Shadow Town, an exhibition of the work of local artist Ghostcat, opened at Fiksate Gallery on Friday 9th April, marking the gallery’s first show at their new Sydenham premises. There was excitement surrounding the show, with print and radio interviews and a flow of social media posts drumming up interest in the artist’s miniature creations. Ghostcat’s first exhibition, as the opening date approached the artist confided that he really didn’t know what to expect, but in his endearingly enthusiastic style, he was keenly enjoying the journey.
Ultimately he had nothing to worry about. That nervous period when doors open and nervous doubts that anyone will show up creep up never had the chance to ferment. Almost immediately the Hawdon Street gallery was buzzing with an excited audience. In the smaller gallery the works were spread across shelves on the walls and a network of plinths, making use of the available space to accommodate the impressive number of creations (Ghostcat produced more than 40 miniature builds for Shadow Town). The plinths and shelving created the effect of a gridded network of urban blocks for viewers to navigate and provided multiple vantage points. A large roller door opens the Fiksate space onto the street, further connecting the show to the pervasive influence of Christchurch’s urban environment, explicitly in the case of the miniature replica wall placed in full view of its real-world inspiration just outside. The miniature version re-imagined with a mural by Dr Suits in a suggestive ‘will-it-to-life’ strategy.
Other references may not have been as physically close, but were no less recognisable. As people leaned in to inspect the intricate and loving details on Lyttelton icons the Volcano and Lava Bar (with a tribute to the late Bill Hammond inside), the façade of The Ministry nightclub (including flashing ‘M’ neon sign), the ‘Stairs to Nowhere’ from the Hereford Street carpark (each step painstakingly cracked), The Staveley Market (surely a highlight, the status of corner dairies in Aotearoa childhoods may not be as strong in 2021 but for those of a certain age, we all had a local dairy for $1 mixtures and single cigarettes) and the Berlin Wall segment painted by Jessie Rawcliffe, sparks of memory and recognition flickered. That attachment to the real and lived is central to the success of Ghostcat’s work, a necessary addition to the intricate details. People sharing stories and admissions was a constant chatter amongst the bustling crowd.
Alongside the memories and associations of experience and place, Shadow Town also revels in healthy doses of humour and collaboration. Watching people scan the dirty toilet stall, replete with over-flowing bowl and obscenely graffiti-ed door, or the bags of rubbish filling the Selwyn Street skip, it was clear that art can be both resonant and charmingly low-brow. The row of miniature objects (cans of Double Brown, discarded coffee cups, stick mags) centered on square canvasses along the entrance wall served to lampoon the expectations of the white cube and set the tone for the show’s gritty and playful focus.
The collaborative element was clear as well. The doors and windows hung on the rear wall, the small utility boxes, window frames, walls and replicas of the giant spray cans on Lichfield Street all displayed the artist’s willingness to share the process of creation – Ghostcat’s builds adorned with downsized tags, pieces, throw-ups, stencils, stickers and paste-ups by local artists including Ikarus, Tepid, Dr Suits, Morepork, Teeth Like Screwdrivers, Jessie Rawcliffe, Rubble City, Dcypher and more. Reinforcing Ghostcat’s belief in community, these authentic embellishments, along with the artist’s insistence on hand-crafting, imbue the pieces with a distinct status as unique creations.
Despite the obvious challenge of where to put a scale model of a toilet in your house, the pervasive red dots throughout the exhibition were evidence that this labour of love by a talented local artist struck a chord with a diverse audience. Shadow Town presents a new element in the city’s urban art scene, drawing on the power of urban spaces and harnessing the familiar (of both architecture and art), Ghostcat’s work is worth your attention and inspection. While the enthusiastic crowd undeniably added to the atmosphere and therefore the work on opening night, the contrast of the quiet, clean gallery space with the broken, dirty landscapes adds a certain charm as well and ensures you can truly immerse yourself wandering the streets of Shadow Town.
Shadow Town is on until May 8, 2021 at Fiksate, 54 Hawdon Street, Sydenham.
“The rise of TMD as a creative collective has its origins in Auckland’s mid to late 90’s graffiti scene. The post-recessionary environment after the 1987 stock market crash was the perfect incubator for a thriving and vibrant Hip-Hop scene with a uniquely pacific slant. From the decrepit rail infrastructure to the abandoned buildings and vacant lots – the city provided an abundance of grey area where these young people could forge lifelong bonds, while cementing their sense of identity. With humble beginnings from this crew emerged its fair share of unsung and underground heroes as well as many of Aotearoa’s first global stars in the graffiti and large scale street art arena.” – ASKEW ONE (from The Dowse website)
There is no larger shadow in Aotearoa graffiti and street art history than Auckland’s TMD crew. While not the oldest graffiti crew in New Zealand, founded in 1997 by Phat1 and Adict, TMD has undeniably made an indelible mark on graffiti and street art culture both here and overseas. The collective has grown both in number (with over 35 past and present members, including international representatives from Australia and Germany, such as Vans the Omega, Sofles and WOW123) and scope, with its members ranging from recreational graffiti writers to professional artists, occupying streets, studios, galleries and beyond. Both collectively and individually the members of TMD have gained prominence here and overseas, from Phat1 and Diva’s (Charles and Janine Williams) Bird Gang mural work, telling stories of place through the symbolism of native birds, to Misery‘s instantly recognisable kitschy doe-eyed characters and Berst‘s dynamic letterforms and documentation of graffiti culture, where his online videos have an audience of tens of thousands.
In recent years, urban art has gained more widespread attention, publicly through the rise of contemporary muralism and its ability to infiltrate our daily experiences, but also institutionally, with the likes of Rise at the Canterbury Museum (2013) and Paradox at the Tauranga Art Gallery (2016). The staging of TMD: An Aotearoa Graffiti Story at Lower Hutt’s The Dowse Art Gallery (who themselves have a history of urban art-related exhibitions dating back to the turn of the Milliennium), running from late March until June, is a welcome development. Rather than attempting to present a more generic survey or a one person show, the exhibition considers the broader cultural movement of graffiti within the tighter focus of the TMD crew while still spanning styles and historical narratives; contextualising both the roots of the TMD crew within the setting of mid-90s and early 2000s Auckland, and their current exploits, successfully packaging the complexities and trajectories of contemporary urban art and artists who have sprung forth from these rebellious beginnings, no longer held to any defined expectations.
The exhibition, curated by Dowse director Karl Chitham with Christchurch-raised TMD member Pest5/Johnny 4Higher, is split between two distinct zones, an immersive installation space, featuring formative and contextual commentaries, and a more traditional white-walled gallery presentation that highlights the current work of crew members, spanning painting, sculpture, photography and more. This format allows the viewer to consider the significant journey undertaken by the crew, from an idea to unite disparate graffiti writers into a collective of diverse creatives, placing them within the wider narrative of New Zealand art while acknowledging the significance of graffiti culture to generations of young New Zealand creatives.
On entering the exhibition, visitors are greeted by a writers bench and a set of painted train carriages, with an echo of recorded discussions just audible. Smaller tags on the bench play off against the larger and more bombastic train pieces. The track setting highlights the centrality of train painting in graffiti culture not just locally, but internationally, although with a specific Aotearoa profile. Behind the bench is another slice of Kiwiana, an iconic corner dairy, a bastion of New Zealand childhoods across generations. The fabricated dairy, named the ‘The Mini Dairy’ (TMD), utilises all the nostalgic riffs, from the Tip Top-inspired signage to dollar mixtures (the lollies replaced with aerosol nozzles), neon star price points and an arcade video game machine (supposedly out of order). A cynical eye might point out that the dairy is primarily the exhibition shop, providing the opportunity to peddle merchandise, but it also has several conceptual references as an installation in its own right. Dairies served as a location youngsters not only congregated around, but also as a community hub that would often provide the opportunity for legal or commissioned murals on their walls prior to larger commercial projects becoming a reality. Furthermore, the dairy exemplifies how the creation of commercial goods has been embraced by urban artists, from clothing to vinyl toys, a trajectory that might make the more elitist fine art world shudder (think of the blowback against Kaws by art commentators), but is a reality for many to make an artistic career possible and their art accessible to an audience perhaps less likely to frequent an art gallery.
