The latest contributor to our expanding creative playlist is Josh Bradshaw. Josh’s list is a reflection of his evolution over the last two years, where his shift from a certain artistic persona and style represents his desire to make work more honest and true to himself. His latest body of work is defined with an anarchic quality that investigates materials and methods of acquisition and draws a fine line between urban decay and beauty. In that regard, his selections for Tune! are raw and aggressive – classic punk and hardcore, from Minor Threat to Descendents, reminders to not pander to a market, but to disrupt and keep pushing…
For the last few years I’ve found myself witnessing an uprising of particularly flimsy shit being made for the sake of nothing except maybe looking ‘trendy’ or ‘urban’ for all the Merivale Mum’s who might happen to flick past your sweet new artist profile double page spread in NZ House & Garden Magazine. I can’t sit here and claim I’ve never been a part of the problem however, I’ve made more than my fair share of sellable crap for the masses. Nowadays when I’m producing new work, I have to listen to music that is going to keep me honest and not settle for making mediocre shit for no reason. I have to listen to music made by more important people that actually have something to say from a more important time than myself and the lame filtered positivity Instagram era that we are all currently living in. Here’s a few favourite albums and discographies I listen to whilst working because who the fuck has time to curate a playlist or change a song every 2 minutes. Keep it aggressive not flimsy.
Dead Kennedys – Kill The Poor
Bad Brains – Bad Brains
Descendents – Milo Goes to College
Tune! is an ever-growing playlist of music that inspires our artist friends!
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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…
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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!
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Welcome to the second issue of Tune! This time we got pencil-slinger Teeth Like Screwdrivers to name some key tracks that form a soundtrack to his creative endeavours. As host of his own radio show he was a natural choice, and his selections reveal his background going to school in Liverpool and his love of indie music…
I am a huge fan of music, but I can’t make it for shit. I host a radio show on Rotten Radio in Lyttelton, Quality Time with Nat, and I get to play music that I like, which is fun. I went to university in Liverpool, so I have been an indie kid all my life but I will always have a place in my heart for soundscape stuff as well. Choosing eight songs or albums has been the hardest thing ever. Here’s what my music tastes are like at this moment. It will be different next week. Listen to Quality Time to see what it is I guess!
One of my favourite bands from my favourite record labels making their very best. I saw Mogwai play live in 1998 and I am still recovering. Yes! I am a long way from home is one of the greatest opening tracks of all time and Mogwai Fear Satan is one of the greatest closers.
I have the original on 7-inch that I got from Probe Records in Liverpool when it was released in 1992. Thom Yorke has completely messed with the whole song and it has the most amazing noise kick a minute or so into it. Shivers.
I found this via a cover of a Deerhunter song by Lyttelton’s Aldous Harding that was on a 4ad compilation – one of the great labels (The Breeders, Throwing Muses, Big Thief, The National etc.). Everything about this is wrong – but it just works amazingly well.
I think I saw this on a snowboard video. Woodpecker Wooliams are one of my ‘gutted to have missed’ bands as they had broken up a few months before I heard this for the first time. If I’m ever needing a pep talk, this is it.
I have loved Frank and the stuff he puts out since seeing his Tiny Desk video a few years back. This song from an awesome album actually makes me shout out loud and almost brings me to tears every time.
I found Aurora while trawling Bandcamp (for Norwegian music – don’t ask, but do go and look for Kælan Mikla) years ago. At that point she had only brought out one or two songs but there were some amazing live performances online. There was also a documentary online about her life. I downloaded the album then bought the vinyl. Six years later she has ‘arrived’ and now sings on Disney movies and her songs are used on TikTok. Regardless, she still makes absolutely astonishing music. Her first album stands out for me. She wrote Runaway when she was 11! FFS.
Arab Strap have been one of my favourite bands and one that has shaped me the most throughout my life. Aidan Moffat is arguably one of the darkest, most gifted story weavers writing music. After more than fifteen years, they are back with a truly astonishing album. I saw them heaps, mostly in Liverpool (supporting another favourite of mine, Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, as well as Mogwai, at the legendary Krazy House), in Portsmouth (a shambolic, drunken show), at various festivals and on their Farewell Tour. I own every record they have put out on Chemikal Underground. The Week Never Starts Round Here is still one of my top albums of all time, but the new one, As Days Get Dark, is also a masterpiece, it’s Arab Strap at their finest.
