I am actually skeptical August even happened. I have the most fleeting recollections of some days that purported to be in August, but I have no certainty, such was the speed with which it passed. On the bright side of this hurtling stream of months is, of course, the impending arrival of weather conducive to art making outdoors – longer days, warmer nights and a bigger audience… But before we get to all that, let’s use all of our available resources to paint a picture of what happened in the mysterious month of August…
Jay Hutchinson @ Fiksate
We have been fans of Ōtepoti artist jay Hutchinson’s work for a while, so it was brilliant to come face to face with his hand-embroidered refuse in our favourite gallery. From a discarded Subway napkin to a greasy KFC chip box (both presented on chunks of asphalt), the jarring juxtaposition of delicate beauty and overlooked mundanity striking and alluring.
Yikes’ startled character, seemingly locked between brick pillars on Manchester Street has been a favourite for years, but a recent addition by IRONS highlighted the way pieces can become a harmonious pairing. IRONS’ painting above Yikes’ work feels entirely organic due to the green background echoing the older piece, a perfect understanding of how to seamlessly fit in…
Ikarus X YSEK
If the Yikes and IRONS juxtaposition was more a response from the latter, Ikarus and YSEK’s Sydenham collaboration was much more planned, a combination of each artists’ iconic style – the unmistakable letter forms of Ikarus and YSEK’s signature animal characters, in this case a blue-skinned lizard, all tied together with a sewer background and unified colour scheme. Chef’s kiss.
Black Panther 2 Trailer
OK, so technically it was released in July, but let’s just say I only saw it in August. The trailer for Black Panther 2 is pretty epic, adding new elements to the story and hinting at the handling of the tragic loss of Chadwick Boseman. Technically it isn’t urban art related, but as someone suggested, the mural of T’Challa spotted in the trailer looks like a Retna and El Mac collaboration, which is good enough for me!
Part of a larger series of workshops aimed at artistic up-skilling and targeting both practicing and emerging creatives, Exploring Aerosol will present the potentials of spray paint as a medium for the streets and the studio. Aerosol has long been established as the iconic tool of graffiti and urban art, allowing a practicality and a particular aesthetic that means, despite growing environmental concerns and increasingly diverse and multi-faceted approaches, this status endures within the culture and public perceptions. Importantly, aerosol has been harnessed by artists as both for painting walls as well as a studio tool.
Exploring Aerosol will be held at the beautiful Woolshed at Te Ana Marina in Lyttelton and will be hosted by one of Ōtautahi and Aotearoa’s most celebrated and skilled aerosol artists, Wongi ‘Freak’ Wilson. Wongi, a member of the famed DTR Crew, is highly respected for his ability with a can, from clean, crisp, poppy effects to amazing realism on huge scales. In this workshop, Wongi will delve into the backbone of aerosol as a tool for graffiti and then into a diverse range of techniques.
Exploring Aerosol will offer a hands-on experience led by one of our most experienced urban artists – this is not to be missed!
With limited spaces available, places will be allocated via an application process, with application forms available from email@example.com or via the Toi Ōtautahi website. Applications open Monday, 23rd May, and must be received by Friday, 3rd June. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with any enquiries.
Exploring Aerosol – A Masterclass Workshop, 10:30am – 3:30pm, Saturday, June 18th, 2022 at The Woolshed, Te Ana Marina, Lyttelton.
This month’s And That Was… is a special edition – dedicated to the impact of the Flare Street Art Festival across March (the festival opened on the 2nd and eventually came to a close on the 20th, an extended run). Who better to break down the highlights than Flare project manager Selina Faimalo, who gamely took on the challenges of such a multi-faceted event, and headline artist and pop-up gallery curator, Kophie Su’a-Hulsbosch (aka Meep). From the amazing murals to the additional elements of tours, exhibitions, panel talks and more, Selina and Kophie break down what made Flare such a success!
The Flare Ōtautahi Street Art Festival was a conglomeration of large murals, a pop-up exhibition, graffiti art, guided tours and art talks.
The ARCC collective wanted the festival to be a collaborative event, with artists involved in the curation of the event and to incorporate traditional graffiti as well as street art. Dcypher, Ikarus and of course, Kophie, were eager to jump on board to have the most authentic festival possible. It is amazing to break down Flare by the numbers:
Flare became a 20 day festival with a total of 44 artists participating, including seven headlining artists, as well as a three-artist collaborative 3D mural and a three-artist projection installation, a ‘Wahine Takeover’ at the BOXed Quarter with four female artists, an exhibition featuring 21 urban artists, and a two-part graffiti jam with 35 artists. Flare saw the completion of 44 new artworks across the SALT District. More than 1200 visited Flare Central on High Street, with many taking home art from the pop-up exhibition, while 136 people joined the guided tours (and more just tagged along!).
