence. When I visited the website, the content was an impressive reflection of local talent, from zine publications to photo essays, all capturing a sense of low-fi outsider attitude. After some low-level sleuthing I was able to connect with the semi-anonymous founders of Counterfeit, ‘J’ and ‘S’ and chat about the goals of the platform, the art it represents and how it is a “place for things that have no place’…

I must admit, when Counterfeit appeared on my Instagram feed, I was immediately intrigued by the raw aesthetic and by the mystery of not knowing anything about it, and I love when that happens, because it feels a bit more rare these days, to find something that feels new and authentic. What inspired you to start Counterfeit?  

J: It seemed like there was a lot of stuff that I love that hasn’t had a place to exist, stuff that was not ‘fine art’ enough to go in a gallery, and stuff that didn’t fit in aesthetically or stylistically with local group shows. I just felt like everything I wanted to see and the work by the people I like, there just wasn’t that space where you could see it. There are a whole bunch of rad people doing rad stuff, but it was all really separate and spread out and I just wanted a place where it could all come together…  

Did you think there were enough people making work that fit the Counterfeit aesthetic to make it work, or was it also about making a platform with the whole, ‘build it and they will come’ mantra? 

J: I felt like the work I was making didn’t fit in anywhere and I just noticed a fair few other people in the local art scene that I thought might have been in that same position, and then the more you start to think about it, the more you notice there are plenty more people out there you can try to pull in to be part of it…

S: From my perspective, when I started making and showing my work publicly, I noticed a fair few other artists whose work thematically aligned with what I want to see out there, within one show, one platform, one zine. By gathering all these artists under one proverbial roof we hope that it will draw in more people alike in one space. 

Image by Josh Bradshaw

How would you categorize the cross-section of art and artists presented by Counterfeit? There seem to be elements of skate culture, punk culture, zine culture, a kind of outsider art, there’s a sense of the urban influence… It probably doesn’t need to be pigeonholed, but did you spend time thinking about exactly what makes something right for Counterfeit or is that an ongoing and evolving discussion?

J: I reckon it’s easier to figure out what’s not it. All of the elements you mentioned are exactly all of the things we really like so are naturally drawn to. It’s quite obvious quite quickly when something doesn’t fit that, haha.  

S: What I looked up to was always somewhere else and when J and I came together, it was like, oh actually, there’s a big cross-section of people here who we find really appealing and it coincides with a lot of things that we really like, so it’s become much easier to understand what it is that fits on the platform.

For me, elements of the Counterfeit aesthetic feel very Ōtautahi. The gothic text, the black and white, the grime, although the positive spin has been the bright and colourful post-quake city, the reality of being a cold damp Southern city feels fittingly represented by the Counterfeit aesthetic. Is that something you recognised, or is the influence more global than that?

J: I just wanted something that feels real. Just like the grime, the devastation, the dirt of Ōtautahi represented through the content of the website; the logo, the general aesthetic, all juxtaposed with the clean look of the website itself; like the new emerging parts of the city neighboring with ruins and dingy car parks. 

S: While it is inspired by Ōtautahi, it is definitely global. We find solace in the not-so-pretty aspects of the world and we find a lot of artists on social media from across the globe share the same view. I think this aesthetic is about finding beauty in the raw energy of everything that’s around us, it is not necessarily ‘pretty’, it recognises the grimy, gritty elements that you can’t erase from the streets and makes them worthy of attention…  

Image by Miiekes

That kind of leads to the question of Counterfeit as a platform in the increasingly digital world. I would suggest the art Counterfeit champions needs an actual physical presence in the world too, is that a goal, to have that real world presence?

J: The goal is to be curating exhibitions and producing physical artworks and merchandise and actual tangible things. At the moment we are just trying to establish the digital side, so when people go to it, they can get a feel for what Counterfeit actually is and if it aligns with any other shit they’ve got going on, and eventually, once we build up that sort of network of artists, then we can look at putting on shows…

Were there people you knew you wanted to have involved straight away?

J: Definitely, there are so many local artists that we have close relationships with that we could reach out to, so we just hit up friends who fit that style first and then the more we collect, the more people will come in from outside that circle that we don’t know, and as long as the work fits the themes and feeling we are going for, we are happy to take it.

