Tom Kerr’s Nebraska @ Absolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The E Street Shuffle kind of stuff…

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

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

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

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

But it’s lost in that full band bombast…

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

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

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

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

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

A real fishing tale…

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

So, you play his songs?

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

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

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

It became a ritual…

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

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

Yeah, certain phrases…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did you revisit any over time?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In a whitewash shotgun shack an old man passes away

Take his body to the graveyard and over him they pray

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

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

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

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

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

It’s a vivid image, right?

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

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

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

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

Follow Tom on Instagram

Auspicious Victory – Hostile Body @ XCHC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image by Josh Bradshaw

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image by Miiekes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you each have designated roles within Counterfeit?

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

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

Image by Sofiya R

Are you open to bringing new voices in? 

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

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

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

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

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

Image by Cammy H

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

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

FAUP Bitch, Vol. 3 by Gianni Ruffino

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

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

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

What is next for Counterfeit?

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

And beyond Zinefest?

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

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

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

S: The grimier the better!

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

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

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

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

Image by Bethany Ponniah

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

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

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

The Paste-Up Project – with Cape of Storms

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

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

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

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Kia ora! Would you like to introduce yourself?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is there anyone you want to thank?

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

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

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

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

 

 

Gearing Up – Dcypher Apparel

Since returning home from a stint living in Los Angeles, Dcypher has quickly cemented his reputation and one of Aotearoa’s most talented and prolific mural artists, without missing a beat with his signature graffiti pieces. With his artistic roots firmly planted in graffiti and skate culture, his art has always teemed with the energy of street culture. Much of Dcypher’s work, including his graffiti, reflects the urban cityscape and elements of urban culture, making for the perfect aesthetic for his latest undertaking – the street wear line Dcypher Apparel.

T-Shirts have long been a staple of urban culture; the DIY fashions of Hip-Hop and Punk have celebrated the statement potential of the garment, while the physicality of skateboarding means loose-fit comfort provides a practical attraction. From Jimbo Phillips’ iconic Santa Cruz Screaming Hand, to the Bones Brigade, Powell-Peralta and Vision Street Wear designs, Zoo York and OBEY, tees have been a way to proclaim your cultural, political and stylistic affiliations. Likewise, t-shirts provide creatives with a canvas that reaches a wider audience, stretching beyond the wall or the gallery.

As a skateboarder and graffiti artist, t-shirt designs were a natural progression for Dcypher, his bold illustrative and graphic style translating well to the printed format, while his imagery was already attuned to the urban wear aesthetic. Inspired by the likes of Evan Hecox’s Chocolate Skateboards, he began dabbling in the idea of t-shirt designs while still in Los Angeles, producing images for his CBS crewmates. Dcypher initially considered an online, made-to-order approach, scaling down overheads, but the hyper competitive US market made it a tough proposition to crack.

By the time he returned to Aotearoa, Dcypher had collated a stockpile of t-shirt images. Enter Tim Ellis, founder of fashion company Movers and Shakers. Dcypher had met Ellis through Truth Dubstep, when the artist had worked with the musicians on logos and promotional designs. Ellis brought the industry know-how, connections and capital to Dcypher Apparel, allowing the artist creative freedom to put his designs onto tees and into the world as creative director. The Dcypher Apparel brand was born.

While initially hesitant to use his hard-earned graffiti name as the brand identity, it has ultimately proved beneficial due to his reputation in the urban art world. As creative director, Dcypher leads the designs, but also ensures he has input in where the shirts are stocked, choosing locations based on their connection to skate and graffiti culture, providing the right audience for the brand and a sense of authenticity. There is always a tricky line between making a brand accessible and still elevating it above mass-produced fast fashion, making sure it gets into the right hands – urban wear and youth culture is all about influence. Locally, the tees are available at Embassy on Colombo Street and Encompass at The Tannery, as well as further afield at Cheapskates Wanganui, Fusion in Wellington, Pavement in Dunedin and The Plugg in Kaitaia. Dcypher acknowledges these locations guarantee the right audience and, vitally, respect the cultures that gave birth to the brand.

Although Dcypher’s personal style leans towards the understated these days, favouring a plain black tee, the lure of a t-shirt serving as another platform for his art is undeniable. Rather than developing a completely new approach, Dcypher’s t-shirt designs are drawn from his mural, wall, studio and digital designs, the artist feeling his way through the process and making changes where needed to suit the cotton canvas. And yet, the designs can also be unique from large-scale works, which often require more compromise. The t-shirt graphics are free-form, following the artist’s interests as they develop, rather than being proscribed by briefs from above. The designs (on upsized tees, as preferred by skaters who value the freer movement) feature urban landscapes, Dcypher’s signature skulls, characters and graffiti pieces, sometimes all worked together. Other works take on specific narratives, from corporate greed to Noah’s Ark and Eastern influences. Dcypher’s iconic, but now obscured, Welcome to Christchurch postcard mural (the text mid-construction in reference to the rebuild), has also been rendered as a design. With a growing range, Dcypher continues to develop new ideas for seasonal release, including the exploration of glow-in-the-dark printing.

As an artist brand, Dcypher Apparel is less concerned with fashion trends, and more about the art and aesthetic as a reflection of Dcypher’s style. T-shirts, with their broad appeal and ability to reach a wide audience, allow the artist and his art to engage audiences in new ways. As Dcypher suggests, young people don’t often buy art, but they do buy t-shirts, and he hopes his tees can connect the two worlds.

