Welcome to 7 Oaks…

In collaboration with Life in Vacant Spaces, Watch This Space recently worked with the 7 Oaks community at Hassals Lane to create a welcoming mural on the beautiful site. 7 Oaks is a diverse community who have made the old school site in Waltham home, the space a wondrous environment of creativity and nature.

After a consultation process with the community, a participatory mural concept was developed to reflect the 7 Oaks space and to send a warm welcome to visitors as they enter the site. In a simple typographic concept, a variety of leaves, many drawn from the site’s own plush greenery, were roller stencilled by people of all ages inside the text, ensuring a sense of engagement and legacy for multiple generations (the youngest artist was just two years old!). The understated, but bold outcome echoed the colourful surroundings and the community spirit of cooperation.

Truly a team effort, the mural would never have eventuated without the many hands and minds who contributed; Elisha from LiVS (and her predecessor Rachael), Marian, Lily, Ollie, John and the many more members of the 7 Oaks community, Mike and Nick for their technical and practical assistance, and most importantly, the tireless Lydia from LiVS – team work makes the dream work!

 

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Are you interested in a mural project? Email hello@watchthisspace.org.nz and let’s see how we can help!

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Dr Suits goes to Akaroa…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You mean like hopscotch, that sort of thing?

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

So, you figured out a formula to achieve that? 

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

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

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

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

A similar product.

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

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

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

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

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

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

With a pressurized sprayer? Were you tempted? 

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

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

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

How close was the original design to the finished piece?

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

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

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

What was the area in square metres?

360 square meters.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have you been able to get feedback yet?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All images supplied by Dr Suits

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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…

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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!

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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!

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Nick Lowry, teethlikescrewdrivers, Bloom n Grow Gal and Bols @ the BOXed Quarter

After a week of rain fall and grey skies, the sun returned just in time for a group of local artists to add to the already impressive collection of art on the many panels of the BOXed Quarter on St Asaph Street. Nick Lowry, teethlikescrewdrivers, Bloom n Grow Gal and Bols each brought their own styles to various panels throughout the complex, joining works by Wongi ‘Freak’ Wilson, Joel Hart, Meep, Chile One, Newen, YSEK, Mark Catley and more. Inside, Bols stencilled a multi-layered grey-scale text piece, reading ‘The kids round here live just like shadows’, a line taken from Bruce Springsteen’s epic Jungleland, while Bloom n Grow Gal’s flowers took root on nearby panels, boldly outlined and oversized. On Madras Street, teethlikescrewdrivers played off the existing buff patches to create a colourful swatch of squares and line-work pencils, bright colours buzzing against the rich ochre background. Around the corner, Nick Lowry went big, with a three-panel high piece featuring the evocative image of an eel wrapped around a bone, the background a shift of green tones. Reaching the top of the building, Lowry’s work is visible from far down Madras Street, a new beacon of the BOXed Quarter’s vibrant walls.

Let us know about your favourite new works around Otautahi by commenting on our social media, or send us an email at hello@watchthisspace.org.nz!

 

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Chimp – Social Woes @ Fiksate Gallery

Wellington artist Chimp returns to Ōtautahi and Fiksate Gallery for a new show on Friday, November 5th. Social Woes follows Chimp’s 2019 show Aliases, and marks both an extension and an evolution – a continuation of the artist’s fascination with the impact of social and digital media on our lives and mental health, while also notably pushing his work in new directions stylistically and technically.

Built from Chimp’s exploration of how social media has affected our ability to communicate and engage, Social Woes suggests this collective weight without a heavy-handed or explicit commentary, instead encouraging our reflection and consideration with increasingly fractured compositions and painterly flashes. The artist is acutely aware that the show is more an opportunity to bring people together and to raise questions than any offer of answers or solutions.