Did you give any thought to creating a manifesto, or a declaration, or something that summarises your goals? Even if it was a declarative statement that defines what it’s not, an anti-manifesto?

J: As someone who loves punk, owns Doc Martins and shaves their head, being in Christchurch and hearing the word manifesto, I immediately recoil! But we didn’t really write out our intentions, we do have an ‘about’ section on the website, but we don’t really know what it is yet. We came up with the phrase ‘a place for things that don’t have a place’, and I guess that’s as close as it gets.  

S: I feel like a manifesto could get quite limiting with what we want to present, so I think at this point of what we’re doing it’s not particularly necessary. I feel like the work speaks for itself…  

Do you each have designated roles within Counterfeit?

J: We definitely have designated roles, because I can’t work the Internet and it’s a digital platform! Luckily one of us has some idea of web development and how to use Instagram, so, they have that covered, and in theory that person has done most of the work so far! I just know a whole bunch of people that do stuff, and I really know what I like and don’t like, so it’s pretty much my sort of vision for it. It is kind of the perfect mix in the way it works…  

S: From my perspective, I’m not very good with social things. I’m supremely awkward, so I am responsible for the technical side of things while J is taking care of the curation and actually talking to people, which works perfectly for us…  

Image by Sofiya R

Are you open to bringing new voices in? 

J: I like the possibility of people contributing ideas, because there is a whole bunch of stuff that we are playing around with that isn’t on the website and that’s for further down the line and that would be cool to get other people’s input, but in terms of the actual operational thing, the core of it will just remain the same, a small team. If people want to jump in and help on projects and stuff like that, I’m open to that…

The website looks great, it is clean and yet raw. What should people be checking out on there?

J: I really like the digital zine library. We’re just going to be forever adding to it as we get zines from people. There are other places in Ōtautahi that have zines, and we didn’t really want to step on any toes, so we like the idea of collecting zines that are out of run and that are almost forgotten about. You make zines, you give them out, you sell a few, and once the run is over everyone forgets about them, so it’s nice to collect those dead zines and have a place where they are all kept nicely. We have also introduced the X Counterfeit collab which will be an ongoing series with work made specifically for Counterfeit. Then we want to have work by people that might be something they do that’s not their normal practice, you know, someone who shoots photos might have a sketchbook that they do drawings in and we are just as interested in those as the other work. Again, it’s a place for things that don’t have a place.

The latest X Counterfeit contribution is a photo essay by Cammy H, how did that come about?  

J: I noticed that he was posting photos that looked a bit a different to what he would normally shoot. I love Cam’s photos and with the black and white stuff that he was starting to post, S and I would look at each other and be like, this is perfect for Counterfeit, we should add these! So, I asked Cam if he would want to submit some new ones to the website. He was super keen and we showed him a preview of the website so he had a feeling of the look, and the photos we got from him were just perfect.

Image by Cammy H

You also have a selection of zines from local skate crew FAUP. What is your relationship with them?

J: I’ve skated most of my life, so I’ve seen some of those kids come up, watched them form their crew, skate and then as they got older break off and form punk bands and stuff. But just watching them shooting their own photos and videos, making their own clothes, making zines, all for no reason, just for the fact that they love doing it, that’s the feeling I was talking about, it’s fucking real, it’s so perfect, it’s everything that I feel a lot of stuff is missing these days with the internet and shit…

FAUP Bitch, Vol. 3 by Gianni Ruffino

I guess the big thing is that you have to be willing to dive in, like in skating you have to know you will probably get hurt at some stage, but you have to do it anyway, and it correlates with creativity…

J: There’s no one making you jump down those stairs for hours. When you’re falling over for that long, for the possibility of success, I think it teaches you how to overcome challenges and deal with failures.

S: I would rather see a spectacular failure than a boring success…  

What is next for Counterfeit?

J: Zinefest, on the 17th of September, we will have a table there. We will have artist zines for sale, some older ones, some new ones and a first Counterfeit issue with a bunch of contributing artists, which is actually a real physical thing that you can look at, instead of just clicking through on the website…

And beyond Zinefest?

S: We have been speaking with quite a few artists, so we will hopefully source some work from them in the future. We plan to sell stuff as well, Counterfeit zines, Counterfeit merch…

J: Like I said earlier, we also want to stage some group exhibitions…

I imagine finding the right venues will be really important for Counterfeit shows…

S: The grimier the better!

