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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image by Josh Bradshaw

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image by Miiekes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you each have designated roles within Counterfeit?

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

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

Image by Sofiya R

Are you open to bringing new voices in? 

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

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

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

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

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

Image by Cammy H

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

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

FAUP Bitch, Vol. 3 by Gianni Ruffino

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

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

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

What is next for Counterfeit?

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

And beyond Zinefest?

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

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

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

S: The grimier the better!

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

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

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

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

Image by Bethany Ponniah

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

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

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

Tune! with Smeagol

Tattoo artist, painter of gory monsters and creatures, maker of miniatures and custom toys, illustrator, Smeagol describes himself as having his “fingers in all the pies”. This wide ranging creativity makes it understandable that his taste in music would be equally diverse. After sending a killer playlist of 10 tracks that span the alt 90s vibes of Jane’s Addiction, the verbose wordplay of Aesop Rock, the energy of Misfits, the grooves of Modjo and even the croon of Chris Isaak, he explained 30 might have allowed him to fully cover his eclectic tastes. Oh well, it looks like we will just have to have more volumes of Tune! with Smeagol in the future…

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Ironically asking a near deaf artist their favourite songs is probably a bad idea, but my art and lifestyle revolves heavily on music. From birth my parents enforced a good taste in music so to say, 70s staples like Led Zeppelin and Fleetwood Mac, Jimi Hendrix, and on and on…

My childhood was straight 80s and 90s baddassery. Grunge and alternative was life: Nirvana, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, Stone Temple Pilots, Garbage… In between then and now, I’ve picked up on every genre in between and I literally listen to anything, hip hop mainly, but rock, metal, dance, DnB, soul, 90s trash, punk… Gimme something I haven’t heard please! Thanks for listening to my Ted talk.

Jane’s Addiction – Jane Says

Queens of the Stone Age – Burn the Witch

Aesop Rock – No Regrets

King Geedorah – Take Me To Your Leader

KMD – Sweet Premium Wine

Misfits – Hybrid Moments

Modjo – Lady (Hear Me Tonight)

Chris Isaak – Wicked Game

Ramirez – The Fo Five

Freddie Gibbs and Madlib – Giannis (feat. Anderson .Paak)

Follow Smeagol on Instagram to see all of his creative goodness!

Stay tuned for more editions of Tune! soon…

 

The Paste-Up Project – with Cape of Storms

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

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

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

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Kia ora! Would you like to introduce yourself?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is there anyone you want to thank?

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

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

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

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

 

 

Pener – Vacation from Reality

Pener arrived in Ōtautahi following a 30-hour flight from his hometown of Olsztyn, Poland. Since 2020, such long haul flights have become a rarity for many of us, the world seeming a more distant proposition, despite our enduring digital connections. Here in Aotearoa, our geographical isolation has provided a protective barrier as we have viewed the rest of the world from afar. Across the globe, our shared challenges have been experienced through distinctly different lenses.

For Pener (born Bartek Świątecki), this adventure to the bottom of the world provides an escape, a Vacation from Reality where he can explore a new landscape and find new inspirations away from his daily routines. As an abstract artist, Pener’s work is also an escape, his jagged, evocative compositions engaging the viewer in an internal exploration as they are immersed in a fragmented field of glass shards, shattering in our presence and suggesting some new path to follow.  A leading figure in an exciting generation of Polish abstract and non-figurative artists, Pener’s background in graffiti, and a longer lineage of the Polish avant-garde, inform his practice; the influence of geometric abstraction and deconstructed letter-forms are equally evident, deployed through sharp line work, overlapping forms and a sophisticated use of colour that is both intense and undeniably intriguing.

The ability of Pener’s paintings to speak to deeper, more purely emotional sensations does not mean they offer no reflection of our challenging contemporary environment. Indeed, these fractured compositions feel incredibly apt in light of our increasingly divided ideologies and vocal dissension and conflict. But Pener’s paintings do not agitate, they are reflective, ruminative, and ultimately they emanate a sense of the hopeful; as if after the break, piecing things back together is the necessary next step.

Before he crossed the tarmac and settled into the distraction of in-flight movies on his lengthy flight, I posed Pener a few questions about his hopes for Vacation from Reality, his experiences in Poland, the potential of abstract art, and why Poland has become a hotspot for non-figurative practice…

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With all of the turmoil of the last three years, what are your feelings as you embark on your first journey to Aotearoa New Zealand? 

