And That Was… 2019 (Actually, That Was A Decade…)

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 of Ōtautahi 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)

  1. 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…
  2. 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.

    TOGO, central Christchurch, 2019.
  3. 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…

    Nike Savvas’ Finale: Bouquet at Te Papa, 2019.
  4. 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…
  5. 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.
  6. 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…
  7. 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…
  8. 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)

(photo supplied by Tom Kerr)
  1. 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.
  2. 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.

    A drippy FUZE tag, captured 2019.
  3. 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’.
  4. 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.
  5. 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!
  6. 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…
  7. 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.
  8. 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)

  1. 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…
  2. 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.
    Dcypher and Yikes at work on the OiYOU! curated photo roll mural in Colletts Lane in the SALT District, December 2019.

    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.

    AOC by VROD, central Christchurch, 2019.

    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.

  3. 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.
  4. 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.

    TOGO’s video and photographic works from Urban Abstract at Fiksate, 2019.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

    OiYOU!’s Spectrum at the YMCA, 2016.
  8. 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)

(photo credit: three-six-six media)
  1. 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.
    One of Jacob Yikes’ works from his Chambers Gallery show with Hamish Allen and Steve Birss, October 2019 (photo via Jacob Yikes).

    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…

  2. 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!
  3. 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!
  4. What exhibition by an urban artist(s) has been your favourite this year? No answer.
  5. 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.

    Jacob Yikes, Manchester Street, 2019 (photo via Jacob Yikes).
  6. What is the biggest artistic/pop cultural moment from the last decade? No answer.
  7. 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!
  8. 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)

  1. 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.

    Jacob Root painting in Los Angeles, mid-2019 (photo via Jacob Root)
  2. 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!

    Dcypher and Ikarus in New Brighton, 2019.
  3. What piece of someone else’s art outside of Christchurch has been your favourite this year? All of Triston Eaton’s murals!
  4. What exhibition by an urban artist(s) has been your favourite this year? Chimp’s Aliases at Fiksate.
  5. 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!
  6. 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.
  7. Which artist or artists have stood out over the last decade? Triston Eaton, Martin Whatson and Alec Monopoly.
  8. 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)

  1. What has been your personal highlight of 2019? Being invited & participating in a roughly six month long art exhibition with Burger Burger.
  2. What piece of someone else’s art in Christchurch has been your favourite this year? The walls of New Brighton.
  3. What piece of someone else’s art outside of Christchurch has been your favourite this year? Gareth Stehr’s Have a nice day.
  4. What exhibition by an urban artist(s) has been your favourite this year? Joel Hart’s Dopamine at Fiksate.

    Joel Hart’s Escaping Reality from Dopamine at Fiksate, 2019.
  5. 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.
  6. What is the biggest artistic/pop cultural moment from the last decade? Ilma Gore’s painting of Donald Trump with a small dick.
  7. 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.
  8. 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)

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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)

  1. 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.

    Paul Walters and Dcypher’s SALT Otautahi Mural, curated by OiYOU!, 2019.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

    Levi Hawken’s Mini Graffiti Cube 2, from Urban Abstract at Fiksate, 2019 (photo credit: Kirsty Cameron).
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.

Jenna Lynn Ingram – Artist, MC, Gallery Owner (@jen_heads/@fiksate_gallery)

(photo via Fiksate Studio and Gallery)
  1. 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!

    The opening of Urban Abstract at Fiksate, October 2019 (photo credit: Kirsty Cameron)
  2. 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
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
    One of the Band-Aids by Jenna Lynn Ingram and Dr Suits, c.2012.

    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.

  6. 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.
  7. 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!
  8. 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)

  1. What has been your personal highlight of 2019? Shooting Steven Park’s 6×4 summer collection.
  2. What piece of someone else’s art in Christchurch has been your favourite this year? Vesil’s entire output this year.

    VESIL, 2019 (photo via PKay).
  3. What piece of someone else’s art outside of Christchurch has been your favourite this year? No answer.
  4. What exhibition by an urban artist(s) has been your favourite this year? Urban Abstract was great.
  5. 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.
  6. What is the biggest artistic/pop cultural moment from the last decade? Mass meme culture (and muralism).
  7. Which artist or artists have stood out over the last decade? Consistently over the whole decade DTR have pulled it off.

    DTR crew colab (detail), Embassy, Colombo Street, Sydenham, 2014.
  8. 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)

  1. 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.

    Dr Suits’ Forces, New Brighton, 2019 (photo credit: Millie Peate-Garratt).
  2. What piece of someone else’s art in Christchurch has been your favourite this year? TOGO all day, without a doubt.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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?
  7. 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?!

    Pener’s Deconstruction 03 from Urban Abstract, 2019 at Fiksate.
  8. 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)

  1. 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.
    One of Wongi’s works at the Boxed Quarter, 2019.

    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.

    Wongi at work on the Rollickin’ Gelato piece in City Mall, 2019.
  2. 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.
    One of the many Jungle tributes across the city following the graffiti legend’s passing in 2019.

    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.

  3.  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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
    Wongi and Ikarus Blackbook Wall (detail) for Rise in 2014, featuring a number of artists who visited the city for the event.

    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.

  6. 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
  7. 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.
  8. 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)

  1. 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.
  2. 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).
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

    M/K Press in action at Fiksate (photo credit: Charlie Rose Creative).
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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)

(photo supplied by Josh Bradshaw)
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

    Opening night of Urban Abstract at Fiksate, October, 2019.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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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Highlight – Street Art Street Party

If you follow us on social media, you will know by now that we are super excited about Saturday’s Highlight street art party! That excitement is for good reason, as Highlight is shaping up as one of the most impressive urban art events the city has seen in several years. Hosted by a number of SALT District businesses, and occupying SALT Square and nearby locations, the one-night only party is a result of the collaboration between a number of entities, including Oi YOU!, the masterminds behind the massively popular Rise and Spectrum festivals, as well as the recent SALT mural produced by Dcypher and Paul Walters of Identity Signs.

Dcypher and Paul Walters, with Oi YOU!, SALT Mural, SALT Square, 2019
Dcypher and Paul Walters, with Oi YOU!, SALT Mural, SALT Square, 2019

Speaking of Dcypher, the recently relocated artist (having returned from a decade long stint living and working in Los Angeles) will be joined by his DTR crewmates, Ikarus, Wongi and JacobYikes in painting live at Highlight and producing a pop-up gallery of their work. Another pop-up gallery space will be created by the city’s leading purveyors of urban contemporary art, Fiksate, who will present work from their impressive collection. On top of that, Nelson’s Shady Collective (of Spectrum infamy) will present demonstration stalls for screen-printing, t-shirt and stencil-making, giving punters the opportunity to both make and take pieces!

Ikarus and Dcypher, Christchurch, 2019
Ikarus and Dcypher, Christchurch, 2019

Being that urban culture extends beyond graffiti and street art, there will also be live music (thanks to Bassfreaks and RDU DJs), food and drink (from the Little High Eatery and surrounding restaurants) and retail pop-ups of street wear from some of the city’s leading urban fashion masters, including Hunters and Collectors, Curb and The Recycle Boutique. Oh, and did we mention that once the official street party winds up, there are multiple after party options, from The Retropolitan to Smash Palace, The Slate Room and Dux Central.

Fiksates 2016 show CAPD, photo credit Charlie Rose Creeative
Fiksate’s 2016 show CAPD, photo credit Charlie Rose Creative

And of course, another of the ‘Highlights’ will be the live video projection animation of the SALT mural, the first of it’s scale in Ōtautahi. This is sure to be an impressive, eye-catching activation of one of Christchurch’s newest pieces of street art muralism.

Highlight will kick-off at 5pm on Saturday at SALT Square on Tuam Street and is free entry. For more information, check out the event page on Facebook.

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And That Was… April 2019

This month, we are stoked to welcome a guest contributor to our And That Was… series: the man behind the Instagram feed Rubble City (@rubblecity), Gavin Fantastic. The idea of this series is to cover a wide selection of what’s happening in Christchurch’s urban art scenes, so it was natural to throw our net wider and make use of those people, like Gavin, with their fingers, and cameras, on the pulse. Rubble City is a go-to feed for fresh, and often highly temporary, pieces of art across Christchurch. So, what has been on Gavin’s radar in April? Read on to find out…

  1. Hambone

Local artist Hambone is certainly setting the scene alight lately with his neo-trad style characters. From pumas with snakes to gorillas armed with bananas, the characters are certainly eye-catching.

Hambone, Christchurch, 2019 (photo credit: Gavin Fantastic)
Hambone, Christchurch, 2019 (photo credit: Gavin Fantastic)
Hambone, Hereford Street, Christchurch, 2019 (photo credit: Gavin Fantastic)
Hambone, Hereford Street, Christchurch, 2019 (photo credit: Gavin Fantastic)
  1. Go Hard or Go Home

As the nights get longer the ability to lurk in the shadows also increases for those smashing the scene.

Two artists who have been dropping nasty steez are V-Rod and Vesyl.  It has been interesting watching the style of these two artists evolve over the last couple of years from tags and rollers, to the next level pieces seen this April.

VESYL, YMCA, Hereford Street, Christchurch, 2019 (photo credit: Gavin Fantastic)
VESYL, YMCA, Hereford Street, Christchurch, 2019 (photo credit: Gavin Fantastic)
VROD, Christchurch, 2019 (photo credit: Gavin Fantastic)
VROD, Christchurch, 2019 (photo credit: Gavin Fantastic)
  1. International Visitors

Our walls have been graced with additions by painters from afar this month. Showing how the other side of the world gets down were two of Europe’s finest. Resr47 was throwing down snow-capped letters from the Swiss Alps, while Desur managed to fit in a couple of Hamburg burners during his stint at local tattoo studio Otautahi Tattoo.

RESR47, Hereford Street, Christchurch, 2019 (photo credit: Gavin Fantastic)
RESR47, Hereford Street, Christchurch, 2019 (photo credit: Gavin Fantastic)
DESUR, YMCA, Hereford Street, Christchurch, 2019, (photo credit:  Gavin Fantastic)
DESUR, YMCA, Hereford Street, Christchurch, 2019, (photo credit: Gavin Fantastic)
DESUR, Christchurch, 2019 (photo credit: Gavin Fantastic)
DESUR, Christchurch, 2019 (photo credit: Gavin Fantastic)
  1. Jacob Yikes Pop-Up

Situated next to World on High Street, Yikes’ pop-up shop hit my Insta feed (and my wallet!) this month.  The man from DTR is selling both originals and prints in a space that is occupied for the next few months selling eclectic furniture. Check it out and support your local artist!

