With the return of Level Two, August has been a bit of a roller-coaster, with the highs of communal gatherings matched by the returning weariness of congregations and the tiresome political bickering and conspiracy theory wackiness dominating much discourse. But that is where art is so effective, it can be both a glorious shared activity and a private independent adventure, a distraction from what is going on and a reflection of those same issues. The month started with a sense of excitement as I met with artist Tom Bell to discuss his upcoming show Adoration, which provided a great opening night. As time passed, more things turned my head. It was clear people were busy, from guerrilla interventionists, to mural artists, and it felt like the city was alive with activity. This energy has been somewhat tempered by the potential of a shut down (at the time of writing this at least), but it gives me pause to believe that even when difficult times emerge, art can always find a way to help out…
Tom Bell – Adoration @ Absolution
The month kicked off with a farewell as Tom Bell presented Adoration at Absolution in the Arts Centre. Tom has been based in Ōtautahi for several years, working as a graphic designer, while diving back into painting more recently as a creative outlet. His art has long been entrenched in Japanese imagery, and Adoration played homage to that ‘adored’ visual style. Intricately cut and painted plywood, with subtle layering and flashes of detail made for a striking collection. The turn out was also impressive, with Absolution jam-packed, a well-deserved result for the artist’s long path towards Adoration.
Levi Hawken’s urban installations
Auckland-based artist Levi Hawken’s concrete sculptures were introduced to the city at the Fiksate show Urban Abstract last year. Placed within the gallery setting, they were immediately recognisable as versatile aesthetic objects. But Hawken’s works are undeniably influenced by the urban environment and they gain so much from their placement within the cityscape. It was therefore an awesome surprise to see a number of his small works mysteriously applied to walls and fixtures around the city, subtly subverting expectations.
Wongi ‘Freak’ Wilson’s TradeStaff mural update
We all know Wongi Wilson’s aerosol technique is mightily impressive, and that rings even more true as time passes and he refines his approach. That reality is instantly recognisable with his recent refresh of his own TradeStaff mural on the corner of Colombo Street and St Asaph Street. The original mural, painted around 2013, had become a familiar site in the CBD, but the new work, still in progress when I first saw it, is incredibly striking, almost invoking the proletariat intensity of propaganda posters…
Catching up with old friends…
Over the month of August, we have been putting together a project that we can’t wait to share… but for now, it is enough to say it has been a heap of fun catching up with a bunch of our favourite artists and revisiting some of their most memorable works (including some more recent additions), such as Berst and his God of the Forest in Sydenham and staircase mural inside the Canterbury Museum (pictured).
Distranged Design on Manchester Street
Distranged Design’s newest outdoor work on Manchester Street is an impactful surprise, anonymous eyes peering out from an expressionistic blue background splashed across a distressed wall. Staring at passing traffic from behind hurricane fencing it is an alluring sight and forms part of a larger collection of interventions in the vacant lot…
What were your highlights from August 2020? Let us know in the comments below…
Spread the word about what's happening in the Christchurch urban art scene:
With 2019 now wrapped, we decided to round up a number of our friends to take stock of the year that was. But then we realised it is also the end of the decade, and to be fair it has been a pretty challenging, fascinating and memorable ten years, especially for the residents ofŌtautahi Christchurch. We asked this selection of artists and creatives about their own experiences, the people and work that inspired them, the events that mattered and their hopes for the future. The results were wide-ranging, although, of course, there were a number of events, artworks and ideas that came up repeatedly, highlighting the impactful events and developments that have coloured our collective consciousness since 2010…
Reuben Woods – Writer (@bolsamatic)
What has been your personal highlight of 2019? There have been a few, from working on Urban Abstract, to curating Dr Suits (Nath Ingram) and Josh O’Rourke’s projects in New Brighton, but probably top of the list was having work published in the Nuart Journal…
What piece of someone else’s art in Christchurch has been your favourite this year? It may be that they are fresh in my memory, but TOGO’s rooftop piece to the South West of the city is a favourite, the angular FOLT slaps are rad, and pretty much anything by Vesil over this year.
What piece of someone else’s art outside of Christchurch has been your favourite this year? Aryz’s work has been stellar, Selina Miles’ Martha: A Picture Story was great, I love Elliot O’Donnell’s new direction with the glitch studies of urban surfaces, and Bond’s graffiti pieces are super fresh as well. I also really enjoyed Nike Savvas’ Finale: Bouquet at Te Papa…
What exhibition by an urban artist(s) has been your favourite this year? Urban Abstract was the culmination of a long process and it was so great to see it well received, as it wasn’t clear that there was a massive thirst for that style locally…
It isn’t just the end of a year; it is also the end of a decade. What events or sentiments have defined the last decade for you? Obviously the earthquakes, and I think the March Terror Attacks signalled a change in the city’s psyche as well. More widely, the increasing division across the world, politically, economically and ideologically, cannot be ignored.
What is the biggest artistic/pop cultural moment from the last decade? When Childish Gambino released the video for This Is America, it felt like a really impactful conflation of pop culture, art and social commentary that captured the zeitgeist. Locally, I don’t think I can go past what George Shaw and Shannon Webster of OiYOU! pulled off with RISE here at the Canterbury Museum…
Which artist or artists have stood out over the last decade? Internationally, Vhils, Aryz, Revok, Stoop Kid, Nina Chanel Abney, Askew, Dside, Katsu, Steve ‘ESPO’ Powers, Timothy Curtis, Deconstructie, Connor Harrington… So many. And of course, locally there have been so many people who have left their mark in the streets, from little tags to big walls, I couldn’t possibly name everyone…
Lastly, what do you hope 2020 has in store, personally and for the local scene? I really hope the energy that the city saw for a sustained period can be recaptured, with things happening not just within commissioned frameworks, but also more organically, especially as the city evolves into a ‘finished product’ to contest. To see local artists continue to gain wider profiles and in turn to see exciting visiting artists come here and leave their mark.
Tom Kerr – Artist, Musician (@ditchlifetattoos/@_nervousjerk/@toyota_bleeps)
What has been your personal highlight of 2019? Quitting my job as a builder and becoming a full-time tattoo artist. It’s been a goal of mine since I was a teenager.
What piece of someone else’s art in Christchurch has been your favourite this year? I just love seeing a nice tag to be honest. I haven’t really been involved in the graffiti scene since I started putting all my artistic energy and time into tattooing. However, once you’re in the graffiti culture you never stop turning your head when you go past a tag that has something special about it. My favourite tags are the cheeky ones done with a paint pen or a big marker.
What piece of someone else’s art outside of Christchurch has been your favourite this year? I’m a big fan of Josh Solomon from Auckland, both his tattoos and his ‘fine art’.
What exhibition by an urban artist(s) has been your favourite this year? Rory Grant had an exhibition [Babylon is Burning] at Spooky Boogie in Lyttelton last month and I think his paintings are super impressive.
It isn’t just the end of a year; it is also the end of a decade. What events or sentiments have defined the last decade for you? The earthquakes, it goes without saying, haha! Starting a punk band (Nervous Jerk) and being welcomed into a whole new world and experiencing kindness from strangers like never before. Putting out a record with that band five years later. Becoming a qualified builder. I learnt so many things, but most importantly it taught me to never give up on something and to always have a crack at taking that broken thing apart and trying to fix it or whatever. What’s the worst that can happen right? Buying a house with my girlfriend. So many things. I was 15 at the start of the decade so I’ve been through a lot of first times and probably shaped by a lot of things I’m not even aware of yet!
