Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland proved the place to be on April 8th, with two exhibition openings drawing crowds. We happened to be around and managed to catch both The Main Line, a collaboration between Ōtautahi artist Ghostcat and 27 Aotearoa graffiti artists that served as a love letter to the iconic Spacerunner train carriage, and Shiny Things, a collaboration between Hannah Maurice and Tanja McMillan (known to many as Misery) that created a beguiling world inside The Mercury Plaza gallery space on Cross Street (just behind the famed Karangahape Road). While very different shows, one grounded in history, the other mythology, both were well worth the attention…
The Main Line – Ghostcat x Aotearoa Graffiti Artists, Limn Gallery, Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland, 8th April, 2022
Inside Ponsonby Road’s Limn Gallery, a two metre long replica of a Spacerunner, one of New Zealand’s, and New Zealand graffiti’s most iconic train carriages, takes centre stage. Carefully laid out on top and along the walls either side are even smaller versions of the carriages, rusted and covered in tiny recreations of the graffiti that would fly by when the Spacerunners were still in circulation around Aotearoa. The tiny carriages were built by Ghostcat in his typically detailed style, before artists spanning the country and generations, contributed designs, from Opto, Vents, Lurq, Morpork and Phat 1 to Wayst, Togo, Meep, Vesil and Siar267…
Shiny Things – Hannah Maurice and Tanja McMillan, The Mercury Plaza, Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland, 8th April, 2022
The Mercury Plaza, home to a collective of creatives, where visitors can find food, art, clothing and, if they fancy it, get a tattoo. On April 8th, The Mercury Plaza welcomed guests to the opening of Shiny Things, a collaborative world building by Hannah Maurice and Tanja McMillan (Misery); an exploration of the sacred female and the conscious/unconscious that employs a range of approaches to engage the senses. From McMillan’s paintings to installations that seemingly serve as shrines, an air of ceremony palpable. Opening night was busy, with a moving karakia adding to the resonance of the works that reveled in dance, ritual, myth and dreams…
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Our tribute to Christchurch graffiti legend Jungle continues here in Tributes to a King – R.I.P Jungle (Part Two). In our discussion with Jungle’s friend and DTR crewmate Ikarus, we continue to dive into what made Jungle the figure he is in the local scene and what he would think of the many tributes that have been painted. We also hear more from those influenced by Jungle over many years…
I remember Jungle’s roll call in the alleyway space in Rise, you guys made it clear to people not to paint over that, which highlighted his importance to local graffiti history. I also remember the opening night of Spectrum in 2015, walking from the YMCA to the afterparty and Jungle standing next to Tilt and looking at the piece Tilt and Tober had painted on the old Police station, just buzzing on it, and there was a sense of respect on Tilt’s part for Jungle, like real respecting real. Having him be part of those things must have added an authenticity for you…
Ikarus: Yeah, one hundred per cent. He had an unbridled enthusiasm about shit. If he was enthusiastic about something, you would feel the love for it. He was never too cool for the room, never too aloof to just be like, that shit is amazing! When we started painting for Rise in the Canterbury Museum, that was one of the most fun days ever. The theme of that alleyway, in a nutshell, was a visual timeline of Christchurch graffiti, but instead of being linear, it went over itself like graffiti would. So, the first layers were pre-tagging stuff like band slogans, political sayings or toilet graffiti, and then after that was the era of tagging. Getting Jungle and Lurq and a couple of the other old school dudes to go nuts and tag up the museum was crazy. I never thought we’d be able to paint in the museum and if we did, it would have to be top-notch stuff. Wongi and I did end up doing a big production, but the fact that we had this whole concept and we got to involve a shitload of the Christchurch graffiti scene, from the active kids all the way back to the originators, was amazing. Having Jungle bust out the roll calls and do a bunch of tags and stuff was fucking cool, there’s dudes in that roll call who are in their forties now, some were gangster teenagers, some are gangster adults, and they were in the museum grinning and cracking up, saying ‘what the fuck are our names doing in this museum!’ Nobody saw any of this coming back when we all started out, so that was a fucking awesome day.
“I feel bad for visiting painters coming to Christchurch they will not experience the unofficial Jungle powhiri.” – Fiasko
“When you would talk to him, he had the coolest vibe. that natural way that made you feel good about yourself. He would shake your hand way too tight while he was doing it though.” – Jay Roacher/Wyns
“I remember a few years back now, Freak and Ikarus painted the open black book [wall] in the city and Jungle did a charo. He was walking around all the homies with his cell phone and was so buzzed out by the Sofles clip [Limitless]. He was the first person to ever tell me about Sofles…” – Omes
“He was just always happy for you, without a doubt, he was always stoked as shit for people, he loved to be there, and he expressed himself so freely and fluidly, no shame or anything, just whatever he had to say, he would say it, you know not in in any aggressive way, or negative way, he’d just say it…” – Freak
“He would always be stoked for you, or to see things, [he would be] mad enthusiastic and shit, [he] expressed himself heavily, from the hand crushing handshakes to the air crushing bearhugs…” – Freak
“The one thing I will remember him by was that infectious smile, he was always stoked to see a bro.” – Flex
“He used to tell me how much he loved my song ‘ChCh Chillin’ whenever I would bump into him. I can’t remember how I found out, Ikarus probably messaged me and told me that Jungle had got ‘ChCh Chillin’ tattooed on his arm, but I clearly remember the next time I saw him and he showed me, large as fuck on his arm! That shit blew my mind then, and still does now. It’s one of the fondest memories I have from rap music.” – Jay Roacher/Wyns
Last year Dcypher said that Jungle is a good example of someone embodying their graffiti. There was obviously the iconic Jungle character, but I think Dcypher’s sentiment was as much about his style as well. Do you think he grasped that concept of how graffiti isn’t just an identity, it’s also an embodiment of that identity…
Ikarus: Yeah, but I think without any self-awareness. The reason he embodies the spirit of graffiti is because it was all coming from a pure place, where you do graffiti for the love of graffiti. I’ve said so many times that vandalism and bombing is the realest form of graffiti because there’s no fucking positive, there’s no good side. The only thing you can hope to get out of it is the admiration and respect of a bunch of other dirtbags, and I say that with the utmost respect. I definitely think Jungle embodied that, but I don’t think he ever really picked it apart. Guys like us, we pick it apart, intellectualize it and look at the motives and the reasoning and what makes something iconic and successful. I’ve thought a lot about the idea of keeping things really simple, having things that are easily identifiable as your own, whether it’s your style, an iconic image or logo or symbol, but I don’t think that’s something he ever would have put a crazy amount of thought into. I think he was just like; ‘I love writing my name’.
He was always drawing his characters, from the time I met him to the day he passed. It was just a straight up need inside to draw and express those things. I’ve had to intellectualize and think about graffiti a lot, why I do it, my motives for it, the line between painting what I want to paint and doing what I want to do, and actually being an adult and turning it into a viable option for the future and something to make money from, which is a big conflict for me, because my original reasons and love for graffiti clash with that really hard. I think Jungle never really had to compromise that. With all the things we tried to get him involved in, he would be like: ‘Nah I don’t want to do it, it’s too stressful to try and keep up with you guys.’
So, I think all the things he ever did were purely for the love. He just did it because he wanted to, he wouldn’t paint for a bunch of time and then suddenly, he’s gone and painted a character in like a super visible spot in the city. It would just be random spurts where he’d go out and just paint a bunch of stuff and I don’t think it was to get fame like the graffiti junkies out bombing every night to be seen. I really feel like he just did this because he wanted to do it, not super concerned who sees it, who thinks it’s dope or who thinks this and that. He was a dude that was pretty comfortable in who he was, what he was about and the people that were around him and I don’t think a lot of that extra bullshit ever really became a factor for him.
“Everybody embodies their graffiti, it’s impossible not to, [but] it’s almost like all of his characters were him, but in his mind I don’t think [he thought] they were. I’m not 100% sure about that, but you could just tell it was a Jungle character because it looked like he was standing there looking at you, this mean mug, hard looking motherfucker, just everything that he did had this, yeah that’s fucking Jungle for sure [quality]…” – Dcypher
I guess that’s what made him such a revered figure in some ways, right? That compromise confronts so many people now, so those who avoid it, or stay true to the pure form of the culture, are respected…
Ikarus: He painted a bunch of canvases and found objects, a bunch of different stuff, but never tried to sell them. He was never involved in any of our exhibitions. We were like, you have dope shit, put it in the exhibition, make some money! I think that’s one of the reasons that he never had to compromise, because he never tried to monetize what he was doing, he just did it. If you said something was dope and you wanted to buy it, he would just give it to you because you fucking liked it. I don’t think it ever became about money for him.
He was a cool looking dude, and then you met him, and he was a fucking cool guy. I think a lot of people expected him not to be, but he’s like the nicest guy in our crew, the truest heart. But yeah, he was uncompromising. When you haven’t made those compromises, you don’t get jaded. That’s not to say he didn’t have a jaded edge or depressed side to his personality. A lot of the work that he did was quite emotionally expressive. I didn’t necessarily even think of it because that’s just sort of the attitude we had, but when I look back at some of it, it just looks more grave now. There was an era where we would just write ‘deadbeats’ and ‘dirtbags’ and ‘trash’ and all that sort of stuff. Now it seems like a really negative headspace, but it never seemed like that it in person, it was just because we were broke depressed kids with a self-deprecating sense of humor. It didn’t seem like that big of a deal, but now, I’m like, how much of that is a window into a mind state?