Jacob Yikes' pop-up shop, High Street,  central Christchurch, 2019 (photo credit: Gavin Fantastic)
Jacob Yikes’ pop-up shop, High Street, central Christchurch, 2019 (photo credit: Gavin Fantastic)
  1. RIP Jungle

As featured in the ‘And that was  … March’ blog post, we saw the passing of local O.G. Jungle. Tributes have been popping up all over Christchurch City and around the world. I’ll sign off with a tribute piece from two other 03 O.Gs – Yikes & Ikarus.

Yikes and Ikarus, Jungle tributes, Christchurch, 2019 (photo credit: Gavin Fantastic)
Yikes and Ikarus, Jungle tributes, Christchurch, 2019 (photo credit: Gavin Fantastic)

Follow Gavin on Instagram (@rubblecity), and keep an eye out for more guest contributors in the coming months…

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Dcypher – Homecoming (Part Two)

If you have been following our interviews, you will know that we like to go in-depth, and that sometimes (okay, it is a pretty regular occurrence) we need to split our conversations into two parts. When it comes to Dcypher, that was always going to be the case. Based in Los Angeles, we not only had to make the most of the chance to catch up while he was in town, but it was also always going to be an inevitably wide-ranging discussion based on his lengthy experiences. After covering his recent projects in Christchurch and his move to Los Angeles and the necessary work to re-establish himself in a new scene in the first part  of our interview, in the conclusion of Homecoming we pick up on the realities of making a living as a full-time artist in Los Angeles, being close to the emergence of ‘blockbuster’ graffiti and street art exhibitions and the responses on the streets, how he keeps an eye on the street scene in Christchurch, his experiences painting in different cities, and his plans for the future…

How do you make a full-time career as an artist in Los Angeles? Is it a mixture of jobs, or are you able to be selective about what you do?

Yeah, well I’ve always looked at myself as more of a commercial artist. As I’ve grown over time I’ve always tried to adapt to certain jobs, to find ways of making money and that kind of thing, which isn’t always a lot of people’s drive as to how to go about it. It is a tough one, it does sort of change how you’re going about things. You have to take a step back and let other influences come in and whenever you’re doing work for whoever it might be, it’s always going to differ from your own personal work to a certain extent. I mean, a lot of people have figured out how not to do that, but it’s a tough gig to stick to your own thing and that’s all your going to do, you know?

You touched on how hard it was at first to be in L.A. and to create networks, to find opportunities. Do you think that in a bigger city it is in some ways harder to at least break through, because the pool is so much larger and more competitive?

No, I think the opportunities in a bigger city are far greater, and you can kind of pigeon hole yourself a little bit. But, being an outsider also kind of helps in the fact that you can navigate and come in from a bunch of different directions, meet various people and have people approach you and that sort of thing. So, yeah, I think it has definitely opened the playing field a lot more being in a bigger city and approaching it in different ways, you know, I commend folks who can pull that off…

Mural for 88 Monks in Echo Park, Los Angeles, 2016 (Photo credit: Dcypher)
Mural for 88 Monks in Echo Park, Los Angeles, 2016 (Photo credit: Dcypher)

Obviously in Los Angeles there’s the longer history going back to the Latino gang graffiti, which pre-dates the graffiti that grew out of Philadelphia and New York, and then there is the emergence of hip hop graffiti and how it evolved in the area over decades, there’s the famous Saber Los Angeles River piece for example, these all give the city a significant place in the narratives of American graffiti writing culture. Recently, the city has become a setting for some organised reflection on those histories, notably the staging of the Art in the Streets show at the Museum of Contemporary Art in 2010, and now Roger Gastman’s new exhibition, Beyond the Streets, both of which have been pretty massive shows…

Yeah, they are huge for sure…

They both deal with broader urban art histories than just graffiti, which makes them interesting presentations, but simply in terms of their staging in Los Angeles, do you think it is as much to do with the importance of the city in these cultures, or is it more that ‘blockbusters’ are what L.A. does?

I think it’s a platform where, or it feels like it’s a platform where a lot of people can sort of come in and almost change the history in a lot of ways, and put people in a spotlight, people that might not have necessarily put in a lot of work. If you listen to the street, a lot of these guys weren’t necessarily the guys who were doing it, and there’s a lot of guys who get salty when they have been doing that shit for years and they have stayed true to the whole thing and been left out, because there are so many players in the game, you know what I mean? It comes down to how good you are at navigating the gallery thing, if that’s your M.O. There’s shit loads of guys who never get credited, who have done fucking insane amounts of shit, amazing work over the years, but have stayed underground and never really been put in the spotlight in that respect…

I was going to ask about that, what the ground level reactions were like… I remember reading that people were upset at how Art in the Streets favoured certain stories and as you say, left certain people out, so that was the feeling you were getting in Los Angeles?

Yeah, definitely. I obviously know a bunch of guys that weren’t involved but who should’ve been involved, guys who put in years and years of work. But it kind of just comes down to what groups you associate with and whether they are getting play or not. But everyone’s trying to do their own thing, and everyone’s got their own way of going about it and making their own stamp in history, some just sort of stay true to the game and keep it like, underboard, as opposed to above board…

It’s an unavoidable problem for any show of that nature. You are talking about too many diverse voices and participants to ever ‘get it right’. Also, once you start bringing in so many other influences, like the gallery worlds, and the new mainstream status of a number of urban artists, things evolve even further. Curating and condensing these histories is essentially impossible, right?

It’s always going to be the case. A famous New York graffiti writer once said: ‘Everyone has their own history of graffiti.’ No two peoples’ history of graffiti is going to be the same. To some extent, history is written by the victors, you know what I mean, so whoever is on top can kind of claim the history so to speak. Which is cool, you know, that’s part of it, but there are so many people doing their thing that there’s a million different versions of it…

In his book The History of American Graffiti, Roger Gastman recounts that he was told by someone who didn’t want to participate: ‘Anyone who tries to tell you the history of graffiti is either a liar or a fool.’ (Laughs)

I would totally agree with that.

We briefly touched on returning for Spectrum, but coming back now over the ten years you have been away, particularly post-quake, what is your take on what’s happening on the streets in Christchurch? Do you like to take a pulse of what is going on, or is it sometimes too hard to do that, especially if you come back for specific commissions that keep you occupied?

No, I always take a drive around and take some walks to old spots and stuff every time I come back to see what the next generation is doing. It’s awesome to see that people are still out there bombing and tagging, because that’s kind of like the essence of it all. And obviously with the earthquakes, it’s opened up a bunch of opportunities for both illegal stuff and legal stuff, which is cool, because I think they kind of should exist side by side to some extent. But as time goes on, it’s always something that’s going to be apparent, and there are a bunch of guys taking it very seriously which is good to see, and obviously getting away with it. (Laughs) It’s kind of something that gives the city a little bit more life, that’s the way I see it anyway…

Dcypher and Ikarus, Hereford Street, Christchurch, 2017

Following that period where the central city had a sense of freedom and there were a lot more spaces to explore, it now looks like those traditional spaces are becoming more popular again, back on the peripherals. Many of those empty buildings right in the middle of the city are slowly disappearing, but it does seem as though it has created a bit of a new energy in the writing scene with new generations. It’s interesting when you think about the different generations of Christchurch writers, and I guess you guys were maybe what, the second or third generation? If you classify it loosely…

Ahh, yeah, you are probably right there…

And now I guess there’s like another two layers or more on top of that, and its starting to build this sense of history, do you sort of feel like, even living overseas, you are seen as a something of a respected, veteran figure?

Yeah, I guess so. There’s not just myself, there’s a bunch of other people, that would be considered respected figures, but I guess I’m someone who has sort of taken it a bit further than other people would have be able to, just being in Christchurch itself. But yeah, there’s a bunch of other guys that are definitely respected figures. I do get hit up by younger generation dudes trying to paint walls and stuff, they are obviously smart enough to realise that if someone has been doing it for way longer than you have, you can learn something from them, you know what I mean? At the same time, I always try and stay humble with what I do, because I’ve been lucky enough to travel and see the amount of work that other people have put in round the world, what it really means to be revered… and being from the bottom of the world, to put yourself in that context is tricky…

New Brighton, Christchurch, 2018

Although, there are a number of New Zealand artists who are killing it, travelling the world, do you feel like there is more potential for people to be able to have that global success, to make a mark internationally rather than just locally, even while still being based here? There are multiple options now, you can move, you can stay, you can travel, you can even make a living here, there seems to be more choices than ever before…

Yeah, definitely. I think it is quite easy to get to a point where you feel that you’ve outgrown your environment to some extent, and the amount of opportunities that are available in New Zealand are still somewhat limited, and people are trying to branch out and do stuff in other countries and what have you, but at the same time you’ve got to remember where you’re from and try and bring it back full circle too…

In your case, you get to experience living in another city, and all that comes with that, including a level of home comfort, which is different to living out of a suitcase, which is the reality for a number of artists now, travelling between projects, festivals, events. I imagine that must get somewhat tiring at a certain point, although I’m sure its also an exciting way to live…

Yeah, being grounded in one place can give you a way better perspective of whatever that city might have to offer or whatever, but if you’re lucky enough to be able to travel and live out of a suitcase, that means you are doing something right…

For sure…

Even in visiting a number of cities in quick succession, you’re going to learn a shitload about being a fucking human, you know? (Laughs)

Colab with Taz Roc in Portland, 2015 (Photo credit: Dcypher)
Colab with Taz Roc in Portland, 2015 (Photo credit: Dcypher)

Yeah definitely, you can’t help but be influenced by the places you paint, from the people you meet, to the physical environment, to the actual experience of travel itself, the journeys to get places, all those elements that come into it, they must all build up and inform your work…

Yeah, even being based in L.A., I still try and travel, to paint at festivals and do work across the United States. The States is a crazy place, where all the cities are so different, it’s insane. Like, you think you have Americans wrapped in a nutshell and you really don’t, you go to New Orleans, or you go to Seattle, you’re in two different countries!

What specific cities have you enjoyed painting in the most?