J: I really want to have some shows at the Darkroom, that would be perfect because the exhibition could roll on into a punk show straight afterwards, making it an event. I think we just want to make it fun. There’s plenty of people doing cool shit, it just needs to be organised a bit better…

I’m a massive advocate for creating platforms for things to be seen and shared and celebrated, because in Christchurch, it’s big enough to have people doing cool stuff, but small enough to not have enough platforms…  

J: A lot of the artists and the work I like you could call lowbrow or gritty and people just do that stuff for the love of doing it. A lot might fall through the cracks or be forgotten, and I wanted to collect all that work. The thing with Counterfeit is that it might be grittier but I wanted it to be presented really well, to be respected, and I wanted the website to be super clean and to focus on the artwork and the artists, rather than Counterfeit. Exhibitions and stuff as well, it might have some shitty punk kids and beers out of a trash can, but all the work will be presented really well…

S: We just want to encourage more people to create or continue to create. If someone knows that, not only can they make something but they can actually have it seen by other people, they can make it a more significant part of their life

Image by Bethany Ponniah

And creating a platform that ensures people can feel like they can do that, that they can feel part of something, that encourages them to put something out there, is so important, because until they are visible, they go unknown and who knows who will connect with it…

S: That’s why we are open to seeing what’s out there and deciding what works for us and what doesn’t. At the end of the day our platform isn’t the only one to showcase work, it is specifically for things that we have seen a lack of representation around, so we are just happy to fill the gap.

Follow Counterfeit on Instagram and stay up to date with their newest projects…

Tune! with Smeagol

Tattoo artist, painter of gory monsters and creatures, maker of miniatures and custom toys, illustrator, Smeagol describes himself as having his “fingers in all the pies”. This wide ranging creativity makes it understandable that his taste in music would be equally diverse. After sending a killer playlist of 10 tracks that span the alt 90s vibes of Jane’s Addiction, the verbose wordplay of Aesop Rock, the energy of Misfits, the grooves of Modjo and even the croon of Chris Isaak, he explained 30 might have allowed him to fully cover his eclectic tastes. Oh well, it looks like we will just have to have more volumes of Tune! with Smeagol in the future…

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Ironically asking a near deaf artist their favourite songs is probably a bad idea, but my art and lifestyle revolves heavily on music. From birth my parents enforced a good taste in music so to say, 70s staples like Led Zeppelin and Fleetwood Mac, Jimi Hendrix, and on and on…

My childhood was straight 80s and 90s baddassery. Grunge and alternative was life: Nirvana, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, Stone Temple Pilots, Garbage… In between then and now, I’ve picked up on every genre in between and I literally listen to anything, hip hop mainly, but rock, metal, dance, DnB, soul, 90s trash, punk… Gimme something I haven’t heard please! Thanks for listening to my Ted talk.

Jane’s Addiction – Jane Says

Queens of the Stone Age – Burn the Witch

Aesop Rock – No Regrets

King Geedorah – Take Me To Your Leader

KMD – Sweet Premium Wine

Misfits – Hybrid Moments

Modjo – Lady (Hear Me Tonight)

Chris Isaak – Wicked Game

Ramirez – The Fo Five

Freddie Gibbs and Madlib – Giannis (feat. Anderson .Paak)

Follow Smeagol on Instagram to see all of his creative goodness!

Stay tuned for more editions of Tune! soon…

 

The Paste-Up Project – with Cape of Storms

Urban collage artist Cape of Storms became the third contributor to the Paste-Up Project in early June, her bright installation completed in glorious sunshine. The concept, drawing on the artist’s experiences acclimating to life in Aotearoa through the lens of humorously juxtaposed vintage magazine and advertising imagery, provided a reflection of the advertising often found in our urban environment, almost tricking the passing audience into a sense of normality. Upon closer inspection though, the bollard was filled more playful and acerbic content, including a brick wall section packed with a wide range of images. The result was a bold production with electric colours gleaming in the sun, simultaneously covert and unmissable.

But, then the weather changed and the installation was faced with a slew of challenges. As torrential rain hit Christchurch, the paste-ups started to peel and soon, it seemed as though people had pulled the pieces off, leaving the bollard naked in places. Luckily, part of Cape of Storm’s concept was the incorporation of friends’ work to be added over time, and this unfortunate series of events provided the opportunity to refresh the bollard on a large scale.