Overall, we had so many wins, including Koryu taking home Kathmandu’s People’s Choice Award (voted by FLARE attendees) and the heartwarming development of Olive the cat, star of SwiftMantis’ mural, finding a home when she was adopted from the Cat’s Protection League!
In addition, these were our personal highlights…
Kophie and I are the founders of The Conscious Club and until very recently we were based at The BOXed Quarter, an amazing part of SALT District with a variety of murals by different artists.
The Wāhine Takeover was added to the programme as when we were organising the graffiti jam, it became obvious that women graffiti artists are few and far between in Ōtautahi. Kophie took the initiative of choosing four wāhine to paint at the BOXed Quarter, adding a point of difference to the area and a diverse range of new artworks. The selected artists were Jen Heads from Fiksate Gallery, Lucia Kux from Berlin, who has a background in graffiti and is a tattoo apprentice, McChesney-Kelly Adams from Lyttelton, who specializes in realism and also has a tattoo apprenticeship and Jessie Rawcliffe, who specialises in highly detailed portraiture.
The Pop-Up Exhibition
As well as being one of the headlining artists, Kophie also curated the Flare Central pop-up gallery. The exhibition was primarily a representation of Ōtautahi graffiti and street artists as well as art work from our headlining artists. The curation of the gallery was to be a homage to graffiti art as the art form that began street art and large-scale murals and adds vibrancy and culture to the city.
Offline Collective x Fiksate
Offline Collective and Fiksate Gallery merged their creative outputs, mixing the work of local artists Dr. Suits and Jen Heads with Offline Collective’s renowned animated moving images. Overlaying visuals and interrupting the usually static images of both artists in two installations, the concepts were brought to animated life in an empty High Street space.
This installation was epic, exploring the murals at night and peering through the window on High St whilst eating an ice cream from Utopia (or even a few wines deep) was mesmerizing ! It was like seeing a Jen Head hologram from 2043!
We were so lucky with our selection of walls being so close together in the SALT District that all the murals were located within five minutes walk of each other.
Watch This Space facilitating the guided tours was absolutely amazing, Reuben’s passion and knowledge about the urban art scene had attendees hooked!! It created a sense of pride for residents learning about already existing art that they once just glossed over.
The great thing is, if you missed out you can still book in guided tour with Watch This Space!
The Watch This Space: Flare Artist Panel was another highlight. One of the biggest struggles with Flare was hosting a festival in red light setting, as well as being in the peak of everyone catching COVID! (including me, LOL!), with a limit on gatherings of 100. We were so grateful to have access to equipment through WORD Christchurch to live stream this so those isolating and all across Aotearoa could tune in!
We had all our headlining artists on the panel apart from Elliot Francis Stewart and Wongi who couldn’t make it, so it was really great to hear the diverse stories; their backgrounds and their journeys to where they are now.
As the festival was extended (we had a few artists down with COVID!), we ended up having two graffiti jams!
We had 20 Artists painting at Graffiti Jam Part One and 15 artists at Graffiti Jam Part Two, and it was so much fun to get the community together to paint legally and incorporate traditional graffiti into Flare. We even had North Island heavyweight Fuego, who happened to be in town at the right time, get a piece in!
Dcypher and Ikarus had been such a huge part of helping put Flare together and they facilitated both graffiti jams. They have a mana in Ōtautahi that brought everyone together and had a great time.
Both laneways are special in their own way and walking down each one takes you on a journey of a range of styles like walking into a gallery on the streets.
We honestly couldn’t be happier with how the festival turned out. Even though we were in peak Omicron and in the red traffic light setting, it all came together through an epic community and residents supporting the arts! Fingers crossed we can do it all again next year, and actually hold the street party!
