One of the best things about the TUNE! project is seeing the diverse range of influences different artists reveal. The spectrum of musical collections is a great reminder that nothing is monolithic. It is easy to assume graffiti writers and street artists are all simple stereotypes (hooded vandals or hipster artists), the reality is, of course, not so monochromatic. For this edition of TUNE!, we talk to enigmatic local graffiti writer, photographer and urban explorer PK, who drops an eclectic mix of tunes, from Grace Jones and The Brian Jonestown Massacre to Dam Native and The Birthday Party, a perfect example of spiraling influences…
PK: Music is my second biggest obsession (the first isn’t hard to guess!). I think music is definitely the cooler of the two. I don’t often listen to stuff while I’m painting or going about my day now, but I have fun memories of boosting around on all night missions as a teenager listening to my punk cassettes and BBC One In The Jungle mixes. I wanted this list to have a bit of everything I enjoy but it got to like 50 songs so I cut it down to a lucky 13 that I think represents most of what I’ve been listening to recently…
Burning Witch – Stillborn
Lydia Lunch – Friday Afternoon
Joanne Robertson – Hi Watt
The Brian Jonestown Massacre – E to G
Flipper – Shed No Tears
Townes Van Zandt – White Freight Liner Blues
Alexander ‘Skip’ Spence – Grey/Afro
Scraps – Baby Baby
Grace Jones – Me! I Disconnect From You
Strawberry Switchblade – Trees and Flowers
The Birthday Party – Sonny’s Burning
Dam Native – Battle Styles
Marilao – F*@k Me Moon [Morph]
TUNE! is an ever-growing playlist of the music that inspires our favourite creatives – stay tuned for our next edition!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org!
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.
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…
Do you have a show coming up? Let us know by emailing email@example.com
Jessie Rawcliffe is our next contributor to Tune! our ever-growing playlist of the music that inspires our favourite creatives. Jessie has built a reputation for her stunning works, often portrait-based, and constructed with intricate, painstaking detail. Her painting of Pōneke based tattooist and artist Richard Warnock is a finalist in The 2022 Adam Portraiture Award, a biennial competition and exhibition held at the New Zealand Portrait Gallery in Wellington. The Adam Portraiture Award is considered Aotearoa’s most prestigious painted portrait award. The first time she has been selected for the exhibition, Jessie’s painting is one of 45 works on public display from 26 May to 14 August.
Music has been an ever present part of my life – it’s affected the people and aesthetics I’ve been exposed to and has been a way of connecting with others. It’s fair to say that it’s influenced what and how I make.
There’s plenty of music I love that won’t get played while I paint. I’m looking to get into a dissociative state. Having to change album is a massive buzz kill and I’m haunted by that stupid sound my UE Boom makes when it turns itself off.
As problematic as Spotify is, I heavily rely on autoplay from the first thing I pick to give me a few hours of agreeable background noise. I’m only partially listening.
Each of these artists lead in a direction I like going.
MF DOOM – A.T.H.F (Aqua Teen Hunger Force)
Minor Threat – Betray
Idles – Colossus
Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Swim and Sleep (Like a Shark)
[Video contains mature content]
Night Lunch – Haunted Mill
Follow Jessie on Instagram and check out our expanding playlist in our other editions of Tune! right here on our blog…
In preparation for his upcoming exhibition Even in Darkness (opening at Fiksate on April 1st, 2022), I was lucky enough to sit down with Jacob Yikes and chew the fat over not just the new work he was getting ready to present, but a range of topics. Music was inevitably on the table, and it has long been known how central music is to Yikes’ creative practice (from song titles used for shows and works, to his choice of accompanying soundtracks for exhibitions), serving as a constant companion to his work.
