Street Treats – Vol. 1

While Watch This Space was founded on the concept of mapping out Ōtautahi’s street art, and our online map has been primarily populated with commissioned murals, we have always understood and celebrated the importance, urgency, poignancy, rebelliousness, hilarity and, basically, goodness of guerrilla graffiti and street art. In a time where urban art faces an identity crisis, the power of bypassing permission and making or installing art in the streets, from an elegant tag to a pasted pop-culture riff, is necessary and energising. As a reflection of this belief, welcome to Street Treats, a new recurring series that tries to capture the authentic spirit of urban art by collecting our favourite works of guerrilla art and presenting them to you.

The events around the world in recent weeks have rendered an environment of energy, of action and of hope for change, sentiments that graffiti and street art have also sought historically. Striking images of graffiti-covered walls and monuments have served as iconic backdrops of a time of social revolution, but also a reminder that writing on walls, artistically or not, is a way to attack the structures of our social contracts and the injustice they often protect. The images in Street Treats – Vol 1 are not exclusively political, but they do share the rebellious motivation of bypassing consent and altering the urban environment in which they have been placed. In each case, someone has chosen to bypass authority, to subvert and surprise, to add a voice to the street, as a secretive whisper or a defiant yell. Either way, it pays to listen…

If you have some treasures to share, email them to hello@watchthisspace or message us via our social media (@watchthisspacechch) and we can include them in future Street Treats volumes…

And if your work is featured but not credited the way it should be, get in touch and let us know!

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Photo Essay – ‘Street Stencils’ by BOLS

At the risk of losing the graffiti purists in the room, while the rebellious and dynamic aesthetics of graffiti were an awakening of how art could be more than what I had experienced as a child, it was stencil art that was a better fit for my personal mode of expression. There are numerous reasons; from the punk aesthetic of early styles, to the specific yet expansive potential of the process. It still embraced the physical nature of aerosol (hard and soft lines, over sprays), but there were also the intricacies of cutting, breaking down an image, and the plates that became stratified objects of interest themselves (from plastic sheets, to light card, or even cereal boxes, the chosen material reflects an important aesthetic decision). Importantly, there was also a conceptual aspect, beyond the stylistic and procedural; something harder to express but imbued within the apparent urgency of street stencils.

While I have spent many hours in small studio spaces cutting and spraying stencils, frustrated at the things that go wrong, exhilarated at the discoveries that unlock new directions, there is something about the presence of stencils in the streets, sprayed directly on rough concrete or worn surfaces. Street stencils are a contemporary incarnation of a primal mode of expression, utilising new cultural references and tools to navigate the current landscape, while exuding a sense of a longer, often political, always existential, lineage.

While it may be the accessible, iconographic visual language stencil artists have harnessed (such as the pop culture imagery almost universally favoured by stencil artists still finding their style) that attracts many, for me, it is this connection to history, the sense that a stencil still represents rebellion, revolution and anarchy. Furthermore, the mechanical nature of the process renders stencils democratic; anyone can cut a stencil and produce an image. Of course there are stencil ‘superstars’, but there are also countless anonymous stencils, reveling in that anonymity and the act of painting in the streets.

The following images have been taken from the last decade, from Ōtautahi, around Aotearoa and even abroad. Some are by well-known artists, others are completely anonymous. Some are fresh and sharp, others faded and obscured. Some are sprayed on surfaces that make the image harder to comprehend, others play off the graffiti covered walls. Some are figurative, some use phrases, some are explicitly political, others harder to decipher. But each is an example of someone acting out, becoming part of that lineage and grasping the inherent qualities of stencils…