Watch This Space, in partnership with the Flare Street Art Festival, was proud to present the first ever Flare Street Art Festival Artist Panel; a chance to sit down in conversation with five of the headline artists from the festival and reflect on their work in Christchurch, their careers, their influences and aspirations. The conversation, hosted at 12 Bar on March 11th, 2022, provided some great insights into contemporary urban art in Aotearoa, it’s evolution and the motivations of the artists who are transforming city walls brick by brick. With a mix of local artists (Ikarus and Meep) and visiting creatives (Kell Sunshine, Koryu and Swiftmantis), there was a sense of diversity among the panel and experiences spanning many years and settings, making it a great deep dive into graffiti, street art, muralism and more. Check out the full discussion below…
Thank you to Ikarus, Kell Sunshine, Meep, Koryu and Swiftmantis for their participation, the support from Selina Faimalo, Dcypher and the Flare crew, Matt, Kendra and the team at 12 Bar, the WORD Festival for the live streaming gear and to Corban Tupou for the technical expertise, we could not have done without you!
In this issue of Tune! artist and designer Kophie Su’a-Hulsbosch shares the music that matters to her. For the founder of Future Apparel and member of the Conscious Club, music is a vital component of her creative process, with hip hop a driving force in her thinking and making. From shooting and editing music videos with her partner Local Elements, to designing posters and album covers for local and international acts, Kophie’s art is deeply entwined with music, while her love of hip hop also reflects her social activism…
My name is Kophie and I am a freelancer artist/designer among other things. I have been drawing since I was young, and growing up in Wanaka, I was influenced by the skate and snow culture. Moving to Christchurch at the age of 10, I went from a small country town to an urban environment, I became obsessed with graffiti and it’s been a journey ever since. I used to love walking around the city and the tracks before the earthquakes, looking at all the newest pieces. Then the explosion of graffiti post-earthquake was cool to witness. My style is primarily influenced by hip hop (including graffiti), politics, street subcultures and lowbrow art. I have had a lot of art stolen, so I think I make art for broke people like me!
Music certainly influences my work, I listen to many genres but my primary influence is hip hop. Nothing touches my soul like hip hop, especially the power that lyrics can have. There are so many sub-genres within hip hop which I think is evident in the songs I have chosen, but I absolutely hate trap! I listen to most of these songs while I am working or creating depending on my mood or what tasks I have…
Songs: Verbz & Mr Slipz – Hope Feat. Nelson Dialect and Ocean Wisdom – Voices in my Head
I love UK hip hop and the movement over there is HUGE. I have been lucky to design single cover art with some big names in UK hip hop through an awesome producer over there called Planky. My favourite UK record label is High Focus, they are releasing the best artists. These two songs are artists from High Focus.
The Verbz & Mr Slipz track is my new favourite tune, and the Ocean Wisdom song is an old fave, it a track that is a bit more real and emotional.
Album: Choicevaughan and Tom Scott – Deuce
Tom Scott from Homebrew is probably my fave musician of all time and I have been listening to his music since high school so its had a massive influence on my life, he tends to talk about real-life New Zealand problems and politics. This album is a newer collab with Choicevaughan, a New Zealand producer featuring many other local musicians. It’s a pretty upbeat album and I listen to this on the weekly. My other favourite song from Tom Scott is Home, which gives me goosebumps or makes me cry every time I listen to it!
Song: Eno x Dirty – GETURSELF2GETHA
Eno x Dirty is real representation of New Zealand hip hop and I love the incorporation of Te Reo in the lyrics. I especially love the track GETURSELF2GETHA talking on all the bullshit conspiracies going around and the rise of fake news, the decline of critical thinking and the increasing division on social media.
Mix: Don’t Sleep Records
I love Don’t Sleep Records and I listen to this mix of boom bap and jazz hip hop all the time while I am working. It was recommended to me by my good friend Lucia. The samples used throughout this mix are about not sleeping, which I strongly relate to!
Song: Stephen Marley x Mos Def – Hey Baby
This one is a classic! It was released in 2007, but I love Mos Def/Yasiin Bey so much and his verse gives me goosebumps. I could listen to this song all day! I put this on when I want to be inspired…
Radio: Lo-fi – STEEZYASFUCK
This is my favourite lo-fi radio to put on when I really need to concentrate or do a lot or writing or research.
Song: Local Elements – Nine to Five
I have to slip in this upbeat track by my partner Local Elements – it is some awesome Christchurch hip hop!