When I asked him to put together a playlist for Tune! he jumped at the chance and sent me a list of a dozen songs within a day. Then he sent me a new list the following day. It was clear how much of a role music plays in his process and life. The music is, much like his art, evocative and transcendental, smooth and yet dark. From Miles Davis to Mara TK and a choice cut of independent hip hop and jazzy down beats, this is a truly killer playlist that needs no lengthy introduction…
Mara TK –Highly Medicated
Blockhead – Give Them Their Flowers
Khruangbin X Knxwledge – Dearest Alfred (My Joy)
Blu – amnesia
Skyzoo – Free Jewelry
Med, Blu, Madlib, feat. Anderson Paak – The Strip
Ivan Ave –Phone Won’t Charge
eLZhi, feat. Royce da 5’9 – Motown 25
Oh No- Elegant Smoke
@peace –Fine Night
The Doppelgängaz –Boston Beard
Miles Davis – Blue in Green
Even in Darkness, a selection of paintings by Jacob Yikes will run from April 1 to April 30 at Fiksate Gallery, 54 Hawdon Street, Sydenham
Next up on Tune!, our ever-expanding playlist of the music that inspires our creative friends, is Dr Suits. If Dr Suits is painting in his studio space at Fiksate, chances are there is a classic Reggae, Ska, Dub or Rocksteady vinyl playing. With an impressive collection of vintage and re-released vinyl (trips to Ride On Super Sound are a common occurrence), the music is a strong influence on his creative process, setting the mood for for his work and manifesting in various ways. For Tune! Dr Suits takes us on a trip through these vital and influential genres…
Music is a fairly important part of my creative process. I use music to help me get in a calm and consistent frame of mind. To do this, I like to play vinyl, predominantly Dub, Rocksteady, Ska and Reggae. The older the better. What I like about this music is its experimental and honest imperfections you can hear in the music. The artists are more about exploring a concept rather than trying to perfect a composition. Plus I generally love any old Jamaican music!
Playing vinyl means I’m engaged in the act of listening, its much more tactile. I like the physicality of flicking through the crate and experiencing the artwork, opening the cover, admiring the details on the insides and the sleeves. Each record will have 4-6 tracks on one side, this means every 20-30 mins of listening, in no time, I’m back there exploring the music again. So, although I like the tunes, I also love the vintage graphics, photography and bizarre outfits of early avant-garde experimentalists of Jamaica.
It’s hard to pick 5 albums, so I’m going to aim to cover the genres listed above…
Jackie Mittoo – The Keyboard King
The Skatalites – African Roots
Lee Scratch Perry – Cloak and Dagger
Studio one – Rocksteady Got Soul
Trojan Records – Rudeboy Rumble
Tune! is an ever-growing playlist of music that inspires our artist friends!
The next contributor to Tune!, our evolving playlist to make art to, is Mark Catley. With his strongly pop culture inspired paste-ups (from Star Wars to Masters of The Universe and David Bowie) and his alter-ego as DJ Hairdresser on Fire, it is little surprise that music is such a central influence on Catley’s creative practice. But perhaps even more interesting is his late stage initiation into the magic of music, including a humorous story about the RPM speed of a vinyl. The variety of selections has been a striking feature of this series and Mark’s picks are further evidence of this trend, from The Smiths (Hairdresser on Fire is a Morrissey reference) to ABBA and Captain Kirk himself, William Shatner, as well a few other surprises. So join us as we find out what tunes make Mark Catley tick…
To a lot of people, music is just background noise. Something to have on quietly while you go about your daily life. For others. Music really matters. I fall into the second category. Without music, I doubt I would be alive today.
Music has been there for every special moment in my life. Connecting all the mundane moments in life to the truly magical events or even just reminding me of the various heartbreaks. Like most artists I tend to work with music surrounding me. I also try and pick a song title to name a lot of my art, where suitable.
I didn’t listen to music growing up. If we had the radio on, it would have been the Christian station, Radio Rhema. Even then I really only listened to the Old Testament bible stories told by robots (I mean who else does an eight year-old kid get to read them stories from 2000 years ago?) So when the other kids at school would talk about music I would more often or not just pretend I knew who or what they were talking about. It got to the point where I once had to make up a poem for some class competition about a local radio station. The teacher obviously could see I had no idea what the subject was and so just glued the entry form, poem side down with the brightly, coloured picture facing outwards. I remember feeling really bummed out about that.
But hey, life got worse…
The Seeds Were Sown: Tears for Fears – Sowing the Seeds of Love
The first musical object I ever owned was a 7” vinyl single I won from the Christchurch Star in the 1980’s. It was the Tears for Fears single Sowing the Seeds of Love. I had no idea what the song or who the band was but I was so ecstatic to own my very own record that it didn’t matter!
It’s a big, bombastic, throw-everything-into-the-pot, 80’s single. It also features an amazing over-the-top music video which won many awards.
The funny thing was, as me and my sister never played music on Dad’s stereo, we had no idea there were different speeds for different size records.
Every day after school I would rush home to play the one item of music that was mine… at the wrong speed of 33rpm instead of 45rpm! It wasn’t until a friend flicked the switch on the turntable that I got to hear it at the correct speed. Funny thing is, to this day I still think the correct speed sounds too fast!
Living the Siamese Dream: The Smashing Pumpkins – Hummer
Once I discovered my own music at high school I was in deep.