Across an imaginary road is a grungy flat, based on a former residence where crew members congregated. The sparse room provides historical references in analogue form with tags and drawings on the walls (including a roll call in the classic New Zealand Straights lettering style) and scattered photo albums, event posters and blackbooks, but also digitally – with videos from TMD member Berst’s Real Time web series playing on the boxy 90s TV, and an old PC for surfing websites such as ArtCrimes, an influential forum for the graffiti world and an inspiration to many TMD members. The worn surroundings, devoid of luxury, highlight the drive to make things from nothing and the dominant influence of graffiti on the lives of these young creatives and the evolution of the relationship between graffiti and the internet.
Tucked around the corner, a rotating selection of photographs (photographers and crew members Rimoni and OneDeap have been key documentarians of this history) adds a personal face, members depicted painting, posing, and playing, projected oversized on the gallery walls, imbuing candid moments with significance. Either side, collaborative wall paintings highlight the traditional graffiti approaches and styles of crew members, referencing the common form of crew productions, as well as providing a bridge towards the gallery space and the work artists have developed over ensuing years. These immersive spaces are informative (notably the stories are not given to you in wall text, they become part of the environmental detail – wafting audio, static encoded video, interactive elements and references in the most traditional urban forms – tags and wall writing, a fit for graffiti’s own historical recording which has for a long time been largely folkloric), providing important context for viewers before they cross the threshold into the white cube space.
The ‘Post-Graffiti’ gallery space features works that span the spectrum of practice. Book-ended by impressive works at either end; Benjamin Work‘s tapa cloth-inspired banner unfurled from wall to floor, drawing on the iconography of his Tongan heritage and Lady Diva’s subtle flag-like geometric abstractions on wooden panels, suggesting references to carving and weaving that perhaps raise ideas of colonialism and imperialism, the spaces in between are filled with varied works. Askew‘s glimmering digital-influenced painterly abstractions that draw on the spectre of shifting human presence in our urban environments contrast with Deus’ (Elliot Francis Stewart) intricately illustrated coffee table, drawing the viewer closer to inspect the stunning graphic details on a mundane domestic object. Gary Silipa‘s unsettling and powerful installation filled with painted tyres, yellow chain links, tarpaulin and painted iconography sits near the still reverence of Berst’s pillar-like sculptural letter forms, light emanating from inside to give a celestial glow to an apparently devotional monument to graffiti. Other works highlight a raft of concerns, from social issues, cultural and national identity and self-reflection, to moments of everyday life, process-driven focus, riffs on the traditions and evolutions of graffiti writing and the urban environment and striking abstract ruminations. The diverse spectrum of themes, as well as styles, materials and approaches, suggests the personal creative journey of each contributor, and yet, there is an undefinable connection as well, the shared experiences and the original creative impetus of graffiti hang in the air, unifying the collection without requiring explicit threads.
While the format may mean some viewers relate with specific elements more than others, the narrative of TMD: An Aotearoa Graffiti Story could not be told in one presentation style alone. As it was probably to be expected, the exhibition drew some criticism for the presence of tagging, but to pick such a quarrel is to miss the bigger picture. Graffiti writing brought these young people together and is part of their creative pathway. The presence of graffiti is a central and necessary part of the story, informing the narrative both socially and formally. TMD: An Aotearoa Graffiti Story revels in the celebration of collectivism and its empowering potential for individual members. As a representation of urban art’s roots and future pathways, TMD: An Aotearoa Graffiti Story is surprisingly focussed. Rather than a pervasive survey of graffiti and street art in New Zealand, TMD: An Aotearoa Graffiti Story, nodding to those that came before and winking to the future, is grounded in the environments and relationships of the artists of TMD, a camaraderie that emanates throughout the history of this crew and the show itself.
TMD: An Aotearoa Graffiti Story at The Dowse Art Gallery runs until June 2021.
Ghostcat is set for his first solo show, with Shadow Town confirmed as Fiksate’s first exhibition at their new Hawdon Street location in Sydenham. Opening Friday April 9th, Shadow Town will present a selection of Ghostcat’s fascinating scratch-built urban miniatures, including the detailed recreation of local spots, from the grimy and overlooked to the iconic and vanished.
Originally from Birmingham in the UK, Ghostcat has found a new home in Otautahi, and his work is both a celebration of the physical sites he has explored and the stories of the changing city recounted via friends, adding an emotional resonance to the works beyond nostalgia and visual detail. The artist’s infectious sense of humour, laced with a healthy dose of body horror-influence, will also be on full display, with the grimy elements of our urban environment celebrated over the picturesque; from dirty toilets and graffiti-ed alleyways to dumpsters and sticker-laden street signs.
Many of the works also feature collaborative contributions from local artists, from Fiksate’s own Dr Suits to members of the DTR Crew and the Slap City collective. This has proven an important aspect of the artist’s process, adding authenticity and collectivism to a concept already driven by real experiences and a sense of connection.
Ghostcat’s star has quickly risen as his creations have caught the attention of Instagram scrollers, with interviews and media coverage ensuring Shadow Town will surely be a popular occasion with a hum of excitement already buzzing…
Shadow Town opens 5pm, Friday 9th April at Fiksate Gallery, 54 Hawdon Street, Sydenham.
Ghostcat’s first ever solo show Shadow Town opens at Fiksate’s Sydenham gallery space on Friday, April 9th. While we figured March would have been a busy month for him, we thought it was worth checking in to see what kept him going throughout this hectic period as he prepared for the exhibition. Ghostcat’s exquisite scratch-built miniatures are intertwined with our surrounding spaces, inspired by our personal and communal experiences, so sharing a list of what he has doing seemed a fitting exercise. Knowing Ghostcat’s love for the quirky and grimy things of life, we were also aware it would likely be an eclectic list, surely infused with his love of schlock horror movies, quirky discoveries and of course, as a man after my own heart, pizza… We weren’t disappointed. So, here are the five things that helped Ghostcat along the road to Shadow Town and made his March more colourful…
Alligator the Movie:
I love eighties horror movies and this month I saw Alligator for the first time, its about a baby alligator that gets thrown down the sewer and feeds on dead dogs and rats that have been biffed down there by a lab. It grows about 60 feet long and fucks everyone up in town, it was incredible! I love how everything is handmade in that era of movies, from the posters to the effects…
Alligator the Pizza:
This is pure coincidence, but I also had Alligator Pizza for the first time from Riccarton this month. Pizza is life for me, I love it. Sal’s is normally my go to, but Alligator’s pizza’s are massive, like truly they are ginormous man! I had a whole cheese pie, it was the biggest thing I’ve ever seen!
Radiohead – How to Disappear Completely:
I started listening to Radiohead’s Kid A again this month and I had forgotten how beautiful the track How to Disappear Completely was… It is Thom Yorke’s favourite, I think. It reminded me of how we all feel at some point in our lives. Shit, that sounded really depressing, haha. But music takes you places though, eh? It evokes all sorts of wondrous things. Its an incredible song.
Edward Gorey – The Gashly Crumb Tinnies:
I had a conversation with Bongo the other day and he showed me some art from someone that jogged my memory of an artist I love so much, Edward Gorey. I have been meaning to get his book The Gashlycrumb Tinies. Its such a sinister and macabre illustrated book showing the running alphabet alongside the strange deaths of children, like, “E is for Ernest who choked on a peach.” Its delightfully twisted. Check it out, it is a stellar coffee table book. I love the scratchy heavy dark use of colour and the depiction of death is wonderful. Death should always wear a top hat and carry an umbrella. It doesn’t take itself too seriously but by nature it is pretty twisted. It’s fascinating, I recommend checking it out.
Preparing for Shadow Town:
Collectively working and collaborating with Bols, Teeth Like Screwdrivers, Ikarus, Vez, Tepid, Dr Suits, Bongo, Rubble City and Dcypher has been such an all encompassing experience, from seeing a vast range of styles of art to all having the same goal, which is to be part of anything that represents who you are as an artist. It’s been amazing and I am truly honoured to have had so many interesting and talented people get on board with what I’ve been doing. I’m really excited about this show, it can’t come soon enough!