“I thought it was over for Jungle and his graffiti. Then around mid-2000, Ikarus and I took him out to bomb some trucks and this is when I think he painted his first filled graffiti. He started drawing and painting a lot. He had such a natural style. It was easy for him. The thing is, he was only ever putting in 25% effort.” – Fiasko
Did you ever talk to him about the post-quake scene in the city? What did he make of the younger generation and did he take interest in that?
Ikarus: Yeah of course man, of course. All of us are always interested, that’s the thing, there’s no disconnect from being involved in commercial work and doing big stuff for festivals and that sort of stuff. My heart at the end of the day is still firmly tied to the streets. There is a bunch of dudes I talk to now that are like I can’t wait to do this, and I’m just like enjoy the shit you do! That’s one of the reasons I think the younger generations identified with Jungle because he was a dude that was out there still doing tags in the street, still doing characters, not monetizing it. Once money gets involved people’s opinion of where and when or why or what motivates you to do graffiti changes. But he was always interested in the new dudes. We are always looking at the streets and when we catch up, he would be: ‘What about this kid?’ ‘Do we know this guy?’ ‘Who is this kid?’ ‘This kid’s up a crazy amount’… So yeah, he was always watching.
“Being a younger writer, I only became aware of who Jungle was and his influence as a teenager looking at photos and learning about our local history. But I remember his work, particularly his characters, catching my eye when I was a child. Seeing that stuff as a young person played a role in making me want to get involved with graffiti.” – PK (TBE)
“Jungle’s influence didn’t have a direct impact on me in the sense that I wasn’t around when he had the city crushed with tags. [Pre-quake] I think I can recall a few of those characters he painted standing out and a piece of his, I think on Bedford Street, although I had no clue who it was at the time, and at that age I never really paid much attention. I think [his] main impact has been indirect. He influenced people around him, who in turn influenced the people below them and so on, until it reached myself and the people I grew up with, a trickle-down effect, I guess. Of course, as I became more involved in graff, I became more aware of who he was and how much of a pivotal and influential person he was to the scene.” – Vesil (FOK, TBE)
Even if it wasn’t a mentor role in the more hands-on way you guys do with workshops or the Black Book Sessions, was he the sort of guy to have conversations with or give advice to younger writers? Or was he just interested in what was going on?
Ikarus: I can’t say how much he was talking to some of these new writers in the last few years, but it’s not like he was a stand-offish guy at all, if people approached him to talk to him, he would have talked to them. I’m a bit of an old man about things now because I’ve done so much mentoring stuff, I definitely talk to some of these young dudes and I’ll be like, this part may not be good for you, or if there’s disagreements between some of the young dudes I’ll try and work that shit out because I know we’re all just trying to do our thing at the end of the day. But I think with Jungle it was more lead by example. I think even if he wasn’t saying anything to you, he was the kind of guy you would watch. His magnetic personality drew people to him.
After Leon passed, I got a message from a dude who now is in his thirties. He shared a memory from back in the early 2000s, when he was a teenager, we’d all been at this wild party in the hood. This kid and his friend had to walk home. We asked them where they were going and they said back to Waltham. Jungle was like, you two can’t fucking wander through the hood, you’re going to get jacked before you even get down the road, you guys just have to come to our house. I think we were flatting together at the time and we made them stay with us so that they wouldn’t just wander out in the hood and get jacked. I don’t remember it, but when he told me about it, I was like, well that sounds like something Leon would do. So, little things like that, not even necessarily any big life changing moments where Jungle would have sat a dude down and said look this is where you’re headed, because I think he would have felt that was corny and it was out of his jurisdiction to sit down and tell someone how they should do things. But he was just a dude that led by example and that little act of kindness was a big deal to that guy as a kid, he said it was really cool that these two dudes looked out for a couple of little tagger kids.
“At the time, no we didn’t [think about influencing the next generations]. In hindsight… I’m quite surprised at how many different people were influenced by what we [had] done. [I]t’s awesome to see, especially with the progression of what [DTR] are doing. Legal pieces, [I] never thought that would happen…” – BlackE
“I didn’t really ask for advice in the traditional way, we would just be talking, conversating about things and I’d bring things up and he’d give me his perspective on it or what he thought about it, and I don’t know if he knew, but I’d just go off and do what he said or I’d take it on board and apply it in some way…” – Kurs/Horra
“He never treated me like he was above me or like it was some sort of a mentor thing. We were just mates, he liked me because at the time I was just the young gunner and [if] people fucked with me, I wouldn’t just cap them out, I’d fucking go knocking on their front doors, or would start burning their letter boxes, or tag on the front of their houses, you know, he loved that shit…” – Kurs/Horra
“I don’t know if he knew that he had influence on the people, the Jungle I knew he was just all about hanging out with the cuzzies, hanging out with the close ones, you know, the day ones. I’m not going to try and speak for him, but I just feel that he’d be like, meh, fuck, whatever you’re a bundy, what are you up to cuzzies? Because that’s the way he was, before he was a tagger, he was a Crip.” – Kurs/Horra
Nothing exemplifies Jungle’s influence on Christchurch graffiti culture more than the number of tributes painted on walls around the city, from small tags to pieces and productions. Were you surprised though at how widespread those tributes were?
Ikarus: No, not really. I think he would have been pretty blown away by it, especially the different level of tributes, not just murals, but with younger dudes, probably some who didn’t even know him, painting as well. I mean there’s probably a certain amount of it being a little trending episode in Christchurch graffiti, catching a bit of clout for doing some RIP Jungle tags, but the fact is so many people over all these generations had been influenced by him in such a number of different ways, whether it’s tagging, graffiti, characters or just his general personality…
“Leon would be both shocked and honoured with all the tributes. He always would say how proud [he was about how] graf has evolved… And he always showed gratitude for being a part of it.” – BlackE
“He’d be blown away… to just see that amount of love, because I don’t think the cuzzie felt loved outside of his tight ones. I get all emotional when I see it. [I]t’s like that fucking legendary shit, like that is what they did when Tupac or Biggie or Nipsey or some famous hip hop dude died, started doing murals of them, so he’d be rapt.” – Kurs/Horra
“I think all the tributes are awesome and even young guys from younger generations have painted pieces for him, and he totally deserves that respect from everyone in this game.” – Lurq
“He would be stoked for sure [about all the tributes], but he was so humble that I feel like he’d probably be like, nah, you don’t need to go to that trouble! I wasn’t at his funeral but that said a lot about the culture that he was in and the amount of people that had the utmost respect for the dude, and that respect goes way beyond just him as a person in a lot of ways, it’s kind of like he really has become this crazy legend now, people would tell stories about him…” – Dcypher
“All the smaller [memorials and tributes] are just as important too, it’s just that sign of respect for somebody who birthed a lot of people’s styles and his influence, it’s a fitting way to show appreciation. Even though he didn’t paint in those last years of his life, it doesn’t matter, it didn’t take away from [the] status he had…” – Yikes
Out of all those tributes, do you have a favorite?
Ikarus: Totally, one of my favorites was by our friend Kalis from DMN TNC crew in Auckland, he was in Chile at the time and he painted a beachside spot with a Jungle piece, so the far-reaching aspect of that is super dope. That one would blow Leon away, he would have been like, fuck yeah, this big dope big blue Jungle piece in the middle of Chile by the beach somewhere! I know when a few of his family saw that, they commented on how cool it was. Another friend of ours, Phome, an Aucklander who lives in New York, he just rocked a RIP Jungle tag on the street somewhere, he’s not involved in graffiti so much anymore, but he went out and did that. There were some of the freights and trains that Sewer painted, and some dope tributes including stylized versions of Jungle’s characters by Weks, there were crews around New Zealand, like Triple S crew all rocking a bunch of Jungle pieces and some hip-hop style characters representing Jungle, the TMD guys up in Auckland doing a tribute, those are some that stand out off the top of my head. There were a few internationally well-known dudes that did pieces as well and that was super dope. I was randomly watching a Sofles Instagram Live video, he was just rocking a bunch of different tags on Procreate or something, I didn’t know it was about to happen, but as I was watching, a RIP Jungle and a couple of Jungle tags came up, so that shit was super cool.
The biggest single tribute is the production that the DTR crew painted to mark the anniversary of Jungle’s passing. Obviously, you guys had painted numerous tribute pieces prior to that, but that one was massive…
Ikarus: It’s just something we wanted to do as a crew. It was along the same lines as all the stuff we had been doing for the year prior. The general thinking was that we’re here, we’re still thinking about you, we’re still keeping your legacy alive. But on a more meaningful level, the anniversary was coming up and I know that members of his family all appreciate it and appreciate having that place to go. They actually met up there on the morning of the anniversary, they took a photo of twenty-odd members of the family in front of it before they actually went out to the Marae. We started it a couple of weeks before the anniversary and I made sure we had it all done before the actual date. It was obviously such a big life event for a lot of us, we wanted to involve all four of the full main members of the DTR crew, painting in our various styles, writing Jungle’s name, or Autism, which is another one of his aliases, and obviously the character portrait by Wongi and the portrait of his dog by Dcypher. It was really just the same mentality of the smaller productions we had painted, but on a grander scale to mark the passing of that period of time in our life and again, just also for that aspect of having somewhere for the family realizing and seeing Leon’s impact.