I found out you could get CD’s from the local library and borrowed Siamese Dream by The Smashing Pumpkins. I would then copy the CD onto a tape and play it on repeat. This album just blew my newly forming teen mind. Those dreamy guitars, those crazy vocals! I was hooked.
The Pumpkins were also the first proper big gig I ever went to. It was May 1996 and I was still at high school, so I sent my dad along to wait in line and get the ticket. None of this fancy online buying tickets. I was always grateful my Dad was able to do that. I also once spent a lonely Christmas day in London pretty much by myself with a cheap bottle of wine and a borrowed copy of Siamese Dream. (Best Xmas ever? Maybe not… but still pretty good).
Litter on the Breeze: Suede – Trash
I’ve always felt more in tune with the English way of life and their style of music and moods. Give me a nice rainy day over a bright, scorching hot sun any time. Trash by Suede sums the band up perfectly and is so 90’s it hurts. But I love that pain. (when I first started making my street art and other work, I worked under the name Trash Design. I was told to change that to something else, so I just went with my boring real name. I’ve since been given another way cool handle to use, Bossk-Cat, but it seems too late to try and change now!)
I haven’t got a stitch to wear: The Smiths – This Charming Man
Sure, lead singer Morrissey has turned into an utter twat over the last seven or so years (I won’t say anymore on that subject), but The Smiths as a band have an almost flawless body of work. I did have fun pasting up various The Smiths singles posters around Christchurch years ago. There can’t be many other cities that can say that. This Charming Man is always guaranteed to get me up dancing.
I’m picking up good vibrations: The Beach Boys – Good Vibrations
Like most nerdy music lads, I got into the Beach Boys years ago. I could link in some deep cut, but really, if you listen to Good Vibrations and don’t feel happy, something must be seriously wrong with you. I had the joy of watching my daughter (Alba, who is two-and-a-half) dancing with sprigs of parsley in each hand to this song recently. I must have been at least 17 before I did that.
My late father did like some ABBA and I found a cheap copy of ABBA Gold on cassette tape. I would drive around in my blue VW Beetle playing it in my car tape deck for a laugh in the late 90’s. But I started to genuinely like the tunes. Hell, I even gave a 10-minute talk on how amazing
ABBA was at a Polytech presentation in the late 90s. They really are a perfect ‘pop’ band. It’s interesting to see the band is about to release a new album, their first in 40 years, and it’s not just some cash tie-in. I mean, this band turned down $1 billion dollars to reform in 2000! Anyway…it’s hard to choose a favourite from ABBA. So let’s just go with S.O.S.
Everyone you know someday will die: The Flaming Lips – Do You Realize??
Death…it’s going to get us all one day. It’s hard to remain in the now and just enjoy the people in our lives. This track by the Flaming Lips always brings a tear to my eye. Just another of those ‘perfect pop songs’ by a band just doing what they do. I also had the pleasure of dancing with the Lips up on stage back in London circa 2003. I was dressed as a parrot. I have a photo of me and the band taken by Beth Orton somewhere (I still can’t believe that I had the cheek to ask Beth Orton to take a photo of us all!).
Cause you are gonna: William Shatner – You’ll Have Time
William Shatner released an amazing album titled Has Been back in 2004.
It was produced and arranged by Ben Folds with most of the tracks written by Folds and Shatner. It’s an album that shouldn’t work, but it just does.
Shatner’s over the top delivery is just perfect and a lot of the songs are really heartbreaking. One song is about finding his wife drowned in the pool and another is about trying to reconnect with his estranged daughter.
They get me every time.
But today I want you to hear this track from Bill. People either love it or hate it. I suppose we don’t like being told we are going to die. I would also often clear people from the CD store I managed with this track… Ahh, the looks the locals in Merivale gave me. Priceless.
Bad dreams in the night: Kate Bush – Wuthering Heights
With the arrival of my daughter, Alba, I wanted to make sure I play more music made by strong females. I do tend to be male-centric with my listening. Not entirely sure why. I suppose it’s who I relate to with the lyrics and singing style. But Kate Bush is here, for all her uniqueness. She played the music game her way and got away with it.
Her first ever released single was Wuthering Heights which to this day is still her most famous track. She wrote the song after catching the ending of the 1967 BBC adaptation of the 1847 novel. She was only 18 at the time and recorded the vocals in one take. Only toured twice 1979 and 2014 and sporadically puts albums out when she feels they are ready.
I could easily select any of Kate’s work, but will just stick with her first offering.
It’s not always music…
More often than not, I work alone and sometimes you just get sick of tunes and music and need a break from everything. The following are my go-to for a ‘no music playlist’:
Casablanca – Full soundtrack with film bites
Max Richter – 8 Hours Sleep Score
Steve Roach – Structures From Silence
This 29min ambient track is just sublime. It’s like a direct shot straight to the brain of pure “weightlessness”. I often fall asleep to this track.