Shadow Town opens 5pm, Friday April 9th at Fiksate, 54 Hawdon Street, Sydenham
Jessie Rawcliffe seems like the perfect fit for this month’s And That Was…, having just completed a stunning piece on one side of the Berlin Wall installation at the start of the month. Of course, typically laid back, Jessie is also not the type to wax lyrical about her own work, so don’t expect any mention of her own work (although you can check it out here). Instead, her February recap is filled with her favourite things, from British electro post punk albums, to photographic exhibitions, and as she promised me, the ‘goodest boy’ she could muster. So here is Jessie Rawcliffe’s February 2021 recap…
Shit. Reuben asked me to do this at the beginning of February – now that the month is over I can’t seem to remember a single thing that I did, but I know it flew past in a blur of hectic energy.
I’m terrible at picking my favourite anything (afraid of commitment much?), but here we go…
Album pick – Sleaford Mods – Spare Ribs
Categorised as ‘electro post punk’, I found these guys through Idles and Fontaines D.C. on YouTube. They’re a two piece featuring sparse beats, vocalist Jason Williamson talk-raps about middle class struggles and British culture with an abrasive English accent that I can’t get enough of.
Mork n Mindy is an absolute banger.
Opening / Monthly social gathering highlight – Fiksate’s new digs
It has to be Fiksate opening their new spot in Sydenham. Hawdon Street is in a great part of town, I’m about it.
Best good boy
This is Honey. We met at the beginning of the month, none surpassed. 11/10. Would pat again.
This guy’s been on fire this last month. His collage-style paintings have a cut and paste effect, mixing broad loose brush strokes with smaller detailed imagery that he always manages to balance. Objects are superimposed and float in space, you can read each thing or just enjoy the overall effect.
Also, dude has a cute dog, which is ultimately the content we all want.
Favourite exhibition – Larence Shustak: air gun? at Te Puna o Waiwhetu
He has a really interesting career going from New York where he took some of the most universally recognisable images of jazz legends, to Christchurch, where he photographed punks, and working with Flying Nun.
While we were there a gallery tour was on; the person taking it pointed out their all time favourite Shustak photograph, which is part landscape part portrait and probably the most quintessential ‘kiwi’ image on show; and I thought “fuck, really? That one!?”
High and low, under and above, inside and outside, protected and exposed. The city presents innumerable contrasts, all of which can provide opportunities for intrepid artists. From graffiti writers marking spaces no one else sees as useful or functional, to street artists creating moments of engagement in unexpected places, a city is always full of sites to explore and alter. From rooftops to wooden hoardings, lampposts to stop signs, revealing, playful and existential interventions can be found across and beyond our lines of sight. This diversity of locations is matched by the diversity of practice, with no material form invalid or off-limits; Chero One’s rocket ships, painted scrolls, or even hot sauce-filled buttons warning you not to do what you so urgently want to do. Always mimicking the visual culture that we come to expect, such interventions play on our tendency toward assumption. Popular culture rifs depend on your recognition of trends and eras, like digital memes, requiring some savvy understanding. Anti-advertising grasps the ubiquity and absurdity of commercial communications. Graffiti is an expected response to our dictum that success means having your photo on a billboard or the back of a bus. Ultimately, the streets are full of life, both official and unofficial, you just have to look closer and further, higher and lower, under and above, and start to sort out the relationships…
Someone reminded me just the other day, we are a twelfth of the way through 2021…
2021 has a lot to live up to, it seems most people have been placing a lot of hope on this year making up for the challenge that was 2020. Surely that is an unfair expectation, largely due to the fact that the mess 2020 inherited has likewise been passed on to this cycle of the sun. So while these shadows will loom, this series is all about finding the things that makes us laugh, dance, swoon and explore, so let’s dive in to that things that made January 2021! The weather has bloomed, there are plenty of events to enjoy and there is lots of arty goodness happening…
Joel’s newest work, at the entrance to bar and music venue Flux in the BOXed Quarter, is a striking addition to an area already blessed with a significant array of urban art.
Dawn Raid: The Movie
We were lucky enough to get tickets to the Christchurch premiere of the new Dawn Raid documentary (Thanks Hoyts Lux!). The film, directed by Oscar Kightley, explores the fortunes of iconic Kiwi hip hop label Dawn Raid, from their beginnings selling t-shirts at the Otara Markets to their mega success with the music of Aaradhna, Adeaze, Mareko and Savage. The Q&A that followed the screening, with Kightley and Brotha D and Andy Murnane, the founders of Dawn Raid and stars of the film, was insightful revealing the strong connections the audience with the music of that era (and included a few words from local hero Scribe).
Fiksate get ready to open…
Fiksate have now made the move to their new Sydenham premises (54 Hawdon Street) and while the doors did not open to the public until early February, watching Jenna Ingram and Dr Suits pull it together has been exciting…
Those Summer feels…
It’s January and while it has been inconsistent (rain and blustering winds still paying visits), we have had some amazing weather – exactly what you need to drag those holiday vibes on for just a little bit longer! And a great reminder of the benefits of living so close to the ocean!
Let us know what we missed! New art, events, hospo spots, exhibitions… What made your top 5?
I first met Rowee the Kiwi when he joined a street art tour I was hosting. His camera was clicking from the first minute to the last, and not just capturing the murals and more prominent works we were exploring, he would often shoot off down an alleyway or into a vacant lot to capture something much smaller in scale. It was clear Rowee was what you might call a ‘street art hunter’, an urban explorer who understood the way artists can transform a cityscape. And he has seen a lot, his travels have ensured his collection of flicks includes some amazing works by renowned and anonymous artists, many that have since dissolved, leaving his records as a legacy. Having returned from living in Australia, he settled back in Invercargill, a city he has roots in, and this shift has coincided with the emergence of urban art in that part of world, notably through the effort and work of DEOW (both his mural work and his organisation of South Sea Spray, an urban art festival that attracts impressive rosters to the picturesque south).
In Invers, Rowee the Kiwi explores Invercargill through his photographs of DEOW’s work and centrally, the massive mural Mia… So let’s take a trip down south…
Mick Jagger famously said “Invercargill is the arsehole of the world”, but then… he’d never been to Bluff. Having lived here during the 70s and 80s, I certainly didn’t have much to complain about. Which is why it was such an easy decision the retire back here.
I first learnt of Danny Owen, aka DEOW, through my grandson Zac, who was doing work with him, mostly on rooftops and factory walls. This one is in the YMCA building on Tay Street, created with Ikarus from the DTR crew and members of the SLK crew, Devos, Omen and Dias.
After many years of apparent neglect Invercargill’s inner city is showing signs of a renaissance. Most of a whole city block is being redeveloped. Plans seem somewhat fluid but already important works by DEOW have already gone.
The Kelvin Hotel underwent a face lift in recent years and a lot of people were interested in what was hidden under the wrap…
At the time this was the biggest work of art in the Southern Hemisphere. Now surpassed by Adnate’s public housing block work in Melbourne and more recently by the Adnate Hotel in Perth.
The face of Mia revealed…
Demolition around Mia…
DEOW and Mia…
The fear is that most of Mia will be covered by a proposed accommodation block that may be built on the now vacant block beside it.
One piece that has fallen to the developers’ bulldozer is DEOW’s magnificent Tua’s Story of the Ghost Bird…
One that lives on is, to quote DEOW himself: “The ghost bird” – Ngāi Tahu / Rakiura’s Tītī.
It is said when the ghost bird takes flight on the new moon, all tītī scamper from their islands and start their epic journey north. The girl symbolises the next generation, the next one to tell the legend. The Southern Lights reflect over the South Coast and the Foveaux Straight, as the birds glide past the skyline of Bluff – Omaui – Centre Island – Riverton – The Longwoods – Takatimu, all seen from the city of ‘Water & Light’.
To see more of Rowee the Kiwi’s urban art photographs, follow him on Instagram…
2020. Sigh. I still remember the first day of 2020, the sun was an ominously fiery orb in a grey sky, the result of the marauding bush fires in Australia. There were intriguing stories of a virus outbreak in China. There were rumblings of an escalating conflict between the U.S. and Iran. Let’s just say the markers were there.