What is the biggest artistic/pop cultural moment from the last decade? Smartphones, I think. I hate everything about them and love them for the same reasons! But you can be so creative with them and write things down and brainstorm on them and I think so many creative things were probably started as just a note on a phone…
Which artist or artists have stood out over the last decade? To be honest I think over the last decade all the big artists I’ve gotten into haven’t been doing anything this decade. I just really like older music and most of the art I’m into is more traditional stuff too, I guess.
Lastly, what do you hope 2020 has in store, personally and for the local scene? Less people being fussed about how many likes they get for whatever they’re making and just making it for the sake of self-expression. Hopefully by then everyone will be over that shit and just enjoy being themselves.
Ikarus – Artist (@highdoctornick)
What has been your personal highlight of 2019? I quit smoking cigarettes after close to 25 years, does that count? Relating to art stuff, it’s hard to say, there’s been a few cool projects but nothing that blew me away…
What piece of someone else’s art in Christchurch has been your favourite this year? I’m not even sure. For big murals, the photographic piece Dcypher and Yikes produced with OiYOU! looks like a real banger.
As far as traditional graffiti, which obviously is what I’m most interested in, this year has to go to Vesil, that dude is producing some dope work in high profile spots. An honourable mention to Dofus as well, he’s been killing the streets and yards with tags, pieces, throws. A solid all-rounder. The AOC crew have been putting in the heavy efforts and definitely produced some of the rawest graffiti this year.
Even though he’s been quiet this year, I’ve got to mention WeksOne (IMK), his 2017- early 2019 run is one of the heaviest and most impressive examples of all-round graffiti mastery in Christchurch history. Dude had the streets, yards, rooftops and more crushed, with everything from tags to throws to chromes to pieces to characters and straight up burners.
What piece of someone else’s art outside of Christchurch has been your favourite this year? I’m super ignorant about what’s going on outside Christchurch most of the time. Everything Odeith does is insane though. 1UP’s coral reef project is on some next level shit. I really have no idea honestly. I can tell you all the current 2020 releases for Hasbro’s Marvel Legends line though, if that helps at all.
What exhibition by an urban artist(s) has been your favourite this year? Ahhhh, I see. This is all an exercise to expose how little I actually know about art, well played. OK well, I didn’t actually go to it, but I’m gonna say TOGO’s work in the Urban Abstract exhibition at Fiksate Gallery (see what I did there, guys? You’re welcome). I didn’t see the show but his mix of abstract paintings both on canvas/gallery and on walls/public, coupled with his raw traditional illegal graffiti work and his eloquent descriptions of his experiences lead me to assume I would have very much enjoyed the exhibition.
It isn’t just the end of a year; it is also the end of a decade. What events or sentiments have defined the last decade for you? That’s a brooooad question. Part of me wants to just say ‘Thug Life’ and move on, because thinking and talking too deeply about graffiti and/or street art sometimes feels stupid or falsely high-brow, too forced. But part of me also takes it all really seriously. So, I dunno what to say to be honest. Grow and evolve but don’t change. When you work out what that means and how to do it, lemme know, it might be the key to the struggle.
What is the biggest artistic/pop cultural moment from the last decade? The Internet. The exponential rise of social media and its various platforms to some extent make every moment the biggest moment for artistic/pop culture. Everything has the potential to be the next big thing. Marketing and branding overtook advertising as the true modern art form.
Which artist or artists have stood out over the last decade? There’s too many dope artists and writers to name and I’d be afraid to forget somebody. On some level everybody is an influence but it’s really only my crew and the writers and artists from my city that I think about though, without them I couldn’t exist. Two people I will mention though, are George Shaw and Shannon Webster from OiYOU! While perhaps not the traditional definition of “artists”, they have been incredibly important to the growth of public appreciation towards graffiti and street art in Christchurch. From organising the biggest graffiti and street art exhibitions/shows/festivals in New Zealand, including the historic RISE at the Canterbury Museum, to their continual support behind the scenes, these guys have been a huge factor in the growth of graffiti and street art in post-quake Christchurch.
Lastly, what do you hope 2020 has in store, personally and for the local scene? I’ll just keep doing what I do. We have workshops and the Blackbook Sessions starting up again in the new year, as well as a festival or two pencilled in for 2020 already. I’d like to see traditional graffiti art represented more at the many street art festivals and shows that are happening now. It’s great to see the art form evolve and see events that support the new wave of art/artists, but it would also be great to have traditional graffiti art represented in that positive light. Locally I’d like to see the implementation of more legal walls and evolving art spaces where novice artists can practice freely, and more funding toward workshops and tutorial classes for at-risk youth.
Jacob Yikes – Artist (@jacobyikes)
What has been your personal highlight of 2019? I’ve had a somewhat quiet year with painting outdoors for various reasons, however, a highlight of mine was displaying some works at Chambers Gallery. I felt those works were a shift in the direction I see my work heading in 2020.
Another highlight would be getting a solo show in a local gallery that I have been visiting since I was young, I can’t release any info about it yet, but the show will be towards the end of 2020…
What piece of someone else’s art in Christchurch has been your favourite this year? Hmmm, that’s a hard one, personally I feel that overall it’s been super quiet in Christchurch this year… I’ve been locked away in my studio for a lot of the year so I’m not sure I’ve really seen anything new from anyone that’s really stood out, and that’s not a negative thing at all but nobody is really being that active. I guess I need to get out more, haha!
What piece of someone else’s art outside of Christchurch has been your favourite this year? Yeah, again, I’ve not being paying attention enough to what’s been going on, so I really couldn’t say, hibernating in the studio for the cold months will do that!
What exhibition by an urban artist(s) has been your favourite this year? No answer.
It isn’t just the end of a year; it is also the end of a decade. What events or sentiments have defined the last decade for you? Easily the influx of street-based work in Christchurch, the events that have opened up doors for me and helped me progress as a full-time artist. I quit my job as a house painter about 6 years ago, took the leap to be a full-time artist and it’s not been easy, especially trying to keep my work original and true to my vision and not just to please the masses. That can be hard, but it’s all been worth it.
What is the biggest artistic/pop cultural moment from the last decade? No answer.
Which artist or artists have stood out over the last decade? That’s a tricky one, a lot have stood out in their own way, I really couldn’t say, I really should pay more attention!
Lastly, what do you hope 2020 has in store, personally and for the local scene? I hope that in 2020 we will see our local Council actually contribute to keeping the street scene alive and to stop using the work we do to promote the city but not putting anything into it, but we’ll see…. I personally have some things in the works for 2020, but I’ll keep that close for now, haha!
Jacob Root (Distranged Design) – Artist (@distrangeddesign)
What has been your personal highlight of 2019? My personal highlight of this year was definitely my trip to Los Angeles. The work I was able to do there and the contacts I’ve made from it is still surreal.
What piece of someone else’s art in Christchurch has been your favourite this year? Ahh, I haven’t actually seen a whole lot. But Dcypher’s Seagull was dope!
What piece of someone else’s art outside of Christchurch has been your favourite this year? All of Triston Eaton’s murals!
What exhibition by an urban artist(s) has been your favourite this year? Chimp’s Aliases at Fiksate.
It isn’t just the end of a year; it is also the end of a decade. What events or sentiments have defined the last decade for you? The last decade has really been the start of my life, finishing high school, then being able to work for myself and do what I love every day is a major factor!