I mean, just painting in Los Angeles the most, makes it the most exciting place to paint. But I’ve painted in Albuquerque, Seattle, New Orleans, San Diego, and a bunch of other places, more so on the West Coast, and within the left-hand side of the United States. It’s awesome, it really gives a good perspective on that country, and again, the regional styles of all those places. But it’s somewhat interconnected as well, people are building bridges and making things happen between cities and getting influences and styles and techniques, what have you, from city to city, which is cool. Somewhere like Florida, where they have Art Basel and festivals and shit like that, is a fucking crazy place. There is a lot of crazy shit going down there. I was there painting a mural for Art Basel, and literally within like one hundred and fifty feet from where we were painting, there was a little gated neighbourhood where all sorts of crazy shit goes down. Some kid was shot at like five o’clock in the afternoon for his headphones, while one hundred and fifty feet away there’s hundreds of people painting and doing their thing and they’re not really part of that environment, but that environment still exists. There’s a lot of crazy shit going on in these tiny microcosms in the United States, it can be a dangerous place…

American Egypt wall, Los Angeles, 2016 Photo credit: Dcypher)
American Egypt wall, Los Angeles, 2016 Photo credit: Dcypher)

Living in the U.S. for almost ten years, do you feel like a Kiwi who lives in L.A., or a Los Angeleno from New Zealand?

Yeah, definitely a Kiwi who lives in LA. I’ll never renounce my ‘Kiwi-ness’! I’ve always tried to uphold the fact that I’m a New Zealander, I would never pretend to be known as an American in any way shape or form, even though I’m a citizen. The guys I paint with, the CBS guys, nicknamed me ‘Big Kiwi’, and I can never live that down, so, I would never consider myself a Los Angeleno. But a lot of people do, and it doesn’t take long for them to consider themselves Los Angelenos, even if they’ve only been living there for a couple of years, which is interesting. It’s such an amazing place where a lot of crazy, interesting things are going on…

I feel like with a place like Los Angeles, it would be easy to get swept up in the romanticism of it, and to identify with it…

People want to attach themselves to it and you will meet someone and ask: ‘Are you from L.A.?’ They’ll be ‘Yeah, totally, but I’m from Ohio originally…’

We kind of grow up with Los Angeles and New York as these iconic places, the settings for so much of our popular culture diet, that we have this expectation of them before we even visit, which might make it easier to adopt that identity when you do get there…

Yeah, I think, maybe your preconceived ideas of what a city has to offer are always wrong, like you always get to a city and it’s like: ‘Shit, this is not what I expected!’ A place like the United States is so diverse, so much crazy shit is happening constantly, it’s easy to align yourself with a certain aspect of the city, rather than a general idea of what that city sort of stands for…

Coming back relatively regularly, and maintaining that public profile through walls and projects when you do, have you ever thought about coming back and staging an exhibition in Christchurch, or actually just moving back?

Yeah, I just recently had a daughter so the idea of living in the United States for the rest of my life is sort of diminishing. You always want to have your kids experience life the same way you did to some extent, and schools and stuff in New Zealand are a little bit better than central L.A., so yeah, I definitely always considered coming back and producing work back home…

Detail of Wharenui Recreation Centre mural, Riccarton, Christchurch, 2016

You were part of the surge of graffiti culture in the early to mid-2000s, with the likes of Disruptiv, the popularity of hip hop summits, and even locally, you were part of Project Legit, and a number of other projects as well, do you kind of feel like there is a similar vibe now, albeit with this evolved concept of ‘street art’ and whatever that entails? It must feel like coming back and doing those types of things is actually achievable, not only because of the things you’ve learned in the ten years you’ve been away, but because of the environment you are coming back to as well, right?

Yeah, definitely, I think everyone here has been keeping the ball rolling, you know. When you move away you feel like nothing’s happening back home because you are so inundated with your own life…

Out of sight, out of mind…

Yeah, but every time I come back, I’m sort of floored by the amount of stuff that’s going up, different people really pushing the artform. So, I’m super stoked to be able to have that in my mind, that it is a possibility to move back and try and make something happen. Although, it is kind of daunting as well because the work opportunities in the States are far greater, whereas here you’ve got to hustle that little bit harder to try and get things going. But I feel you could, but that’s a period where you start to refine your thing and really nail it down.

Thanks for sitting down with us man, safe travels and see you back…

Yeah, cheers man…

Even though Dcypher is back stateside for now, you can keep track of what he is up to through his various online forums:

Facebook: @dcypherart

Instagram: @dcypher_dtrcbs

Web: https://www.dcypherart.com/

 

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

Dcypher – Homecoming (Part One)

Dcypher has been living in Los Angeles for a decade, but the Christchurch-bred artist has still made a significant contribution to the post-quake city’s walls. From commissioned works such as his cut-up patchwork of iconic kiwiana on the Wharenui Pool in Riccarton, or his on point ‘Welcome to Christchurch’ greyscale postcard for 2015’s Spectrum festival, to more informal jams and productions with his DTR crewmates, he has made the most of his sporadic trips home. Dcypher, of course, has pedigree, he is not some out-of-towner drawn to the opportunities in Christchurch, but rather an important figure in the city’s pre-quake graffiti history. Dcypher’s legacy now extends across decades and geographic settings, tracking the progression of an artist across the globe, and the transition between graffiti traditions and the new mural renaissance. Prior to heading State-side, Dcypher had already developed a notable local and national profile. From his role as a tutor and artist for Project Legit in the early to mid-2000s (an art programme that served to mentor young graffiti writers and provide legal opportunities for painting), and numerous local projects and commissions, to his regular inclusion in issues of Disrupt Magazine and even Askew’s 2007 book InForm, where, alongside Lurq and Pest 5 (although the latter had relocated to Auckland by that time), he was one of the few featured artists from outside of the North Island, Dcypher was able to fashion something of a career from his graffiti roots, a transition that might have been unexpected, even amongst the graffiti culture renaissance of the mid-2000s in Aotearoa. However, when he left Christchurch for the United States in 2008, he, like most people, had no idea of the monumental changes the city would endure just several years later, and indeed, the creative opportunities that would emerge in the recovery period. As a result, Dcypher has been returning to a different city, not only from the hometown he left behind, but also in comparison to the sprawling and stretching metropolis of Los Angeles to which he has become accustomed. That environment, coupled with the wisdom of experience developed over years of work, has ensured Dcypher’s output expresses a well-honed practice, striking and crisp, distinct but ultimately indebted to graffiti as the culture from which he emerged, a balance he continues to maintain. While he was recently back in town, I sat down with Dcypher to find out about his views on Christchurch’s current scene, his experiences as an artist abroad and what his future may hold. While the open-air setting of Smash Palace may have made the difference between mid-winter Christchurch and bright Los Angeles abundantly clear, it was obvious that while the man might not reside in Christchurch for now, he maintains deep connections to the people, places and unique characteristics of his hometown.

You have been back in town for a couple of weeks now, what have you been up to since arriving? From all accounts you pretty much hit the ground running…

I started the Lyttelton skate park mural with the rest of the DTR crew, Ikarus, Yikes and Wongi, pretty much a few days after I arrived, and that took about eight straight days of just painting. The weather was good though, and everything worked out. Then I just got straight into the Airport mural with the Oi YOU! guys, George [Shaw] and Shannon [Webster]. That was a good fucking two weeks of straight work. I think George added up five hundred hours or something, so, we had all of us working on it. It was all acrylic, which is pretty much the first time I’ve ever done like a full acrylic mural, so it was a learning curve for me. But yeah, the result was good, and yeah, I have just been trying to relax after that.

So, when you say acrylic, you mean with brushes rather than cans?

Yeah, brushes, rollers, trying to learn new techniques for fading without spray paint, that kind of thing… But mostly, yeah brushes and rollers.

Was that just a condition of working at the Christchurch Airport, because the mural is located inside the actual building, right?

Yeah, obviously with all the passengers and commuters within the airport, they can’t have spray paint fumes going about the airport, so they were pretty adamant about just keeping it all acrylic.

A section of Dcypher's mural at the Christchurch Airport, 2018
A section of Dcypher’s mural at the Christchurch Airport, 2018

Having made a career out of wielding a spray can, did it take a while to get your head around the brushes and rollers? Using a can would be second nature now, and you mentioned having to work on fading techniques, did it impact your stylistic approach as well?

Yeah, I had an idea that it was going to be the case, so I designed the mural with that in mind; using various techniques with acrylic paint to achieve the look I wanted. But in knowing that I was going to use acrylic paint, I had to design it and sort of tone it back a little bit and keep it quite simple, which isn’t necessarily my kind of style. The style that I chose was also something that I knew the Airport and the general public could palette. So, I guess it’s not necessarily my most interesting  work in that sense, but it was an awesome learning curve to be able to use acrylic. I mean, I guess we’ve always used acrylic paint from the get go alongside spray paint, so I’ve always had an ‘in’ on how to go about it, and I’ve always tried to mess around on canvasses and use acrylic paint on a smaller scale where it makes sense to use brushes. Spray paint only works down to certain scale…

I was just going to say, it’s kind of the opposite of cans, they are easier to go bigger, whereas with brushes, it’s easier to go smaller, although obviously rollers help with larger works as well…

Yeah, but just seeing what a lot people have been doing overseas, especially in Europe and stuff, as murals get bigger and bigger, people are starting to shift to using acrylic with brushes and rollers on that really large scale. It is actually easier to use acrylic paint than spray paint; it’s cheaper, it goes further, it’s faster, the longevity is better…

A lot of people I’ve talked to have mentioned environmental concerns as well, not completely moving away from can use, but it seems to be something people are wary of…

Yeah, I think, if you were an artist that had the opportunity to be able to do that, then that would be cool. But I think it is probably not really an environmental thing, it’s more of a technique thing, just because best results are the end goal, you know what I mean? And environment is secondary, like everything else that humans do! (Laughs)

Detail of the Christchurch Airport mural, 2018
Detail of the Christchurch Airport mural, 2018

I guess as well, the evolution of this contemporary muralism movement into its own beast, it means you are getting artists from different backgrounds now, you aren’t necessarily coming from a graffiti writing background or even necessarily that aerosol experience. Mural artists are increasingly switching between streets and studios, combining those two worlds, like, I think of the Spanish artist Aryz, as a prime example of that sort of approach, he is definitely taking muralism into a painterly direction…

Yeah, that’s who I was referring to before. That guy is definitely the best muralist by far at the moment. And he was doing a lot of that stuff with rollers and brushes, ten years ago, you know what I mean…

To see some of the latest stuff he’s been doing, it literally looks like a studio painting on a massive wall, the painterly quality brings a totally different element to it…

For sure…

You mentioned that the Christchurch Airport mural came about through Oi YOU!, you have developed a pretty good relationship with George and Shannon over a couple of projects, beginning with your inclusion in the first Spectrum show (at the Christchurch YMCA in 2015). What was it like for you coming back for that show? Experiencing something like that in your hometown, and having some international context for festivals and events, was it easy to get on board with what they were doing?

