The Paste-Up Project – with Mark Catley

The fourth and final artist in the Paste-Up Project is Mark Catley – one of the city’s longest tenured paste-up artists. Mark’s nostalgic vintage toy paste ups have been a familiar site across Christchurch for many years and as such he was a natural contributor to this project. For his installation, Mark continued his toy parade, this time with huge images of Barbie, G.I. Joe, He-Man and more circling the bollard like a line-up awaiting identification. Catley’s work evokes nostalgia, warm recollections of childhood favourites, but it also illuminates the darker side, from the ridiculous body shapes and reinforced gender stereotypes to the problematic materials used in production. We chatted with Mark and dived into his experiences pasting art around the city and the Paste-Up Project specifically, and, of course, a specific Star Wars character…

It seems like you have been pasting art up around Ōtautahi for a long time, do you remember when you started?

Well, according to my Instagram page, it was 2015. I only worked that out based on when the photos were taken of the big Batman and Robin faces opposite Victoria Square, it’s some fancy restaurant now…

The Permit Room…

Yeah, that’s it!

So, what was the inspiration?

Well, a lot of people were doing it at the time. After the earthquakes, things had changed, and I just thought I’d give it a go. I honestly don’t even remember now. I would’ve had a friend print them out for me. I was doing my insurance work at the time, and I would get emails about toy figures and I would open them up and put them on my computer monitor and I just started taking photos of the faces of Batman and Robin and then I went home and made them bigger and I just pasted them up. At first, I didn’t actually know anyone doing it personally, so I just had to Google how to do it myself. I remember going to one of those Instructables websites about how to make wheat-paste glue. I just used the first recipe I found and I pretty much stick with it even now…  

Did it always make sense as the medium to use to put your art out in the streets?

Well yeah, I mean, I’d never tried using spray cans or anything like that and I figured this was the quickest way to get it up there. Then by chance, the first time I put them up, I think it would have been the Batman head, I remember walking back to my car and turning around to have a look, thinking that’s pretty cool, and there’s some guy yelling out to me: “Hey you!” I was like, oh shit! I mean, it wasn’t that late, it would have been daylight savings, so it had only just got dark, and this guy shouted out to me. I turned around and I just replied “Yeah?” And he asked me: “Did you just do that over there?” I said “Yeah”, and he said it was pretty cool, but he wanted my details, and I just gave them to him. I told him my name, I gave him my cell phone number, and then nothing happened. It wasn’t until six months or a year later that The Press ran a story about this mysterious street artist and it turned out the first guy was a reporter and after the first story was posted on Stuff, that reporter spoke to another reporter and they knew who I was straight away. So, someone from The Press phoned me and said: “Oh, so was this you?” And stupidly I just said, “Yeah it was”, being the good boy I am. I remember hanging up and thinking, shit! So, I rang them back and said: “Hey, why don’t you just not put that it’s me and have a bit of fun with this?” But he was like, “Nah, it’s too late.” So my dream of being a mysterious artist was washed away…

You were never able to become the Banksy figure of mystery…

Exactly, I never really had enough time to give myself a cool name or anything.

I don’t think I’m creative enough to come up with a good name…

I’ve got a good name now, a podcast gave it to me: BosskCat, because Bossk is my favourite Star Wars character and my last name is Catley, so BosskCat. They even made a picture of TopCat, but with Bossk’s head stuck on it. That was some guys in England who thought of it…

You have become known for your annual May the 4th Star Wars bonanza, has that become something that you look forward to each year?

I really like to do it. It’s just a bit of fun and I imagine even if no one else cared, I would just put them up for myself for fun. It must have been a few years ago now, but I remember it was hosing down on the night of May the third, it was stupid weather, you know, there was no way anyway should have gone out putting up paste ups, although some of those pieces have lasted for years. Anyway, one of them was over in Lyttelton, on the old fire station, it was a Princess Leia paste up, but there were about 10 or 12 Russian sailors all hiding under that spot, with bottles of vodka and a plastic bag of cooked fish. They were just drinking and pulling out bits of fish meat to eat. The smell was revolting. I was annoyed because that was the spot, you know, I’d worked out a few days earlier that was the spot, and because it was raining I thought no one would be there. Anyway, I half tried to explain what I was doing but they had no idea what I was saying, they just laughed, so I just quickly did it and got out of there, looking back it was pretty funny…

Interestingly enough, other people started to add to that piece, right? Was that cool to see?