For more about Dcypher Apparel’s range and for stockists, follow @dcypher_apparel on Instagram or visit  https://dcypher-apparel.myshopify.com/

Josh Bradshaw – Things I Thought You’d Say or Don’t @ Absolution

Josh Bradshaw has undergone a significant creative transformation over the last few years, leaving behind a recognisable and popular aesthetic in favour of a style that feels both more honest and meaningful – gone is the pop and in is a punk-infused, re-worked and confrontational body of work. This approach, drawn on the experience of the urban environment, manifests in techniques from collage and printmaking to three-dimensional constructions and spaces in between, reflecting a creative freedom and palpable physicality. His latest show, Things I Thought You’d Say or Don’t, at Absolution, is the first chance for him to present a cohesive collection under this new direction. We took the opportunity to catch up with the artist and find out more…
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How did this show come about? It has been a while since your last solo show and your work has undergone some significant changes, what has been the internal process to make work that is perhaps a better reflection of you?

I got lucky with Absolution having their planned exhibition for June/July fall through last minute so with short notice I put my hand up to fill that slot. It’s been three years since my last show I’m pretty sure. Funnily enough, the last one was at Absolution too, so having my first show under my real name, making work in a completely different style, it feels right to have it in that space. I think most of the internal processes in the early stages of the research, developing concepts, mapping out ideas and weaving the work together to create a full show haven’t changed for me at all, it’s when I start physically making the work that the differences start to show up. I don’t have to do any mental gymnastics or justify to myself any compromises of my original ideas or warp any of the work to fit a particular style that I used to feel trapped by. Now it’s a much more free flowing and natural process. I’m not limiting myself and the work can go wherever it wants and needs to, I’m just along for the ride.

What was the genesis this specific body of work?

This body of work, which is still ongoing, came about because of the perfect storm of how much time I’ve spent living and walking around the city over the last however many years, how my brain works when I’m falling down the rabbit hole of over thinking about how much of a backstory and future a padlock or brick or window of a construction site that I’ve just walked past could possibly have. The curiosities, attitudes, mysteries and visual elements that come from all of my interests that I’ve had my whole life, like skateboarding, punk music and compulsively having to make stuff, added in the mix is how you get to this latest body of work.

You are adopting a range of techniques, is that about seeking something, or just a reflection of creative freedom?

Both for sure, I really enjoy the act of the reveal of printmaking and repeatedly trashing and scanning things and all of the not knowing what’s going to show up when printed or not. The element of surprise often determines what techniques need to be applied or removed on the next layer. With this loose approach comes that sense of freedom which in turn encourages even more experimentation. It’s a fun, self-feeding cycle. The themes that run through the show itself are based off a wide range of scenarios and materials from the city, which lends itself well to using a bunch of different techniques also.

Josh Bradshaw, Collage #3, mixed media collage, 2022

Tell me about the title for the show, it is evocative, but when you think about it, it doesn’t quite make sense, or at least, it doesn’t read quite right…

I made a lot of this work in reference to not only how we view things ideologically but also physically. Down to that moment of hesitation where stop and go back for that little look through the fence or broken window. The title of the show is an example of that little double take you have to do to see what’s going on. Things I Thought You’d Say Or Don’t is the awkward, only partially seen, peer through the fence version of “The things I thought that the city was saying/showing to me or maybe what it wasn’t actually saying”.

Black and white is predominant, is that intentional symbolically or a result of the techniques?

The lack of colour is a bit of the result of some of the techniques, like flattening out a collage with a black and white scan but I use it mostly to intentionally remove any of the context of the elements I use from the city. I feel that it encourages people to see something in a new light. Once you remove something from its intended purpose you can run wild creating a new life for that thing.

Do you make these works with the idea of exhibiting? I feel like they have a sense of fitting in various spaces/sites, like they don’t need white walls to exist, they have the practicality of punk in a way…

With the work being based on how we view our city and things from it, I think it would be just as interesting to see the work on a gallery wall as it would be to have it put up on a street wall or construction fence. There’s something satisfying about the idea of all the references and elements being taken and given new context and then being put back up in the city. I did however feel that it was about time to have a show again and as long as I got to present the work as a collection I was going to be happy. The black walls of Absolution is just the added bonus, I’m stoked they had the space open up for me.

Lastly, when and where do people need to be for the show?

The people need to be at Absolution on Friday the 3rd of June at 6-8pm to see the opening of the show. If you can’t make that date, the show is up for a few weeks and if you can’t make that either then feel free to just open your eyes the next time you are walking through the city, the exhibition has been on for the last 10 plus years…

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Things I Thought You’d Say Or Don’t opens 6pm, Friday, June 3rd at Absolution in The Arts Centre

For more of Josh’s work follow him on Instagram

Watch This Space presents the Flare Street Art Festival Artist Panel

Watch This Space, in partnership with the Flare Street Art Festival, was proud to present the first ever Flare Street Art Festival Artist Panel; a chance to sit down in conversation with five of the headline artists from the festival and reflect on their work in Christchurch, their careers, their influences and aspirations. The conversation, hosted at 12 Bar on March 11th, 2022, provided some great insights into contemporary urban art in Aotearoa, it’s evolution and the motivations of the artists who are transforming city walls brick by brick. With a mix of local artists (Ikarus and Meep) and visiting creatives (Kell Sunshine, Koryu and Swiftmantis), there was a sense of diversity among the panel and experiences spanning many years and settings, making it a great deep dive into graffiti, street art, muralism and more. Check out the full discussion below…

Thank you to Ikarus, Kell Sunshine, Meep, Koryu and Swiftmantis for their participation, the support from Selina Faimalo, Dcypher and the Flare crew, Matt, Kendra and the team at 12 Bar, the WORD Festival for the live streaming gear and to Corban Tupou for the technical expertise, we could not have done without you! 

