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…
____________________________________________
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…

____________________________________________

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

Spread the word about what's happening in the Christchurch urban art scene:

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! 

Spread the word about what's happening in the Christchurch urban art scene:

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…

____________________________________________

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!

____________________________________________

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.

Spread the word about what's happening in the Christchurch urban art scene:

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

____________________________________________

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!

____________________________________________

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

Spread the word about what's happening in the Christchurch urban art scene:

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…

____________________________________________

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…

Follow Dr Suits on Instagram to what he has in store next!

All images supplied by Dr Suits

Spread the word about what's happening in the Christchurch urban art scene:

The Paste-Up Project – with Bloom n Grow Gal

The second artist presented with the opportunity to take over the Paste-Up Project bollard, our collaboration with Phantom Billstickers, is Bloom n Grow Gal – our favourite urban gardener! With teethlikescrewdrivers‘ layered pencils cleared off the bollard, it was time for Bloom to add her touch. Unfortunately, the weather decided not to play along, with rain delaying the installation for a few days. But once presented with a dry spell to get pasting, Bloom ensured the Paste-Up Project had a new lease of life.

Utilising the four sections of the bollard, Bloom’s installation plays with two distinct concepts. On alternating sides, a colourful patchwork of her signature A4 flyposter paste-ups declare ‘Not Street Art’, ‘Not An NFT’ or ‘I Can Parallel Park’ across a series of singular blooms, a nod to her works across the city. Interspersed among the blooms are collaborations with Slap City artists, but here, the alterations to the blooms are perhaps more subtle, the flowers maintain the central importance. The A4 posters are a mixture of fluorescent colours, hearkening to the lineage of posters as an effective media for messages, whether advertising for your band’s first gig, searching for a lost pet or making a political statement.

The other two sections are based on large scale white posters containing grainy photographs of dilapidated urban locations, with the white background providing plenty of space (this is important!). Over the top, Bloom has cultivated a range of flowers in bright colours, painted in her stylised line work. Larger than the buildings, they are an invasion – with the appearance of an unexpected addition to the ‘legitimate’ (but ultimately lifeless) posters, once more drawing on the urban theatre for inspiration.

A key part of Bloom’s concept was the ability to revisit the bollard throughout the installation, adding new blooms and allowing evolution. This theory was to come to the fore early when an expected addition of green spray paint was discovered just a day after completion. Not a typical tag or scrawling, it appeared to understand the concept but still threw a curveball for the artist. But, reconciling this occurrence with her intention made it easier and as such, the work is already a unique incarnation of the Paste-Up Project, embracing the potential for change as part of its inherent make-up.

We sat down to chat with Bloom once the paste was dry and talked about her idea, the process and how she has explored new ideas with this work…

____________________________________________

Finding your blooms around town over the last year has been one of my favourite discoveries, so it was an easy decision to get you on board as the second artist in the Paste-Up Project! What was your initial reaction to the invitation?

Wow! I was so privileged! I couldn’t believe that I’d been chosen to do this project, and when I found out people like teeth like screwdrivers and Cape of Storms were also getting on board, to put myself up against those guys, I was like, are you serious?! Yeah, it was kind of amazing!

What did you make of teeth’s installation? Did you take any inspiration from it, or did you already have an idea of what you wanted to do?

Even now I’m still getting all these ideas of what I could have done or what I should have done. My first idea was to do a grocery shop with flowers coming out of it, I mean it could still be an idea, but I remember when teeth’s work went up, I was like, OK, he’s done all these collabs with people, and I felt the pressure that I had to make mine look the same. But then I re-read the brief and realised that that’s not necessarily my kind of style. Reaching out to people, collaborating with people isn’t really what I do. That is very much a teeth like screwdrivers thing, so I focused on myself. My original design didn’t really match the brief and that’s why I took it back to the blocks with the individual blooms and the statements. They are something that I really enjoy and even today I get people sending me these photos of ones from lock down saying: ‘Spread Your Legs’, ‘I Can Dance’, ‘I Can Party’, even ones that have been slightly adjusted with random words written underneath like ‘Daddy’ – I just love that! So, to me it was important to include those after reading the brief. The photos were something that came from people sending me pictures of blooms from all over the world, saying they reminded them of my art, but also, just keeping an eye out for beautiful things in unexpected places.

You do have some Slap City collabs in there too, Cape of Storms, Lost Boy, teeth like screwdrivers and others have added their touch to some of the blooms, so that influence is still there a little bit…

Yeah, I’m quite a solo person, so when I realized that people wanted to join in with my blooms, it was really nice because I never thought it would be something that could be possible. How could you do anything with these? They are what they are. It was nice to find out that they were adaptable for people. The Slap City collabs were a last-minute thing and they actually worked! It was really warming.

I really liked your idea of an urban bloom just appearing in these unexpected places, something that some people might overlook and walk past, but that other people will see as a beautiful little bit of nature that has found a way to exist in an environment that tries not to let things like that exist. I think the contrast of the black and white photographs with the colored blooms painted over the top really brings that out. I really love that contrast of the color against the black and white, it’s a reminder that the world can be quite boring without letting nature have those little moments of revelation. The other thing I like is the nice lineage in all those A4 pieces, the slogan pieces with the individual blooms, that make me think of fly-postering, whether that is independent gig posters or political messages, there’s something nice about that repeated block. In the same vein, the larger posters almost seem like an interplay between what you’d expect to find on the bollards and an unexpected addition. There is a feeling they are supposed to be on the bollard, and then the flowers are kind of like this addition, this subversion. Are those references to the urban environment something that you were intending?

