We sat down with Lydia Thomas (a.k.a. Bloom n Grow Gal) recently to talk about her work and her show Peanut Butter & Jam at Flux, which featured a selection of artists from the SlapCity collective. Lydia is not the type to sit still and she is already getting ready to present her next show, the follow up to More: The Show at the Boxed Quarter earlier this year. More: The Show and the new exhibition Even More: The Show are a platform for Ōtautahi female artists, from painters and illustrators to designers and craft artists, from those who work at home, in the studio or in the streets. The premise is to ensure the scope of creativity is not restricted and that people are empowered to show their work to the world, in many cases, for the first time in an exhibition setting. That intention is revelatory of Lydia’s generous nature, she is infectiously energetic and it is always a pleasure to sit down and chat about what she has in store with the latest Hello, I am the Show event…
It wasn’t too long ago that we sat down to talk about Peanut Butter & Jam…
I imagine you woke up the next day and were straight onto this new project, right?
Yeah, I have like two days of rest and then I’m like, right, what can I do now? I always tell myself I’m going to have a holiday, that I’ll take a break, but I can’t sit still. I need to be focusing on the next challenge. I wanted to fit another More show in before Christmas, that was my goal. It has definitely been more challenging this time around with COVID, but just having something to look forward to has been the big drive this time, we need this, we can’t keep canceling things and postponing things. I mean, if you are going into lock down then you have to, but I felt like I had to keep this one going!
This show is the second incarnation of the More: The Show concept, with a new line-up of local female artists, was it always something that you thought was going to become a recurring series?
Nah, I didn’t. I mean, I never thought it was going to work! That’s probably terrible to say, but you know, I was like, I’ll just give it a go. I thought that it would only attract a couple of artists, but then more artists wanted to get involved and I just can’t say no to people. So, the show happened, and afterwards I was getting messages asking when’s the next show was coming. I think what excites me about being able to run your own show is that I’m in charge of the rules and I can make the decisions around what kind of art I want. I love giving the opportunity to people who do embroidery or street art and giving them a platform to put it in a show. I’m so excited this time around, I’ve got people showing clothes and mustard tins, it is so out of the box that I really, really like it.
From what I’ve seen already seen, it is a diverse range of artists…
Yeah, it’s great!
With More: The Show you started with an expectation that it would be small, but then people would say, I’ve got a friend who does this, or I’ve got another friend who does that… Has it been the same this time?
More got a small following on social media and then I created a website which is a collection of the shows and the artists, as well as promoting my own art. I wanted it to become a catalogue. I created a subscription box that people can subscribe to hear about More shows. I realized I needed to actually have a new show that people are going to subscribe to hear about! It’s mind blowing when you start getting subscribers and you have no idea who they are. I don’t really know where half the people have come from, which is great, that’s the point of it, I feel like I’m doing my job! It’s easy if I’m only targeting my friends…
As you grow, everybody brings their own world to it as well and increases the eyes on it, right? Lockdowns have showed us more than ever the importance of having some type of outlet and creating the opportunity for people to reveal what they’re doing is really empowering, for those artists and for you. The artists realise that what they are doing is important, it might not be changing the world, it might be a very personal thing, but it is still really valid and that’s really important…
For Peanut Butter & Jam, I’d approached people teethlikescrewdrivers, who just never associated themselves with being an artist, and he pulled it off and it was amazing, and it’s the same this time around. I’ve got somebody who has produced this beautiful macrame lamp shade and I asked for her artist bio and she was like: artist bio? I’m an artist? Yes, you are! Look at this beautiful masterpiece that somebody’s going to buy and hang and it’s gorgeous. It’s about changing people’s perceptions that what they’re doing is art and it is beautiful.
While it is an all-female line-up, there is no thematic brief, right? That it is all female artists is enough for it to be powerful…
Yeah, I would get messages asking: what’s the theme? What do I have to stick by? For me, the fact that it was a female art show was enough. I don’t want to restrict it any more than that. It’s a platform for females to do what they want to do. There’s no rules after that. Just do what’s on your mind, do what feels right in the moment. That’s what I’ve done and it seems to work so far.
That’s kind of the philosophy that runs through it all?
I don’t feel like I’ve been in enough art shows to know what I’m doing, I don’t know how I’m pulling it off! Other than when I was at university, I’ve been in very few art shows, so my experience with running them is that I’m just a very kind of organised person, I know how I like things and that’s how I’m doing it. I’m not really sure how other people have worked in the past with shows, but I get so many emails asking is this going to be OK? Is this going to work? Or saying: I’ve done this now, I’m worried. My response is always, it’s cool! It will work! It’s going to work! I just have this mindset that it’s going to work no matter what happens, so don’t stress. If I’m not stressing, you shouldn’t be stressing!
In the past, there might have been a tendency to follow a traditional approach, so I think that by not adhering to conventional rules, it reflects where this city is now. Speaking of where it’s at, you’ve got a new venue for this for this show as well…
I’m in the old Green Lane which is the new Clubhouse Creative. Originally the first More was supposed to be there and I got a bit panicked about the walls and thought maybe I just need to start small. But this time around I was like, I can do this now. I want more artists. I want to give more people the option to be involved. The walls are massive so people can submit bigger pieces as well, because last time some artists enjoyed the challenge to do something around the A3 size, but this time they wanted to go big or go home. So, to put it in a warehouse was exciting. I love that kind of grimy, dirty look as well. I’m not so much into white walls. I like off-white, dirty walls with texture…
It also brings up the possibility to think beyond hanging a piece on a wall, maybe more object art, or works that sprawl out in different forms, almost like installations. Now that you have more room you can have a broader scope of display. Have those conversations come up?