Cape of Storm’s installation has not only provided a bold burst of colour, but a fascinating narrative that ties into the nature of both paste-up art and the process of making art in the urban environment…

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Kia ora! Would you like to introduce yourself?

I am Cape of Storms, a Christchurch-based collage artist, I collect obscure retro images and phrases and put them together in a fun and quirky way.

What was your initial reaction to the Paste-Up Project proposal?

I was very excited by the concept, and also daunted in equal measure at the sheer size and scale of the bollard surface area.  I typically work no larger than A3-sized pieces and often very detailed and refined. It takes hours to hunt out and combine different images together into one cohesive new image.  I hand-cut and glue everything with just a pair of scissors or a small craft knife, arrange and overlap, and then carefully glue everything together.  Some of my pieces are comprised of 30 or more smaller images and words!  So, the challenge of this project was filling in all that open space.  In the end my approach was to try to go big, but also fill the space with as much as possible to keep it interesting and provide a piece of art that had several dimensions to it.

With two artists having already contributed to the project, were you primarily interested in doing something different?

Yes, I was keen to do something unique to my style and stay true to that – I think my art style is so significantly different to both Teeth Like Screwdrivers and Bloom n Grow Gal‘s that it wasn’t too hard to be different!

What is the central theme of your installation and how does it relate to your existing work?  

The installation is a progression or continuation of a new style I have been working on for about a year now, which I am really enjoying.

I have titled the series covering the bollard Foreign Objects.   Being a foreigner living in New Zealand, I am continually getting to grips with my identity and trying to relate to my surroundings, often times feeling like a fish out of water. As a  lover of nostalgia, I found myself combining these two themes.

Throughout this series I intentionally tried to create a silly, nonsense, imaginary world that could reawaken nostalgic memories in the viewer.  Over a period of months I sourced hundreds of different found images  – from old cook books, special interest magazines, newspapers, catalogues and children’s books from bygone eras.  Things I remember seeing in my mother and grandmother’s house during my childhood growing up through the 90s.  To many younger people, these images might seem totally foreign or out of place in modern times, as they are simply just not in common use any more.  So through this use of retro “foreign” objects and arranging them together in weird, silly and fun ways, they all come together and are recognisable and familiar as a whole, something that the viewer can relate to.  I tried to select a range of bright candy colours for the background which would stand out on the grey inner-city street-scape around the bollard.  The candy-coloured palette also reinforced the nostalgic theme.  For me, this ended up being very effective at inviting the viewer in from a distance, to come up closer and look at the bollard in more detail, particularly in the heart of winter!

The brick wall section running along the bottom third of the bollard and the very top section running like a ribbon all around is a collection of my existing collage art that I have been pasting up on the streets of Christchurch over the past two years.  It was nice to include these on the bollard as well, alongside the more considered poster series that I created especially for this project.

You decided to remove the spacers on the bollard, making it one consistent 360 degree surface – which makes the experience more continuous, was that the thinking?

I didn’t like the “frames” or physical boundaries the spacing strips created, I wanted each individual poster to look like another part of the imaginary world I was creating. I also wanted to encourage the viewer to walk right around the bollard and see the image as one continuous surface.

You have included some big prints but also some collaborative spaces, what was the intention of the brick wall?

The brick wall section was intended to be a space where the wider Slap City collective group of artists would jump in and slap up various individual pieces, just as we do on our regular paste-up missions around the city.

Unfortunately due to the intense winter weather over the last month and the group not being able to meet up so frequently, we weren’t able to get in and fill that area before about 80% of the bollard surface was damaged in the torrential rain.

But the damage to the bollard has now cleared even more space, so if we are able, we will try and cover the empty spaces up again in between now and when Mark Catley inherits the bollard – I’m very excited to see what he’s got planned!!!

Printing the large posters became quite a process, working with the team from Phantom, has that changed your thinking around your work more widely? And what other challenges did the whole process throw up?

