Showtime!

Things I Thought You’d Say or Don’t – Josh Bradshaw, Absolution, 3rd June, 2022

Josh Bradshaw’s first solo show in several years (and the first under his real name) gathered a crowd on Friday, June 3rd at Absolution in The Arts Centre. Things I Thought You’d Say or Don’t presented a collection of works that indicate Bradshaw’s new creative direction, explorations of the urban environment that utilise an array of materials and techniques, producing a punk-infused, anarchic and yet poised range of evocative images. A good crowd braved the chilly June weather on the night, buoyed by the art and, of course, the barrel of Double Browns…

A pair of disposable cameras allowed people to document the night…
Josh Bradshaw, right, with fellow artist Harry King from Absolution
There was a busy crowd throughout the night
Our pal, Beartrap drummer Mitch Barnard was all smiles

Only the finest drinks…

Do you have a show coming up? Let us know by emailing hello@watcthisspace.org.nz

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

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

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

What was the genesis this specific body of work?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more of Josh’s work follow him on Instagram

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And That Was… January 2022 with Sofiya Romanenko

January can be a funny month – the first week or so can be filled with summer-y exploits of festivals, swimming, holidays and excess, before the realisation seeps in that reality is inching back and routine returns. That can mean valuing those moments to fit in as much as possible in small windows to avoid the dread of the mundane. But January can also be a month to be kind to yourself, to soak in the sun and soak in culture in the form of movies, books and digital content, setting the tone for your year and obsessions. For this month’s recap we asked our friend, photographer and multi-hyphenate Sofiya Romanenko to fill us in on what has captured her imagination in the opening weeks of 2022 – from documentaries to exhibitions, Instagram inspiration to new music, its a great list of must-sees, must-hears and must-dos…

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Movie – Moments Like This Never Last by Cheryl Dunn

They say that time goes faster the older we get, which must mean I’m at least 95 years old, since January seemed to have lasted for only about a week, with a year’s worth of mental exhaustion.

Having succumbed to the holiday blues brought upon the cumbersome reflections on the year just gone, I spent the better time of the month splayed in front of a telly, eventually stumbling upon a true gem – Moments Like This Never Last, a hard-hitting documentary about Dash Snow who turned his self-destruction into art and his art into self-destruction.

The moment it opened with LCD Soundsystem’s song New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down, I knew I was in for something very special. An hour and a half-long depiction of a raw, wild, confronting talent mixed with saddening reality of observing someone plunge deep into the dark well of their addiction brought upon some bitter reflections on the price of self-expression, but also an overwhelming wave of inspiration to create, create, create, which is everything I could ask for from a movie like this.

Books – Ariel & Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

Image from biblio.com

Back in the day I used to be a notoriously avid reader, consuming every bit of literature my little hands could reach. Many years later, my attention span has adjusted itself to the length of Instagram captions, my hands remained just as little, and while I may not be able to do anything about the latter, re-introducing myself to the writers I held near and dear all that time ago became a great gateway back to proper reading.

In light of that, I have apparently mentioned the influence Sylvia Plath and her Bell Jar had on the coming-of-age feminine turmoil I experienced as a teenager to people often enough to receive her Unabridged Diaries and collection of poems Ariel as gifts this year. Exploring her work from a perspective of a somewhat mature adult as opposed to an insolent youth has definitely opened a whole new level of relatability when it comes to the experience of perceived womanhood, and given that I can finally do it in Plath’s native language too has brought a newly-found appreciation for her morbid sense of humour and immersive style, even when she’s describing the most mundane snippets of her life.

Music – Jackie Down The Line by Fontaines D.C.

If you were to pull a headphone out of my ear in the past two weeks to see what I’m listening to, there’d be a 99% chance it’s Jackie Down The Line by Fontaines D.C.

The monotonous recital of haunting lyrics over a sombre, almost uncomfortable tune absolutely consumed me the moment the song came out, feeding into my obsession with Fontaines D.C.’s anxious style of music that I grew so fond of when I first discovered them about a year ago. What makes it even more great is the fact that this is the first single from their upcoming album Skinty Fia, which explores the topic of one’s morphing and fading cultural identity when moving away from home – something I can relate to deeply, being a Russian immigrant of five years. Also, one of the songs on the record is called Nabokov, who happens to be one of my favourite Russian writers, so anticipation is palpable.