2020 just continually threw curveballs. While we spent a lot more time at home (and for some legitimately feared the supermarket), faced massive uncertainty around our futures, and watched the insanity of the U.S. political system play out (t.b.c…) while death counts and infection rates continued to spiral and spike, it is important to look for positives amongst the icebergs, like the vital discourses arising from the Black Lives Matter movement, or our embrace of new avenues to enjoy the things that seemed so far away for much of 2020 (online exhibitions and concerts, and personally, Josh Gad’s Reunited Apart series, where the casts of Back to the Future, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and The Goonies got back together via Zoom). Good or bad, the effects of 2020 (which themselves extend back far further than those 12 months) will linger far longer, surely influencing our behaviour and output in untold ways, from the way we make art to the institutions that police our communities. Indeed, the relative sense of calm normality here in Godzone is a far cry from distant shores, where 2021 is already following an equally hectic path…
With that reflection in mind, we once again reached out to a heap of our friends to look back over the last twelve months and how their year played out. We asked each contributor five questions; the changes they faced in 2020, their lockdown experience, their creative highlights and the art that mattered in 2020, and their contingency plans for 2021…
Here’s what some of our favourite Christchurch creatives made of 2020…
What changes did 2020 bring for you personally? The biggest change for me personally was a new focus and direction within my Jen Head works, which came about through a friend’s request for a birthday card, that I then developed further over lockdown, and it’s just carried on. It has been a sort of ‘ah-ha’ moment. I’m loving this direction, it’s more simplified and has focus, but with endless options to explore, and best of all, it has been well received. I’m enjoying doing personalised commissions at the moment. I’m loving painting realism again and when combined with the abstract character of my Jen Heads, it creates impact.
The biggest change for Fiksate, is packing up and moving to a new location. It has been a stressful few months, but I’m super excited about the new space, it’s a warehouse style spot [54 Hawdon Street, Sydenham] and we can’t wait to start fresh in the new year.
What got you through lockdown? The fact my three-year-old son, Frank, still takes naps got me through! I could count on those two or three hours for my alone time, to create artwork, to have some space. We packed up a lot of studio material and made a desk space in our spare room during lockdown. It was a godsend. Dr Suits [Jen’s husband and Fiksate co-owner] was working at a large scale in the backyard, but I enjoyed sitting and really focusing. I wrote and illustrated a children’s book, developed my Jen Heads and played with patterns and ideas.
Dr Suits was a massive support and did all the supermarket shopping, but there was never enough beer! Our neighbours were amazing and the North Beach crew in general, we could keep in touch through the fences or distanced walks. Facebook video calls daily with my Mum/Frank’s Nana were also helpful!
What has been your personal artistic/creative highlight of 2020? The start of the year was a banger with the Ōrua Paeroa mural in New Brighton. I was able to take part in Shared Lines, an exhibition curated and organised by Audrey Baldwin and colleagues [Now displayed in the new Spark building on the corner of Hereford and Colombo Streets]. I took part in the Conscious Club’s SDG Exhibition, which was amazing. I also organised Perspective – Women in Urban Art, a line-up full of top female urban artists in New Zealand, as well as international graffiti artist Glam. Perspective was super special, we produced a zine to accompany the exhibition which included amazing insights into the creative backstories, challenges, and successes of the artists. Dr. Suits, Porta and I also completed a large mural at Switch New Brighton. It was really fun, and it felt good to bring colour to our neighbourhood.
What pieces of art or cultural events, local or international, caught your eye and which do you think will define 2020? This question is too hard! There are too many in my mind to list!
What are your plans if 2021 turns out worse than 2020? My plan for 2021, if it turns out worse than 2020, is to focus on what brings me and my family joy, from the small things in my daily, to bigger actions, like giving and sharing. To really focus on nature and getting out there and into it. I’ll try not to ‘stress drink’ as much as I did throughout this year, haha!
What changes did 2020 bring for you personally? At the start of the year I had secured a massive job, I was really excited as it would have been one of my biggest murals yet, but unfortunately due to Covid-19 and the economic recession, the client had to cancel which sucked! So that was my first realisation how serious the pandemic would be for the rest of the year being self-employed. But besides that, I had a relatively steady year in my art/design business, it got pretty scary there for a bit but the Government and CreativeNZ really pulled through for self-employed creatives, which I am very grateful for. Other than that, I have had a HUGE rise this year of people asking me for free or cheap work which really fucks me off. My other business that I co-own, The Conscious Club, definitely struggled as we mainly host events, but we managed to keep going and pulled through together in these rough times. We even got a studio/retail space in town which is pretty awesome.
What got you through lockdown? My partner and I live together, and he had been going full conspiracy mode since the start of January as our friend was over in Hong Kong and telling us how crazy the pandemic was and that it could come to New Zealand. So, by the time it got here we were quite prepared but still pretty freaked out. We both used the time to be creative. I still had work I could do from home, and my partner was making a hip-hop album. The only downside was both our studios were in the same room, so it was pretty loud and distracting. Other than that, we went on lots of walks with the dog and lots of Zoom calls with mates. It wasn’t too bad apart from when you had to go to the supermarket!
What has been your personal artistic/creative highlight of 2020? I have been in a lot more exhibitions this year which has been cool, and I also curated a massive exhibition fundraising and bringing awareness to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals [SDGs]. Also, I have been working with a really cool producer from the UK doing album covers for some big names in hip-hop. Also, the Risograph print run with Fiksate and M/K Press was really cool. That’s all I can remember, I think I have blacked out a lot of this year, haha…
What pieces of art or cultural events, local or international, caught your eye and which do you think will define 2020? I think the anti-racism movement is a huge part of 2020 and from my experience there are a lot of people that are becoming more aware of racism and what it looks like and what people of colour go through every day. I still feel like there is a big divide, and I can see the opposite where there are a lot of people pushing back on the movement too. Getting in amongst it all can be pretty intense and overwhelming sometimes to say the least. This year me and my friends started a campaign called Stand The Fuck Up, sharing the story of our friend who was racially attacked at a party and ended up on the news. We have an event surrounding this planned for 2021 to continue the conversation.
What are your plans if 2021 turns out worse than 2020? Hmm, I think I’ll probably head for the bush, I can’t take much more!
P.K. (graffiti writer, photographer)
What changes did 2020 bring for you personally? This year I moved to a new house, where I can have an actual studio space, which has given me the opportunity to experiment with more things and be closer to the city than I was back at my old place.
What got you through lockdown? Once I figured out it was chill to leave the house without getting stopped in the street, I had a great time in lockdown. I really enjoyed going for long walks and bike rides while it was quiet. The cleaner air was awesome! Although I do feel it has made me even more reclusive than I was before lockdown happened. I’m still not very used to being in situations with lots of people even months after it.
What has been your personal artistic/creative highlight of 2020? Something that stands out in my memory of 2020 is the group show A Tribe Called Haz put on at Outsiders, Haz Called a Tribe, that I was fortunate to be a part of. It was really cool to see such a good and diverse selection of work from people who often don’t exhibit their creations publicly.
What pieces of art or cultural events, local or international, caught your eye and which do you think will define 2020? Props to Weks, Vesil and Dofey for winning graf, the Green Party for all their good work in parliament this year, and to everyone that’s dedicated their year to trying to make the world a better place.
What are your plans if 2021 turns out worse than 2020? Never plan anything.
What changes did 2020 bring for you personally? I’m anti-social as shit, so it didn’t affect me too much apart from delays on a couple of projects, haha. But most, if not all, of those already had funding secured so they were just postponed until after the initial lock down period. Isolation was tight: be lazy a.f. and don’t feel guilty about it, hahaha!
What got you through lockdown? I hang out with my girlfriend all day erry day anyway, so it wasn’t that much different. We did groceries like real adults for a change though and made more interesting dinners cos there was so much more time. I don’t remember if I even did any drawings or arts, but maybe I did…
What has been your personal artistic/creative highlight of 2020? It’d be a toss-up between the South Frame mural and the New Brighton Outdoor Art Festivalproduction. Both were rad concepts and large walls that incorporated large amounts of traditional graffiti pieces and elements. Also, making some 3D diorama street scenes and other kinda sculpture related works was cool.
What pieces of art or cultural events, local or international, caught your eye and which do you think will define 2020? Honestly, I’m a bit of a savage and don’t really even look at or follow art or cultural shit. Fuck racists anyway, if you needed BLM to tell you that shit is fucked up out here, you’re a goddamn idiot. Was it even positive or just more divisive than ever? Weks and Pesto’s killer run during lockdown is my favourite art movement of 2020, hands down. Vesil and Dofey get the honourable mentions too, straight up crushing the city.