Social Woes opens 5pm, Friday, November 5th at Fiksate Gallery (54 Hawdon Street, Sydenham)

All Images from the artist and Fiksate

 

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Street Treats, Vol. 6

It has been a while since our last Street Treats edition, in part due to the lock-down situation, but even as we all play catch up on the livelihoods that were put on hold, the streets were a fascinating site to explore with the range of expressions and interventions to be found. This volume of Street Treats features a cacophony of diverse forms, and rather than dealing with explicitly political messaging, they are affirmative and declarative and playful, inherently meaningful concepts in a time where it is easy to feel invisible and somewhat powerless. Graffiti is a strong presence, bursts of colourful existential expression, bound by certain conventions but constantly searching for ways to stand out. The examples here run the gamut of styles and modes of production (some are legal, others not so much), but importantly they speak to the game and represent both a here and now and the countless numbers that have come before, a lineage of urban commentary. The repetition of other, non-signature forms lives up to the concept of post-graffiti, like characters, pencils, flowers and rocket ships, these symbols are both as mysterious as calligraphic tags, and yet also familiar and therefore more approachable. They share the idea of proclamation in the public realm, but are perhaps satisfied with intrigue rather than alienation. Why do so many find it more challenging when someone boldly writes their name than the positioning of an iconographic proxy to do the same job? Is a name a more confrontational and confident vessel for expression? Regardless of your take, the effect is the same; the city speaks, quietly, loudly, in whispers or in defiantly boisterous screams…

Stay tuned for more Street Treats soon!

If you have any corrections for the credits above, let us know in the comments!

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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!

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The Paste-Up Project

Watch This Space and Phantom Billstickers are excited to present The Paste-Up Project – a celebration of one of urban art’s most enduring, popular and accessible forms!

The Paste-Up Project will see one of Phantom’s inner city bollards (on Manchester Street to be exact) transformed into a poster art installation space – with four local paste-up artists taking turns to install their work on the circular form. Each artist will take on the challenge of pushing their work in new directions, increasing in scale and employing new techniques to create pieces that will suggest the potential of paste-up art.

While large-scale muralism has become the most visible form of urban art’s contemporary profile, street art in particular is marked by its diversity of material approaches. From Blek Le Rat’s pasted stencils and Swoon’s delicate woodblock prints, paper-based techniques have been a fixture in post-graffiti across the globe. In Ōtautahi Christchurch, paste-ups and posters have become a visible component of the art found in our streets, unleashing a range of creative concepts while also evoking the long lineage of urban communication found in the likes of fly-posters and urban posters. From Icelandic pop stars to analogue memes, giant toys and collaged surrealism, the city has become a popular landscape for artists welding rolls of paper and buckets of glue.

Central City Paste-Ups by members of the Slap City collective

The Paste-Up Project provides a supported platform to further investigate these techniques and a chance for some of our favourite artists to explore their work. First up to bat is Slap City founder and perfect pencil purveyor Teeth Like Screwdrivers – an undeniable choice to kick start this project! Stay tuned as we dive deeper into his concept, inspiration and hopes for his installation in the coming days (not to mention the following artists as they are announced!)

First up for The Paste-Up Project is artist Teeth Like Screwdrivers – whose installation will take shape in early October.

Keep up to date with The Paste-Up Project here at our blog or by following us on Instagram and Facebook and join the fun by using the hashtag #pasteupprojectchch!

We can’t wait to get started!

The Paste-Up Project is gratefully supported by the Christchurch City Council’s Enliven Places fund!

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Play Again? A Red Zone Mural by Porta and Bols

As part of a series of works inside the East X East Red Zone in Burwood, local artists Porta and Bols have extended their POWER UP! series with a fresh container mural. In 2020, the duo installed a range of pixellated cut-out video game tokens throughout the zone, creating an analogue digital-inspired treasure hunt. Coins, potions, swords and treasure chests were hidden through the landscape and a seat painted as an arcade console explained the rules. Now, with support from Life in Vacant Spaces and the Christchurch City Council’s Red Zone Transitional Projects Fund, the artists have employed the retro game imagery with a text-based mural on a run down shipping container in the park’s north-east.

Mimicking a video game screen, amidst the black cosmic backdrop the question PLAY AGAIN? shimmers in a blocky 8-bit font. Reminiscent of the challenge posed after “GAME OVER” flashes on screen, the question posed refers to the potential of the surrounding area. The remaining concrete streets serve as reminders of the homes that once stood in place and the presence of families and in particular young people riding bikes on the streets, climbing trees in backyards and, of course, playing video games as the sun beamed outside. PLAY AGAIN? draws on both the nostalgic reminders of what once was and suggests the potential for play to return to the area, as if an encouragement.

The artists painted the work over several days, masking off the font before adding the effects with aerosol. They explained that running power lines to project the image was the biggest challenge, but one that was overcome quickly, finding humour that echoed the sentiment of the work. The artists also admit the visibility of the container from the nearby motorway was an added bonus, serving like a billboard for an inquisitive public passing by. In addition, they hope to expand the POWER UP! installations, replacing icons that proved irresistible to visitors.