“The rise of TMD as a creative collective has its origins in Auckland’s mid to late 90’s graffiti scene. The post-recessionary environment after the 1987 stock market crash was the perfect incubator for a thriving and vibrant Hip-Hop scene with a uniquely pacific slant. From the decrepit rail infrastructure to the abandoned buildings and vacant lots – the city provided an abundance of grey area where these young people could forge lifelong bonds, while cementing their sense of identity. With humble beginnings from this crew emerged its fair share of unsung and underground heroes as well as many of Aotearoa’s first global stars in the graffiti and large scale street art arena.” – ASKEW ONE (from The Dowse website)
There is no larger shadow in Aotearoa graffiti and street art history than Auckland’s TMD crew. While not the oldest graffiti crew in New Zealand, founded in 1997 by Phat1 and Adict, TMD has undeniably made an indelible mark on graffiti and street art culture both here and overseas. The collective has grown both in number (with over 35 past and present members, including international representatives from Australia and Germany, such as Vans the Omega, Sofles and WOW123) and scope, with its members ranging from recreational graffiti writers to professional artists, occupying streets, studios, galleries and beyond. Both collectively and individually the members of TMD have gained prominence here and overseas, from Phat1 and Diva’s (Charles and Janine Williams) Bird Gang mural work, telling stories of place through the symbolism of native birds, to Misery‘s instantly recognisable kitschy doe-eyed characters and Berst‘s dynamic letterforms and documentation of graffiti culture, where his online videos have an audience of tens of thousands.
In recent years, urban art has gained more widespread attention, publicly through the rise of contemporary muralism and its ability to infiltrate our daily experiences, but also institutionally, with the likes of Rise at the Canterbury Museum (2013) and Paradox at the Tauranga Art Gallery (2016). The staging of TMD: An Aotearoa Graffiti Story at Lower Hutt’s The Dowse Art Gallery (who themselves have a history of urban art-related exhibitions dating back to the turn of the Milliennium), running from late March until June, is a welcome development. Rather than attempting to present a more generic survey or a one person show, the exhibition considers the broader cultural movement of graffiti within the tighter focus of the TMD crew while still spanning styles and historical narratives; contextualising both the roots of the TMD crew within the setting of mid-90s and early 2000s Auckland, and their current exploits, successfully packaging the complexities and trajectories of contemporary urban art and artists who have sprung forth from these rebellious beginnings, no longer held to any defined expectations.
The exhibition, curated by Dowse director Karl Chitham with Christchurch-raised TMD member Pest5/Johnny 4Higher, is split between two distinct zones, an immersive installation space, featuring formative and contextual commentaries, and a more traditional white-walled gallery presentation that highlights the current work of crew members, spanning painting, sculpture, photography and more. This format allows the viewer to consider the significant journey undertaken by the crew, from an idea to unite disparate graffiti writers into a collective of diverse creatives, placing them within the wider narrative of New Zealand art while acknowledging the significance of graffiti culture to generations of young New Zealand creatives.
On entering the exhibition, visitors are greeted by a writers bench and a set of painted train carriages, with an echo of recorded discussions just audible. Smaller tags on the bench play off against the larger and more bombastic train pieces. The track setting highlights the centrality of train painting in graffiti culture not just locally, but internationally, although with a specific Aotearoa profile. Behind the bench is another slice of Kiwiana, an iconic corner dairy, a bastion of New Zealand childhoods across generations. The fabricated dairy, named the ‘The Mini Dairy’ (TMD), utilises all the nostalgic riffs, from the Tip Top-inspired signage to dollar mixtures (the lollies replaced with aerosol nozzles), neon star price points and an arcade video game machine (supposedly out of order). A cynical eye might point out that the dairy is primarily the exhibition shop, providing the opportunity to peddle merchandise, but it also has several conceptual references as an installation in its own right. Dairies served as a location youngsters not only congregated around, but also as a community hub that would often provide the opportunity for legal or commissioned murals on their walls prior to larger commercial projects becoming a reality. Furthermore, the dairy exemplifies how the creation of commercial goods has been embraced by urban artists, from clothing to vinyl toys, a trajectory that might make the more elitist fine art world shudder (think of the blowback against Kaws by art commentators), but is a reality for many to make an artistic career possible and their art accessible to an audience perhaps less likely to frequent an art gallery.
Across an imaginary road is a grungy flat, based on a former residence where crew members congregated. The sparse room provides historical references in analogue form with tags and drawings on the walls (including a roll call in the classic New Zealand Straights lettering style) and scattered photo albums, event posters and blackbooks, but also digitally – with videos from TMD member Berst’s Real Time web series playing on the boxy 90s TV, and an old PC for surfing websites such as ArtCrimes, an influential forum for the graffiti world and an inspiration to many TMD members. The worn surroundings, devoid of luxury, highlight the drive to make things from nothing and the dominant influence of graffiti on the lives of these young creatives and the evolution of the relationship between graffiti and the internet.