The Flare Street Art Festival, March 2-12, 2022

Christchurch’s street art reputation is, in many ways, built on the legacy of festival events. The likes of From the Ground Up, Rise, Spectrum and Street Prints Ōtautahi established the city as a destination for artists to find opportunities and for a new audience to experience amazing examples of urban art in a setting that was forced to re-imagine it’s creative profile and identity. It has now been five years since the last significant festival was staged in Ōtautahi, but with the emergence of the Flare Street Art Festival, Christchurch is braced to once more flex it’s status as Aotearoa’s leading urban art city. We sat down with Selina Faimalo, project manager for Flare, to discuss the challenges of developing a street art festival in 2022, what Flare promises, and who we should be excited about…

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The Flare Street Art Festival is just days away, how are you feeling? Are the nerves jangling or is it just excitement? 

I’m really excited to see it all, well nearly all, coming together! Obviously, I’m still a bit nervous because things can change between now and then, as we know, but we’re pretty fool-proof under the red traffic light setting. We’ve adapted.

What are some of the significant changes you have had to make? 

We originally planned to have a large celebration of street art culture, hip-hop and urban art at the end of the festival. We were going to close down High Street and have a big market and festival with live music, dancing, skateboarding, food trucks, urban stallholders and a pop-up gallery, all sorts of things. That part of the festival had to be cancelled, so instead we’re doing micro events over the ten days; we’re going to have street art tours with Watch This Space, which we were always going to have, they can still go ahead. There will be tours on each weekend of the festival. We’ve still got a pop-up gallery and kind of hang out space, that will be open during the days. Fiksate and Offline Collective are collaborating and going to do some street art projections in some vacant spaces in the SALT District. We have the panel discussion with the artists, that is also with Watch This Space, with some of the headlining artists at 12 Bar, which will be an awesome way to interact with the artists and get to know a bit more about them. It’s going to be live-streamed as well, which is really cool as we can’t host as many people as we wanted to…

It still is a really good program. I think it is important for street art and mural festivals to provide chances to engage with different elements…

Absolutely.

The festival or market day would have been amazing, but I guess there’s a silver lining in that you can now perfect it for next year and grow the festival as a recurring event… 

Totally, it might be a bit of a blessing in disguise. I’ve spent about eight months on the process of organizing this festival, so I think it gave us a lot more time to re-evaluate things and put that energy into different things. Obviously, it’s unfortunate that we had to cancel those elements, because we have musicians and vendors were relying on that income from the event. Cancelling those individuals and businesses was really sad, because you have already committed and turned down other bookings… It’s been tough for all in the events industry.

Wongi ‘Freak’ Wilson is one of the headline artists for the Flare Street Art Festival

Bringing together the wider urban art community is really important. As you said, there are the headline artists, but that’s not the whole picture, you’ve got other artists too, like the Fiksate team, the artists with work in the pop-up gallery and some smaller live painting events as well. There is a much wider array of people than the names on the posters… 

It was important to involve as many Christchurch artists as possible, to make it inclusive and diverse, including, the “OGs” as well as the younger generations, as well as making sure there are female artists represented, who are not always as predominant in the street art scene.

Can you give us a little bit of background on ARCC, who are the organization behind Flare

ARCC is a group of business leaders and place-makers, who just want to make a bunch of cool stuff happen in the city and revitalise what’s happening here. George Shaw from OiYOU! is a part of ARCC and is obviously a big advocate for street art and he recognised that a lot of the murals from the Rise and Spectrum festivals are not there anymore, as the city is being rebuilt the visual aspect of street art is not there as much, it’s being built in front of or covered, so he just wanted to bring that back, putting it on new buildings and filling these blank walls with street art again and retaking that status as a street art capital, we were obviously in the Lonely Planet as one of the street art capitals of New Zealand and the world…

A lot of that recognition came from the festival events, because you’re seeing a lot of work appear in a short time, there is a rush in activity that captures the attention. So, Flare becomes an important way of re-claiming that title. How did you come to be the project manager for Flare

I’m actually a trustee of the SALT District, so I already knew about ARCC because a lot of the team are on the SALT District board as well and they had mentioned it. I was going along to the street art meetings and they were talking about it and I’d already been in touch with George anyway because I’d mentioned to him ages ago that I really wanted to do some type of hip-hop street art event and I wanted to know how you would make that happen. He said let’s keep in touch, maybe there will be something that we can do. I also run the Conscious Club with Kophie (Su’a Hulsbosch), we do social and environmental events in Christchurch, we’ve been doing it for the last two years, in which we weaved creativity into the majority of our events. We have held exhibitions together and shared creative working space with her for a while now. I’m not part of the street art community, but I’m a massive fan of street art culture and hip-hop in particular. I really wanted to do a hip-hop event, I talked with Red from the Hip Hop Summit about all the different things that we could do. George’s plan was to run Flare, but he had another exciting project come up. The timing wasn’t great for him to project manage Flare, so he asked if I would be interested in project managing it with his help and guidance, along with the rest of the team at ARCC helping out as well. As business leaders they have great connections to building owners to help make this happen. One of the biggest challenges of a festival like this is getting a building owner to agree to getting their wall painted without knowing what it will be, so without those connections and networks I don’t think it would be possible!

Local legend Ikarus of the DTR Crew is another Flare headliner for 2022

There’s a fine art to that side and you probably had to learn on the fly a little bit! You want wall spaces that are visible and attractive, but you also want to ensure that that building owners are supportive of artistic credibility and freedom. You have to find that balance of great walls with the right people, right? 

Yeah, we’re telling artists they will have creative freedom, but obviously it can’t be anything offensive or inappropriate, and when we say inappropriate, like when we spoke to John Hutchinson of Team Hutchinson Ford, about painting his wall, he said as long as you don’t paint a Holden! It was little things like that, I just wouldn’t think about. In general I would say building owners can be a little bit conservative, and like to play it safe, might not want certain things on their walls, so it’s a balancing act of letting some know and showing them designs and then we will be surprising some!