There’s been a bit of talk about live art and things like that, like we did with Peanut Butter & Jam. I’ve got a bit of a performance for the opening night with people hula hooping and things like that and there will be a DJ, but I didn’t go down the line of live art this time. I think the whole Hello, I am The Show idea is something that I really want to keep developing and working on and I think for the new year, my goal is to get somebody else on board that can help me with extra little touches to just go bigger. This time around there is like 35 female artists, I know, it has got too much again! Doing the socials, making sure everybody’s kept in the loop, all of that is so important to me and every time I bite more off than I can chew! So, I need to get somebody else on board. Someone who is just as passionate and also doesn’t mind putting in a lot of work for not a lot of money! But there are a lot of good feelings that you get back instead!
Do you think you will explore individual shows, or is the concept strongly collaborative and sort of community-based?
My idea is not collaboration as such, it’s the pop-up idea that I love: here’s a space, let’s pop something up for a couple of days then it can disappear again, kind of like street art, you know? You don’t know how long it’s going be there, so you have got to go and see it. So, I would love to work with individual shows and things like that in that context, with like a tent or a caravan maybe that appears around town.
Give us your best sales pitch for Even More: The Show!
I’ve drawn a blank! No, here: Even More: The Show. Female artists from around Ōtautahi. Opening night is on Thursday 14th October, 5:30 to 8:00pm. There will be wine, there will be beer. There is going to be such a broad selection of art, there will literally be something for everybody. Big things, tiny things, beautiful things, sparkly things, clothes… It’s on for two days after opening night, so you have got to get in there, that’s the fun of it!
Get down to Clubhouse Creative (22 Southwark Street) on Thursday, 14th October, 2021 for the opening of Even More: The Show, from 5:30pm to 8:00pm. Even More: The Show is open 15th – 16th October. For more information, head to Hello. I am the Show on Facebook…
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The flowers were intriguing. They were familiar and earnest and yet other-wordly. They sprang forth from the concrete surroundings with a fantastical whimsy, part of a city-wide takeover alongside the pasted images populating our walls. I soon found out that the artist behind my new favourite paste ups was Bloom n Grow Gal (BGG), or Lydia Hannah Thomas (sometimes just Lyds), a Northern Irish artist now living in Christchurch who was part of the Slap City collective. Soon, I found out BGG was also busy curating and hosting exhibitions, the first being More the Show, a group show of work by Ōtautahi wahine that included music, food, drinks and an array of creations. The show was hosted at The BOXed Quarter and drew an excited crowd. I finally met the artist one Sunday morning at Green Lane markets, quickly chatting about a range of topics it become clear that she was an energetic, enthusiastic force. Wandering around the market we bumped into each other again, this time she was busy drawing on the floor next to her stall, her energy focussed on her creative output. Now, BGG is presenting PB n’ Jam, a unique show in collaboration with Flux that combines art and music, with live art and performances creating a byline throughout. We caught up with Bloom n Grow Gal for a chat about her journey to New Zealand, her illustration background, her introduction to Slap City, tending to flowers and the shows she loves to put on…
I’m going to put you on the spot, how would you introduce yourself?
Terribly! I’m not very good at telling people about myself! I would just say I’m a doer, I’m a people pleaser, but I hate talking about myself! I love talking about art and music, but when it comes to introducing yourself, “Hi, I’m Lydia, I’m 30 years old. I’m from Northern Ireland…” Arghh, I hate it!
How did you get from Northern Ireland to Ōtautahi?
I was always dreaming of getting out of Ireland. I don’t know why, I’ve just always kind of enjoyed my own company and doing things for myself, by myself. I’m like a loner but I have lots of friends! I worked out a way to get out of Ireland and that was going to university, even though it was to do illustration, which seems pointless looking back now! I wouldn’t recommend! But all these things happen for a reason. So, at university I met somebody. His parents lived over here so we came over here, and I felt free and a little bit empowered being so far away from everything. I think I was really hard on myself back in the UK. I judged myself and never thought myself any good. I felt like there was a lot of competition in the UK and it wasn’t nice, it felt like everybody was out to get you. New Zealand felt to me like this like fresh chapter. I didn’t know anybody. I didn’t know where I was. I was so far away from it all. So, now I’m here.
And how did you end up in Ōtautahi?
I just love the beauty of it. It sounds terrible because places like the West Coast of Ireland are just amazing. But there was something about flying in over the Canterbury Plains and the Southern Alps, it was just so beautiful. When I came here seven years ago, Christchurch wasn’t very appealing. So I ended up living in Methven for years and I think I ended up getting a little bit lost. I was trying to find out where I fit in this country town, but I realised that I just didn’t. I kind of met somebody in Christchurch and I started coming here and going to the art gallery when that re-opened and going to all these other pop-up galleries, and it started to become exciting. Then just before lockdown last year, I went through a break-up, I lost my job, I felt like I had nothing to lose, so I came to Christchurch. The first person I met when I moved here was Ben Lyttle. He was like this chilled creative and honestly, he was the first creative person I’d met since I came to New Zealand. I remember feeling that enjoyable sense of creating again, which I hadn’t felt for so long. That led me to Slap City. I remember the first Slap City that I went to, Vez passed me a bit of sticker paper and was like, just draw and I thought my god, I haven’t drawn in seven years! But I feel like that’s how it started, by simply drawing again. It was so enjoyable, I missed it living in Methven, driving trucks and going to the pub…
You weren’t doing anything creative in Methven?
I’ve always enjoyed making gifts. I’m known for always making birthday cards or a painting or something like that for people. I was doing a lot of baking, I don’t anymore, but I guess that was like my creative output, almost without even realizing it. I’ve always had sketching. I’m always sketching my food, my drinks, things that are in front of me, which is weird because my flowers are in my head, the complete opposite. I think I’ve got like seven years of creativity built up inside me. But I think I needed that, because I think university was so competitive with this weird grading system of putting a mark on your art, which I never really understood, that it really knocked my confidence. That’s why I’m like, don’t go to university, just do you! But at university, I would put on shows for people to show their art and I guess I saw the pleasure people get out of seeing their art on show and people buying art to put on their walls, and just knowing people are having a good time.