I knew I wanted to print everything with Phantom – they are the experts and their prints are of amazing quality and designed to be more durable and last out in the elements (sadly the record-breaking wet weather we’ve experienced over the last month took its toll!).  The trickiest part was maintaining resolution when scaling up from original A4 or A3 size to A0 size.  I was really worried that the images would look pixelated and poor quality.  In the end I put all my scanned images through a free online tool called The Rasterbator which I hadn’t previously used much before, but is very popular among paste-up artists, especially Teeth Like Screwdrivers, who encouraged me to get into using it. Luckily this helped tremendously in keeping the images sharp and looking half-decent.  I then asked the assistance of the very talented Tom Horton, the printer at Phantom, and he worked his magic, did some test-prints and the posters came out so much better than I could have ever imagined!

The next trickiest part was the installation itself, which I found very challenging having never done anything of that size or nature before.  My design relied upon the posters going up very neatly and level, and the curved surface was seriously difficult to work with, and certainly will not be under-estimated in the future.  I was so lucky to have the help of my partner who is a painter, as well as Vez and JZA who were able to help me paste up high (as I embarrassingly have bad vertigo when up on ladders!).  This project has again made me appreciate what a special, supportive group of people we have in the Slapcity collective, coming together to do awesome stuff, promoting our many and varied street art mediums and just generally have a cool time together.

What does the Paste-Up Project represent for you as an artist who works in the paper medium? Has it given you ideas for where you might be able to take your work next?

I was totally blown away by the opportunity to prepare a legitimate art installation all in paper-based form.  We have a lot of murals and graffiti/paint/spray-based pieces all around the city, so it was really encouraging to receive a project like this especially for paper-based art. For me personally, seeing the sheer scale of the prints, and printing on very high-quality paper has added a whole other dimension to where I think my art could go in the future, and I can see new possibilities for future projects with scaling up and going big. Finding a way to cost-effectively create large prints and in a format that is durable enough to withstand the winter elements and last a little longer out in the streets is a serious challenge for paper-based artists.

Is there anyone you want to thank?

Watch This Space for the support and patience, also for the help cleaning off and preparing the bollard surface ahead of the installation! Phantom Billstickers – Tom, Jake and the team. The Christchurch City Council’s Enliven Places fund for funding and the opportunity. Teeth Like Screwdrivers for the advice, tips and tricks. Vez and JZA for the help pasting up on the day and going high up on ladders when I wasn’t brave enough! Bongo and Neil Swiggs for the donation of some seriously good old books and magazines that I used in a few of the collages. The Slapcity crew for the support & a source of creative inspiration.

And my partner Fernando for allowing the complete take over of my time and helping with the installation!

Stay tuned for our next artist announcement for The Paste-Up Project!

Follow Cape of Storms on Instagram for more collage-y paste-y goodness!

 

 

Pener – Vacation from Reality

Pener arrived in Ōtautahi following a 30-hour flight from his hometown of Olsztyn, Poland. Since 2020, such long haul flights have become a rarity for many of us, the world seeming a more distant proposition, despite our enduring digital connections. Here in Aotearoa, our geographical isolation has provided a protective barrier as we have viewed the rest of the world from afar. Across the globe, our shared challenges have been experienced through distinctly different lenses.

For Pener (born Bartek Świątecki), this adventure to the bottom of the world provides an escape, a Vacation from Reality where he can explore a new landscape and find new inspirations away from his daily routines. As an abstract artist, Pener’s work is also an escape, his jagged, evocative compositions engaging the viewer in an internal exploration as they are immersed in a fragmented field of glass shards, shattering in our presence and suggesting some new path to follow.  A leading figure in an exciting generation of Polish abstract and non-figurative artists, Pener’s background in graffiti, and a longer lineage of the Polish avant-garde, inform his practice; the influence of geometric abstraction and deconstructed letter-forms are equally evident, deployed through sharp line work, overlapping forms and a sophisticated use of colour that is both intense and undeniably intriguing.

The ability of Pener’s paintings to speak to deeper, more purely emotional sensations does not mean they offer no reflection of our challenging contemporary environment. Indeed, these fractured compositions feel incredibly apt in light of our increasingly divided ideologies and vocal dissension and conflict. But Pener’s paintings do not agitate, they are reflective, ruminative, and ultimately they emanate a sense of the hopeful; as if after the break, piecing things back together is the necessary next step.