And finally some audio books:
The two Alan Partridge books read by Alan Partridge, I, Partridge and Nomad are hilarious. The Sandman by Neil Gaiman is not only one of the greatest stories EVER, but now it has also been made into an audio book with a star-studded cast. Listen to it, before the Netflix show begins next year…
Follow Mark on Instagram and Facebook and keep an eye out for the next issue of Tune!
Bloom n Grow Gal’s affection for music was clear from our first conversation. The more we chatted and the more I have come to know about her work and process, the connection became even more apparent. When I suggested she write a list of her favourite songs for Tune! she was immediately excited. When I received her list, it was accompanied by an admission” “I’m not sure if I have done this correctly…” and explanation that she could have added a heap more musical influences. But as I started to read, it was, in her inimitable style, clear that she had got it spot on – connecting songs to her memories and lived experience (I was transported to my own recollections as I listened to The Strokes and Temper Trap) and illustrating that many of us are captivated by the connection between art and music from a young age and that it endures as we grow…
Music plays a huge part in my life, it always has. It sets a mood and helps create the environment. As far back as I can remember birthday and Christmas wishlists would consist of tapes, CDs and records and of course cassette players then portable CD players then iPods. Mum and Dad both have impressive record collections and I always remember spending hours and hours flicking through them and putting out my favourite artworks and lining them up. Looking back now, I think my first realisation of the relationship between art and music was in these records. The Beatles, ABBA, The Clash, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, they all had incredibly cool record sleeves and music. I collected so many CDs, every paycheck I would be down to the local music shop buying all my favourites! I was always so envious of friends that had Sky TV, just have the music channels on whenever they wanted. This is bringing back so many moments! Where do I even start…or stop!
For me, music and my art represent moments in my life, the journeys I was on, or the beginning of something. This was incredibly hard to get down on paper because I get so much feeling and energy from music I don’t even know where to start! The DJ Anne Mac who I listened to on BBC Radio one throughout my teens and adult life recently had her final show and something she said in it just got me thinking about how I feel when a song comes on that I just connect with: “If you like the music you gotta get up and dance, just do it…” If it’s not dancing, it’s drawing, or wheat-pasting, or sewing… Create, Dance, Move!
Song: Mr. Scruff – Get A Move On
I think I was about 16-17 years old, me and a friend had gotten Mr. Scruff tickets. I’d loved the artwork behind Mr. Scruff as it had always connected with me. I was doing my art A levels and hating every moment, everything had to look like Van Gogh. I just wanted to be doing my own thing, I didn’t want to be sat trying to paint sunflowers exactly like Van Gogh. The Mr. Scruff concert was so awesome, I still remember it to this day. I think it was my first time getting properly high on weed. Mr. Scruff has these visuals that played on the screens and I remember just being so amazing at the connection with the music and the animations and how fun they were. just over ten years later, I got to do something similar at P.B. n Jam – The Show. I got to have my illustrations on a screen alongside music!
Song: The Temper Trap – Sweet Disposition
I remember listening to this song on my iPod mini on a bus, going from Barcelona Airport to the centre of Barcelona. I remember the colours of the sunset sky, how tired I was, but how beautiful and exciting it was. It was around the time I really started getting into point and click film cameras. Growing up mum and dad had documented our whole childhood on film. I just loved flicking through the albums, looking at the colours, the graininess, and the imperfections and blurs created by the risk of having one chance and one moment. I loved the spontaneous nature of the picture, the single chance you had to get it right. But then, even if it wasn’t quite right, there was always something nice about the picture. Although I wouldn’t say I am a photographer, I love taking photos on films. I love the unknown surprises that come with it. It’s like a metaphor for life, you don’t know how it’s going to turn out but you’ve got to try to find out (that might have sounded better in my head!).
Song: The Strokes – Someday
The Strokes have honestly been with me through so much; so many late nights at university getting the final bit of my projects finished. Their music carries me through the night and early hours of the morning and motivates me to get things finished. In between drawing I can always get up and have a boogie too. Their music just makes me want to use all the colours on every corner of every page. So yeah, The Strokes are my go-to for an artist deadline!
Song: Radiohead – Reckoner
Reckoner brings back some mixed feelings. It was a song and a band that got played a lot in my university years. Throughout university, I always doubted myself, and I was extremely hard on myself. I thought everything I was creating and had no purpose. I look back now and see how everything I was doing was just me developing as a person, you need to make mistakes or you never learn. Radiohead reminds me of just that.