Is a sense of positive community important to you? It seems like things like Slap City and the shows you are putting on are all about people coming together…
That’s why I enjoy doing the shows, because I don’t care what your background is, I just think your stuff is amazing. I love it when people have side hustles taking photos or weaving or painting, it doesn’t matter if they are a lawyer or a teacher by day. Who cares about your background, history, education and whatever, this is what you are producing, and it is amazing! I’m so happy that I’m able to give people a platform. There was a girl in the last show [More the Show] who said she had a friend who wanted to be part of it. I got in contact with her and she said she had a pair of earrings, is that going to work? I’m like, that sounds so great! Everybody was doing their own thing, and this was her take on her art, a pair of earrings. I’m like that’s awesome! For some people earrings are just a piece of jewelry that you wear, but actually somebody’s taking the time to think about it and put their creativity into them. So, I was really happy for them to be in the show. It was her first show and she ended up selling them, it was amazing!
That idea of defining what art can be leads to the question of how you started making art in the streets, which itself is a way to break down conventions of how art is presented and consumed…
I want to say I’m precious about things, but I’m really not, I’m actually quite good at just throwing stuff out, of getting rid of things. I mean, I packed up everything in the UK and came here! But yeah, the idea of going out and putting my art in the streets just excites me. There is a flower not far from here, it’s slowly peeling away and it looks even better than when I put it up! Just walking around, doing my ‘dog walk loop’, I get to see how it changes and weathers. It’s really exciting. Should I add to it because somebody’s written over it? Or should I just leave it? Will somebody do more to it?
There is a lovely sense of both contributing to the landscape but also recognizing that you have to let things evolve as well. Did you have any previous experience making art in the streets?
When I was at university, I did a little bit of wheat pasting, but not a huge amount. It’s weird, I used to love taking a lot of film photography because it was so cheap to get it developed. I remember my ex and I were both so fascinated with billboards and stickers. We went to Berlin and Prague and all our pictures of us on holiday aren’t of us, they are just of these walls with drawings on them. I remember being in Budapest and drinking in this bar and it had all these illustrations on the walls and we just sat there for ages. So, although I wasn’t doing it back then, it’s amazing how fascinated I was by it all. I think my lack of confidence back then was why I never put my work out there, but now it’s like, yeah, let’s just do it.
It’s interesting, because street art was supposed to make art more accessible and participatory, it removed the elitist structures…
I think Slap City really boosted my confidence. I still watch Beautiful Loserson repeat and I remember ten years ago thinking, these people are so cool, I could never be that cool! But now some people think I’m cool! I’m getting tagged in posts by people I don’t even know. People are posting about my art. I never thought that it was good, but everybody takes it a different way and sees it in different ways. I think I’ve been so harsh on myself, and Slap City has been so positive. Everybody is like, let’s collab, let’s do this, that’s awesome! There was somebody a couple of weeks ago and it was their first time at Slap City. They were so rigid, and I remember that’s how I felt my first time. But you just keep going and then you’re like, I could do anything! Now I’m going out on my own and pasting up at night. Honestly, it makes me so happy. It’s like the best form of therapy.
Ultimately, whether it’s that circle around Alleged Gallery or the Slap City collective, they are communities of people with shared interests who want to support each other. And while the internet helped foster those networks, it feels like more recently it has been divisive and tribalistic and toxic, so it’s refreshing to have those real-world connections…
A couple of years ago I started going through my Instagram and saying this is not good for me, this doesn’t interest me, and my Instagram has become more art and street art influenced. It’s really more focused on joy and my inspirations. It shows the headspace and transition that I have been on over the last couple of years. It got me thinking about Slap City and that sense positivity and how maybe if I had that ten years ago at university it might have led on a very different path. Looking back at it now, it’s no wonder I was a mess, it was too competitive, but now I’m just so empowered to be creative. I feel right now there’s just such a great community within Christchurch, people supporting each other. It just keeps you creating, getting better and better without even realizing it. I look at what I was first doing at Slap City late last year and how I kept going and I kept doing things…
I first saw you flowers on Madras Street…
My first ones!
I loved the stylization, the appearance of nature, but in this surreal, fantastical style. They were so simple but so striking. I asked Teeth Like Screwdrivers who had made them and he said, “Our Lyds” and you could kind of tell he was so stoked that you were putting your art out there. Where did the flowers come from?
I can’t keep plants alive to save my life, but I’ve always been fascinated with flowers. Growing up my Grandad’s garden was just beautiful. It was massive and had so many flowers. As kids we’d always plant sunflowers and have sunflower races. I’m quite a colorful person so I just love the colors of flowers as well. They are just all so individual. They come and go, they are not meant to last forever. If I could just keep flowers alive!
In that regard they are fitting for art in the streets, where everything is fleeting. It is also interesting that you note the individuality of flowers, because we tend to think in categories, right? But flowers, like humans are all distinct. Was that in your thinking when you started drawing flowers?