Yeah for sure, they totally went about it the right way. They could have just had international artists of a high calibre come through, but by also involving local artists to do their thing, people who have set their feet in the city, a long-time before they arrived, it showed George and Shannon understood having that as an important part of it all. Those artists being represented in the festivals was a strong point to get across, that there are people that have been doing it in the city for a long time before this stuff had come about…

Witnessing, and of course contributing to (as one of the headline artists) that Spectrum show as it came together, and thinking back over all the years growing up in Christchurch, were you still taken aback that it was actually happening in your home town?

Yeah, I always feel like whenever you leave somewhere, awesome things happen, and you feel like you are missing out! (Laughs) I was just stoked to be invited back to produce work. I could have been overlooked, going off and doing my own thing, so definitely, it was awesome to get involved and to have that event and be a part of it all…

Dcypher's Welcome to Christchurch wall, for Oi YOU!'s Spectrum festival, Welles Street, 2015 (photo credit: Dcypher)
Dcypher’s Welcome to Christchurch wall, for Oi YOU!’s Spectrum festival, Welles Street, 2015 (photo credit: Dcypher)

It must have been cool that all the DTR crew were involved as well [the exhibition even featured a DTR colab room, with portraits of the members in a darkened room]; to have that collective recognition as a crew as well as individually…

Those guys were all involved from the get-go, George got them all involved, I just kind of came in from the side, off the back of all that, which is cool. But yeah, it is awesome that they have been able to give an amazing amount of people opportunities to produce work and that’s kind of the essence of the whole idea and how it should go down…

As you said, the first thing you did when you got back this time was the Lyttelton skate park project with the rest of the DTR crew. You guys have a pretty lengthy history in the context of New Zealand, and Christchurch graffiti history, how is it getting back and painting together? Is it a different type of relationship than you have with CBS, your Los Angeles crew?

Yeah, you know growing up with a bunch of guys and painting regularly, there’s probably a little bit more of a brotherhood sort of thing. In the States, there are so many players that it’s a huge family and it can be hard to make those same types of connections. So yeah, working with those guys is always awesome, you don’t even have to think about it, you know, everyone’s already on the same wavelength and you just go ahead and make it happen. Whereas in L.A., there’s a disconnect so to speak, with guys you haven’t necessarily grown up with since you were fourteen years old, you know what I mean…

Section of the DTR crew (Dcypher, Ikarus, Yikes, Wongi) collaboration for the Lyttelton Skate Park, 2018.
Section of the DTR crew (Dcypher, Ikarus, Yikes, Wongi) collaboration for the Lyttelton Skate Park, 2018.

When did you leave for Los Angeles?

I left in 2008, during the global recession. (Laughs) I basically landed, and Obama was elected. People were crying and shit. It was pretty amazing to be in the United States for something like that, at that time, and to be part of it, to feel like you were a part of it. But being there wasn’t easy in the beginning, I was doing a lot of construction work, there weren’t a lot of opportunities. I was sort of working my way up, meeting a lot of other artists, painting various little projects. Doing things to prove yourself to people who have already lived and worked in the city for a long time and have their foot fucking firmly in the ground. Slowly but surely, I was able to become a full-time artist over there…

Did you have any connections before you went? Were you down with CBS before you went?

No. I had some good friends of mine who I grew up with in New Zealand, two American guys, whose father was based here through Operation Deep Freeze when they were kids. I grew up skating with them, doing graffiti with them, and they had moved back to the States. They were originally from San Diego, and one of them was, actually both of them, were in L.A. at the time I arrived, so I had two really good friends that I hadn’t seen for a really long time to go and start the whole thing alongside. They had already figured out a bunch of shit. To go to Los Angeles by yourself is a big undertaking, and to have someone there as a liaison to help you get through it and figure it out, is ultimate, so I owe a lot to those guys, for sure…

I remember your profile in InForm, the 2007 book produced by Askew featuring a number of New Zealand graffiti artists, you commented on how the Christchurch scene was really small and everyone painted together. That probably highlights how daunting it must’ve been to move somewhere like Los Angeles, which would be like ten or more cities the size of Christchurch…

At least…

Piece for the Pico Union housing corporation, aka the Grafflab, in Los Angeles, 2015. (Photo credit: Dcypher)
Piece for the Pico Union housing corporation, aka the Grafflab, in Los Angeles, 2015. (Photo credit: Dcypher)

That feeling of starting again, of starting over in terms of reputation, that must have been pretty strong…

Yeah, for sure. But it is refreshing, its humbling to have to work your way back up again. The calibre of work in the U.S. is fucking insane. Just the level of competitiveness is crazy. New Zealand has that kind of tall poppy thing, where if you think you’re better than everyone else, you are going to get cut down quick, you know. Whereas in America, if you think you are better than everyone else, for some reason everyone holds you up on a pedestal.

Do you think that is a unique thing to the United States, something about the mindset there?

It’s a combination of both freedom and capitalism that sort of drives people to do what they do. I mean there are guys in the States who do illegal graffiti and have done illegal graffiti for their entire lives and have never been snatched up, they have refined that shit to an amazing level, where they can go out and produce work without running into too much bullshit. But, at the same time, the competitiveness, you know, it keeps you on your toes.

It is sort of L.A. in a nutshell I guess. It’s a city of contrasts. I imagine anything can happen at any time, in any place…

Yeah, for sure…

Was the American West Coast scene an influence on you coming up? Or were you more inspired by New York and the East Coast, or maybe European writers? An American tourist remarked to me recently, not knowing anything about you, how one of your pieces here in Christchurch looked like something from Los Angeles. Has that West Coast, or more specifically Los Angeles style become more of an influence by living there? There’s that long lineage of ‘West Coast’ artists across a number of fields, and that specifically Los Angeles aesthetic that can be found in music, film, fine art, street art, graffiti…

To begin with obviously it was the New York influence, Subway Art and books like that, before the internet. Then once the internet happened, it was definitely European stuff. I was always more into East Coast hip hop stuff than I was into West Coast stuff, and I kind of liked the grimy, cold aspect of the East Coast. My Mother’s from Boston as well, so I have an affiliation to the East Coast. But once you get to California, and you get a little bit of the lifestyle, it’s definitely influential. It always has had its own style and everything going for it, but my eyes weren’t necessarily open to that. I did see a lot of stuff through magazines and stuff before the internet too, that was all West Coast, but at the same time I wasn’t really thinking about where in the States it was from. When I was young it was just what was aesthetically pleasing. So, I guess it did have an influence on me. There were a couple of guys I remember, like this guy Clown, who had some interviews in some magazines back in the day, who I’ve actually been able to meet since moving to the West Coast, which is pretty crazy. There were a bunch of other guys as well, and obviously all the CBS guys too. I think the Europeans have always taken what writers were doing in the United States and really pushed it in another direction, in more artistic directions, whereas the States has always kept that illegal, raw sort of graffiti, like you’ve got to keep it the real deal, there’s no using some weird technique, people shut you down real quick with that sort of stuff!

Extinction wall, Venice Beach, 2015 (Photo credit: Dcypher)
Extinction wall, Venice Beach, 2015 (Photo credit: Dcypher)

It feels like the Los Angeles influence isn’t only apparent in stylistic terms and letterform traditions, but through the environment itself, it is also evident conceptually and in terms of the imagery you often use. I’m thinking of the architectural elements in a lot of your work, to me, they have the feeling that Los Angeles as a sprawling, built environment, with a certain physical nature, is influential. Do you think that imagery, and even just the conceptual approach to your work, has been a response to living there, to that landscape?

Yeah for sure, obviously as you’re developing your work, you are taking reference photos and stuff like that all the time, and Los Angeles being the insane metropolis that it is, it was kind of inevitable that that was going to find its way into my work, because I’ve always sort of been interested in infrastructure and cityscapes and stuff like that…

Do you see a connection between building letterforms and architectural forms? In terms of how a letter, or a piece, is built up and constructed, it feels architectural in how space is considered, and angles are created and used…

I think earlier on I thought about that a lot. I remember doing some really sort of structural letters that almost looked like buildings in the past. But I do kind of separate my graffiti style from canvasses and mural stuff. It is always in there to some extent, but I try and stick to traditional letterforms, developing it in my own way. I guess always having some sort of architectural element in the background was kind of where I started pulling that stuff from, you know, backgrounds for graffiti stuff…

As you get older, when it comes to your letterforms, is there less influence from what other writers are doing and more of a continuation of what you have already developed? That idea of constant refinement, which is something that comes from the compulsion of writing, from repeating a tag ten thousand times, to perfecting a certain signature letter? For you, is your style becoming more and more insular as you get older, entangled in your own history of writing, more so than really taking notice of other sources?

Yeah, for sure. Like maybe from guys I initially painted with, but with any outside source, it’s not a good look to be doing that. Like you say, you do a tag ten thousand times, fifty thousand times, and over time you start to understand how everything fits together, it’s like an ongoing puzzle, within your own mind. It just refines over time. There are certain aspects that you might see another person doing, but it’s probably more technique than it is style. Because with style, it is hard to adapt someone else’s style, you are always going to have your own style, it’s almost impossible to reflect another person’s style, but technique for sure…

Los Angeles, 2014 (Photo credit: Dcypher)
Los Angeles, 2014 (Photo credit: Dcypher)

Like you were saying earlier, that from the pre-internet era, there were the influences of Subway Art, Style Wars, and there was what was on the walls around you, those influences were what you had, now with the digital age, you can see all these different styles, you can see writers from all over the world, in some ways it must be harder to develop a personal style amongst so much information…

Yeah…

Because so many things have been done, but also, you’ve seen all those things as well. You are nowhere near as isolated. Of course, that isolation meant that some really interesting local styles developed as a mixture of certain influences, like in Brazil, with the combination of hip hop graffiti with pixachao, or even Los Angeles and the influence of Cholo graffiti, but it is getting harder and harder to even see that happening because everything is available to everybody, everything seems more global.

Yeah, I think that graffiti has always had regional styles too. You could pick someone’s style from where they were in the world, even with the internet you could pick someone’s style; if you understand graffiti, you know someone from the West Coast of America as opposed to someone from the East Coast, versus someone from Brazil, versus someone from Australia, to some extent. Graffiti has always had its own specific styles, even within countries, it’s sort of like, ‘oh this is more of a northern style or a southern style’, which is awesome. It means the direct influence of what you are seeing in real life is what really has impact on your style, rather than seeing awesome photos on the internet all day long, which won’t ever have as much impact as walking up to a wall of a legend dude who has been painting twenty years in your city and just being like ‘Holy shit! That’s insane!’