Yeah, for me, this graffiti part of my life is something I’m learning about myself over the last couple of years. It was never something I pictured myself doing. For me, graffiti was like this aggressive writing all over the walls around Derry [the town where Bloom grew up in Northern Ireland], but then I discovered that graffiti could be literally whatever you want it to be. I started looking at these plants and flowers growing out of buildings and seeing them as graffiti as well in a way; they’re not really supposed to be there, but they are there because they want to be there and nature gave them everything that they needed to grow there, which is what I really love. It gave me the confidence to start doing my own little blooms on buildings. I’ve always really been into design and color, I’m always wearing lots of little pops of color; I’ll wear an orange jumper and a pink pair of pants, blue shoes and a green coat or something. I love blocks of colour, so it’s important for them to be in my art, which is where the A4 posters come in. I guess the big black and white posters that Phantom helped with, that was me trying to bring my love of photography to the installation. I would never say I’m a photographer, but I just love taking photos of flowers growing out of places they’re not supposed to, because it’s beautiful. I love capturing the negative space around these flowers growing out of buildings, which is what the white spaces represent.

Are your blooms a reference to weeds? Weeds are kind of vilified, but they can still be so beautiful and intricate, aspects that are overlooked because of the way we are told to get rid of weeds…

I’m starting to not use the word weeds, I hate that word! It’s a word that I just can’t get out now because I’m like, they are not weeds! They are flowers! They are beautiful, I don’t want to pull them out!

I love their durability and persistence, they can thrive in places where they are being set up to fail, they are still able to find the space to exist. The other thing I love about the photos with the flowers over the top is the way that scale is flipped, rather than a tiny growth or bloom at the bottom of the wall, they are bigger than the buildings, and there’s something really powerful about that. It reminds me of those science fiction movies where people go to some strange new world, where flowers and plants are the size of cars and buildings, it makes us aware that we aren’t above nature.

I’m really enjoying that there’s no limitations when you’re doing something like this. I can just get into this dream world, and I can go as big as I want with a flower or as tiny as I want with a flower at the side of the road.

What about the process? The bollard is a big proposition, and a lot of your blooms in the streets are relatively small, so how did you find the challenge of filling the bollard?

It took longer than I thought it would, that’s for sure! I’m so used to doing a lot of prep work at the house, sat drawing my flowers over and over again, but I don’t usually spend as much time at a wall pasting up. It is so important for me to individually draw every single flower, I don’t have it in me to photocopy multiples of the same flower because that would take away the point of what it is…

Because that doesn’t happen in nature, right? No flower is the same…

Yeah, you can’t just photocopy a flower, it’s got to be different, that’s something that I’ve really stuck by. So, there’s the prep work of doing all those flowers, which is fine, because I can do them sat on my sofa, but when I was out there doing the bollard to took much longer. It was nice, because it felt like I had a bit of importance, with the road cones, and just sat there just pottering away, so it didn’t feel like there was that pressure that you get when you’re out wheat pasting at night, looking over your shoulder. The bollard was an awesome experience and I enjoyed taking my time, but I think getting out there on the streets, doing it as quick as you can and then running away and doing another wall, I love that!

It is a very different process and energy to working on the streets without permission…

I think that’s why I got a little bit upset when someone spray painted on the bollard, because it wasn’t just street art, it was actually me being an artist. When I came back a couple of days later after I had spent the time painting onto the bollard and it had been sprayed over, it was like somebody had gone into an art gallery and sprayed over my work. It’s a reality when you’re doing it without permission and something that you just have to accept, but when you are putting that extra time into something that you are doing in a different way, it’s a bit more disheartening.

It is interesting because that addition wasn’t what you would normally expect. It was almost like someone came and added grass, they haven’t gone over the top of certain elements, it’s strangely respectful…

It took a took a moment for me to understand it, but then, looking back at my idea and why I did those two boards with the photos and the white negative space around them, it was because something was supposed to grow in those places. Something grew so much faster than I thought it would though! It must have been all the rain! But yeah, I think I just have to be accepting that it happened…

Your work in the streets has always been quite adventurous in terms of materials, you are willing to pick up new materials, from works on wood to little ceramic tiles to various paste up styles and stickers, you aren’t afraid to experiment. In this case, you will be revisiting the site throughout the time of the installation, which means it becomes a fun experiment where you have the space to evolve ideas, which could open new doors…

I have literally grown and bloomed during this process and that is the whole point of my art and my journey. This shit happened, what can I do about it? How is it going to grow and bloom into something else? Because it is forever changing, just like the blooms outside are forever changing. It’s nice, just because you thought something was finished doesn’t mean it is finished. Not that I’m encouraging it, but it would be interesting to see if anything else happens to it that’s not me…

Which means figuring out how you can embrace it and make it part of your own work. So lastly, who do you want to thank?

You for pretty much stripping the bollard! I turned up when there wasn’t that much left to do, but still whinged a lot! Phantom (especially Mike from Phantom for helping paste those big posters up, what a sweetie!) and the Christchurch City Council. The guy who didn’t give me a parking ticket! Ben for bringing me a cup of coffee and Jamie for bringing me some sugar. My dog Milk for keeping me company…

She was very good!

Watch This Space, and the sun for finally coming out so I could finish it!

Thank you for coming on board and adding your lovely blooms to the Paste-Up Project, we look forward to seeing how it’s going to evolve over the next couple of months! Is there anything else you want to say?

I‘m away to plant some seeds to grow some blooms so I can add them to them bollard!

____________________________________________

Follow Bloom n Grow Gal to see what she gets up to next, and keep your eyes and ears peeled for more about The Paste-Up Project on our channels!

Oh, and get down to the site on Manchester Street to see this amazing installation in the flesh!

Spread the word about what's happening in the Christchurch urban art scene:

Dr Suits goes to Taupo

Our pal Dr Suits recently ventured to the beautiful Taupo for Aotearoa’s longest running urban art festival Graffiato, an event now over a decade old. With the dust settled on a whirlwind trip, we thought it would be good to catch up with the artist to hear about the experience and his production on the town’s BNZ building. With a diverse catalogue of public works, it is surprising that this was Dr Suits’ first time as a featured artist at a festival, with his abstract compositions providing a stylish point of difference from other mural styles. Joined by his good buddy and technical painting whizz Porta, Dr Suits created a striking, colourful piece that explored subtle developments of his style, with tonal variations and new iconography drawn from his studio practice, providing that point of difference from other guest artists, which included the likes of Milarky and Xoë Hall as well as a selection of local artists…

How did the opportunity to paint at Graffiato come about?