I think I say it was now, but honestly, I don’t really think I was thinking about it. I just was doing it because I was really enjoying throwing one out and being like, oh, maybe I’ll change that or I’ll do that again. I like to do it fast, without overthinking the process. I think they end up being really pretty and people seem to enjoy them. I did this series of flowers on pieces of paper, like 100 of them, all drawn individually. I did them sitting and watching films. It was like therapy. It went through my mind to photocopy them, but I love how I’ve drawn every single one and every single one is individual. Just like flowers. Maybe I will change, maybe I will do photocopies, but I don’t know…
More recently, there have been the coloured A4 pages with lettering over the flowers, with phrases like ‘I can sing’, ‘I can dance’ and ‘I can parallel park’…
I’ve always loved text. I’ve always been so fascinated by short but bold statements. I love typography. I don’t think I’m very good at it, but I just love to dabble in it. It’s kind of ironic, because I’m severely dyslexic, and I spell a lot of things wrong sometimes, especially the first ‘parallel park’ one that I did! I’m quite inspired by David Shrigley’s paintings, how they are not necessarily positive, but they are to the point, and that’s why I began with ‘live, laugh love’. It was kind of taking the piss, but people can put their own interpretation on it, just like I have my own thoughts about it. I just needed something short and sweet. Recently, I was parking and my friend said can you parallel park? And I was like, I’m 30 years old! Of course I can parallel park! So, the affirmations grew from that…
Earlier we were saying that neither of us consider ourselves amazing singers, but that doesn’t mean we can’t sing, right? We absolutely can!
It just feels like I’m in such an empowered position writing these messages on pieces of paper and putting them around Christchurch, literally nothing’s stopping me! And if somebody sees the ‘live laugh love’ works and it puts a smile on their face, that’s great, knowing that someone might have a chuckle, I like that idea. But I also love that I don’t have to stick with this, I don’t have to keep processing it. It was something I did. I really enjoyed it. Now let’s see what the next thing I can do will be. I’m thinking about song lyrics, digging back into my Yeah Yeah Yeahs phase. I’m going to go buy some supplies today…
Music is so important for so many artists, you have a wide range of musical tastes, right?
I don’t know how people can sit in silence. It freaks me out! I’m into a lot of dance and jungle at the moment, it makes me want to get up and move my body. I feel free and like I’m enjoying myself. But I was watching something the other day and an advert came on with Radiohead’s High and Dry and it triggered something in my brain that took me back ten years ago to university. I just had to listen to that song. I started listening to it and for some people it might mean something else completely, but for me it was like OK, I need to draw right now! That is what inspired me and then that led on to all these other bands on Spotify shuffle. Music definitely is a trigger. I like how music puts you in the mood and I love a wide range of genres. I was listening to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs the other night and Skeleton came on and it got me really emotional, but in a good way. It brought out all these sad statements, thinking about past boyfriends and breakups and things like that. But it was good because it made me feel creative. I think you still need to embrace the shit times and the music that triggers the sadness. But then MIA comes on, like Bad Girls, and I’m like, right, give me my big black marker, I want to go to town! But when I listen to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs or Radiohead, that brings out smaller, more delicate drawings. Music triggers different kind of moods and how you want to express yourself in different ways. Sometimes when I’m pasting, I will listen to going for a run music, getting the blood pumping. But then I start and I take the headphones off and look around sheepishly, haha!
You already have quite a multi-directional practice, making art in the streets and at home, as well as organizing and curating shows. Do you put much thought into where it all goes next?
When it comes to art, I am so chaotic! Sometimes I lie awake at night and I always have my diary or something next to my bed, or if my diary is downstairs, it’ll be my phone. My notes are just full of ideas, some don’t even make sense! Half the time these ideas come to me in the middle of the night. I’ll wake up and kind of sketch it down. I think that’s why the flowers are good because I can just smash a load of them out and I’m done. Then sometimes I can go for a couple of days where nothing inspires me, maybe I’m a bit tired or something. I have no structure to my art whatever!
Putting together the shows must be an extension of your need to be creative as well. Your first show I was aware of was More the Show at The Boxed Quarter earlier this year…
Yeah, that was my first show in Christchurch. It was inspired by meeting Sofiya Romanenko. I was blown away by her photography, they are so beautiful, they needed to be on show. So, I thought, let’s just do this. I will be in it because there will probably be nobody else, so it will be me and Sofia. But then I asked a couple of other people, thinking maybe five people would be in the show. But then it grew to 15, and I was like, oh my goodness, and then it got to 25! I was so overwhelmed by just how many people wanted to be part of it. I still can’t get over it. I don’t even know how to put it into words. But I put on More the Show with 25 artists, and it was really amazing. I can’t believe how good it was to give a platform for people to express themselves. I worked really hard, but it was so unbelievably rewarding. It was so exciting. Artists were messaging me, asking is this OK? Is this going to work? I’ve got something a little bit bigger, or meet my friend, she’s also an artist who would be great. I was creating another family within Christchurch and that was so important to me as well. I met so many amazing people. I was on cloud nine and then it was over, and I felt really sad, like I didn’t have a purpose. I thought it was just going to be a one-off thing. But then my brain started ticking away and I was like, OK, let’s do something else. Zak from Flux popped in and he was like, do you want to do something? He had this idea of bringing music and art together, which totally got me. Back in the UK I loved going to art and music festivals, so its a dream to be bringing art and music together. I can’t believe I’ve been given this opportunity to work with artists and musicians and it’s all going to come together in this beautiful place. So, I was like OK, now I have something to put my mind to again and start creating. In my head, I realised 25 artists was awesome, but maybe this time I would stick to fewer people, so it’s a little bit more relaxed. The idea of PB n’ Jamwas that the artists would be the peanut butter, you know a little bit nutty, and the music would be the jam. I thought sticking to Slap City people would also suit the vibe, people like Teeth Like Screwdrivers. When I asked him, he was like, why me? I’m not an artist! But the thing is, he is, of course he is! I still can’t get over how shocked people are when you ask them to be part of something and it reminds me of myself when I was younger and had no confidence. Nobody asked me to be in an art show and now I’m in that position where I can be like, you should be in this show. This week people have been sending me updates of what they are doing and I know I’ve chosen the right people for the job because everybody is just psyched for it…
People really value the chance to be included…
Even with More, it was just so positive. I’ve not had a negative experience and I am just so excited to doing this with amazing people…
How will PB n’ Jam combine those elements of music and art?