Before he crossed the tarmac and settled into the distraction of in-flight movies on his lengthy flight, I posed Pener a few questions about his hopes for Vacation from Reality, his experiences in Poland, the potential of abstract art, and why Poland has become a hotspot for non-figurative practice…

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With all of the turmoil of the last three years, what are your feelings as you embark on your first journey to Aotearoa New Zealand? 

Yes, this will be my first time in this part of the world. I am very excited and a little scared. The thirty-hour flight will be quite an experience!

What has life been like in Poland, and Europe more generally, throughout the Covid Pandemic?

It has been a strange time. It has been very difficult and emotionally complicated, probably the same for all of us. It’s hard to live in fear for such a long time and be constantly informed by the Government and television about more bad things. It has been a very strange time from a sociological point of view.

Has your art been an important coping mechanism? Have you found art as a vital part of your ability to make sense of all this?

You know, this is interesting because almost nothing has changed in my studio. For many years I have been trying to make painting a daily routine, make it something I have to do. I sometimes enter the studio just to clean it up. The studio is my asylum and my space. Throughout the entire period of lockdowns and online meetings, I worked in the studio and prepared new paintings.

Of course, there were no exhibitions and no trips to paint large walls, but it is only a matter of perspective. Last year I painted a few walls in my hometown. In the end, is it important that the wall is in Olsztyn or Dubai? I’m not so sure…

As an abstract artist, you have stated you start with an emotion and the process, and when I look at your work, I can’t help but feel it captures the anxiety and emotional fracture of contemporary society. Is that intentional or a result of our ability to read abstraction as we need to?

I often get the impression that the paintings are a bit like mirrors in which we can look at our emotions. My paintings calm me down and give me peace. Often, in the process of painting, I freeze in front of a painting. I look at it for so long that I stop thinking. It’s the same feeling as if you swim for a long time in the swimming pool or climb in the mountains and stop thinking about everyday problems. It takes you somewhere inside or outside.

Probably everyone has a slightly different interpretation of works of art – which is very interesting. Some people see specific shapes in them, others only feel emotions. I am very happy when someone interprets my paintings in a way that I did not know and did not notice.

How much does the process guide your end product? How do you understand when a painting is finished – or are they a constant work in progress?

It is very complicated and I don’t have a clear formula for it. I paint emotionally. I don’t really use a sketch, so I don’t know where the painting will lead me. Of course, after so many years of painting, I often know what will work or what I can do to close and finish a composition. But I prefer to be surprised by something new at the end.

Colour, in addition to line, is so important in giving your paintings their sense of space, energy and emotional qualities, how has your palette developed over time?

At the beginning I wanted to create the impression that the painting is not created by human hands, that it is mechanical, mathematical.

Over time, I have noticed my paintings become softer. Their structure is still geometric, but transparent layers penetrate each other differently. They have different feelings, they are softer, less dramatic.

The same thing happened with color. In the works for this show, the beginning was a grey composition on which I applied a color. It’s a bit like turning the whole painting process around. It is a very tight series of paintings, I think.

What is it with Poland that has ensured such a strong generation of non-figurative/abstract artists? Some from the world of graffiti, others from contemporary practice, what is the shared influence, if you can identify it?

It was probably influenced by many elements. Władysław Strzemiński’s Theories of Seeing or books by professor Stanisław Fijałkowski. In Poland after the war, the avant-garde painting groups referring to the works of Malevich or Kandinsky were very strong.

In my case, two things influenced me very strongly; my classic painting education at university, and the world of graffiti. Painting walls gave me a lot of freedom and confidence. The world of fine art gave me all the painting technology. I created a mix out of the two worlds, which is where I feel best, a world somewhere in between.

How enduring has graffiti been for you as an aesthetic influence? I can see some ideas of the dissolution of letterforms in your work, do you still feel like you are harnessing that influence, or is it more incidental now?

I am very strongly associated with graffiti, with the energy and aesthetics. My escape into abstraction happened very quickly, around 2003 or 2004. But all the time the base in all the walls from that period were letters, my name. I think they are somewhere all the time.

The transition from studio to mural practice seems quite fluid for you, but of course, it entails such different environments. How do you differentiate the two in your approach? Is the whole world a studio, or the studio an extension of the streets? Or do you recognise the difference?