Yes, this will be my first time in this part of the world. I am very excited and a little scared. The thirty-hour flight will be quite an experience!

What has life been like in Poland, and Europe more generally, throughout the Covid Pandemic?

It has been a strange time. It has been very difficult and emotionally complicated, probably the same for all of us. It’s hard to live in fear for such a long time and be constantly informed by the Government and television about more bad things. It has been a very strange time from a sociological point of view.

Has your art been an important coping mechanism? Have you found art as a vital part of your ability to make sense of all this?

You know, this is interesting because almost nothing has changed in my studio. For many years I have been trying to make painting a daily routine, make it something I have to do. I sometimes enter the studio just to clean it up. The studio is my asylum and my space. Throughout the entire period of lockdowns and online meetings, I worked in the studio and prepared new paintings.

Of course, there were no exhibitions and no trips to paint large walls, but it is only a matter of perspective. Last year I painted a few walls in my hometown. In the end, is it important that the wall is in Olsztyn or Dubai? I’m not so sure…

As an abstract artist, you have stated you start with an emotion and the process, and when I look at your work, I can’t help but feel it captures the anxiety and emotional fracture of contemporary society. Is that intentional or a result of our ability to read abstraction as we need to?

I often get the impression that the paintings are a bit like mirrors in which we can look at our emotions. My paintings calm me down and give me peace. Often, in the process of painting, I freeze in front of a painting. I look at it for so long that I stop thinking. It’s the same feeling as if you swim for a long time in the swimming pool or climb in the mountains and stop thinking about everyday problems. It takes you somewhere inside or outside.

Probably everyone has a slightly different interpretation of works of art – which is very interesting. Some people see specific shapes in them, others only feel emotions. I am very happy when someone interprets my paintings in a way that I did not know and did not notice.

How much does the process guide your end product? How do you understand when a painting is finished – or are they a constant work in progress?

It is very complicated and I don’t have a clear formula for it. I paint emotionally. I don’t really use a sketch, so I don’t know where the painting will lead me. Of course, after so many years of painting, I often know what will work or what I can do to close and finish a composition. But I prefer to be surprised by something new at the end.

Colour, in addition to line, is so important in giving your paintings their sense of space, energy and emotional qualities, how has your palette developed over time?

At the beginning I wanted to create the impression that the painting is not created by human hands, that it is mechanical, mathematical.

Over time, I have noticed my paintings become softer. Their structure is still geometric, but transparent layers penetrate each other differently. They have different feelings, they are softer, less dramatic.

The same thing happened with color. In the works for this show, the beginning was a grey composition on which I applied a color. It’s a bit like turning the whole painting process around. It is a very tight series of paintings, I think.

What is it with Poland that has ensured such a strong generation of non-figurative/abstract artists? Some from the world of graffiti, others from contemporary practice, what is the shared influence, if you can identify it?

It was probably influenced by many elements. Władysław Strzemiński’s Theories of Seeing or books by professor Stanisław Fijałkowski. In Poland after the war, the avant-garde painting groups referring to the works of Malevich or Kandinsky were very strong.

In my case, two things influenced me very strongly; my classic painting education at university, and the world of graffiti. Painting walls gave me a lot of freedom and confidence. The world of fine art gave me all the painting technology. I created a mix out of the two worlds, which is where I feel best, a world somewhere in between.

How enduring has graffiti been for you as an aesthetic influence? I can see some ideas of the dissolution of letterforms in your work, do you still feel like you are harnessing that influence, or is it more incidental now?

I am very strongly associated with graffiti, with the energy and aesthetics. My escape into abstraction happened very quickly, around 2003 or 2004. But all the time the base in all the walls from that period were letters, my name. I think they are somewhere all the time.

The transition from studio to mural practice seems quite fluid for you, but of course, it entails such different environments. How do you differentiate the two in your approach? Is the whole world a studio, or the studio an extension of the streets? Or do you recognise the difference?

It is one and the same, only the tools and the scale change. Sometimes a large wall requires a simplification of detail. On a large wall, I cannot achieve such a depth of color and saturation, but having such a huge space allows the gesture to look much better. I often repeat the composition that I paint on a wall on canvas in the studio and vice versa. At the moment, I see them as one and the same.

How did the decision, or opportunity to come to New Zealand originate? Obviously you have a luxury in Europe of relatively easy travel, New Zealand is quite a distance. What did you know of the country? Do you know much about our artistic cultures?

This is a huge logistical and financial challenge. Jenna and Nathan have done a lot of hard work for which I am very grateful. I have been working with Fiksate Gallery for several years and I do follow what is happening in New Zealand.

But I must admit that I don’t know much. I remember a few artists from my studies at university; Colin McCahon, Rita Angus and Ralph Hotere, who made a huge impression on me. Hotere’s work reminded me of the Spanish artist Antoni Tàpies, whom I love to this day. Last year I discovered Judy Millar, whose work I admire a lot. That’s about it, except of course, Flight of the Conchords and Taika Waititi!

To return to an earlier question, the title for the show Vacation From Reality can be understood in different ways, obviously referring to the experience of visiting New Zealand, but also due to the ability of abstraction to break from reality. But as I suggested, abstraction really allows reflection over a deeper sense of reality; emotional and visceral experiences. Do you reflect on that idea when you consider how your art affects and impacts people?

Communing with art makes us better, more sensitive, more delicate people. I have a lot of my friends’ work at home, and I am very connected with some of them. I have one painting by Krzysztof Syruć which I look at differently every time. At first it seemed terribly dark to me, now after a few years, it has given me so much good energy and became super colourful and positive. It’s amazing how we emotionally grow into certain colors and shapes.

What are your hopes for the way people will receive the show? What type of experience do you hope to create for people?

I am very curious about this exhibition and how it will be received. I hope the paintings will bring a lot of good energy and warmth in this rainy and cold time.

On a personal level, what do you hope to experience in Aotearoa New Zealand?

Rest and a lot of fun- that will charge my batteries!

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Vacation From Reality runs at Fiksate Gallery, 54 Hawdon Street, Sydenham until August 13th, 2022.

(The introduction to this text was re-produced in the catalogue for Vacation From Reality. Portions of the interview were re-produced on the Brooklyn Street Art website)

And That Was… July 2022

Well, that was… damp. July was very much the heart of winter, cold nights and wet days. These are not prime conditions for art making outdoors, but that doesn’t mean that there weren’t plenty of opportunities to engage with some good stuff inside, in the warmth of some of our favourite galleries, hospo spots and venues. In addition, there were a few patches of that brilliant, hopeful mid-winter sun to enjoy and take advantage of with excursions out into our streets. Here are some of the things that caught our eyes, our hearts and our attention…

Pener’s Vacation From Reality @ Fiksate

A whirlwind residency by Polish artist Pener at Fiksate Gallery culminated with his stunning exhibition Vacation From Reality – a collection of vibrant, fractured, dynamic canvas works and some seriously beautiful prints. The weather may not have come to the party, but Pener definitely did, highlighting the incredible talent that has emerged in Poland over the last decade and more, and illuminating the striking trajectories of graffiti’s evolution into abstraction…

Scratch Building with Ghostcat

The wet July school holidays were a perfect opportunity for a group of local rangatahi to learn from scratch-building master Ghostcat at the incredible 4C Centre at the YMCA on Hereford Street. An amazing array of builds were created that celebrated the beauty of the urban environment…

Angry Garf

I mean, who isn’t a sucker for the Darkest Timeline? (I could never hate lasagne though)

The Little Street Art Festival Treasure Hunt

We thought we would celebrate our successful Boost Ōtautahi campaign (thanks to all our amazing supporters!) with a little treasure hunt – two hand-stencilled signs dispersed across the city for people to find. We still don’t know who found these guys, and we think our little mascot needs a name – any ideas?

Weasels Ripped My Flesh

At the first sign of a sunny Saturday in late July, we headed to Moon Under Water in Cashmere for a quick drink with some mates (you can’t go wrong with their stonking selection) and we couldn’t help but shout out Weasels Ripped My Flesh, a collaboration APA by Moon Unit and Altitude Brewing – with some Frank Zappa inspired artwork by our pals Ghostcat and Nick Lowry!