Yeah, they put like little pockets and a big mouth on there, that was cool…

It gave the piece its own life after you walked away, and that’s a good lead-in actually to the Paste-Up Project, because although you haven’t got any Star Wars figures, obviously the vintage toys are a central element, so explain the concept that you’ve installed…

I really wanted to do something interactive and get the public involved. I was treating it along the lines that it’s going to be pretty hard just to keep it updated, let alone with people playing with it, so I just thought I will have some larger figures up there from generic toys from my memories; I really wanted to have a massive Barbie from the 80s, a Sport Barbie in an 80s leotard, showing how crazy the body shape was. I also wanted a He-Man up there too, because I’ve been talking a lot with my friends about how it is so weird that He-Man is such a macho figure, but he’s always in his underwear. It’s the same with fantasy novels like Conan, it’s always fighting monsters in loin clothes, it’s very weird to me. Anyway, I added Raphael, a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, and a G.I. Joe from the 60s. Back in the 60s, all the boys were taught to go to war and fight and kill, this very macho thing, and all the women were taught just to stay home and look after their man and the family, that was the lifestyle, so I wanted to question that. Then I just asked the public to send me photos of the toys that they had as kids. I’ve still got quite a few to put up as well…

The thing with toys is that they have such a powerful sense of nostalgia for us and yet they are often highly problematic and that was one of the things you said that you were wanting to illuminate. But it’s not just the questions of gender identity and body image, there’s also actually the literal toxicity of older toys…

Yeah, it’s crazy when you look into all the plastics that they used, especially back in 50s and 60s, right up to the 80s and 90s and probably still now a little bit with the mass-produced toys especially, all the knock-off toys. They’re getting better now, but its the hidden stuff like all the glues, the paints. I think Fisher Price is one of the first companies to actually come forward and say publicly that you can still collect these vintage toys, but by all means do not let your children use them. It’s quite interesting because a lot of people just really don’t want to hear that. A friend told me that this local Salvation Army store posted that they had all these great toys from the 80s and someone replied saying, hey, this company’s actually come out and said that these are to collect, not for kids to play with, which is a hard thing to hear. Right now I’m holding a 1980s plastic figure, I love all this stuff, but I will wash my hands after playing with something like this, and I don’t really like letting my daughter play with some of these toys. It’s not because they are collectible, they are toys that are meant to be played with, it’s more that we try to get her toys that aren’t toxic. It’s hard, because I still buy vinyl, but ideally, they should be using recycled plastics to make records. It’s just bewildering, it’s crazy…

You have actually worked quite consistently at a reasonably large scale, some of the previous Paste Up Project artists haven’t worked at such a size. Was this project less daunting because of your previous experience?

Yeah, it was good. Really the only issue was the curve of the bollard and learning about the materials, like soaking the adhesive paper for half an hour. But it went up so easily, I couldn’t believe how fast it was. It was really good how it adhered, so it went well, and I enjoyed working at that scale…

That sense of scale seems quite important for your work because that nostalgic element takes on more emphasis when it is larger. As you get older, things seem smaller, so to make them bigger again plays on our memories of them, it brings back that sense of magic. When you see something after a long time and you’ve gotten older and bigger, it never seems as impressive, so recreating them at this massive scale, it brings back that wonder. It gives them a sense of agency as well; it makes them seem like they can talk back. The large size seems to be a good fit with the concepts that are being teased out in your work…

Yeah, I mean it does make a lot of sense. I mean, I like Ghostcat’s tiny builds, his small stuff, with surprises that you have to look out for, the detail’s just amazing. But then I love things that are just stupidly large, oversized and just really like: Bang! There’s Barbie, standing on Manchester Street. I love the fact that everyone just knows what they are straight away, yet it’s still a surprise. 

It automatically attaches people to something familiar, right?

They go in for a closer look and they go, oh it’s He Man! I remember that as a kid! It starts all the conversations about what their childhood was like. Hopefully it makes people smile…

You talked about a few people commenting as they were passing, have people been responding to the work?

Most of it has been positive. I’m always personally surprised that more people don’t stop and have a chat. I’m the sort of person that if I saw someone doing that, then I’m always like, wow, that’s cool, and I’ll go ahead and try and find out what someone’s doing. But you know, most people just live in their own worlds, looking at their phones. Big groups of drunk people are the worst to be honest, that’s why I try not to do it on a Friday or Saturday night. There’s nothing worse than a whole bunch of drunk people, going “what are you doing?” With this work, when people asked, I could tell them that it’s an official project, and they like to hear that as opposed to just putting something up, but then it’s a bollard, you are not just going to put things up on it are you?

That’s the other thing with your installation, the connection with the bollard. Because they are toys, it automatically raises the idea of advertising, so it starts to become an interesting interplay because it’s not advertising and it’s actually doing the opposite because it’s raising some of the issues of consumption. The way you have composed the work, that large-scale parade going around the bollard, was that in some ways to stop it looking too much like advertising posters?