Tucked around the corner, a rotating selection of photographs (photographers and crew members Rimoni and OneDeap have been key documentarians of this history) adds a personal face, members depicted painting, posing, and playing, projected oversized on the gallery walls, imbuing candid moments with significance. Either side, collaborative wall paintings highlight the traditional graffiti approaches and styles of crew members, referencing the common form of crew productions, as well as providing a bridge towards the gallery space and the work artists have developed over ensuing years. These immersive spaces are informative (notably the stories are not given to you in wall text, they become part of the environmental detail – wafting audio, static encoded video, interactive elements and references in the most traditional urban forms – tags and wall writing, a fit for graffiti’s own historical recording which has for a long time been largely folkloric), providing important context for viewers before they cross the threshold into the white cube space.
The ‘Post-Graffiti’ gallery space features works that span the spectrum of practice. Book-ended by impressive works at either end; Benjamin Work‘s tapa cloth-inspired banner unfurled from wall to floor, drawing on the iconography of his Tongan heritage and Lady Diva’s subtle flag-like geometric abstractions on wooden panels, suggesting references to carving and weaving that perhaps raise ideas of colonialism and imperialism, the spaces in between are filled with varied works. Askew‘s glimmering digital-influenced painterly abstractions that draw on the spectre of shifting human presence in our urban environments contrast with Deus’ (Elliot Francis Stewart) intricately illustrated coffee table, drawing the viewer closer to inspect the stunning graphic details on a mundane domestic object. Gary Silipa‘s unsettling and powerful installation filled with painted tyres, yellow chain links, tarpaulin and painted iconography sits near the still reverence of Berst’s pillar-like sculptural letter forms, light emanating from inside to give a celestial glow to an apparently devotional monument to graffiti. Other works highlight a raft of concerns, from social issues, cultural and national identity and self-reflection, to moments of everyday life, process-driven focus, riffs on the traditions and evolutions of graffiti writing and the urban environment and striking abstract ruminations. The diverse spectrum of themes, as well as styles, materials and approaches, suggests the personal creative journey of each contributor, and yet, there is an undefinable connection as well, the shared experiences and the original creative impetus of graffiti hang in the air, unifying the collection without requiring explicit threads.
While the format may mean some viewers relate with specific elements more than others, the narrative of TMD: An Aotearoa Graffiti Story could not be told in one presentation style alone. As it was probably to be expected, the exhibition drew some criticism for the presence of tagging, but to pick such a quarrel is to miss the bigger picture. Graffiti writing brought these young people together and is part of their creative pathway. The presence of graffiti is a central and necessary part of the story, informing the narrative both socially and formally. TMD: An Aotearoa Graffiti Story revels in the celebration of collectivism and its empowering potential for individual members. As a representation of urban art’s roots and future pathways, TMD: An Aotearoa Graffiti Story is surprisingly focussed. Rather than a pervasive survey of graffiti and street art in New Zealand, TMD: An Aotearoa Graffiti Story, nodding to those that came before and winking to the future, is grounded in the environments and relationships of the artists of TMD, a camaraderie that emanates throughout the history of this crew and the show itself.
TMD: An Aotearoa Graffiti Story at The Dowse Art Gallery runs until June 2021.
For the month of January Fiksate became a second home for itinerant artists Robert Seikon and Anastasia Papaleonida, the gallery’s first international residents. While Seikon is Polish, the couple are based in Greece, Papaleonida’s home country. That international flavor is further enhanced by their travels, with their arrival in Aotearoa following a stay in the Philippines and an exhibition in Taiwan. During their residency, I was able to spend time with the endearing duo. It was fascinating watching the two, who have been working together for almost twelve months, operate in the studio, each maintaining their distinct stylistic identity, while investigating the potential of collaboration. The artists alternate between a hyper-focus on their individual contributions and conferences around subtle details of composition and colour. But it is not just the studio where their collaborations flourish, with their work appearing on walls in numerous locations, including a number of works produced during their stay in Christchurch. While Seikon’s background in graffiti provides a lineage for this public practice, Papaleonida is relatively new to this approach, coming from a design foundation, bringing a unique consideration to their creative process. Their pairing has resulted in visually stunning works, where sharp, angular aspects contrast with organic elements, creating optical effects that invite the viewer to immerse themselves in the image, only to discover small, unsettling details that disrupt expectation, rewarding inspection. We caught up with Robert and Anastasia as their exhibition Long Trip of the Kokos drew near, taking in the sights and delights of Lyttelton, sitting down for a discussion about their experiences in Christchurch and New Zealand, their collaborative partnership and the differences working indoors and outside…
Welcome to Aotearoa! How long have you been in the country now?
RS: We have been here for one month already. It’s very nice.
What are your perceptions of New Zealand so far?
AP: Everything is very organized and super clean! You are in the middle of nowhere and there’s a bathroom with a paper, it’s like, what the fuck?! And in general, the people are super nice.
RS: It’s not only the toilets that are clean! The grass is cut everywhere, fresh walls are repainted, everything is clean. You get the feeling you are at the end of the world, that you are very far away. But everyone is super friendly, you feel comfortable as soon as you get out of the airport.
As artists, do the distinct atmospheres of different cities and countries start to influence your work?
RS: It makes a difference for sure. Here for example, during our trip from the North Island to the South Island, the landscape was changing almost every hour. The landscapes in New Zealand combine parts of European landscapes all together, which is very interesting for us. All the colors and shapes we have seen during this trip have made a big impact on us.
Both of you work in abstraction. What specific influences have fed into the recurring motifs in your work? Have they come from real world references?
AP: For me, it’s about landscapes, plants, organic things…
RS: For me it is both the natural landscape and the urban environment. But in this case, for this exhibition, I think mostly the landscape, because we have worked with the memories that we have collected over the last few weeks of being in New Zealand. Sometimes I like to be inspired by the city, but here it hasn’t been the case. If we work with a wall in the city, the surrounding area is going to inspire the wall, but for this exhibition the influence is mostly the natural landscape.
There is an interesting interplay between your individual approaches; Anastasia, your more organic forms that seem to reference the cellular and biological, while Robert, your lines and geometric forms seem more hard-edged. While those aspects are quite distinct, the colors seem much more of a collaborative component…
RS: We enjoy talking about color.
AP: Yes, on this trip we have worked a lot more with color. In the past we didn’t have the opportunity to do that much, we were working a lot with black and white.
RS: In general, we like to use black and white.
AP: But, after this trip, travelling in the Philippines and here, the colors we have seen have been amazing and we have started to mix more colours. With all the work we have prepared for this exhibition, we have mixed I don’t know how many colors…
RS: We haven’t used straight black like we have before. Everything is mixed with something…
AP: The vision that we have for the exhibition is to create an atmosphere that is unique, which comes through not using straight black like we have in the past.
This body of work has been created as part of your residency at Fiksate. You have noted the influence of your travels, but did you already have an idea of the work you were going to make when you arrived in Christchurch, or has the experience of the residency, the place and people, inspired the works as well?
AP: It has been interesting to work with other people around. For me, often when I’m working on something new, it takes time before I realize that something is happening for a particular reason. I can’t always see it at the time, but when I look back I can see that it came from somewhere…
I’ve noticed that your shared work station is very organized, from paint cups numbered in a spectrum of tints, to the way tools are laid out, is that something that has developed as part of your working relationship, or was it always evident individually?
RS: I think that is something we’ve both had from the past. Me, I always like to be precise and clean. We don’t even talk about it. We’ve got the same thinking in common…
Is that sense of order intrinsically necessary to make the work look the way it does, or is it just a comforting aspect? I’m sure you are both very particular about the clean lines, the perfect dots, the sharp shapes and the smooth gradients, so that organisation must be important in achieving those effects, right? In the studio you can control those elements a little bit more, but do you have the same level of preparedness and organization when you’re painting outdoors?
RS: Oh yes, I like to prepare my bag the day before, so I am ready to have breakfast and go. Then, the morning before painting, I check everything is in my bag; the roller, the sketchbook…
AP: You need this, you need this… Outdoors, it’s like a small studio because you are spending hours in that place and you need your stuff in specific places, so it is free for the wall and for your movements…
There is a physicality to the way each of you work, a physical activity that goes into creating the details, from precise movements to more sweeping gestures. I’ve noticed that when you are working in the studio, while there are times when you’re both working on the same piece, often one of you is active and the other is either observing or off to the side, is that simply to give each other the physical space for these movements?
AP: To be honest I haven’t thought about that before, but maybe, now that you’re saying it, it does work like that, because when someone wants to do something more precise, you need to give him the space to do it…
RS: It’s a good observation. When we work, for example when Anastasia is working and I’ve got a small break, I’m also thinking about the things that I will do next, I’m waiting for Anastasia to move so I can get another answer, you know? It’s like, this little bit here is developing, so what is going to happen next?
AP: It’s not like we are doing sketches and they are the final product. When we create something, we will always add something new, because that touch goes like that, or this line goes like this, and we look at the balance and realize that maybe something new needs to be done. I think this is very interesting because we don’t really know what the final image will be.
RS: We don’t really know what will happen.
AP: And you build that slowly with small moves, it becomes a surprise…
Anastasia, it feels like your dots would have a more spontaneous nature, while Robert, your diagonal lines would be more carefully planned and constructed. But, is that actually the case, or are you both more balanced in your approach?
RS: The biggest similarity we have is that when we are working, we are super focused. You go inside an element and nothing can disturb you. Both of us are very focused on the process of our work. I don’t know, even if the lines or the dots are repeated forms, they can be created from elements all around us, even though they are clean, they can be natural as well.
Your studio output will become the exhibition, Long Trip of the Kokos, but you will also paint several outdoor commissions as well, each in very different settings. Is it important to get out of the studio?
RS: We like to change the environment around us. After spending weeks preparing the exhibition, we have had enough of the studio. We couldn’t start next week again in the studio. I like to have a change when I’m painting, it’s refreshing.
AP: What we will do on these walls will be a continuation of the inspiration that we have drawn from already. Although, with the Cosmic wall [a commission at the warehouse of iconic funk store Cosmic], we will work with a lot of colours, which is something we haven’t done much together. That will be very interesting for us…
Do you ever reflect on being in the position where you can travel to places and leave something of a legacy through painting public works? Do they create a connection to place that average tourists don’t necessarily get?
AP: To be honest, I’m not thinking about that so much, that I will leave this wall as a legacy. It’s more about the process, the time that I’m spending doing it, the time that I’m painting, the people that are around, the interactions with people, the small talk, a question or a smile…
RS: And the moment you finish the artwork, that’s it. You are doing it until that final moment. I’m always crazy happy when I’m painting, when I’m doing something, then the moment I’m satisfied it’s finished, it is for other people from that point. I have made my thing, this is it. I’m very happy if someone gets positive vibes or can see something interesting, but I don’t need feedback. It’s all about the process, like Anastasia said, the process is going to stay in our memories.
The studio environment is secure, but also isolating, it is different from a public presence where those small conversations can more easily take place…
AP: It is very nice to have a connection with people, but also the work carries on, it is seen by people that you don’t meet, even if they don’t say anything, or they say or think something bad…
RS: But here we have been very surprised about how people have reacted to our art. We were traveling here without any expectations, we said: ‘let’s go to New Zealand and see what happens…’ But both of us are very surprised by how people have reacted…
In all of your travel, are there moments of engaging with people while working on a painting or mural that stand out?
RS: I mean, it doesn’t need to be anything special, it can just be small things, you know, you wake up and you see people and they’re happy in the morning…
AP: In Estonia, there was this old lady, every day she was coming and checking, without any expression. I mean every day, seven days we were there, and every day she checked with no expression. Then when we were finished, she finally said: ‘Yes, it’s nice.’
I wanted to ask about the title of the show Long Trip of the Kokos, what does it refer to?
RS: The story behind the title, comes from when we were in the Philippines. We saw a lot of kokos [coconuts] and they were traveling, somehow, they would go to the water, they were moved by the ocean, they would jump to the other islands. We thought maybe we are a little bit like these kokos, travelling and stopping here to make this small mark. This exhibition is the mark of these small travelers coming here to grow a little bit.
This is an audience that you haven’t really had much experience with, but based on what you’ve experienced so far at Fiksate, and the people who have come through, have you been able to get a gauge of what you might expect?
AP: You know, we don’t really know what is going to happen…
RS: We are not expecting anything, but we don’t really make work in that way.
AP: All the thinking was to make these works because of the inspiration this experience has given us. It isn’t about what we will sell, it’s more about what we would love to present.
RS: We like working in this very expressive way. We have thoughts. We start to talk about it. We have a conversation, and then we say: ‘OK, let’s do it, why not? Let’s see what will happen…’ We didn’t expect anything, but we have already very positive feedback.
AP: Yes, although I am still not sure about how the audience will respond to our point of view on abstract.
Right, abstraction has become more and more prevalent within both urban contemporary and mural practice, but New Zealand can lag behind in some trends. Fiksate recently staged their Urban Abstract show and that was perhaps quite new for a lot of the audience, who might have been more accustomed to letter forms, figurative stencils and illustrations, and representational murals…
AP: I was thinking about that, because in most of the cities we have visited, the murals are pretty figurative, abstraction doesn’t seem to be as popular.
RS: But the abstract things here are on a good level. Sculptures or installations, they seem to be in good taste, which we were happy to see.
Robert, you have investigated translating your work into sculptural forms, right?
RS: Yes but not a crazy big amount, I am just beginning to touch on this direction. I started some years ago. It is not super easy to do, but I want to keep going because it gives me different positive vibes…
It seems like more and more artists are translating their work in different ways, into objects, installations, using light, projections, etc. It seems that more doors are open for artists from the urban realm, due to the popularity and visibility of muralism. Anastasia, how do you think your work would translate into a three-dimensional, or kinetic form?
AP: I have worked with smaller forms of sculpture, but I am probably more interested in installations. I have a lot of ideas, and I’m going to keep going with other projects.
How do you operate in terms of having your own distinct paths as artists while still collaborating? Are you constantly working on your own things and then coming together for certain projects, or has it become more and more about the collaboration?
RS: We like to work in both ways, it depends of the project. Especially for this exhibition, it’s all about collaborative work. It’s nice for us to have the chance to involve our personal distinct paths and create something together.
AP: This is an interesting way to work because we have the opportunity for a dialogue.
It has only been just under a year that you’ve been working together…
AP: Almost a year.
That’s a relatively short time, so there is obviously a lot more to explore within your creative partnership. But long-term working partnerships can sometimes see the distinctions between each artist deteriorate, and a unified aesthetic develop, is that something you are consciously trying to avoid, or do you see it happening?
RS: That is a very open question, because already this year, new things have developed that can support our personal projects and we obviously have days when we want to create something by ourselves. The process is going here and the process is going there and we can mix those possibilities together. It’s super open for us.
What do you have planned for the rest of the year? When do you leave New Zealand?
RS: We leave on the 10th of February. We will go back home to Greece, and then we have something in Germany and a project in France, another project in Slovakia and that’s it for the moment. Maybe a small holiday after that…
It seems like travel is just an engrained part of the urban art movement…
RS: It’s not for everybody though. I’ve got artist friends who do not travel at all, they stay in the studio and that’s it.
AP: And for some artists it is not that important, I mean they feel better in their studio. It depends on the artist.
RS: For me, travel is the research about new places. From when I started painting, my city started to be like, OK, I’ve seen all the streets, all the nice places, I’ve painted here, I’ve painted there, but I need to search for more possibilities. I need to see different things that could inspire me, collect new knowledge and have that energy, this is important in my creative process.
How do you make your work resonate with different places? With abstraction, you aren’t using explicit cultural references, which can be a minefield anyway. Is your visual language such a personal reflection that it doesn’t necessarily need to display that connection to place in any overt way?
RS: I started to realize this a short time ago to be honest, I was traveling for many years and just reached a point where I’ve got things that I start to talk about and understand more. Now, I keep collecting those ideas as I travel, and they come out in my work.
AP: I think it’s important to observe what’s going on in any country because I don’t want to offend anyone. For example, in the Philippines, black is very bad. It’s the color of death. The associations of black mean you don’t use it. We tried to find it in the paint stores, but you couldn’t. When we went there, we didn’t realize how important it was to not use black, but we adapted over the month we were there and we started to realize more things that were important for people there, especially since we were painting a lot on small houses in the middle of the forest.
The chance to do research isn’t as easy for some artists, who might not have the luxury of a site visit or to acclimatize, especially if you are moving from job to job and have to hit the ground running in any new place you find yourself…
RS: The perfect situation is where you come to the place and you’ve got some time to prepare, not just going to a place with the sketch, painting it and leaving…
AP: Although it might not be possible, because if you do a big mural, you often need to give something to the people to see…
RS: Yes, but for us, we like to say, this is the sketch but by the end it is going to be a bit different…
Do you want to say thank you to anyone from your time in New Zealand?
AP & RS: Thank you to Fiksate Gallery for the trust and to all crazy positive people that we met during our stay in New Zealand…