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
Ghostcat is set for his first solo show, with Shadow Town confirmed as Fiksate’s first exhibition at their new Hawdon Street location in Sydenham. Opening Friday April 9th, Shadow Town will present a selection of Ghostcat’s fascinating scratch-built urban miniatures, including the detailed recreation of local spots, from the grimy and overlooked to the iconic and vanished.
Originally from Birmingham in the UK, Ghostcat has found a new home in Otautahi, and his work is both a celebration of the physical sites he has explored and the stories of the changing city recounted via friends, adding an emotional resonance to the works beyond nostalgia and visual detail. The artist’s infectious sense of humour, laced with a healthy dose of body horror-influence, will also be on full display, with the grimy elements of our urban environment celebrated over the picturesque; from dirty toilets and graffiti-ed alleyways to dumpsters and sticker-laden street signs.
Many of the works also feature collaborative contributions from local artists, from Fiksate’s own Dr Suits to members of the DTR Crew and the Slap City collective. This has proven an important aspect of the artist’s process, adding authenticity and collectivism to a concept already driven by real experiences and a sense of connection.
Ghostcat’s star has quickly risen as his creations have caught the attention of Instagram scrollers, with interviews and media coverage ensuring Shadow Town will surely be a popular occasion with a hum of excitement already buzzing…
Shadow Town opens 5pm, Friday 9th April at Fiksate Gallery, 54 Hawdon Street, Sydenham.
With 2020 proving completely unpredictable, it seems like forever has passed since I sat down with Jacob Yikes to talk about a show he had in the works for 2020. At that time, we were completely unaware of the challenges the year would bring. However, now, finally and with just weeks remaining of 2020, Yikes’ latest body of work goes on display at Chambers Gallery. Angels, Aliens and Archetypes opens on Tuesday December 8th and runs until December 24th. The small collection of work is both a extension and departure from Yikes’ previous output, continuing the exploration of altered states and other spaces, while expanding his material approach and stylistic detail. As Yikes continues to grow and his work becomes increasingly layered and sophisticated, Angels, Aliens and Archetypes is another progression for one of Christchurch’s most distinctive talents.
Angels, Aliens and Archetypes opens 5pm, Tuesday December 8th at Chambers Gallery, 241 Moorhouse Avenue.
Alongside Angels, Aliens and Archetypes is also a presentation of work by Ben Reid.
Spread the word about what's happening in the Christchurch urban art scene:
The artist also known as Distranged Design is gearing up for a brand new solo show. Opening Friday November 6th, Belle Âme will be hosted by Victoria Street’s 013 Gallery.
The title of the show translates to ‘Beautiful Soul’ and Root explains that his new works seek to illuminate “the beauty hidden within life’s most challenging moments.” He adds that the show has also been indirectly inspired by the struggle of mental health, a cause Root has championed previously with a group exhibition, and an attempt to turn “one’s negatives into positives.” The works will feature details and meanings that may not be immediately obvious, lying hidden but always present. Root is also excited by the potential for audiences to bring an outside point of view to the works and adapt meaning to their personal experiences. Continuing a recent focus, these new works will add sculptural and three-dimensional elements to his established stencilled figurative images and stylised surfaces, creating a new direction for the young artist.
With everything that has happened in 2020 (so far), it seems like a long, long time ago that artist and designer Tom Bell told me he would be staging a solo show at Absolution this year. But while what seems like an age has passed, I have maintained a level of excitement about the exhibition Bell has come to call Adoration. The show features a body of work that combines both the artist’s established interest in the imagery and themes of Japanese art and culture, but with a new material approach, his digital rendering replaced by hand-painted cut-outs. The sense of reverence for the subject matter (the show’s title a reference to that debt) is empowered by the evidently pain-staking process of manual brush strokes. Bell’s works, whether paintings, stickers, digital prints, tiny enamel pins, t-shirt designs or illustrations, are alluring, their soft pastel colours and dynamic yet sparse compositions combining with the loaded symbolism of Japanese visual culture to feel both traditional and contemporary.