“More than anything, it was really cool to do [the tribute wall] for his family in that [monumental] scale and to the extent that we went with it. I’m pretty sure he would have been pretty hyped on it, having his face up on a wall that’s pretty damn realistic. That’s not obviously the first one that we did, [we] did one as a crew behind Embassy as well, that was sort of the start of it, [but] we always wanted to do something way bigger, it was always the plan for around the anniversary of his passing, so to do it, to be able to get it done around that time was really good, it was fitting. It was a big project to do but it was cool. But most importantly it was for his family.” – Yikes
What would he have made of it?
Ikarus: He would have been super emotional about it. When we did the Hereford Street Colombo corner, Wongi painted a stylized portrait of Jungle, with the house he grew up in incorporated into it, and that was a super big deal to Leon, it definitely meant a lot to him, so all this shit would have blown him away, he would have been super amazed…
He is a central element of a real lineage. It isn’t copied online, his legacy gives the city a real history of this culture before it became what it is now, which obviously is amazing, but slowly there’s a distance between the roots and what’s happening as well. It doesn’t have to be reframed through some positive lens to be impactful, the reason people like Jungle are important is because they represent a different approach…
Ikarus: As much as we already know his impact, there are a bunch of people that don’t. The hardest part for a bunch of people to grasp is the idea that a teenage kid, thirty years ago, running around with his friends getting drunk, smoking weed, writing their names on the back of buses and spraying their names on a bunch of public surfaces, is directly and indirectly responsible for, at least in our little section of the world, a large amount of what happens in the city now. Christchurch has got a crazy amount of street art and murals now. Graffiti evolves anyway so I’m not saying that it wouldn’t have been something, it probably would have existed anyway, but if you look at even the smaller towns around New Zealand as an example, some of them are years behind because they had to wait for the Internet to catch up, even Auckland and Wellington had a ten year head start on us, but that’s the coolest part of it all, basically, the murals, the memorials, the tagging, the vandalism, and the article itself, the discussions, people talking about it, it keeps the memory alive…
“It is what it is, there’s no shit being shined, he is what he is because he was who he was…” – Yikes
Based on everything that has happened, what would you say to Leon now?
Ikarus: I fucking told you! I told you fifteen years ago before most of this shit existed anyway! When it was still really graffiti, not necessarily with this big new age street art link and everything that has led to all of this, but even back then the influence that he had on straight up graffiti, and just straight up people, he wouldn’t acknowledge that at the time that I told him. People’s essence and spirit and energy is still with you in the universe, so, I would tell him: I fucking told you!
“If I was to ever to have a brother in my life, Leon Nga Miraka Hopa Te Karu is my brother. Love Jungle 4evaaa haaarrdd!” –BlackE
“Long Live Jungle” –Kurs
“R.I.P. King Jungle THC” – Lurq
“RIP Jungle, King of Kings”– Flex
“R.I.P. to a King.” – Omes
“I’m not really sure of the extent of his influence, I’m out of the loop, but he had a massive impact on me and my friends and he has left a massive void in people’s lives, I’d say.” – Fiasko
“Much respect due to the humble king with an unforgettable personality, a true pioneer of Christchurch urban culture.” –4Higher/Pest5
Thank you to all who contributed to this piece in tribute to Jungle.
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“Leon Te Karu is a King. Leon = Lion = King of the Jungle. Te Karu = The Eye. I always liked his name.” – Fiasko
In March 2019, Leon Te Karu, known to many as Jungle, passed away. Almost immediately, the city’s walls were covered with tributes, from tags and rollers, to pieces and productions. For those outside the city’s graffiti culture, it was mysterious, but for those who knew, it was a reflection of the respect in which Jungle was held as a pioneer who defined the first waves of graffiti in Christchurch with his ubiquitous straight letter tags and iconic characters. Chances are if you lived in Christchurch in the nineties, you saw Jungle’s graffiti. Jungle was not of the new breed of legal graffiti and the street art amalgam, instead, he was a symbol of graffiti’s roots, a traditionalist without caring for labels. And yet, Jungle’s influence extends through generations of graffiti writers, including a strong legacy upon the likes of Ikarus, Freak, Dcypher and Yikes of the DTR crew (of which he was also a member), as well as countless other crews and individuals, many who themselves have proven prominent figures in graffiti culture, both here in Christchurch and further afield.
Telling Jungle’s story required input from those who knew him and those influenced by him. To mark the anniversary of his passing, we reached out Ikarus, another Christchurch graffiti legend, to put together something that explained and celebrated Jungle’s impact on Christchurch graffiti (and broader street) culture. What developed was an in-depth discussion with Ikarus, but also contributions from countless others, across generations, styles and backgrounds. In doing so, the breadth of Jungle’s influence was clear, people consistently echoing the qualities of a local graffiti legend. This story is at the heart of graffiti in Christchurch, what it was and what it has become, but also is about one man’s influence on an entire culture. RIP King Jungle.
March 6, 2020 marked the anniversary of Jungle’s passing. A year on, is it something you reflect on a lot?
Ikarus: It seems super-fast, for sure. It’s weird that it’s been a year already, it definitely doesn’t seem like it. I don’t know if I think about it every day, but it’s definitely something I think about a lot. A bunch of cool shit will happen and he’s one of the dudes you’d always want to tell because he was always super excited about any cool projects we got to do as a crew. Things like that will happen and I’ll be like, oh that’s right, I can’t tell him.
I’d never really lost anyone super close before, my grandparents died when I was young, so I never really knew them, both my parents are still alive, and I don’t like many people. Whereas Leon is one of the closest friends I’ve had in my whole life, so it’s been pretty weird. I never knew what death was like, but I guess the saying ‘life goes on’ is true because you definitely don’t think about it all day, every day, but then there’s just those points where you do think about it and it’s super strange.
“I love Jungle. Just writing this is making me cry… I lost my mentor.” – Kurs/Horra
“[His funeral] was a massive occasion… without a doubt he would have been humbled by it, proud of it.” – Freak (DTR)
“[H]is funeral was massive. He just touched a lot of people [as] a genuine person… he was always a real cool cat and the amount of people that turn[ed] up [showed] that he was a real person in all sorts of scenes, not just graffiti, but to a wide range of people.” – Yikes (DTR)
I ask that question because first and foremost, you lost a close friend, but as something of a graffiti historian, you are also in the position to understand the legacy and ongoing impact that Jungle had on graffiti and street culture in Christchurch. While the pain of losing a friend must be foremost, have you taken time to reflect on just how big an influence he was?
Ikarus: Yeah man, I always knew though. I told him what an important role he played early on, and he’d just brush it off and laugh, and be like: ‘Don’t be a dick!’ But the reality is that there was a butterfly effect from him being a young kid out there tagging, writing his name on stuff and having a good time with it, that led to so many other people doing it. When we start out as tagger kids, we don’t think it is going anywhere or will to lead to anything else, but the things he did inspired some of the first guys that started doing graffiti here in Christchurch, and on all levels not just tagging, but some of the earliest guys painting pieces, characters, throw-ups, tags, the whole spectrum of graffiti.
I’ve talked to Flex from UAC, who was an early pioneer along with Lurq (who was writing Lyric and LK at the time) and Pest5 (who was writing 4Higher), and he cites Jungle’s tags as one of the main reasons he started doing graffiti. He would see Jungle tags up everywhere and he thought that shit was dope. Those UAC guys back then, in the late nineties and early 2000s, they were out there doing all aspects of graffiti; tags, throw ups, pieces, characters, productions down the train lines at night. They give credit to Jungle as an early influence because he’s one of the first people that was really up in our city back when there was just tagging in the early nineties. Back then I was strictly into tagging and vandalism, anybody that did pieces was just wasting paint as far as I was concerned. They couldn’t tag for shit, so what’s the fucking point? But Flex is that first dude that had just fucking killer tags and he did all levels of graffiti, an all-out king to some extent. He was the first dude to make me think maybe the entire spectrum of graffiti wasn’t super corny, maybe there’s a way to do it and it could still be cool.
So, that small influence on me can be traced back to Jungle, which is evidence of his importance. From there, it’s just a butterfly effect: he affected those people, those people affected the next people, and so on. But, it’s not like he just did that and then was gone, he was always around, not super active, but always involved in the Christchurch graffiti scene. He was always painting something, still doing tags out in the streets and painting characters and stuff like that.
