The second artist presented with the opportunity to take over the Paste-Up Project bollard, our collaboration with Phantom Billstickers, is Bloom n Grow Gal – our favourite urban gardener! With teethlikescrewdrivers‘ layered pencils cleared off the bollard, it was time for Bloom to add her touch. Unfortunately, the weather decided not to play along, with rain delaying the installation for a few days. But once presented with a dry spell to get pasting, Bloom ensured the Paste-Up Project had a new lease of life.
Utilising the four sections of the bollard, Bloom’s installation plays with two distinct concepts. On alternating sides, a colourful patchwork of her signature A4 flyposter paste-ups declare ‘Not Street Art’, ‘Not An NFT’ or ‘I Can Parallel Park’ across a series of singular blooms, a nod to her works across the city. Interspersed among the blooms are collaborations with Slap City artists, but here, the alterations to the blooms are perhaps more subtle, the flowers maintain the central importance. The A4 posters are a mixture of fluorescent colours, hearkening to the lineage of posters as an effective media for messages, whether advertising for your band’s first gig, searching for a lost pet or making a political statement.
The other two sections are based on large scale white posters containing grainy photographs of dilapidated urban locations, with the white background providing plenty of space (this is important!). Over the top, Bloom has cultivated a range of flowers in bright colours, painted in her stylised line work. Larger than the buildings, they are an invasion – with the appearance of an unexpected addition to the ‘legitimate’ (but ultimately lifeless) posters, once more drawing on the urban theatre for inspiration.
A key part of Bloom’s concept was the ability to revisit the bollard throughout the installation, adding new blooms and allowing evolution. This theory was to come to the fore early when an expected addition of green spray paint was discovered just a day after completion. Not a typical tag or scrawling, it appeared to understand the concept but still threw a curveball for the artist. But, reconciling this occurrence with her intention made it easier and as such, the work is already a unique incarnation of the Paste-Up Project, embracing the potential for change as part of its inherent make-up.
We sat down to chat with Bloom once the paste was dry and talked about her idea, the process and how she has explored new ideas with this work…
Finding your blooms around town over the last year has been one of my favourite discoveries, so it was an easy decision to get you on board as the second artist in the Paste-Up Project! What was your initial reaction to the invitation?
Wow! I was so privileged! I couldn’t believe that I’d been chosen to do this project, and when I found out people like teeth like screwdrivers and Cape of Storms were also getting on board, to put myself up against those guys, I was like, are you serious?! Yeah, it was kind of amazing!
What did you make of teeth’s installation? Did you take any inspiration from it, or did you already have an idea of what you wanted to do?
Even now I’m still getting all these ideas of what I could have done or what I should have done. My first idea was to do a grocery shop with flowers coming out of it, I mean it could still be an idea, but I remember when teeth’s work went up, I was like, OK, he’s done all these collabs with people, and I felt the pressure that I had to make mine look the same. But then I re-read the brief and realised that that’s not necessarily my kind of style. Reaching out to people, collaborating with people isn’t really what I do. That is very much a teeth like screwdrivers thing, so I focused on myself. My original design didn’t really match the brief and that’s why I took it back to the blocks with the individual blooms and the statements. They are something that I really enjoy and even today I get people sending me these photos of ones from lock down saying: ‘Spread Your Legs’, ‘I Can Dance’, ‘I Can Party’, even ones that have been slightly adjusted with random words written underneath like ‘Daddy’ – I just love that! So, to me it was important to include those after reading the brief. The photos were something that came from people sending me pictures of blooms from all over the world, saying they reminded them of my art, but also, just keeping an eye out for beautiful things in unexpected places.
You do have some Slap City collabs in there too, Cape of Storms, Lost Boy, teeth like screwdrivers and others have added their touch to some of the blooms, so that influence is still there a little bit…
Yeah, I’m quite a solo person, so when I realized that people wanted to join in with my blooms, it was really nice because I never thought it would be something that could be possible. How could you do anything with these? They are what they are. It was nice to find out that they were adaptable for people. The Slap City collabs were a last-minute thing and they actually worked! It was really warming.
I really liked your idea of an urban bloom just appearing in these unexpected places, something that some people might overlook and walk past, but that other people will see as a beautiful little bit of nature that has found a way to exist in an environment that tries not to let things like that exist. I think the contrast of the black and white photographs with the colored blooms painted over the top really brings that out. I really love that contrast of the color against the black and white, it’s a reminder that the world can be quite boring without letting nature have those little moments of revelation. The other thing I like is the nice lineage in all those A4 pieces, the slogan pieces with the individual blooms, that make me think of fly-postering, whether that is independent gig posters or political messages, there’s something nice about that repeated block. In the same vein, the larger posters almost seem like an interplay between what you’d expect to find on the bollards and an unexpected addition. There is a feeling they are supposed to be on the bollard, and then the flowers are kind of like this addition, this subversion. Are those references to the urban environment something that you were intending?
Yeah, for me, this graffiti part of my life is something I’m learning about myself over the last couple of years. It was never something I pictured myself doing. For me, graffiti was like this aggressive writing all over the walls around Derry [the town where Bloom grew up in Northern Ireland], but then I discovered that graffiti could be literally whatever you want it to be. I started looking at these plants and flowers growing out of buildings and seeing them as graffiti as well in a way; they’re not really supposed to be there, but they are there because they want to be there and nature gave them everything that they needed to grow there, which is what I really love. It gave me the confidence to start doing my own little blooms on buildings. I’ve always really been into design and color, I’m always wearing lots of little pops of color; I’ll wear an orange jumper and a pink pair of pants, blue shoes and a green coat or something. I love blocks of colour, so it’s important for them to be in my art, which is where the A4 posters come in. I guess the big black and white posters that Phantom helped with, that was me trying to bring my love of photography to the installation. I would never say I’m a photographer, but I just love taking photos of flowers growing out of places they’re not supposed to, because it’s beautiful. I love capturing the negative space around these flowers growing out of buildings, which is what the white spaces represent.
Are your blooms a reference to weeds? Weeds are kind of vilified, but they can still be so beautiful and intricate, aspects that are overlooked because of the way we are told to get rid of weeds…
I’m starting to not use the word weeds, I hate that word! It’s a word that I just can’t get out now because I’m like, they are not weeds! They are flowers! They are beautiful, I don’t want to pull them out!
I love their durability and persistence, they can thrive in places where they are being set up to fail, they are still able to find the space to exist. The other thing I love about the photos with the flowers over the top is the way that scale is flipped, rather than a tiny growth or bloom at the bottom of the wall, they are bigger than the buildings, and there’s something really powerful about that. It reminds me of those science fiction movies where people go to some strange new world, where flowers and plants are the size of cars and buildings, it makes us aware that we aren’t above nature.
I’m really enjoying that there’s no limitations when you’re doing something like this. I can just get into this dream world, and I can go as big as I want with a flower or as tiny as I want with a flower at the side of the road.
What about the process? The bollard is a big proposition, and a lot of your blooms in the streets are relatively small, so how did you find the challenge of filling the bollard?
It took longer than I thought it would, that’s for sure! I’m so used to doing a lot of prep work at the house, sat drawing my flowers over and over again, but I don’t usually spend as much time at a wall pasting up. It is so important for me to individually draw every single flower, I don’t have it in me to photocopy multiples of the same flower because that would take away the point of what it is…
Because that doesn’t happen in nature, right? No flower is the same…
Yeah, you can’t just photocopy a flower, it’s got to be different, that’s something that I’ve really stuck by. So, there’s the prep work of doing all those flowers, which is fine, because I can do them sat on my sofa, but when I was out there doing the bollard to took much longer. It was nice, because it felt like I had a bit of importance, with the road cones, and just sat there just pottering away, so it didn’t feel like there was that pressure that you get when you’re out wheat pasting at night, looking over your shoulder. The bollard was an awesome experience and I enjoyed taking my time, but I think getting out there on the streets, doing it as quick as you can and then running away and doing another wall, I love that!
It is a very different process and energy to working on the streets without permission…
I think that’s why I got a little bit upset when someone spray painted on the bollard, because it wasn’t just street art, it was actually me being an artist. When I came back a couple of days later after I had spent the time painting onto the bollard and it had been sprayed over, it was like somebody had gone into an art gallery and sprayed over my work. It’s a reality when you’re doing it without permission and something that you just have to accept, but when you are putting that extra time into something that you are doing in a different way, it’s a bit more disheartening.
It is interesting because that addition wasn’t what you would normally expect. It was almost like someone came and added grass, they haven’t gone over the top of certain elements, it’s strangely respectful…
It took a took a moment for me to understand it, but then, looking back at my idea and why I did those two boards with the photos and the white negative space around them, it was because something was supposed to grow in those places. Something grew so much faster than I thought it would though! It must have been all the rain! But yeah, I think I just have to be accepting that it happened…
Your work in the streets has always been quite adventurous in terms of materials, you are willing to pick up new materials, from works on wood to little ceramic tiles to various paste up styles and stickers, you aren’t afraid to experiment. In this case, you will be revisiting the site throughout the time of the installation, which means it becomes a fun experiment where you have the space to evolve ideas, which could open new doors…
I have literally grown and bloomed during this process and that is the whole point of my art and my journey. This shit happened, what can I do about it? How is it going to grow and bloom into something else? Because it is forever changing, just like the blooms outside are forever changing. It’s nice, just because you thought something was finished doesn’t mean it is finished. Not that I’m encouraging it, but it would be interesting to see if anything else happens to it that’s not me…
Which means figuring out how you can embrace it and make it part of your own work. So lastly, who do you want to thank?
You for pretty much stripping the bollard! I turned up when there wasn’t that much left to do, but still whinged a lot! Phantom (especially Mike from Phantom for helping paste those big posters up, what a sweetie!) and the Christchurch City Council. The guy who didn’t give me a parking ticket! Ben for bringing me a cup of coffee and Jamie for bringing me some sugar. My dog Milk for keeping me company…
She was very good!
Watch This Space, and the sun for finally coming out so I could finish it!
Thank you for coming on board and adding your lovely blooms to the Paste-Up Project, we look forward to seeing how it’s going to evolve over the next couple of months! Is there anything else you want to say?
I‘m away to plant some seeds to grow some blooms so I can add them to them bollard!
Follow Bloom n Grow Gal to see what she gets up to next, and keep your eyes and ears peeled for more about The Paste-Up Project on our channels!
Oh, and get down to the site on Manchester Street to see this amazing installation in the flesh!