I met Tom a few years ago, he was with his ‘art fam’ as he calls them, at an exhibition opening at Fiksate. Since then his face has become a familiar one at places like Fiksate, Supreme and Smash Palace, always up for a yarn. But when we sat down to chat for this interview, I learned a lot more about him, from the Wellington-raised artist’s relationship with Christchurch, his interests in stencils and tattoos, and his journey to opening Adoration. Part of what made the discussion so engaging was Tom’s energy, he flew between thoughts, earnest and honest, clearly excited and invigorated by the upcoming show and what he had learned as an artist and a person over the last year.
I remember almost a year ago, or at least it feels like that long because of everything that has happened, you mentioned that this show is a farewell to Christchurch because you were planning to move back to Wellington…
Yeah, that’s still the plan [in August]. I’m originally from Wellington, but I have spent almost four years down here. It’s crazy because a lot of people have asked where I was hiding for those first two years! I moved down from Wellington for my graphic design job. At the time my now ex-girlfriend was from Christchurch, all her family were here, so I made the move. I really struggled making connections with people down here. Throughout my twenties I’ve struggled with social anxiety and that really put a big hindrance on me going out and going to shows and other social situations. For two and a half years the idea of going to an exhibition opening by myself, even if I knew people who would be there, would make me really anxious. I would think people are going to look at me and be like, who’s that dude? At the end of 2018 I decided I needed to face some of my weaknesses and get a control of my anxiety.
That social anxiety was a big obstacle for you obviously…
Yeah, the social anxiety was a big hindrance to me. I had people in Wellington say to me: ‘Dude, you should be getting out and trying to make connections in the art community, you’re a designer, you love your art, Christchurch has a really good scene, just start doing it…’ So, when all that happened, I just said, alright, I’m going to put myself out there. I reached out to Jessie [Rawcliffe] because we had started building a connection through Instagram, so I hit her up out of the blue and said you do a lot of collab work, would you be keen on doing one in the new year? She was like: ‘Hell yeah, that would be sick!’ We met up at Smash Palace and started talking about our creative interests. I remember her saying: ‘I paint skulls and girls, am I pigeon-holing myself?’ I said, nah, skulls and girls are ******* badass, and you can tell you really enjoy painting them. From there I was introduced to Josh [Bradshaw] and we’ve been hanging out ever since. I call them my ‘art fam’ and they have been great sounding boards for my creative journey over the last eighteen months. After attending a few exhibitions at the start of last year I started to meet everyone and it was great because it just happened organically.
I remember a conversation I had with Jessie and she asked me if I had painted before, and I said, yeah, but I was trash! She said I should get into painting and get away from the computer. So I did and I just got addicted to it, I was all in. From January to March I was painting every night after work, but I wasn’t showing anything to anyone. For me, a painting had to turn out the way I wanted, if it didn’t, it was trash in my mind, so I would put it under the bed and leave it. I think it was about April last year I finally did something I thought was pretty decent. I was comfortable enough to post it on social media and I had a lot of people reaching out to me saying they thought it was great to see me get away from the computer and to be working with another medium. I was like, well, my digital stuff is better than this, but I think people like this because it has more of a human element to it.
I think we appreciate that hand-painted quality in art, there is an evident authenticity…
I started realising that imperfections on a painting actually make it better because they show that human aspect. It doesn’t always have to be perfect, so what if you paint over lines or whatever, it gives it more character…
So that kicked off your re-acquaintance with painting?
Yeah. Last year for me was just a lot of trial and error. I was doing everything. I got back into using spray cans, because when I was studying, I started doing stencils, but it had been a while. I remember I did a life drawing class; I was terrible at figure drawing, but it was a requirement. I remember the tutor asking me if I painted stencils and I was like, yeah, how can you tell? He said he could tell from the way I drew with solid outlines. I had no concept of tone or shadow. When I was at high school I didn’t do anything creatively, I was quite sport-centric, rugby, rugby league, and my community in Wellington didn’t see art as a career path, you try to be the next All Black or rugby league star or you get a trade, that’s about it…
I see little difference between sport and art. They are both performances. Sport, at its heart, is about skill, technique, a type of aesthetic beauty, so the total partition between the two is strange, people from the arts world often hate sport, people from the sports world think of artists as weirdos…
In my early twenties, when you discover what you like and what you want to do as a career, I was into sports, but I was also really into art and creativity, and it felt like you couldn’t be associated with both. I got really hung up on that idea, because everyone from high school was like, ‘Oh dude, we hear you’re into graphic design and art and stuff, what’s all that about?’ I think now I totally resonate with friends from high school who were really good artists and they would say: ‘Our school sucks, sports get all the funding.’ I had quite a lot of friends who did art at high school, and they would always be moaning that the art resources were terrible, teachers would have to bring in a lot of their own stuff because they just didn’t have the funding for it…
There is a divergence in the way sport and art develop people, I think. In sport, people are eventually trained to follow rules and stick within structures and systems, whereas with the arts there is more willingness to break free. But as I said before, it’s not necessarily an inherent difference. If you think about sport at a more pure level, like pick-up games of basketball, or kids playing soccer in Brazilian favelas, or cricket in the streets in India, those instances are not official, it’s just the love of it and that’s where all the amazing skills and showmanship develop. It’s only once all those other aspects and structures come in, and a particular personality type is preferred, that the focus changes and that freedom is impinged. The same thing can happen in art schools as well. One of the amazing freedoms of urban art is that you are not beholden to convention. I assume your interest in stencils was at least to some degree an interest in what was happening in the streets outside of the institutional world, but there was also a clear connection to the aesthetic of graphic design…
When I first started studying, I came to Christchurch in 2010 and enrolled at the Design and Arts College to do a foundation course. The year before, I decided I wanted to do something creative, but I’d never done anything, so I looked into it and the foundation course in Fine Arts sounded pretty sweet. You did a bit of everything, photography, architecture, graphic design, life drawing, textile design. If you did well enough, you were offered a position the following year. Originally, I wanted to do photography. But when I took the digital media component of the foundation course, which really was an introduction to graphic design, the tutor said to me: ‘What do you want to do next year? I said photography, and he said I should consider graphic design because he thought I had an eye for it. So, from there, I was like alright, maybe graphic design is what I should do. At that time Exit Through the Gift Shop had just come out, and when I saw it my mind was blown! I watched it like four times over a week, and I was thinking, this is rad! These guys are doing stuff on the streets around the world, they are breaking rules, it’s controversial and it’s right in front of people. They’re not going to a gallery to see this, it’s out in the open, so I was like, it could be cool to start experimenting with stencils. I just started looking at YouTube tutorials to get the basics and then I went off on a tangent for like a year doing that. That was in 2010, and at the beginning of 2011 I met Zach Hart who was working at Ink Grave Tattoo at the time, I started getting tattooed by him and I learnt that he had a graffiti background. That grew my interest and I found out there are a lot of tattooists who have graffiti backgrounds. I’m also really into hip hop and there’s that association with graffiti also.
Since I was eight or nine, I’ve always been into tattoos. No-one in my immediate family has tattoos, but I just had a fascination with them. When I was eleven or twelve, I was at the library and I came across a book of Japanese woodblock prints from the early 1800s, and then I found a tattoo book and the images were pretty much identical. I kind of put my interest of Japanese art to the side when I was studying at university but in my mid-twenties I fell in love again with Japanese art and architecture. Since then it has just fully consumed me. My best mate is a tattoo artist in Wellington, he specializes in Irezumi [Japanese tattoos], and I have learnt a lot from him. I think the reason why I like Japanese art so much is that it’s very graphic, it’s designed to be big and in your face with bold outlines and flat colours, but there is still a sense of refinement that gives it a timelessness…
There is an important balancing act when you adopt a historical visual influence, you need to respect that lineage, but also make it fresh and not derivative. How do you approach that challenge?
It is about knowing the subject matter. For instance, a koi fish swims up stream and turns into a dragon, so if I was ever to draw a dragon or a koi, I can’t draw a tiger with it because they don’t go together. It would be easy for people to look at my work and think it’s just Japanese tattoo flash, so my contemporary take on it has been my choice of colour palette. I think my interest in Pop Art has contributed to my use of pastels, there’s a David Hockney piece, A Bigger Splash, it has flat colours, blues and caramels, and that was a big influence. It was painted in the sixties, but it still feels very fresh, so taking that and playing around with colours has allowed me to develop my own take on Japanese art while still sticking to the belief systems. I think some people try to reinvent the wheel and they forget about the fundamentals. My graphic design work is very minimal and with minimal design you’ve got no room for error, if you have one little thing that’s off, it’s going to stick out like a sore thumb, so I focus on the fundamentals with just smaller, subtle changes.
You were telling me earlier that it is only the last six months or so that you’ve become comfortable calling yourself an artist. That background in graphic design and digital work, how do they feed into your painting work, because they must be very different approaches…
When I first started painting again last year, it was tough. With design, when you don’t like something, it’s the classic ‘Command-Z’, undo, so I was very thorough in preparation. I would do a colour study and draw it on screen, colour it, print it out and then from that, paint it, doing like for like. It was very uniform. But eventually I started to just do a quick colour study on screen and then started painting, and now I’m at the point where I don’t do the colour study I just paint it.
Sometimes things look good on screen, but when I’m actually painting it, it doesn’t work. So, I think the last year has really taught me to be looser and freer when I’m working with my hands, to not be such a control freak. Normally I’m a perfectionist, especially with my graphic design work, it’s like, that’s terrible! Back to the drawing board! But when you make a mistake on a painting, when an outline has smudged, there’s a human element to it, and that’s something that I have probably learnt to appreciate. I went to a tattoo convention in New Plymouth last year and there was an artist whose paintings I love, and he was selling prints. I could see there were little imperfections in the print, and it was fine, I realized I’m just too much of a control freak. I think that freedom is why there’s been no ambition at the moment to go back to the digital side of things, because I like the fact that if you screw up a painting, you’ve got to problem solve on the spot and work with what you have…
I’ve always loved the idea associated with Margaret Kilgallen’s work, the wavering line. I think we need to attach to something human in an increasingly technologically-driven world, we become hyper aware of when something is perfect, and we recognize imperfection from another human and I think that is really important. You were talking about that idea of going back to painting being inspired by conversations with friends, that idea of community must be a really important part of where you are, is losing that when you move back to Wellington a daunting thought?
It hit me this week that I’m moving soon. I’ve got my two best mates coming down for the opening of Adoration, Mike Todd, a tattoo artist, and Jerome Taylor, who I went to high school with, who is a fashion designer. They are my creative community up there in Wellington. When I started getting tattooed by Mike, he knew I was painting on the side and he was giving me tips, like how tattoo apprentices learn, you trace a rose fifty times and by the twentieth time you should know how to draw a rose. He’s been a big part in me fundamentally learning how to paint the way I do. But in terms of what I’ve got here with Jessie and Josh and everyone else, I don’t have that. It’s a bit daunting, but I did it here, I just have to put myself out there. I’m from Wellington, so I should be able to connect a bit more if anything just because I’m local. I think having a show here will help open some doors up there. It’s funny, I already know I want to do another solo show in Wellington next year. I’ve already got ideas bubbling about what I want to do for my next show. It’s contagious, I reckon, it consumes you, but I’ve really enjoyed the process…
How did the show come together conceptually?
When I confirmed this show last year, I was still working at my old job, in a corporate structure, getting paid to do a job, and I just really felt like I was being controlled by the man. I didn’t want to sound like a temperamental artist, but I really struggled with being told to be creative within a certain framework or it wasn’t of value. So when I was coming up with themes for my show, I was thinking about basing it on entrapment and having conflicting thoughts in my head, and just lacking self-worth in a way, but then in January, I drew out my whole show in a wall plan to see if it was going to tell a story, and I realised it doesn’t have to, screw that! I’m leaving town soon, I just want to do something that I’m passionate about. It is filled with traditional Japanese influences but with a contemporary take. There are a few pieces where I have dissected objects and have incorporated other objects with them. Textures play an important part in my inspiration so I wanted to bring them in also. The show is about paying homage to Japanese art and culture, and that’s why I named the show Adoration, it’s about devotion and how I hold it dear to my heart.
We talked briefly about artists being pigeon-holed, do you ever think about that in terms of the Japanese influence in your work?
Totally, I always think to myself, am I pigeon-holing myself with my interests? The one positive to come out of lock-down was new ideas I want to paint when I move back to Wellington. It’s abstract, with no Japanese themes at all. I haven’t told anyone about it, I don’t know if I want to push this, I don’t know if I want to show anyone, I’ve done some real rough sketches and I don’t think anyone would expect it.
I assume they will likely see the light of day in Wellington, which means that while this show brings this chapter to a close, this new body of work might start the next chapter…
As much as it’s been a really good time painting the work in this show, I think this is the perfect time to start some more experimental stuff. A lot of people have asked why I don’t get into tattooing, because it makes sense with my subject matter currently. But I don’t want to keep exploring the same themes and imagery and that’s the connection people seem to make, that my Japanese- influenced work would translate to tattoo. It’s something I have warmed up to in the last six months as I’ve become more confident with the hand-rendered stuff, but tattooing is completely different from painting, it’s a whole new technique. Once I’m back in Wellington, I’m going to use the rest of this year to have a play around and try some experimental stuff, do more freehand work, which is something I have been working on for the last six months. I guess there has been a lot of personal growth down here in the last two years as well…
So, this is an important milestone…
It is an important milestone. About six months ago I realized that it makes sense to have my first show here in Christchurch, because this is where my creative journey really started. Obviously, I went back to Wellington after the 2011 earthquake and relocated to continue my studies up there, but really making things all started here, so it all makes sense. It’s like a goodbye gift, my time here is up, but this is where it all started for me. I never thought I would have a solo show, I never thought I would have my work in a public space where people would want to come see it. I think we all get a little nervous, like are people going to show up? I’ve had a lot of people reaching out to me saying they are looking forward to seeing the show. Getting messages like that has been really humbling.
That must be cool because as you have mentioned, the process of creating work and then the step of putting them out in the world can be scary. It’s a long and constantly changing road, the process and development, the failures, the changes of direction…
Yes, it’s a vulnerable position because you work on something for so long and then you think you are comfortable to show people, but once it’s in a public space, once it’s out there, then it could be well received or it might not be. It’s all part of it and I look forward to seeing how people interact with the show on Friday.
Adoration opens at Absolution in the Arts Centre on Friday, 7th August, 2020 at 6pm.
When Aotearoa entered the level 4 lock down as we faced the threat of Covid-19, many of us took to a daily walk within our bubbles, nominally for exercise, but if we are honest, as an escape from the confines of our homes, to remind ourselves that the world around us was still there.
Luckily for me, my suburban surroundings provided plenty of points of interest, and chief among them were the constantly expanding series of stickers and paste ups produced by the prolific Dr Suits.
Dr Suits’ output over the last few years has shifted to a process-centric fixation with abstraction. As he has investigated materials and techniques, he has also grappled with the transference between street and studio. While he has produced a range of outdoor works (including commissioned murals and even a basketball court), the lock down period saw perhaps the most cohesive body of street work he has created. From small vinyl stickers to large-scale paste ups, sweeping textural waves and various geometric forms of flat colour were juxtaposed to create items of intrigue. To learn more about this flurry of creativity, we caught up with Dr Suits to talk about the inspiration and motivation for these (sub)urban additions and how extraordinary times have inspired his work…
The notable thing about this body of work was just how quickly it seemed to come to fruition and appear on the streets, was it something you had already considered, or were you specifically inspired by the lock down?
It was spontaneous really. I think a lot of my work happens like that, when I find a delicious tasting fruit, I feast on it, until there’s no fruit left.
When we entered lock down, we just raided the studio for a bunch of materials and resources with no clear plan of what we were going to do with them. We just wanted to make sure we had stuff to work with at home. The stickers were great because they were small, and I could just mess around in the lounge.
The stickers led to the much larger paste ups, a form that you have a bit of experience with…
They were something that just came out of the stickers. It was a similar process, I just wanted to do the stickers bigger. I had the materials, the paint, the paper, the glue. The beauty of paste ups is that you can work on them at home, and then it only takes ten minutes to install them, which was great for lock down. It reminded me of the post-quake period, when I first started doing paste ups, but I adapted them to my present artistic approach.
A lot of your previous paste ups were illustrative. These works are a clear reflection of your more process-driven abstract direction of the last few years…
I thought of a few ideas to do some illustrative paste ups with more on-topic commentaries, but I couldn’t find the motivation because I was too distracted with the process of making these stickers and just doing what seemed natural…
Do you connect these works in any outward sense to the Covid-19 pandemic?
I could probably think of something more specific if I wanted to, but they are a direct response to that situation because if I didn’t have that situation they wouldn’t have been created, so in some ways they are a direct response.
The paste ups and the stickers both use a collage technique, but they can be experienced very differently because of their materials and size. Were you interested in how people would respond to the different works?
It’s more driven by the process of creation. I know people are going to respond to them in their own way and that’s what I like about abstract art. People always see something that you don’t see or think something that you don’t think. Even though they use the same process, I wasn’t really thinking about it. Obviously, the paste ups don’t demand as much inspection because they’re so big that you can see them from afar, you may or may not notice that it’s collaged. I was just really enjoying the process of cutting the shapes and overlapping them and exploring different compositions. That is really similar to the way I previously would do it, but I would use Adobe Illustrator or something like that to play around with shapes and I would just pick the ones that I liked. But with the stickers, each one was a development, and I would just keep each one, it wasn’t just picking the ones that I liked and then using those as a composition to make into an artwork…
When you’re putting the paste ups on the wall, are they constructed with the final image in mind? I’m assuming they are applied on the wall in sequence…
Yeah that’s right. With the stickers, I’d start with the background, with the brushy effect using the wide-tip Molotow marker, and then I would just cut shapes out of colorful vinyl, some which I’d spray painted first, and I’d play with compositions. Then I used those stickers to inform the larger paste ups.
Were you thinking about spots for paste ups in a different way to the stickers? I assume there was less planning around the stickers, whereas the paste ups would require some forethought…
There’s an abundance of spots out in New Brighton, so it’s not hard to find a spot. And during lock down it was so quiet, no one was around, I mean I could have painted them if I wanted to. At the time, I was more interested in the collage approach and finding those small imperfections where they are slightly offset and seeing the depth between the layers, the paper sticking on top of another layer which is on top of another layer and building up. The paper ripples and it creates little shadows and as it gets wet it shrinks and it might warp a bit, the stripe might move off to the side a little…
In terms of placement, what makes a perfect wall? It feels as if your works like to have room to breathe, but also it seems that geometry is an important consideration…
Definitely, I really like a wall to have similar or reflective elements that are going to make it relatable to the work. I like to have contrast, but I also like it to have some sort of unity. That balance is what I like in my work more generally anyway. You want it to stand out, but you want it to fit in, so I try to find texture or line or some shape or something in the composition of the space that’s going to contribute to the overall composition on the wall, like a box or a down-pipe, a color or a paint change or a set of windows.
Do you feel this has taken your studio work in a new direction?
Definitely. The stickers started developing with more curves and softer lines and the collage approach to the process is something I’ll take forward.
Your work seems to evolve in quite a fluid progression, with certain elements recurring and coming into focus, does it feel that way to you as you are working?
think with abstraction, it can be very sparse in terms of the elements you’re working with, so the changes are noticeable really quickly when you do change an approach or technique or some process behind how you make an image. I can really latch on to something just by changing that one thing and that change becomes a solid basis and everything else around that can change but you are still kind of keeping a consistency within the work.
There’s an anchor…
I like to have an anchor, especially with colour or shape or composition or texture. The anchor’s a link, you could look at it two ways; it’s a safety thing, I don’t want to jump too far away from what I’ve been doing, possibly because of fear, but also it keeps it recognizable from previous work so you can see a progression, that connection between where you are going and where you’ve been.
Has this series made you think about the street/studio balance?
I’d like to do more of the paste ups. I’ve got lots of ideas for those, but I can see them influencing my paintings as well. I want to take that same process, just do a little collage sticker and then maybe do a paste up or a painting directly from that, maybe try to do both, and just push that image out in more than one way…