What are your plans if 2021 turns out worse than 2020? Keep doing my thing and watch the world burn down around me. I’m more afraid of meteors crashing into the earth than catching a cold. Realistically I’d be kinda keen for the planet to descend into complete chaos and anarchy, we’re too comfortable anyway…
What changes did 2020 bring for you personally? One of the biggest changes in 2020 for me involved experimenting in the studio during lock down, which was well overdue. But once the lockdowns were lifted work definitely picked back up pretty quickly. It felt like it almost gave people an extra drive to get new or pending projects underway.
What got you through lockdown? What got me through lockdown was painting canvases in the studio for sure, nothing serious just painting for therapy really. Obviously, friends and family definitely help in times like that as well. I have friends in the States who are still dealing with the whole problem and its endless ramifications. Just trying to be supportive for them in any way possible was and still is a focus of mine.
What has been your personal artistic/creative highlight of 2020? Some of my biggest and most complex projects to date have happened in 2020, so I can’t complain. All the big walls we’ve painted as a crew would have to be my personal favourites, from the Jungle tribute by the Moorhouse tracks, to the South Frame wall and the NBOAF seaside wall, to name a few.
What pieces of art or cultural events, local or international, caught your eye and which do you think will define 2020? For sure all the looting and rioting and peaceful protests that were attached to the Black Lives Matter movement. And all the street parties after Trump lost the election! America has had a real bi-polar year! I do feel 2020 was a super productive year for graffiti and street art internationally.
What are your plans if 2021 turns out worse than 2020? If 2021 is worse than 2020, I’m going to make the most of it in the studio and really try to produce a large body of work for a show in 2022!
What changes did 2020 bring for you personally? My studies went fully online which just made me have a lot more control over time. I found myself able to relocate my study to evening where I was more productive anyway, and use my days to go out (while we weren’t in lock down). Everything that happened in 2020 gave me the opportunity to find my love for photography again.
What got you through lockdown? Netflix, routine, university studies, naps. Boring things mainly. I wish I could be one of those cool people who were super productive during that time.
What has been your personal artistic/creative highlight of 2020? Being part of the Perspective exhibition at Fiksate gallery. But also just learning how to set aside time for creative projects.
What pieces of art or cultural events, local or international, caught your eye and which do you think will define 2020? I think that celebrity Imagine cover captures 2020 pretty great. And if you wanna get more deep than just how shit it was, the reaction to it was a great example of people (maybe) starting to understand that different people in the same society have different experiences. Whether it’s black people vs white people’s experience with the cops or rich vs poor people with the pandemic.
What are your plans if 2021 turns out worse than 2020? More naps.
What changes did 2020 bring for you personally? I guess my biggest change was a steely determination to get out and put stuff up rather than take a photo for Instagram to show people what I had put up. I pretty much shut all my social media accounts at the start of the year and only restarted my sticker one when my #slapcitycollab started up. I am always on the cusp of shutting it all down. I’ve heard Flickr is making a comeback amongst sticker artists!
What got you through lockdown? Two things: A battery powered chainsaw and the #slapcitycollab (that eventually morphed into #slapcitymashup). I started doing a lockdown challenge, but the inspiration words were a bit ‘meh’, so I wrote out a list of artists I wanted to mashup/collab with my stuff and just started there. Then it turned into 20 days, then 40 days, then 60 days… A whole bunch of rad artists from all over the world got involved and some awesome collaborations came out of it. I was so hyped to see @awasgaga doing a huge Teeth Like Screwdrivers wall for his entry and getting a mashup sticker made with Ocky_bop was pretty epic!
Also, I have a nice garden now.
What has been your personal artistic/creative highlight of 2020? The Slap City Sticker Workshops at Fiksate have been huge for me. We started them at the end of last year and while they obviously stopped during lockdown, when we came out of all that it seemed even more important for us to get together and hang out. While the rest of the world dealt with Covid-19, we were able to sit, draw, chat, have a drink then go out into the street and sprinkle a bit of love around the city. We are fucking lucky, really. Slapcity family!
What pieces of art or cultural events, local or international, caught your eye and which do you think will define 2020? As I said, we are pretty damn lucky here in New Zealand to be able to host art shows, wander the streets and look at stuff and hang out together. Other places are not so lucky. So, my highlight this year happened right at the end in the good old US of A.
The DC Sticker Expo 5.0 was obviously not going to happen in real life this year, so they put the whole show on virtually. You can wander around the gallery and zoom in on stickers and pieces. They did a virtual treasure hunt and I have spent a fair bit of time just looking around. So good! (Keep your eye out for a couple of pencils in there!) Peel Magazine (which used to run in the early 2000s) started a new project after a decade or so: ‘Peel Magazine has a posse’. The basic premise was to design your own version of the classic ‘Andre The Giant has a posse’ sticker and get them all together in one book. Shepard Fairey gave it the green light and it just got printed. Stoked that my design got a full-page spread!
What are your plans if 2021 turns out worse than 2020? To just keep doing shit that makes me happy, I guess. I’m stoked to see friends getting the recognition they deserve. I’m constantly inspired by seeing other people doing amazing things. I like the idea of getting my stuff bigger. I’m going to probably fall out with Instagram again, keep skating a long way, keep buying more records and still be grinning from ear to ear whenever I start up my old car!
What changes did 2020 bring for you personally? The biggest change for me in 2020 was my relocation from the UK to NZ. Moving on my own to the opposite side of the world was always going to be a challenge. As well as saying goodbye to my family and friends, I also said goodbye to my regular pasting crew. I knew I had to find fellow street artists to connect with in Christchurch. Luckily, the Slap City events at Fiksate Gallery helped me enormously with that! Finding this group helped me to not only connect with street artists, but I made friends. Inevitably this helped me settle in. It has also influenced my style, too. I’ve done lots more stickering and started making handmade stickers too, which I hadn’t done before I moved here.
What got you through lockdown? Lockdown was an interesting time. I had just arrived in the country and I didn’t have my current network of friends. My furniture, which I shipped from the UK, got delayed. I was in an empty house (no bed, no couch, no TV, no WiFi!), and on my own. I kind of enjoyed having time to myself and having space to think. I spent the time doing yoga, preparing handmade stickers and making plenty of video calls with family and friends back home in the UK.
What has been your personal artistic/creative highlight of 2020? My highlight this year was taking part in Perspective, an exhibition of women in urban art at Fiksate. It made me really happy to be asked to participate and to have my art showcased with lots of talented artists. It was an exciting project to take part in.
What pieces of art or cultural events, local or international, caught your eye and which do you think will define 2020? What stands out for me in 2020 is how lock down and quarantine seemed to bring artists together from all over the world… So many lockdown art collaborations were being done… I think a lot were initiated by Teeth Like Screwdrivers! I did a lot of collaborations too during lockdown. I guess we all had time, and that’s wonderful.
What are your plans if 2021 turns out worse than 2020? At this stage I have no particular plans for 2021. I think what 2020 has taught me is that life is so unpredictable, no one knows what is around the corner. I’ll continue to make art and spread the spoon love.
What changes did 2020 bring for you personally? One of the biggest changes for 2020 was not being able to head overseas. I’d been psyching myself up, planning to head out into the world and see some sights and experience other ways of life. As to changes in work, I’ve moved away from painting with watercolour into painting primarily with ink. I’ve also used traditional American tattooing designs as inspiration a lot more than I have in previous years.
What got you through lockdown? Pretty much all my energy during lockdown was directed towards painting, DJing or running. I’d wake up around seven each morning, chuck on a podcast and just paint at the kitchen table until I got hungry then I’d make breakfast and carry-on painting. I definitely produced the most works I’ve ever made in my life during that period. Then if the inspiration fountain was running a little dry, I’d jump on the DJ setup we (the Winton Street crew) had also set up in the kitchen. I began getting really into running to combat the claustrophobia I’d feel from spending every day in the kitchen. Everyone knows how good exercise is, so I don’t really need to gas up running and its benefits!