What things kept you warm and dry through July? Let us know in the comments…

 

Benjamin Work and Brendan Kitto – MOTUTAPU @ Te Uru – Waitakere Contemporary Gallery

MOTUTAPU, a collaborative project by Tāmaki Makaurau artists Benjamin Work and Brendan Kitto, is the conclusion of a four-year exploration of the shared histories of Motutapu, or sacred islands, throughout Moana Oceania, including Tongatapu, Rarotonga and at the entrance to the Waitematā Harbour in Tāmaki. These sanctuary spaces, gateways for voyagers departing from and arriving at the mainlands, were where the lifting of tapu and making things noa (free from the restrictions of tapu) occurred, connecting navigators with their ancestors and kainga. For the artists, who travelled to three of the Motutapu locations and engaged with key knowledge holders, the journey became deeply personal, connecting to their own genealogy, centering on reconnection and reconciliation, joining communities across Moana Oceania through time and space.

The exhibition, built around the juxtaposition of Work’s evocative paintings (including the hanging Piha Passage and free-standing Mata Pā screens) and Kitto’s photographs of Motutapu ki Tāmaki Makaurau, Motutapu ki Tongatapu and Motutapu ki Raraotonga, is currently on show at Te Uru – Waitakere Contemporary Gallery (11 June – 11 September 2022), and includes the launch of an accompanying publication MOTUTAPU.

All photos by Sam Hartnett.

Showtime!

Vacation from Reality – Pener, Fiksate Gallery, 15th July, 2022

Polish artist Pener’s mid-Winter residency at Fiksate culminated with a stunning show at the Sydenham Gallery. Despite the cold and wet weather, Vacation from Reality was irresistable, with the artist’s striking abstract paintings spilling subtly onto the walls behind, extending the impact of the bold lines, colours and forms. The combination of bright and muted colours, along with the dynamic compositions wowed the crowd, who were treated to the sublime work of an international visitor with a refined practice…

Do you have a show coming up? Let us know at hello@watchthisspace.org.nz!

Gearing Up – Dcypher Apparel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Street Treats, Vol. 7

For the latest installment of Street Treats, we are serving up a selection of pieces, pastes, pixels, petals and beyond. From a reminder of an old pal’s legacy, to epic collaborations and tiny treats, the streets have provided a range of goodies. That is, of course, the joy of the urban environment as a setting for creative (and naughty) interventions, there is no curation. The result echoes the physical presence of our cities, where thousands, indeed millions of people interweave as they go about their own concerns, trials and aspirations. Any city is a collection of individual voices and the art of the streets reflects this diversity, each piece the compulsive expression of an individual that can be read in infinite ways by the passing audience. In a world where online communication has become increasingly toxic and antagonistic, the art in the streets provides something different, still capable of asserting beliefs and ideologies, but devoid of the escalating tensions or echo chambers of comment sections. Indeed, as one image attests, often the response to uninvited additions is not so much beautification as silencing, ensuring a monochromatic environment. So enjoy this platter of pictures and relax, our cities and our communities are not monolithic, and the streets provide the platform for that multiplicity…

Tune! With Daken

The latest contributor to our ever expanding playlist Tune! is our pal Daken – our favourite graffiti, comics and bootleg toy enthusiast. When he provided us with his selection of five songs that inspire him as an artist, he admitted it was not an easy task, pointing to evidence of a scrawled page of ‘almost’ cuts that didn’t quite make his final list. Daken’s selection is influenced by his creative endeavours and, importantly, his role as a father, music serving as a bridge between his youth and his children. With a mix of hip-hop, Emo and the genre mixing Gorillaz, it is a road trip through a few eras, which is, to borrow a phrase, “for the children”…

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Music is the closest thing I will get to time travel in my lifetime. Not to say I don’t listen to contemporary artists, I listen to a wide range of stuff. But two years ago a couple things happened. I became a father and I found a new art medium: bootleg art toys. Being a father lends itself to reflecting on one’s own childhood experiences. Trying to work out what makes you, you. Working in this new medium that invites play, wonder and nostalgia, my listening habits seem to be a higher percentage of things I listened to as a kid. Certain albums, artists, songs or even lyrics acting as doorways to memories I can pull on, to pass onto not only my art but to my children too. I hope you like these memories I put together for y’all. Stay dope, peace homies.

Fall Out Boy – Hum Hallelujah

Warren G – Regulate

Foster The People – Pumped Up Kicks

Flobots – Handlebars

Gorillaz – Feel Good Inc.