I’m a big believer that part of the job of street artists is to bring the audience along, rather than being dictated to creatively to fit a popular trend that supposedly speaks for everybody. The reality is that we are incredibly diverse as a population, made up of individual voices, so why not let murals be a voice of an individual and in doing so, present a little bit of a challenge to the public audience to come with the artist rather than the artist having to go to the audience? What other skills that you maybe didn’t expect to draw on were needed to bring Flare to life? 

I guess navigating the street art scene is something I didn’t know a lot about. I’m quickly learning it is tricky! Obviously, graffiti comes from the streets, which means there an element of rebel and conflict. Having people involved in the festival like DTR crew and Kophie, has helped with those situations. The panels along the Smash Palace pathway will be painted with local graffiti artists, and I don’t think that was my call as to which artists would be involved in that, so I asked Dcypher and Ikarus to facilitate that part of it, so they have led that part because they can navigate the relationships within the graffiti community. Even curating the headlining artists, that was tricky. George actually curated that aspect, but I was part of the conversation, and I don’t think I would have thought about who you should choose in case their work gets tagged over because they’re not respected in the street art community. That is a huge thing that I’ve learnt a lot about recently, if you put the wrong person on a wall, then it’s likely going to get continuously tagged over because they don’t have that respect or that mana in the community…

Kophie Su’a Hulsbosch is the third Christchurch-based headliner for Flare 2022

In terms of the final headlining artist roster, from Christchurch we have Kophie, Wongi ‘Freak’ Wilson and Ikarus, and from out of town are Elliot Francis Stewart from Auckland, Kell Sunshine from Gisbourne, Swiftmantis from Palmerston North and Koryu, who is kind of itinerant, kind of travelling around NZ, right? 

Yeah, well, he’s based in Geraldine…

That street art mecca!

Yeah! He is based in Geraldine, but he travels a lot, he is originally from Japan.

Gisbourne’s Kell Sunshine is one of the visiting artists headlining Flare 2022

So out of that list, who are you excited to see? 

Out of all seven? I mean, I’m going to say Kophie, big respect to the wahine! Being a woman in general is hard and being a woman street artist is even harder and I think she has really stepped up. she has been doing it for over ten years now and I think this is her time to leave a mark in her own city. She’s done commissioned murals but this time she gets to paint what she wants to paint and she’s so talented.

I’m a big fan of Kophie too, she is super talented and its great to see her given this platform. Anyone else? 

I would say Koryu, I think his mural will be very cool! I’ve seen his design as well, so that’s why I’m really excited to see what he’s doing. I’ve been watching him this summer, watching every mural that he’s painted and it’s incredible.

He’s relatively new to it as well, right? But he’s developed a style that is both very distinctively his, and I think also speaks to his heritage, but also something that you can understand why the public gravitate towards the detail. It’s graphic and pictorial, you can easily see a crowd going, wow! He also just seems like a lovely guy! There is some amazing footage from South Sea Spray where he won the ‘People’s Choice’ award and he did a break dance because he’s a b-boy as well… 

I know, he’s so amazing! That’s one thing I’m really sad about, as part of the festival we were going to have hip-hop and break dancing, and it would have been really cool to have a headline artist paint and dance!

Japanese artist, Koryu, now residing in Aotearoa, is another headline artist

Maybe he could still do that at the panel discussion! 

I think so, just break it out!

So, the Flare Street Art Festival begins on the 2nd of March, when the headline artists start painting, but how can people find out more? How can people get involved in the various events? 

They can head onto Facebook for the Flare Street Art Festival or the website which is flare.nz. The full program is on the website and if you want to book tickets to any event, you can do that online. I recommend having a look online because that will be have the right information, it is the digital age, we can update things!

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The Flare Street Art Festival is located across the SALT District with a range of activities – follow Flare on social media or visit their website for more information and booking options. Flare runs from the 2nd March until the 12th March, 2022.

Slap City presents The International Paste-Up and Sticker Festival, March 2022

Slap City has become a central part of Ōtautahi Christchurch’s urban art scene, and now they are bringing even more international flavour to the city with the first International Paste-Up and Sticker Festival in early March, 2022! The 8 day festival will feature a massive exhibition of stickers, paste-ups and associated works at Sydenham’s TyanHAUS, as well as public installations and workshops. With an array of artists from across the globe, it will be a brilliant cacophonous celebration of paper-based street art in all it’s glory! To get the lowdown we spoke to Slap City stalwarts and festival organisers and participants Vez, teeth like screwdrivers and Cape of Storms

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How did the idea for the International Paste-Up and Sticker Festival come about?

Vez: I had this idea since I moved here, I wanted to put more paste-ups around Christchurch, to bring in more international artists and turn it into an event. I had that dream when I first got here two years ago…

teeth like screwdrivers: I’ve actually got a page on my website that’s about doing the same thing. Originally, I wanted to cover one of the giant cans and make it a festival. But one night we were at Fiksate and we were having a few drinks…

V: And doing karaoke…

tls: Someone said something to us, I won’t say what they said, but someone said something to both of us and we were like, well, that seals it! It was an instant decision, right there, let’s do this…

You two hadn’t talked about it together, even though you both had the same idea?

tls: No, but we had both seen other shows around the world and put our own work into other shows around the world, and we knew Christchurch could deal with a show like this.

A paste-up festival is a great fit, firstly because of the amazing community around the Slap City scene, but also it is a perfect form to involve an even wider community, paste-up and sticker culture seems to be about networks and collaborations…

tls: Completely, especially if you put it under the heading of street art, if you look at other types of street art, they are based around not doing that, like graffiti is based around not collaborating.

Cape of Storms: Yeah, it’s more anonymous…

tls: And it is also about going over someone else, being higher or being louder…

It also requires a literal presence; you have to physically be in the place where you’re writing…

tls: Years and years ago, we used Flickr and maybe occasionally we would get contacts through that, but with Instagram the ability to connect with people anywhere in the world and instantly trade with them is part of why I like it, because it’s a positive thing all the time. There’s no negativity.