“It is easy to glorify and embellish the past, but Christchurch was very late to have a graffiti culture. While in most parts of the world and New Zealand it [emerged in the] early to mid-80’s, in Christchurch it was [the] mid to late 90’s. I know it’s a small history and a small culture, but it’s our history and our culture. There wasn’t a lot of outside influence until around 2000. One of the pioneers pre-2000 and a huge influence on me when I started was Jungle.” – Fiasko
“We weren’t better, we strived for everywhere.” – BlackE (THC)
“Even before I got into graffiti, I saw Jungle THC everywhere. It was impossible to not notice. As I got into looking at and doing graffiti, I realised the scope of how everywhere he was.” – Jay Roacher/Wyns (511)
“As far as I know or am concerned, Jungle was the first Christchurch tagger that was all city. Those gangsta straight style JUNGLE PARU tags are still imprinted on my brain to this day.” – Flex (UAC)
“[The first time I met Jungle] was at the house on Mackworth Street in Linwood where I lived with Flex, about 1998. Maybe Ikarus brought him over. What I do remember clearly is being very excited to meet him, as you do when meeting one of your heroes. He was humble to the point of not wanting to even acknowledge his achievements in the graffiti scene, saying that his work was nothing compared to ours, as we were doing full-blown wild styles with backgrounds and everything; but my lettering styles, tags especially, were pathetic compared with his.” – Pest5 (UAC, TMD, LORDS)
“The first tags I ever saw were DIRTY, PARU, THC, a block from my house, done in chrome with stock caps and it was super clean. I started noticing lots more tags around the city with THC and had heard that it was a crew called Too Hardcore. I think it was pretty much all Jungle, but he got up so much and with so many different names that it seemed like it must have been a bunch of people.” – Netts (511)
“We used to creep into abandoned buildings up town and I would kind of imitate his style mixed with what I was already doing.” – Kurs/Horra
“[He told me] how [in the early 2000s] he painted a clown on the old Dick Smith in the daytime with cats going past and didn’t give two fucks about who or what was in his way.” – Omes
“[Leon’s influence was] probably more personal over time, but to begin with it was artistic, for sure, because the dude was all city with tags before anyone even knew what was up with graffiti. You knew who he was just by that [presence]…” – Dcypher (DTR, CBS)
“Jungle was one of the first people that I noticed when I first got into graffiti. I would see his tags and his roll calls he would do of the infamous THC crew in all hoods. I can remember seeing his Sir Prise tags with a fucking dope letter S, it blew my toy brain apart back then.” – Lurq (UAC)
Did you ever have conversations about what graffiti meant to him? Was it something larger than writing his name on a wall to him, or was he more of a purist?
Ikarus: It definitely had that concept. I don’t think he ever personally felt like he was part of the greater movement of the art form in our city. I told him on numerous occasions that a bunch of this shit wouldn’t have happened without him because you’re the dude that inspired these guys to get into it and that inspired this dude to do it and that inspired these guys. You can see his influence in Dcypher’s early work, his characters especially. But when I said you influenced this person and without you they wouldn’t have done this, and then that wouldn’t have influenced me, and that wouldn’t have influenced Dcypher, and that wouldn’t have influenced Freak, he would say, ‘shut up man! That’s not a real thing!’ But it totally was a real thing. He didn’t understand or was too humble to admit that he had this influence on people.
He’s part of the DTR crew, he’s part of our crew forever, but there’s very few walls we managed to get him to come down and paint with us. We’d quite often try to get him to come down and be part of productions, to paint a character, or paint a piece, but he was always like, nah, like he was going to be out of his realm of talent, which is ridiculous because he had the super dope style. He didn’t paint as much as us, but if he did over the years, he would have been insanely good. But he always had that hood mentality of not being good enough, or ‘I’ll come if you’re going to do this, but if you’re doing a big production I don’t want to be involved’. So as much as I told him, I don’t think he ever really understood the level of his influence, but it can’t be denied that he was the first or one of the really early people just vandalizing the city, doing everything. In the early nineties there were Jungle BlackE and Jungle Paru tags up and down the South Island, and in Christchurch he was everywhere…
“Jungle & I too followed the way of the elder ones before us. Much credit goes to Leon because he was the artistic one. I tended to just pick the spots… We were wowed by a lot of the US hip hop/break/graf culture. And it made its way over here. Auckland [was] where a majority of it was then passed down [through] cousins, friends, and friends of friends.”- BlackE
“Putting it up was primary purpose. Putting it up beat style, always. [W]e had many styles that we threw up. Position was paramount over style.” – BlackE
“When I started, he was pretty much already retired as king of the city. He set the benchmark for us to follow. It wasn’t until later that I saw his outlines and characters, which are in a classic style very dear to my heart, as they capture a certain tough attitude that modern graffiti lacks.” – Pest5
“Me and Flex were, and still are, dedicated Junglists, meaning we love the music called ‘Jungle’, which is a reggae-influenced UK dance music from the 90’s. One of our first questions for Jungle was whether he had named himself after the music genre, but no, he said the inspiration came from the ‘concrete jungle’ that we live in. We tried to get him into the music, and though he could appreciate it, it was a bit too fast for his taste.” – Pest5
“I guess he has influenced people in that you get your tag up or your homies and crew, all-city, all hoods, and bombing is probably the most important thing in doing graffiti.” – Lurq
“We talked about watching freights at Kaikoura and how to make a tag aggressive, and the art of tagging. Being a tagger not a muralist was always a heavy topic he spoke of. I always remember he told me I was his favourite tagger.” – Morpork (FILTH, TBE)
Graffiti goes through eras and styles come to represent both time periods and places, do you think Jungle’s graffiti was representative of a ‘Christchurch style’?
Ikarus: I wouldn’t say early on that Jungle’s particular style of tagging was distinctive, but the thing about it was that it was everywhere. A lot of people couldn’t tag back then, straight letter tags were basically the height of tagging and he was super good at that. Jungle always had the most ill styles for tagging. When hand-styles became a thing, he was always super up on that sort of thing and doing calligraphic style tags. Coupled with the sheer amount he was up, that was why he was so influential.
“Everybody thinks of Black and Jungle, everybody seen Black and Jungle. And that was the essence. You don’t know the words. But you knew us.” – BlackE
“[W]e respected straight styles as the cleanest… Out of a crooked lifestyle, we always tried to be semi straightest.” – BlackE
“He basically got [Christchurch graffiti] started. He was the first writer to really take it all-city in Christchurch, with classic Auckland-style straight letter tags, done in cheap paint with an unforced, natural ability. So, he founded the Christchurch tradition of all-city street bombing with simple tags along bus routes. Many of us may try to emulate his hand styles but It’s hard to imitate perfection… but I still think you can see his influence in Christchurch tagging style to this day.” – Pest5
“I would definitely call him Christchurch’s first all-city king, before I even knew the dude there were just Jungle and Paru tags everywhere, East, West, North, South, everywhere, [in] the most random spots. Anywhere you went there were Jungle tags… That was amazing in itself, but then he had such an amazing style; his characters that he’d just spit out of nowhere, with low effort, just boom! He always downplayed himself, or maybe just didn’t see his full potential, [but] he totally could have been here smashing this shit out with us if that’s what he had wanted to do…” – Freak
“His tags were everywhere. They were simple, stylistic and tuff. From my view, he kind of stopped about 1998 or ‘99 and that was around the time I met him.” – Fiasko
“The meanest tags, the straight letters, gangster straight letters… All pre-graffiti paint, all hardware paint, when you used to hunt and steal caps…” – Freak
“When he started he was super good at tagging, but didn’t do a whole lot of fill in stuff, because it was just get fame quick, just get up.” – Dcypher
“I feel like there were two styles of tags back then, the wildstyle posca tags, and the black spray paint straights. He laid the blueprint for and was the king of the straights.” – Jay Roacher/Wyns
While he would never admit that influence, it’s been undeniable in the last year, with the number of tribute and memorial pieces around town. But his influence was beyond his graffiti style, right? I didn’t know him, but the few times I was around him, there was something about his presence, there was that laugh…
Ikarus: Yeah, for sure man, for sure. Like I said, it’s not like he had a huge involvement in graffiti for the last ten years, just occasionally painting a character on the street or doing tags and stuff. But he was the sort of dude that was always drawing, and just sitting around and drawing all the time is a big influence on people. But, like you say, his personality is one of a kind.
Everybody knows Jungle. The dude was a gangster for sure, he always represented his crew, the colors, which was what he grew up with, and he was still a part of that life and that circle, but even at his funeral when the boys were standing up and speaking about him, they said, Jungle’s not part of this gang because he’s a violent dude or out there hustling and grinding, he’s just the heart of our crew, he’s the most important part. He was just a super genuine, loyal dude, and if you’re one of his boys, he would do anything he could for you.
You would be hard pressed to talk to someone that didn’t like him. You could talk to a bunch of people who think I’m a dickhead, maybe not now, but if you talk to someone from back in the day, I was a dick a lot of the time. But you could go back thirty years and talk to people about Leon and I think everyone would be like that guy was fucking cool. People’s enduring memories of Leon are going to be that laugh, his charismatic personality, that he got along with a bunch of people. When I was young and we would beef with a bunch of different people, I remember thinking, nobody ever has a problem with Jungle, how do you do that? How do you know so many people and nobody has a problem with you? It was because he was just generally fucking cool to everybody, respectful, polite, just a good dude.
At first glance, Jungle could be a scary cat, he hung out with a bunch of scary looking dudes, but he was the heart of that shit, the good guy in the crew. He was famous before I knew him, his tags were all over the city, so he was already a legend in the streets when I first met him. He was tagging Jungle and THC, which was the crew. I was thirteen, so they were probably fifteen or sixteen, which seems like a big gap when you’re that young, and those dudes were like the boogeyman to our generation, because you knew shit could pop off with them. But then I met Jungle and he was just super cool. I think a lot of the tough dudes that I’m super good friends with now, that stems from me being super good friends with Jungle in the first place.