“What good is happiness to me / If I’ve to wield it carefully?”

Art – Nick Robinson’s LINWOOD at Absolution

Photo from Nick Robinson

My general approach to life is to expect as little as possible so I can be delighted if good things do happen and not particularly disappointed if they don’t. Which is why when I learned that not only there’s a show happening in January – one of the slowest months of the year for this type of thing – , but it’s also by one of my favourite local photographers Nick Robinson, I bee-lined for Absolution as soon as his work was up.

Shooting in a similar style, I really enjoyed seeing locations I recognised and even captured myself presented in a way that was different to how I viewed them, fresh, puzzling. The rubbish bins, decaying buildings, awkward angles – a familiar aesthetic with a tasteful, or, depending on the type of person you are, questionable spin. Definitely worth checking out.

Inspiration

Image from houseof_dame Instagram

For a while now I’ve been really drawn to collaging, creating work using vintage magazines, found photos and digital software, so a lot of my inspiration comes from artists creating in a similar genre of grotty-fetishy-morbid goodness which could have come straight from some shitty 80s punk zine.

The standouts in this long long line up of artists are @houseof_dame, @nilultra, @foiegraphics and @piperferrari_, with a special shout out to @ukfetisharchive for a great collection of vintage kinky imagery.

What things inspired you in January 2022 – let us know!

Follow Sofiya on Instagram at @chchasti

 

 

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And That Was… November 2020 – with Tom Kerr

For November’s recap, we went to Tom Kerr, tattoo artist (Ditch Life Tattoos), musician (Nervous Jerk, Toyota), and all around champion, to fill us in on his month. Normally, And That Was… is about new works of art or events, but we like to keep this series pretty open-ended, so we were stoked to see Tom take it in a little bit of a different direction- not just looking back, but also looking forward. Tom’s list recounts his favourite places and people – highlights you should make sure you have on your must-do list for the coming summer months. Rather than specific events or projects, Tom’s list is about those spots and general goodness that have become necessary components of his day-to-day. From tasty food to live music, and even a little bit of botany and bicycling thrown in for good measure, here is Tom Kerr’s And That Was… for November 2020.

November Heavy Hitters 

When Watch This Space asked me to write about five things from last month, the loose brief worked out great for me. Rather than bore you with things I had done, I decided to write about five places you should visit by the end of summer. Consider it a list you are obligated to work through, so here are five things you should check out…

The Rolling Om

Sam from the Rolling Om prepares another tasty treat. (Photo provided by Tom Kerr)
Sam from the Rolling Om prepares another tasty treat. (Photo provided by Tom Kerr)

Positioned outside the Arts Centre Te Matatiki Toi Ora, next to the tram stop, is The Rolling Om. The Rolling Om is owned by Sam, whose serving sizes are as big as his smile. His wraps are honestly so good, I’m torn between telling people about him and keeping the secret to myself. With ingredients ranging from pork belly to falafel, there’s something for everyone and at $12 it hardly breaks the bank. Working in the Arts Centre myself, Sam’s wraps have become a staple part of my diet when I can’t be assed making my lunch. Sometimes I even grab a wrap after eating my lunch. If you’re near the Arts Centre, I highly recommend hunting him down and trying a wrap for yourself. But don’t go telling everyone. Give him a follow on Instagram too!

Goat Cycles

Cashmere's Goat Cycles, Tom's go to to take care of his ride (Photo provided by Tom Kerr)
Cashmere’s Goat Cycles, Tom’s go-to when his ride needs some TLC (Photo provided by Tom Kerr)

Since I started working in the city centre, I pretty quickly got fed up with parking fines, so I decided to purchase a bicycle for my daily commute. Needless to say it has changed my life. I found my bike on TradeMe for just over $100. It was far from perfect. Which led me to Goat Cycles in Cashmere (93 Barrington Street). I swear the bike I got back after handing mine in for a full service, among some other modifications, was not the same bike. The staff are friendly and have a passion for bikes that can’t be matched. I think if you live in Christchurch and don’t get on a bike at least once a week, especially in the summer, then you are a fool! There’s literally no better feeling than biking to the pub with your mates for a pint and knowing there’s no Uber fee at the end of it. Every cyclist needs a bike guy and Goat Cycles are mine. They should be yours too…

Dust Up Records 

If you’ve listened to an independently produced record from Christchurch in the last few years then chances are you’ve heard of Dust Up Records. If not, then it’s high time you sort that out. DIY is the underlying theme at Dust Up. Recording, producing, manufacturing and releasing local independent music is what Dust Up is all about and they do it with heart. Through hard work and a heavy involvement in the indie scene, Dust Up has grown to become synonymous with a supportive music community that doesn’t put up with abusive or ignorant behaviour at live shows, creating a safe space for everyone to enjoy what we’re all in it for anyway; the music. Check ’em out on Instagram.

Flux 

Flux is a must for live music and killer atmosphere in Christchurch (Photo provided by Tom Kerr)
Flux is a must for live music and killer atmosphere in Christchurch (Photo provided by Tom Kerr)

Located in the Boxed Quarter, a stone’s throw from everything else in the city centre, is the live music venue Flux. Run by Zak and his team of speedy bartenders and kind-hearted security, Flux is the place to be when you need a little (or a whole lot) of bass in your bones and a cold drink in your hand. Having personally played shows under Zak’s promotion and at Flux, I can say it’s one of the best places to be on the other side of the crowd. Flux provides a place to be yourself and feel at home, not to mention the sound system absolutely hums. If you find yourself lost in the city on a weekend night, make sure you check out what’s happening at Flux. It’s bound to be better than whatever else you’ve got going on.

Botanic Delights

The Botanic Gardens remain a surprising treat in the heart of the city (Photo provided by Tom Kerr)
The Botanic Gardens remain a surprising treat in the heart of the city (Photo provided by Tom Kerr)

The last thing I’d like to mention may seem like a bit of a no brainer to some people, but it still amazes me how many people in Christchurch don’t spend any time there. The Christchurch Botanic Gardens are unlike anywhere else. In these summer months especially, it’s sanctuary in the heart of the city. Bring some drinks, your mates, and a ball to kick around and you will find yourself wondering where the time went as the sun sets on the most florally diverse patch of public space in Christchurch. Don’t forget to head into the glass house too, a beautiful piece of architecture in its own right, but what it holds inside is something else entirely. My personal favourite is the cactus room. Do yourself a favour this summer and spend a day in the wild at the Botanic Gardens. There’s three hours free parking, but I’d recommend riding a bike there.

For more of Tom’s work, from his tattoos to his musical escapades, give him a follow him on Instagram

 

 

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And That Was… August 2020

With the return of Level Two, August has been a bit of a roller-coaster, with the highs of communal gatherings matched by the returning weariness of congregations and the tiresome political bickering and conspiracy theory wackiness dominating much discourse. But that is where art is so effective, it can be both a glorious shared activity and a private independent adventure, a distraction from what is going on and a reflection of those same issues. The month started with a sense of excitement as I met with artist Tom Bell to discuss his upcoming show Adoration, which provided a great opening night. As time passed, more things turned my head. It was clear people were busy, from guerrilla interventionists, to mural artists, and it felt like the city was alive with activity. This energy has been somewhat tempered by the potential of a shut down (at the time of writing this at least), but it gives me pause to believe that even when difficult times emerge, art can always find a way to help out…  

Tom Bell – Adoration @ Absolution

The month kicked off with a farewell as Tom Bell presented Adoration at Absolution in the Arts Centre. Tom has been based in Ōtautahi for several years, working as a graphic designer, while diving back into painting more recently as a creative outlet. His art has long been entrenched in Japanese imagery, and Adoration played homage to that ‘adored’ visual style. Intricately cut and painted plywood, with subtle layering and flashes of detail made for a striking collection. The turn out was also impressive, with Absolution jam-packed, a well-deserved result for the artist’s long path towards Adoration.

Levi Hawken’s urban installations

Auckland-based artist Levi Hawken’s concrete sculptures were introduced to the city at the Fiksate show Urban Abstract last year. Placed within the gallery setting, they were immediately recognisable as versatile aesthetic objects. But Hawken’s works are undeniably influenced by the urban environment and they gain so much from their placement within the cityscape. It was therefore an awesome surprise to see a number of his small works mysteriously applied to walls and fixtures around the city, subtly subverting expectations.

Wongi ‘Freak’ Wilson’s TradeStaff mural update

We all know Wongi Wilson’s aerosol technique is mightily impressive, and that rings even more true as time passes and he refines his approach. That reality is instantly recognisable with his recent refresh of his own TradeStaff mural on the corner of Colombo Street and St Asaph Street. The original mural, painted around 2013, had become a familiar site in the CBD, but the new work, still in progress when I first saw it, is incredibly striking, almost invoking the proletariat intensity of propaganda posters…

Catching up with old friends…

Over the month of August, we have been putting together a project that we can’t wait to share… but for now, it is enough to say it has been a heap of fun catching up with a bunch of our favourite artists and revisiting some of their most memorable works (including some more recent additions), such as Berst and his God of the Forest in Sydenham and staircase mural inside the Canterbury Museum (pictured).

Distranged Design on Manchester Street

Distranged Design’s newest outdoor work on Manchester Street is an impactful surprise, anonymous eyes peering out from an expressionistic blue background splashed across a distressed wall. Staring at passing traffic from behind hurricane fencing it is an alluring sight and forms part of a larger collection of interventions in the vacant lot…

What were your highlights from August 2020? Let us know in the comments below…

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Tom Bell – Adoration @ Absolution

With everything that has happened in 2020 (so far), it seems like a long, long time ago that artist and designer Tom Bell told me he would be staging a solo show at Absolution this year. But while what seems like an age has passed, I have maintained a level of excitement about the exhibition Bell has come to call Adoration. The show features a body of work that combines both the artist’s established interest in the imagery and themes of Japanese art and culture, but with a new material approach, his digital rendering replaced by hand-painted cut-outs. The sense of reverence for the subject matter (the show’s title a reference to that debt) is empowered by the evidently pain-staking process of manual brush strokes. Bell’s works, whether paintings, stickers, digital prints, tiny enamel pins, t-shirt designs or illustrations, are alluring, their soft pastel colours and dynamic yet sparse compositions combining with the loaded symbolism of Japanese visual culture to feel both traditional and contemporary.

I met Tom a few years ago, he was with his ‘art fam’ as he calls them, at an exhibition opening at Fiksate. Since then his face has become a familiar one at places like Fiksate, Supreme and Smash Palace, always up for a yarn. But when we sat down to chat for this interview, I learned a lot more about him, from the Wellington-raised artist’s relationship with Christchurch, his interests in stencils and tattoos, and his journey to opening Adoration. Part of what made the discussion so engaging was Tom’s energy, he flew between thoughts, earnest and honest, clearly excited and invigorated by the upcoming show and what he had learned as an artist and a person over the last year.

I remember almost a year ago, or at least it feels like that long because of everything that has happened, you mentioned that this show is a farewell to Christchurch because you were planning to move back to Wellington…

Yeah, that’s still the plan [in August]. I’m originally from Wellington, but I have spent almost four years down here. It’s crazy because a lot of people have asked where I was hiding for those first two years! I moved down from Wellington for my graphic design job. At the time my now ex-girlfriend was from Christchurch, all her family were here, so I made the move. I really struggled making connections with people down here. Throughout my twenties I’ve struggled with social anxiety and that really put a big hindrance on me going out and going to shows and other social situations. For two and a half years the idea of going to an exhibition opening by myself, even if I knew people who would be there, would make me really anxious. I would think people are going to look at me and be like, who’s that dude? At the end of 2018 I decided I needed to face some of my weaknesses and get a control of my anxiety.

That social anxiety was a big obstacle for you obviously…

Yeah, the social anxiety was a big hindrance to me. I had people in Wellington say to me: ‘Dude, you should be getting out and trying to make connections in the art community, you’re a designer, you love your art, Christchurch has a really good scene, just start doing it…’ So, when all that happened, I just said, alright, I’m going to put myself out there. I reached out to Jessie [Rawcliffe] because we had started building a connection through Instagram, so I hit her up out of the blue and said you do a lot of collab work, would you be keen on doing one in the new year? She was like: ‘Hell yeah, that would be sick!’ We met up at Smash Palace and started talking about our creative interests. I remember her saying: ‘I paint skulls and girls, am I pigeon-holing myself?’ I said, nah, skulls and girls are ******* badass, and you can tell you really enjoy painting them. From there I was introduced to Josh [Bradshaw] and we’ve been hanging out ever since. I call them my ‘art fam’ and they have been great sounding boards for my creative journey over the last eighteen months. After attending a few exhibitions at the start of last year I started to meet everyone and it was great because it just happened organically.

I remember a conversation I had with Jessie and she asked me if I had painted before, and I said, yeah, but I was trash! She said I should get into painting and get away from the computer. So I did and I just got addicted to it, I was all in. From January to March I was painting every night after work, but I wasn’t showing anything to anyone. For me, a painting had to turn out the way I wanted, if it didn’t, it was trash in my mind, so I would put it under the bed and leave it. I think it was about April last year I finally did something I thought was pretty decent. I was comfortable enough to post it on social media and I had a lot of people reaching out to me saying they thought it was great to see me get away from the computer and to be working with another medium. I was like, well, my digital stuff is better than this, but I think people like this because it has more of a human element to it.

I think we appreciate that hand-painted quality in art, there is an evident authenticity…

I started realising that imperfections on a painting actually make it better because they show that human aspect. It doesn’t always have to be perfect, so what if you paint over lines or whatever, it gives it more character…

So that kicked off your re-acquaintance with painting?

Yeah. Last year for me was just a lot of trial and error. I was doing everything. I got back into using spray cans, because when I was studying, I started doing stencils, but it had been a while. I remember I did a life drawing class; I was terrible at figure drawing, but it was a requirement. I remember the tutor asking me if I painted stencils and I was like, yeah, how can you tell? He said he could tell from the way I drew with solid outlines. I had no concept of tone or shadow. When I was at high school I didn’t do anything creatively, I was quite sport-centric, rugby, rugby league, and my community in Wellington didn’t see art as a career path, you try to be the next All Black or rugby league star or you get a trade, that’s about it…

I see little difference between sport and art. They are both performances. Sport, at its heart, is about skill, technique, a type of aesthetic beauty, so the total partition between the two is strange, people from the arts world often hate sport, people from the sports world think of artists as weirdos…

In my early twenties, when you discover what you like and what you want to do as a career, I was into sports, but I was also really into art and creativity, and it felt like you couldn’t be associated with both. I got really hung up on that idea, because everyone from high school was like, ‘Oh dude, we hear you’re into graphic design and art and stuff, what’s all that about?’ I think now I totally resonate with friends from high school who were really good artists and they would say: ‘Our school sucks, sports get all the funding.’ I had quite a lot of friends who did art at high school, and they would always be moaning that the art resources were terrible, teachers would have to bring in a lot of their own stuff because they just didn’t have the funding for it…

There is a divergence in the way sport and art develop people, I think. In sport, people are eventually trained to follow rules and stick within structures and systems, whereas with the arts there is more willingness to break free. But as I said before, it’s not necessarily an inherent difference. If you think about sport at a more pure level, like pick-up games of basketball, or kids playing soccer in Brazilian favelas, or cricket in the streets in India, those instances are not official, it’s just the love of it and that’s where all the amazing skills and showmanship develop. It’s only once all those other aspects and structures come in, and a particular personality type is preferred, that the focus changes and that freedom is impinged. The same thing can happen in art schools as well. One of the amazing freedoms of urban art is that you are not beholden to convention. I assume your interest in stencils was at least to some degree an interest in what was happening in the streets outside of the institutional world, but there was also a clear connection to the aesthetic of graphic design…