V: What I also like about paper-based art is it’s really inclusive. With graffiti, not everybody has got the skill to do it, including myself, but with paper-based art you can just collage or you can take things out of magazines or you can draw, or you can work digitally, there are loads of different ways you can produce work, so everybody can contribute if they want to…

CoS: I feel like with paper-based art, its more towards the art side, rather than the tagging thing, so people who don’t feel comfortable with that element of street art, it’s still something where you can have integrity about where you place your art. It’s transient. It’s not going to be there forever. It’s going to dissolve with rain and water or a little bit of elbow grease, but it still has the same effect…

tls: We’ve all kind of come to an agreement, whether consciously or subconsciously, that we’re not sticking it on people’s houses or businesses, you know? Personally speaking, I’m an older dude, I’ve got three kids of my own and if they see my art on the street, I don’t want them to go, why have you stuck your art on that?

A Cape of Storms paste-up in central Christchurch

But at the same time, you don’t want them to not know that you are doing it, right?

tls: Exactly. They always see my pencils and they always comment on them, but they’re not seeing them on people’s houses, they’re seeing them on derelict buildings, or council electrical boxes, because they are boring and they need paint or stickers or something! I’m probably speaking for you guys, but we kind of had a subconscious agreement that we’re not destroying shit, we’re adding to it.

CoS: It is financially accessible as well, it’s not as expensive as buying loads of spray cans.

tls: It might be low impact physically, but not in the messages…

Not visually or conceptually…

tls: I will argue that any one of us who is putting up 1000 pictures of whatever it is we are putting up is going to have an equal impact to anyone tagging…

There’s also the really interesting longer lineage; revolutionary posters, political posters, advertising, sloganeering…

tls: Yeah, I found a picture other day, it was in Paris, an advertising hoarding and it looks like what we’re doing, but it’s a hundred and something years old! It looks exactly the same as what we do…

The Victorian Street in the Canterbury Museum has a fence that is covered in pasted posters…

tls: Because wheat paste was cheap and easy, posters got your message across for free essentially!

CoS: Graffiti writing is beautiful in its own way, but this is maybe a little bit more accessible to people that aren’t so into graffiti necessarily. It’s got a sense of humour, like Vez’s spoons are there to bring joy to people, to make them think, this is so out of place, let’s not be so serious about life! Christchurch can be quite a dull and flat and miserable place…

tls: No! I can’t believe you said that!

CoS: But it’s the people and the sense of humour and the unexpected juxtaposition, that’s why we do it, we can put something funny out there…

Two of Vez’s iconic spoon paste-ups

It’s a lovely juxtaposition, from the seriousness of signs and the coercion of advertising…

tls: And tilt slabs! That is why it doesn’t feel so quite so awkward. We’re not fighting that, we are just putting stickers and paste-ups up on streets covered in stickers and paste-ups, they’re just from McDonald’s or Coke. I’m not political in that sense, it doesn’t justify what I’m doing, but it just makes me go, I’m OK with this because I’m surrounded any way, we’re just adding our own take to what’s already there.

We did a massive sticker and paste-up installation at Spectrum in 2014. At that time, the local paste-up scene definitely didn’t have the numbers it has now. We had artists contributing from quite faraway places, but Slap City has such a larger network, I’m really looking forward to the breadth of work. Where has work come from and which artists are you most excited for people to see?

V: I’ve written a list… There is work from the UK, USA, France, Germany, Austria, Russia, Spain, Finland, Slovakia, Australia, Canada…

tls: In terms of who we are excited about, I’m going to go first because I’m so stoked about this big piece by The Postman. They are a collective based in Brighton in the UK. I’ve been asking them for a long time because I’ve put Björk pastes up all around the city and when I saw their Björk one, I was like, I need one of those! So, I hassled them and they were like, yeah, we’ll send one to you. It’s huge and I want to take it home, but I’m not going to! I would like a photograph, can I put it out there now? Me standing in front of that please with a big smile on my face! I would love that! I love their stuff, it’s phenomenal. They are a good example of paste-ups as a legit art form. They do everything from whole streets in Shoreditch in London to millionaires’ houses, they do everything. They also work with the artists that take the photos they use to get permission. They are ace!

An example of teeth like screwdrivers’ Bjork paste-ups

V: A lot of the people that have sent paste-up packs are people that I trade with quite regularly, so I’m most excited about seeing the work of locals, like Jen and Dr Suits, because I don’t see that many of their paste-ups. I know they’ve been doing it for a long time, but I’ve only seen Jen paste up twice! I’m just super excited to see what some of the people here in Christchurch create and just to have us all together in one space…

CoS: We went with her to do that giant head on the side of that building in town, and we were like, there she is in action!

tls: For people coming to view the show, they won’t know a lot of these artists as well as you do or I do or any of us in the crew do, because we’re always in cahoots and collaborations with them anyways, we’re seeing all their feeds constantly, but if there’s someone coming here for the first time, they’re going to see Vision or YAYA for the first time, and they are going to be like we were when we first saw them, that’s amazing!

CoS: I’m keen to see some of our younger Slap City members or people that work on their own stuff and don’t necessarily always paste with us, alongside all these other guys that are really well-seasoned. I can’t wait to see their growth. I’ve grown so much, because of Vez really, she invited me to the first Slap City and I helped hold the bucket when she put up all the YAYA stuff around town, so that was my initiation and from then I’ve been hooked and just seeing other people get that joy from the show will be amazing.