When Zak and I first talked about it, we were thinking of a festival, which was really great, but was probably too much for me right now. So, we decided I was going to do the art show part and Zak would do the music part. Then we had the idea for live art. I’m getting some boards off Green Lane for live painting on the night. We also started thinking about visuals and projections, which took me back to my Mr. Scruff days in the UK, the gigs with projections of doodles and illustrations, with tea being served at the back! So, we’ve got visual projections which will help tie everything together; the music will be playing, the artists will be working, visuals will be projected, there will be a nice flow between the art and the music.
Who are you excited for people to see?
I love all the artists, but I’m excited to see what Teeth like Screwdrivers and Bongo come up with. All the other artists have been in shows, but asking these two street artists, who kind of throw things up all over the place, I think I’ve really kind of caught them off guard and tested them. I really like what both of them are planning, I’ve got a couple of little tasters and I think they definitely got the point!
PB n’ Jam opens 5:30pm, Friday, 13th August at Flux in the Boxed Quarter
Opening June 4th, Elliot ‘Askew’ O’Donnell and Jasmine Gonzalez present their first collaborative show Continuum at Fiksate Gallery. Based on a series of Gonzalez’s photographs interwoven with O’Donnell’s painterly investigations of digital and analogue abstraction, the show is a reflective rumination on the travails of the last year, the couple based largely in the US during the Covid-19 pandemic and the broader civil unrest that also flared during 2020. Continuum reflects the philosophy adopted by the duo as coping mechanisms throughout those challenging times. Viewing history and the contemporary experience as part of a continuum, the artists have created a body of work that is both beautiful and unsettling, as well as highly collaborative – working with O’Donnell’s florist mother Meghan Humphries and Wellington-based dancer, poet and performance artist Jahra Wasasala. The sequence of large canvasses suggest the interconnection of experiences and the cyclical pattern of history, even as hopelessness and isolation abounds.
Continuum opens June 4th at Fiksate Gallery (54 Hawdon Street, Sydenham), and runs until July 3rd.
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Shadow Town, an exhibition of the work of local artist Ghostcat, opened at Fiksate Gallery on Friday 9th April, marking the gallery’s first show at their new Sydenham premises. There was excitement surrounding the show, with print and radio interviews and a flow of social media posts drumming up interest in the artist’s miniature creations. Ghostcat’s first exhibition, as the opening date approached the artist confided that he really didn’t know what to expect, but in his endearingly enthusiastic style, he was keenly enjoying the journey.
Ultimately he had nothing to worry about. That nervous period when doors open and nervous doubts that anyone will show up creep up never had the chance to ferment. Almost immediately the Hawdon Street gallery was buzzing with an excited audience. In the smaller gallery the works were spread across shelves on the walls and a network of plinths, making use of the available space to accommodate the impressive number of creations (Ghostcat produced more than 40 miniature builds for Shadow Town). The plinths and shelving created the effect of a gridded network of urban blocks for viewers to navigate and provided multiple vantage points. A large roller door opens the Fiksate space onto the street, further connecting the show to the pervasive influence of Christchurch’s urban environment, explicitly in the case of the miniature replica wall placed in full view of its real-world inspiration just outside. The miniature version re-imagined with a mural by Dr Suits in a suggestive ‘will-it-to-life’ strategy.
Other references may not have been as physically close, but were no less recognisable. As people leaned in to inspect the intricate and loving details on Lyttelton icons the Volcano and Lava Bar (with a tribute to the late Bill Hammond inside), the façade of The Ministry nightclub (including flashing ‘M’ neon sign), the ‘Stairs to Nowhere’ from the Hereford Street carpark (each step painstakingly cracked), The Staveley Market (surely a highlight, the status of corner dairies in Aotearoa childhoods may not be as strong in 2021 but for those of a certain age, we all had a local dairy for $1 mixtures and single cigarettes) and the Berlin Wall segment painted by Jessie Rawcliffe, sparks of memory and recognition flickered. That attachment to the real and lived is central to the success of Ghostcat’s work, a necessary addition to the intricate details. People sharing stories and admissions was a constant chatter amongst the bustling crowd.
Alongside the memories and associations of experience and place, Shadow Town also revels in healthy doses of humour and collaboration. Watching people scan the dirty toilet stall, replete with over-flowing bowl and obscenely graffiti-ed door, or the bags of rubbish filling the Selwyn Street skip, it was clear that art can be both resonant and charmingly low-brow. The row of miniature objects (cans of Double Brown, discarded coffee cups, stick mags) centered on square canvasses along the entrance wall served to lampoon the expectations of the white cube and set the tone for the show’s gritty and playful focus.
The collaborative element was clear as well. The doors and windows hung on the rear wall, the small utility boxes, window frames, walls and replicas of the giant spray cans on Lichfield Street all displayed the artist’s willingness to share the process of creation – Ghostcat’s builds adorned with downsized tags, pieces, throw-ups, stencils, stickers and paste-ups by local artists including Ikarus, Tepid, Dr Suits, Morepork, Teeth Like Screwdrivers, Jessie Rawcliffe, Rubble City, Dcypher and more. Reinforcing Ghostcat’s belief in community, these authentic embellishments, along with the artist’s insistence on hand-crafting, imbue the pieces with a distinct status as unique creations.
Despite the obvious challenge of where to put a scale model of a toilet in your house, the pervasive red dots throughout the exhibition were evidence that this labour of love by a talented local artist struck a chord with a diverse audience. Shadow Town presents a new element in the city’s urban art scene, drawing on the power of urban spaces and harnessing the familiar (of both architecture and art), Ghostcat’s work is worth your attention and inspection. While the enthusiastic crowd undeniably added to the atmosphere and therefore the work on opening night, the contrast of the quiet, clean gallery space with the broken, dirty landscapes adds a certain charm as well and ensures you can truly immerse yourself wandering the streets of Shadow Town.