It is one and the same, only the tools and the scale change. Sometimes a large wall requires a simplification of detail. On a large wall, I cannot achieve such a depth of color and saturation, but having such a huge space allows the gesture to look much better. I often repeat the composition that I paint on a wall on canvas in the studio and vice versa. At the moment, I see them as one and the same.

How did the decision, or opportunity to come to New Zealand originate? Obviously you have a luxury in Europe of relatively easy travel, New Zealand is quite a distance. What did you know of the country? Do you know much about our artistic cultures?

This is a huge logistical and financial challenge. Jenna and Nathan have done a lot of hard work for which I am very grateful. I have been working with Fiksate Gallery for several years and I do follow what is happening in New Zealand.

But I must admit that I don’t know much. I remember a few artists from my studies at university; Colin McCahon, Rita Angus and Ralph Hotere, who made a huge impression on me. Hotere’s work reminded me of the Spanish artist Antoni Tàpies, whom I love to this day. Last year I discovered Judy Millar, whose work I admire a lot. That’s about it, except of course, Flight of the Conchords and Taika Waititi!

To return to an earlier question, the title for the show Vacation From Reality can be understood in different ways, obviously referring to the experience of visiting New Zealand, but also due to the ability of abstraction to break from reality. But as I suggested, abstraction really allows reflection over a deeper sense of reality; emotional and visceral experiences. Do you reflect on that idea when you consider how your art affects and impacts people?

Communing with art makes us better, more sensitive, more delicate people. I have a lot of my friends’ work at home, and I am very connected with some of them. I have one painting by Krzysztof Syruć which I look at differently every time. At first it seemed terribly dark to me, now after a few years, it has given me so much good energy and became super colourful and positive. It’s amazing how we emotionally grow into certain colors and shapes.

What are your hopes for the way people will receive the show? What type of experience do you hope to create for people?

I am very curious about this exhibition and how it will be received. I hope the paintings will bring a lot of good energy and warmth in this rainy and cold time.

On a personal level, what do you hope to experience in Aotearoa New Zealand?

Rest and a lot of fun- that will charge my batteries!

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Vacation From Reality runs at Fiksate Gallery, 54 Hawdon Street, Sydenham until August 13th, 2022.

(The introduction to this text was re-produced in the catalogue for Vacation From Reality. Portions of the interview were re-produced on the Brooklyn Street Art website)

And That Was… July 2022

Well, that was… damp. July was very much the heart of winter, cold nights and wet days. These are not prime conditions for art making outdoors, but that doesn’t mean that there weren’t plenty of opportunities to engage with some good stuff inside, in the warmth of some of our favourite galleries, hospo spots and venues. In addition, there were a few patches of that brilliant, hopeful mid-winter sun to enjoy and take advantage of with excursions out into our streets. Here are some of the things that caught our eyes, our hearts and our attention…

Pener’s Vacation From Reality @ Fiksate

A whirlwind residency by Polish artist Pener at Fiksate Gallery culminated with his stunning exhibition Vacation From Reality – a collection of vibrant, fractured, dynamic canvas works and some seriously beautiful prints. The weather may not have come to the party, but Pener definitely did, highlighting the incredible talent that has emerged in Poland over the last decade and more, and illuminating the striking trajectories of graffiti’s evolution into abstraction…

Scratch Building with Ghostcat

The wet July school holidays were a perfect opportunity for a group of local rangatahi to learn from scratch-building master Ghostcat at the incredible 4C Centre at the YMCA on Hereford Street. An amazing array of builds were created that celebrated the beauty of the urban environment…

Angry Garf

I mean, who isn’t a sucker for the Darkest Timeline? (I could never hate lasagne though)

The Little Street Art Festival Treasure Hunt

We thought we would celebrate our successful Boost Ōtautahi campaign (thanks to all our amazing supporters!) with a little treasure hunt – two hand-stencilled signs dispersed across the city for people to find. We still don’t know who found these guys, and we think our little mascot needs a name – any ideas?

Weasels Ripped My Flesh

At the first sign of a sunny Saturday in late July, we headed to Moon Under Water in Cashmere for a quick drink with some mates (you can’t go wrong with their stonking selection) and we couldn’t help but shout out Weasels Ripped My Flesh, a collaboration APA by Moon Unit and Altitude Brewing – with some Frank Zappa inspired artwork by our pals Ghostcat and Nick Lowry!

What things kept you warm and dry through July? Let us know in the comments…