A Slap City collaboration featuring international artists, including YAYA, Vision and more…

When you’re getting work from so many sources, you often also get an insight into the stories behind the artists. For instance, we had a 6-year-old, who drew robots in New York and pasted them up with his dad, send work in, there was someone who sent work from Iran, and just to get it out of there was a big deal. Have you had any interesting stories come up?

tls: We are not getting stuff out of Iran, but honestly, I’m getting people trying to send stuff to New Zealand and we are not on the list of places to send stuff to for a lot of countries at the moment. There was one person, they sent it to someone else in another country, because then that person could send it here. You wouldn’t ever think that would be an issue.

A selection of the sticker frames set for the International Paste-Up and Sticker Festival

I guess you can get around that by sending a digital file as well…

V: I’ve committed to printing for about three or four people who have struggled to post stuff. It keeps people included.

tls: We don’t need to have the physical person here to do it, although [Australian artist] Tweet is saying she’d love to try and get across, you know people are keen and if the borders were in the right place, we’d probably have a few Aussies coming over.

V: Tweet is in Melbourne, we’ve swapped a few packs, and we’ve developed a friendship, we chat regularly, not even just about art anymore. She’s really keen to come over for the festival and help us out…

tls: Panty Baggers and Larf’n [from Dunedin] were all talking about trying to get up. So, there are Instagram friends sending their artwork and they want to come up…

CoS: When we take photos and put them on Instagram and tag our international friends, it always feels like there’s a great sense of wow, look at us up in New Zealand!

tls: There is a sense of New Zealand being so far away, it is like: I made it to all the way to New Zealand!

CoS: There is a feeling of pride at their work making it all the way to this little island and look at what these people are doing for my art down there…

tls: It’s great! If you think about a street artist in the traditional sense, as someone who is doing pieces on the side of a building or murals, they have to be where their art is, but any one of us can say our art has been shown in numerous festivals around the world. There was one in Athens a couple of months ago. I’ve never been to Athens, but there on this stairway going up from the bottom floor to the mid floor of this building, there’s a giant pencil!

CoS: Vez sent a parcel to Captain Eyeliner in New York a while back and I snuck in some stuff just because I was there as she was packing the envelope and I got my stuff put up in New York!

tls: Some people are like that with New Zealand, like New Zealand!?! Hobbits!?! That’s what they’re thinking, because to the majority of the world, that’s exactly it, we’re on the other side of the world, so to have all that stuff here, in the ether, is pretty exciting. The audience won’t just be the hundred people we get through the door on the night, most of the audience will be online, on Instagram.

Another Slap City and friends collaboration

What have you got happening alongside the exhibition?

tls: Sticker trading is part of what we do. So, all the work that’s coming to us, Vez is doing an amazing job tallying it up and getting the return addresses so that at the end of the festival the leftover stickers will get sent back out to the people who sent stuff to us. It’s a trade like you do already, but instead of a trade with me and they just get a pack of my stupid pencils, its a trade with maybe a hundred artists from around the world that they might never have come across or might never have traded with.

V: I’ll also encourage all the Slap City people to put stickers in as well when we post packs back out.

tls: We’re also going to jazz up some of the spots in the city that we already use, so people can go and have a wander and explore the city as well, like the old Two Fat Indians spot and the Ao Tawhiti wall. It’s not legal, but they don’t get touched too often. We will include the bollard Bloom’s just done [The Paste-Up Project] as well, because that’s us too. We’ll include [New Regent Street bar] WILKO because we did a whole wall in there a few months back…

V: We are going to have an interactive map.

tls: It’s going to be beautifully created by Cape of Storms. This festival is trying to highlight what we do in terms of creating artwork via paper, both in a gallery-style setting, but also by directing people to be more observant in the real-world setting…

Bloom n Grow Gal completing her Paste-Up Project installation on Manchester Street

It’s an important part of events like this, to further instill the city’s reputation as an urban art destination, right?

tls: Street art capital, right? Lonely Planet said so! As a group, we have such a wide range of artistic endeavors, but we’re all tied together by a bucket of paste and a brush. We have people who come along and just draw smiley faces…

CoS: And we have some people working for weeks and weeks, spending months perfecting something. Or somebody like Lost Boy who listens to our conversations and cartoons what we’re chatting about and then pastes it up! I was saying something about how you should never microwave a sausage, because it’s not good, and he drew a cartoon strip about it! It was hilarious!

A Lost Boy paste-up

tls: Sometimes, I’d say relatively regularly actually, we’ll meet up somewhere and the meeting is more important than sitting down and drawing. It’s knowing that you’re just checking in with everybody and having a good week and is everything alright and we’re all good. I might draw two pencils on a piece of paper and that might be it. Other times I might sit down and not talk to anybody and draw 50, it doesn’t matter. We’ve had people come in for one session and we never see them again. We’ve had a kid come with their dad…

CoS: That kid was so shy, but he was so happy to be there.

tls: We’ve also had kids come along on walks and freak out because they get to put a sticker on the side of a wall. We’re not molding it into one thing. It just is what it is.

CoS: It’s also not a session where you necessarily need to bring anything, and you can take away whatever you want from it. I feel like I do a lot of my cutting out, rather than making my collages, which requires a lot of space and a lot of focus. I just get the energy that I need. Also, the confidence of being in a group is important, going out on your own is quite daunting.

tls: That’s the thing we do differently, there’s safety in a gang. We haven’t got patches, but we go out and there’s a couple of spots on Manchester Street where you don’t want to be hanging around by yourself at 10:30pm at night on a Wednesday, but when you’ve got a group giggling, laughing and joking, it makes light of the situation, for sure.

CoS: It also gives us the opportunity to mix our art together in the streets, so we’re not individuals, it becomes a collective thing…

V: One of the nicest things we’ve done is where we take over a whole box and we collage it…

CoS: It’s everybody’s work all at once. It’s so instant, although sometimes people don’t want it to be too chaotic!