Check out the PLAY AGAIN? mural (and hundreds more works) over at our online map, or in person at the Burwood East X East Red Zone, access via New Brighton Road.

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Benjamin Work – Motutapu II at the Canterbury Museum

When the Canterbury Museum’s hugely popular Rise exhibition finished in early 2014, the walls of the main exhibition hall were covered with long black curtains, the murals from the show obscured with only teasing snippets still visible for more inquisitive visitors. With Hakē: Street Art Revealed; the Museum has drawn back the curtains, allowing the public the chance to revisit the Rise legacy, while also encountering a new floor-to-wall mural by Tāmaki Makaurau artist Benjamin Work.

A member of the celebrated TMD crew, Aotearoa’s most notable graffiti collective, Work brings urban art credibility, but his involvement also ensures a wider discourse that extends beyond the focus of Rise. Work’s evolution exemplifies the new trajectories of artists reared on graffiti and urban art, while also explicitly exploring the complexities of both cultural institutions and the Pasifika diaspora. Drawing on his Tongan heritage, Work has pushed his art in new directions over the last decade. Inspired by the iconography found on cultural treasures such as ‘akau tau (war clubs), his refined, graphic paintings have sought to find new spaces and ways for audiences to engage with Tonga’s visual culture, both inside institutions and on the streets.

Over the span of a week, Work created Motutapu II, a massive mural that sprawls across the floor and walls of the main exhibition hall. Inspired by the Canterbury Museum’s collection of ‘akau tau, the painting extends outward from two orange diamond shaped mata, or matapā (eyes of the pā), a vertiginous pattern of interlocking black and white lines leading the viewer toward more sacred symbols framing the work. Work explains Motutapu II as a metaphorical representation of ancient gateways marking arrivals and departures of voyaging vaka. ‘Motutapu’ is a name used across Polynesian cultures for sacred or sanctuary islands, neutral spaces for visitors before arrival at the mainland.

In the museum mural, the black and white lines create pathways, leading the viewer to each end of the hall; a hovering māhina (moon) glows in mottled orange to the east, while to the west, a soaring Tavake (Tropicbird) accompanies three figures symbolising Tonga’s chiefly lineage. Inviting viewers into the painted space, while maintaining a reverence for sacred imagery, navigating the complicated task of maintaining traditions and engaging a contemporary audience. After observing the creation of Motutapu II, I had the opportunity to sit down with Benjamin Work to discuss his experiences in Ōtautahi Christchurch, the future directions of his practice, and the experience of working at the Canterbury Museum…

It’s been a busy month for you! It started with the TMD: An Aotearoa Graffiti Story exhibition at The Dowse Art Museum in Lower Hutt, then you arrived here in Ōtautahi to paint a mural for the Etu Pasifika Health Centre with (fellow TMD Crew member) Charles Williams before starting work on your floor-to-wall mural at the Canterbury Museum. Is such a busy lifestyle still enjoyable or do you miss your own bed?

We were talking about this the other night, I have friends whose practice often works at this pace, but I think this has been one of the busiest periods I’ve experienced, including the work prior to my month away. I’ve noticed it’s easy to move from project to project and not take time to be present, to really be in the moment, so that’s something I’m focusing on. And once I’m home, I will have time to process what’s happened.

Work's piece for the TMD: An Aotearoa Graffiti Story at Lower Hutt's Dowse Art Gallery. The unfurling piece is dark blue and depicts a moon glowing at the top of the section on the wall, there are figures on the section rolled along the floor.
Work’s piece for the TMD: An Aotearoa Graffiti Story at Lower Hutt’s Dowse Art Gallery.

It must have helped to have had friends and family alongside you for these projects…

Definitely! I can’t function without friends and family. I am a relational person. Most of my life has been experienced in a collective environment, whether it was TMD crew, church settings or amongst my Tongan family. I’m at a point in my life where I have a greater understanding of the way I am, and that’s to help others navigate their way as I find my way.

I assume that is also an influence from your graffiti background, a culture that has a strong sense of collectivism and collaboration, which brings me to the Museum project. The opportunity came from the Museum revealing the wall works from the 2013-14 Rise street art exhibition. The idea was to add a floor mural to extend the narratives around that exhibition. Your work has moved beyond description as graffiti art or street art, both stylistically and contextually, highlighting the evolution of artists who may have roots in those origins. How do you respond to people designating you as a graffiti or street artist?   