“It is hard to write anything about Leon, as he hated any sort of praise. He would sort of squint his eyes and get a big smile and tell you to fuck up. For the past 5-6 days I have been typing and deleting because I can constantly hear him saying “Fuck up egg”, after anything I write.” – Fiasko
“Meeting Jungle is where he had his biggest influence on me. He was such a humble guy. He was funny and he was accepting of most people. I remember how he just didn’t believe he was any good.” – Fiasko
“[That authenticity] got him the status of being an OG in the graffiti scene, everyone respected the dude and looked up to him. [E]veryone just thought he was the coolest motherfucker in town, so he kind of like just got mad respect from everyone and everyone wanted a little bit of him to rub off on them as far as graffiti goes…” – Dcypher
“Everything about him influenced me. I would ask for advice on all things hip hop. He lived my raps too, he was my biggest support and fan.” – Kurs/Horra
“With Jungle, it wasn’t just about tagging, he was the connect for all things hip hop for me. He was listening to Kendrick Lamar when Kendrick Lamar was still a teenager and he put me onto the Black Hippies, and then 5-6 years later, Kendrick Lamar’s blowing up… everyone he sort of pushed in my direction became real big at some point.” – Kurs/Horra
“… [A] few of us were hanging out at the old hack circle in Cashel Mall, high as can be, and these two cops walk past, one a blonde female. We’re are all paranoid and silent, then Jungle just blurts out, “Faaah, you’re pretty for a cop!” She just smiles, says thanks, and kept walking on by!” – Pest5
“He was super good at skateboarding too. Skateboarding is a big part of my life and he got real good, real quick and could skate spots that were fucking super crazy, spots that no one else could skate, and so he kind of crossed over into skateboard culture, which was part of the graffiti culture…” – Dcypher
“He didn’t have that ego that somebody as prominent as he was can sometimes have… You can’t help but be influenced by somebody that’s up [everywhere], but then you met him, and he was like this hilarious person, just a genuinely dope dude. A lot of respect.” – Yikes
“Leon was a really humble guy and always asked or was interested in what you’ve been up to when you bumped into him. I’m not sure if he actually realised that he was a fucking legend in the Christchurch graffiti scene.” – Lurq
“… [T]he first time Askew came to Christchurch, I felt obliged to introduce him to the legendary Jungle, but was a bit unsure how it would go as the man was often wary of strangers, and was in one of his feisty moods. After giving him a hearty handshake, he said thoughtfully, “Askew… you’re the man. But fuck you. But you’re the man… but fuck you!” High praise indeed! – Pest5
“He just loved all my weird shit. He was all about the weird side that I approach graffiti from, he gave me props for that. I’m ten years younger than these dudes, I was watching most of their early careers when I wasn’t even touching paints, so to have someone of that standing give you props, it’s cool man, its humbling.” – Yikes
With 2019 now wrapped, we decided to round up a number of our friends to take stock of the year that was. But then we realised it is also the end of the decade, and to be fair it has been a pretty challenging, fascinating and memorable ten years, especially for the residents ofŌtautahi Christchurch. We asked this selection of artists and creatives about their own experiences, the people and work that inspired them, the events that mattered and their hopes for the future. The results were wide-ranging, although, of course, there were a number of events, artworks and ideas that came up repeatedly, highlighting the impactful events and developments that have coloured our collective consciousness since 2010…
Reuben Woods – Writer (@bolsamatic)
What has been your personal highlight of 2019? There have been a few, from working on Urban Abstract, to curating Dr Suits (Nath Ingram) and Josh O’Rourke’s projects in New Brighton, but probably top of the list was having work published in the Nuart Journal…
What piece of someone else’s art in Christchurch has been your favourite this year? It may be that they are fresh in my memory, but TOGO’s rooftop piece to the South West of the city is a favourite, the angular FOLT slaps are rad, and pretty much anything by Vesil over this year.
What piece of someone else’s art outside of Christchurch has been your favourite this year? Aryz’s work has been stellar, Selina Miles’ Martha: A Picture Story was great, I love Elliot O’Donnell’s new direction with the glitch studies of urban surfaces, and Bond’s graffiti pieces are super fresh as well. I also really enjoyed Nike Savvas’ Finale: Bouquet at Te Papa…
What exhibition by an urban artist(s) has been your favourite this year? Urban Abstract was the culmination of a long process and it was so great to see it well received, as it wasn’t clear that there was a massive thirst for that style locally…
It isn’t just the end of a year; it is also the end of a decade. What events or sentiments have defined the last decade for you? Obviously the earthquakes, and I think the March Terror Attacks signalled a change in the city’s psyche as well. More widely, the increasing division across the world, politically, economically and ideologically, cannot be ignored.
What is the biggest artistic/pop cultural moment from the last decade? When Childish Gambino released the video for This Is America, it felt like a really impactful conflation of pop culture, art and social commentary that captured the zeitgeist. Locally, I don’t think I can go past what George Shaw and Shannon Webster of OiYOU! pulled off with RISE here at the Canterbury Museum…
Which artist or artists have stood out over the last decade? Internationally, Vhils, Aryz, Revok, Stoop Kid, Nina Chanel Abney, Askew, Dside, Katsu, Steve ‘ESPO’ Powers, Timothy Curtis, Deconstructie, Connor Harrington… So many. And of course, locally there have been so many people who have left their mark in the streets, from little tags to big walls, I couldn’t possibly name everyone…
Lastly, what do you hope 2020 has in store, personally and for the local scene? I really hope the energy that the city saw for a sustained period can be recaptured, with things happening not just within commissioned frameworks, but also more organically, especially as the city evolves into a ‘finished product’ to contest. To see local artists continue to gain wider profiles and in turn to see exciting visiting artists come here and leave their mark.
Tom Kerr – Artist, Musician (@ditchlifetattoos/@_nervousjerk/@toyota_bleeps)
What has been your personal highlight of 2019? Quitting my job as a builder and becoming a full-time tattoo artist. It’s been a goal of mine since I was a teenager.
What piece of someone else’s art in Christchurch has been your favourite this year? I just love seeing a nice tag to be honest. I haven’t really been involved in the graffiti scene since I started putting all my artistic energy and time into tattooing. However, once you’re in the graffiti culture you never stop turning your head when you go past a tag that has something special about it. My favourite tags are the cheeky ones done with a paint pen or a big marker.
What piece of someone else’s art outside of Christchurch has been your favourite this year? I’m a big fan of Josh Solomon from Auckland, both his tattoos and his ‘fine art’.
What exhibition by an urban artist(s) has been your favourite this year? Rory Grant had an exhibition [Babylon is Burning] at Spooky Boogie in Lyttelton last month and I think his paintings are super impressive.
It isn’t just the end of a year; it is also the end of a decade. What events or sentiments have defined the last decade for you? The earthquakes, it goes without saying, haha! Starting a punk band (Nervous Jerk) and being welcomed into a whole new world and experiencing kindness from strangers like never before. Putting out a record with that band five years later. Becoming a qualified builder. I learnt so many things, but most importantly it taught me to never give up on something and to always have a crack at taking that broken thing apart and trying to fix it or whatever. What’s the worst that can happen right? Buying a house with my girlfriend. So many things. I was 15 at the start of the decade so I’ve been through a lot of first times and probably shaped by a lot of things I’m not even aware of yet!
What is the biggest artistic/pop cultural moment from the last decade? Smartphones, I think. I hate everything about them and love them for the same reasons! But you can be so creative with them and write things down and brainstorm on them and I think so many creative things were probably started as just a note on a phone…
Which artist or artists have stood out over the last decade? To be honest I think over the last decade all the big artists I’ve gotten into haven’t been doing anything this decade. I just really like older music and most of the art I’m into is more traditional stuff too, I guess.
Lastly, what do you hope 2020 has in store, personally and for the local scene? Less people being fussed about how many likes they get for whatever they’re making and just making it for the sake of self-expression. Hopefully by then everyone will be over that shit and just enjoy being themselves.
Ikarus – Artist (@highdoctornick)
What has been your personal highlight of 2019? I quit smoking cigarettes after close to 25 years, does that count? Relating to art stuff, it’s hard to say, there’s been a few cool projects but nothing that blew me away…
What piece of someone else’s art in Christchurch has been your favourite this year? I’m not even sure. For big murals, the photographic piece Dcypher and Yikes produced with OiYOU! looks like a real banger.
As far as traditional graffiti, which obviously is what I’m most interested in, this year has to go to Vesil, that dude is producing some dope work in high profile spots. An honourable mention to Dofus as well, he’s been killing the streets and yards with tags, pieces, throws. A solid all-rounder. The AOC crew have been putting in the heavy efforts and definitely produced some of the rawest graffiti this year.
Even though he’s been quiet this year, I’ve got to mention WeksOne (IMK), his 2017- early 2019 run is one of the heaviest and most impressive examples of all-round graffiti mastery in Christchurch history. Dude had the streets, yards, rooftops and more crushed, with everything from tags to throws to chromes to pieces to characters and straight up burners.
What piece of someone else’s art outside of Christchurch has been your favourite this year? I’m super ignorant about what’s going on outside Christchurch most of the time. Everything Odeith does is insane though. 1UP’s coral reef project is on some next level shit. I really have no idea honestly. I can tell you all the current 2020 releases for Hasbro’s Marvel Legends line though, if that helps at all.
What exhibition by an urban artist(s) has been your favourite this year? Ahhhh, I see. This is all an exercise to expose how little I actually know about art, well played. OK well, I didn’t actually go to it, but I’m gonna say TOGO’s work in the Urban Abstract exhibition at Fiksate Gallery (see what I did there, guys? You’re welcome). I didn’t see the show but his mix of abstract paintings both on canvas/gallery and on walls/public, coupled with his raw traditional illegal graffiti work and his eloquent descriptions of his experiences lead me to assume I would have very much enjoyed the exhibition.
It isn’t just the end of a year; it is also the end of a decade. What events or sentiments have defined the last decade for you? That’s a brooooad question. Part of me wants to just say ‘Thug Life’ and move on, because thinking and talking too deeply about graffiti and/or street art sometimes feels stupid or falsely high-brow, too forced. But part of me also takes it all really seriously. So, I dunno what to say to be honest. Grow and evolve but don’t change. When you work out what that means and how to do it, lemme know, it might be the key to the struggle.
What is the biggest artistic/pop cultural moment from the last decade? The Internet. The exponential rise of social media and its various platforms to some extent make every moment the biggest moment for artistic/pop culture. Everything has the potential to be the next big thing. Marketing and branding overtook advertising as the true modern art form.
Which artist or artists have stood out over the last decade? There’s too many dope artists and writers to name and I’d be afraid to forget somebody. On some level everybody is an influence but it’s really only my crew and the writers and artists from my city that I think about though, without them I couldn’t exist. Two people I will mention though, are George Shaw and Shannon Webster from OiYOU! While perhaps not the traditional definition of “artists”, they have been incredibly important to the growth of public appreciation towards graffiti and street art in Christchurch. From organising the biggest graffiti and street art exhibitions/shows/festivals in New Zealand, including the historic RISE at the Canterbury Museum, to their continual support behind the scenes, these guys have been a huge factor in the growth of graffiti and street art in post-quake Christchurch.
Lastly, what do you hope 2020 has in store, personally and for the local scene? I’ll just keep doing what I do. We have workshops and the Blackbook Sessions starting up again in the new year, as well as a festival or two pencilled in for 2020 already. I’d like to see traditional graffiti art represented more at the many street art festivals and shows that are happening now. It’s great to see the art form evolve and see events that support the new wave of art/artists, but it would also be great to have traditional graffiti art represented in that positive light. Locally I’d like to see the implementation of more legal walls and evolving art spaces where novice artists can practice freely, and more funding toward workshops and tutorial classes for at-risk youth.
Jacob Yikes – Artist (@jacobyikes)
What has been your personal highlight of 2019? I’ve had a somewhat quiet year with painting outdoors for various reasons, however, a highlight of mine was displaying some works at Chambers Gallery. I felt those works were a shift in the direction I see my work heading in 2020.
Another highlight would be getting a solo show in a local gallery that I have been visiting since I was young, I can’t release any info about it yet, but the show will be towards the end of 2020…
What piece of someone else’s art in Christchurch has been your favourite this year? Hmmm, that’s a hard one, personally I feel that overall it’s been super quiet in Christchurch this year… I’ve been locked away in my studio for a lot of the year so I’m not sure I’ve really seen anything new from anyone that’s really stood out, and that’s not a negative thing at all but nobody is really being that active. I guess I need to get out more, haha!
What piece of someone else’s art outside of Christchurch has been your favourite this year? Yeah, again, I’ve not being paying attention enough to what’s been going on, so I really couldn’t say, hibernating in the studio for the cold months will do that!
What exhibition by an urban artist(s) has been your favourite this year? No answer.
It isn’t just the end of a year; it is also the end of a decade. What events or sentiments have defined the last decade for you? Easily the influx of street-based work in Christchurch, the events that have opened up doors for me and helped me progress as a full-time artist. I quit my job as a house painter about 6 years ago, took the leap to be a full-time artist and it’s not been easy, especially trying to keep my work original and true to my vision and not just to please the masses. That can be hard, but it’s all been worth it.
What is the biggest artistic/pop cultural moment from the last decade? No answer.
Which artist or artists have stood out over the last decade? That’s a tricky one, a lot have stood out in their own way, I really couldn’t say, I really should pay more attention!
Lastly, what do you hope 2020 has in store, personally and for the local scene? I hope that in 2020 we will see our local Council actually contribute to keeping the street scene alive and to stop using the work we do to promote the city but not putting anything into it, but we’ll see…. I personally have some things in the works for 2020, but I’ll keep that close for now, haha!
Jacob Root (Distranged Design) – Artist (@distrangeddesign)
What has been your personal highlight of 2019? My personal highlight of this year was definitely my trip to Los Angeles. The work I was able to do there and the contacts I’ve made from it is still surreal.
What piece of someone else’s art in Christchurch has been your favourite this year? Ahh, I haven’t actually seen a whole lot. But Dcypher’s Seagull was dope!
What piece of someone else’s art outside of Christchurch has been your favourite this year? All of Triston Eaton’s murals!
What exhibition by an urban artist(s) has been your favourite this year? Chimp’s Aliases at Fiksate.
It isn’t just the end of a year; it is also the end of a decade. What events or sentiments have defined the last decade for you? The last decade has really been the start of my life, finishing high school, then being able to work for myself and do what I love every day is a major factor!
What is the biggest artistic/pop cultural moment from the last decade? I really don’t think I’m fit to answer that as I’ve really only been painting for the last couple of years.
Which artist or artists have stood out over the last decade? Triston Eaton, Martin Whatson and Alec Monopoly.
Lastly, what do you hope 2020 has in store, personally and for the local scene? For me, I’ve got a few festivals planned and quite a bit of travel, so I’m really hyped to be able to have my artwork outside of NZ! For the local scene, I really hope there is a street art festival curated for Christchurch…
A Tribe Called Haz – Artist (@atribecalledhaz)
What has been your personal highlight of 2019? Being invited & participating in a roughly six month long art exhibition with Burger Burger.
What piece of someone else’s art in Christchurch has been your favourite this year? The walls of New Brighton.
What piece of someone else’s art outside of Christchurch has been your favourite this year? Gareth Stehr’s Have a nice day.
What exhibition by an urban artist(s) has been your favourite this year? Joel Hart’s Dopamine at Fiksate.
It isn’t just the end of a year; it is also the end of a decade. What events or sentiments have defined the last decade for you? The Rad Collective’s Under the Influence, the ‘Graffiti Quake House’, my first A Tribe Called Haz exhibition.
What is the biggest artistic/pop cultural moment from the last decade? Ilma Gore’s painting of Donald Trump with a small dick.
Which artist or artists have stood out over the last decade? Locally, Uncle Harold, Hugo van Dorsser, Vesil & anyone I’ve painted with. Outside of Christchurch, it would be Askew, Sofles, Dside, Valentin Ozich, Pablo Dalas, Neckface, Jeremy Fish & Haser.
Lastly, what do you hope 2020 has in store, personally and for the local scene? Personally, more Inspiration, hopefully pull together another exhibition or two. Locally, more legal walls & more art collectives.
Jessie Rawcliffe – Artist (@jessie.e.r)
What has been your personal highlight of 2019? Finally having a solo show, an opportunity which encouraged me to get away from working digitally and experiment with my preferred medium.
What piece of someone else’s art in Christchurch has been your favourite this year? Dude, I suck at favourites… I really enjoyed Evangeline Edilson’s show Melpomene and the Sock at CoCA in August. There are some similarities in our work, so I probably related to it stylistically, which being a surrealist figurative artist I don’t get often. But honestly there’s been so much good stuff I can’t remember. Last week is hard enough. And I accidentally deleted my camera roll the other day, so I can’t even look back at visual cues.
What piece of someone else’s art outside of Christchurch has been your favourite this year? Too specific. But in general Michael Reeder had a stellar year (last few really) and I’m constantly seeing his stuff and thinking “fuck you”. His development and refinement is such a pleasure to watch.
What exhibition by an urban artist(s) has been your favourite this year? Fiksate’s Urban Abstract is the most memorable for sure. The range and standard of work was really great and that opening had such a good atmosphere. I think the space has worn in a little, there was such a nice crowd, I dunno, it was the warmest opening in recent memory.
It isn’t just the end of a year; it is also the end of a decade. What events or sentiments have defined the last decade for you? Moving to Wellington at the start of the decade and realising that there were weirdos out there just like me. I’ve moved cities and started gaining some momentum with my practice that was non-existent near the middle of my post-university years. Christchurch has been home for four years now (woah!) and I think it takes at least that long to either get comfortable or figure out how that new environment affects you. Working from The Welder Collective in 2017-18 either directly or indirectly introduced me to everyone in the Christchurch art scene I now know, with a few in particular being a vital influence on my current motivations and interests. The explosion of social media and its relationship to art really stands out. For better or worse. It can be pretty numbing being bombarded with imagery all day, every day, it’s often demotivating to go out and see art in person. The flip side though, is that I’ve connected with artists all over the world because of it and think it can be used as a tool for making art friends and expanding your art business wise. I’m inspired as much as I’m crushed by looking at other artists work (lol). Social media is probably a contributing factor to why I can’t remember what the fuck I’ve seen or done in the last decade. This might seem mundane, but I was given a copy of Young, Sleek and Full of Hell to read in 2017, which documents all the wild shit that went down and the careers that launched at Aaron Rose’s New York gallery ALLEGED in the 90’s (Mark Gonzales, Chris Johanson, Rita Ackermann, Susan Cianciolo, Barry McGee, Margaret Kilgallen, Harmony Korine, Mike Mills, Ed Templeton…), and it is so memorable and jumps out at me, because it fucked me up for a solid week. I was convinced that I was born in the wrong place/era. The sentiment of this time and place really resonates with my inner punk who wants to be allowed out, except, well, I’m too nice. And it got me worried that what went down there won’t or can’t ever happen here, because Christchurch for the most part is the cultural equivalent of a loaf of pre-sliced white bread.