A beautiful bird paste-up by Slap City member Salsa Stark

We were talking about the other events…

tls: Oh shit! Yes! So, you’ve got workshops, on the Wednesday after the opening night, it will be similar to what we do already, and we might do one for younger people beforehand. We have the ability to share stuff on the wall here, we have the ability to play music here, we have the ability to do lots of things, which is why we are having it here at TyanHAUS.

How did that relationship with TyanHAUS start?

tls: I judged a youth skateboard competition that was run here on a wet day a while back. We were going to run it at Two Thumbs Brewery, but it was too wet. So, I came down to help Jack [from local skate brand DuckEwe] to judge. I was looking at this big wall and I thought we could cover that! The guys from TYAN were like, yeah, sure, go for it! We did a few workshops here where I drove my car inside and we lay down on the nice clean floor. We talked to them and they were keen to host this festival, so we said yeah let’s do this! Now it’s almost here…

It is going to be a busy time with Flare Street Art Festival as well…

V: We talked about cross promotion, but I feel like everything’s happening at the same time, so people that are interested in street art are going to find out about both…

It is awesome to see these two things overlapping, speaking about the same culture, just from different perspectives…

CoS: I imagine the audience is going to be the same, so I hope that people check out both shows. We’ve done a few of the graffiti workshops at the giant cans and that was awesome. This cross section across the two events is great, with some really big names in graffiti and we have some really big names in paste-up culture, as well as a lot of people that are virtually unknown…

tls: We had to force Lost Boy to get on Instagram, because we wanted to tag him in posts. But he is also totally fine with just coming along and drawing his drawing funny pictures about shit we say. He’s actually got an exhibition opening on the 22nd, its fucking grand! Along with the paste-up show, there will be a Hello! I am the Show exhibition with members of Slap City. It’s not specifically about paper art, but it is connected…

How can people find out more? How can they make sure they don’t miss out on anything?

V: It’s all on our Instagram account, we’ve got a Facebook event set up as well and we are going to get posters printed and pasted up.

Who is supporting the festival?

tls: We’ve got obviously TyanHAUS on board, they’re amazing, we’ve got Hello, who is doing our lovely art show, Karma Cola are doing drinks and there’s talk of a beer and wine sponsor, we don’t need much else. It would be great if there’s someone out there who makes wallpaper paste, hook us up! Or people who can print some stuff for us, hit us up on the Instagram page!

Is there anything else you want to add?

tls: Come along!

CoS: Participate! Do the workshops! Support local artists!

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Follow Slap City on Instagram and Facebook for more information about The International Paste-Up and Sticker Festival. The Festival runs from March 4th to March 12th at TyanHAUS on Carlyle Street, Sydenham

Dr Suits goes to Akaroa…

Back in November, we caught up with our good friend Dr Suits to chat about his experience at Taupo’s Graffiato festival, Aotearoa’s longest running street art festival, what he didn’t let us know at that time was he was in talks about a massive mural on the grounds of Akaroa Area School. Akaroa, the picturesque waterside township south east of Christchurch on Banks Peninsula, is not an expected location for such a project – but word of Dr Suits’ ability to produce bold, striking mural works had obviously spread. In January 2022, Dr Suits and Porta loaded up and headed to Akaroa to spend a week transforming the junior school with colour and the result, Polymorph, is stunning. When he got back we sat down to talk about the project and the technical process…

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How on earth did you find yourself painting such a massive ground mural in Akaroa?

It’s funny, the last thing I talked to you about was Graffiato (the street art festival in Taupo). As soon as I got off the plane in Rotorua after leaving Taupo, I checked my emails, and I had a message from Ross, the principal of Akaroa Area School asking if I would be interested in painting the junior area of their school. He didn’t really give away too much in terms of what he wanted, but it was quite exciting, especially having just painted at Graffiato

You must have felt like you were on a roll! How did you get on their radar?

One of the teachers showed Ross an article about Crossings, the red zone work we painted last year, and he must have thought, that looks good, this artist can paint a ground! I have a ground that needs some paint, so it’s perfect…

Did Crossings inspire the concept or were they already sold on the idea of painting the ground?

They wanted to paint the junior ground and after a conversation with them, they had some really clear ideas about what they wanted. When they asked me to quote the area, I was like, far out, how have this school got the money for this? To go through the design process with a school, I’d imagine it would be quite a long process…

I imagine there are a lot of stakeholders that must be consulted…

Yes. Their ideas were directed at traditional games and instructing children to play in a certain way and interact with the space in a very traditional way, like we probably would have interacted with spaces when we were kids…

You mean like hopscotch, that sort of thing?

Yeah, like Four Square, roads to follow, those types of things. I knew I wasn’t going to have a lot of creative freedom, so I just quoted the job. Anyway, Ross got back to me and said we can’t afford that, which I was expecting, so I called him back and I said, what is your priority? Is it to have those traditional elements, or is it to get a whole lot of color on the ground? He said if we can get that area covered, that’s the priority. So, I got talking to him about how we could make that happen, just using a more mathematical approach to working out surface areas and ordering smartly, basically designing according to how much material would be used…

So, you figured out a formula to achieve that? 

It was quite challenging. I hadn’t really approached the design process in that way before, I usually approach it more artistically. I’ve done it in fashion design, where you’re really conscious about material and how to maximize the design based on materials, so I kind of used that thinking. Basically, I tried to keep the design quite simple and geometric, because curves would slow me down, details would slow me down. I did a few concepts and gave them to my friend Roberto who put them into CAD, and he worked out their surface area, and then I calculated how much product I would need, and I tweaked it from there. I also had to consider the surface of the ground, because if it’s rougher, it’s going take more product, yellows and pinks will need more layers. So, I reduced the yellows and pinks and added more blues, because they cover the ground really well. It was all about efficiency, really.