The invitation came as a bit of a surprise, really. I was walking along the beach at the time, and my phone pinged, it was Olivia Laita from Aotearoa Urban Arts Trust, asking if I was interested in doing Graffiato this year. She was curating the event and thought that my focus on abstraction would be a point of difference to what they already had, so she just wanted to reach out to see if I was keen. This would have been well before lockdown at the start of the year, so Olivia and I have been in contact via email since then…

Image via Graffiato Taupo Street Art

How much did you know about Graffiato?

I knew a wee bit about it. I knew that Wongi has been, that Handbrake and Chimp have been, so I knew a few artists that have been part of it, but I hadn’t really done much research into it. I didn’t realise how many murals they actually have up in Taupo, so I was blown away when I actually got up there…

This is the eleventh year of Graffiato, it is the country’s longest running street art festival. I am not super familiar with Taupo, but it’s not massive, so when you have been doing something that long, the legacy must build up…

Definitely. It’s run by an organization called Town Centre Taupo, so all of the murals are focused around the central business district which is not a huge area, so if you find one of them, you’ve found a vein and you just follow them around…

That is exactly how I like to get to know new places, I find some street art and let it lead me to more…  In terms of your festival experience, you had some involvement with the Rise and Spectrum shows here, but this is your first out-of-town event, and also your first time as a headline artist. Knowing that your work is somewhat non-traditional in terms of muralism, coupled with your strong studio output, have festivals and public works always been a goal?

I really like the idea of diversity within my work and having a broad range of outputs. Murals are lots of fun and a good way to reach a diverse audience as well. So, is it a goal? Yeah, sure. Is it my main goal? Not really, I’ve got lots of goals. I don’t tend to hang on to one too strongly…

Dr Suits’ red zone roadside mural

There is an increasing number of events in Aotearoa now, with Boon Street Festival, Whanganui Walls, South Sea Spray…

I’m totally open to those invitations, festivals are lots of fun. You meet lots of great people, you get to be part of a broader community and you get your work out there as well…

You are process-focussed as an artist. How is the conception and execution of a mural work different from your studio output?

It comes down to the wall. For instance, the nature of the wall in Taupo was challenging because it was broken into two sections and it was elevated from the ground. Above the wall was a series of windows, including to round port-holes, and down the right-hand side there was a pipe. It was a challenge, but I just designed around them. I mean, I could imagine someone who’s going to paint a realistic style might find that really distracting, but because I work in composition, I could use it to my advantage and make it part of the design. I just had to take into consideration where I could use my big brush [the artist’s handmade tool for creating textural patterns] and the directions I could drag it, and which areas I would want to do block colours, like over the pipe to make it disappear. I realized I needed to not do much with the big brush or go too technical at the top, where I would have to mask out the windows. I didn’t want to waste my time masking those windows out.

Dr Suits at work in Taupo (Image via Graffiato Taupo Street Art)

People may not realise that there is real time pressure for these types of events. You were saying you pulled a 14-hour day on the Saturday…

Yeah, we flew up on the Friday, and painted the Saturday and Sunday, we had the option to paint on Monday as well if we needed it, and then we flew home on the Tuesday. The weather was looking pretty patchy for the weekend. So, I decided to modify and simplify the mural ever so slightly, just to make sure that the rain wasn’t going to be a hindrance…

And you had some help?

The coolest thing about the invite was that they asked if I wanted to bring someone with me. Straight away I was like, I’m taking Porta! He’s a machine and we work so well together. We just look at the picture, we hardly even need to talk. We are in sync. By bringing Porta, we got through so much more work than if I was trying to explain things to a local artist.

There is a level of trust, as well I suppose, and that synchronicity is vital. Also, Porta’s so relaxed that it just helps eliminate the potential for stress…

We’ve got really similar taste in music, so that helps as well…

I can imagine! So, tell us more about the actual work, you touched on some of the elements. The work seems to combine elements of previous outdoor works you have created, but it also brings in aspects that have been prominently featured in your studio work as well, so it seems like a slightly new direction in some ways…

That was the idea. It was an open brief and I wanted to do something that was really striking, I wanted it to be recognizable within both my studio work and from of my past murals or ground works. I wanted to smoosh everything together and come up with something that the town likes, and if they don’t, well I like it….

Dr Suits and Porta add some detail (Image via Graffiato Taupo Street Art)

Originally the plan was for you to do a ground mural, right?

Yeah, Olivia saw the basketball court and the piece that I did in the red zone and was really excited to get a piece on the ground, but it never fell into place. They showed me places that wouldn’t be suitable, like a tiled surface or a rough paved area. The places they had available were mainly pedestrian areas because a lot of the town at the moment is currently being redesigned, so all their roads and the way the traffic moves is being redone and they didn’t want to get something painted and just dig it up. So, we went down the road of painting the BNZ building, which was cool, I’m stoked on that wall…

A festival is intended to have a level of public engagement, but we live in the age of Covid and obviously that affected the event, there were quite a few artists and Olivia herself, based in Auckland, who couldn’t be there, and I’m sure there were other changes, did you still get a sense of that communal festival experience?

Absolutely, the crew have been running Graffiato for eleven years. You can tell that they are really passionate about looking after the artists and making sure the public are engaged. They run a well-oiled machine. They’ve got good sponsorship with paints and equipment, so when we were picked up From the airport they were like, do you guys want to start today or tomorrow? The weather was looking pretty iffy, so we said it would be good to start that afternoon and they just said, sweet, we will get you a scissor lift onsite by 3pm and you can start. They had the projector back at the house and we were good to go. We were well looked after, they put us up in a really nice Air B’n’B, there was food in the fridge, with beers and wine. We had a little car to zip round in…

Dr Suits’ final production for Graffiato (Image via Graffiato Taupo Street Art)

Those types of things make a big difference, right?