What has been your personal artistic/creative highlight of 2020? My highlights would definitely include Halves on an Exhibition, which Reece Brooker and I had at Outsiders in March (pre-lockdown), then Haz Called A Tribe, the first group show Becca Barclay and I put together at Outsiders in July (post-lockdown). It featured two-and-a-bit handfuls of talented locals/pals. The night got pretty large! I also had my first month-long exhibition filling up all the walls at Black & White Coffee Origins (thanks Chris!), it was an awesome experience, and I learnt a lot.
What pieces of art or cultural events, local or international, caught your eye and which do you think will define 2020? The BLM protests and the USA 2020 election featuring COVID-19 will definitely be the most “2020” thing. You wouldn’t believe it if it wasn’t true, absolutely unreal!
What are your plans if 2021 turns out worse than 2020? Probably learn how to cook, haha! (I can’t cook)
What changes did 2020 bring for you personally? Art wise, the biggest change that 2020 brought for me was probably the retirement of a particular style of work and the pseudonym under which all that work was made. With freedom from the confinement of that one style, I’ve been able to delve into producing work under my own name that has been floating around in my brain for a while. New work. New materials. New fun.
What got you through lockdown? Skateboarding every day in the car park next to my house made lockdown super bearable for me. Luckily, I had a pretty decent supply of art materials as well and with the extra time on my hands it was good to tinker away on plenty of new stuff. With the small amounts of “real work” that I had to do at home and skateboarding and good flat mates and art to work on, lockdown was surprisingly good. I was very lucky.
What has been your personal artistic/creative highlight of 2020? I would have to say the retirement of the ‘Uncle Harold’ pseudonym has been a huge highlight, such a weight off my shoulders that was obviously well overdue. As far as a particular project I was a part of in 2020 that was a highlight, it would have to be the See Me Skateboards project. A bunch of epic local artists got to go into schools and run workshops with the kids painting their own skateboards. It was awesome seeing kids realise art doesn’t always have to be super serious and boring and they got to go crazy with it and experiment with all sorts for materials and styles. Seeing all 200 of the kids’ boards exhibited at the 013 Gallery was fucking rad too.
What pieces of art or cultural events, local or international, caught your eye and which do you think will define 2020? Reading this question, particularly the ‘2020’ part, regarding what pieces of art stood out, my mind instantly jumped to all the Covid-19 conspiracy theories written in chalk on the Bridge of Remembrance in town. I walked past new messages every day and I’m not sure which had more mistakes, the facts that supported those theories, or the actual spelling mistakes in the messages themselves. That’s pretty fucking 2020 if you ask me.
What are your plans if 2021 turns out worse than 2020? At the moment my life seems to be way more of a shit show than 2020 or 2021 could ever be, loooooool. Come at me 2021, I’m already way ahead of ya! Hahahahaha…
What changes did 2020 bring for you personally? 2020 was the year of change! The whole world is going through a cosmic shift. At the same time, my personal world also went through HUGE changes. I managed to get married, go on a honeymoon, renovate my house and have a baby all within the year of Covid-19. (That’s just the main stuff!) With all of that put together, change is inevitable. I only got to host one show at my gallery (The 413 Local), we put it on after the lockdown. It was called Isolation and the artists showed work either made in or inspired by the New Zealand lockdown. Before Covid-19, I had hoped of putting on at least two or three shows. But alas, plans change. I did end up trying a lot of different mediums and techniques that I have never used. The changes around me allowed me to become more experimental and less precious about my art. I tried my hand at watercolours, pushed myself with Copic markers, and made my first bootleg toy. All while also having fun with my usual tools and materials. My main focus for my personal art this year though was drawing and making my first comic book. I released A Dog’s Mind (Issue 1) with the thought “There are no such things as mistakes, just happy accidents” in mind. (Thanks Bob Ross!)
What got you through lock down? Definitely my wife, Sammie, she pushed me to create and make things when I fell into the trap of Playstation and potato chips. But also, a lot of podcasts, I’ve been on a real scary story/horror and live play 5E D&D buzz this year. Music is a big one. Lots of O.G. hip-hop, Fall Out Boy and I ain’t afraid to say it, Lewis Capaldi. Then reading, I’m really into non-fiction lately, and a healthy dose of comic books, of course! I have actually been moving away from the big two (Marvel and DC) lately and finding more indie/underground artists and books, which is really refreshing.
What has been your personal artistic/creative highlight of 2020? So, I also joined a local comic group called Funtime Comics. We meet once a month and talk and draw comics and hang out. Every year they produce a graphic novel from artists all over New Zealand. I got published in their special Covid-19 issue and will have work in their next issue as well. So, on top of hand-producing the first issue of my own comic, and starting the next issue, I will be in two Funtime comics as well. Pretty chuffed with that to be fair! I also did my own version of Inktober called Daktober. I did 31 prompted ink drawings. It did take me like two months longer than everyone else to complete, but my daughter Clarke was born just after I started, so I kind of had a good excuse! But to tell the truth, she is probably the greatest thing I have ever had a hand in making. Clarke is definitely my biggest highlight this year!
What pieces of art or cultural events, local or international, caught your eye and which do you think will define 2020? As I was reading this question, instantly the BLM movement came to mind. How could it not? Tragic events that are still shaping worldwide generational protests. Compare that with taping a banana to a wall, I don’t think it stacks up… Not only did I see art come from the reaction to the BLM movement, but it’s still on going. From fine art, graffiti, music, there is a massive influence. It seems to me that the arts are not only a tool but also a release for artists all over the globe to tell others about their emotions and experiences. That’s what the arts are for, right? To give a message, leave a mark, communicate. It’s not often that a culture-changing event like BLM happens. A Van Gogh painting got verified this year. A Salvador Dali painting might have been found in a thrift store. Both are amazing events that took place this year. Both add to their narratives in the space of society. But it is the old guard. BLM has a spark of new energy. Watching statues of Confederate generals fall and being replaced by A Surge of Power, a work by Marc Quinn and Jen Reid depicting a young black female protestor raising her hand with the Black Power salute, was powerful. Listening to the stories and political knowledge woven together with beats from the likes of Run the Jewels or Tobe Nwigwe, or seeing a painting by Shaquille-Aaron Keith, while reading a poem he wrote to accompany it, I feel like there has been a shift. BLM was a massive push in the right direction. A direction with many events and situations that seem to have been culminating the last couple of years, have come together. Looking to the future, I feel under-represented people from all walks of life, extending beyond BLM, will not only find their voices in all genres of the art world, but they will dominate it, leading the way for more diverse storytelling, bringing more people together.
What are your plans if 2021 turns out worse than 2020? Not too sure, but I got my crow-bar ready for the zombie apocalypse (it’s the superior choice for that situation).
What changes did 2020 bring for you personally? I’d planned to spend a lot more time out of Christchurch and lean on some North Island connections to push my work getting seen in other places. I definitely had to put this on hold but managed to change my focus to making some stuff I’d had in my head for a whole so overall I came out reasonably unscathed.
What got you through lockdown? Having a routine but also being fluid enough to decide each day with what it was that I needed (emotionally, physically) and letting myself deviate as required… Having my studio at home, checking in with my close friends, Star Wars, our espresso machine, a boxing bag, oh and the Covid-19 Wage Subsidy!
What has been your personal artistic/creative highlight of 2020? Lockdown gave me time and space to experiment without impending deadlines or having to go to work. The most notable thing I made this year, which encompasses lots of the ideas I played with during that time, was probably a painting called Ophelia which was in an exhibition run by the Conscious Club. It ended up being something I was super proud of and didn’t immediately want to pick apart.
What pieces of art or cultural events, local or international, caught your eye and which do you think will define 2020? Has to be Vesil’s toilet paper piece that went up just before lockdown, iconic.
What are your plans if 2021 turns out worse than 2020? Go full hermit and probably have the most productive year of my life with nobody around to give a single fuck.
Keep an eye out for our monthly And That Was… entries throughout 2021!