What is the biggest artistic/pop cultural moment from the last decade? Yeah, maybe it’s still the hangover from the decade before. ALLEGED crew and affiliates are everywhere. Or maybe more generally, the sentiment that came out of that time, all the good stuff of the late 90’s – skateboarding, art, graffiti, film, fashion, photography – has been polished, monetised, derivatives on derivatives. We’ve been in this post-postmodernist depression. And look what’s in again, the 90’s! But did it ever really go away? Another thing that stands out is the multidisciplinary artist/creative – the lack of needing to specialise in one field, like the the skateboarder/artist, or not needing to stick to one artistic medium. Also, the collab. OMG the collab! Big companies approaching (big or small) artists, as they try to capitalise on underground cultures and just basically commodify anything cool.
Which artist or artists have stood out over the last decade? HUGE question, I’m avoiding it! Every year my attention has been drawn to different stuff depending on what I was up to. During university it was magazines like Juxtapoz and Hi-Fructose where I was getting inspiration from – lowbrow pop surrealism. 2009/10 was really my introduction to graf, hanging out at Manky Chops gallery in Wellington and with various members of Pirates crew (who are now graphic designers, tattooists, fine artists and the likes), very much the new gen of graf meets fine art, and the rise of the mural/street artist. The last few years in Christchurch it’s been a mix, which isn’t surprising given how varied the art scene is here, with the very traditional and more low-brow often right next to each other. There’s been a lot of looking back going on, at CAG for example, so many of the stand-out work has been old work from artists I should probably have known. Maybe we’re in a lull? Otherwise it’s a bit blurry. Specifics are hard. It feels like it just happened and I need a little more distance to work it out.
Lastly, what do you hope 2020 has in store, personally and for the local scene? I hope the art scene can get a bit more momentum and general support from the wider community. There’s a cultural divide that I find really evident in Christchurch, with rich white people who want to buy landscapes and tell their friends they went to an art opening, then a bunch of super skilled and hardworking artists who will never see any of that support. The underground scenes are supported mostly by the people in them, and this city is too small to sustain that. A bit more overlap and progression of the traditional and contemporary art worlds.I’d like to keep painting, but also not be fucking broke for the 11th year in a row. I have way more focus and direction (and Ritalin) than I ever have before, so we’ll see where this new motivation takes me. It’ll likely be reaching out to galleries in the States to better connect with my audience. NZ has little fucks for figurative work, but the US love it, so I’ll be exporting goods!
Dcypher – Artist (@dcypher_dtrcbs)
What has been your personal highlight of 2019? My personal highlights for this year would have to be working on the Salt wall designed by Paul Walters (I added the additional ‘Otautahi’ piece beneath it), it was a fun collaboration and I learned a lot of new techniques. Also, the more recent negative film strip mural depicting historical photographs of the SALT District was fun, again working with the Oi YOU! team.
What piece of someone else’s art in Christchurch has been your favourite this year? It’s a biased viewpoint, but all of Yikes’ new work, murals and artworks, would have to be my favourite in Christchurch for 2019.
What piece of someone else’s art outside of Christchurch has been your favourite this year? Internationally, I would say Sainer from ETAM crew and Aryz from Spain would be my two favourite artists of 2019.
What exhibition by an urban artist(s) has been your favourite this year? I haven’t had a chance to attend many shows this year but based on what I did see Levi Hawken’s sculptures from Fiksate’s Urban Abstract stuck in my memory.
It isn’t just the end of a year; it is also the end of a decade. What events or sentiments have defined the last decade for you? I spent the last decade living and working in Los Angeles so that has had a massive influence on my work.
What is the biggest artistic/pop cultural moment from the last decade? I think for Christchurch it would have to obviously be the earthquakes and the mural festivals that proceeded it and put the city on the map as a cultural hub of New Zealand.
Which artist or artists have stood out over the last decade? Internationally there are so many amazing artists that stand out in my mind. And the mural art movement has been pushed in lots of amazing directions but someone who really stands out I would have to say is Vhils, his work is super impressive.
Lastly, what do you hope 2020 has in store, personally and for the local scene? I’m looking forward to 2020 being super productive. Hopefully producing more and more murals and having more mural festivals and bringing in international artists to add to the already extensive public mural catalogue.
What has been your personal highlight of 2019? In 2019 Fiksate came to the central city and we’ve so many had great exhibition openings, the highlight was probably the latest one, Urban Abstract, for sure. Also, I quit my 9-to-5 and am focussing on being an artist and running Fiksate full time, that is definitely a highlight!
What piece of someone else’s art in Christchurch has been your favourite this year? Levi Hawken has blown my mind with his sculptural work. It was so good to have it in Urban Abstract…
What piece of someone else’s art outside of Christchurch has been your favourite this year? There are too many to name! I have really enjoyed Remi Rough, the abstract urban artists coming out of Poland, all the female mural artists out there. I have to say that I’m constantly amazed by the stuff that comes across my Instagram feed. I don’t always take in who it is by, but there are so many artists out there that are so talented. I’m blown away everyday by urban art culture, it’s a huge vast ocean of talent.
What exhibition by an urban artist(s) has been your favourite this year? Every single Fiksate exhibition opening! We have had such great vibes, the other exhibitions this year that have stood out have been Jessie Rawcliffe’s shows at CoCA and now at Absolution.
It isn’t just the end of a year; it is also the end of a decade. What events or sentiments have defined the last decade for you? In 2010 I met Nathan and we fell in love. Then in 2011 the earthquake struck, you can’t not mention that, but that’s also when our street art journey began and we became a team and since that day when we made paste ups of Band Aids or Nath’s Dr Suits character, that energy has never faded away.
With Fiksate, we are here to give a leg up to artists who don’t get that from other contemporary art galleries, we are here to give urban artists the prominence they deserve because they are a talented bunch of people. We want to give local artists the chance to show alongside international artists, showing the standard here.
What is the biggest artistic/pop cultural moment from the last decade? Man, it’s a long decade! I’d say the emergence of Anderson Paak.
Which artist or artists have stood out over the last decade? I really enjoy Gary Stranger. Every time Cleon Peterson puts out something it blows my mind, his latest work, it’s so dark and dirty. I’ve got to say that the artists who have been part of our shows at Fiksate, like Askew One, Pener, Joel Hart… And of course Dr Suits, he blows my mind every time and I hate it because he makes it look so easy!
Lastly, what do you hope 2020 has in store, personally and for the local scene? I hope that I will become a full-time artist and that Fiksate will become a solid grounding for urban art in the city, a mural agency is part of that plan too, working to get more murals around the city. I also hope urban art is given more education and acceptance of all its aspects.
PKAY – Artist (@aaron.p.k)
What has been your personal highlight of 2019? Shooting Steven Park’s 6×4 summer collection.
What piece of someone else’s art in Christchurch has been your favourite this year? Vesil’s entire output this year.
What piece of someone else’s art outside of Christchurch has been your favourite this year? No answer.
What exhibition by an urban artist(s) has been your favourite this year? Urban Abstract was great.
It isn’t just the end of a year; it is also the end of a decade. What events or sentiments have defined the last decade for you? I feel like I’m giving a very obvious answer but the earthquakes have been hugely impactful, particularly for people like myself who were in their early teens, as it changed the way people my age experienced the city (or lack of one) during our formative years.
What is the biggest artistic/pop cultural moment from the last decade? Mass meme culture (and muralism).
Which artist or artists have stood out over the last decade? Consistently over the whole decade DTR have pulled it off.
Lastly, what do you hope 2020 has in store, personally and for the local scene? More creative opportunities and some failed rebuild projects to retain the city’s spicy ‘bando energy
Dr Suits – Artist, Gallery Owner (@_dr_suits/@fiksate_gallery)
What has been your personal highlight of 2019? The basketball court [Forces] in New Brighton was a big highlight for me. Just making it through to the end of the year is also a feat.
What piece of someone else’s art in Christchurch has been your favourite this year? TOGO all day, without a doubt.
What piece of someone else’s art outside of Christchurch has been your favourite this year? I don’t think I have even left the city! I looked online a couple of times, probably Remi Rough. He’s fucking killing it.
What exhibition by an urban artist(s) has been your favourite this year? I wouldn’t want to be biased, but Urban Abstract was off the chain for us. That was a mammoth project and something that we worked on for a long time. I love urban abstract artwork and I just like to push my agenda! It’s like I love this so you should at least consider it, because I don’t even know if people even knew it existed. It’s really exciting the direction urban abstract art can go. I mean abstract art has been at the forefront of driving contemporary art for a long time, it naturally fits, but the murals and the scale and the insane concepts that can be translated, even stickers, paste ups and graffiti as well murals, it is all so exciting. Graffiti is essentially an abstraction of letter forms, but now artists are just completely letting go altogether.
It isn’t just the end of a year; it is also the end of a decade. What events or sentiments have defined the last decade for you? Meeting my wife Jenna and forming a whanau with her.
What is the biggest artistic/pop cultural moment from the last decade? Over the last decade rap music has just become so mainstream and dominated the music industry, I have to wonder if rap going to become rock? All the good rock songs are by artists from the 60s and 70s, is hip hop now just people reinventing the wheel, with the best hip-hop artists from the 90s? It’s gone so far from its original roots, it seems like the pure reason hip hop music came to the foreground is so contradictory to where it is now, where it used to be about the little guy, now its all about celebrities and big names. What’s next, what’s the next new music?
Which artist or artists have stood out over the last decade? Anderson Paak, TOGO, Leon Bridges… Polish abstract artists are bonkers, they are just driving it. I don’t know if it’s just my preferred aesthetic, but they are so amazing. They are next level. Maybe it’s the Soviet influence of propaganda. Living in New Zealand, I can’t even picture what a day living in Poland is even like. You come across an artist 5 years ago and they take it somewhere even better, what is in the water over there?!