Shadow Town is on until May 8, 2021 at Fiksate, 54 Hawdon Street, Sydenham.
“The rise of TMD as a creative collective has its origins in Auckland’s mid to late 90’s graffiti scene. The post-recessionary environment after the 1987 stock market crash was the perfect incubator for a thriving and vibrant Hip-Hop scene with a uniquely pacific slant. From the decrepit rail infrastructure to the abandoned buildings and vacant lots – the city provided an abundance of grey area where these young people could forge lifelong bonds, while cementing their sense of identity. With humble beginnings from this crew emerged its fair share of unsung and underground heroes as well as many of Aotearoa’s first global stars in the graffiti and large scale street art arena.” – ASKEW ONE (from The Dowse website)
There is no larger shadow in Aotearoa graffiti and street art history than Auckland’s TMD crew. While not the oldest graffiti crew in New Zealand, founded in 1997 by Phat1 and Adict, TMD has undeniably made an indelible mark on graffiti and street art culture both here and overseas. The collective has grown both in number (with over 35 past and present members, including international representatives from Australia and Germany, such as Vans the Omega, Sofles and WOW123) and scope, with its members ranging from recreational graffiti writers to professional artists, occupying streets, studios, galleries and beyond. Both collectively and individually the members of TMD have gained prominence here and overseas, from Phat1 and Diva’s (Charles and Janine Williams) Bird Gang mural work, telling stories of place through the symbolism of native birds, to Misery‘s instantly recognisable kitschy doe-eyed characters and Berst‘s dynamic letterforms and documentation of graffiti culture, where his online videos have an audience of tens of thousands.
In recent years, urban art has gained more widespread attention, publicly through the rise of contemporary muralism and its ability to infiltrate our daily experiences, but also institutionally, with the likes of Rise at the Canterbury Museum (2013) and Paradox at the Tauranga Art Gallery (2016). The staging of TMD: An Aotearoa Graffiti Story at Lower Hutt’s The Dowse Art Gallery (who themselves have a history of urban art-related exhibitions dating back to the turn of the Milliennium), running from late March until June, is a welcome development. Rather than attempting to present a more generic survey or a one person show, the exhibition considers the broader cultural movement of graffiti within the tighter focus of the TMD crew while still spanning styles and historical narratives; contextualising both the roots of the TMD crew within the setting of mid-90s and early 2000s Auckland, and their current exploits, successfully packaging the complexities and trajectories of contemporary urban art and artists who have sprung forth from these rebellious beginnings, no longer held to any defined expectations.
The exhibition, curated by Dowse director Karl Chitham with Christchurch-raised TMD member Pest5/Johnny 4Higher, is split between two distinct zones, an immersive installation space, featuring formative and contextual commentaries, and a more traditional white-walled gallery presentation that highlights the current work of crew members, spanning painting, sculpture, photography and more. This format allows the viewer to consider the significant journey undertaken by the crew, from an idea to unite disparate graffiti writers into a collective of diverse creatives, placing them within the wider narrative of New Zealand art while acknowledging the significance of graffiti culture to generations of young New Zealand creatives.
On entering the exhibition, visitors are greeted by a writers bench and a set of painted train carriages, with an echo of recorded discussions just audible. Smaller tags on the bench play off against the larger and more bombastic train pieces. The track setting highlights the centrality of train painting in graffiti culture not just locally, but internationally, although with a specific Aotearoa profile. Behind the bench is another slice of Kiwiana, an iconic corner dairy, a bastion of New Zealand childhoods across generations. The fabricated dairy, named the ‘The Mini Dairy’ (TMD), utilises all the nostalgic riffs, from the Tip Top-inspired signage to dollar mixtures (the lollies replaced with aerosol nozzles), neon star price points and an arcade video game machine (supposedly out of order). A cynical eye might point out that the dairy is primarily the exhibition shop, providing the opportunity to peddle merchandise, but it also has several conceptual references as an installation in its own right. Dairies served as a location youngsters not only congregated around, but also as a community hub that would often provide the opportunity for legal or commissioned murals on their walls prior to larger commercial projects becoming a reality. Furthermore, the dairy exemplifies how the creation of commercial goods has been embraced by urban artists, from clothing to vinyl toys, a trajectory that might make the more elitist fine art world shudder (think of the blowback against Kaws by art commentators), but is a reality for many to make an artistic career possible and their art accessible to an audience perhaps less likely to frequent an art gallery.
Across an imaginary road is a grungy flat, based on a former residence where crew members congregated. The sparse room provides historical references in analogue form with tags and drawings on the walls (including a roll call in the classic New Zealand Straights lettering style) and scattered photo albums, event posters and blackbooks, but also digitally – with videos from TMD member Berst’s Real Time web series playing on the boxy 90s TV, and an old PC for surfing websites such as ArtCrimes, an influential forum for the graffiti world and an inspiration to many TMD members. The worn surroundings, devoid of luxury, highlight the drive to make things from nothing and the dominant influence of graffiti on the lives of these young creatives and the evolution of the relationship between graffiti and the internet.
Tucked around the corner, a rotating selection of photographs (photographers and crew members Rimoni and OneDeap have been key documentarians of this history) adds a personal face, members depicted painting, posing, and playing, projected oversized on the gallery walls, imbuing candid moments with significance. Either side, collaborative wall paintings highlight the traditional graffiti approaches and styles of crew members, referencing the common form of crew productions, as well as providing a bridge towards the gallery space and the work artists have developed over ensuing years. These immersive spaces are informative (notably the stories are not given to you in wall text, they become part of the environmental detail – wafting audio, static encoded video, interactive elements and references in the most traditional urban forms – tags and wall writing, a fit for graffiti’s own historical recording which has for a long time been largely folkloric), providing important context for viewers before they cross the threshold into the white cube space.