You’re known for your color palette, particularly in your outdoor mural works and those pinks and yellows are pretty prominent. Was that a challenge to minimise those colors?

Yeah, it wasn’t a challenge as such, but I had to have some in there!

Did you use the paint product that you used for the basketball court in New Brighton?

A similar product.

Which is different to the standard paint that you used in the red zone. So, how did you go about sourcing the paint?

There were a few contenders, but it came down to durability and workability. I’d seen another company that used the same product, and I could see what it looked like in a similar context. I also had conversations with the sales rep. There are a few products within their range that are similar; some are acrylic, some are water-based, which is great, there were others that were chemical-based, which I wanted to avoid. I wanted to avoid playing around with solvents, which are unpleasant to work with and to clean up…

Particularly when you are doing such a massive job as well, that would have required a whole heap more gear just to get the job done…

Yeah. The paint company rep was great, he was really helpful. He probably got sick of me asking questions!

So, this product will be your go to from now on?

Absolutely, I got my head around how to use the product, putting the hardener in, laying it out. I had to get scales, a paint mixer and a few more things. The scales were a bit more expensive than I bargained for, but they came in extremely handy. I mean I couldn’t have done the job without either of those tools. There are different options for the application, the rep even recommended spraying it…

With a pressurized sprayer? Were you tempted? 

Spraying would be OK if you had a sprayer, but you’ve got to take into consideration masking, the wind, clean up and waste, and I wanted to reduce waste. Basically, once this product is mixed together, you have to use it within 40 minutes.

Was it a case of the old ‘measure twice, cut once’, or was there still a little bit of figuring out as you went?

I used a grid system, which meant I could get pretty accurate with the layout and composition, which kept me to plan, but when we were putting down the first coats, if there was half a bucket of product left, I’d improvise and chuck it in somewhere to break it up a bit…

How close was the original design to the finished piece?

I’d say 85 per cent. There are a few add-ons here and there…

That’s always good for the creative process, right?

When I was designing it, I was working on such a small scale and when I actually got into the space, it was so much bigger than the piece of paper or the screen that I was working on. It definitely changes the perception of it. I think one of the coolest parts about the project was being immersed in that color as you’re working on it, really experiencing how colors change when you put them next to each other.

What was the area in square metres?

360 square meters.

Did you look at any comparable mural works in Christchurch? Do you know of any other similarly scaled works?

I didn’t even think about that. I was just focused on the task at hand. But, just to give you an idea of what that looks like, the longest straight line on it was 28 meters.

Wow! On that first day when you started painting or even just gridding it out, did you have to stop and ask yourself: am I going to be able to do this?

No, I’d done all that after I took the job on and designed it and been paid the deposit, that’s when I was like, shit! Am I actually going to be able to do this? It wasn’t until I went out there and had a good look around that I was like, OK, it’s not as big as I’ve built it up in my head.

Did it help as well that you had your trusty compadre, Porta, there with you?

Oh yeah! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Porta’s the man!

There were certain restrictions based on the colour palette, and you had to encourage them to move away from including those ‘instructed play’ elements, but was the final design based on any particular concept or idea other than dynamic shapes and space for play?

That’s it, just dynamic shapes and spaces. I used my trusty collage technique. I cut out some shapes and piece them together, and just subconsciously come up with something.

Have you been able to get feedback yet?

I sent Ross a message on the first day back at school to ask about the big reveal on the first morning of school, his reply was: ‘Awesome!! Thumbs up’. So, I figured, it must have been a big day…

Was it disappointing that you didn’t get to see that first response of the kids yourself?

Yeah, I was a little bit, but as we were working on it, people would walk past daily and even when we had one or two blocks of color down, people were pretty excited. It really started coming together towards the end, I knew as soon as we got the yellow down it would really start to come to life, and then when we put the final blue down at the end, that just tied it all together.

You also added a little touch where you painted a pole bright yellow?

That pole’s funny because I’ve always wanted to do a sculpture exactly like that, with a just off axis yellow line…

You finally got to do it! I was going to say that one of the great aspects of projects like this, and we talked about this with your court in New Brighton, is the way they encourage movement of bodies through and across these spaces (which allows people to engage with and respond to abstract art, even unwittingly). It would be really cool to have a drone video that shows the students moving across the mural.

Ross got some drone footage, with his kids walking on it, not playing unfortunately, but it will be really cool to see. With the COVID situation, schools have been really encouraged to get kids outside, and this work will really help with that…

An unforeseen practicality! Doing something in a place the size of Akaroa, I guess the work would reach the whole township. You said some people came past and saw it, did you get a sense that people were hearing about it and the word was spreading?

I think so. I did have that realization that we could have quite an impactful reach. Basically, if you are a family in that town with kids, they go to that school, and if you grew up in that town, you went to that school. So, hopefully people will be really excited about what we added to the school. The school is a really amazing environment, it’s nestled next to a hillside, there are a lot of native trees and birds, it was really beautiful to just hang out there painting…

Now that you’ve done something to this scale, it sets the precedent. How do you go about finding some new places to paint?

The school got funding from the Ministry of Education for the project and a couple of other projects around the campus, so my next task is to put it all together in a nice little package and reach out to more schools, find out what the funding was and how to go about getting it. Then just push them to apply for the funding to get something like this…

You will be taking more notice of school grounds now I imagine!

There were a lot of restrictions around this project, which made it good for the first one of this scale. Those restrictions really helped make it achievable and set boundaries, so I couldn’t really go too crazy with the design and get in over my head, which could have easily happened. I was learning a new product, I was out of town, if I ran out of something it wasn’t like I could just nip down to buy something. The product had to be ordered in from Auckland. So, if I get another job, closer to home, I’ll be able to push it a bit further and explore the color palette…

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All images supplied by Dr Suits