Lastly, what do you hope 2020 has in store, personally and for the local scene? I need to spend some more time with my family, that’s a personal goal. As for urban art and the city, I’m obviously an advocate for abstract art and I want the city to embrace more abstract murals. Sanctioned works need to celebrate the artists, rather than give them a brief. In those situations artists can show their technical ability, but they can’t always show their voice. We need to have that diversity. The public will then become more aware of the issues artists are confronting, whether it is process driven or socially-minded. The process currently is dictatorial and often driven by people who lack an understanding of art.
Wongi ‘Freak’ Wilson – Artist (@wongi.wilson)
What has been your personal highlight of 2019? Painting the second stage of Boxed Quarter was cool because it was nice to be back again to add to the first round of works I did there. They give me full creative freedom. It’s great to have clients like that who know my work, trust my process and let me do my thing. I’ve had lots of positive feedback on the greyscale portraits and photo real paintings that I did. One painting is of a photo I took of one of the foster pups we had which makes it personal.
Teaming up with DOC and the Godley Heads Heritage Trust who commissioned me to paint the Godley Head gun turrets was pretty cool too. The paintings are based on historic photos of men and women who were the soldiers that manned the turrets during WW2. It was an amazing site to paint as was the subject matter. Another highlight were the pieces I painted for the Fresh Produce exhibition in Auckland. I never get the time between commissions to paint on canvas but I really wanted to include some work once I was invited. I got into the studio every chance I had and painted still life images of my wife from my personal collection and they turned out great. Finally, the Rollickin Gelato commission was a great way to end the year because I’d been wanting to paint a hand holding an ice cream for some time and it fit perfectly with their brief. They wanted it to represent their employees and they had a photo shoot of one with the tattoos and jewellery and sent me a few dozen photos to choose from. It was nice to be painting in Cashel Mall again, which I haven’t done since the first few years after the quakes.
What piece of someone else’s art in Christchurch has been your favourite this year? My favourite pieces this year were any and all Jungle pieces that were done, but specifically Weks did two mean ones and Lurq did a dope one too, on top of that the bro Elias did a great portrait of Jungle which was awesome.
Although, if I needed to point out a specific piece of work, I really liked he UV/Aztec styled characters that Sirum, Linz, Dem189 and Bryan Itch did at the Ten Pin Bowling spot. Mad cool stuff.
What piece of someone else’s art outside of Christchurch has been your favourite this year? The artist Royal Dog did some outstanding portraits this year and Bust’s graffiti/cartoony combination styled work has been awesome too. 1UP’s boat piece or their underwater reef piece were ground breaking, and Blesea One’s character steez was also mad cool, specifically, I thoroughly enjoyed his Dragon Ball Z series.
What exhibition by an urban artist(s) has been your favourite this year? Two shows from this year that would have been amazing to see would have to be Tilt’s exhibition Future Primitive, and, without a doubt, Martha Cooper and 1UP Crew’s one night exhibition in Melbourne. Such a mean team up from some heavy hitters in the scene.
It isn’t just the end of a year; it is also the end of a decade. What events or sentiments have defined the last decade for you? The earthquakes were obviously a huge part of the decade, as well as the abandoned buildings/graffiti playground that they left behind. Getting married to my wife and having an amazing partner and best friend. The RISE exhibition was also a memorable part of the decade, being part of a street art show in the Canterbury Museum was crazy and with all the artists that the show brought through.
A huge event from the last decade was getting the chance to travel to and hike to Everest Base Camp as part of a commission for Kathmandu. It was an absolutely amazing experience that was an adventure of a lifetime and extremely memorable. Baby Yoda.
What is the biggest artistic/pop cultural moment from the last decade? The end of Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, street art becoming mainstream, the final season of Samurai Jack, Baby Yoda, memes of Baby Yoda, Dragon Ball Super…
Which artist or artists have stood out over the last decade? There’s been so many amazing artists from the last decade, but Pichi & Avo’s paintings and sculptures really stood out to me, 1UP Crew’s work was also high impact, and Insane51’s portraits were great, his red and blue 3D-style murals also stood out. I’d also like to mention Tasso and Case from Ma’Claim Crew, they were the first photorealistic painters I saw back in the 2000s, but their works from the past decade have stood out as far as skill levels go.
Lastly, what do you hope 2020 has in store, personally and for the local scene? Personally, I’d like it to be a positive, progressive and prosperous one, full of love, laughter and learning with lots of highlights and happiness. Specifically, I’d like to push my work further and further, expanding on my skill level and developing my pieces, processes, portraits and photorealism to new levels. As for the local scene, I’d love it to be more active on all levels, more cohesive across the board, as I feel it’s quite disconnected and disjointed at times, and for there to be more large scale murals painted, more fully themed productions, and more festivals and artist events to help grow and push the scene.
Jane Maloney (M/K Press) – Designer (@mk.press)
What has been your personal highlight of 2019? Travelling to Europe again for the first time in 5 years. It felt like a long time away so I was very happy to go back. Also making the decision to quit a great job that didn’t serve me well mentally and emotionally.
What piece of someone else’s art in Christchurch has been your favourite this year? All of the works in Playing the Drums by Bill Hammond at Christchurch Art Gallery, with notable mentions for the works Volcano Flag (1994), and Eating, Drinking, Smoking (1972).
What piece of someone else’s art outside of Christchurch has been your favourite this year? Nature Lovers (2003) by Tony de Lautour which I saw at NMG Arrowtown, Snakes (1969) by M.C.Escher, a coloured woodcut from the Escher and Nendo show Between Two Worlds at Melbourne’s NGV, and Nan Golden’s photobook The Ballad of Sexual Dependency (1986), which I saw at the Tate Modern.
What exhibition by an urban artist(s) has been your favourite this year? Face Value, the group show at Fiksate Gallery, and Convo by Tom Gerrard, Matthew Fortrose and Elliott Routledge at Stolenspace Gallery, London.
It isn’t just the end of a year; it is also the end of a decade. What events or sentiments have defined the last decade for you? Starting my business M/K Press in December 2013, becoming self-employed full-time in December 2016, having my first art studio space (The Welder) in September 2017, and becoming a part of Fiksate Gallery and Studio in April 2018.
What is the biggest artistic/pop cultural moment from the last decade? The creation of Instagram in 2010 and its impact on the art world.
Which artist or artists have stood out over the last decade? The 2010s was the decade that ‘Street Art’ became the new ‘Pop Art’. Banksy, KAWS and Shepard Fairey stand out to me as the most prominent street artists who first broke into the mainstream.
Lastly, what do you hope 2020 has in store, personally and for the local scene? The growth of M/K Press, as I am back to running the business full-time. This includes working on some personal projects and hopefully starting my MFA. In the arts scene in Christchurch, I just hope that the support we are getting from local council and the general public continues to increase. Pay local artists appropriately for their time, buy their work and give full credit when sharing their work, and we should all be able to keep on growing.
Josh Bradshaw (Uncle Harold) – Artist (@thejournalofuncleharold/@joshuamarkbradshaw)
What has been your personal highlight of 2019? A personal highlight of mine of 2019 was the decision to branch out and fully delve into new mediums and explore a lot of new ideas and work that are really breaking away from the style that people would be used to seeing from me. None of this work has been seen publicly yet and that in itself is really exciting.
What piece of someone else’s art in Christchurch has been your favourite this year? My favourite piece by a local Christchurch artist in 2019 was What Do You Write Bro? by Tom Kerr from Face Value group exhibition at Fiksate.
What piece of someone else’s art outside of Christchurch has been your favourite this year? My favourite piece by an artist outside of Christchurch was I Never Learned To Tie My Shoes by Julio Alejandro from his solo exhibition Apple Eaters at Blackbook Gallery in Colorado.
What exhibition by an urban artist(s) has been your favourite this year? My favourite exhibition of 2019 was the group show Urban Abstract at Fiksate Gallery in October.
It isn’t just the end of a year; it is also the end of a decade. What events or sentiments have defined the last decade for you? Some key events of the decade that were super impactful for me were moving from a small rural town with absolutely zero form of culture to do with the arts into the city, which was a pretty big eye opener, then shortly after was the opportunity to start a city all over again with the earthquakes. The city became a playground for any artistic endeavours. From the graffiti and street art that resulted from fallen buildings and newly exposed building facades to the rise of small collectives and exhibitions run by local artists that for the most part were met with great support from peers and the public.
What is the biggest artistic/pop cultural moment from the last decade? I don’t know a damn thing about any art movements or anything but I do feel like the introduction of social media has absolutely had a huge impact on the art world. Anyone and everyone is an artist on Instagram.
Which artist or artists have stood out over the last decade? Michael Reeder is one that stands out off the top of my head. He has produced an incredible amount of work and I’m always impressed how he is able to do so many different variations of his work. Materials and techniques are always being explored to keep it fresh and exciting.
Lastly, what do you hope 2020 has in store, personally and for the local scene? For me personally I hope 2020 brings a lot more freedom for me to go down different avenues with the work with the work I make and to not just feel restricted by anything that doesn’t seem necessary. For the local scene this year, I hope to see more small, gritty, underground DIY exhibitions being put on by local artists.
Spread the word about what's happening in the Christchurch urban art scene:
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’…
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 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.
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…
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.