Song: Elliot Smith – Needle In The Hay
I first heard Elliot Smith featured in the Wes Anderson film The Royal Tenenbaums. This song always reminds me of Wes Anderson films. I love their colour palettes, the film sets and the clothes.
Song: The Beatles – Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds
I feel like it wouldn’t really be my art and music list without having a Beatles song in there. It was honestly hard to pick just one song because two albums covers I would always pull out from my parent’s collection were Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Yellow Submarine. I loved all the people on the cover of the Sgt Pepper’s album, and the flowers at the front. I still think to this day it’s one of my favourites. I loved the collage effect. Collage is something I always love the look of, but don’t think I quite have it. But then, if I think about my paste-ups, that in itself is a kind-of collage, so maybe I am being a little hard on myself again! I loved the movie Yellow Submarine too and my favourite part was when Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds played. I always use to sing it as “Lydia in the sky with diamonds”… I just love the colours!!!
Song: Jorge Ben Jor – Take It Easy My Brother Charles
Honestly, it was so hard to get down six songs! I am constantly changing up my music and returning to old favourites at the same time. A song that is getting me through this lockdown is Jorge Ben Jor’s Take It Easy My Brother Charles. It is full of joy and colour, it gets me out of bed in the morning ready to draw some flowers. Actually I think I am going back to drawing more flowers now!
Follow Bloom n Grow Gal on Instagram and Hello I Am on Facebook to keep up with all of BGG’s activities, from art to exhibitions…
Check out our other issues of Tune! for the ever-growing playlist our artist friends are creating!
The flowers were intriguing. They were familiar and earnest and yet other-wordly. They sprang forth from the concrete surroundings with a fantastical whimsy, part of a city-wide takeover alongside the pasted images populating our walls. I soon found out that the artist behind my new favourite paste ups was Bloom n Grow Gal (BGG), or Lydia Hannah Thomas (sometimes just Lyds), a Northern Irish artist now living in Christchurch who was part of the Slap City collective. Soon, I found out BGG was also busy curating and hosting exhibitions, the first being More the Show, a group show of work by Ōtautahi wahine that included music, food, drinks and an array of creations. The show was hosted at The BOXed Quarter and drew an excited crowd. I finally met the artist one Sunday morning at Green Lane markets, quickly chatting about a range of topics it become clear that she was an energetic, enthusiastic force. Wandering around the market we bumped into each other again, this time she was busy drawing on the floor next to her stall, her energy focussed on her creative output. Now, BGG is presenting PB n’ Jam, a unique show in collaboration with Flux that combines art and music, with live art and performances creating a byline throughout. We caught up with Bloom n Grow Gal for a chat about her journey to New Zealand, her illustration background, her introduction to Slap City, tending to flowers and the shows she loves to put on…
I’m going to put you on the spot, how would you introduce yourself?
Terribly! I’m not very good at telling people about myself! I would just say I’m a doer, I’m a people pleaser, but I hate talking about myself! I love talking about art and music, but when it comes to introducing yourself, “Hi, I’m Lydia, I’m 30 years old. I’m from Northern Ireland…” Arghh, I hate it!
How did you get from Northern Ireland to Ōtautahi?
I was always dreaming of getting out of Ireland. I don’t know why, I’ve just always kind of enjoyed my own company and doing things for myself, by myself. I’m like a loner but I have lots of friends! I worked out a way to get out of Ireland and that was going to university, even though it was to do illustration, which seems pointless looking back now! I wouldn’t recommend! But all these things happen for a reason. So, at university I met somebody. His parents lived over here so we came over here, and I felt free and a little bit empowered being so far away from everything. I think I was really hard on myself back in the UK. I judged myself and never thought myself any good. I felt like there was a lot of competition in the UK and it wasn’t nice, it felt like everybody was out to get you. New Zealand felt to me like this like fresh chapter. I didn’t know anybody. I didn’t know where I was. I was so far away from it all. So, now I’m here.
And how did you end up in Ōtautahi?