The ‘Post-Graffiti’ gallery space features works that span the spectrum of practice. Book-ended by impressive works at either end; Benjamin Work‘s tapa cloth-inspired banner unfurled from wall to floor, drawing on the iconography of his Tongan heritage and Lady Diva’s subtle flag-like geometric abstractions on wooden panels, suggesting references to carving and weaving that perhaps raise ideas of colonialism and imperialism, the spaces in between are filled with varied works. Askew‘s glimmering digital-influenced painterly abstractions that draw on the spectre of shifting human presence in our urban environments contrast with Deus’ (Elliot Francis Stewart) intricately illustrated coffee table, drawing the viewer closer to inspect the stunning graphic details on a mundane domestic object. Gary Silipa‘s unsettling and powerful installation filled with painted tyres, yellow chain links, tarpaulin and painted iconography sits near the still reverence of Berst’s pillar-like sculptural letter forms, light emanating from inside to give a celestial glow to an apparently devotional monument to graffiti. Other works highlight a raft of concerns, from social issues, cultural and national identity and self-reflection, to moments of everyday life, process-driven focus, riffs on the traditions and evolutions of graffiti writing and the urban environment and striking abstract ruminations. The diverse spectrum of themes, as well as styles, materials and approaches, suggests the personal creative journey of each contributor, and yet, there is an undefinable connection as well, the shared experiences and the original creative impetus of graffiti hang in the air, unifying the collection without requiring explicit threads.
While the format may mean some viewers relate with specific elements more than others, the narrative of TMD: An Aotearoa Graffiti Story could not be told in one presentation style alone. As it was probably to be expected, the exhibition drew some criticism for the presence of tagging, but to pick such a quarrel is to miss the bigger picture. Graffiti writing brought these young people together and is part of their creative pathway. The presence of graffiti is a central and necessary part of the story, informing the narrative both socially and formally. TMD: An Aotearoa Graffiti Story revels in the celebration of collectivism and its empowering potential for individual members. As a representation of urban art’s roots and future pathways, TMD: An Aotearoa Graffiti Story is surprisingly focussed. Rather than a pervasive survey of graffiti and street art in New Zealand, TMD: An Aotearoa Graffiti Story, nodding to those that came before and winking to the future, is grounded in the environments and relationships of the artists of TMD, a camaraderie that emanates throughout the history of this crew and the show itself.
TMD: An Aotearoa Graffiti Story at The Dowse Art Gallery runs until June 2021.
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Ghostcat is set for his first solo show, with Shadow Town confirmed as Fiksate’s first exhibition at their new Hawdon Street location in Sydenham. Opening Friday April 9th, Shadow Town will present a selection of Ghostcat’s fascinating scratch-built urban miniatures, including the detailed recreation of local spots, from the grimy and overlooked to the iconic and vanished.
Originally from Birmingham in the UK, Ghostcat has found a new home in Otautahi, and his work is both a celebration of the physical sites he has explored and the stories of the changing city recounted via friends, adding an emotional resonance to the works beyond nostalgia and visual detail. The artist’s infectious sense of humour, laced with a healthy dose of body horror-influence, will also be on full display, with the grimy elements of our urban environment celebrated over the picturesque; from dirty toilets and graffiti-ed alleyways to dumpsters and sticker-laden street signs.
Many of the works also feature collaborative contributions from local artists, from Fiksate’s own Dr Suits to members of the DTR Crew and the Slap City collective. This has proven an important aspect of the artist’s process, adding authenticity and collectivism to a concept already driven by real experiences and a sense of connection.
Ghostcat’s star has quickly risen as his creations have caught the attention of Instagram scrollers, with interviews and media coverage ensuring Shadow Town will surely be a popular occasion with a hum of excitement already buzzing…
Shadow Town opens 5pm, Friday 9th April at Fiksate Gallery, 54 Hawdon Street, Sydenham.
With 2020 proving completely unpredictable, it seems like forever has passed since I sat down with Jacob Yikes to talk about a show he had in the works for 2020. At that time, we were completely unaware of the challenges the year would bring. However, now, finally and with just weeks remaining of 2020, Yikes’ latest body of work goes on display at Chambers Gallery. Angels, Aliens and Archetypes opens on Tuesday December 8th and runs until December 24th. The small collection of work is both a extension and departure from Yikes’ previous output, continuing the exploration of altered states and other spaces, while expanding his material approach and stylistic detail. As Yikes continues to grow and his work becomes increasingly layered and sophisticated, Angels, Aliens and Archetypes is another progression for one of Christchurch’s most distinctive talents.
Angels, Aliens and Archetypes opens 5pm, Tuesday December 8th at Chambers Gallery, 241 Moorhouse Avenue.
Alongside Angels, Aliens and Archetypes is also a presentation of work by Ben Reid.
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The artist also known as Distranged Design is gearing up for a brand new solo show. Opening Friday November 6th, Belle Âme will be hosted by Victoria Street’s 013 Gallery.
The title of the show translates to ‘Beautiful Soul’ and Root explains that his new works seek to illuminate “the beauty hidden within life’s most challenging moments.” He adds that the show has also been indirectly inspired by the struggle of mental health, a cause Root has championed previously with a group exhibition, and an attempt to turn “one’s negatives into positives.” The works will feature details and meanings that may not be immediately obvious, lying hidden but always present. Root is also excited by the potential for audiences to bring an outside point of view to the works and adapt meaning to their personal experiences. Continuing a recent focus, these new works will add sculptural and three-dimensional elements to his established stencilled figurative images and stylised surfaces, creating a new direction for the young artist.