To be continued Homecoming (Part Two)

In the meantime, check out Dcypher’s various platforms:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/dcypherart/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/dcypher_dtrcbs/

Web: https://www.dcypherart.com/

 

 

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Wongi ‘Freak’ Wilson – Travelling Man

Wongi ‘Freak’ Wilson has undeniably been one of the faces of Christchurch’s blooming graffiti and street art scene. From his skilfully rendered large-scale murals, to his presence in festivals, interviews and documentaries, he has been a central figure in the presentation and reception of the culture’s popular emergence. It is a no-brainer that we were going to sit down for an in-depth interview with Wongi, but as they say timing is everything. With an upcoming trip to Nepal on his horizon, a result of his artist series t-shirt design for local adventure clothing company Kathmandu, we thought it would be best to save the long-form interview for his return. But, then we thought, why not catch up before hand as well, just to get some insight into the Nepal trip and how it all came together. Think of it as a primer, the base camp before the summit if you will…

So, Wongi, what is it, six days before you’re off to Nepal?

Yeah, about six days, possibly even less now…

You found out you were going about six months ago…

Yeah, at the end of last year sometime, it was maybe November…

Has that time gone quickly? Have you had an ‘I’m actually going to Nepal!’ moment?

Yeah, it has crept up really quickly. Just in general, you know, life gets in the way. I’m working away and doing things, and then next minute it’s boom, I’m going next week, so…

You have literally just finished a workshop in the last hour, and on top of painting jobs, you were just saying that you’ve got house renovations on the go, so things have been full on as usual, have you had a chance to consider what sort of experience this is going to be?

No, not really. I’ve just been so busy with work and everything going on, I just haven’t had the time to let it sink in. I have had lots of people asking me: Are you prepped? Are you ready? Are you amped? And I haven’t even had time to think about it. A bunch of my Kathmandu gear arrived a while ago and that was really awesome, just pulling it out of the box and everything. But even then, it was more just ‘oohing’ and ‘ahhing’ at the product, not actually thinking: ‘I’m going to be using this in Nepal’…

 

Smash Palace, 2018

Over the last seven years or so, you have had some pretty amazing experiences; painting in front of royalty in Re:Start Mall; painting a large self-portrait inside the Canterbury Museum, being featured in the Rise and Spectrum shows, just to name a few. Amongst all these things that I’m sure ten years ago you didn’t necessarily expect, where does the opportunity to travel to a place like Nepal fit in? It’s not exactly somewhere that you would consider a traditional ‘urban art’ destination, and yet your art has given you the chance to go there…

Yeah, definitely, it’s such an amazing opportunity, but it’s not something I would have specifically saved up and chosen to do. There are many other places I would have chosen, but because of what it is, I’d be foolish to say no. It’s a once in lifetime opportunity to go and do this type of thing, so I’m diving at it. It’s amazing, really amazing.

The Re:Start colab billboards painted by Wongi and Ikarus for the Art Beat programme, 2012

The trip is the result of your relationship with the adventure clothing company Kathmandu, and your role as one of the artists, along with Shraddha Shresthra from Nepal, to contribute to their limited-edition artist t-shirt series. How did the opportunity to design a t-shirt come up?

That all came about because when Kathmandu opened their new branch and offices in the city centre they had already started the process for their limited-edition artist series t-shirts. Shraddha was the first artist to create a t-shirt, so as a part of their opening for their central city location, they flew her in from overseas to paint a mural in the neighbouring laneway as part of the whole event. So, since she was here painting in Christchurch, they wanted a local artist to paint in the laneway as well, so they got me involved, and that’s where my t-shirt came in. I think they just really liked what I had painted and my style, and I think that helped push me into being the second artist in the series. I also think as the Kathmandu brand was originally born in Christchurch, I think being a local artist helped as well…

So, is your t-shirt available yet?

It might be online currently, but the actual official release date is the 23rd or 25th of this month, I think. They are releasing it on the date of the 65th anniversary of Sir Edmund Hillary reaching the summit… so it all lines up…

You have a fair bit of experience designing and printing your own t-shirts, but I would suggest your photorealistic style, especially in aerosol, doesn’t necessarily translate as well into the more graphic qualities of t-shirt designs. Technically, you are a versatile artist anyway, so I’m assuming you are pretty comfortable taking on different approaches, but how did you find the process of creating the design, and how did it come out?

Yeah, it was really fun actually. With a t-shirt design I can’t really go to the in-depth level of the photorealistic stuff, so I pulled it back and went the other way with the more cartoony, raw graffiti style. I chose a big block format and filled it in with graffiti lettering and graffiti-styled characters. It’s got a bunch of things related to Christchurch and Nepal: I’ve got a Kathmandu bubble letter, it’s got Christchurch written in block letters within the brick format, and then I’ve got a bunch of different characters and things in behind it; some related to Nepal, like some yaks, temples, and Buddhists, then some things relating to New Zealand; the hills and ferns and that type of thing, as well as more traditional graffiti stuff; throw-ups and spray cans and all that kind of thing.

Boxed Quarter, 2017

I feel like the inclusion of elements of graffiti culture is important. Obviously the references to the locations, Christchurch and Kathmandu, are necessary, but as an artist with roots in graffiti art, it is also important to represent that culture too, because it is what got you where you are…

Yeah definitely. That creative freedom to celebrate my style and artistic background definitely helps build a good relationship with Kathmandu. They are a lot more understanding of that side of things, but I was also working with the design team there to make sure they were getting a product that they are happy to promote in that sense. So getting to work with their team, the back and forth process, that was really cool as well…

In the past, when you have produced your own t-shirts, you’ve been the designer, the printer, the distributor, you’ve done all of it…

Yeah for sure, that was a cool element, working with another team who specialise in certain products for their brand as well, so that was fun…

Does it make you want to do more limited-edition t-shirts?

I wouldn’t say no! It is an amazing opportunity, but it all just depends on certain factors. It boils down to the imagery that’s wanted, the level of creative freedom that I’m allowed, and of course, the company who I’m trying to work with, and whether or not I relate with them on a personal level. I’m an animal and nature person, an environmental person, so I think that also helped with the whole Kathmandu relationship, knowing that they are quite ethical with their products…

Did you research their ethical stance? Because it is important that artists know who they are working with…

Without a doubt. We had a general idea of how Kathmandu work, but when the proposal came in, we did a lot more research into it, just to make sure, because you don’t want to have yourself aligned with a company that you don’t agree with. So, yeah, we definitely had to make sure that that was the way it was, and that I wasn’t going to be associated with a company that isn’t thinking about the environment and all that type of thing.

As more and more opportunities come up for artists to work with brands, holding companies accountable in a way, making sure your ethics align is so important…

You don’t want to be associated with a brand that is working in a way you don’t agree with. So yeah, anything like animal cruelty, I’m not a fan of, but Kathmandu were really strong around their ethics with their clients…

In terms of the actual trip, what’s on the agenda? Will you get a chance to paint while you are there?

No, I’m not. We looked at it and we were trying to get that sorted, but I guess it just boiled down to the fact that there’s not a lot of time outside of the trek to actually get a painting in. Then there was the whole problem around getting artist grade spray paint into Nepal. We’re trying to tee it up to paint something for one of the schools I’m stopping off at on the trek, but then there’s the whole issue of being in the Himalayas, you are so far up in the air there is a lot of pressure involved and a whole heap of problems around that side of things…

Is there a chance to do something that doesn’t involve cans, like drawing workshops?

Yeah, they touched base on that, so there is still a possibility to have a draw with the kids type of thing, so that’s a potential option, but I don’t think the actual painting itself is going to happen…

To go all that way and not leave a mark in that way seems a shame, but I can understand the logistical challenges. Have you thought about how the trip, and the experience of the trek, might inform your work in a wider sense?

Kind of, it’s been in the back of my mind, just thinking about what the environment is going to be like. I’m really looking forward to seeing some of the villages, and the temples and that type of thing. So yeah, I think it’s going to be quite a new experience and that in itself will give me a whole new angle to my art…

Rauora Park, 2017

I guess that reflects the rise of contemporary muralism and the globe-trotting mural artist, where all these different influences from different environments shape people’s practice, rather than just the specific setting you came up in. I mean it is a hard thing to put a point on, because it is likely to be a philosophical influence, more than a stylistic or technical influence, but still it is sure to be a unique experience and it will be interesting to see how your work evolves as a result…

Yeah, like you said, it’s hard to pin point the whole situation. I don’t know what it will be, but I know something will lend a big impact to that kind of thing…

I remember at Style Walls, you were joking that you will come back as this enlightened soul who always talks about your time in Nepal! (laughs)

Yeah, yeah, ‘that one time in Nepal…’ (laughs) Yeah, as long as I come back wearing shoes you know, not bare footing it around everywhere; ‘I’m just getting back to nature!’ (laughs) So nah, I’m looking forward to it, it is going to be amazing!

Lastly, it is going to be a pretty physically intense experience, I know you got a gym membership in preparation, have you been putting in work?

Yes and no! I went quite hard out for a bit, but then with a lot of work and everything, I haven’t had that time to go the gym and train like I should. I feel I’m pretty active with the work I do anyway, I’m always on my feet, up and down ladders, all that type of thing, so hopefully that is going to be enough to get my fitness level at least up to par. I was talking to one of the head guys from Kathmandu and saying ‘Yeah, I’m going to get my gym pass, I’ve been exercising quite a bit…’ and he just laughed it off and said how one of his mates who kind of helps with the treks, said: ‘Oh you don’t need to go to the gym, you work that out in the first three days!’ So, I’m kind of hopeful that will be the case!

Well, we look forward to catching up when you get back and hearing how it all went and talking more in depth, so go well…

Cheers, man, thanks for your time…

The shirt Wongi has designed for Kathmandu as part of the Artist Series and in honour of the 65th anniversary of Sir Edmund Hillary submitting Everest is now available online or go visit your local Kathmandu store. A portion of each sale goes toward the Australian Himalayan Foundation.

Want to learn more about Wongi?

Check out his website and follow him on Facebook.