Yeah, it was. At one point what I wanted to do was like a line-up, like The Usual Suspects mug shot. But then I realised that the heights were all different, and it wouldn’t have worked. I mean, I’ve sort of done that, but not really. I just wanted to make something that you walked around, a big continuous piece to look at, and then to add to it over the weeks. I’ve been there a few times and added stuff to it…

I have one last question and this one is probably pretty hard to answer, you’ve mentioned that you’re a toy collector, what’s the one toy you would buy if price was no object?

I’m a Bossk collector, so there is the famous toxic-limbed Bossk from Spain. There are about 50 of them in the world, some say 29. I’m really into the Spanish Star Wars stuff. Basically, they’ve made like 600 million little tiny figures, mainly in China or Taiwan, places like that, but then Spain got a contract, and started producing some Star Wars figures, but the company that produced them, the quality of plastic they used wasn’t as good and so for some reason the Bossk figure’s plastic has degraded and has turned his limbs, his arms and legs, a green colour. They call it the toxic green Bossk and this figure is sought after all over the world, it goes for stupid money. It’s not like the Boba Fett Rocket Launcher, but…

That’s the famous one, right?

Yeah, but it really annoys me, and I’m getting my geeky hat on here, there are fewer figures of the toxic Bossk, but because it’s Boba Fett, it’s given more cred. But Boba Fett is just a dude in a space helmet, he is literally just a guy in a space suit! He’s a cool figure too, but the Bossk is the one! I know that if I ever got it, it wouldn’t be that amazing, I would have it in my hands and it would be, ahh, its OK, but that’s the one I would buy. 

Did you want to give any shout outs?

Thanks to yourself and Phantom, JZA, Cape of Storms, and teethlikescrewdrivers, he’s always handy with his advice and he is so enthusiastic. I love the fact that he is all over everything…

That sense of community is driven by a lot of people, but he is right at the heart of it…

If I was younger, I would hang out with them all the time. But I do kind of like working by myself. I have so much work, but it just takes time. It always looks so cool and it’s great when there are new fresh walls. I often think what would my mum think? But she would probably drive right past and that’s alright.

Thank you to Phantom Billstickers and the Christchurch City Council for their support of The Paste-Up Project!

And That Was… October 2022

October is a month that keeps you guessing. The weather is still likely to throw a few curve balls, and people tend to not know if they are still in a mid-year blitz or are creeping towards the end of the year wind-down. It feels like this unpredictable manner extends to the art in the streets, with surprises popping up in the form of both small additions and large projects. October 2022 kicked off with the Christchurch Hip Hop Summit, saw a refresh for the Berlin Wall, and provided a range of little surprises in between. So, let’s have a look at what we loved in October…

The Dance-O-Mat gets a facelift…

Gap Filler’s iconic Dance-O-Mat had already made itself known in it’s new home on Manchester Street, but in October, it got a brighter spruce-up when the Christchurch Hip Hop Summit Graffiti Jam painted the walls of the site with traditional pieces and characters by Tepid, YSEK, Meep, Drows, Xact and APEK. Additionally, the temporary wall was unveiled as a paste-up site, with the wood covered by the Slap City collective.

DTR X FILTH Crews Collab

In addition to the Dance-O-Mat Graffiti Jam, the Cathedral Square section of Spark Lane also got some new art courtesy of a collaborative production between the FILTH crew and DTR. Coordinated by Ikarus as an additional element of the Hip Hop Summit, the jam featured some Christchurch graffiti royalty in a Simpsons/Masters of the Universe mash-up themed production. With the site now opened and more visible, the painting is a timely addition and reminder of the talented local scene.


Now What Belongs Together, Will Grow Together, Bols on the Berlin Wall

Local stencil artist Bols refreshed the west-facing side of the Berlin Wall in Rauora Park. The text-based painting, based on a quote from German politician Willy Brandt, continues the artist’s investigation of words as image. The layered text in reds, orange, yellow and white, echo not only the German flag, but also the flames of protest, a reminder of what it takes to break down walls.

Complementary Summoning Spot

Right next to the Berlin Wall, we also found one of our favourite pieces of street art, if it can be called as such – perhaps it is more aptly described as an activation – of the dead! Cinder’s Complementary Summoning Spot, seeingly installed by Archfiend, is an urban ouija board, adding a spiritual twist to the streets, and daring passers-by to scratch that supernatural itch!