They are different practices which I want to navigate how and when I want. This is hard for many people to understand inside of their boxes. I don’t want to be referred to as graffiti artist, street artist or a Tongan artist, simply an artist who is telling stories both old and new.

The floor space inside the Canterbury Museum as the artist prepares to install Motutapu II.
The floor space inside the Canterbury Museum as the artist prepares to install Motutapu II.

You mention that you have become more comfortable in the studio, but the idea of bringing Tongan iconography to public spaces and giving them a new visibility was a central aspect of your work, how has that intention changed?

It has been an important part of my process but there has been a shift of late due to migrating back to Aotearoa, Covid, time alone and making new work. I have seen a shift in style, painting techniques and even using loose canvas. There was a period where I engaged with a lot of institutions, between 2015 and 2019, and it was important for me to engage with our Tongan treasures and bring them out into the public space. But I’m not sure if that’s going be a focal point going forward. What I’d like to do is use those connections and my platform to connect other Tongans that are searching for those answers with those institutions. Many communities don’t realise that they have access to all the museums that hold our treasures.

Working within cultural institutions you must have to consider the colonial history of such spaces. Do you see yourself as challenging that history from the inside, or are you more concerned with opening doors for people who have not had a relationship with these institutions previously and as such have not been exposed to the treasures they contain?   

I hope that the way I move and the way I am, and the work that I make does challenge those places. Naturally I’m a bridge-builder, so for me, engaging with an institution such as the Canterbury Museum, one goal is to reconnect our people with our treasures, but if there are challenges that arise, I have to face them. I don’t go looking for confrontation, but if I come face to face with it, I have to say something because I’ve got the privilege of being in that space and if not me, then who?

Work adds some final touches to the massive mural.
Work adds some final touches to the massive mural.

Looking back to some of your previous work, like the mural you painted here in Christchurch for From the Ground Up in 2013, there was an explicit narrative unfolding in a relatively conventional pictorial format, but your work now feels much more evocative and suggestive without that overt storytelling, a quality that is evident in the Museum piece.

Graffiti was quite literal, it’s a letter-based art form and I painted my chosen name over and over again. This is me! Know me! Read me! I’m famous! Transitioning away from a graffiti aesthetic in 2011, I realised I didn’t have to be so blatant which led me to engage with the more abstract iconography found on our traditional ngatu (bark cloth). The inspiration for that particular mural came from reading Olaf Ruhen’s book called Minerva Reef, a true story of Tongan boxers on their way to Aotearoa for a tournament who were shipwrecked on the Minerva Reef for four months. I used iconography to communicate this story on the wall. It was a little strange at the time painting it in Christchurch but that shifted when I found out descendants of some of the survivors lived in Christchurch and visited the wall.

Work's mural for From the Ground Up in 2013. The image in red, black, grey and white, features figures escaping from a ship wreck with a bird flying above them.
Work’s mural for From the Ground Up in 2013.

Did that evolution come about as your exploration of Tongan artefacts such as ‘akau tau (war clubs) and tapa cloth deepened? What were your experiences with those types of objects growing up?

Ngatu bark cloth, fala (floor mats) and ta’ovala, the mats we wear around our waists, are filled with mostly abstract motifs which are embedded with ancient knowledge, we engage with them from birth. We have an intimate knowledge of them, of their texture, and even their smell. We had ngatu bark cloth and mats folded under our bed, most Tongans do, that’s where you store them, where else do you store these humongous things? Ngatu bark cloth was my first point of reference when experimenting with other mediums, but the war clubs were love at first sight. I was first introduced to them in a book called The Art of Tonga by Keith St. Cartmail, I was instantly intrigued by the iconography carved into them. I wanted to work them into my practice, especially the warrior figures.

I was lucky enough to join you when you were examining some of the ‘akau tau in the Museum’s collection, and I was struck by the small scale of the carved designs on the clubs, possibly because I was familiar with your work’s larger scale, which has been an intentional shift to make them more visible…

I wanted to use my platform to tell the world about our Tongan iconography. I wanted the scale to be impactful and for our people to be proud once they had learned that these are our designs, that they come from our ancestors for us. What better way was there than public murals? I feel I’ve started something that other Tongans will continue with bigger and better murals.