It just made it so easy for us to paint the wall. They would bring us lunch at the wall. They had a volunteer sitting on the wall with us to talk to visitors so we weren’t getting distracted, unless we wanted to be. Big ups to Linda, she would hand people a map and a flier with all the information about the festival and talk to them about where the next closest mural is and talk about our mural. There was a photo of our concept down at the bottom and she would talk them through it. That volunteer element meant that we could actually get the work done in the time frame. There have been commercial murals that I have worked on where people are coming and going all day and pretty much someone is always talking to a visitor…

It is interesting, because talking to people is a really important part of this new profile of urban art, so you don’t want to seem too cranky or unapproachable, and of course, it can be fascinating meeting new people, but it can end up eating up a lot of time. You were the only South Island artist at the event this year, why do you think there is often an under-representation of our artists at these North Island events in particular?

Maybe it just comes down to the cost. The logistics of getting artists up there. I mean, the other artists probably just would have driven. I know Milarky just drove from New Plymouth…

We have such a strong reputation here in Christchurch in particular, but maybe you are right, it might be the practicalities, although we still bring a lot of North Island artists down to events here. With all that said, who did you enjoy spending time with?

Me and Porta and Milarky were in the same house, so we got to hang out a little. But I just really enjoyed hanging with Porta, we basically spent the whole weekend together, apart from when I was asleep. Apart from that we didn’t really hang out that much with the other artists. There was a briefing at the start and we all caught up at the end for some pizzas and beers, but everyone was really trying to negotiate the weather and seeing if they could maximise the sun and weren’t really away from their wall. Julie, one of the organizers from Town Centre Taupo, picked us up from the airport and was saying there is a bit of a running joke that she chains the artists to the walls. She makes it so that the artist doesn’t have to leave other than to go to the toilet. If you need paint, they will go get it, if you need coffee, they will go get it. They do a circuit, and you see them every hour with paint or coffee or something to eat, you just put in an order…

Follow Dr Suits on Instagram for more of his work

Follow Graffiato on Instagram to see what other artists got up to…

Spread the word about what's happening in the Christchurch urban art scene:

Even More: The Show

We sat down with Lydia Thomas (a.k.a. Bloom n Grow Gal) recently to talk about her work and her show Peanut Butter & Jam at Flux, which featured a selection of artists from the SlapCity collective. Lydia is not the type to sit still and she is already getting ready to present her next show, the follow up to More: The Show at the Boxed Quarter earlier this year. More: The Show and the new exhibition Even More: The Show are a platform for Ōtautahi female artists, from painters and illustrators to designers and craft artists, from those who work at home, in the studio or in the streets. The premise is to ensure the scope of creativity is not restricted and that people are empowered to show their work to the world, in many cases, for the first time in an exhibition setting. That intention is revelatory of Lydia’s generous nature, she is infectiously energetic and it is always a pleasure to sit down and chat about what she has in store with the latest Hello, I am the Show event…

It wasn’t too long ago that we sat down to talk about Peanut Butter & Jam

Yes!

I imagine you woke up the next day and were straight onto this new project, right?

Yeah, I have like two days of rest and then I’m like, right, what can I do now? I always tell myself I’m going to have a holiday, that I’ll take a break, but I can’t sit still. I need to be focusing on the next challenge. I wanted to fit another More show in before Christmas, that was my goal. It has definitely been more challenging this time around with COVID, but just having something to look forward to has been the big drive this time, we need this, we can’t keep canceling things and postponing things. I mean, if you are going into lock down then you have to, but I felt like I had to keep this one going!

This show is the second incarnation of the More: The Show concept, with a new line-up of local female artists, was it always something that you thought was going to become a recurring series?

Nah, I didn’t. I mean, I never thought it was going to work! That’s probably terrible to say, but you know, I was like, I’ll just give it a go. I thought that it would only attract a couple of artists, but then more artists wanted to get involved and I just can’t say no to people. So, the show happened, and afterwards I was getting messages asking when’s the next show was coming. I think what excites me about being able to run your own show is that I’m in charge of the rules and I can make the decisions around what kind of art I want. I love giving the opportunity to people who do embroidery or street art and giving them a platform to put it in a show. I’m so excited this time around, I’ve got people showing clothes and mustard tins, it is so out of the box that I really, really like it.

From what I’ve seen already seen, it is a diverse range of artists… 

Yeah, it’s great!

With More: The Show you started with an expectation that it would be small, but then people would say, I’ve got a friend who does this, or I’ve got another friend who does that… Has it been the same this time?

More got a small following on social media and then I created a website which is a collection of the shows and the artists, as well as promoting my own art. I wanted it to become a catalogue. I created a subscription box that people can subscribe to hear about More shows. I realized I needed to actually have a new show that people are going to subscribe to hear about! It’s mind blowing when you start getting subscribers and you have no idea who they are. I don’t really know where half the people have come from, which is great, that’s the point of it, I feel like I’m doing my job! It’s easy if I’m only targeting my friends…

As you grow, everybody brings their own world to it as well and increases the eyes on it, right? Lockdowns have showed us more than ever the importance of having some type of outlet and creating the opportunity for people to reveal what they’re doing is really empowering, for those artists and for you. The artists realise that what they are doing is important, it might not be changing the world, it might be a very personal thing, but it is still really valid and that’s really important…

For Peanut Butter & Jam, I’d approached people teethlikescrewdrivers, who just never associated themselves with being an artist, and he pulled it off and it was amazing, and it’s the same this time around. I’ve got somebody who has produced this beautiful macrame lamp shade and I asked for her artist bio and she was like: artist bio? I’m an artist? Yes, you are! Look at this beautiful masterpiece that somebody’s going to buy and hang and it’s gorgeous. It’s about changing people’s perceptions that what they’re doing is art and it is beautiful.

While it is an all-female line-up, there is no thematic brief, right? That it is all female artists is enough for it to be powerful…

Yeah, I would get messages asking: what’s the theme? What do I have to stick by? For me, the fact that it was a female art show was enough. I don’t want to restrict it any more than that. It’s a platform for females to do what they want to do. There’s no rules after that. Just do what’s on your mind, do what feels right in the moment. That’s what I’ve done and it seems to work so far.

That’s kind of the philosophy that runs through it all?