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Jacob Yikes – Immersed (Part One)

Jacob Yikes needs no introduction. His distinctive wall work has been a familiar element of Christchurch’s post-quake landscapes, turning walls into vistas filled with intricate, impossible architectural forms and characters who are in turn both playful and nightmarish. But while his large-scale murals might provide a pathway to ‘Planet Yikes’, his studio and exhibited work has shown an artistic evolution that delves even deeper into the themes at the heart of his expression. His works on paper and canvas show an artist coming into full bloom, imbued with personal symbolism and exploring a range of imagery, expressive physical processes, and experimental and expanding mediums and materials. We caught up in his studio, surrounded by a series of still-in-progress new works, evidence of his soon-to-be-exhibited recent output; large paintings pulsing with dynamic energy. And yet, fittingly, our conversation took place just before Yikes’ March trip to Dunedin to paint a large wall, a reminder of his ongoing occupation of public spaces. With the sun shining outside his studio, we discussed the transition between street and studio, his latest body of work and the process of their creation, and how life has a way of keeping you honest…

Yikes, the last few times we have caught up it has been while you were painting outdoors, so it’s a nice change to be here in your studio. Your practice has always had that inside/outside dichotomy, shifting between walls and canvas so to speak, but considering how much work you have put in painting outside over the last five years, it’s easy to assume you have slowed down somewhat on that front! 

Yeah man, yeah… (laughs)

Has that been intentional, to allow you more time in the studio?

It’s a mixture of things really. I guess life catches up, you know, I’ve got two small children, so that’s definitely a factor, and they’re getting bigger, so that’s a thing, trying to fit that in. I think I’ve definitely felt a transition from wanting to produce works outside to being in my studio. Obviously, my studio is at my home, so I’ve got a very good set up now. I can kind of work quite erratically sometimes, so now when it is time to work, I can literally do it. Christchurch is pretty small, and I’ve done a lot of painting here, it’s not like I’m bored, but I am the type of person that has to keep doing new stuff. There’s definitely been a shift, and it’s not like, I’m never going to produce big works outside again, it’s nothing like that, it’s more like a certain tick that I need to itch! (Laughs) I feel like it’s a pretty natural progression as well, I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything. I’m still here, I’ll still do whatever, it’s good…

Jacob Yikes’ Alice in Videoland mural, 2017-2018, Tuam Street. [Photo credit: Jade Cavalcante]
It’s not that they are mutually exclusive, they are both part of what you do…

Yep, and they always have been, and they always feed off each other. There are only so many hours in a day, and in a week, so putting it all into one thing, it’s really hard to try and find time to do the other. In the past I’ve sacrificed a lot of sleep to get that happening and it works for a while and that’s cool, but it’s not physically possible for me, and you learn the hard way. I’ve learnt that, and having children they will let you know… (laughs)

For sure…

So, yeah, it’s just about what do I want to do? What do I see myself doing? At the moment, I think the studio-based stuff is really where I’m trying to focus. But again, I wouldn’t be doing any of this studio stuff if I hadn’t done certain things outdoors. They always feed off each other, and they always will.

And of course, painting walls is built into your profile as well, right? It affords certain opportunities and exposure…

Absolutely.

From a material point of view, both approaches obviously have different potentials, as well as different challenges. What do you see as the main differences, in terms of what you can do in the studio that you can’t do when you’re working in the streets?

There’s always a certain element of impact that I’m trying to achieve with both, and that’s achieved very differently outdoors than it is indoors in the studio. So, with my outdoor works, I was introducing bold colours with quite wild imagery, wild in the subject matter and often how it is executed, like with a lot going on. And then I brought that into the studio to a certain extent, and I’ve been able to, even though because the works I’m doing at the moment and in the past have been quite large, not massive, for canvas or paper work, or board whatever, they’ve been quite big but they’ve gone bigger, I can focus way more on a smaller scale but still get good impact as well, whereas outdoors, you can, but it is a lot of effort. It’s like, for those bigger works, I tend to just do them myself because of how I work, it’s completely different to painting pieces of graffiti with any of the boys, it’s a different process, it’s a different mind-state. In saying that, while a lot of my work outdoors has been very busy, it has also zoned in on certain areas and really worked them, but to be honest it’s a lot of time and effort and often you’re not really getting to the point of that’s what I was trying to do, so you have to kind of walk away from them, feeling like ‘I could’ve done that’, ‘I should’ve done that’, and that’s come from graffiti too, like every every piece you see, there’s something that you just wish you’d fixed, and you know that’s just part of it, but with the studio stuff, I can’t walk away from it, it’s not a wall in town, I’m living with it. In a bizarre way, it sort of speaks to me when I’m doing it, so that’s reinforced the idea that I can work really hard on these areas of the painting and achieve something where there is more impact.

Mixed media on paper, 2017. Exhibited in Face Value at Fiksate Gallery, November, 2017

When you are painting a wall and you stand back and take stock, there must be a strong awareness of the public nature of the process, simply because of the surroundings, whereas in the studio I imagine you can get really invested in producing work which is increasingly personal, you can be completely focused on it and enveloped by it…

Definitely, because as an artist there’s always, I mean, I can’t speak for every artist, but there’s an element of being self-conscious about what you are doing. When you produce public work, you do pretty much need to wear a hard skin, or you can retaliate, which is also something that I’ve probably done a lot in the past! (Laughs) But that’s just kind of who I am too, I don’t have lot of patience for dickheads in all formats (laughs), so it all just kind of comes with it. But with the studio stuff, it’s me, myself and I, and that can be good and it can be bad, because I can be my own worst enemy. I guess it’s that little voice just kind of kicking you in the ass, it’s good, but outdoors you’ve got your self to deal with and what other people think. But at the end of the day, I’m not really doing it for what other people think. I mean, yes, there’s this massive amount of positivity that’s come with public work, street art, whatever, but I feel like I get away with a lot (laughs), you know I’m not out to paint pretty pictures, I wouldn’t even say I’m trying to beautify things, it’s not the reason I go and do something, if that happens that’s great, but I know not everyone’s going to think that way…

It’s something that’s a problem with the adoption of urban art into the mainstream and it’s perhaps at odds with the roots and the intentions from which it has grown. Essentially urban art is about personal expression going public, it’s not solely, or even explicitly about acts of civic duty or beautification…

That’s right, it’s not community murals…

Yeah, they are a completely different thing. At the heart of it, urban art is about personal style, personal communication, and that’s often the hardest thing to explain. People celebrate and champion these beautiful things, whereas what graffiti and street art are really able to do is take art and put it in the streets, it can be beautiful, but sometimes it can be challenging, or visually unexpected…

Yeah.

Manchester Street, central city, 2016

And that means it is lot of things, and that diversity is really important in retaining relevancy and potency. We are surrounded by a number of your latest studio works, the scale of your studio pieces has been growing over the last few years, and these works are another step up in size…

They are. I think they have to be…

Yet for me, they are still clearly distinct from your wall works as well. Even though the works are getting larger, the things you can do in the studio are still really clear and obvious, from the detail, to the actual style of painting and the material approaches. Is that something you are wary of, that despite the size increasing, they are still going to be honest as studio works, rather than edging towards murals on paper?

Yeah I guess, when I think about it, before I really started focusing on studio stuff, I was painting big work, like not monstrous like it got, but a piece is a pretty large painting, so what I realised, was in a studio I can create completely different feelings with the same materials, but I can’t do that with walls, because it literally comes down to how they are sitting. With washes, and the metallics I add into the washes, which are the things I’ve concocted to make these paintings, they kind of have to be flat, they are always in a very wet stage until I spend the last few days finishing them. Also, like I was mentioning earlier, because I work on so many at a time as well, it works with my erratic personality too, it’s something I have to do, because if I don’t, I’ll ruin a painting. I’ve got all these ideas all going on at the same time, and if I put them all into the same painting, it’s just overkill. But when I paint on the street, I do that, I overkill, because it’s big. But you know this time around, I was more interested again in coming back to that impact, but thinking about how I approach it… In the past the works were big, but what’s going on inside of them was a big amount of work too, this time it’s the same sort of concept but I’ve slowed it down. There is, I think, more of a mystery to them, as opposed to zoning into these other works and getting lost in them, you can still do that with these, but there’s a bit more mystery…

Mixed media on paper, 2018

These works have a dynamic energy that breaks up the focus and sharpness of some of your previous works, there is still a suggestive sense of action going on, but it isn’t as definitive or finite as previous works might have been. That dynamism adds a personal quality, because they are reflections of your physical movements, which are of course relative to your personal state at the time you executed them…

Absolutely man, I think they are the most real paintings I’ve ever made. I’m not really the type of person in the past that would address a lot of things that are in these paintings, you know, and I haven’t, I’ve let it control my life, and I got really unwell with it, so I had to let it out. In a sense I’m kind of showing my demons in a way, but not in a way that is trying to make anyone concerned, it’s a healthy thing for me. It’s a way of me dealing with twenty something years of bullshit, so I really think that these works have their own story behind them. They are a body of work but each one is an individual reference to me. Being that they are a bigger scale too, I don’t know why, it just feels like I couldn’t get that same effect if I didn’t do them on this scale. Even with the paper ones, if they got any bigger it would’ve been too much and any smaller and it wouldn’t have worked. For a while I went through a period, for a good few months, where I was not able to paint anything, to draw anything, I literally reclused and stopped, and then kind of came out of that and this is what came from that. I guess too, there is a very different process to how I’ve worked in the past, where I would just go, go, go, go, non-stop, no sleep, I just went for it. There was a lot of work that came out of it, but a lot of it, man, I was in autopilot for a lot of it. I look at them and I know what they’re about, what’s going on, but I’m like, when did this even happen? But with these ones, they are all so much more relevant and they are all so much more decisive too. There’s no work where I’m like, that one probably shouldn’t be like that. Now there’s a whole different process…

Do you think that’s a combination of the timing being right in terms of what you are expressing, but also of how you are able to express it, through your actual practice? In a way, nothing is wasted if it has led you to a certain point, right?

Definitely.

Do you feel that these works represent an arrival point at how you are able to express these ideas visually?