Sam and Sandra…

To sign off on October, we take a very different direction, a much more wholesome example of urban inscription. Is there anything more heart-warming than a declaration of friendship inscribed for posterity? Sam and Sandra are BFF’s and they have committed that to the world, in fact, the world would be that much better if we all displayed that kind of earnestness…

They were our favourite things from October, what were yours? Let us know in the comments!

The Christchurch Hip Hop Summit 2022 – The DTR Graffiti Showcase

The Christchurch Hip Hop Summit kicked off for 2022 with a day of painting and tunes as the oldest of the four elements took centre stage. Organised and curated by Ikarus of the DTR Crew, the Summit’s Graffiti Jam featured two productions; one by a collection of local artists at the re-activated Dance-O-Mat site on Manchester Street and the other, a collaboration between the DTR and FILTH crews, along Spark Laneway between Hereford Street and Cathedral Square. While the two jams had starkly different atmospheres; DJs played music as crowds gathered at the Dance-O-Mat, the DTR and FILTH jam more low-key, they both celebrated the traditions of graffiti and resulted in impressive productions.

Making a Place of Play

Gapfiller’s Dance-O-Mat, a relocatable urban dance floor, is one of the city’s most enduring post-quake place-making icons – a status cemented when the now King and Queen Consort, Charles and Camilla, cut some shapes on the floor when they visited the city in 2012. When the Dance-O-Mat needed a new home, GapFiller found the vacant space next to Paddy McNaughton’s Irish Pub on Manchester Street. The process of installing the dance floor was undertaken and soon, the washing machine discotheque was sending rhythms out across the city and limbs were moving (some more elegantly than others).

The Dance-O-Mat’s new setting was a typical Ōtautahi lot, vacant but for rocky shingle, weeds and bright graffiti painted on the surrounding walls. Now with support from GapFiller, Resene Paints, the Christchurch Hip Hop Summit and a range of artists, the paint covered walls have been given a facelift to match the Dance-O-Mat’s activation. The first addition was a simple black and white declaration of the site as a Gapfiller ‘Place of Play’ – part of the urban play initiative. The mural, completed by Nick Lowry and Bols, simply deploys the graphic Place of Play logo, designed by Ariki Creative, running along the upper section of the Northern wall, boldly declaring the site as a destination. The painting spanning 18 metres in length and starting more than three metres up the wall, was completed in just two days, and set the tone for further activations.

If the Place of Play mural served a practical purpose, the next wave of creative work was brighter and exemplified the Place of Play intentions. On the first weekend of October, the 2022 Christchurch Hip Hop Summit kicked off with graffiti jams – including at the Dance-O-Mat site, where a selection of local graffiti artists refreshed the walls with characters and pieces. The activity, bolstered by DJs playing music, drew sizeable crowds (and dancers), making the most of the (almost) summery weather. Across from the graffiti artists, members of Slap City decorated the dedicated paste-up wall (which already featured a bold ‘Dance-O-Mat’ painting in red and yellow by teethlikescrewdrivers) with paper-based additions big, small and everywhere in between.

The flurry of activity was a perfect introduction for a site that now celebrates various creative outlets, a new must-see destination in the heart of Ōtautahi. The Dance-O-Mat is back and it looks fantastic!

One More, More The Show

More The Show returns this week with One More, More the Show – once again celebrating local wahine artists and raising funds for The Period Place. One More, More the Show will fill the walls of Clubhouse Creative on Southwark Street with art by a wide range of Ōtautahi creatives, painters, illustrators, makers and more. As organiser Lydia Thomas explains, More the Show came from the lack of wahine art at local art shows: “I haven’t been in Ōtautahi long, but I can already see and know of extremely talented females and I wanted to create someone just for them.” The More shows are short and sweet with a playful energy, intended to function like a gig or a festival (music will be supplied by talented local female DJs), a limited window to experience the event. This time, Thomas has a selection of almost 30 artists, featuring returning creatives like Robbi Carvalho, Kyla K and Harriet Murray, but also new contributors, including Emma Turner and Lily Wenmoth. Whereas previous shows have allowed artists to present multiple works, this show is more focused, with each artist contributing just one work, giving each a more unique value. The show will also donate a minimum of 10% of every sale to The Period Place, whose mission is ensure every person with a period in Aotearoa can have access to period education and products. As Thomas declares: “People should come to see the show because the talent of wahine artists in Ōtautahi is out of the gate – we are so lucky be able to head out and enjoy it, to drink wine, eat cake and celebrate!”

One More, More the Show opens Thursday 6th October, 5:30pm – 7:30pm at ClubHouse Creative, Southwark Street. Drinks and food will be supplied by from Buzz Club, Good Sh*t Soda, Young & Co Wines and Full Time Tart.

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.

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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