The finished Motutapu II, surrounded by the revealed Rise paintings in the Museums main exhibition hall.
The finished Motutapu II, surrounded by the revealed Rise paintings in the Museums main exhibition hall.

You said that living in Tonga you noticed young Tongan men seem to physically engage with their surroundings, constantly touching or hitting surfaces. That kinesthetic or tactile tendency becomes important in the context of your work as you have to think about how people engage with artefacts and art within institutions. I know you had to grapple with the idea of people potentially walking over the floor mural and that influenced the design, especially the elements drawn from more revered sources. That question of how to treat objects of culture and how we engage with them must be a central concern for you, especially as you shift between sacred cultural objects, utilitarian objects, public spaces and white cube galleries…

My process evolves slowly, I’m OK with it, as long as I’m still exploring different ways to communicate through my work, the speed of change doesn’t matter. Living in Tonga has challenged me to think differently when it comes to materials and the way I present my work. I’ve seen my people touching and desiring to hold my work rather than simply viewing it in a gallery, and I’m now OK with that, but if you asked me five years ago, I would have had a heart attack!

The floor-to-wall mural has become a striking element inside the Museum, while also adding a range of fascinating discourses.
The floor-to-wall mural has become a striking element inside the Museum, while also adding a range of fascinating discourses.

What was the process for the Museum piece, from exploring the collection of Tongan artefacts to producing this massive floor to wall mural? What are you looking for as inspiration in those objects and how do you then translate it to a massive mural work?

An important part of this project was me coming down to Christchurch viewing the space. I was emailed the specs for the floor and walls, but if I’m able to see the physical space, I’m able to respond to the space better. Likewise, with the ‘akau tau, I’ve seen many throughout my years of research but I’m always looking for unique motifs within each museum’s collection. I had a similar experience at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York with Dr Maia Nuku (Associate Curator of Oceanic Art at the famous museum). She took us into the collection of Tongan treasures, which is small, but there was a club there with this small motif of two warriors reaching out towards each other, their hands above their heads. That motif then triggered the idea for a mural which she organised in Spanish Harlem. In the Canterbury Museum’s collection is a beautiful abstraction of a Tropicbird which I included in the mural.

By coincidence, the mural you painted with Charles featured a tropicbird as well…

It was meant to be. There was no prior communication on that. Even though it was a Pasifika Health Centre, it would go against Charles’ kaupapa of painting foreign birds in Aotearoa. The Tropicbird is known as an Amokura in Māori and Tavake in Tongan and is a sacred and significant bird that can still be sighted from time to time in Aotearoa. It is said some elders would cry as it was a tohu or sign reminding them of Hawaiki.

The collaboration between Work and TMD crew mate Charles Williams on the Etu Pasifika Health Centre, 2021. The mural features diamonds of blues oranges and yellow, with a realistic tropicbird fllying upwards from the left. On the right, a massive stylised Tongan Chief figure .stands rigidly
The collaboration between Work and TMD crew mate Charles Williams on the Etu Pasifika Health Centre, 2021.

You have admitted your connection to Christchurch is rather limited, but some of your Scottish heritage does trace back here. Being born and raised in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland and also living in Tonga, what have you made of your experience in Ōtautahi?

I’ve enjoyed Ōtautahi, but I definitely love Tāmaki! No, I visit a place and try to feel the environment, watch and engage with people of that place. Both Māori and Pakeha have been shaped by the landscape, seascape, mountains, and rivers. My great-great-grandparents migrated from the Shetland Islands to Christchurch and are buried in Linwood Cemetery – something I’m learning more about recently. I’ve engaged with the land and people down here, wondering if there are any attributes of that generation in the people I’ve met. I have questions: Why did they choose Ōtautahi Christchurch? Did they walk these same streets? Did they learn the story of this land?

Have you had the chance to engage with members of the Pasifika community here in Ōtautahi during this project?

Associate Curator Hatesa Seumanutafa went above and beyond her job description in supporting this project. Having a person from Moana Oceania with our treasures in the Museum is vital! Not only for our material culture but as a lighthouse for our people to connect with within the institution. Ōtautahi has a unique Pasifika story, one that is sometimes dominated by the Pasifika stories from Auckland and Wellington. I was able to connect with some of the amazing community here and make space for us around a kava session in the Canterbury Museum indigenising space to talanoa and tend to relationships – the first of many.

Hakē: Street Art Revealed is on display until June 7, 2021 at The Canterbury Museum.

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