I don’t feel like I’ve been in enough art shows to know what I’m doing, I don’t know how I’m pulling it off! Other than when I was at university, I’ve been in very few art shows, so my experience with running them is that I’m just a very kind of organised person, I know how I like things and that’s how I’m doing it. I’m not really sure how other people have worked in the past with shows, but I get so many emails asking is this going to be OK? Is this going to work? Or saying: I’ve done this now, I’m worried. My response is always, it’s cool! It will work! It’s going to work! I just have this mindset that it’s going to work no matter what happens, so don’t stress. If I’m not stressing, you shouldn’t be stressing!

In the past, there might have been a tendency to follow a traditional approach, so I think that by not adhering to conventional rules, it reflects where this city is now. Speaking of where it’s at, you’ve got a new venue for this for this show as well…

I’m in the old Green Lane which is the new Clubhouse Creative. Originally the first More was supposed to be there and I got a bit panicked about the walls and thought maybe I just need to start small. But this time around I was like, I can do this now. I want more artists. I want to give more people the option to be involved. The walls are massive so people can submit bigger pieces as well, because last time some artists enjoyed the challenge to do something around the A3 size, but this time they wanted to go big or go home. So, to put it in a warehouse was exciting. I love that kind of grimy, dirty look as well. I’m not so much into white walls. I like off-white, dirty walls with texture…

It also brings up the possibility to think beyond hanging a piece on a wall, maybe more object art, or works that sprawl out in different forms, almost like installations. Now that you have more room you can have a broader scope of display. Have those conversations come up?

There’s been a bit of talk about live art and things like that, like we did with Peanut Butter & Jam. I’ve got a bit of a performance for the opening night with people hula hooping and things like that and there will be a DJ, but I didn’t go down the line of live art this time. I think the whole Hello, I am The Show idea is something that I really want to keep developing and working on and I think for the new year, my goal is to get somebody else on board that can help me with extra little touches to just go bigger. This time around there is like 35 female artists, I know, it has got too much again! Doing the socials, making sure everybody’s kept in the loop, all of that is so important to me and every time I bite more off than I can chew! So, I need to get somebody else on board. Someone who is just as passionate and also doesn’t mind putting in a lot of work for not a lot of money! But there are a lot of good feelings that you get back instead!

Do you think you will explore individual shows, or is the concept strongly collaborative and sort of community-based?

My idea is not collaboration as such, it’s the pop-up idea that I love: here’s a space, let’s pop something up for a couple of days then it can disappear again, kind of like street art, you know? You don’t know how long it’s going be there, so you have got to go and see it. So, I would love to work with individual shows and things like that in that context, with like a tent or a caravan maybe that appears around town.

Give us your best sales pitch for Even More: The Show!

I’ve drawn a blank! No, here: Even More: The Show. Female artists from around Ōtautahi. Opening night is on Thursday 14th October, 5:30 to 8:00pm. There will be wine, there will be beer. There is going to be such a broad selection of art, there will literally be something for everybody. Big things, tiny things, beautiful things, sparkly things, clothes… It’s on for two days after opening night, so you have got to get in there, that’s the fun of it!

Thanks Lydia!

Get down to Clubhouse Creative (22 Southwark Street) on Thursday, 14th October, 2021 for the opening of Even More: The Show, from 5:30pm to 8:00pm. Even More: The Show is open 15th – 16th October. For more information, head to Hello. I am the Show on Facebook

Spread the word about what's happening in the Christchurch urban art scene:

The Paste-Up Project – ‘Community, Collaboration and Connection’ by teethlikescrewdrivers

The Paste-Up Project is a collaboration between Watch This Space, Phantom Billstickers and a selection of Ōtautahi’s finest paste-up and poster artists. With support from the Christchurch City Council, one of Phantom’s Manchester Street bollards has been transformed into a paste-up art installation space for the next 12 months, with local artists commissioned to push their work in new directions with a three-month takeover. The Paste-Up Project bollard serves as a supported platform for one of urban art’s most enduring forms and for the long historical lineage of urban postering (just ask Phantom!), with artists enabled to grow the scale and material qualities of their work within a setting that will challenge the perceptions of an ephemeral form of art.

First up at bat is teethlikescrewdrivers, an easy choice really as he is the driving force behind SlapCity, the loose collective that has embraced the potential of stickers and paste-ups across Ōtautahi. His instantly familar, yet continually beguiling pencil icon has become a recurring feature of the urban landscape. The simplicity of the image opens up a range of potential readings, and yet requires none, it exists, it is, and that is enough. More notable for the Lyttelton artist, is the sense of collaboration and community that his urban art adventures have instituted – from online mash-ups to weekly meet ups to explore the city, teethlikescrewdrivers constantly strives for connections and in doing so has created an expansive network of disparate, yet kindred spirits who see the urban landscape as one of play.

His installation for The Paste-Up Project embraces these ideas, celebrating each in a segmented yet cohesive production that will be on display for the next three months in central Christchurch. Of course, the pencil is the star, refashioned and re-formed across the circular base, and in doing so speaking to the various personalities who have inspired, influenced and embraced the artist’s signature form. But that’s enough from me, let’s hear from teethlikescrewdrivers as he explains his installation…

 

Photo Credit: Linda Glasgow

For the two people who don’t know you already, introduce yourself…

Hi, I’m teethlikescrewdrivers and I draw pencils.

I will admit that there was really no other choice for the first artist up for this project – what was your take when we first discussed the concept?

Really? Oh man.

Initially I was doubtful, mostly of myself! I couldn’t really think of anything other than doing bigger pencils and I wanted to give the space something it deserved. I’m fine with doing more pencils, but it wasn’t really bringing anything new to the table. After a few discussions with people and reading the brief, I started to think more about the possibilities it offered someone who usually only does one thing.

It is a surprisingly big space, how did you come up with the concept to fill the bollard and what incarnations did you go through?

I was going to just use it as one giant nine metre-squared canvas. After a few visits with a tape measure and some really basic planning, I decided to divide it into small, medium and large ‘panels’. This then made me start thinking about three themes. It kind of rolled on from there.

Your piece is titled Community, Collaboration and Connection, and it reflects the various elements that form such integral components of your experience in the world of urban art, how does each section relate?

After I settled on three panels, the themes were easy. I wanted to highlight paste-ups as a medium and have the chance to play around with that, I wanted to introduce more of the international sticker and paste-up community to Christchurch and I was always going to give our SlapCity family some love. I had to measure up pretty accurately for the community one, just so the pencil slotted in. The collaboration panel used the Vermin poster (Vermin is an artist from Manchester in the UK) as a starting point and then I just filled in the space like a sticker bomb. The big connection wall I had a rough idea for…kinda . I figured if I turned up with all the stuff I had, made and cut pastes on the spot and used posters salvaged from clearing the bollard something would happen. I just started throwing up stuff and discovering gems!

Photo Credit: Linda Glasgow

You got to play around with some cool material concepts, from large scale pastes to smaller overlapped pieces and of course the tearing away of layers, tell me more about each of these ideas…

Firstly the  bollard is bloody ginormous, so I knew making three-metre tall pencil was going to be a struggle and would basically cover a whole panel. By splitting it I was able to physically manage it and still give a chance for the stuff behind to be seen. On the connection wall I really got to play with all the layers; negative spaces and using cool materials such as the old posters and wallpaper. On the second day I came back and started tearing into the layers from the day before, I really enjoyed that element of the process. I also really liked making my own wallpaper and giving the whole thing depth.

You spent a sunny weekend on the bollard, what was it like to have the time to explore the ideas you had developed – it must have been a new experience compared to the missions with friends. Did you find it still quite communal? I imagine it was like a mural painter – do you have any interesting stories of people stopping to chat or asking questions about what you were doing?

I kind of set up camp for the weekend, it was ace. I had a picnic table for drawing and cutting paste-ups, a speaker playing music, my car right there and my shit spread out all over the place. It was ideal! I had lots of good chats with passers-by about the bollard and my car; both great conversation starters. Having the time to step back really helped the big panel come together. That one is more artistic, I guess, it’s less about one piece and more about layers and how they fit together so time helped.

Oh, I almost got signed up to the Peninsula Trampers Club by one old fella who I had a good chat with! Did you know there are a whole bunch of boulders like the ones at Moeraki, but in the streams inland!? You do now!

My whanau popped by and I had a lunchtime beer with a bunch of mates and lots of people came and hung out. It was like a paste-up Glastonbury!

What were some of the challenges you faced? It is obviously not a traditional flat surface…

The wind and the physical size of the paste-ups were the big ones. But because I had time I was able to leave stuff and come back to it, or think my way around it.

What are your hopes for The Paste-Up Project, not just in terms of your own installation but as a concept? Do you see it as a way to change perceptions, or at least the visibility of paper art in Ōtautahi?

I hope it opens the door for more artists to get their stuff up. There is a real delight in putting your work up in the streets rather than in a frame or on Instagram. Having a dedicated paste-up ‘show’ really lets people see some of the more established artists’ work and hopefully inspires others to get out there into the streets with a bucket and brush or just a pocket full of homemade stickers. Down the line I would love to see this kind of collaboration move into different towns and cities.

You have developed a web of connections around the world with artists through collabs and trades, and many are featured on the bollard, have you had any responses from those people overseas yet? What have the responses been like from the local scene?

Instantly! The collab wall was really just a huge collab and mash-up sticker bomb and everyone is always stoked to see a bit of their work in one, especially way down here in Christchurch. I think there are mash-ups and collabs with over 50 artists on that panel; everywhere from Brazil, Russia, most of Europe and even just down the road.

I’ve had comments from people about how well my pencil scales up, this was a good test for that! I was really stoked with the Vermin collab, it looks epic as a huge poster and you can really appreciate all the details. I was also really pleased to get work up in New Zealand from good friends from overseas.

Do you hope this is just the start of more opportunities like this, and if so, do you have any ideas of how it might be harnessed?

I really hope so. I would love to see sticker and paste-up walls as part of the ‘street art’ scene alongside graffiti and murals here in New Zealand. Maybe down the road a sticker and paste-up show? It would be amazing to see some dedicated paste-up walls or permissioned spaces in the city. Personally, I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing and see where it leads me.

While the weather was perfect for installation, it rained heavily just a day later, what impact did that have and were you philosophical about it?

I think putting a layer of straight-up PVA onto wet paste last thing was a double-edged sword. The next day the whole thing was covered in white streaks and all the paper was still really wet, I thought I’d knackered it! But after a while it dried clear and I think will add a bit more protection in the long run. The good thing about all paste-ups is you can always add more layers. If it all falls to bits over the next few months I will just go and tear a bunch off and add more.

Who do you want to shout out?

Watch This Space, Phantom, the Christchurch City Council, the SlapCity family and all the amazing venues that have let us use their spaces over the past two years. All the artists here in Christchurch who paved the way and have got us to a point where a project like this can even happen. My whanau and all the rad artists who have let me use their art for mashups or who have taken my pencils and messed with them.

Follow teethlikescrewdrivers to see what he gets up to next, and keep your eyes and ears peeled for more about The Paste-Up Project on our channels!

Oh, and get down to the site on Manchester Street to see this amazing installation in the flesh!