I kind of have the mind set that things happen for a reason, that you experience things for a reason, like whether you know that when it’s happening, or you know it later on down the line. But I definitely think I’ve always found myself at the right place at the right time, especially with how my career has started to shape itself. At the same time, it hasn’t all been roses, you know, there has been a lot of bullshit as well. But if there wasn’t that bullshit, there wouldn’t be any success. I think it gives me ammunition to actually paint these works like I do. It’s how I process these things, I have certain kind of conclusions with my life and predominantly my art, because my life is my art and that is probably more apparent in these works than I think it ever has been. Again, the subject matter is a more refined me, rather than processes made by me or just stuff. Past shows have talked about stuff, they have been derived from me, but they’ve never really been about me, so it’s sort of narrowed in, and I guess that’s happening now because that’s what was meant to happen. To be honest, painting them is a way for me to try to figure a lot of that out, you know; why? why everything? So, the two work pretty well together, but I think you know, that’s the thing with progression, too, with anything you’ve got to take whatever comes, because you won’t progress. You can’t have it all good and progress to something better, without downfall, because there is no balance…

Yikes in his studio, 2018

That’s an important skill, the ability to understand what is happening, and to figure out that path. If your work is the same for twenty years, then something is probably going wrong under the surface…

Good luck to you, if that’s what you are up to! Because I think as humans, you all deal with things in different ways, based on personality, based on past experiences, based on how you’ve been brought up, based on however. Maybe it’s part of getting older and having kids, but I find myself having to really create my own path, you know, what I mean is, it’s a hard thing, because as an artist it’s quite difficult to live in this day and age, there’s a lot of pressures, financially, whatever, but…

Particularly somewhere the size of Christchurch…

That’s it man, it’s not massive and you know, I think I’ve always known that I don’t want to follow suit, it’s just not me. I just can’t do it. I think too, to be honest, that’s where the studio stuff has become more dominant, because this is truly where I’m supposed to be too. Before I was into doing graffiti or before I was painting large scale works, I was always into drawing, always into making art, so it’s like literally from an early age, it’s kind of my been my forte. But you know, it’s still a battle to make that an everyday thing, to make that a reality, it’s still really difficult. So I think taking a step back from doing walls puts a bit of pressure on things like that, because at the end of the day, painting large scale works is how I make my living, how I’ve made my living, selling paintings and doing commission works as well, it all fits in, but predominantly, the walls like I have always said, they are advertising for me as an artist, so it’s difficult to really put one to a side and then focus on one other thing because at the end of the day I’ve got bills!

Yeah, but that challenge is important to take on as well, right?

Yeah, and again it comes back to the fact that there is nothing to do but roll with it. I can create my path, and I know where I want to go, I don’t know where I’m going to end up, but I know what way I want to go…

Which is as important as anything right? People talk about it’s not the destination, it’s the journey…

Absolutely, because I’m kind of too afraid to arrive at a destination! (Laughs) I’m in no hurry to get there! And I think when you get there, if you get there, good and bad creates where you arrive, it’s all about how you deal with it in that process, and I think for me as an artist, the best way is to just literally keep doing what I feel is best. I have to get it out, because if it’s not true to me, at that point, whatever comes after doesn’t matter because I’ve put something out that’s not fully me, and that’s the battle of being an artist too, you want to produce what you feel is right and where you want to go, but at the same time, you have to make money and things too…

It’s a reality…

Yeah, it’s that reality. But again, in the past I’ve sacrificed sleep to do both, so it’s definitely all learning, every painting I do I learn something from it.

Stay tuned for Part Two…

Featured image photo credit: three-six-six media

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And the winner is…. Style Walls 2018 Recap

Style Walls 2018 is in the books and there is a new name to add to the pantheon of champions, with GOR1 taking the crown, fending off GERM, WYSE, TWIKS and EXACT in a tight battle.

In a slightly re-jigged format, with each artist producing one large-scale piece over the four hour time slot, judges scored the artists on can control, use of colour, use of space, and of course, style. In announcing GOR1 as the winner and GERM as the runner-up, co-judge and Christchurch legend Ikarus, noted that it was a tight contest, with just a handful of points separating the 5 writers in the final tally.  In front of a gathered crowd, the five artists had to combat the difficulties of the cylindrical canvasses, which provided a challenging surface for the composition of their letterforms (a fact revealed in the photographs below), while also juggling the allocated colour palette in dynamic, unique and effective ways. Each displayed a distinctive style, from GERM’s interlocking, vertical wildstyle, to TWIKS’ use of a white outline and 3D drop, WYSE’s decorative letters, EXACT’s tight composition and GOR1’s bold, black outline and colour fades. When the dust settled, the judges selected GOR1 as the 2018 champion, his cumulative score putting him just ahead of his rivals. Check out some images below of the event and  the finished pieces…

Crowds gather as the battles get under way…
The competitors were given four hours to complete their pieces, along with a specific range of Ironlak colours
The Style Walls competitors get down to work

 

The judges run their eyes over the finished pieces
Style Walls 2018 champion GOR1
Style Walls 2018 runner-up GERM [IMK, JFK]
TWIKS
WYSE
EXACT [ETC]
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Roll Call – Style Walls 2018

Style Walls is back!

Style Walls has become an institution in the city’s post-quake urban art scene, and this Saturday it returns for its fourth incarnation. Style Walls 2018 will be staged at the youth park on the corner of Manchester and Lichfield Streets, with the competitors adorning the giant free-for-all spray cans, a further activation of the unique space’s stated role as an evolving art space.

One of the five giant cans competitors will paint for Style Walls 2018

Established and run by the legendary DTR crew, Style Walls will pit five finalists against each other in a live, head-to-head battle format that both celebrates the traditions of graffiti and embraces the inherently competitive nature of the sub-culture, where outdoing others is always the goal. Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, the supported setting aims to encourage young and emerging artists to push their talents and drive the city’s creative graffiti scene forward. Ikarus, one of the founders and organisers of Style Walls, (as well as a competition judge), explains that the event is all about growth and progression: “Seeing the guys who were in early  battles improve and continue over the last few years has been great…”, he also adds that it provides a sense of aspiration for young graffiti artists who “look forward to being involved when they are at a higher skill level, so it gives kids something to work towards as well.”

The 2018 finalists were chosen from an array of submissions, a task that Ikarus believes “is getting harder because the level and amount of entries is increasing each year.” The five finalists, Twiks, GOR1, Wyse, Exact and Germ will do battle over three rounds. Judges will score competitors on various criteria (such as style, can control, use of space and use of colour) and a winner will be declared after each round. The supreme winner will be determined by the highest cumulative score following all three rounds. With iconic paint brand Ironlak on board as sponsors, winners will be rewarded with prizes, but perhaps the truly crowning glory will be found in the bragging rights earned by the champion.

The inaugural 2014 Style Walls final, held in the central city’s Re:Start Mall

Style Walls is an important event in the city’s urban art, and specifically graffiti, scenes, providing a unique forum for local graffiti artists to be supported and celebrated, all within the internal values established and evolved over generations. Despite interest from stencil artists (a sign of the expanding influence of graffiti and street art on the city’s creative scene), Style Walls maintains a singular focus on free-hand graffiti artists, and elements such as letter-forms and can control, which is a significant stance and a reflection of the event’s explicit goals. Ikarus accepts that it is not surprising to see “more non-traditional graffiti and street art entries as the popularity and public acceptance rises…” Style Walls recognises the limited opportunities of this type for graffiti artists in Christchurch, where the positive attitude towards ‘street art’ often still marginalises pure, letter-based graffiti, and the specific qualities of the influential artistic sub-culture that truly spawned urban art as we know it today. And while Ikarus acknowledges that the variety in the city’s urban art scene is a good thing, he asserts that it is important Style Walls keeps things of a more traditional graffiti nature: “because there are still very few avenues for the art form to be seen in a positive light, whereas the new wave of street art gains an easier, more immediate popularity because it is more pretty pictures than bold, stylised fonts, and that is easier for your average person to relate to or understand.”

So, who will come out on top? Head along to Style Walls 2018 to find out…

Style Walls 2018 kicks off at 1:30pm on Saturday, February 24th, at the Youth Park, corner of Manchester and Lichfield Streets in the central city. Visit www.stylewalls.co.nz or look for Style Walls on Facebook for more information…

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Ikarus – Guardian of the Name, Part 2

Part One of our interview with Ikarus covered a lot of ground, but in a sense, we only scratched the surface. In Part Two, Ikarus continues to reflect on lessons learnt and his encounters with a public confused and often angered by graffiti, before diving into how his own work and style has developed in response to his roots and his worldview. He also discusses his formative influences, and how events like Rise and Spectrum afforded him the unexpected chance to work alongside a number of well-travelled artists. Picking up where we left off, let’s jump back inside the head of one of Christchurch’s graffiti legends…

There are some members of the public who are confused by graffiti, and yet I think that means they neglect some of the formal and performative elements, like for me it’s always interesting watching a someone’s hand-style, there’s an aspect of movement, a physical quality to how that hand-style is formed, a reflection of how the hand moves. But when people don’t see it happening, it’s easy to not acknowledge those things…

Absolutely, a good example is when I was working at Project Legit (an organisation that mentored young graffiti artists, providing opportunities for legal walls alongside workshops and more), one of the big conversations you’ll have with an average citizen who doesn’t understand the culture is: “I love the stuff you do…”, even when its name based and character stuff, when they see it happen, “…but I hate tagging”. I’d say to them, I get it, you might have had your property tagged, you don’t like the way it looks visually when you’re driving around the city, because you don’t understand it, that it is someone’s name, it’s all over this place, and you don’t know that particular style, and whatever. But I will always defend tagging, I will always defend the vandalism side of graffiti because as you say, it’s where it all comes from, none of the rest of it could exist without it. So, I would explain all that and I would say, you know this is just an evolution of that and this is how it had to be in in the early days and this is how a lot of young people had to start out. Then they would say, “well, there’s no skill in doing a tag”. Then I would beg to differ and then I would show them, a lot of times I would give them a challenge: “I have this can, I’ll put a cap on it, and I’ll give you a hundred dollars right now if you can do a straight line that maintains its width, its consistency, it doesn’t go fuzzy at the end, doesn’t drip. If you can do a 50cm line that maintains all those qualities, I’ll give you a hundred dollars right now”. Not one of these people ever did it and I would sort of demonstrate a tag with various elements, like flares, down from the same point at each letter, and it has a flow and rhythm to it, and they would see it and I would say, see you couldn’t do a straight line but I could do this, does that take some amount of skill? And they would have to admit that it does. A lot of it comes down to the fact that they don’t think there’s any forethought, or any culture behind it, they just think it’s mindless vandalism. I did once have a lady, I was working on some stencils with a special needs student, and we’d made an Auckland Warriors stencil for him and I was showing him the process of selecting the image and cutting the different layers, and this lady said to me that she thought you just bought a can with a picture on it and literally waved it around in front of a wall and the picture came out. I started laughing because I thought she was joking, and she wasn’t joking! A lot of the time we’ll be painting, and it will only be the bare bones sketched up of various areas and people will come past and say that its really good, and you’re like: well, come back tomorrow and you will really like it! But a lot of it is that they don’t understand the process, very rarely, and especially over the last half a decade, do you see someone who sees the process and speaks to us, they really don’t go away with a negative thought about it you know, because they see that there is something behind it and that people are actually thinking about what they are doing. I mean, it’s sort of a lot easier for us because we are in the public painting a lot of big colourful works, but it wasn’t always like that, we were doing this back when nobody understood it, and you the police were definitely coming, someone was definitely pulling over and mouthing off at you because you were a bad example you know, the resistance that we used to face was crazy compared to what it is now, for sure…

Ikarus in New Brighton, 2016

Even what you were saying before, that people don’t realize the technique that goes into it, like the ten thousand hour idea applies to graffiti: the amount of times a hand-style is performed by someone reflects a real commitment, it is perfected over hundreds or thousands of times…

Absolutely, with graffiti, especially the people into the vandalism side of it, there’s the element of just writing your name over and over again, there’s a certain level of OCD obsessive compulsiveness. I can remember being 17 and a friend of mine had a really nice ‘S’ and I remember sitting for hours and hours and hours and dozens and dozens and dozens of pieces of paper trying to get it, so there’s a certain level of obsessive compulsiveness that comes with it, it’s just something to focus on…

I think of that scene in Style Wars with Skeme’s Mum…

“You do doodle on the paper”! Yeah, yeah, it is like that…

From a personal perspective, in terms of your letterforms, because your style has developed and been refined now over so many years and you can see how perfected your they are, what realisations have come from your personal progression stylistically?