Feature Image: One of Levi Hawken‘s BLM concrete solvs in central Christchurch
Mike Beer makes things. He makes really cool things that evoke a nostalgic or experiential sense of connection. His intricate miniature builds of pop culture objects and more recently urban spaces, are undeniably inviting in their detail. I first became aware of Mike when he presented the team at Fiksate a collection of miniature objects – a tiny crate filled with nostalgic vinyl records and an ornately framed recreation of a painting by Nick Lowry. They were irresistibly cool. But it was when I saw his recreated urban environments on his Instagram feed that I was completely blown away. The spaces that I have always cherished, the liminal and peripheral spaces that are infinitely attractive to urban artists and explorers, were presented in miniature form, yet their small scale was still packed with fine details that made you double take to ensure you weren’t actually scanning the real world. As his productions continued to impress, my interest grew and I knew I needed to find out more. I was lucky enough to sit down with Mike and talk about his work one Friday morning (we followed our chat with a spot of bando hunting). If his work was immediately endearing, the artist himself proved equally so; a bundle of friendly, enthusiastic energy. His thick Brummie accent (Originally from Birmingham, Mike has lived in Christchurch for 15 years) adding an additional charm. As we talked it was obvious his scratch builds had a longer lineage, one that explored personal connection to place. If I was immediately charmed by the memories evoked in his builds, it was apparent he also understood this potential, imbuing his work with much more than simple, skilful imitation…
I imagine as a child you were into making things…
I have always loved horror movies. When I was about seven, I had this fascination with the Alien egg, you know the way it used to open? I just thought, I’ve got to make that! So, I made this thing out of chicken wire and paper-mâché. Looking back, it was hideous, but I was only a kid, and I loved it! From then on it was toy models, all movie related stuff, really. I guess since then I’ve always been interested in making stuff and using different mediums. But it was only later in my life that have I done it as a career. When a position come up at the Court Theater as a prop technician, I was just like, I’m getting that job! I knew a lot of people would be gunning for the job, so I was thinking about how I could stand out. In the end I made this giant tombstone, with a skull with a jaw that opened. I engraved the Court Theater on the tombstone… It sounds a bit excessive, doesn’t it?! [Laughs] It cost me like $400 to make! Then I wax stamped my CV and put it in the mouth of the skull. I remember going up to the reception to drop it off, and they were like, just drop it here. I said, actually, it’s just outside… So, we walked outside and here was this massive fucking thing. They must have been thinking, this guy’s weird! [Laughs] But it got me that foot in the door for the first interview. It was the strangest interview as well. They gave you a bunch of bits and bobs to make something within half an hour and then explain what you had created. I thought it had gone really badly, but I went for a second interview and got the job…
For that type of job, actually making something seems much more important than talking about it, right?
Definitely. But I mean, for me, when you’re on the spot, it’s really difficult. It was random stuff too; there was a lid from a milkshake container, there were a couple of plastic dice, a straw, a balloon… You know when you’re panicking and you’re like, oh no! So, I’m just sticking this Plasticine onto a balloon and I made this thing, it was just like a lump of shit, and they were like, ‘So, what have you made?’ And I remember coming up with: ‘A time machine?’ [Laughs] There wasn’t much that you could do with that stuff, but in the end, I guess using my imagination actually got me the job…
Do you have any formal training in any visual arts or practical arts courses?
No. I’ve always made stuff, but I’ve never gone to college. It’s always been a passion and I have always been self-taught. It’s interesting because some of the most brilliant artists I’ve met don’t necessarily have qualifications. Don’t get me wrong, there are amazing artists that do, but there are also amazing artists that don’t have educational qualifications, you know, and that’s kind of my path too…
I imagine with scratch builds, it is constantly about problem solving and thinking outside the box, so a willingness to learn new techniques and break from convention must be important…
Yeah, it’s a big thing. That creativity to think freely rather than being constricted is important to me. I’ve never really enjoyed working, I mean who does? But especially when I feel constricted and not engaged. To be creative is so important to my state of mind, it is what keeps me going, you know? Like you said, when you have enough freedom to just mess around with stuff and make lots of mistakes, that’s how you get better. If you are constantly doing stuff, you are constantly getting better at what you are doing and you are going to push past those boundaries. Without sounding cheesy, I also think it’s important to grow as an artist, to take criticism and to listen to others. Growing up I’ve always had friends that have been artistic, and you learn from other people. I think you hit a stalemate if you think your work is at its peak. It never is. Unless you can take criticism on board, you’ll never grow, you’ll never improve…
I imagine the online world is helpful for inspiration and learning new ideas, but it is different from a real network of other creatives to bounce ideas off…
Since I’ve lived in Christchurch, I’ve met a really close-knit group of people, and I’ve learned a hell of lot from them, so I suppose without them I wouldn’t be doing what I am doing. My god that sounded really cheesy! But yeah, you’re right, you need people like that along the way…
The first examples of your work I saw were the miniature objects at Fiksate, little record crates and tiny framed paintings, when did you start that approach?
That was about three years ago, after leaving the Court Theater. I was like, you know what, life’s short, I want to do what I love, and I love the movies and I love making stuff, so I’ll start making miniature stuff. Weirdly, because you know what it’s like with an artistic brain, I started making teddy bears with horror faces, I don’t know what I was thinking! [Laughs] But I did that for a couple of months and then I started doing key chains and they turned into retro VHS key chains and people wanted them and it grew from there to become Monster Mailman, an online store, basically. [Mike recently passed Monster Mailman onto new ownership] It took me on a journey, but it didn’t extend me enough, it didn’t challenge me as much as I wanted. But it was a gateway into what I’m doing now, I was just fascinated with the city and the art in it, all the rusty grimy buildings. It’s all connected, and I think I’m at a point where now I know this is what I was meant to do…
Were you doing any set work at the Court Theatre?
There was a little bit of set, but it was mainly props. It was a kid’s dream job, on the first day they needed me to paint 20 Nerf guns for Hamlet. Then I had to make a beating heart, it was ace man. I worked on some wicked shows, but you are still restricted to doing stuff for other people, if that makes sense, which is great but…
You are still making it to fit someone else’s narrative, whereas when you’re doing it purely for yourself, you are creating the story yourself as you make something. I ask about set making because to me the latest builds suggest occupation and activation, especially as real spaces where moments have played out like performances. Every space we encounter has meaning to us, even if it is only momentary. Is that something you think about with these builds?
Deep question! Yeah of course, obviously it’s all about connections, isn’t it? Going back to Monster Mailman, even that was about people’s connections with movies and the memories they create. We connect with things throughout our lives, so I suppose through the core of everything, that is what I hold onto the most – those connections, that nostalgia and the things that bring people to life, you know? Like, do you remember this? Or when we were doing this? Those memories and connections are what keep us going and that’s what life’s about. You find that in the city, you know, these buildings tell a story because of what they’ve been through, the art that’s on them and that’s what connects with people. It’s a million people’s lives through one lamppost, and that is magical man, it’s insane…
It’s been heightened here in Christchurch because many of the spaces that were colored by our memories and attachments have disappeared, so recreating those spaces in your scratch builds, there’s something really powerful in that.
There really is, even the smallest thing, like remembering that movie you watched as a child when you see it on TV, and that’s what I’m trying to incorporate by making stuff around the city.
So, what was your first build, something that you had encountered in real life, or was it based on a photograph?
It was based on a photograph. There’s an artist, Joshua Smith, I love the guy! There’s lots of other artists who have inspired me, but with Joshua’s work, there was just something that made me think this stuff is incredible! I felt a connection with his stuff, even though I had not been to the cities that he recreated buildings from, I got it, you know? I instantly got it and I was like yeah man, that is going to be me in a couple of years, that’s what I want to replicate. I actually managed to get in contact with him, which was amazing. I love the city. I’m a city person. I’ve tried to live in the country, for me it sucked, but that’s just my experience! But the city is everything to me and it’s like what you see when you wander around a city, as opposed to driving or going straight to a location, it opens up a whole new world, and that is what I want to replicate and get people to feel that.
I’m a terrible driver around cities, my girlfriend is constantly telling me off because I’m always scanning around looking out for new graffiti or art…
You’re on the wrong side of the road again! [Laughs]
Exactly! But when you’re walking, you have that freedom. You can take a turn at any time. There’s something about being surprised and I think that again ties into the idea of being connected to space, because even if you’re replicating an environment that is seemingly inconsequential historically or civically, as long as that space has one little memorable tag, if you’re that way inclined, it is meaningful, because there’s a spark of recognition of its uniqueness…
Yeah, it’s huge and those tiniest of things, whether it’s an upturned tile, a paste up of a little gnome or something else, it is so unique. Once I was in town waiting for someone, at those dandy lion fountains [The Town Hall], and I saw the corner of this concrete building and someone in crayon had written ‘Déjà vu’ and I just had to get a picture of that, because I realised that it only existed right there…
You automatically think who? Why? How? It is a sign that someone else has been in that moment. It’s like the end of Stand By Me where one of the characters fades out as they walk away. It reminds us that there are all these layers of time in any place, that cities are made up of so many voices over time.