I just love the beauty of it. It sounds terrible because places like the West Coast of Ireland are just amazing. But there was something about flying in over the Canterbury Plains and the Southern Alps, it was just so beautiful. When I came here seven years ago, Christchurch wasn’t very appealing. So I ended up living in Methven for years and I think I ended up getting a little bit lost. I was trying to find out where I fit in this country town, but I realised that I just didn’t. I kind of met somebody in Christchurch and I started coming here and going to the art gallery when that re-opened and going to all these other pop-up galleries, and it started to become exciting. Then just before lockdown last year, I went through a break-up, I lost my job, I felt like I had nothing to lose, so I came to Christchurch. The first person I met when I moved here was Ben Lyttle. He was like this chilled creative and honestly, he was the first creative person I’d met since I came to New Zealand. I remember feeling that enjoyable sense of creating again, which I hadn’t felt for so long. That led me to Slap City. I remember the first Slap City that I went to, Vez passed me a bit of sticker paper and was like, just draw and I thought my god, I haven’t drawn in seven years! But I feel like that’s how it started, by simply drawing again. It was so enjoyable, I missed it living in Methven, driving trucks and going to the pub…
You weren’t doing anything creative in Methven?
I’ve always enjoyed making gifts. I’m known for always making birthday cards or a painting or something like that for people. I was doing a lot of baking, I don’t anymore, but I guess that was like my creative output, almost without even realizing it. I’ve always had sketching. I’m always sketching my food, my drinks, things that are in front of me, which is weird because my flowers are in my head, the complete opposite. I think I’ve got like seven years of creativity built up inside me. But I think I needed that, because I think university was so competitive with this weird grading system of putting a mark on your art, which I never really understood, that it really knocked my confidence. That’s why I’m like, don’t go to university, just do you! But at university, I would put on shows for people to show their art and I guess I saw the pleasure people get out of seeing their art on show and people buying art to put on their walls, and just knowing people are having a good time.
Is a sense of positive community important to you? It seems like things like Slap City and the shows you are putting on are all about people coming together…
That’s why I enjoy doing the shows, because I don’t care what your background is, I just think your stuff is amazing. I love it when people have side hustles taking photos or weaving or painting, it doesn’t matter if they are a lawyer or a teacher by day. Who cares about your background, history, education and whatever, this is what you are producing, and it is amazing! I’m so happy that I’m able to give people a platform. There was a girl in the last show [More the Show] who said she had a friend who wanted to be part of it. I got in contact with her and she said she had a pair of earrings, is that going to work? I’m like, that sounds so great! Everybody was doing their own thing, and this was her take on her art, a pair of earrings. I’m like that’s awesome! For some people earrings are just a piece of jewelry that you wear, but actually somebody’s taking the time to think about it and put their creativity into them. So, I was really happy for them to be in the show. It was her first show and she ended up selling them, it was amazing!
That idea of defining what art can be leads to the question of how you started making art in the streets, which itself is a way to break down conventions of how art is presented and consumed…
I want to say I’m precious about things, but I’m really not, I’m actually quite good at just throwing stuff out, of getting rid of things. I mean, I packed up everything in the UK and came here! But yeah, the idea of going out and putting my art in the streets just excites me. There is a flower not far from here, it’s slowly peeling away and it looks even better than when I put it up! Just walking around, doing my ‘dog walk loop’, I get to see how it changes and weathers. It’s really exciting. Should I add to it because somebody’s written over it? Or should I just leave it? Will somebody do more to it?
There is a lovely sense of both contributing to the landscape but also recognizing that you have to let things evolve as well. Did you have any previous experience making art in the streets?
When I was at university, I did a little bit of wheat pasting, but not a huge amount. It’s weird, I used to love taking a lot of film photography because it was so cheap to get it developed. I remember my ex and I were both so fascinated with billboards and stickers. We went to Berlin and Prague and all our pictures of us on holiday aren’t of us, they are just of these walls with drawings on them. I remember being in Budapest and drinking in this bar and it had all these illustrations on the walls and we just sat there for ages. So, although I wasn’t doing it back then, it’s amazing how fascinated I was by it all. I think my lack of confidence back then was why I never put my work out there, but now it’s like, yeah, let’s just do it.
It’s interesting, because street art was supposed to make art more accessible and participatory, it removed the elitist structures…
I think Slap City really boosted my confidence. I still watch Beautiful Loserson repeat and I remember ten years ago thinking, these people are so cool, I could never be that cool! But now some people think I’m cool! I’m getting tagged in posts by people I don’t even know. People are posting about my art. I never thought that it was good, but everybody takes it a different way and sees it in different ways. I think I’ve been so harsh on myself, and Slap City has been so positive. Everybody is like, let’s collab, let’s do this, that’s awesome! There was somebody a couple of weeks ago and it was their first time at Slap City. They were so rigid, and I remember that’s how I felt my first time. But you just keep going and then you’re like, I could do anything! Now I’m going out on my own and pasting up at night. Honestly, it makes me so happy. It’s like the best form of therapy.
Ultimately, whether it’s that circle around Alleged Gallery or the Slap City collective, they are communities of people with shared interests who want to support each other. And while the internet helped foster those networks, it feels like more recently it has been divisive and tribalistic and toxic, so it’s refreshing to have those real-world connections…
A couple of years ago I started going through my Instagram and saying this is not good for me, this doesn’t interest me, and my Instagram has become more art and street art influenced. It’s really more focused on joy and my inspirations. It shows the headspace and transition that I have been on over the last couple of years. It got me thinking about Slap City and that sense positivity and how maybe if I had that ten years ago at university it might have led on a very different path. Looking back at it now, it’s no wonder I was a mess, it was too competitive, but now I’m just so empowered to be creative. I feel right now there’s just such a great community within Christchurch, people supporting each other. It just keeps you creating, getting better and better without even realizing it. I look at what I was first doing at Slap City late last year and how I kept going and I kept doing things…
I first saw you flowers on Madras Street…
My first ones!
I loved the stylization, the appearance of nature, but in this surreal, fantastical style. They were so simple but so striking. I asked Teeth Like Screwdrivers who had made them and he said, “Our Lyds” and you could kind of tell he was so stoked that you were putting your art out there. Where did the flowers come from?
I can’t keep plants alive to save my life, but I’ve always been fascinated with flowers. Growing up my Grandad’s garden was just beautiful. It was massive and had so many flowers. As kids we’d always plant sunflowers and have sunflower races. I’m quite a colorful person so I just love the colors of flowers as well. They are just all so individual. They come and go, they are not meant to last forever. If I could just keep flowers alive!
In that regard they are fitting for art in the streets, where everything is fleeting. It is also interesting that you note the individuality of flowers, because we tend to think in categories, right? But flowers, like humans are all distinct. Was that in your thinking when you started drawing flowers?
I think I say it was now, but honestly, I don’t really think I was thinking about it. I just was doing it because I was really enjoying throwing one out and being like, oh, maybe I’ll change that or I’ll do that again. I like to do it fast, without overthinking the process. I think they end up being really pretty and people seem to enjoy them. I did this series of flowers on pieces of paper, like 100 of them, all drawn individually. I did them sitting and watching films. It was like therapy. It went through my mind to photocopy them, but I love how I’ve drawn every single one and every single one is individual. Just like flowers. Maybe I will change, maybe I will do photocopies, but I don’t know…
More recently, there have been the coloured A4 pages with lettering over the flowers, with phrases like ‘I can sing’, ‘I can dance’ and ‘I can parallel park’…
I’ve always loved text. I’ve always been so fascinated by short but bold statements. I love typography. I don’t think I’m very good at it, but I just love to dabble in it. It’s kind of ironic, because I’m severely dyslexic, and I spell a lot of things wrong sometimes, especially the first ‘parallel park’ one that I did! I’m quite inspired by David Shrigley’s paintings, how they are not necessarily positive, but they are to the point, and that’s why I began with ‘live, laugh love’. It was kind of taking the piss, but people can put their own interpretation on it, just like I have my own thoughts about it. I just needed something short and sweet. Recently, I was parking and my friend said can you parallel park? And I was like, I’m 30 years old! Of course I can parallel park! So, the affirmations grew from that…
Earlier we were saying that neither of us consider ourselves amazing singers, but that doesn’t mean we can’t sing, right? We absolutely can!
It just feels like I’m in such an empowered position writing these messages on pieces of paper and putting them around Christchurch, literally nothing’s stopping me! And if somebody sees the ‘live laugh love’ works and it puts a smile on their face, that’s great, knowing that someone might have a chuckle, I like that idea. But I also love that I don’t have to stick with this, I don’t have to keep processing it. It was something I did. I really enjoyed it. Now let’s see what the next thing I can do will be. I’m thinking about song lyrics, digging back into my Yeah Yeah Yeahs phase. I’m going to go buy some supplies today…
Music is so important for so many artists, you have a wide range of musical tastes, right?
I don’t know how people can sit in silence. It freaks me out! I’m into a lot of dance and jungle at the moment, it makes me want to get up and move my body. I feel free and like I’m enjoying myself. But I was watching something the other day and an advert came on with Radiohead’s High and Dry and it triggered something in my brain that took me back ten years ago to university. I just had to listen to that song. I started listening to it and for some people it might mean something else completely, but for me it was like OK, I need to draw right now! That is what inspired me and then that led on to all these other bands on Spotify shuffle. Music definitely is a trigger. I like how music puts you in the mood and I love a wide range of genres. I was listening to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs the other night and Skeleton came on and it got me really emotional, but in a good way. It brought out all these sad statements, thinking about past boyfriends and breakups and things like that. But it was good because it made me feel creative. I think you still need to embrace the shit times and the music that triggers the sadness. But then MIA comes on, like Bad Girls, and I’m like, right, give me my big black marker, I want to go to town! But when I listen to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs or Radiohead, that brings out smaller, more delicate drawings. Music triggers different kind of moods and how you want to express yourself in different ways. Sometimes when I’m pasting, I will listen to going for a run music, getting the blood pumping. But then I start and I take the headphones off and look around sheepishly, haha!