I know what you’re saying, you’re politely saying that I do the same piece all the time! (laughs)

Not at all!

(Laughs) I do hear that a lot though. People ask me why I don’t change my letters, but if you look back over the course of everything I’ve done, it changes. But from day one, I’d never wanted to do anything more than tag. When I was young, I wanted to be a vandal, and I was really anti- graffiti art, let alone what I would of thought about street art back then. I didn’t even like big colourful graffiti murals, I called it borderline graffiti, and I was like argh that stuff, anyone can do that stuff! And I mean that’s still true to this day, anyone can take that much time and produce an amazing piece of work if you have the permission and unlimited hours and you have access to paint, you know it’s still a true thing. It’s one of the things I love the most about vandalism, that it’s pure, you get nothing from it, no one will give you anything. No one will reward you for vandalism, it’s not gonna provide you with anything positive, which is kind of the beautiful thing about it. For people that are really dedicated to it, it is pure, there is no ulterior motive, you do it for whatever reason you do it for and that’s all you can get from it, you know. But as far as my own letter forms, from day one, once I decided, okay I’m getting caught a lot, I’ve been to court, faced various fines and community service and PD and that sort of stuff, I wasn’t willing to give up graffiti, but I also wasn’t willing to keep getting caught just doing tagging and low-level bum shit. So, I was like okay, I’m going to do nice, simple letters, because you can put as many arrows and bells and whistles and fancy fat cap flares and little hooks on the end as you like, but if your basic letterform is garbage, then it’s garbage, it isn’t anything, you know, it’s just a whole lot of colours and squiggles. So, my whole intention early on was only to be able to do a simple letterform and then paint so much that nobody could count me out. I wanted to know that if a kid grew up in Christchurch, was into graffiti and they didn’t know who I was, I wanted it to be their fault, not mine! Some people want to do wildstyle letters, they want to camouflage it, they only want it to be readable by graffiti writers, but I was like no, if I’m gonna waste my time and look at getting myself jail time and getting more fines or PD, what I paint is going to be super simple. I was like, if you drive past it at 60 kilometres an hour or 100 kilometres an hour on a motorway and there is a line-up of five people, your gonna see my name, you’ll read my name first. So, that was always really important to me. Over the years there were times I tried to do like dissected connections and different kinks to letters, and various things but I just found that the thing I went back to that made me happiest was the simplest stuff. You’ll talk to graffiti writers that paint three-day productions, giant, three-metre-high, twenty-metre-long walls, but they get the exact same enjoyment out of doing a ten or twenty-minute chrome piece on a rooftop or in an abandoned building or on the side of a train track. The enjoyment level is different for different things. All I really wanted was to be a tagger, and then when I started painting I wanted my pieces to be big tags, really simple to read, and I think that’s a huge part of it, the simplicity to read and the big bold letters. Especially as my eyes get worse. I’ve got really bad eyesight, so I want my letters to be simpler, my outlines to be thicker, my characters to be bigger, just so I can see them when I stand back.

Ikarus and Yikes, central city

I would suggest that it’s led to a refined style that is instantly recognisable. I never get sick of seeing them. There’s something to savour about that repetition as well, it’s not redundant, that sense of constant refinement is so evident…

Yeah, it is down to things like logos, and I’ve read stuff with different artists over the years and they want their stuff to be like that, instantly recognisable, and that’s what I want. as I say, you’re going 100 kilometres an hour past it, and there’s an instant recognition, people that don’t write graffiti can still read it. A lot of the time people will come to the walls we’re painting and they will say I don’t know what that says, I don’t know what that says, but they say I-carus? I-karus? They can’t pronounce it, but they can read it and they say oh I know that, I’ve seen it, and that’s what I want from it. The same way you see the golden arches of the McDonalds’ logo. You know what it is. So I want it where you just drive past it super-fast and you see that letterform and you see the style of my characters, it’s super simple but you know instantly, oh I know that! Even if it’s not Ikarus that I’m writing, or the exact characters that I always paint, I still want it to be recognisable. It’s a general thing, I mean I’m not special, it’s something that most graffiti artists write for, to have their style be distinctly recognised. Same as Yikes, you know instantly recognisable. You go past his stuff and you are going to know it. His style on the other hand is so unique, and I wouldn’t necessarily say my stuff is unique because it’s really based on traditional letterforms, it’s really just a big colourful tag when you look at it.

You mention your characters, it feels like you’ve developed their own distinct presence over the last however long. It feels like the various characters have a really distinct sense of personality. Is that something you’ve been trying to develop? Or has it just occurred through repetition?

It’s a little bit of both. There’s been some conscious thought on that level. There’s been some characters I’ve done and in my head, I’ve had my own little storylines about certain characters and who they are. Some characters I do it’ll be a visualisation of something that I was thinking about at the time. Again, they’re all fairly similar. They will be the same character but with a different accessory or some sort of thing that is relevant to whatever I was thinking at the time, or if I was thinking about someone. I hide little things in there for my girlfriend, stuff like that…

Ikarus character, Embasssy Wall, Sydenham, 2014

They often seem like representations of your worldview in some way, there is a nice sense of cynicism in some ways (laughs), which I think is important because the letterforms have become an indication of you in some way, just through number and repetition, and now the characters are an outward representation of your experiences as well. They add a personal element, they’re not decorative, they are a psychological element too…

Definitely, everyone tells me my characters are just mad depressed looking! They should be cute but they all look suicidal. It’s accurate, I mean there’s a series of emo girls that I think of as the ‘Suicide Girls’. There’s various characters for various things, like the cool kid characters. There was a period where I was painting my little alien dudes with the brain exposed and that was because of whatever fucking traumatic relationship stuff I was going through at the time. But then I generally just keep using them all. Like there’s a series of boxes and cartoon things, around the back of the YMCA, if you know it, it is speaking about something…

Ikarus and Yikes, Prince tribute characters, Hereford Street carpark, 2015

There’s a narrative

Yeah, they have their own narrative, I just don’t really explain it to anyone (laughs). It’s just something I will have been thinking about and dramatizing it

And that’s it right? It’s the ability to exorcise things but you don’t have to explain it because anyone can come along and build that narrative up themselves…

Yeah exactly, that’s just art in general. I think it was Seth [Globepainter], his painting of the boy on the cloud with a ladder, at Spectrum, I looked at it and thought, with my general frame of mind, oh, look at that sad little kid sitting on a cloud. Then I saw some other people come in and say that boy’s up on a cloud and he’s so happy! It’s a crazy thing, people see different things. Some people see bright colours, and see a message behind it, some people don’t see anything…

Speaking of Spectrum and the Oi YOU! shows, over the last five or six years, who stands out that you have met or worked with that you might not have expected to get to know?

I mean pretty much everyone was fucking awesome, but standouts, from the first show, Rise, Thom Buchanan was a rad dude. He painted an amazing work, an amazing cityscape, and painted for like a million hours and layers over two weeks. I hadn’t seen his work before and he was just a rad dude who did some super rad work. Obviously, Sofles is fucking mind-blowing. Everything he did for every show was just crazy and he’s a super rad regular dude. He’s not even one of these crazy super human vegans that doesn’t drink or anything, he gets down and then does his thing, and then bombs and travels the world. He’s super crazy, he blows my mind! And Tilt! Just painting with Tilt was super cool, because early on Tilt was actually a pretty big influence on the way I do my letters. The dude does throw-ups most of the time. It’s one of those things, like from NZ, Addict, ADT, is another dude that inspires me a lot, simple letters, iconic, logo-istic, if that’s a word (laughs), but that instant identification. Early on Tilt was just going to countries and doing his throw-up and putting the country’s flag inside his throw-up, and I was like, this is fucking amazing and this means you don’t have to do fifty-colour, amazing, super technical, wildstyle bullshit and you can still get known. When I was younger, and I didn’t really do the artistic side of it, I was looking for my own style, and when I was looking through graffiti magazines and watching graffiti DVDs or I saw graffiti, it was always super technical stuff, layered up with amazing lighting effects and shadows and detail, whether it be pieces, characters or backgrounds, and that stuff would blow my mind, but it wasn’t anything I ever wanted to do. So, when I saw something super simple, like the London Police, with the big round faces, the Adidas, it was iconic, it was instantly recognisable. With stuff like that, or Tilt’s throw-ups, I would think to myself: I could have done that, I actually could have done that! Not that those guys can’t draw, but it was instantly recognisable stuff like that led me to think, oh there’s a lane I can get into. I don’t have the patience or determination to do wildstyle! My friend Reakt loved to sit down for five hours with a pencil and an eraser and work out his letters and connections and the layers, and I’m there just tearing through black books page by page doing throw ups and tags. I couldn’t do it, but once I saw that really iconic, logo-like stuff, I was like, okay, there’s a lane, there’s an area I can get into. The same as I just want to do simple letterforms, I can do simple characters. The first characters I did were just big round faces, you know still fairly similar, but I used to call them the ‘Bubblegum Fuck Faces’, and they were just big round colourful fucking cartoony looking faces and that was it, and then it sort of evolved from there and moved on over the years.

The ‘Blackbook’ wall, originally painted by Ikarus, Wongi ‘Freak’ Wilson and others for Rise in 2013, shown here in it’s second iteration…

I know we could go on, but you’ve got some painting to do, and I know this is probably just the first time I hit you up for thoughts and opinions! So thanks for sitting down with us…

No problems.

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