Don’t! You’re getting me man! [Laughs] The feels! [Laughs] But yeah, it’s multilayered, with voices that once existed but don’t anymore. That’s beautiful.
And again, here in Christchurch we’ve been exposed to all those layers because things have been broken and fallen down and those spaces have almost invited people to leave their mark, so what normally takes generations, has occurred over this much smaller period of time…
Yeah, that’s right.
Out of everything you have built, do any stand out for capturing that sense of loss or change in the city?
In regard to making something that doesn’t exist any longer? I’ve not actually made anything yet that’s disappeared completely, well apart from the wall with the Band-Aid paste up on Manchester Street. I did a build for my lovely mate Evan from Dead Video. Me and him share those connections from classic movies and old VHS, they inspired him to open Dead Video and me to start Monster Mailman. My dream has always been to work in a video store, and he let me work in Dead Video a few weeks ago for a couple of hours! Here’s me sat there, gesturing to people like, come in! [Laughs] I was in my element! He’s done this amazing thing where he’s brought this shop back and so I scratch built where he started Dead Video in a garage in Lyttelton. He finally moved to London Street recently, where he’s always wanted to be, the shop looks amazing. So, I built his original garage front store with the roller shutters and the tin iron roof. I even did the lights on the front. I’ve got to wire them up actually. He’s ripped out that store, but that was the start for Evan, it was magical and gave people so much joy because of what his store recreates. And now something that I’ve made and that he’ll have forever will hopefully remind him of that start and how far he has come, unless it’s on Trade Me, you never know with Ev!
I remember the front of the old store was decked out with movie reference paste ups as well, which brings up the way urban art features in a lot of your miniatures, from the Band Aid paste ups to the doorway covered in work by the Slap City crew, did you have a connection to the graffiti and street art worlds prior?
I’ve always appreciated it. But it’s one of those things that I’ve always looked at from afar. It’s strange, I know there’s a divide with tagging in any city, but for me, it tells a story, you know, even if it’s in a place it shouldn’t be, I just I like that… It’s that connection. When I’m building stuff, I’m not interested in anything that’s modern because it has no character. It has no soul. For me, it’s all about buildings that have been through something, that have taken a battering and outlived us. And often they have got other people’s art on them, they become a representation of all the artists that have tagged them. They have stories to tell. I couldn’t do anything that was modern because it seems pointless to me…
Again, it is about that layering, by choosing sites that feature graffiti and street art, there is the suggestion of the ability to reimagine the city, which is what you’re doing in a way. One of the things with how heavily buildings and public spaces are designed now is how they deny organic subversion. Urban art has always been about challenging that; skateboarding around the city is a way to change the designed use and the same with guerrilla artists making use of spaces and subverting them by seeing them in a different way.
It’s like putting a glitter ball in a forest isn’t it? Those modern buildings, for me, they’re just ugly. I understand they serve a purpose and we’ve got to rebuild, but you’re right, they are a little bit soulless. It sounds a bit harsh because obviously the people who built them probably don’t want that to be the case, and it is rebuilding the city, but they just don’t have that character, that feel…
Going behind the curtain a little bit, what’s the actual process of a scratch build? When I look at some of your pieces, I’m instantly drawn right in, getting as close as I can, looking at the amazing detail. The brickwork, the concrete, the rust, they invite that inquisition. But how do you do it? Or do you like to keep a veil of mystery?
The rust! I’m going to get weird now! [Laughs] I do think it’s really important to share certain skills with anyone who wants to know. It’s all about passing it on. I’m never too veiled with information. I know some people keep it to themselves because they don’t want anyone else making what they make, but I think it’s important to share as much information with other artists as possible. Art is to be shared, it’s not just a ‘me, me, me’ thing…
That becomes a two-way street as well, right? The more you share, the more people share with you…
Exactly, and beautiful things get made if you do that. It opens a whole new realm of people making lots of cool stuff. With my process, I found the devil is in the detail. If you make a brick wall it’s easy to paint it brick color and then just paint the grout grey and leave it, but it doesn’t have that authentic feel. I’ve literally got to grout the bricks. I even go into the garden and dig up soil and mix it with water, then when I finish the piece, I paint it with the soil in places to give a dirty look. You’ve just got to layer it and you’ve got to make it look as authentic as possible. It’s almost like you’re recreating it as it would have been made. With the door with the Slap City paste ups, I’d not seen it in town, but I’d seen Teeth Like Screwdrivers’ post on Instagram, and I was like, I’ve got to make that. So, I started the process. The brick work was difficult because it was stone, but I managed to figure it out. It’s all just angles and cutting in, and there’s little things that you learn along the way. I didn’t know how to recreate the plywood because it has been in the open and it’s stained. It’s got that heavy grain, which you don’t get when you buy small pieces of wood for a scratch build, so for ages I was racking my brain. Eventually, I just got a soldering iron and I thought I’ll see if this works. I burned the wood and it worked! I got that grain, but it’s such a process, I’ve obviously got a lot of free time! [Laughs] I drew the grain on, then I just washed it in different washes, and it came through. Sometimes that process takes ages, but it has to look real. I’m still learning as well. Even the rust technique on the skip, I literally found a new technique on how to get that beautiful rust color underneath. Before I was just dry brushing it and it didn’t look as authentic. So, I’m still learning along the way…
I guess like the psychological layers of a city, there are also physical layers, and they have to be evident for the piece to feel authentic and to actually make that connection. It’s like the uncanny valley with CGI effects, where our emotional connection is stronger to something the more it resembles reality, but when it isn’t quite right, our affinity decreases…
Definitely and that’s what’s great about art, to be able to step back from a piece, whatever piece it may be and question it, that’s great, that’s what I love about art. As to whether it’s negative or positive, I think any kind of reaction is quite visceral and that’s what’s wonderful about art, any kind of art, 2D, 3D, anything. Hopefully the reaction I get from my stuff is that recognition…
You are making real and tangible objects, so what is the next stage for these pieces? Is there a long-term goal?
The long-term goal is to build the entire Christchurch city! [Laughs] All the old buildings and stuff. The goal is to go extravagant, but obviously I don’t want to do anything that doesn’t connect with me. It’s got to connect with me as the artist. I’ve got to love what I make because that shows in what you do. I want to create something that people can just completely connect with on a different level. Since living in Christchurch, I’ve found the people are amazing you know, we’ve been through a lot of shit and are very resilient. I love this city and, it sounds cheesy man, but it’s just a way of giving back with your art in a sense.
What pieces are in the pipeline at the moment?
There’s the juicy Design and Arts College building on Worcester Street! I have to make that! It’s so detailed when you look closely. I took a picture of it a couple of weeks ago. It’s all bolted up with chains and there’s rust and it’s got all this graffiti and there are paste ups, but then as you go higher you’ve got all these amazing windows. It’s gorgeous. I didn’t realize until I zoomed in on the photo, which I do when I’m trying to get the details, a lot of the windows are smashed and tagged from the inside, but then you look even closer and above the sash windows they have this copper awning, it’s really ornate. But I have to build it so that it looks exactly right, with the wire fences outside, the weeds… everything!
When it comes to choosing buildings to make, do you get inspiration from other people, from their recollections? You obviously avoid the obvious choices, like the Cathedral…
I’m not going to start building the gondola! But yes, I like hearing about people’s memories of buildings and especially the ones that are less known. Known but not known, I guess? I have spoken to a lot of people, like my mate Pete at Gordon Harris, I sat down with him a wee while ago and he was going over older buildings like Wizards, the Java Lounge and Toffs. I can connect with what I can connect with now, but I obviously can’t connect with buildings that don’t exist anymore, so I need to speak to people with regard to that. It’s just that with some buildings, what they’ve been through with the earthquakes, their age, the graffiti, the art, it all comes together.
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