Urban art, and graffiti in particular, are viewed by many as masculine realms, physical, aggressive and competitive. But, the reality is that women have long had a vital role in the history of wall writing and street art, from subway graffiti writers like Lady Pink, to post-graffiti icons like Swoon, and leading members of the contemporary mural movement like Maya Hayuk. In Aotearoa, the female presence in urban art has also been notable, and Fiksate’s Perspective exhibition, opening on November 6th, brings together an array of artists to share their diverse experiences and reveal the myriad stories and pathways of women in urban art.
Organised by Fiksate owner Jenna Lynn Ingram (Jen_Heads), Perspective brings together established and emerging female artists from around New Zealand (and further afield), with a diverse range of practices, from typography-focussed graffiti writers to spoon-loving street artists, collagists, paste-up artists, photographers, videographers, traditional painters and mural artists. This diversity reveals the approach of Perspective, less concerned with an explicit historical narrative or thematic or stylistic similarities, the show primarily explores the scope of work of the collected artists, from Flox’s beautiful stencils to Kophie Su’a-Hulsbosch’s empowered portraits or Befaaany’s striking urban photography. In doing so, notions of the female urban artist are both celebrated and challenged.
Accompanying the exhibition will be a limited-edition risograph zine, produced by Jane Maloney of M/K Press, providing additional insights into each artist’s background and further highlighting their varied experiences, from the challenges they have faced to the different environments that have fostered their approaches and nurtured their talent. While more fluid and non-binary gender identities may render gender specific exhibitions less necessary in the future, Perspective is an important moment in Aotearoa urban art, a celebration of some amazing talent.
Perspective opens 5:00pm, Friday November 6th at Fiksate Studio and Gallery, 165 Gloucester Street.
On the 25th September, The World Economic Forum Global Shapers Christchurch Hub proudly opens an exhibition to bring awareness to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and raise funds for the charities that align to those goals. Bringing together an impressive slew of artists, including a significant number with urban art pedigree, the exhibition marks the beginning of the ‘decade of action’, the ten year span culminating in the 2030 deadline for achieving the goals and in doing so, create a world that can serve future generations more fairly. The exhibition reflects the belief that creativity can play an essential role in bringing awareness to and creating discourses around these causes.
The exhibition, staged at the Milton Street Substation, is made up of a diverse line-up of talent, including artists from Christchurch and around New Zealand: Pops Art, Nick Lowry, Iann An, Séku Skandan, McChesney-Kelly Adams, Ira Mitchell, Hannah Jensen, Kophie Su’a Hulsbosch, Bee Weave (Selina Faimalo), Dr Suits, James Durcan, Flox, Jesse Rawcliffe, Sally Mae Hudson, Lisa Isbister and Jen Heads. Each of the seventeen artists will present work reflecting on one of the seventeen SDGs, providing a response to the relevant issues in their own distinct styles.
The Global Shapers Christchurch Hub is composed of a small number of exceptional young professionals. Members come from diverse backgrounds, united by a passion to influence positive change through meaningful projects and to harness the collective power of active citizenship. Hub members Bridget Williams, founder of Bead & Proceed, and The Conscious Club’s Selina Faimalo and Kophie Su’a Hulsbosch have taken on curatorial duties for the SDG exhibition, drawing on their backgrounds in creative realms, social enterprise and the shared desire to empower, educate and inspire towards a sustainable future. We asked Bridget, Selina and Kophie a few questions to get the run down on the exhibition…
People may not know much about the SDGs – what are some of these goals?
The seventeen SDGs include important goals such as achieving zero hunger, eradicating poverty, supporting good health and wellbeing, climate action and ensuring access to quality education, to name a few.
How did you decide art was the lens through which to bring awareness to this cause?
The SDGs are all interconnected, and in order to leave no one behind, it is important that we achieve them all by 2030 which is only ten years away, so raising awareness that these goals even exist is one step closer to achieving them. Art and creativity send such a strong message that really resonates with many. It doesn’t just send a message, but also creates a powerful statement.
How did the curatorial group select the artists?
Kophie has an arts background and she selected people in her network that she thought would represent the SDGs well. The result is a great mix of artists and people.
Were you looking for artists who were already interested in social and sustainability issues, or was it a case of allocating the concepts to artists?
We looked for artists that could represent these issues, but it was an opportunity for them to learn more about the SDGs and become more acquainted with these issues. We got each artist to choose the three SDGs that resonated most with them, and from there we sorted through them and allocated them each a specific goal.
There is a strong presence of artists with ties to graffiti and street art, despite all the change surrounding those cultures, do you feel that they still display a social consciousness both outwardly and inherently?
As Kophie was the curator she definitely has a bias to selecting urban artists but tried to select a diverse range of artists in other fields. She believes graffiti and street art is one of most free, political and subversive forms of art, so I would say the consciousness of this art form is definitely strong enough. Also, it provides more representation to underground artists, when traditionally the SDGs would mostly be associated with a more highbrow aesthetic.
Tell me more about the venue, what has it presented in terms of the possible lay out of the show?
The venue is an industrial converted substation, a large old brick building, two stories high, with three distinct areas. On the ground floor, where the exhibition will be held, is a large rustic brick room, with a foyer out the front. Upstairs there is an overlooking floor with retro wooden floors and a balcony facing the courtyard outside. It is going to make for a really unique venue.
What other projects does the Global Shapers Hub have lined up?
The Hub is looking at other long term projects such as a Climate Dollar for Christchurch and collaborating with other organisations to help address the negative effects of Covid-19 (regarding the future of sustainable work experience) and, importantly, supporting other hub members who are working on impact projects.
THE SDG Art Exhibition opens September 25th at 6pm, with drinks, nibbles, talks, interactive art and an auction. Funds go towards supporting charities aligned with the SDG outcomes. For more information to the event page on Facebook.
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