A stencil of a fox in clothing spray painted on a plastic barrell.
PORTA, New Brighton, Christchurch, 2012
The name of Blek Le Rat, the famous French stencil artist sprayed on a wall
Blek Le Rat, Berlin, Germany, 2011
A stencilled image, pixellated like a retro video game, that appears to be a portrait with the word Like underneath
Like, Berlin, Germany, 2011
A stencil of a man with a noose around his neck, precariously balancing on a chair to stop his choking
Dotmasters, London, England, 2011
A stencil of a small giraffe on a concrete wall
Unknown artist, Christchurch, 2012
A famlous stencil by Banksy, an army sniper takes aim from above a shop, but behind him a child holds a paper bag, blown up and ready to surprise the sniper with a bang
Banksy, Bristol, England, 2011
The words Read Lenin stencilled on a graffitied wall
Read Lenin, Rome, Italy, 2011
 A stencilled image of a person holding something in their hands, looking closely at it.
Unknown artist, Barcelona, Spain, 2011
The words Stop Wars is stencilled in the style of the Star Wars logo
Stop Wars, Rome, Italy, 2011
A crowd of protestors are stencilled on a wall under the words Cultural Resistance
Unknown Artist, Rome, Italy, 2011
 A graffitied wall featuring stencils, one of which is a skull and cross bones, the other a portrait of a young boy
Unknown artist, Brussels, Belgium, 2011
The words Tromaville Health Club, a reference to the trashy 1980s Troma films, is stencilled on a wall
Tromaville Health Club, Brussels, Belgium, 2011
A stencil of a face with large glasses on a footpath in San Francisco
Kay, San Francisco, United States, 2011
A stylised skull stencil with the words Dead God above
Dead God, Christchurch, 2018
the name Franz is stnecilled in a diamond shape
Franz, Wellington, 2019
the instruction to Post No Bills is stencilled on a concrete pillar
Post No Bills, Wellington, 2019
a mid production stencil with the various stencil plates stuck around it
Bols, Christchurch, 2019

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If you have an idea for a Photo Essay, let us know! Email submissions or concepts to hello@watchthisspace.org.nz or contact us on Facebook

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And That Was… March 2020

March 2020 will be a month that won’t be forgotten in a hurry. There were a number of things happening, from art-related shows and projects, to the anniversary of the Christchurch Terror Attacks (and the perpetrator’s guilty plea), all with the hovering threat of the Covid-19 pandemic spreading around the globe. Then, in the final few days of the month, the country, along with much of the world, was sent into lock down. Social distancing became the catch-cry, and with it, social events and occasions were postponed, cancelled or digitised (Houseparty anyone? No, maybe Zoom?) With such an overbearing event casting a long shadow, in the coming years it may prove hard to remember anything else from this month, but we thought it was best to reflect on the things that still excited us and share that goodness, from projects that brought communities together, to small moments caught unexpectedly, this was March 2020…

Halves on an Exhibition – Harry King and Reece Brooker

A watercolour painting on paper of a snake wrapped around itself with tattoo styled elements and bright colours
Snake by A Tribe Called Haz / Harry King from the exhibition Halves in an Exhibition? at Outsiders

 March started with a sense of normality (despite what was happening around the world), when Friday nights meant you could go out and socialise. On March 6th, we headed down to Outsiders, the St Asaph Street skate store that for one night became host to Halves on an Exhibition?, a show by A Tribe Called Haz (Harry King) and Reece Brooker. King’s acidic and surreal style has developed over the last year, and his pop-up shows have an endearing anarchic and anti-traditional energy to match his work. Some of this newer body of work depicted seemingly post-apocalyptic landscapes that combined low-brow with decadence, devoid of presence and looking like the vacant scene of some horrific act, while others illustrated the clear influence of tattoo and skate culture with simple imagery. King’s art is proudly chaotic and laced with humour, but also shows an increasingly refined technical approach, his handling of line and watercolour notable in its confidence. Brooker was a new name for us. An arborist, his work added a different sense of materiality; painting circular panels cut from trees to frame his motley, at times fantastical characters.

Welcome to Ōrua Paeroa

A long block wall is painted black, with the words Welcome to Orua Paeroa painted in bright colours.
The Welcome to Orua Paeroa mural produced by the Fiksate Crew, the first event of the New Brighton Outdoor Arts Festival (Photo credit: Gavin Fantastic)

The day after Halves on an Exhibition, the Fiksate (Dr Suits, Jen_Heads, Porta and Bols) crew joined forces with the organisers of the New Brighton Outdoor Art Festival and members of the local community to produce a massive mural welcoming people to New Brighton. The graphic mural, with a bright segmented colour palette against a black background, drew on the Maori name for the area; Ōrua Paeroa (the name covering both the New Brighton and Travis Wetlands areas and referring to the place where the Easterly winds and the ocean meet), recognising the history of the suburb beyond its European call-back. The mural acted as a paint-by-numbers affair, the huge letters gridded out and people invited to paint sections. The result is an impressively bold addition to the neighbourhood. Unfortunately, while it was supposed to signal the upcoming NBOAF, the Covid-19 pandemic has seen the rest of the programme postponed indefinitely.

Urban Nipple

A sticker of a nipple is stuck to a lamppost
An Urban Nipple sticker outside Te Puna o Waiwhetu – The Christchurch Art Gallery

One of my favourite things about urban art and particularly smaller urban additions, such as stickers, is the ability to make you double take and look closer. Those small interventions that make you think you recognise something, asking yourself, surely that isn’t… is it? In doing so we are surprised and made more aware of our environment, often left with an urge to investigate, or at least a nagging wonder about what we just saw and who might have been behind it. I had that experience in early March, casually strolling past Te Puna o Waiwhetu – The Christchurch Art Gallery on Montreal Street. As I passed the Bunker and Jess Johnson and Simon Ward’s video arcade game inspired piece, a small circular sticker caught my eye. I did the double take as I passed, then stopped, back tracking. I was right, it was a nipple, an urban nipple on the lamppost. The sticker is one of a number of interventions under the Urban Nipple project (Instagram: @UrbanNIPPLE), intended to encourage the return of the banned nipple into our shared lives through humorous interactions, getting people to think about sexism and discrimination.

FOLT Skull Collabs

One of the FOLT x Bols collab skull cut-outs

I first started noticing FOLT stickers a few months ago, from the handwritten tags and deconstructed skateboards to the block printed, angular graphic versions, and they have been a personal favourite since. Recently, that sticker profile has expanded to sculptural installations, with an array of wooden skull cut outs appearing around the city. In March, the skulls were fixed to various sites, inviting people to hunt out the various incarnations. The skulls include both exclusive FOLT productions and several collaborations, including with local artists Bols and Jen_Heads. Hopefully we can see more in the future, because if the attention of the lady while I was photographing one was anything to go by, they are intriguing additions to our cityscape…

TOGO – Toy Stories

The pink cover of Toy Stories, with a plain white text
The cover of TOGOs Toy Stories publication

On a personal level, my month was made by the arrival of TOGO’s Toy Stories publication on door step. I was lucky enough to get a copy of the limited run, and I am glad I didn’t miss out. It is a beautiful thing, the understated cover concealing the funny anecdotes and intimate photographs inside. It is full of humour and importantly exhortations and revelations, celebrating graffiti’s compulsive rebellion. A combination of specific stories of memorable nights and close-shaves, mantra-like prose detailing the realities of graffiti life and photographs of urban space from the creases (a sense of the embrace of the perihperies permeates the grainy images), Toy Stories jumped the pile of books I have been meaning to read and has already been digested…

These were some of our favourite things from March 2020, what made your list? Let us know in the comments…

 

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And That Was… November 2019

There seems to be a renewed energy in the air, although I guess Summer will do that. For me, November was pervaded with a flurry of activity, raising my excitement levels for the coming months. November began with the strange and awkward experience of filming for television and film crews, something I must admit is made easier by the great people I worked with, from international sportspeople to crews who were genuinely interested in the city and its urban art. I then had the chance to work on a project that gained national exposure and showed the reach of urban art as a communicative tactic and embraced an alternative to traditional marketing. It wasn’t all about me though, as plenty of other people around the city were doing what they do best, from sharing knowledge or staging exhibitions, to doing what urban artists should do best, painting and exploring the cityscape. There was plenty to enjoy, so, here are my top five for November 2019…

The Human Torch Was Denied a Bank Loan

John Bateman and Lewis Brown stand beside the stencils they helped paint on one of the giant cans for their segment with Sky Sports in advance of the match between the Great Britain and Kiwi rugby league teams in early November.

November brought a bit of wide-ranging exposure for Christchurch’s urban art scene, and I was placed in the position of film and television personality (OK, perhaps too strong a term!). Filming for both Sky Sports and an overseas film crew producing a video for Tourism NZ, the chance to show off our city was only marginally tempered by the awkwardness of being in front of a camera. We showed Great British Lions rugby league player John Bateman around the city and were joined by former Kiwis player and Christchurch-raised Lewis Brown, each spraying a stencil of their team logos on one of the giant spray cans. The video was then featured on the pre-game build up of the Kiwis Great Britain game on November 9th. Keep an eye out for the other production if you fly internationally!

Ruby Jones – All Of This Is For You

One of the Ruby Jones paste-ups found around the central city. Photo Credit: Rachel Eadie

You all know the iconic post-Terror Attack image of the two women hugging, one wearing her hajib, accompanied by the wistful declaration: “This is your home, you should have been safe here.” It was viral, and it gained its creator, Wellington-based illustrator Ruby Jones the opportunity to design the cover of the iconic Time magazine, the first kiwi to be given the platform. Ruby has recently released a beautiful book of her illustrations, All of This is for You through Penguin Books. To celebrate the release, and to recognise the role of Christchurch’s experience in Ruby’s work, the amazing Rachel Eadie from Penguin Publishing approached us to work on a unique campaign. Initially, the concept was perhaps a painted mural, however, the nature of the illustrations, their messages and the way they were to be experienced in the book, led to a new idea, a street art-inspired paste-up campaign that offered small engagements around Christchurch. In early November, we posted the range of images at various locations across the city, including the brick work exterior of Riverside Market, Market Square at the Arts Centre, Little High, City Mall, the Boxed Quarter and Tū The interventions provided the chance for reflection, for the chance to stop and take stock amid the bustling surroundings. Some have already disappeared, but that was inherently part of the beauty…

DTR Workshop and Painting Jam

Dcypher whips up a skull character on the day of the DTR workshop.

In mid-November, the city’s leading graffiti crew, DTR, hosted a one-day workshop and painting jam at the Lichfield Street Youth Space. Participants were supported by the talents of Wongi, Dcypher and Ikarus, and after a drawing session, painted the giant cans with an array of designs, from traditional letter forms to characters and even pencils. The energy and good vibes of the day were evident, with artists of various experiences colluding. I spent the afternoon just observing, seeing people figure things out and pieces coming together. As cheesy as it sounds, events like this are a reminder of the potential power of art.

Urban Abstract at Fiksate

Fiksate really knocked it out of the park with the impressive Urban Abstract, a show that brought together local, national and international artists who are united by their investigations of abstraction. Featuring Elliot O’Donnell (Askew), Levi Hawken, Togo, Tepid, Melinda Butt, Pener, Bols and Dr Suits, Urban Abstract showed the diverse range of abstract approaches, materially and conceptually, while also drawing on the roots of graffiti and street art as an inspiration for this interest. Graffiti’s reconfigured letter forms but tradition-heavy emphasis provides a conflict, while post-graffiti’s focus on accessibility and iconographic visual language means it has often been more marginalised, yet, of course, contemporary muralism’s increasing diversity has seen the emergence of abstraction on a grand scale. Togo’s photographs and video, Pener’s electric, angular sketches and O’Donnell’s painterly urban landscape work were personal highlights among a strong collection.

From the Rooftops

The newest addition to the Christchurch skyline, an abstract piece by TOGO.

I absolutely love this new rooftop piece by our favourite urban adventurer TOGO. A perfect tie-in with the focus of Urban Abstract, the work is a hazy, drippy contrast to the sharpness of other pieces around the city, disrupting the pristine white building. The fresh colours (notably not in the TOGO’s iconic pink and black) give a radiate a summer feel. It’s placement also ensures it is an surprising treat, appearing unexpectedly on the city skyline, distant from so many other examples. Works like this always renew my energy, cutting to the heart of urban art’s presence.

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Urban Abstract at Fiksate, Friday 25 October

This Friday sees the opening of Fiksate’s latest group exhibition, Urban Abstract. A long time in the making, the show represents something of a passion project for the Fiksate crew. An exploration of abstraction within the urban art realm, the show will bring together a diverse roster, including Poland’s Pener, Aotearoa heavyweights Elliot O’Donnell, TOGO, Melinda Butt and Levi Hawken, and local artists Tepid, Bols and Dr Suits. These artists represent a number of approaches and interests in abstract work, from Hawken’s concrete sculptural forms, to TOGO’s photographic and videographic documentation of his in situ practice, as well as a wall painting by Fiksate’s own Dr Suits. Other artists explore gestural painting, collage, stencils and more, all with distinct signatures. While abstraction has long roots in urban art, it has not been explored locally to any significant degree, a fact that Urban Abstract seeks to address, celebrating the emergence of urban contemporary’s diversity. As with all Fiksate shows, the drinks and atmosphere will be supplied and with a few surprises in store, it is most definitely worth marking the date in your calendar…

Urban Abstract opens Friday, October 25th, from 5pm. The show will run until November 29. Fiksate is located at 165 Gloucester Street.

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