When I first started studying, I came to Christchurch in 2010 and enrolled at the Design and Arts College to do a foundation course. The year before, I decided I wanted to do something creative, but I’d never done anything, so I looked into it and the foundation course in Fine Arts sounded pretty sweet. You did a bit of everything, photography, architecture, graphic design, life drawing, textile design. If you did well enough, you were offered a position the following year. Originally, I wanted to do photography. But when I took the digital media component of the foundation course, which really was an introduction to graphic design, the tutor said to me: ‘What do you want to do next year? I said photography, and he said I should consider graphic design because he thought I had an eye for it. So, from there, I was like alright, maybe graphic design is what I should do. At that time Exit Through the Gift Shop had just come out, and when I saw it my mind was blown! I watched it like four times over a week, and I was thinking, this is rad! These guys are doing stuff on the streets around the world, they are breaking rules, it’s controversial and it’s right in front of people. They’re not going to a gallery to see this, it’s out in the open, so I was like, it could be cool to start experimenting with stencils. I just started looking at YouTube tutorials to get the basics and then I went off on a tangent for like a year doing that. That was in 2010, and at the beginning of 2011 I met Zach Hart who was working at Ink Grave Tattoo at the time, I started getting tattooed by him and I learnt that he had a graffiti background. That grew my interest and I found out there are a lot of tattooists who have graffiti backgrounds. I’m also really into hip hop and there’s that association with graffiti also.

Since I was eight or nine, I’ve always been into tattoos. No-one in my immediate family has tattoos, but I just had a fascination with them. When I was eleven or twelve, I was at the library and I came across a book of Japanese woodblock prints from the early 1800s, and then I found a tattoo book and the images were pretty much identical. I kind of put my interest of Japanese art to the side when I was studying at university but in my mid-twenties I fell in love again with Japanese art and architecture. Since then it has just fully consumed me. My best mate is a tattoo artist in Wellington, he specializes in Irezumi [Japanese tattoos], and I have learnt a lot from him. I think the reason why I like Japanese art so much is that it’s very graphic, it’s designed to be big and in your face with bold outlines and flat colours, but there is still a sense of refinement that gives it a timelessness…

There is an important balancing act when you adopt a historical visual influence, you need to respect that lineage, but also make it fresh and not derivative. How do you approach that challenge?

It is about knowing the subject matter. For instance, a koi fish swims up stream and turns into a dragon, so if I was ever to draw a dragon or a koi, I can’t draw a tiger with it because they don’t go together. It would be easy for people to look at my work and think it’s just Japanese tattoo flash, so my contemporary take on it has been my choice of colour palette. I think my interest in Pop Art has contributed to my use of pastels, there’s a David Hockney piece, A Bigger Splash, it has flat colours, blues and caramels, and that was a big influence. It was painted in the sixties, but it still feels very fresh, so taking that and playing around with colours has allowed me to develop my own take on Japanese art while still sticking to the belief systems. I think some people try to reinvent the wheel and they forget about the fundamentals. My graphic design work is very minimal and with minimal design you’ve got no room for error, if you have one little thing that’s off, it’s going to stick out like a sore thumb, so I focus on the fundamentals with just smaller, subtle changes.

You were telling me earlier that it is only the last six months or so that you’ve become comfortable calling yourself an artist. That background in graphic design and digital work, how do they feed into your painting work, because they must be very different approaches…

When I first started painting again last year, it was tough. With design, when you don’t like something, it’s the classic ‘Command-Z’, undo, so I was very thorough in preparation. I would do a colour study and draw it on screen, colour it, print it out and then from that, paint it, doing like for like. It was very uniform. But eventually I started to just do a quick colour study on screen and then started painting, and now I’m at the point where I don’t do the colour study I just paint it.

Sometimes things look good on screen, but when I’m actually painting it, it doesn’t work. So, I think the last year has really taught me to be looser and freer when I’m working with my hands, to not be such a control freak. Normally I’m a perfectionist, especially with my graphic design work, it’s like, that’s terrible! Back to the drawing board! But when you make a mistake on a painting, when an outline has smudged, there’s a human element to it, and that’s something that I have probably learnt to appreciate. I went to a tattoo convention in New Plymouth last year and there was an artist whose paintings I love, and he was selling prints. I could see there were little imperfections in the print, and it was fine, I realized I’m just too much of a control freak. I think that freedom is why there’s been no ambition at the moment to go back to the digital side of things, because I like the fact that if you screw up a painting, you’ve got to problem solve on the spot and work with what you have…

I’ve always loved the idea associated with Margaret Kilgallen’s work, the wavering line. I think we need to attach to something human in an increasingly technologically-driven world, we become hyper aware of when something is perfect, and we recognize imperfection from another human and I think that is really important. You were talking about that idea of going back to painting being inspired by conversations with friends, that idea of community must be a really important part of where you are, is losing that when you move back to Wellington a daunting thought?