What is the biggest artistic/pop cultural moment from the last decade? I really don’t think I’m fit to answer that as I’ve really only been painting for the last couple of years.
Which artist or artists have stood out over the last decade? Triston Eaton, Martin Whatson and Alec Monopoly.
Lastly, what do you hope 2020 has in store, personally and for the local scene? For me, I’ve got a few festivals planned and quite a bit of travel, so I’m really hyped to be able to have my artwork outside of NZ! For the local scene, I really hope there is a street art festival curated for Christchurch…
A Tribe Called Haz – Artist (@atribecalledhaz)
What has been your personal highlight of 2019? Being invited & participating in a roughly six month long art exhibition with Burger Burger.
What piece of someone else’s art in Christchurch has been your favourite this year? The walls of New Brighton.
What piece of someone else’s art outside of Christchurch has been your favourite this year? Gareth Stehr’s Have a nice day.
What exhibition by an urban artist(s) has been your favourite this year? Joel Hart’s Dopamine at Fiksate.
It isn’t just the end of a year; it is also the end of a decade. What events or sentiments have defined the last decade for you? The Rad Collective’s Under the Influence, the ‘Graffiti Quake House’, my first A Tribe Called Haz exhibition.
What is the biggest artistic/pop cultural moment from the last decade? Ilma Gore’s painting of Donald Trump with a small dick.
Which artist or artists have stood out over the last decade? Locally, Uncle Harold, Hugo van Dorsser, Vesil & anyone I’ve painted with. Outside of Christchurch, it would be Askew, Sofles, Dside, Valentin Ozich, Pablo Dalas, Neckface, Jeremy Fish & Haser.
Lastly, what do you hope 2020 has in store, personally and for the local scene? Personally, more Inspiration, hopefully pull together another exhibition or two. Locally, more legal walls & more art collectives.
Jessie Rawcliffe – Artist (@jessie.e.r)
What has been your personal highlight of 2019? Finally having a solo show, an opportunity which encouraged me to get away from working digitally and experiment with my preferred medium.
What piece of someone else’s art in Christchurch has been your favourite this year? Dude, I suck at favourites… I really enjoyed Evangeline Edilson’s show Melpomene and the Sock at CoCA in August. There are some similarities in our work, so I probably related to it stylistically, which being a surrealist figurative artist I don’t get often. But honestly there’s been so much good stuff I can’t remember. Last week is hard enough. And I accidentally deleted my camera roll the other day, so I can’t even look back at visual cues.
What piece of someone else’s art outside of Christchurch has been your favourite this year? Too specific. But in general Michael Reeder had a stellar year (last few really) and I’m constantly seeing his stuff and thinking “fuck you”. His development and refinement is such a pleasure to watch.
What exhibition by an urban artist(s) has been your favourite this year? Fiksate’s Urban Abstract is the most memorable for sure. The range and standard of work was really great and that opening had such a good atmosphere. I think the space has worn in a little, there was such a nice crowd, I dunno, it was the warmest opening in recent memory.
It isn’t just the end of a year; it is also the end of a decade. What events or sentiments have defined the last decade for you? Moving to Wellington at the start of the decade and realising that there were weirdos out there just like me. I’ve moved cities and started gaining some momentum with my practice that was non-existent near the middle of my post-university years. Christchurch has been home for four years now (woah!) and I think it takes at least that long to either get comfortable or figure out how that new environment affects you. Working from The Welder Collective in 2017-18 either directly or indirectly introduced me to everyone in the Christchurch art scene I now know, with a few in particular being a vital influence on my current motivations and interests. The explosion of social media and its relationship to art really stands out. For better or worse. It can be pretty numbing being bombarded with imagery all day, every day, it’s often demotivating to go out and see art in person. The flip side though, is that I’ve connected with artists all over the world because of it and think it can be used as a tool for making art friends and expanding your art business wise. I’m inspired as much as I’m crushed by looking at other artists work (lol). Social media is probably a contributing factor to why I can’t remember what the fuck I’ve seen or done in the last decade. This might seem mundane, but I was given a copy of Young, Sleek and Full of Hell to read in 2017, which documents all the wild shit that went down and the careers that launched at Aaron Rose’s New York gallery ALLEGED in the 90’s (Mark Gonzales, Chris Johanson, Rita Ackermann, Susan Cianciolo, Barry McGee, Margaret Kilgallen, Harmony Korine, Mike Mills, Ed Templeton…), and it is so memorable and jumps out at me, because it fucked me up for a solid week. I was convinced that I was born in the wrong place/era. The sentiment of this time and place really resonates with my inner punk who wants to be allowed out, except, well, I’m too nice. And it got me worried that what went down there won’t or can’t ever happen here, because Christchurch for the most part is the cultural equivalent of a loaf of pre-sliced white bread.
What is the biggest artistic/pop cultural moment from the last decade? Yeah, maybe it’s still the hangover from the decade before. ALLEGED crew and affiliates are everywhere. Or maybe more generally, the sentiment that came out of that time, all the good stuff of the late 90’s – skateboarding, art, graffiti, film, fashion, photography – has been polished, monetised, derivatives on derivatives. We’ve been in this post-postmodernist depression. And look what’s in again, the 90’s! But did it ever really go away? Another thing that stands out is the multidisciplinary artist/creative – the lack of needing to specialise in one field, like the the skateboarder/artist, or not needing to stick to one artistic medium. Also, the collab. OMG the collab! Big companies approaching (big or small) artists, as they try to capitalise on underground cultures and just basically commodify anything cool.
Which artist or artists have stood out over the last decade? HUGE question, I’m avoiding it! Every year my attention has been drawn to different stuff depending on what I was up to. During university it was magazines like Juxtapoz and Hi-Fructose where I was getting inspiration from – lowbrow pop surrealism. 2009/10 was really my introduction to graf, hanging out at Manky Chops gallery in Wellington and with various members of Pirates crew (who are now graphic designers, tattooists, fine artists and the likes), very much the new gen of graf meets fine art, and the rise of the mural/street artist. The last few years in Christchurch it’s been a mix, which isn’t surprising given how varied the art scene is here, with the very traditional and more low-brow often right next to each other. There’s been a lot of looking back going on, at CAG for example, so many of the stand-out work has been old work from artists I should probably have known. Maybe we’re in a lull? Otherwise it’s a bit blurry. Specifics are hard. It feels like it just happened and I need a little more distance to work it out.
Lastly, what do you hope 2020 has in store, personally and for the local scene? I hope the art scene can get a bit more momentum and general support from the wider community. There’s a cultural divide that I find really evident in Christchurch, with rich white people who want to buy landscapes and tell their friends they went to an art opening, then a bunch of super skilled and hardworking artists who will never see any of that support. The underground scenes are supported mostly by the people in them, and this city is too small to sustain that. A bit more overlap and progression of the traditional and contemporary art worlds.I’d like to keep painting, but also not be fucking broke for the 11th year in a row. I have way more focus and direction (and Ritalin) than I ever have before, so we’ll see where this new motivation takes me. It’ll likely be reaching out to galleries in the States to better connect with my audience. NZ has little fucks for figurative work, but the US love it, so I’ll be exporting goods!
Dcypher – Artist (@dcypher_dtrcbs)
What has been your personal highlight of 2019? My personal highlights for this year would have to be working on the Salt wall designed by Paul Walters (I added the additional ‘Otautahi’ piece beneath it), it was a fun collaboration and I learned a lot of new techniques. Also, the more recent negative film strip mural depicting historical photographs of the SALT District was fun, again working with the Oi YOU! team.
What piece of someone else’s art in Christchurch has been your favourite this year? It’s a biased viewpoint, but all of Yikes’ new work, murals and artworks, would have to be my favourite in Christchurch for 2019.
What piece of someone else’s art outside of Christchurch has been your favourite this year? Internationally, I would say Sainer from ETAM crew and Aryz from Spain would be my two favourite artists of 2019.
What exhibition by an urban artist(s) has been your favourite this year? I haven’t had a chance to attend many shows this year but based on what I did see Levi Hawken’s sculptures from Fiksate’s Urban Abstract stuck in my memory.
It isn’t just the end of a year; it is also the end of a decade. What events or sentiments have defined the last decade for you? I spent the last decade living and working in Los Angeles so that has had a massive influence on my work.
What is the biggest artistic/pop cultural moment from the last decade? I think for Christchurch it would have to obviously be the earthquakes and the mural festivals that proceeded it and put the city on the map as a cultural hub of New Zealand.
Which artist or artists have stood out over the last decade? Internationally there are so many amazing artists that stand out in my mind. And the mural art movement has been pushed in lots of amazing directions but someone who really stands out I would have to say is Vhils, his work is super impressive.
Lastly, what do you hope 2020 has in store, personally and for the local scene? I’m looking forward to 2020 being super productive. Hopefully producing more and more murals and having more mural festivals and bringing in international artists to add to the already extensive public mural catalogue.
What has been your personal highlight of 2019? In 2019 Fiksate came to the central city and we’ve so many had great exhibition openings, the highlight was probably the latest one, Urban Abstract, for sure. Also, I quit my 9-to-5 and am focussing on being an artist and running Fiksate full time, that is definitely a highlight!
What piece of someone else’s art in Christchurch has been your favourite this year? Levi Hawken has blown my mind with his sculptural work. It was so good to have it in Urban Abstract…
What piece of someone else’s art outside of Christchurch has been your favourite this year? There are too many to name! I have really enjoyed Remi Rough, the abstract urban artists coming out of Poland, all the female mural artists out there. I have to say that I’m constantly amazed by the stuff that comes across my Instagram feed. I don’t always take in who it is by, but there are so many artists out there that are so talented. I’m blown away everyday by urban art culture, it’s a huge vast ocean of talent.
What exhibition by an urban artist(s) has been your favourite this year? Every single Fiksate exhibition opening! We have had such great vibes, the other exhibitions this year that have stood out have been Jessie Rawcliffe’s shows at CoCA and now at Absolution.
It isn’t just the end of a year; it is also the end of a decade. What events or sentiments have defined the last decade for you? In 2010 I met Nathan and we fell in love. Then in 2011 the earthquake struck, you can’t not mention that, but that’s also when our street art journey began and we became a team and since that day when we made paste ups of Band Aids or Nath’s Dr Suits character, that energy has never faded away.
With Fiksate, we are here to give a leg up to artists who don’t get that from other contemporary art galleries, we are here to give urban artists the prominence they deserve because they are a talented bunch of people. We want to give local artists the chance to show alongside international artists, showing the standard here.
What is the biggest artistic/pop cultural moment from the last decade? Man, it’s a long decade! I’d say the emergence of Anderson Paak.
Which artist or artists have stood out over the last decade? I really enjoy Gary Stranger. Every time Cleon Peterson puts out something it blows my mind, his latest work, it’s so dark and dirty. I’ve got to say that the artists who have been part of our shows at Fiksate, like Askew One, Pener, Joel Hart… And of course Dr Suits, he blows my mind every time and I hate it because he makes it look so easy!
Lastly, what do you hope 2020 has in store, personally and for the local scene? I hope that I will become a full-time artist and that Fiksate will become a solid grounding for urban art in the city, a mural agency is part of that plan too, working to get more murals around the city. I also hope urban art is given more education and acceptance of all its aspects.
PKAY – Artist (@aaron.p.k)
What has been your personal highlight of 2019? Shooting Steven Park’s 6×4 summer collection.
What piece of someone else’s art in Christchurch has been your favourite this year? Vesil’s entire output this year.
What piece of someone else’s art outside of Christchurch has been your favourite this year? No answer.
What exhibition by an urban artist(s) has been your favourite this year? Urban Abstract was great.
It isn’t just the end of a year; it is also the end of a decade. What events or sentiments have defined the last decade for you? I feel like I’m giving a very obvious answer but the earthquakes have been hugely impactful, particularly for people like myself who were in their early teens, as it changed the way people my age experienced the city (or lack of one) during our formative years.
What is the biggest artistic/pop cultural moment from the last decade? Mass meme culture (and muralism).
Which artist or artists have stood out over the last decade? Consistently over the whole decade DTR have pulled it off.
Lastly, what do you hope 2020 has in store, personally and for the local scene? More creative opportunities and some failed rebuild projects to retain the city’s spicy ‘bando energy
Dr Suits – Artist, Gallery Owner (@_dr_suits/@fiksate_gallery)
What has been your personal highlight of 2019? The basketball court [Forces] in New Brighton was a big highlight for me. Just making it through to the end of the year is also a feat.
What piece of someone else’s art in Christchurch has been your favourite this year? TOGO all day, without a doubt.
What piece of someone else’s art outside of Christchurch has been your favourite this year? I don’t think I have even left the city! I looked online a couple of times, probably Remi Rough. He’s fucking killing it.
What exhibition by an urban artist(s) has been your favourite this year? I wouldn’t want to be biased, but Urban Abstract was off the chain for us. That was a mammoth project and something that we worked on for a long time. I love urban abstract artwork and I just like to push my agenda! It’s like I love this so you should at least consider it, because I don’t even know if people even knew it existed. It’s really exciting the direction urban abstract art can go. I mean abstract art has been at the forefront of driving contemporary art for a long time, it naturally fits, but the murals and the scale and the insane concepts that can be translated, even stickers, paste ups and graffiti as well murals, it is all so exciting. Graffiti is essentially an abstraction of letter forms, but now artists are just completely letting go altogether.
It isn’t just the end of a year; it is also the end of a decade. What events or sentiments have defined the last decade for you? Meeting my wife Jenna and forming a whanau with her.
What is the biggest artistic/pop cultural moment from the last decade? Over the last decade rap music has just become so mainstream and dominated the music industry, I have to wonder if rap going to become rock? All the good rock songs are by artists from the 60s and 70s, is hip hop now just people reinventing the wheel, with the best hip-hop artists from the 90s? It’s gone so far from its original roots, it seems like the pure reason hip hop music came to the foreground is so contradictory to where it is now, where it used to be about the little guy, now its all about celebrities and big names. What’s next, what’s the next new music?
Which artist or artists have stood out over the last decade? Anderson Paak, TOGO, Leon Bridges… Polish abstract artists are bonkers, they are just driving it. I don’t know if it’s just my preferred aesthetic, but they are so amazing. They are next level. Maybe it’s the Soviet influence of propaganda. Living in New Zealand, I can’t even picture what a day living in Poland is even like. You come across an artist 5 years ago and they take it somewhere even better, what is in the water over there?!
Lastly, what do you hope 2020 has in store, personally and for the local scene? I need to spend some more time with my family, that’s a personal goal. As for urban art and the city, I’m obviously an advocate for abstract art and I want the city to embrace more abstract murals. Sanctioned works need to celebrate the artists, rather than give them a brief. In those situations artists can show their technical ability, but they can’t always show their voice. We need to have that diversity. The public will then become more aware of the issues artists are confronting, whether it is process driven or socially-minded. The process currently is dictatorial and often driven by people who lack an understanding of art.
Wongi ‘Freak’ Wilson – Artist (@wongi.wilson)
What has been your personal highlight of 2019? Painting the second stage of Boxed Quarter was cool because it was nice to be back again to add to the first round of works I did there. They give me full creative freedom. It’s great to have clients like that who know my work, trust my process and let me do my thing. I’ve had lots of positive feedback on the greyscale portraits and photo real paintings that I did. One painting is of a photo I took of one of the foster pups we had which makes it personal.
Teaming up with DOC and the Godley Heads Heritage Trust who commissioned me to paint the Godley Head gun turrets was pretty cool too. The paintings are based on historic photos of men and women who were the soldiers that manned the turrets during WW2. It was an amazing site to paint as was the subject matter. Another highlight were the pieces I painted for the Fresh Produce exhibition in Auckland. I never get the time between commissions to paint on canvas but I really wanted to include some work once I was invited. I got into the studio every chance I had and painted still life images of my wife from my personal collection and they turned out great. Finally, the Rollickin Gelato commission was a great way to end the year because I’d been wanting to paint a hand holding an ice cream for some time and it fit perfectly with their brief. They wanted it to represent their employees and they had a photo shoot of one with the tattoos and jewellery and sent me a few dozen photos to choose from. It was nice to be painting in Cashel Mall again, which I haven’t done since the first few years after the quakes.
What piece of someone else’s art in Christchurch has been your favourite this year? My favourite pieces this year were any and all Jungle pieces that were done, but specifically Weks did two mean ones and Lurq did a dope one too, on top of that the bro Elias did a great portrait of Jungle which was awesome.
Although, if I needed to point out a specific piece of work, I really liked he UV/Aztec styled characters that Sirum, Linz, Dem189 and Bryan Itch did at the Ten Pin Bowling spot. Mad cool stuff.
What piece of someone else’s art outside of Christchurch has been your favourite this year? The artist Royal Dog did some outstanding portraits this year and Bust’s graffiti/cartoony combination styled work has been awesome too. 1UP’s boat piece or their underwater reef piece were ground breaking, and Blesea One’s character steez was also mad cool, specifically, I thoroughly enjoyed his Dragon Ball Z series.
What exhibition by an urban artist(s) has been your favourite this year? Two shows from this year that would have been amazing to see would have to be Tilt’s exhibition Future Primitive, and, without a doubt, Martha Cooper and 1UP Crew’s one night exhibition in Melbourne. Such a mean team up from some heavy hitters in the scene.
It isn’t just the end of a year; it is also the end of a decade. What events or sentiments have defined the last decade for you? The earthquakes were obviously a huge part of the decade, as well as the abandoned buildings/graffiti playground that they left behind. Getting married to my wife and having an amazing partner and best friend. The RISE exhibition was also a memorable part of the decade, being part of a street art show in the Canterbury Museum was crazy and with all the artists that the show brought through.
A huge event from the last decade was getting the chance to travel to and hike to Everest Base Camp as part of a commission for Kathmandu. It was an absolutely amazing experience that was an adventure of a lifetime and extremely memorable. Baby Yoda.
What is the biggest artistic/pop cultural moment from the last decade? The end of Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, street art becoming mainstream, the final season of Samurai Jack, Baby Yoda, memes of Baby Yoda, Dragon Ball Super…
Which artist or artists have stood out over the last decade? There’s been so many amazing artists from the last decade, but Pichi & Avo’s paintings and sculptures really stood out to me, 1UP Crew’s work was also high impact, and Insane51’s portraits were great, his red and blue 3D-style murals also stood out. I’d also like to mention Tasso and Case from Ma’Claim Crew, they were the first photorealistic painters I saw back in the 2000s, but their works from the past decade have stood out as far as skill levels go.
Lastly, what do you hope 2020 has in store, personally and for the local scene? Personally, I’d like it to be a positive, progressive and prosperous one, full of love, laughter and learning with lots of highlights and happiness. Specifically, I’d like to push my work further and further, expanding on my skill level and developing my pieces, processes, portraits and photorealism to new levels. As for the local scene, I’d love it to be more active on all levels, more cohesive across the board, as I feel it’s quite disconnected and disjointed at times, and for there to be more large scale murals painted, more fully themed productions, and more festivals and artist events to help grow and push the scene.
Jane Maloney (M/K Press) – Designer (@mk.press)
What has been your personal highlight of 2019? Travelling to Europe again for the first time in 5 years. It felt like a long time away so I was very happy to go back. Also making the decision to quit a great job that didn’t serve me well mentally and emotionally.
What piece of someone else’s art in Christchurch has been your favourite this year? All of the works in Playing the Drums by Bill Hammond at Christchurch Art Gallery, with notable mentions for the works Volcano Flag (1994), and Eating, Drinking, Smoking (1972).
What piece of someone else’s art outside of Christchurch has been your favourite this year? Nature Lovers (2003) by Tony de Lautour which I saw at NMG Arrowtown, Snakes (1969) by M.C.Escher, a coloured woodcut from the Escher and Nendo show Between Two Worlds at Melbourne’s NGV, and Nan Golden’s photobook The Ballad of Sexual Dependency (1986), which I saw at the Tate Modern.
What exhibition by an urban artist(s) has been your favourite this year? Face Value, the group show at Fiksate Gallery, and Convo by Tom Gerrard, Matthew Fortrose and Elliott Routledge at Stolenspace Gallery, London.
It isn’t just the end of a year; it is also the end of a decade. What events or sentiments have defined the last decade for you? Starting my business M/K Press in December 2013, becoming self-employed full-time in December 2016, having my first art studio space (The Welder) in September 2017, and becoming a part of Fiksate Gallery and Studio in April 2018.
What is the biggest artistic/pop cultural moment from the last decade? The creation of Instagram in 2010 and its impact on the art world.
Which artist or artists have stood out over the last decade? The 2010s was the decade that ‘Street Art’ became the new ‘Pop Art’. Banksy, KAWS and Shepard Fairey stand out to me as the most prominent street artists who first broke into the mainstream.
Lastly, what do you hope 2020 has in store, personally and for the local scene? The growth of M/K Press, as I am back to running the business full-time. This includes working on some personal projects and hopefully starting my MFA. In the arts scene in Christchurch, I just hope that the support we are getting from local council and the general public continues to increase. Pay local artists appropriately for their time, buy their work and give full credit when sharing their work, and we should all be able to keep on growing.
Josh Bradshaw (Uncle Harold) – Artist (@thejournalofuncleharold/@joshuamarkbradshaw)
What has been your personal highlight of 2019? A personal highlight of mine of 2019 was the decision to branch out and fully delve into new mediums and explore a lot of new ideas and work that are really breaking away from the style that people would be used to seeing from me. None of this work has been seen publicly yet and that in itself is really exciting.
What piece of someone else’s art in Christchurch has been your favourite this year? My favourite piece by a local Christchurch artist in 2019 was What Do You Write Bro? by Tom Kerr from Face Value group exhibition at Fiksate.
What piece of someone else’s art outside of Christchurch has been your favourite this year? My favourite piece by an artist outside of Christchurch was I Never Learned To Tie My Shoes by Julio Alejandro from his solo exhibition Apple Eaters at Blackbook Gallery in Colorado.
What exhibition by an urban artist(s) has been your favourite this year? My favourite exhibition of 2019 was the group show Urban Abstract at Fiksate Gallery in October.
It isn’t just the end of a year; it is also the end of a decade. What events or sentiments have defined the last decade for you? Some key events of the decade that were super impactful for me were moving from a small rural town with absolutely zero form of culture to do with the arts into the city, which was a pretty big eye opener, then shortly after was the opportunity to start a city all over again with the earthquakes. The city became a playground for any artistic endeavours. From the graffiti and street art that resulted from fallen buildings and newly exposed building facades to the rise of small collectives and exhibitions run by local artists that for the most part were met with great support from peers and the public.
What is the biggest artistic/pop cultural moment from the last decade? I don’t know a damn thing about any art movements or anything but I do feel like the introduction of social media has absolutely had a huge impact on the art world. Anyone and everyone is an artist on Instagram.
Which artist or artists have stood out over the last decade? Michael Reeder is one that stands out off the top of my head. He has produced an incredible amount of work and I’m always impressed how he is able to do so many different variations of his work. Materials and techniques are always being explored to keep it fresh and exciting.
Lastly, what do you hope 2020 has in store, personally and for the local scene? For me personally I hope 2020 brings a lot more freedom for me to go down different avenues with the work with the work I make and to not just feel restricted by anything that doesn’t seem necessary. For the local scene this year, I hope to see more small, gritty, underground DIY exhibitions being put on by local artists.
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Back at the beginning of the year, Ikarus shot me a heads up that Wellington and Aotearoa hip hop legend Juse1 (TS crew) was in town for the second annual New Zealand International Tattoo Expo and suggested I try and interview him. Much like Ikarus, Juse has a lengthy history in graffiti, but his exploits also spread across the realms of hip hop, notably as an MC. On his last day in town we finally got to sit down and have a chat, grabbing a coffee while local artists VROD and Sewer prepped a wall for a colab in the Hereford Street space. Not only is Juse a dope artist, with a can, a microphone or a tattoo needle, he is also a thoughtful figure whose experience has given him insight into graffiti writing, hip hop culture, the relativity of creative processes, and the importance of learning throughout life. Sitting down for a while and listening to him talk, it was clear that he has a lot of wisdom to pass on to the upcoming generations, much like he acknowledges having learnt from his influential mentors…
I know it’s your last day in town, but I will still say welcome to Christchurch! I was looking through your Instagram feed, and one of the things that I got to thinking about was the idea of tradition. Not in a regressive way, your work is always fresh, but there is a clear respect and reverence of the traditions of a lot of the different realms that you occupy, right? Is that a big thing for you?
Yeah, not always consciously pushing it as tradition, but I guess it’s my foundation and it’s something that I have learnt. I always found that when you plant a foundation and you decide to build from it, it is always going to influence some way or another the work you might be doing ten years, thirty years later. I guess in a way, I’ve never been one to drastically jump, whether it be my [graffiti] style or my rhymes. I guess it’s me as a person as well, I kind of tie that not only within hip hop, but also being of Samoan culture as well, it does play as an influence into my creative aspects. The culture is something that is sort of engrained in me, so it comes through. Learning history for me has always been really important, and I guess the more knowledge you gain from history, it influences what you do and how you go about doing things, and how you approach it from all the different perspectives you have, you know what I mean?
You mention those two elements: graffiti writing and rhyming. I have recently been reading a lot about pre-hip hop New York graffiti, the early seventies and the guys who were just as much listening to psychedelic rock, soul and disco, stuff like that, and I was thinking, New Zealand’s possibly a bit different. Because of the time graffiti arrived, you almost can’t remove it from hip hop, right? Hip hop and graffiti are so tightly entwined. Did you get into writing through hip hop as a culture, or did graffiti provide a pathway to the other elements of hip hop?
For me, it came with hip hop. Visually I saw graffiti first, like in the eighties, around my neighbourhood. There were dudes getting up and doing full pieces when I was a kid, but I didn’t know what it was because I was a kid. But when I actually started to get into it, and found out what it was, it was through hip hop, through early Source magazines, through album covers, stuff that my older brother would bring home. I was young so I couldn’t access it at all. Everyone caught a tagging buzz in like 1990, and from there, we just kind of grew. Like you were saying, it is linked with hip hop, but graffiti in itself, the energy of it, can relate to so many things and I guess that’s why so many people who don’t necessarily come from a hip hop background can relate to it just as well. It’s kind of universal in that way. The energy of graffiti is to get busy, it’s a movement in itself, but it can attach itself to all these different genres…
It has all these off-shoot variations…
Yeah, but personally, it was through hip hop for me. It was through the album covers and the magazines…
When people think about your hometown, Wellington, nowadays they probably think of the trendy hipsters…
The cafes! There’s a lot of coffee there, bro! (Laughs)
But Wellington is also such a key place for hip hop in Aotearoa; the Upper Hutt Posse, DLT… When you look back, do you appreciate that importance?
Yeah, I really do man. Growing up there, before I started travelling around and meeting other scenes, I took it a bit for granted. But going away and coming back, I realised that the city and the scene itself was special. I mean the city, in terms of the environment, allows for people to see each other often. It’s not a big city, but geographically it is centralised, and if you have got to do something, you all come to town. You can stand in the middle of Wellington and guarantee you are going to see at least three people you know. In regard to the hip hop scene, that was a real way for people to link, because everyone could get to one point, and just share whatever they had. I think with the hip hop scene in Wellington, I’m lucky enough that generations before me are still active and are still around, you know what I mean? It’s something I’ve noticed a bit more than in other cities. When I say generations, I mean people who go way back, watching That’s Incredible! [An American television show from the early eighties that became an important early influence on New Zealand hip hop due to performances by b-boy crews] There are still dudes that turn up to the graf walls, or the MC jams or battles, and you still see them. The benefit of having these local pioneers around is that the knowledge is shared, and the scene just grows from generation to generation…
That must be important due to the fact that comparatively, New Zealand has a smaller cultural history in that regard, right? Even looking at those older scenes around the world, many of the older participants kind of disappear and then pop back up, especially now that there are more platforms of exposure, if you think again about the figures from the early New York scene…
The guys who disappeared and then popped back up…
Yeah, like all the photos of Taki 183 at different events over the last few years. I think there was even a photo of Taki and Cornbread meeting for the first time not too far back…
That’s crazy! (Laughs)
So, in places where there is an older culture, those figures can ghost away and become legends, but when they are still around, as you say, it helps feed the culture, the traditions, but it also helps people develop because they can see that historical lineage, right there…
Yeah, if you ever had questions, they were around. The thing Wellington was known for across all the realms, was a being a little bit hard-headed in regard to teaching. If you weren’t doing it right, you were told you weren’t doing it right, you know what I mean? It wasn’t necessarily, do it like me, but just that you’re not doing it right, if that makes sense. It was a harder form of guidance and if you got shut down, you weren’t expected to stop and disappear, you were expected to go work on your shit and come back better. That was kind of the teaching through all of the elements of hip hop, from DJ’ing to b-boying, to writing and MC’ing. Even fashion sense, like if you were trying to rock some new shit and nobody was feeling it, you got told: ‘That’s just wack, bro, don’t come back to the gig looking like that!’ (Laughs) In a way a lot of people, from outside the scene, thought that it was quite snobby, or kind of elitist, but to me it was just a firmer hand to teaching, you know? It wasn’t as cutthroat as people thought it was, but it appeared that way. I definitely see why people can see it that way…
Does that approach help crystallise your own views? That hard-headed-ness, as you say, it’s not, ‘do it this way’, it’s just, you’re not doing it correctly, and surely that helps crystallise an approach in your own head because you are being forced to think about it more and more….
Yeah, it does…
So, did that ensure that you developed a strong, enduring philosophy about letterforms, and how you make letters? Obviously for a lot of people, there’s a science behind their construction of letters, and some people talk in great detail about how they build depth and use negative space, those sorts of things. Is that something that you have developed through that expectation of having to go away and perfect something?
Yeah, definitely, like not just in the elements of hip hop, but life in general, you’ve got to keep learning and studying, especially if you love what you do, and you want to rock it for a while. You should take your own time and discipline to really break down exactly what you are doing, why you are doing it, and yeah, it definitely relates to that teaching that if I wasn’t doing this right, how do I make it right? Not just to please someone else, but for yourself. How can you get the best out of every letter for example? Like, if you’re doing a five letter wildstyle, one letter itself has to be dope before you start doing the next letter, then the next letter, then the whole thing is going to be dope. So, stripping away all the bells and whistles of a letter really helps. For me, each letter, each angle, each arrow, has to be on, you know what I mean? That teaching definitely helped with that, you can’t just be throwing shit around, because it doesn’t really have a foundation or a sense of why it comes from there…
The other aspect is that when it comes to things like composition, colour, balance, those formal aspects, the beauty of graffiti is that it’s not beholden to established ideas that that they would teach in painting classes, right?
Yeah, like red and pink don’t go together, that sort of shit?! (Laughs) Graffiti writing is anti-establishment in most ways…
Yeah, so in graffiti you can find any sort of combination that pops or reflects some idea or reality, or is simply created out of necessity, right? You had these colours, it was what you could get, so that’s what your painting…
That’s it, that’s what you had. But also, the drive was to be seen, to be noticed, so smashing together colour combos was how you achieved that.
At the same time, because you’re not necessarily subject to the normal expectations, you do need that kind of guidance I guess in some way, but you’ve also got that freedom to experiment within all of those things as well…
Yeah, that’s it. You need some knowledge of foundations in all aspects of life.
Having been active for quite a while, what’s your take on Wellington’s, and more broadly New Zealand’s, graffiti scenes at the moment? Can you define scenes from city to city anymore, or is it becoming too difficult?
Nah, it’s muddy! I’m not saying that it’s wack, but in previous eras you could see definite influences from prior writers instantly. Nationwide you could see it, from generation to generation to generation. You could almost see what the writers were doing at the time, and who they were looking at around the local scene. I’m not saying they were biting, but the influence was there, the style was there. You could define writers from Auckland, Wellington or Christchurch, all quite clearly. I’m just talking about New Zealand at the moment, but on a global scale, I think now, you can’t really tell who is from where, because people take influences from everywhere, and put it into one piece, which again isn’t a bad thing, because everything changes and everyone experiments, and with graffiti, it opens up. It’s a realm where there are no rules. I suppose, it’s like, you could do what you want, just make it look dope, you know what I mean? I guess for me though it started changing, and the internet has had a huge influence. You have more access to stuff than ever; you can see shit from anywhere. But the other thing, the biggest thing, is that people stopped learning from other writers, and started self-teaching. To an extent that can be detrimental because you don’t really find out the whole knowledge on it…
Things aren’t just done for one singular reason, right? There’s always more going on as to why something is the way it is, and you need that depth of knowledge to really push it further, otherwise you are only getting that first layer…
And even on top of that, it had a wider effect on crews, because people were going out and learning from pictures, they didn’t really need other people to bounce ideas off or get energy from. I notice a lot of writers are solo these days, they don’t really roll as big crews anymore. Crews had heaps of roles back in the day, like for protection, if you go to a wall in numbers and shit, it became about strength in numbers to a certain extent. But at the same time, the unity of writers is kind of breaking down, it’s more about: ‘I’m doing this’, ‘I’m going to do that…’ So yeah, it’s kind of muddy in the sense of style and influence…
There’s possibly also more mobility as well, right? Like, going back to that global scale, it’s easier to travel now. Also, while it is still a youth culture, it’s not only a youth culture, because you now have people who make their life travelling and painting, right? So, there is definitely a different sense of fluidity and the flow of information and influence is making it all a different game… What about Christchurch and what’s going on here in terms of what you have seen over the last few days?
I’ve been here for a few days, and it’s been a while since I’ve been down, like four years I think, so having a look around is good. I was talking to Ikarus, who obviously is one of the main dudes here, and the older guys in the scene are doing a good job from what I can see, because there is a lot of influence. There’s a range of styles around which is cool as well. But also, people are putting a bit of effort into their burners. When you see people getting down next to each other they make the whole piece work, and you can tell there’s a bit of teamwork going in there, there is a shared understanding. I also haven’t seen much crossing out or capping. You guys have got way more walls than ever now, so there’s probably no reason to cross out people! (Laughs) But I like what I see in the Christchurch scene, there are dudes that just specifically do characters and do them well, there are guys that do backgrounds, and then there are guys rocking letters. There are still a lot of hits around too, which I like, even though there are a lot of legal spaces, people are still bombing and tagging. It looks healthy…
Because of the story here, the murals get all the attention, but of course, when you are thinking about the scene from within the culture, that whole spectrum is important, right? There are the hits, as you say, the handstyles, as well as the throwies and rollers, and when your eyes are open in a certain way, you get as amped seeing a nicely executed throw-up as you do a massive piece…
Yeah, for sure. A throwie, man, if the flow is all there, if you can tell they did it all in one line, man! One-line throwies, whoever masters that shit, that’s hard to do! Especially depending on your name. So, yeah, the scene here looks healthy, man. I guess on the flip side, compared to Wellington, there are dudes who are definitely in the scene, bombing and tagging, but not really pushing it much further, if that makes sense. And of course, not everyone wants to. Some people just want to fuck shit up, and that’s cool, that’s the energy of hip hop. There were a few crews coming through a few years ago, but they all seem to have stopped for some reason, and it makes me wonder why? I’ve been talking to Ikarus about what he’s been doing here, and it’s been good knowledge, it’s been good bouncing energy off someone who has been around the same time as me and has seen everything.
I was talking to Berst a while ago, and he said he found over time that there is this kind of five-year cycle for crews to blow up, to become really prominent, and then disappear, and a new crew comes up. I found that interesting because it is sort of indicative of a certain age range, of ‘growing up’…
Yeah, life comes up! Families and shit, jobs, and then people either stop or they keep pushing. I’ve known some real dope writers, from all ends of the scale, some real style masters, and they just stopped, they don’t paint anymore, and again, it makes you kind of question, why?
Changing direction a little bit, you are down here for the Christchurch International Tattoo Expo, which is another of your creative outlets. There is a strong relationship between graffiti and tattoo. In my mind at least, there are several things that suggest why that relationship was fostered; there’s sort of an outsider quality to both, there’s the idea of that alternative canvas, although in each case very different canvasses or spaces to master, and then there are skills you learn writing graffiti that translate into tattoo, like that certainty of line and mark-making. I’m always fascinated watching someone write a tag to see the refined and certain flow of movement of their hand and arm, how almost intuitive or engrained that movement is. Does that relate as a big part of that transition between graffiti and tattooing?
That definitely does, that fluidity of line and being sure of it, because especially when you’re painting you’ve got to know your start and stops and techniques, and so that mindset comes into play. I say mindset because the physical aspect of it is different, with tattoo you have a 3D surface, so a straight line is no longer a straight line, it’s a curve, and its permanent! (Laughs) It moves, and it cries, and it bleeds, it does all that shit! (Laughs)
It also has a different scale, right?
That’s the other thing, going from painting something humungous to miniscule, that’s kind of a mindfuck at first! But composition is important for a writer anyway. You’ve got to transform your outline from an A4 sketch to a painting a couple of metres wide, so you’ve already got that transition of blowing shit up. The same mindset applies to bringing it back down. I feel like it doesn’t take too long to adjust if you have a writing background, because tattooing is a natural progression for a lot of graffiti writers. But I also think tattooing, like graf, allows all walks of life into it, you can come from any background and make something dope. Definitely, the technical side of things, drawing and just being active, in that sense, translates really well into tattooing. Even the idea that when you are bombing, or painting, you don’t actually touch the wall, you don’t touch the surface, and in a way when you are tattooing you don’t really touch the skin, the needle does, but you do float a bit. So, there are those elements that translate as well. People bug out about how you can go from a fat cap to a fine round liner, but it’s good, I find it really good for me in the sense of balance. If I’ve been tattooing all day, I find it relaxing to go out and bomb something big. It’s different. Switching energies is good. Then vice-versa, before I was tattooing, I was actively doing a lot of painting, commissioned works were my day to day, and to sort of swap that for day to day tattooing, it was a nice shift, you know…
Is the blackbook work the middle ground that sits between the two?
Yeah, that’s the grey area! Fuck, that’s a good way to put it…
What about that flow of influence? Do you now find that one influences the other more, or is it quite an equal flow? Does what you are doing tattoo-wise start to influence more of your writing, or does what you are painting influence the tattooing?
It hasn’t yet. For me, with writing, I’m still pushing my own development in letter style. I’ve always been a fan of wildstyle, like well-balanced interlocking, overlapping, twisting around wildstyle. That’s something that even though I’ve been doing it for twenty years, I still don’t feel like I’m mastering what I want to do in my head, so every piece I do I’m pushing a little bit toward that. When it comes to tattooing influences, I guess, the only part that has come through in my writing has been my Samoan background and adding elements of that to my graffiti, and there are a couple of reasons. I was doing that before I was tattooing. Guys like DLT, Daniel Tippett, Opto, Agent and also the legendary FDKNS crew, and for a while, Phat1, they were using moko within their work, and I started using tatau and elements of the Pacific. Dyle was another cat rocking his Tongan patterns in there too. This was in letters and not just in backgrounds and stuff. What I noticed was that nobody puts the Pacific on the map in regard to writing. We could rock letters all we want, but if you put it up next to another piece, you are not going to necessarily say these guys are from Aotearoa or the South Pacific. So, it was more about claiming our identity of who we are. Our original influence was from New York in a big way, but it was important for us to put our hands up and say we love to do this too, how can we make it our own? Not through style necessarily, but by adding what we know is who we are to our work, and I don’t mean just putting some island background, or some trees, I mean adding to the letters, adding to the piece, creating something out of that…
Actually changing the letterforms, because the letters become the vessel, right? They are a form to subvert, so by making those relate specifically to that cultural influence is important and unique…
Like having a taiaha for an ‘I’, or a hook or a weapon as a letter, because letters are symbols, alphabets are full of symbols, and the way they can interrelate like that is awesome. And it actually works, I’ve had people from New York, pioneers of the game, say: ‘I really like what you guys do…’ They don’t understand it at first, but they like it. (Laughs) But once we told them, they would be like: ‘Oh shit, amazing!’ So yeah, we are adding an older artform on top of an artform, to grow and create something new, which I think is dope…
Absolutely, and there is a rich visual culture to draw on from Polynesian culture. You also just touched on something that I have to ask about, looking through your Instagram feed, there are pictures with Crazy Legs and members of the Wu Tang Crew, in hindsight, is it hard to believe some of the people you’ve met?
Everyone! I count myself blessed in many ways, in that not only through the graffiti side, but also through the MC side, I’ve met a lot of people I’ve literally learned from, through their albums, through their artworks. I never ever imagined that one day I’d be touring with Ghostface [Killah] or having a cipher with the RZA, or one with the GZA, on separate occasions, smoking a joint with Method Man, meeting KRS One, Nas, all these cats bro. Then on the graf side, and even the other elements, I’ve met Mr Wiggles, kicked it with Crazy Legs. There’s too many to name. I kind of forget, and I’m like, fuck that actually happened! But one of my mentors, Kerb1, he told me many, many, many years ago that real hip hop is a small world. I didn’t really get what he meant by that. But now, twenty years later, I think it means that the energy that is shared amongst like minds, means names and fame don’t really come into it, because real recognises real. If you can get on a certain level, and connect on a certain level with that person, it’s good…
Do you think that is partly because hip hop was born, specifically in Washington Heights, but in those neighbourhoods, those boroughs, and that mentality of small scenes, even though it went global, hasn’t really changed in terms of understanding or connecting with people…
That’s what it’s about. The elements are tools, and the tools connect communities and people. When people say hip hop, they think of the music of course, because that’s the most commercially recognised thing. But when you break it right down, hip hop is about community, and it’s about people, without people there’s no hip hop, you know what I mean? Hip hop was the tool to help celebrate people being together, or how to connect with another person. So that mentality, from a small borough, no one thought it was going to go worldwide when they started it, but the energy that was created is recognised throughout the world because it happens everywhere, and like you say, that’s what brings people together…
The need for connection is universal. Nearly every subculture has that power to a degree, but for hip hop it is so holistic, because it combines music, dance, visual arts… It takes all the cultural ideas you need to make a deep, sustainable culture, rather than just one primary aspect. Having those four elements makes it so cohesive and inclusive…
It makes it accessible to everyone too, like if you can’t dance, you might be able to paint, if you can’t paint, you might be able to scratch…
I think I remember reading in a Source magazine article years ago a description of the four elements, with the MC as the bratty little sibling who makes all noise…
The loud one! (Laughs)
The DJ was the quiet studious middle child…
The watcher, the observer.
Then graffiti was the black sheep, the older one who left home…
The one who bailed! The rebel who leads everyone else astray! That’s sounds about right! I like that description!
Thanks for sitting down, it’s been awesome to get some insight from your long involvement in the game, and across different realms too…
It’s not as long as some people, but I’m still there! (Laughs)
Sure, but for some people five years is an age…
For sure, I never thought our crew would hit the twenty-year mark, but we did, and we are looking at thirty years soon. Three of us started the TS crew back in 1996, and I never thought it would develop into what it is now, so yeah, it’s a good thing. But like I said, having those pioneers still around has been important. My bro Kerb, he’s been around since 1983 and he’s still writing to this day, he is still a huge influence in what our crew do. So yeah, I guess it is a long time! (Laughs) I’ve been around a bit, but it’s a crack up, these young cats that Ikarus hooked me up with while I’m here [Sewer and VROD], I was telling them about some of the history here, and they were like: ‘Oh, have you been to Christchurch before?’ Twenty years ago was my first time here in Christchurch, I was here in 2000 for the Hip Hop Summit. They were like: ‘I was born then!’ (Laughs) It’s good though, to meet the next generation and kick it with them, to see where they are coming from. I need to do more of it in Wellington…