You already have quite a multi-directional practice, making art in the streets and at home, as well as organizing and curating shows. Do you put much thought into where it all goes next?
When it comes to art, I am so chaotic! Sometimes I lie awake at night and I always have my diary or something next to my bed, or if my diary is downstairs, it’ll be my phone. My notes are just full of ideas, some don’t even make sense! Half the time these ideas come to me in the middle of the night. I’ll wake up and kind of sketch it down. I think that’s why the flowers are good because I can just smash a load of them out and I’m done. Then sometimes I can go for a couple of days where nothing inspires me, maybe I’m a bit tired or something. I have no structure to my art whatever!
Putting together the shows must be an extension of your need to be creative as well. Your first show I was aware of was More the Show at The Boxed Quarter earlier this year…
Yeah, that was my first show in Christchurch. It was inspired by meeting Sofiya Romanenko. I was blown away by her photography, they are so beautiful, they needed to be on show. So, I thought, let’s just do this. I will be in it because there will probably be nobody else, so it will be me and Sofia. But then I asked a couple of other people, thinking maybe five people would be in the show. But then it grew to 15, and I was like, oh my goodness, and then it got to 25! I was so overwhelmed by just how many people wanted to be part of it. I still can’t get over it. I don’t even know how to put it into words. But I put on More the Show with 25 artists, and it was really amazing. I can’t believe how good it was to give a platform for people to express themselves. I worked really hard, but it was so unbelievably rewarding. It was so exciting. Artists were messaging me, asking is this OK? Is this going to work? I’ve got something a little bit bigger, or meet my friend, she’s also an artist who would be great. I was creating another family within Christchurch and that was so important to me as well. I met so many amazing people. I was on cloud nine and then it was over, and I felt really sad, like I didn’t have a purpose. I thought it was just going to be a one-off thing. But then my brain started ticking away and I was like, OK, let’s do something else. Zak from Flux popped in and he was like, do you want to do something? He had this idea of bringing music and art together, which totally got me. Back in the UK I loved going to art and music festivals, so its a dream to be bringing art and music together. I can’t believe I’ve been given this opportunity to work with artists and musicians and it’s all going to come together in this beautiful place. So, I was like OK, now I have something to put my mind to again and start creating. In my head, I realised 25 artists was awesome, but maybe this time I would stick to fewer people, so it’s a little bit more relaxed. The idea of PB n’ Jamwas that the artists would be the peanut butter, you know a little bit nutty, and the music would be the jam. I thought sticking to Slap City people would also suit the vibe, people like Teeth Like Screwdrivers. When I asked him, he was like, why me? I’m not an artist! But the thing is, he is, of course he is! I still can’t get over how shocked people are when you ask them to be part of something and it reminds me of myself when I was younger and had no confidence. Nobody asked me to be in an art show and now I’m in that position where I can be like, you should be in this show. This week people have been sending me updates of what they are doing and I know I’ve chosen the right people for the job because everybody is just psyched for it…
People really value the chance to be included…
Even with More, it was just so positive. I’ve not had a negative experience and I am just so excited to doing this with amazing people…
How will PB n’ Jam combine those elements of music and art?
When Zak and I first talked about it, we were thinking of a festival, which was really great, but was probably too much for me right now. So, we decided I was going to do the art show part and Zak would do the music part. Then we had the idea for live art. I’m getting some boards off Green Lane for live painting on the night. We also started thinking about visuals and projections, which took me back to my Mr. Scruff days in the UK, the gigs with projections of doodles and illustrations, with tea being served at the back! So, we’ve got visual projections which will help tie everything together; the music will be playing, the artists will be working, visuals will be projected, there will be a nice flow between the art and the music.
Who are you excited for people to see?
I love all the artists, but I’m excited to see what Teeth like Screwdrivers and Bongo come up with. All the other artists have been in shows, but asking these two street artists, who kind of throw things up all over the place, I think I’ve really kind of caught them off guard and tested them. I really like what both of them are planning, I’ve got a couple of little tasters and I think they definitely got the point!
PB n’ Jam opens 5:30pm, Friday, 13th August at Flux in the Boxed Quarter