It hit me this week that I’m moving soon. I’ve got my two best mates coming down for the opening of Adoration, Mike Todd, a tattoo artist, and Jerome Taylor, who I went to high school with, who is a fashion designer. They are my creative community up there in Wellington. When I started getting tattooed by Mike, he knew I was painting on the side and he was giving me tips, like how tattoo apprentices learn, you trace a rose fifty times and by the twentieth time you should know how to draw a rose. He’s been a big part in me fundamentally learning how to paint the way I do. But in terms of what I’ve got here with Jessie and Josh and everyone else, I don’t have that. It’s a bit daunting, but I did it here, I just have to put myself out there. I’m from Wellington, so I should be able to connect a bit more if anything just because I’m local. I think having a show here will help open some doors up there. It’s funny, I already know I want to do another solo show in Wellington next year. I’ve already got ideas bubbling about what I want to do for my next show. It’s contagious, I reckon, it consumes you, but I’ve really enjoyed the process…

How did the show come together conceptually?

When I confirmed this show last year, I was still working at my old job, in a corporate structure, getting paid to do a job, and I just really felt like I was being controlled by the man. I didn’t want to sound like a temperamental artist, but I really struggled with being told to be creative within a certain framework or it wasn’t of value. So when I was coming up with themes for my show, I was thinking about basing it on entrapment and having conflicting thoughts in my head, and just lacking self-worth in a way, but then in January, I drew out my whole show in a wall plan to see if it was going to tell a story, and I realised it doesn’t have to, screw that! I’m leaving town soon, I just want to do something that I’m passionate about. It is filled with traditional Japanese influences but with a contemporary take. There are a few pieces where I have dissected objects and have incorporated other objects with them. Textures play an important part in my inspiration so I wanted to bring them in also. The show is about paying homage to Japanese art and culture, and that’s why I named the show Adoration, it’s about devotion and how I hold it dear to my heart.

We talked briefly about artists being pigeon-holed, do you ever think about that in terms of the Japanese influence in your work?

Totally, I always think to myself, am I pigeon-holing myself with my interests? The one positive to come out of lock-down was new ideas I want to paint when I move back to Wellington. It’s abstract, with no Japanese themes at all. I haven’t told anyone about it, I don’t know if I want to push this, I don’t know if I want to show anyone, I’ve done some real rough sketches and I don’t think anyone would expect it.

I assume they will likely see the light of day in Wellington, which means that while this show brings this chapter to a close, this new body of work might start the next chapter…

As much as it’s been a really good time painting the work in this show, I think this is the perfect time to start some more experimental stuff. A lot of people have asked why I don’t get into tattooing, because it makes sense with my subject matter currently. But I don’t want to keep exploring the same themes and imagery and that’s the connection people seem to make, that my Japanese- influenced work would translate to tattoo. It’s something I have warmed up to in the last six months as I’ve become more confident with the hand-rendered stuff, but tattooing is completely different from painting, it’s a whole new technique. Once I’m back in Wellington, I’m going to use the rest of this year to have a play around and try some experimental stuff, do more freehand work, which is something I have been working on for the last six months. I guess there has been a lot of personal growth down here in the last two years as well…

So, this is an important milestone…

It is an important milestone. About six months ago I realized that it makes sense to have my first show here in Christchurch, because this is where my creative journey really started. Obviously, I went back to Wellington after the 2011 earthquake and relocated to continue my studies up there, but really making things all started here, so it all makes sense. It’s like a goodbye gift, my time here is up, but this is where it all started for me. I never thought I would have a solo show, I never thought I would have my work in a public space where people would want to come see it. I think we all get a little nervous, like are people going to show up? I’ve had a lot of people reaching out to me saying they are looking forward to seeing the show. Getting messages like that has been really humbling.

That must be cool because as you have mentioned, the process of creating work and then the step of putting them out in the world can be scary. It’s a long and constantly changing road, the process and development, the failures, the changes of direction…

Yes, it’s a vulnerable position because you work on something for so long and then you think you are comfortable to show people, but once it’s in a public space, once it’s out there, then it could be well received or it might not be. It’s all part of it and I look forward to seeing how people interact with the show on Friday.

Adoration opens at Absolution in the Arts Centre on Friday, 7th August, 2020 at 6pm.

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