Spread the word about what's happening in the Christchurch urban art scene:

Cracked Ink – The Character (Part Two)

We pick up with the second part of our interview with Cracked Ink immediately where we left off, discussing the artist’s entrance into the festival scene and how it necessitated a different approach to his work. For Cracked Ink, his character-based creations have unlimited narrative potential, dancing their way across walls, their interactions place them as story tellers. Jump back into our conversation with Cracked Ink as he reflects on the importance of knowing your worth, the role of social media, and the balancing act of an artistic career…

____________________________________________

As you started doing events and festivals like Sea Walls, did it make you think more about the process of creating murals? A lot of artists coming up now, they are almost immediately thinking of large-scale muralism, but that hasn’t always been the case, that transition for writers and for character-based artists or artists who were working in that post-graffiti style, muralism wasn’t necessarily the end goal…

It certainly became more narrative driven, which was actually really good for me, it made me look at my own work. The Sea Walls stuff, it’s all about ocean conservation, which allowed me to start to drill into different narratives. Is it just a visual that people want to see, or a story? It really made me look at my stuff and ask how can I push it in different directions and use different narratives? It was a kick in the ass for me a little bit, it got me thinking again. I started off with good intentions of trying to do something with content, but sometimes you drift off into this little abyss and you forget what it was all about. So that really helped me to re-centre and rethink my own game and what I was doing. From my perspective, these days new people are coming into it from different worlds, which is totally cool and amazing, there are talented artists coming into this world of muralism and stuff, but they didn’t necessarily get the opportunity to grow up the way I got into it, which is going out and painting. I don’t think it is right, I don’t think it’s wrong…

It’s just different.

I think it’s just the way life is. The trajectory of these things, the whole thing has changed.

Cracked Ink's design for the Home mural festival event in 2020, delivered by Pangea Seed, Sea Walls, the Alternative Arts Initiative and Whanganui Walls
Cracked Ink’s design for the Home mural festival event in 2020, delivered by Pangea Seed, Sea Walls, the Alternative Arts Initiative and Whanganui Walls

It will be interesting to look back and see the direction of muralism under these new influences. Askew made a similar point recently about how the motivations for graffiti are completely different now that young people have more platforms to express themselves. It used to be that you felt invisible and graffiti was a way to be seen, now you can post selfies 400 times a day on Instagram. That doesn’t mean graffiti becomes futile or pointless, it just means that the motivations have changed.

It’s interesting the whole dynamic with social media. As it has picked up speed over the past five years, it has changed so much. When I first signed up for all this social media stuff it was exciting, because it was about getting your work out there. But it quickly became a bit of a drain, just that whole thing of checking my phone and going through it all. I mean it is an amazing tool to share your work and for people to follow it and catch up on what you’re doing, but that need for likes and follows can make it tough to navigate…

I sometimes think it has the potential to take people away from the primary act of making and doing. You get the feeling for some people, understanding and manipulating algorithms of social media becomes the drive, rather than celebrating the work, it feels less organic. That original power of allowing people to put things in the world, empowering people, it feels like it is now overshadowed by the commercial potential of it all…

I feel sorry for the guys and girls growing up on these platforms. I feel like the purpose of why you do your art, it should always be for yourself. It should never be for someone else, the purpose of being creative and doing art is for you. It’s that outlet of yourself. When you start trying to please other people, it changes. You should be doing it for yourself, and from that people are going to like it, people are going to dislike it, but that shouldn’t change what you do. That’s a big thing that I have stuck to, I always do it for my own reasons. If other people like it, then happy days. If they don’t, that’s not my problem. I’ve always had that attitude. Once you put it onto that platform, whether people are hating it or people are loving it, you have no control over that, it shouldn’t be a focus. Creativity has never been about that.

Once you start fishing for things it becomes problematic because you start listening to an audience rather than building an audience. That’s another issue with the likes of Instagram, we are exposed to styles and trends and we start thinking about how to jump on them. In the past, it was more localised, the engagement was more real and immediate, it didn’t seem so curated. But it also meant that you were influenced by what worked in your surrounding environment. Speaking of local environments, you established the Whanganui Walls event in your hometown a few years ago, what was the inspiration to start your own festival?

Being part of the scene for 20 years and being part of so many festivals, I found it had a really interesting dynamic. When I first started, the chance of painting a big wall was kind of the ultimate goal, and with festivals you would get to paint what you want, generally. Over the years, seeing and being a part of these events, the major thing that I noticed was the amount of stuff that a city was getting and the artists were willing to go and do it for free. It is tricky because when we initially started painting, we’d go and paint stuff in the street, because that’s your zone, that’s your place, you want to be there. But there is a difference between painting a festival and painting in the street. The festival is a curated thing. Ultimately, the festival gets funding to pay for the paint, to pay for the machines, to house the artists, feed the artists, all that kind of stuff. After doing so many different festivals, it really interested me that the festivals never thought of actually compensating the artist. Some of these festival walls are absolute bangers, and the time and the effort the artist takes out of their schedule to come and paint these walls, for me, it seems unfair to the artist. Even though the artist wants to paint that wall, don’t get me wrong, they also have to pay their bills…

Cracked Ink's work for Street Prints Otautahi in Christchurch, 2017
Cracked Ink’s work for Street Prints Otautahi in Christchurch, 2017

It’s not the super-strict commissioning relationship that you might get in another project, but it is still being used and leveraged as cultural capital…

Yeah, you see cities claiming: This is what we did! Well, I’m pretty sure there were other people that were part of it as well!

There are real benefits in having something painted on your wall. A lot of cities use murals for their tourism profile. So, why shouldn’t artists be compensated for doing that work? What other industry would you see that?

It’s such an old view, but it still exists and it’s a strange one. It’s one that I’ve been fighting for so long. I have painted a lot of festivals for nothing. That is the big misconception of going and painting a big wall, I end up going there for a week of my own time, I get materials, I get my accommodation and I get food, the basic things in life that you probably should get, you know? So, what more do you want? Well, that’s kind of old school from my perspective. Starting a festival with my partner Shanti, we wanted to bring something interesting and different to Whanganui because the city has never seen anything of this nature. It’s a small place. Compared to Christchurch, it’s just chalk and cheese. So, it was about bringing something different. But for me as an artist, it was mainly trying to create a festival that could substantiate paying the artist something. The artists get part of Whanganui Walls. We want to make it worthwhile for the artists to come to Whanganui, to take that time out of their schedule, to share their creativity with us. Like we said before, the benefits to a place are just so big. So, I feel like we have definitely helped to breakdown some barriers, and there are other guys doing it as well, like Deow down south with South Sea Spray. It’s important to go into bat for the cause, because there is a lot of old school thinking and often it comes from funding process. But ultimately as a festival organiser, its on you.

It is a big undertaking to fund a festival…

These events require substantial investment. We get support from Harrison Hire Master, who really come to the table for us, and Resene, who are the kind of company that have the backing to go OK, we’re going to give you X, Y and Z for free, which is great, but we’re not asking for stuff for free, we are saying, if you are going to give us a discount, then that’s how much money we need to obtain through funding. The whole principle of Whanganui Walls was always for everyone right through the system to get something for their efforts, whether you are part of the operations crew or you’re volunteering, you’re getting something. That was always the principle of the festival. Because these people are putting so much effort into it, and not just the artists, why are you doing it for free? The time it takes to put on one of these festivals is massive.

It’s not something that you fit in on a lunch break or after work. For an artist, its traveling for a week, working the whole time. You may be getting your accommodation and food paid for, but everything else still goes on back at home as well, so they need to compensate for that. It is also important to remember the years spent refining their work to get to this stage…  

I’ve always been a big advocate of knowing my own worth as an artist. Sometimes, you have to walk away from things to make things right. I get it. Any artist, no matter how well you’re doing, there are always points in your career where you have your highs and you have your lows, but you have to be careful about how you devalue yourself. It is tough if you just continually bounce up and down. If you want to get some stability in your career as an artist, in my opinion, you have to stick to your guns.

We have so many super talented artists in Aotearoa, is there a real need for more mentorship to build up younger artists’ sense of self value? In New Zealand, we have a tendency to think ourselves down, is this festival a way for you to serve as a sort of a mentor figure?

It’s good to spend time with artists and ask where they are at, because there is always that tendency of not wanting to talk about this whole aspect of being an artist. Let’s take pricing a mural. There is always this tendency to just shut down about it, whether that’s because people are not confident of putting a value on what they do, so that they can survive. I’m super open with the way I do stuff. So, if an artist wants to have a conversation with me about what I do in terms of pricing or whatever it is, then I’m super open to it. I feel like without those conversations, we both don’t learn about it. One size doesn’t fit all, and if you’re at the start of your career in the art world, and in particular in muralism, there’s always things that you feel like you can’t account for, or you can’t price into a job. But even if you’re relatively new to it and you are competent and have the skills and stuff, well, why are you devaluing yourself? You’re going to produce something just as good as the next artist who may be charging double that price. I remember when I started first getting some bigger jobs, it’s nerve-wracking man, it’s nerve-wracking pricing a job because you feel like by asking for this much money and you don’t get it, then you’ve lost that job completely. But even now, if I get some decent jobs there are always tools within that process that you can use to give options to clients which ultimately will not scare them off.

Cracked Ink mural for Garage Project in Wellington, 2020
Cracked Ink mural for Garage Project in Wellington, 2020

Other industries take a really hard-nosed approach to pricing, charging travel costs, time, materials… But for a lot of artists, there is the feeling that you can’t charge for things like petrol costs, or you need to take this out so that clients are more likely to agree. As much as we don’t want to emulate aspects of the commercial world, it is actually beneficial to adopt some parts…

What are your expectations if you were being commissioned to paint a wall? When you go to do that job are you wanting to pay your own travel costs? Are you wanting to pay for the machinery or for your accommodation while you are doing that job? You’re not trying to dupe anyone by doing this, but you have to try and align yourself with the expectations of a client. If they’re not paying for it, you are, so it’s really just trying to get that happy medium. From my experience doing quite a lot of large-scale commission work, you just have to be fully honest, be honest with yourself and be honest with the client, and then the conversation starts. They can always say, actually, we can’t do that, but if you don’t ask, you don’t get…

As you noted, you need to set the bar for yourself…  

This has come up quite a lot recently. Being realistic about how you put your pricing in means you might not always get the dream. It’s about trying to be fair to yourself and to the client. You want to get the job, but you have to be really fair to everyone, and managing your own expectations is the hardest bit. There’s always self-doubt, there’s always that feeling that I would love this job, or I need this job, so that’s when we tend to low-ball ourselves, and before you know it, the client snaps your hand off. So, just go for it.

Out of Touch, for Sea Walls in St Croix,2020 (from http://crackedink.com/)
Out of Touch, for Sea Walls in St Croix,2020 (from http://crackedink.com/)

As an artist, you’re not beholden to only one way of working, you can always balance out projects to satisfy both your practical and creative needs…

It’s a malleable situation. Depending on how you want to operate, nothing is right, nothing is wrong. The main thing is if it is right for you. I have a certain style that I paint and I’m super strong on that in terms of commission work. But if you have a multitude of styles within your work and you can adapt to different commissions and you’re happy to do so, then it’s right for you. It’s just finding within yourself what is right for you, and if someone else feels that it’s wrong, that’s irrelevant. If it’s right to you, you do it. If it’s not right to you, don’t do it. You’ve got to find those boundaries. I feel like I’ve found my boundaries. I’m super black and white in terms of my artwork and in terms of the way I process things. If it’s not what I do, I don’t do it. it’s simple as that. But that doesn’t mean that’s right for someone else. It’s about finding the levels that you’re happy with and that might also ultimately mean that I don’t get as much work, but if I’m good with that, and I can get enough work to balance the books and enable myself to continue being creative constantly, that’s the goal.

That’s the key. As an artist, you have to know yourself, right?

If you can get used to the highs and the lows and make it a part of your life as opposed to making a lot of stress for yourself, which is a hard dynamic to get used to, even now it still throws you, then you can ride it. But the one thing I would say is you cannot just hold in on that and just continue because as a creative, you’re doing it because this creativity has to come out somewhere. Things evolve. Things go backwards. It’s a back-and-forth situation, but I wouldn’t change it for anything. It’s an awesome lifestyle. Opportunities come, opportunities go, and when you really take time to think about what you’re up to and where you’ve been and where you’re going you get to see what you’ve built, and you see that you’re ready to keep on building. As a creative, if you are not questioning and challenging perspectives, you shouldn’t be doing it, and if you are, it will open up a lot of possibilities.

Follow Cracked Ink online through Instagram, Facebook and his website

Spread the word about what's happening in the Christchurch urban art scene: