Dr Suits goes to Taupo

Our pal Dr Suits recently ventured to the beautiful Taupo for Aotearoa’s longest running urban art festival Graffiato, an event now over a decade old. With the dust settled on a whirlwind trip, we thought it would be good to catch up with the artist to hear about the experience and his production on the town’s BNZ building. With a diverse catalogue of public works, it is surprising that this was Dr Suits’ first time as a featured artist at a festival, with his abstract compositions providing a stylish point of difference from other mural styles. Joined by his good buddy and technical painting whizz Porta, Dr Suits created a striking, colourful piece that explored subtle developments of his style, with tonal variations and new iconography drawn from his studio practice, providing that point of difference from other guest artists, which included the likes of Milarky and Xoë Hall as well as a selection of local artists…

How did the opportunity to paint at Graffiato come about?

The invitation came as a bit of a surprise, really. I was walking along the beach at the time, and my phone pinged, it was Olivia Laita from Aotearoa Urban Arts Trust, asking if I was interested in doing Graffiato this year. She was curating the event and thought that my focus on abstraction would be a point of difference to what they already had, so she just wanted to reach out to see if I was keen. This would have been well before lockdown at the start of the year, so Olivia and I have been in contact via email since then…

Image via Graffiato Taupo Street Art

How much did you know about Graffiato?

I knew a wee bit about it. I knew that Wongi has been, that Handbrake and Chimp have been, so I knew a few artists that have been part of it, but I hadn’t really done much research into it. I didn’t realise how many murals they actually have up in Taupo, so I was blown away when I actually got up there…

This is the eleventh year of Graffiato, it is the country’s longest running street art festival. I am not super familiar with Taupo, but it’s not massive, so when you have been doing something that long, the legacy must build up…

Definitely. It’s run by an organization called Town Centre Taupo, so all of the murals are focused around the central business district which is not a huge area, so if you find one of them, you’ve found a vein and you just follow them around…

That is exactly how I like to get to know new places, I find some street art and let it lead me to more…  In terms of your festival experience, you had some involvement with the Rise and Spectrum shows here, but this is your first out-of-town event, and also your first time as a headline artist. Knowing that your work is somewhat non-traditional in terms of muralism, coupled with your strong studio output, have festivals and public works always been a goal?

I really like the idea of diversity within my work and having a broad range of outputs. Murals are lots of fun and a good way to reach a diverse audience as well. So, is it a goal? Yeah, sure. Is it my main goal? Not really, I’ve got lots of goals. I don’t tend to hang on to one too strongly…

Dr Suits’ red zone roadside mural

There is an increasing number of events in Aotearoa now, with Boon Street Festival, Whanganui Walls, South Sea Spray…

I’m totally open to those invitations, festivals are lots of fun. You meet lots of great people, you get to be part of a broader community and you get your work out there as well…

You are process-focussed as an artist. How is the conception and execution of a mural work different from your studio output?

It comes down to the wall. For instance, the nature of the wall in Taupo was challenging because it was broken into two sections and it was elevated from the ground. Above the wall was a series of windows, including to round port-holes, and down the right-hand side there was a pipe. It was a challenge, but I just designed around them. I mean, I could imagine someone who’s going to paint a realistic style might find that really distracting, but because I work in composition, I could use it to my advantage and make it part of the design. I just had to take into consideration where I could use my big brush [the artist’s handmade tool for creating textural patterns] and the directions I could drag it, and which areas I would want to do block colours, like over the pipe to make it disappear. I realized I needed to not do much with the big brush or go too technical at the top, where I would have to mask out the windows. I didn’t want to waste my time masking those windows out.

Dr Suits at work in Taupo (Image via Graffiato Taupo Street Art)

People may not realise that there is real time pressure for these types of events. You were saying you pulled a 14-hour day on the Saturday…

Yeah, we flew up on the Friday, and painted the Saturday and Sunday, we had the option to paint on Monday as well if we needed it, and then we flew home on the Tuesday. The weather was looking pretty patchy for the weekend. So, I decided to modify and simplify the mural ever so slightly, just to make sure that the rain wasn’t going to be a hindrance…

And you had some help?

The coolest thing about the invite was that they asked if I wanted to bring someone with me. Straight away I was like, I’m taking Porta! He’s a machine and we work so well together. We just look at the picture, we hardly even need to talk. We are in sync. By bringing Porta, we got through so much more work than if I was trying to explain things to a local artist.

There is a level of trust, as well I suppose, and that synchronicity is vital. Also, Porta’s so relaxed that it just helps eliminate the potential for stress…

We’ve got really similar taste in music, so that helps as well…

I can imagine! So, tell us more about the actual work, you touched on some of the elements. The work seems to combine elements of previous outdoor works you have created, but it also brings in aspects that have been prominently featured in your studio work as well, so it seems like a slightly new direction in some ways…

That was the idea. It was an open brief and I wanted to do something that was really striking, I wanted it to be recognizable within both my studio work and from of my past murals or ground works. I wanted to smoosh everything together and come up with something that the town likes, and if they don’t, well I like it….

Dr Suits and Porta add some detail (Image via Graffiato Taupo Street Art)

Originally the plan was for you to do a ground mural, right?

Yeah, Olivia saw the basketball court and the piece that I did in the red zone and was really excited to get a piece on the ground, but it never fell into place. They showed me places that wouldn’t be suitable, like a tiled surface or a rough paved area. The places they had available were mainly pedestrian areas because a lot of the town at the moment is currently being redesigned, so all their roads and the way the traffic moves is being redone and they didn’t want to get something painted and just dig it up. So, we went down the road of painting the BNZ building, which was cool, I’m stoked on that wall…

A festival is intended to have a level of public engagement, but we live in the age of Covid and obviously that affected the event, there were quite a few artists and Olivia herself, based in Auckland, who couldn’t be there, and I’m sure there were other changes, did you still get a sense of that communal festival experience?

Absolutely, the crew have been running Graffiato for eleven years. You can tell that they are really passionate about looking after the artists and making sure the public are engaged. They run a well-oiled machine. They’ve got good sponsorship with paints and equipment, so when we were picked up From the airport they were like, do you guys want to start today or tomorrow? The weather was looking pretty iffy, so we said it would be good to start that afternoon and they just said, sweet, we will get you a scissor lift onsite by 3pm and you can start. They had the projector back at the house and we were good to go. We were well looked after, they put us up in a really nice Air B’n’B, there was food in the fridge, with beers and wine. We had a little car to zip round in…

Dr Suits’ final production for Graffiato (Image via Graffiato Taupo Street Art)

Those types of things make a big difference, right?

It just made it so easy for us to paint the wall. They would bring us lunch at the wall. They had a volunteer sitting on the wall with us to talk to visitors so we weren’t getting distracted, unless we wanted to be. Big ups to Linda, she would hand people a map and a flier with all the information about the festival and talk to them about where the next closest mural is and talk about our mural. There was a photo of our concept down at the bottom and she would talk them through it. That volunteer element meant that we could actually get the work done in the time frame. There have been commercial murals that I have worked on where people are coming and going all day and pretty much someone is always talking to a visitor…

It is interesting, because talking to people is a really important part of this new profile of urban art, so you don’t want to seem too cranky or unapproachable, and of course, it can be fascinating meeting new people, but it can end up eating up a lot of time. You were the only South Island artist at the event this year, why do you think there is often an under-representation of our artists at these North Island events in particular?

Maybe it just comes down to the cost. The logistics of getting artists up there. I mean, the other artists probably just would have driven. I know Milarky just drove from New Plymouth…

We have such a strong reputation here in Christchurch in particular, but maybe you are right, it might be the practicalities, although we still bring a lot of North Island artists down to events here. With all that said, who did you enjoy spending time with?

Me and Porta and Milarky were in the same house, so we got to hang out a little. But I just really enjoyed hanging with Porta, we basically spent the whole weekend together, apart from when I was asleep. Apart from that we didn’t really hang out that much with the other artists. There was a briefing at the start and we all caught up at the end for some pizzas and beers, but everyone was really trying to negotiate the weather and seeing if they could maximise the sun and weren’t really away from their wall. Julie, one of the organizers from Town Centre Taupo, picked us up from the airport and was saying there is a bit of a running joke that she chains the artists to the walls. She makes it so that the artist doesn’t have to leave other than to go to the toilet. If you need paint, they will go get it, if you need coffee, they will go get it. They do a circuit, and you see them every hour with paint or coffee or something to eat, you just put in an order…

Follow Dr Suits on Instagram for more of his work

Follow Graffiato on Instagram to see what other artists got up to…

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And That Was… October 2021

Despite the challenges of Covid through the second half of the year, Christchurch has continued to present activities to keep us busy and engaged – from new murals to exhibitions and projects. Likewise, other cities have worked hard to keep events going, albeit under trying and ultimately stressful realities. But one of the great things about urban art is its ability to thrive no matter the circumstances, it is a sign of our endurance and existence, so it is fitting that many of the entries in this month’s And That Was… are reflective of that potential, even if they are commissioned projects or organised events…

Even More: The Show @ Clubhouse Creative

The latest incarnation of Lydia Thomas’ More: The Show, Even More: The Show took place in a new location (making use of the awesome spaciousness of Southwark Street’s Clubhouse Creative) and featured a number of new artists, some Watch this Space favourites, others new names for us to get excited about. With a diverse range of talented local female creatives, and packed into the massive warehouse space in a visual feast, the pop-up was popular and energetic and yet another bow for the Hello I Am project…

Ghosts on Every Corner gets a Boost…

Image courtesy of Jenna Ingram at Fiksate

It was so good to see the Ghosts on Every Corner team reach their Boosted campaign goal! Ghostcat and the Fiksate team have been working away at getting this art trail and book project off the ground and the support for their Boosted campaign was incredible as they reached their goal with a few hours to spare! Bring on the mini art and normal-sized book!

The Ocean is in our Hands – Blue Cradle x Popx x OK Creates

Local oceanographic non-profit trust Blue Cradle along with Richie Pops Baker and OK Creates are the forces behind this new mural on Colombo Street. The work celebrates the incredible diversity and supportive qualities of the ocean, while also serving as a reminder that we need to ensure its health and care. It is an impressive and meaningful addition to a busy part of town!

The Paste-Up Project x teethlikescrewdrivers

Watch This Space, along with Phantom Billstickers, have been busy creating The Paste-Up Project, a new platform for one of urban art’s most enduring forms. Turning a central city bollard into a supported platform for paper-based art, the project adds diversity to the city’s urban art profile. Teethlikescrewdrivers was first up, and we love his Connection, Community and Collaboration installation, which ties together some of the key elements of urban art!

Dr Suits @ Graffiato Street Art Festival

Image courtesy of the artist and Fiksate

our buddy Dr Suits was among the guest artists at Taupo’s renowned Graffiato festival over Labour Weekend. With a truncated roster due to Auckland’s Covid restrictions, Aotearoa’s longest running urban art festival was a slightly different proposition in 2021, but Dr Suits (with assistance from man himself Porta) flew the flag for Ōtautahi, producing a striking and bold work that suggests some new directions for his public output…

What have we missed? What were your highlights for October? Let us know in the comment section…

 

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Street Treats, Vol. 5

This edition of Street Treats is eclectic and varied, ranging from playful whimsy to blunt anti-establishment messaging. That ultimately is the beauty of guerrilla practice (or in the case of some of these works, permissioned but free from curatorial censorship), the opportunity to say what you want, how you want. As contemporary muralism has taken over the popular image of ‘street art’, it has also transformed the imagery and ideology deployed. While this still results in some pretty stunning works occupying our skylines and there are, admittedly, different levels of input and freedom, it is left to the smaller interventions to speak in an unfiltered voice. The content is not always explicitly political, but the act itself is, always. So whether it is a beautiful surreal flower sprouting from a concrete pillar,  a constantly recurring pencil, playfully collaged scenarios, vibrant names or scrawled messages that question the colonial history of our city, look and listen, they are speaking to you and about us…

If you have submissions for upcoming Street Treats volumes tag us on Instagram or email your pictures to hello@watchthisspace.org.nz!

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Dr Suits – Crossings @ The East X East Red Zone

Dr Suits’ bright abstractions have become notable over the last few years as he has eschewed the tendencies towards representation in favour of blocks of colour and dizzying diagonal lines. We were recently lucky enough to support the Fiksate-based artist as he produced Crossings inside the East X East red zone in Burwood. Applied directly to the now unused road of the green space, the work plays on the natural shadows and road markings to coat the concrete in bands of colour. Created over several days with fellow New Brighton legend Porta, the work buzzes with colourful blocks – yellow, pink, blue, black and white stacked and interlocked. With subtle details such as small yellow lines extending off the main body and slightly offset lines, the work is both rewarding of inspection and striking from distance. Dr Suits intended the work as an invitation to play, a work that people can explore from inside rather than gaze at from outside, adding another interesting element to the red zone environment and suggesting the possibility for more interventions…

The red zone road was prepared with a little notice of what was to come…
Dr Suits rolls out the paint

The finished Crossings in the East X East red zone

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Ōtautahi Christchurch Urban Art Video Series

During the Covid-19 lock down, with our guided tours unable to run, we applied to Creative New Zealand for funding to create a virtual tour – a video series where you could learn more about some of the city’s most beloved graffiti, street art and murals from the artists who created them, all from the socially safe distance of your couch. With our friend Centuri Chan manning the camera and the editing desk, we talked to 17 New Zealand artists to get some insights into a range of works and topics, from Ikarus‘ take on graffiti writing and Paul Walters‘ stories about the massive SALT mural, to Jacob Yikes‘ discussing his signature style and Flox recalling her Ode to Hinewai work in Beckenham.

Originally conceived as a singular continuous feature, it became apparent that a segmented, episodic approach would prove more manageable, more adaptable and more consumable. As a result, the concept evolved into 16 individual vignettes, forming a cohesive series and spread across multiple platforms, including our online map entries. Featuring artists from around New Zealand (Paul X Walsh, Cracked Ink, Berst, Chimp) alongside local talent (Wongi ‘Freak’ Wilson, Dcypher, Dr Suits, Nick Lowry (Tepid), Dove, Jacob Root (Distranged Design), Josh O’Rourke, Jen Heads, Caelan Walsh), the series spans an array of styles and projects, highlighting the multifarious approaches within  Ōtautahi’s urban art scene. Artists share humorous stories, intriguing insights and technical details, providing context and content to works that have become familiar sights in the city. With a level of normality returned, we like to think the Ōtautahi Christchurch Urban Art series is a perfect companion to a guided walking tour!

The Ōtautahi Christchurch Urban Art series can be viewed on our YouTube channel, via our social media platforms or on our website. With new episodes released each week, follow and subscribe to our various forums to receive notifications when new episodes go live!

Check out some of the videos below:

 

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Street Treats, Vol. 2

As the city continues to shift, refresh and transform, the little things matter more and more. The vacant and damaged spaces that encouraged more bold and brazen interventions are now less prominent (some of our favourite spots around the city face imminent revitalisation). The necessary contrasts of our urban surroundings are increasingly supplied by the small, unexpected things, clashing with the washed concrete structures and shiny facades that continue to stretch and grow. (Do I sound like a broken record?) Those little details that make a city lived in and alive can raise so many ideas, from the explicit to the subtle, the pointed to the more amorphous and undefined. Yet in each case, their mere presence serves to explore what it means to be part of and have a voice within a larger conglomeration. They provide a sense of the human and authentic (with just a touch of dissent, of course) and signs of contrast and contestation amidst the monolithic towers of progress (both literal and metaphoric), .

This second volume of Street Treats features a host of artists and threaded themes, from the traditional, yet entirely timely ACAB/1312 element, to graffiti’s unerring ability to speak of ugliness and beauty concurrently, or in the case of Teeth Like Screwdrivers’ ‘buff bluff’, the inherent potential in the blocks of grey paint that cover graffiti. Levi Hawken’s concrete sculptures have echoed the physical make up of the cityscape while speaking of his graffiti and skateboarding roots, and notably the Black Lives Matter movement. Vesil’s graffiti continues to be a highlight, diverse and well-placed, with an assortment of accompanying characters and accoutrements raising the spectre of playful nostalgia. Anonymous scribes contest election billboards and the future of human utility (I think…), or  more hopefully, remind us that ‘love is rife’. Stickers and paste-ups continue to have a rising presence in the city, with acerbic, humorous and intriguing additions to urban walls and fixtures. In the case of FOLT’s skull cut-outs, it is as much the absence as the presence that is striking as these popular sculptural pieces are removed. Cosmik Debris’ paste-ups suggest the molecular science behind all things and the scale of being, while Dr Suits blurs the line between art and advertising, without anything to sell. This collection revels in the details of the city, details that many overlook. Yet, when you start to look closely, there are always surprises, always discussions, and always alternatives…

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Photo Essay: Responding to the Gentrification of Street Art – Befaaany

For the latest entry in our photo essay series, we reached out to Befaaany, a Christchurch photographer whose work showcases the urban and concrete landscapes of the city. After being impressed with her striking pictures on Instagram, we knew she would be a perfect fit. Befaaany’s response was a beautiful collection of black and white images that run the gamut of urban expression, small stickers, bold graffiti, abstract paintings produced in perilous environments and the ephemera of a eradicated presence. In compiling these photographs, Befaaany is able to highlight the issue of street art’s gentrification and mainstream popularity, a process that has in many ways clouded our recognition of street art’s subversive and disruptive potential…  

 

Local street artists are constantly finding new ways to create art in a city filled with council-funded installations from international artists. These have included challenging gentrification of graffiti directly, blurring the lines of ‘legitimate’ and ‘illegitimate’ street art, disguising their art into the city, and  leaning into the temporary nature of their art form. – Befaaany

 

Follow Befaaany on Instagram to see more of her amazing work…

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Street Treats – Vol. 1

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

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

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

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

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Dr Suits and the Art of Isolation…

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…

 

Follow Dr Suits on Instagram and find more of his work at Fiksate Gallery.

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And That Was… April 2020 (Isolation Bubble special)

Last month I ruminated that March was a strange month, of course, April was no less so, almost its entirety experienced in lockdown here in Aotearoa (only moving to ‘Level 3’ with two days to spare). The rest of the world was in a similar position, and with limited space within which to spread our arms, it felt like we started to notice things differently. Our immediate environment became unavoidable (those dirty windows, peeling paint or leaking tap), and the digital realm an escape where physical flee was impossible. As a result, this month’s list is compiled of those things I encountered in the suburban streets directly within my ‘bubble’, and those I enjoyed online. Surprisingly, in a month where the world essentially stopped and hunkered down, who would have thought a list of cool things would be so easy to compile!

Dr Suits gets slap happy…

A sticker made from colourful geometric shapes stuck on a textured background.
One of Dr Suits’ many collage slaps produced during the lockdown. (Photo credit Dr Suits)

The most ubiquitous presence of my suburban bubble has been the subtly diverse array of stickers and paste ups created during the lockdown by Dr Suits. Both tiny and oversized material variations on his abstract studio works on board and glass and his mural works, they are unmistakable, yet distinctive enough to make you stop and look closer. While they have a slick look from distance, their handmade qualities, pulled ink and vinyl cut-outs compiled together to form geometric and gestural collages, make them incredibly interesting to investigate.

Jen_Heads asks what time it is…

A large circular head with an array of speech bubbles asking questions such as 'Is it beer o'clock?' and 'Is it coffee time again?' and
Jen_Heads’ large Lockdown Jen Head paste up.

It wasn’t just Dr Suits representing Fiksate during the lockdown, Jen_Heads was also busy producing her iconic faces, including a large stay-at-home version featuring the questions we have all had swimming through our heads for the last five weeks… Surely it is beer o’clock, because I’m sure coffee time was like an hour ago, right?

Home –  A stay at home mural festival…

Cracked Ink's poster for HOME: A Stay at Home Mural Festival
Cracked Ink’s poster for HOME: A Stay at Home Mural Festival, organised by Pangeaseed, Sea Walls, Alternative Arts Initiative, Whanganui Walls and Stay Home.

Speaking of staying at home (and how can we not at this time?), the good folks at PangeaSeed and the Sea Walls events, along with Alternative Arts Initiative and Whanganui Walls, created a unique response to the pervasive conditions, staging a mural festival where participants painted their own homes and shared across digital platforms. Alongside the ecological concerns at the heart of Pangea Seed’s spirit, this was also a consideration of how to unify artists and utilise art in this strange time. It proved popular, with hundreds of artists spread across the globe painting murals in their backyards and studio spaces. The programme also included conversations with artists and panel discussions, one of which I was happy to be part of, connecting with artists from far afield…

Artists share the love…

The right side torso of a Star Wars Stormtrooper
A section of Mark Catleys Stormtrooper paste-up print out he made available during the lockdown period

Lots of artists have been using their digital platforms to share their work, and some have even made their work, or specifically made things to be, available for people to use, a gesture of community. From Tom Kerr‘s lino cut sticker tutorial (see our post here), to Daken’s colouring in templates, and Mark Catley’s download-able Stormtrooper paste-up, artists have been sharing their talents and encouraging people to get cre-active (yes, I just coined a new term).

Kids take to the streets…

A suburban fence is adorned with an Easter message in chalk.
A suburban fence is adorned with an Easter message in chalk.

I have always believed in the human inclination towards public expressions and the lockdown, much like other periods of distress or great change, has seen people taking to the streets to leave their mark, express themselves of communicate with others. And I’m not just talking about the graffiti and urban art that I am normally fixated on. Footpaths have been commandeered by chalk wielding children, writing and drawing and subverting their function. Likewise, fences have been adorned with messages and symbols, symptomatic of the recognition of the potential of public space as a shared environment.

Spread the word about what's happening in the Christchurch urban art scene: