April has come and gone and while the year moves at a steady pace, there has been plenty to keep us entertained. Although the weather is getting a little less predictable, it is providing a late flurry of sunshine (at least after the inevitable chilly mornings), extending the window for outdoor activities like painting murals! While there have been a number of new outdoor works to explore, there have also been some very cool things going on indoors as well. Exhibitions like Ghostcat’s Shadow Town at Fiksate Gallery and the Canterbury Museum’s Hakē: Street Art Revealed, have provided popular experiences. As always, we have a recap of what tickled our fancy, compiled as an easy-to-follow list! So, without further ado, here is our And That Was… April 2021…
Ghost’s Shadow Town @ Fiksate
Ghostcat’sShadow Town was highly anticipated and the crowd that showed up for the opening night at Fiksate were not disappointed. The collection of miniatures drawn from Christchurch’s urban environment were hot tickets, with people drawn to the beautiful intricate details and the associated nostalgia. With just a few days left at the time of writing, if you haven’t made it to Shadow Town, hurry!
Benjamin Work @ The Canterbury Museum
When the Canterbury Museum were presented with a window to reveal the legacy works from the massively successful Rise exhibition, they also wanted to add a new work to the main exhibition hall. Enter Auckland artist Benjamin Work, whose massive, striking floor mural Motutapu II draws from the iconography found on the Tongan ‘Akau Tau (war clubs) in the Museum’s collection. The work adds a new element to the surrounding wall paintings from Rise, highlighting the diverse trajectories of urban artists over the last decade.
TMD x DTR x Ysek X Chile One in New Brighton
On a cold Saturday morning (the night after the Shadow Town opening), a heavyweight collection of artists got together in New Brighton for a painting jam. Local artists Dcypher and Ikarus of the DTR crew, Christchurch-based Chilean artists YSEK and Chile One, and Auckland’s Phat1, Diva and Dyle of the legendary TMD crew, freshened up a popular New Brighton wall with traditional graffiti pieces and characters, creating a legacy of the meeting of some of New Zealand’s biggest talent.
Charles Williams and Benjamin Work @ Etu Pasifika Health
In the wake of the launch of the TMD: An Aotearoa Graffiti Story at The Dowse in Lower Hutt, crew members Benjamin Work and Charles Williams arrived in Christchurch to paint a mural on the new Etu Pasifika Health Centre. The work combines the signature styles of the two artists with a design conceived by fellow TMD member Janine Williams. The background is coloured in a bright blue, black, yellow and white pattern, with Work’s Tongan warrior chief figure on the left couched within the architectural framework, while Williams’ depiction of a Red-tailed Tropicbird soars upwards from the bottom right. The harmonious combination of styles creating an impressive new work for Christchurch.
TMD: An Aotearoa Graffiti Story @ The Dowse
It may not have been in Christchurch, but I couldn’t leave out my trip to Wellington for the opening of the TMD: An Aotearoa Graffiti Story at Lower Hutt’s The Dowse Museum. Combining history and installations that spoke to the culture and roots of New Zealand’s most iconic graffiti crew with a group show of crew members’ contemporary practice, the exhibition struck all the right chords. The additional benefits of seeing the crew members painting murals around Lower Hutt and then as part of a panel discussion topped off the weekend. I highly recommend – go see it!
And That Was… April 2021 – what would you add to the list? Comment below to let us know!
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Wellington. It’s a personal favourite. The capital city is perfect for an urban weekend away, with it’s cool bars, vibrant street life and innumerable cafes for mornings after (personally, no trip to Wellington is complete without a breakfast burrito from Sweet Mother’s Kitchen). While Ōtautahi will always be home, a trip to Wellington always leaves me planning a return, looking for reasons to make my way back soon. The beauty of the city for me is that the main event (Wellington is a favourite gig venue personally) is supported so well by the city’s additional charms – I always take a day to simply wander, up and down Cuba Street, along the waterfront, up the hills, and in doing so, catch the urban art that marks its walls and alleys. From big murals by well-known local artists, to the array of smaller additions, Wellington’s urban art is always fun to explore and seems a good fit with the city’s lively profile and physical layout. From painted boats to schools of sharks, piles of skulls to bicycle rides, playful to meaningful, what follows is a postcard from Wellington’s streets!
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“The rise of TMD as a creative collective has its origins in Auckland’s mid to late 90’s graffiti scene. The post-recessionary environment after the 1987 stock market crash was the perfect incubator for a thriving and vibrant Hip-Hop scene with a uniquely pacific slant. From the decrepit rail infrastructure to the abandoned buildings and vacant lots – the city provided an abundance of grey area where these young people could forge lifelong bonds, while cementing their sense of identity. With humble beginnings from this crew emerged its fair share of unsung and underground heroes as well as many of Aotearoa’s first global stars in the graffiti and large scale street art arena.” – ASKEW ONE (from The Dowse website)
There is no larger shadow in Aotearoa graffiti and street art history than Auckland’s TMD crew. While not the oldest graffiti crew in New Zealand, founded in 1997 by Phat1 and Adict, TMD has undeniably made an indelible mark on graffiti and street art culture both here and overseas. The collective has grown both in number (with over 35 past and present members, including international representatives from Australia and Germany, such as Vans the Omega, Sofles and WOW123) and scope, with its members ranging from recreational graffiti writers to professional artists, occupying streets, studios, galleries and beyond. Both collectively and individually the members of TMD have gained prominence here and overseas, from Phat1 and Diva’s (Charles and Janine Williams) Bird Gang mural work, telling stories of place through the symbolism of native birds, to Misery‘s instantly recognisable kitschy doe-eyed characters and Berst‘s dynamic letterforms and documentation of graffiti culture, where his online videos have an audience of tens of thousands.
In recent years, urban art has gained more widespread attention, publicly through the rise of contemporary muralism and its ability to infiltrate our daily experiences, but also institutionally, with the likes of Rise at the Canterbury Museum (2013) and Paradox at the Tauranga Art Gallery (2016). The staging of TMD: An Aotearoa Graffiti Story at Lower Hutt’s The Dowse Art Gallery (who themselves have a history of urban art-related exhibitions dating back to the turn of the Milliennium), running from late March until June, is a welcome development. Rather than attempting to present a more generic survey or a one person show, the exhibition considers the broader cultural movement of graffiti within the tighter focus of the TMD crew while still spanning styles and historical narratives; contextualising both the roots of the TMD crew within the setting of mid-90s and early 2000s Auckland, and their current exploits, successfully packaging the complexities and trajectories of contemporary urban art and artists who have sprung forth from these rebellious beginnings, no longer held to any defined expectations.
The exhibition, curated by Dowse director Karl Chitham with Christchurch-raised TMD member Pest5/Johnny 4Higher, is split between two distinct zones, an immersive installation space, featuring formative and contextual commentaries, and a more traditional white-walled gallery presentation that highlights the current work of crew members, spanning painting, sculpture, photography and more. This format allows the viewer to consider the significant journey undertaken by the crew, from an idea to unite disparate graffiti writers into a collective of diverse creatives, placing them within the wider narrative of New Zealand art while acknowledging the significance of graffiti culture to generations of young New Zealand creatives.
On entering the exhibition, visitors are greeted by a writers bench and a set of painted train carriages, with an echo of recorded discussions just audible. Smaller tags on the bench play off against the larger and more bombastic train pieces. The track setting highlights the centrality of train painting in graffiti culture not just locally, but internationally, although with a specific Aotearoa profile. Behind the bench is another slice of Kiwiana, an iconic corner dairy, a bastion of New Zealand childhoods across generations. The fabricated dairy, named the ‘The Mini Dairy’ (TMD), utilises all the nostalgic riffs, from the Tip Top-inspired signage to dollar mixtures (the lollies replaced with aerosol nozzles), neon star price points and an arcade video game machine (supposedly out of order). A cynical eye might point out that the dairy is primarily the exhibition shop, providing the opportunity to peddle merchandise, but it also has several conceptual references as an installation in its own right. Dairies served as a location youngsters not only congregated around, but also as a community hub that would often provide the opportunity for legal or commissioned murals on their walls prior to larger commercial projects becoming a reality. Furthermore, the dairy exemplifies how the creation of commercial goods has been embraced by urban artists, from clothing to vinyl toys, a trajectory that might make the more elitist fine art world shudder (think of the blowback against Kaws by art commentators), but is a reality for many to make an artistic career possible and their art accessible to an audience perhaps less likely to frequent an art gallery.
Across an imaginary road is a grungy flat, based on a former residence where crew members congregated. The sparse room provides historical references in analogue form with tags and drawings on the walls (including a roll call in the classic New Zealand Straights lettering style) and scattered photo albums, event posters and blackbooks, but also digitally – with videos from TMD member Berst’s Real Time web series playing on the boxy 90s TV, and an old PC for surfing websites such as ArtCrimes, an influential forum for the graffiti world and an inspiration to many TMD members. The worn surroundings, devoid of luxury, highlight the drive to make things from nothing and the dominant influence of graffiti on the lives of these young creatives and the evolution of the relationship between graffiti and the internet.
Tucked around the corner, a rotating selection of photographs (photographers and crew members Rimoni and OneDeap have been key documentarians of this history) adds a personal face, members depicted painting, posing, and playing, projected oversized on the gallery walls, imbuing candid moments with significance. Either side, collaborative wall paintings highlight the traditional graffiti approaches and styles of crew members, referencing the common form of crew productions, as well as providing a bridge towards the gallery space and the work artists have developed over ensuing years. These immersive spaces are informative (notably the stories are not given to you in wall text, they become part of the environmental detail – wafting audio, static encoded video, interactive elements and references in the most traditional urban forms – tags and wall writing, a fit for graffiti’s own historical recording which has for a long time been largely folkloric), providing important context for viewers before they cross the threshold into the white cube space.
The ‘Post-Graffiti’ gallery space features works that span the spectrum of practice. Book-ended by impressive works at either end; Benjamin Work‘s tapa cloth-inspired banner unfurled from wall to floor, drawing on the iconography of his Tongan heritage and Lady Diva’s subtle flag-like geometric abstractions on wooden panels, suggesting references to carving and weaving that perhaps raise ideas of colonialism and imperialism, the spaces in between are filled with varied works. Askew‘s glimmering digital-influenced painterly abstractions that draw on the spectre of shifting human presence in our urban environments contrast with Deus’ (Elliot Francis Stewart) intricately illustrated coffee table, drawing the viewer closer to inspect the stunning graphic details on a mundane domestic object. Gary Silipa‘s unsettling and powerful installation filled with painted tyres, yellow chain links, tarpaulin and painted iconography sits near the still reverence of Berst’s pillar-like sculptural letter forms, light emanating from inside to give a celestial glow to an apparently devotional monument to graffiti. Other works highlight a raft of concerns, from social issues, cultural and national identity and self-reflection, to moments of everyday life, process-driven focus, riffs on the traditions and evolutions of graffiti writing and the urban environment and striking abstract ruminations. The diverse spectrum of themes, as well as styles, materials and approaches, suggests the personal creative journey of each contributor, and yet, there is an undefinable connection as well, the shared experiences and the original creative impetus of graffiti hang in the air, unifying the collection without requiring explicit threads.
While the format may mean some viewers relate with specific elements more than others, the narrative of TMD: An Aotearoa Graffiti Story could not be told in one presentation style alone. As it was probably to be expected, the exhibition drew some criticism for the presence of tagging, but to pick such a quarrel is to miss the bigger picture. Graffiti writing brought these young people together and is part of their creative pathway. The presence of graffiti is a central and necessary part of the story, informing the narrative both socially and formally. TMD: An Aotearoa Graffiti Story revels in the celebration of collectivism and its empowering potential for individual members. As a representation of urban art’s roots and future pathways, TMD: An Aotearoa Graffiti Story is surprisingly focussed. Rather than a pervasive survey of graffiti and street art in New Zealand, TMD: An Aotearoa Graffiti Story, nodding to those that came before and winking to the future, is grounded in the environments and relationships of the artists of TMD, a camaraderie that emanates throughout the history of this crew and the show itself.
TMD: An Aotearoa Graffiti Story at The Dowse Art Gallery runs until June 2021.
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High and low, under and above, inside and outside, protected and exposed. The city presents innumerable contrasts, all of which can provide opportunities for intrepid artists. From graffiti writers marking spaces no one else sees as useful or functional, to street artists creating moments of engagement in unexpected places, a city is always full of sites to explore and alter. From rooftops to wooden hoardings, lampposts to stop signs, revealing, playful and existential interventions can be found across and beyond our lines of sight. This diversity of locations is matched by the diversity of practice, with no material form invalid or off-limits; Chero One’s rocket ships, painted scrolls, or even hot sauce-filled buttons warning you not to do what you so urgently want to do. Always mimicking the visual culture that we come to expect, such interventions play on our tendency toward assumption. Popular culture rifs depend on your recognition of trends and eras, like digital memes, requiring some savvy understanding. Anti-advertising grasps the ubiquity and absurdity of commercial communications. Graffiti is an expected response to our dictum that success means having your photo on a billboard or the back of a bus. Ultimately, the streets are full of life, both official and unofficial, you just have to look closer and further, higher and lower, under and above, and start to sort out the relationships…
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2020. Sigh. I still remember the first day of 2020, the sun was an ominously fiery orb in a grey sky, the result of the marauding bush fires in Australia. There were intriguing stories of a virus outbreak in China. There were rumblings of an escalating conflict between the U.S. and Iran. Let’s just say the markers were there.
2020 just continually threw curveballs. While we spent a lot more time at home (and for some legitimately feared the supermarket), faced massive uncertainty around our futures, and watched the insanity of the U.S. political system play out (t.b.c…) while death counts and infection rates continued to spiral and spike, it is important to look for positives amongst the icebergs, like the vital discourses arising from the Black Lives Matter movement, or our embrace of new avenues to enjoy the things that seemed so far away for much of 2020 (online exhibitions and concerts, and personally, Josh Gad’s Reunited Apart series, where the casts of Back to the Future, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and The Goonies got back together via Zoom). Good or bad, the effects of 2020 (which themselves extend back far further than those 12 months) will linger far longer, surely influencing our behaviour and output in untold ways, from the way we make art to the institutions that police our communities. Indeed, the relative sense of calm normality here in Godzone is a far cry from distant shores, where 2021 is already following an equally hectic path…
With that reflection in mind, we once again reached out to a heap of our friends to look back over the last twelve months and how their year played out. We asked each contributor five questions; the changes they faced in 2020, their lockdown experience, their creative highlights and the art that mattered in 2020, and their contingency plans for 2021…
Here’s what some of our favourite Christchurch creatives made of 2020…
What changes did 2020 bring for you personally? The biggest change for me personally was a new focus and direction within my Jen Head works, which came about through a friend’s request for a birthday card, that I then developed further over lockdown, and it’s just carried on. It has been a sort of ‘ah-ha’ moment. I’m loving this direction, it’s more simplified and has focus, but with endless options to explore, and best of all, it has been well received. I’m enjoying doing personalised commissions at the moment. I’m loving painting realism again and when combined with the abstract character of my Jen Heads, it creates impact.
The biggest change for Fiksate, is packing up and moving to a new location. It has been a stressful few months, but I’m super excited about the new space, it’s a warehouse style spot [54 Hawdon Street, Sydenham] and we can’t wait to start fresh in the new year.
What got you through lockdown? The fact my three-year-old son, Frank, still takes naps got me through! I could count on those two or three hours for my alone time, to create artwork, to have some space. We packed up a lot of studio material and made a desk space in our spare room during lockdown. It was a godsend. Dr Suits [Jen’s husband and Fiksate co-owner] was working at a large scale in the backyard, but I enjoyed sitting and really focusing. I wrote and illustrated a children’s book, developed my Jen Heads and played with patterns and ideas.
Dr Suits was a massive support and did all the supermarket shopping, but there was never enough beer! Our neighbours were amazing and the North Beach crew in general, we could keep in touch through the fences or distanced walks. Facebook video calls daily with my Mum/Frank’s Nana were also helpful!
What has been your personal artistic/creative highlight of 2020? The start of the year was a banger with the Ōrua Paeroa mural in New Brighton. I was able to take part in Shared Lines, an exhibition curated and organised by Audrey Baldwin and colleagues [Now displayed in the new Spark building on the corner of Hereford and Colombo Streets]. I took part in the Conscious Club’s SDG Exhibition, which was amazing. I also organised Perspective – Women in Urban Art, a line-up full of top female urban artists in New Zealand, as well as international graffiti artist Glam. Perspective was super special, we produced a zine to accompany the exhibition which included amazing insights into the creative backstories, challenges, and successes of the artists. Dr. Suits, Porta and I also completed a large mural at Switch New Brighton. It was really fun, and it felt good to bring colour to our neighbourhood.
What pieces of art or cultural events, local or international, caught your eye and which do you think will define 2020? This question is too hard! There are too many in my mind to list!
What are your plans if 2021 turns out worse than 2020? My plan for 2021, if it turns out worse than 2020, is to focus on what brings me and my family joy, from the small things in my daily, to bigger actions, like giving and sharing. To really focus on nature and getting out there and into it. I’ll try not to ‘stress drink’ as much as I did throughout this year, haha!
What changes did 2020 bring for you personally? At the start of the year I had secured a massive job, I was really excited as it would have been one of my biggest murals yet, but unfortunately due to Covid-19 and the economic recession, the client had to cancel which sucked! So that was my first realisation how serious the pandemic would be for the rest of the year being self-employed. But besides that, I had a relatively steady year in my art/design business, it got pretty scary there for a bit but the Government and CreativeNZ really pulled through for self-employed creatives, which I am very grateful for. Other than that, I have had a HUGE rise this year of people asking me for free or cheap work which really fucks me off. My other business that I co-own, The Conscious Club, definitely struggled as we mainly host events, but we managed to keep going and pulled through together in these rough times. We even got a studio/retail space in town which is pretty awesome.
What got you through lockdown? My partner and I live together, and he had been going full conspiracy mode since the start of January as our friend was over in Hong Kong and telling us how crazy the pandemic was and that it could come to New Zealand. So, by the time it got here we were quite prepared but still pretty freaked out. We both used the time to be creative. I still had work I could do from home, and my partner was making a hip-hop album. The only downside was both our studios were in the same room, so it was pretty loud and distracting. Other than that, we went on lots of walks with the dog and lots of Zoom calls with mates. It wasn’t too bad apart from when you had to go to the supermarket!
What has been your personal artistic/creative highlight of 2020? I have been in a lot more exhibitions this year which has been cool, and I also curated a massive exhibition fundraising and bringing awareness to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals [SDGs]. Also, I have been working with a really cool producer from the UK doing album covers for some big names in hip-hop. Also, the Risograph print run with Fiksate and M/K Press was really cool. That’s all I can remember, I think I have blacked out a lot of this year, haha…
What pieces of art or cultural events, local or international, caught your eye and which do you think will define 2020? I think the anti-racism movement is a huge part of 2020 and from my experience there are a lot of people that are becoming more aware of racism and what it looks like and what people of colour go through every day. I still feel like there is a big divide, and I can see the opposite where there are a lot of people pushing back on the movement too. Getting in amongst it all can be pretty intense and overwhelming sometimes to say the least. This year me and my friends started a campaign called Stand The Fuck Up, sharing the story of our friend who was racially attacked at a party and ended up on the news. We have an event surrounding this planned for 2021 to continue the conversation.
What are your plans if 2021 turns out worse than 2020? Hmm, I think I’ll probably head for the bush, I can’t take much more!
P.K. (graffiti writer, photographer)
What changes did 2020 bring for you personally? This year I moved to a new house, where I can have an actual studio space, which has given me the opportunity to experiment with more things and be closer to the city than I was back at my old place.
What got you through lockdown? Once I figured out it was chill to leave the house without getting stopped in the street, I had a great time in lockdown. I really enjoyed going for long walks and bike rides while it was quiet. The cleaner air was awesome! Although I do feel it has made me even more reclusive than I was before lockdown happened. I’m still not very used to being in situations with lots of people even months after it.
What has been your personal artistic/creative highlight of 2020? Something that stands out in my memory of 2020 is the group show A Tribe Called Haz put on at Outsiders, Haz Called a Tribe, that I was fortunate to be a part of. It was really cool to see such a good and diverse selection of work from people who often don’t exhibit their creations publicly.
What pieces of art or cultural events, local or international, caught your eye and which do you think will define 2020? Props to Weks, Vesil and Dofey for winning graf, the Green Party for all their good work in parliament this year, and to everyone that’s dedicated their year to trying to make the world a better place.
What are your plans if 2021 turns out worse than 2020? Never plan anything.
What changes did 2020 bring for you personally? I’m anti-social as shit, so it didn’t affect me too much apart from delays on a couple of projects, haha. But most, if not all, of those already had funding secured so they were just postponed until after the initial lock down period. Isolation was tight: be lazy a.f. and don’t feel guilty about it, hahaha!
What got you through lockdown? I hang out with my girlfriend all day erry day anyway, so it wasn’t that much different. We did groceries like real adults for a change though and made more interesting dinners cos there was so much more time. I don’t remember if I even did any drawings or arts, but maybe I did…
What has been your personal artistic/creative highlight of 2020? It’d be a toss-up between the South Frame mural and the New Brighton Outdoor Art Festivalproduction. Both were rad concepts and large walls that incorporated large amounts of traditional graffiti pieces and elements. Also, making some 3D diorama street scenes and other kinda sculpture related works was cool.
What pieces of art or cultural events, local or international, caught your eye and which do you think will define 2020? Honestly, I’m a bit of a savage and don’t really even look at or follow art or cultural shit. Fuck racists anyway, if you needed BLM to tell you that shit is fucked up out here, you’re a goddamn idiot. Was it even positive or just more divisive than ever? Weks and Pesto’s killer run during lockdown is my favourite art movement of 2020, hands down. Vesil and Dofey get the honourable mentions too, straight up crushing the city.
What are your plans if 2021 turns out worse than 2020? Keep doing my thing and watch the world burn down around me. I’m more afraid of meteors crashing into the earth than catching a cold. Realistically I’d be kinda keen for the planet to descend into complete chaos and anarchy, we’re too comfortable anyway…
What changes did 2020 bring for you personally? One of the biggest changes in 2020 for me involved experimenting in the studio during lock down, which was well overdue. But once the lockdowns were lifted work definitely picked back up pretty quickly. It felt like it almost gave people an extra drive to get new or pending projects underway.
What got you through lockdown? What got me through lockdown was painting canvases in the studio for sure, nothing serious just painting for therapy really. Obviously, friends and family definitely help in times like that as well. I have friends in the States who are still dealing with the whole problem and its endless ramifications. Just trying to be supportive for them in any way possible was and still is a focus of mine.
What has been your personal artistic/creative highlight of 2020? Some of my biggest and most complex projects to date have happened in 2020, so I can’t complain. All the big walls we’ve painted as a crew would have to be my personal favourites, from the Jungle tribute by the Moorhouse tracks, to the South Frame wall and the NBOAF seaside wall, to name a few.
What pieces of art or cultural events, local or international, caught your eye and which do you think will define 2020? For sure all the looting and rioting and peaceful protests that were attached to the Black Lives Matter movement. And all the street parties after Trump lost the election! America has had a real bi-polar year! I do feel 2020 was a super productive year for graffiti and street art internationally.
What are your plans if 2021 turns out worse than 2020? If 2021 is worse than 2020, I’m going to make the most of it in the studio and really try to produce a large body of work for a show in 2022!
What changes did 2020 bring for you personally? My studies went fully online which just made me have a lot more control over time. I found myself able to relocate my study to evening where I was more productive anyway, and use my days to go out (while we weren’t in lock down). Everything that happened in 2020 gave me the opportunity to find my love for photography again.
What got you through lockdown? Netflix, routine, university studies, naps. Boring things mainly. I wish I could be one of those cool people who were super productive during that time.
What has been your personal artistic/creative highlight of 2020? Being part of the Perspective exhibition at Fiksate gallery. But also just learning how to set aside time for creative projects.
What pieces of art or cultural events, local or international, caught your eye and which do you think will define 2020? I think that celebrity Imagine cover captures 2020 pretty great. And if you wanna get more deep than just how shit it was, the reaction to it was a great example of people (maybe) starting to understand that different people in the same society have different experiences. Whether it’s black people vs white people’s experience with the cops or rich vs poor people with the pandemic.
What are your plans if 2021 turns out worse than 2020? More naps.
What changes did 2020 bring for you personally? I guess my biggest change was a steely determination to get out and put stuff up rather than take a photo for Instagram to show people what I had put up. I pretty much shut all my social media accounts at the start of the year and only restarted my sticker one when my #slapcitycollab started up. I am always on the cusp of shutting it all down. I’ve heard Flickr is making a comeback amongst sticker artists!
What got you through lockdown? Two things: A battery powered chainsaw and the #slapcitycollab (that eventually morphed into #slapcitymashup). I started doing a lockdown challenge, but the inspiration words were a bit ‘meh’, so I wrote out a list of artists I wanted to mashup/collab with my stuff and just started there. Then it turned into 20 days, then 40 days, then 60 days… A whole bunch of rad artists from all over the world got involved and some awesome collaborations came out of it. I was so hyped to see @awasgaga doing a huge Teeth Like Screwdrivers wall for his entry and getting a mashup sticker made with Ocky_bop was pretty epic!
Also, I have a nice garden now.
What has been your personal artistic/creative highlight of 2020? The Slap City Sticker Workshops at Fiksate have been huge for me. We started them at the end of last year and while they obviously stopped during lockdown, when we came out of all that it seemed even more important for us to get together and hang out. While the rest of the world dealt with Covid-19, we were able to sit, draw, chat, have a drink then go out into the street and sprinkle a bit of love around the city. We are fucking lucky, really. Slapcity family!
What pieces of art or cultural events, local or international, caught your eye and which do you think will define 2020? As I said, we are pretty damn lucky here in New Zealand to be able to host art shows, wander the streets and look at stuff and hang out together. Other places are not so lucky. So, my highlight this year happened right at the end in the good old US of A.
The DC Sticker Expo 5.0 was obviously not going to happen in real life this year, so they put the whole show on virtually. You can wander around the gallery and zoom in on stickers and pieces. They did a virtual treasure hunt and I have spent a fair bit of time just looking around. So good! (Keep your eye out for a couple of pencils in there!) Peel Magazine (which used to run in the early 2000s) started a new project after a decade or so: ‘Peel Magazine has a posse’. The basic premise was to design your own version of the classic ‘Andre The Giant has a posse’ sticker and get them all together in one book. Shepard Fairey gave it the green light and it just got printed. Stoked that my design got a full-page spread!
What are your plans if 2021 turns out worse than 2020? To just keep doing shit that makes me happy, I guess. I’m stoked to see friends getting the recognition they deserve. I’m constantly inspired by seeing other people doing amazing things. I like the idea of getting my stuff bigger. I’m going to probably fall out with Instagram again, keep skating a long way, keep buying more records and still be grinning from ear to ear whenever I start up my old car!
What changes did 2020 bring for you personally? The biggest change for me in 2020 was my relocation from the UK to NZ. Moving on my own to the opposite side of the world was always going to be a challenge. As well as saying goodbye to my family and friends, I also said goodbye to my regular pasting crew. I knew I had to find fellow street artists to connect with in Christchurch. Luckily, the Slap City events at Fiksate Gallery helped me enormously with that! Finding this group helped me to not only connect with street artists, but I made friends. Inevitably this helped me settle in. It has also influenced my style, too. I’ve done lots more stickering and started making handmade stickers too, which I hadn’t done before I moved here.
What got you through lockdown? Lockdown was an interesting time. I had just arrived in the country and I didn’t have my current network of friends. My furniture, which I shipped from the UK, got delayed. I was in an empty house (no bed, no couch, no TV, no WiFi!), and on my own. I kind of enjoyed having time to myself and having space to think. I spent the time doing yoga, preparing handmade stickers and making plenty of video calls with family and friends back home in the UK.
What has been your personal artistic/creative highlight of 2020? My highlight this year was taking part in Perspective, an exhibition of women in urban art at Fiksate. It made me really happy to be asked to participate and to have my art showcased with lots of talented artists. It was an exciting project to take part in.
What pieces of art or cultural events, local or international, caught your eye and which do you think will define 2020? What stands out for me in 2020 is how lock down and quarantine seemed to bring artists together from all over the world… So many lockdown art collaborations were being done… I think a lot were initiated by Teeth Like Screwdrivers! I did a lot of collaborations too during lockdown. I guess we all had time, and that’s wonderful.
What are your plans if 2021 turns out worse than 2020? At this stage I have no particular plans for 2021. I think what 2020 has taught me is that life is so unpredictable, no one knows what is around the corner. I’ll continue to make art and spread the spoon love.
What changes did 2020 bring for you personally? One of the biggest changes for 2020 was not being able to head overseas. I’d been psyching myself up, planning to head out into the world and see some sights and experience other ways of life. As to changes in work, I’ve moved away from painting with watercolour into painting primarily with ink. I’ve also used traditional American tattooing designs as inspiration a lot more than I have in previous years.
What got you through lockdown? Pretty much all my energy during lockdown was directed towards painting, DJing or running. I’d wake up around seven each morning, chuck on a podcast and just paint at the kitchen table until I got hungry then I’d make breakfast and carry-on painting. I definitely produced the most works I’ve ever made in my life during that period. Then if the inspiration fountain was running a little dry, I’d jump on the DJ setup we (the Winton Street crew) had also set up in the kitchen. I began getting really into running to combat the claustrophobia I’d feel from spending every day in the kitchen. Everyone knows how good exercise is, so I don’t really need to gas up running and its benefits!
What has been your personal artistic/creative highlight of 2020? My highlights would definitely include Halves on an Exhibition, which Reece Brooker and I had at Outsiders in March (pre-lockdown), then Haz Called A Tribe, the first group show Becca Barclay and I put together at Outsiders in July (post-lockdown). It featured two-and-a-bit handfuls of talented locals/pals. The night got pretty large! I also had my first month-long exhibition filling up all the walls at Black & White Coffee Origins (thanks Chris!), it was an awesome experience, and I learnt a lot.
What pieces of art or cultural events, local or international, caught your eye and which do you think will define 2020? The BLM protests and the USA 2020 election featuring COVID-19 will definitely be the most “2020” thing. You wouldn’t believe it if it wasn’t true, absolutely unreal!
What are your plans if 2021 turns out worse than 2020? Probably learn how to cook, haha! (I can’t cook)
What changes did 2020 bring for you personally? Art wise, the biggest change that 2020 brought for me was probably the retirement of a particular style of work and the pseudonym under which all that work was made. With freedom from the confinement of that one style, I’ve been able to delve into producing work under my own name that has been floating around in my brain for a while. New work. New materials. New fun.
What got you through lockdown? Skateboarding every day in the car park next to my house made lockdown super bearable for me. Luckily, I had a pretty decent supply of art materials as well and with the extra time on my hands it was good to tinker away on plenty of new stuff. With the small amounts of “real work” that I had to do at home and skateboarding and good flat mates and art to work on, lockdown was surprisingly good. I was very lucky.
What has been your personal artistic/creative highlight of 2020? I would have to say the retirement of the ‘Uncle Harold’ pseudonym has been a huge highlight, such a weight off my shoulders that was obviously well overdue. As far as a particular project I was a part of in 2020 that was a highlight, it would have to be the See Me Skateboards project. A bunch of epic local artists got to go into schools and run workshops with the kids painting their own skateboards. It was awesome seeing kids realise art doesn’t always have to be super serious and boring and they got to go crazy with it and experiment with all sorts for materials and styles. Seeing all 200 of the kids’ boards exhibited at the 013 Gallery was fucking rad too.
What pieces of art or cultural events, local or international, caught your eye and which do you think will define 2020? Reading this question, particularly the ‘2020’ part, regarding what pieces of art stood out, my mind instantly jumped to all the Covid-19 conspiracy theories written in chalk on the Bridge of Remembrance in town. I walked past new messages every day and I’m not sure which had more mistakes, the facts that supported those theories, or the actual spelling mistakes in the messages themselves. That’s pretty fucking 2020 if you ask me.
What are your plans if 2021 turns out worse than 2020? At the moment my life seems to be way more of a shit show than 2020 or 2021 could ever be, loooooool. Come at me 2021, I’m already way ahead of ya! Hahahahaha…
What changes did 2020 bring for you personally? 2020 was the year of change! The whole world is going through a cosmic shift. At the same time, my personal world also went through HUGE changes. I managed to get married, go on a honeymoon, renovate my house and have a baby all within the year of Covid-19. (That’s just the main stuff!) With all of that put together, change is inevitable. I only got to host one show at my gallery (The 413 Local), we put it on after the lockdown. It was called Isolation and the artists showed work either made in or inspired by the New Zealand lockdown. Before Covid-19, I had hoped of putting on at least two or three shows. But alas, plans change. I did end up trying a lot of different mediums and techniques that I have never used. The changes around me allowed me to become more experimental and less precious about my art. I tried my hand at watercolours, pushed myself with Copic markers, and made my first bootleg toy. All while also having fun with my usual tools and materials. My main focus for my personal art this year though was drawing and making my first comic book. I released A Dog’s Mind (Issue 1) with the thought “There are no such things as mistakes, just happy accidents” in mind. (Thanks Bob Ross!)
What got you through lock down? Definitely my wife, Sammie, she pushed me to create and make things when I fell into the trap of Playstation and potato chips. But also, a lot of podcasts, I’ve been on a real scary story/horror and live play 5E D&D buzz this year. Music is a big one. Lots of O.G. hip-hop, Fall Out Boy and I ain’t afraid to say it, Lewis Capaldi. Then reading, I’m really into non-fiction lately, and a healthy dose of comic books, of course! I have actually been moving away from the big two (Marvel and DC) lately and finding more indie/underground artists and books, which is really refreshing.
What has been your personal artistic/creative highlight of 2020? So, I also joined a local comic group called Funtime Comics. We meet once a month and talk and draw comics and hang out. Every year they produce a graphic novel from artists all over New Zealand. I got published in their special Covid-19 issue and will have work in their next issue as well. So, on top of hand-producing the first issue of my own comic, and starting the next issue, I will be in two Funtime comics as well. Pretty chuffed with that to be fair! I also did my own version of Inktober called Daktober. I did 31 prompted ink drawings. It did take me like two months longer than everyone else to complete, but my daughter Clarke was born just after I started, so I kind of had a good excuse! But to tell the truth, she is probably the greatest thing I have ever had a hand in making. Clarke is definitely my biggest highlight this year!
What pieces of art or cultural events, local or international, caught your eye and which do you think will define 2020? As I was reading this question, instantly the BLM movement came to mind. How could it not? Tragic events that are still shaping worldwide generational protests. Compare that with taping a banana to a wall, I don’t think it stacks up… Not only did I see art come from the reaction to the BLM movement, but it’s still on going. From fine art, graffiti, music, there is a massive influence. It seems to me that the arts are not only a tool but also a release for artists all over the globe to tell others about their emotions and experiences. That’s what the arts are for, right? To give a message, leave a mark, communicate. It’s not often that a culture-changing event like BLM happens. A Van Gogh painting got verified this year. A Salvador Dali painting might have been found in a thrift store. Both are amazing events that took place this year. Both add to their narratives in the space of society. But it is the old guard. BLM has a spark of new energy. Watching statues of Confederate generals fall and being replaced by A Surge of Power, a work by Marc Quinn and Jen Reid depicting a young black female protestor raising her hand with the Black Power salute, was powerful. Listening to the stories and political knowledge woven together with beats from the likes of Run the Jewels or Tobe Nwigwe, or seeing a painting by Shaquille-Aaron Keith, while reading a poem he wrote to accompany it, I feel like there has been a shift. BLM was a massive push in the right direction. A direction with many events and situations that seem to have been culminating the last couple of years, have come together. Looking to the future, I feel under-represented people from all walks of life, extending beyond BLM, will not only find their voices in all genres of the art world, but they will dominate it, leading the way for more diverse storytelling, bringing more people together.
What are your plans if 2021 turns out worse than 2020? Not too sure, but I got my crow-bar ready for the zombie apocalypse (it’s the superior choice for that situation).
What changes did 2020 bring for you personally? I’d planned to spend a lot more time out of Christchurch and lean on some North Island connections to push my work getting seen in other places. I definitely had to put this on hold but managed to change my focus to making some stuff I’d had in my head for a whole so overall I came out reasonably unscathed.
What got you through lockdown? Having a routine but also being fluid enough to decide each day with what it was that I needed (emotionally, physically) and letting myself deviate as required… Having my studio at home, checking in with my close friends, Star Wars, our espresso machine, a boxing bag, oh and the Covid-19 Wage Subsidy!
What has been your personal artistic/creative highlight of 2020? Lockdown gave me time and space to experiment without impending deadlines or having to go to work. The most notable thing I made this year, which encompasses lots of the ideas I played with during that time, was probably a painting called Ophelia which was in an exhibition run by the Conscious Club. It ended up being something I was super proud of and didn’t immediately want to pick apart.
What pieces of art or cultural events, local or international, caught your eye and which do you think will define 2020? Has to be Vesil’s toilet paper piece that went up just before lockdown, iconic.
What are your plans if 2021 turns out worse than 2020? Go full hermit and probably have the most productive year of my life with nobody around to give a single fuck.
Keep an eye out for our monthly And That Was… entries throughout 2021!
Feature Image: One of Levi Hawken‘s BLM concrete solvs in central Christchurch
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Urban art is heightened and exaggerated by the environment in which it exists. Over time, the urban environment becomes layered with the remnants of its ongoing subversion and alteration. Graffiti adds to the cacophony of visual noise, while peeling paste ups echo the pervasive deterioration of worn surfaces. Stickers expose the multiple potentials of surfaces.
Urban Textures takes a closer look at the often ignored details that add to the fascination of our surroundings. The collected images skip between dense fields of graffiti, worn concrete, blocks of ‘buff’ paint, and peeling paper, but always with an eye on the textural surfaces that give ground to such layers. While the shiny and new garner the attention, here the focus is firmly on the broken, busted, worn and deformed, because, sometimes, beautiful is boring and the lived is more intriguing.
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When P.K. told us how he compiled his photo essay, it was typically understated: “I pretty much just got a camper van real cheap with one of those post lock down deals, and thought it would be cool to document what I saw on the trip.” While the process of gathering the photographic collection may have been simple, the resulting images are striking.
Although graffiti forms the thread running through the images, the tags and throwies and pieces are not surrounded by a bustling metropolis as is so often the case. Instead they are captured in a still quietude within small towns and secluded rural areas, and notably the concrete undersides of bridges and highways that suggest such spaces are not intended for stopping, but for bypassing quickly. That stillness, not embraced by the majority of the shooting traffic, is captivating, exacerbated by that unique washed out South Island light. The stillness is also amplified by the sense of slight distance, the photographer ever so slightly removed from the scene. The worn concrete and the varying states of the graffiti, from fresh to faded, further adds an emotional quality, a suggestion of isolation and exposure. Of course, P.K. would probably shirk such readings, yet his ability to compose photographs that are both documentary and evocatively layered is undeniable.
While P.K. may have simply ‘hit the road’ in something of a kiwi tradition, the images with which he returned form a subtly unnerving and strangely resonant collection that seemingly says something without the need for hyperbole…
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The concept behind the Street Treats series is to reflect the diverse expressions on the walls of the city beyond the large scale permissioned murals, reaching into the traditions of urban art culture’s roots as a subversive, rebellious and independent art movement. Of course, it gets tiresome to use terms like rebellious for an artistic culture that is thoroughly mainstream now, but it is important to remember the potential of these types of expressions as both visual messages and tactical invasions of our heavily designed environments. Commentators (often those attempting to defend the ‘art world’ by dismissing street art, as if they are actually in competition) can often charge street art with a vacuity, and as such a lack of conceptual heft and valid commentary. However, the point is as much about the manner of expression as the content – the act is the message. There are of course exceptions, explicitly political messages that favour bludgeoning bluntness over sophisticated subtlety. The reason for such a decision is another aspect of street art’s aesthetic – the audience must be commandeered – they are not arriving inside a white cube with an idea they will be confronted, but instead engaged in their daily activities, necessitating an immediacy. Of course, in this type of situation, even a lack of message can impact a viewer, by simply adding an air of uncertainty and inquisitiveness to a stroll through a city. To that end, the selections in this volume run from wide-ranging political commentaries to nostalgic popular culture references, and importantly, the intervention into our surrounding environments, making use of the spaces and fixtures that we often take for granted, revealing the potential for transformation…
Don’t forget to share your own pictures from the streets by tagging us in your social media posts with #watchthisspace or #streettreats…
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Teeth Like Screwdrivers is one of those people who radiates enthusiasm. Not in the cheesy, annoying way, but simply through a desire to bring people together and to see things happen. I came across his pencil stickers before I met the man himself. They were the type of sticker I love, although simple, they pulled you in through a spark of the familiar that made you ponder, is that what I think it is? Since finally meeting the artist, I have followed Teeth Like Screwdrivers’ busy trajectory, his own prolific and expansive output, his global network of contacts and collaborators, and the formation of Slap City, a sticker and paste up club that that has brought together a diverse roster of artists. When we caught up, all of these factors became apparent both in the scope of our conversation, but also in the way Teeth Like Screwdrivers spoke, excitedly, almost breathlessly darting back and forth through topics. From his early days in Christchurch after arriving from the UK, to the formation of Slap City and his lock down sticker collab project, we covered a lot of ground, fitting for an artist who thrives on activity…
We first met at the giant spray cans, where you were part of a DTR crew workshop. I remember you just had this massive grin on your face enjoying the experience. Is a sense of community and participation a central concern for you? It seems that Slap City is very much about forming a community.
I’ve always organized stuff. When I first moved here, I started the Garden City Session [a Christchurch longboarding group], which I’m no longer doing but has now got like a thousand members. Within the first week of arriving in Christchurch, I got hold of Cheapskates and was like, right, who’s organizing something for skaters? They hit me up with Scotty who was doing Skate School and we did a couple of longboard ones and then it spiraled and spiraled and spiraled. We used to do pub crawls on skateboards. So, I was always the one organizing events, rocking up and being the hype man.
Christchurch’s Flavor Flav!
If I’m really interested in something, it is really easy to do. As a schoolteacher, if I’m doing a lesson I’m not into, it then it’s probably going to be shit, but if I’m into it, it’s going to be brilliant! So, with the sticker stuff, the same thing happened. Stickers were happening, of course they were, but I enjoy the hanging out and someone else going: ‘You could do this…’ It was the same with that DTR workshop last year. I don’t use spray cans, I’m not a graffiti artist. I’m as far from your stereotypical graffiti guy as you can get, but I wanted to see how it’s done. In my head I wanted to make my work look like a marker pen. I love markers, I’m a little bit OCD and I love the different thicknesses. So, I was like, how can I make spray paint look the same? I went and watched them and I realised you could put one line there, then you can do another line there and it cuts that first one back. That was all that was about. But I was loving it because I was surrounded by people who just knew their fucking trade, who were really good and they were just like: ‘You could do this, you could do this…’ I was like, this is brilliant! But I also realised there are lots of ways to do things. There was a really good Safe Kasper artwork on the cans a while back, he’d sprayed the bulk of it and then used a marker for the details, I was like, what the fuck? I can just paint the outline and marker the details which is essentially what I’m doing with a sticker, doing the background and then the marker over the top, so it made sense. But running shit is fun, that’s the joy for me. I like sitting at home and spending an hour just cranking out stickers, but I also like having other people around and bouncing ideas off each other.
Obviously within graffiti culture there has been this history of mentorship and camaraderie in terms of crews.
Skateboarding is similar, you learn, not from the masters directly, but an older person will go: ‘Actually mate, it will be way easier if you just pop your foot off the left and put pressure on there…’ It’s the same thing. I remember I went down to the cans the other day, the DTR crew were doing a big paint jam. I’m an outsider, like I said, I’m about as far away as you can imagine from graffiti writers, but they’re like: ‘Get in bro, grab a can, give it a go…’ I was like, really? It was wonderful.
I feel like when we talk about post-graffiti or street art, it can be more isolated, because you tend to be making something in advance, it doesn’t necessarily have the same sense of community or camaraderie, but undeniably the potential’s there.
Yeah, most people want to be nice, most people are good people, you go up to them and say I really love what you’re doing, can we do something together? They are probably going to say yes, just get in there and see what happens. The worst that can happen is they say no, in which case OK, cool. Christchurch is small enough that you will bump into the same people. If you’re doing something similar, chances are you’re going to bump into me, so that connection may as well be as easy as possible. I don’t know those DTR guys from jot, but they all remembered me from a year and a half ago.
Because Christchurch is small, the competitive element isn’t necessarily as strong as it might be in bigger cities where street cultures have diverged.
Vez is a great example. I saw her stuff all over the place before I met her, and she sent me a message saying: ‘I’m moving from England to Christchurch.’ I told her that I’d started this sticker thing and that she should come along, thinking she’s had artwork everywhere in the world, she won’t want to come! But she rocked up and was just like ‘Hi!’ Now I see her work everywhere and I know who she is and what her stuff is about, and that’s what it should be really.
The fact that Slap City is held at Fiksate is another example of that sense of community in the local scene.
There are lots of examples of it in other cities where people meet at a pub or somewhere where they’ve just got a big old table and they all sit around and just pass some shit around and share. I was like, why don’t I do that here? Then we just kept doing it, then we made it every two weeks rather than once a month. But again, it fits nicely at Fiksate. We go in, it’s super chill, we set the tables up and it’s just like a second wee family. We just chat, talk about what we’ve been up to the last couple of weeks. Someone will have some new things that they want to share, or they have worked on a whole bunch of new stickers and we all kind of pass judgment on them, in a good way!
In addition to that sense of community, has Slap City allowed you to do things artistically that maybe you wouldn’t have done by yourself?
I think I’m keener to get up in the streets. I mean I’m not your typical person who goes and puts things in the street, but you know, we go out and half of us go and have a beer afterwards. It’s all about walking around. People will rock up with some paste and we just go for it. So, I guess it’s not a solo sport anymore. I mean it is, it can be. I’ve spent many evenings just putting stickers up by myself, but there’s something more fun about there being a whole bunch of you. Someone will put one up and you try to put one higher, it’s just that kind of thing. But it could be anything, it could be a bike gang, it could be a record collecting crew. It’s having that little group around you who are just as enthusiastic as you.
That energy and excitement feeds everyone, and opens the gateway just enough for people to come through…
I mean we’ve got it all now. Suddenly it’s gone from me saying I can get a few people and we can do some drawing, to having this crew. People come and go but there’s probably six or seven regulars. Three of them are part of an exhibition at Fiksate [Vez, Bexie Lady and Cape of Storms are all featured in the show Perspective: Women in Urban Art], which is crazy! Bongo’s screen printing now, so he offered to do a run of a hundred stickers for this amount of money, and everyone was chucking money at him and that comes from just talking to people, getting shit done, you know? It is almost self-fulfilling. If I want to go and do some stuff on the street, then I can probably find someone keen to come along. Even if it is just wandering around and putting stupid stickers of pencils up, it doesn’t matter, that’s the fun of it. We are all very different, some crews have a particular style, especially with graffiti, but we’re drawing pictures on paper and sticking them up, it is different. One week a guy came and just did smiley faces, which was great!
People sometimes assume that there’s a right way to do street art.
Right, a particular highbrow view that you have to do this or that. I’m sure in the graffiti world there are styles and techniques that are passed on, but with stickers the joy is that they are literally just a marker pen and sticky paper. You could draw a picture of your own bum and it would count. Anyone can come along and draw funny little things on a piece of paper, and it counts. It doesn’t have to be ginormous.
Touching on that idea of size, there has been a tendency in urban art towards placemaking and an increasingly big scale, and yet really placemaking is also about the small stuff.
I’m a big fan of the little things that are hidden away, the things that you don’t notice at first, but then you do and it makes them even more rad. Paste ups are fun because they let you work on a bigger scale than stickers. You can literally put up any size, but it’s still a smaller scale in terms of just drawing on a piece of paper and sticking it up on a wall. It’s generally never going to be higher than you can physically do it. I guess that’s why making stupid machines to put stickers higher up a wall amuses the shit out of me. There are a few that are up there and I’m just like, it’s so high off the ground! That’s pure amusement for me.
That idea of simply playing in the streets…
I did some pastes in Lyttelton with a mate of mine recently. So, Lyttelton has an issue with peacocks. Someone I might know really closely released a bunch of peacocks into the hills and the farmer on the top of the hill kicked off and started cooking them and eating them! So, me and said friend, we had a few beers and started pasting a whole bunch of peacocks around the port. One day I got a text message from him, he was at work and he said: ‘I think I’ve gone too big!’ He sent me a picture of a massive peacock poster coming out of a large format printer. There’s a spot above the tunnel and we pasted this huge thing up. I woke up the next morning and I’m a long way from the tunnel, my mate’s even further, but I could fucking see it! Everybody in port would be able to see it! It was like a big white postage stamp of a huge peacock head. We were just pissing ourselves because of the stupidity of it! I’m not trying to be artistic, it’s just genuinely hilarious, you paste a huge peacock so this woman who’s been killing them and eating them, every time she leaves port she sees a massive fucking peacock! We are still pasting little ones everywhere; we must have put fifty up throughout Lyttelton. They only lasted a wee while because it was shit paste, but I laughed so much.
Speaking of repetition, how did your pencils come about?
For my art A Level in the UK I made a bunch of skateboards and they had scratched up backgrounds painted to look like they had been skated on and then I added a white silhouette of different pieces of furniture. One of the silhouettes was a classic UK school chair, an orange pre-formed plastic chair with black skinny metal legs and a hole in the back. I realized I could tag it in one hit, and it was identifiable as a chair really quickly. So, for years I wrote FURNITURE, which is a lovely word to write by hand, it’s really gorgeous. I was tagging it and at the end of the E I would then move in and join the chair onto it, so that’s where I started. I realised it’s obviously a school chair, I’m a schoolteacher, it ties in, so what else could I tie in? I went to a compass, and actually I’ve got photos of doing quite big ones on the side of The Drawing Room in town, I even went on a bit of a tiki tour all over Melbourne and Sydney, just sticking stuff up. I did the compasses for a wee while and they were really simple, inspired by a particular genre of stickers at that time. Then one day I put a pencil in the compass, and I was like, oh, I really like that! So, I drew a few more pencils. They were square, so they had the rubber bit at the end with the metal, then they were triangular, pointed as if they had been sharpened by a sharpener. I got a whole bunch of small stickers, but I couldn’t draw the whole pencil on that size, so I just did the nib. But it didn’t really look like a pencil, it just looked like a triangle with the square side. But then when I scalloped it, suddenly it looked like my pencil, and then I thinned the lines. The first ones I did, there’s a few around still, they look like pencils, shaded and with straight lines, but you know, they looked too much like pencils, and it was taking me forty minutes to draw one because my inner OCD kicked in. I needed to make it quicker, so I dropped the end off, scalloped it, and put in the wee dots to make it look like it had been cut by a knife. There’s a book I’ve got called How to Sharpen a Pencil. It’s well worth finding because the boy’s a genius, he literally wrote a book about the different ways to sharpen a pencil. It has all these different pencils and who they are used for, there was this perfect one he called ‘The Architectural’ for architects. It’s really ironic but really funny. One of them was a really long-nibbed, scalloped version and I was just like, that is how I love my pencils! I just copied that and put in a few dots to show that it had been sharpened and now I just draw them non-stop. It’s just gone from there really.
Was there an element of the phenomenology that Shepard Fairey talks about, taking something that might be meaningless but repeating it enough to make it meaningful?
Fucking over and over and over again… I’m a huge fan of The Toasters, a crew from the UK who just did outlines of toasters. I remember first seeing one of them in the mid-nineties and being like, why the hell would you make a sticker with a toaster on it? But also, why not? I wasn’t really into Obey, but there were The London Police, D-Face and a whole bunch of those guys around that time that were doing thick-lined icons on white backgrounds, repeating them so they became like a signature. I’m a handwriting nerd, I love a good-looking tag that’s really been thought out. I like drawing pencils; the lines work really well for me. I love the straight lines, and there’s enough individuality that you can make each one different. You can make them short, long, you can put stupid little rubbers on the bottom if you want to, you can write words on the side, there are lots of options. But it’s still always the same identifiable thing – everyone has seen a pencil. Even with the silhouette stuff, if you’ve seen the pencil and then you see the silhouette, you can see those two are related and maybe there will be a little link in your brain, like, I’ve seen that somewhere before… That is not my idea, I got that from The Toasters, doing the outline and people thinking what the fuck is that? It’s a fucking toaster! That sense of wonderment. People are like I’ve seen your sticker things everywhere, and I’m like great! That’s the point! There isn’t a purpose behind them, there is not some subliminal message, I’m not trying to alter what you’re thinking, I’m literally just drawing a stupid pencil!
Yet even without that intent, they do change the way people think because they are becoming more aware of their surrounding environment.
I think it was Erosie in a video about The Toasters, he says: ‘This is city glitter’, you know? It’s little sparkles that might brighten someone’s day and if it just does that once, if someone says: ‘I fucking know them! I’ve seen them!’ Then great, that’s all I need to do!
When you talk about the silhouette pencils, you are referring to your ‘bluff buff’ pieces, they remind me that the buff itself is essentially a bluff. We can look out and see the way that buff jobs just block out graffiti, they echo the shapes. I mean the most ridiculous buff jobs are the ones where you can still read the graffiti.
Yeah, they have just outlined it, you could go over it with a pen and it would fill in the gap perfectly. There are some great ones around!
No one is ever going to say that the buff itself is an act of beautification.
It’s like that PEEEP Trust, they are actually stencilling their logo onto the walls they buff! At first, I thought it was an artist signing their work. It’s like the classic ‘official’ graffiti walls, with a spray can and it just gets filled. But I googled PEEEP and it’s an actual fucking thing! They are paid, or at least they raise money to do that shit.
It speaks more to masking than improvement.
It is deliberate censorship rather than enhancement.
The pencil bluffs play on that…
I don’t have roots in this. But it creates a grey area. If I’m painting on the wall and someone pulls up, I just say someone wrote the word fuck on it and I’m covering it up, and they go, ‘oh shit, that’s OK mate, see you’. No street artist is going to be using a tub of grey paint and a paintbrush, so the moment they pull up, because it’s essentially a rectangle with a bit on the bottom and a bit on the top, I can square it off and be like someone drew a dick and I’m covering it up. So, it’s making it safer for me because I’m that person.
You mentioned your love of skateboarding, was that the gateway to sticker culture and graffiti?
Skateboarding came first. I had stickers on skateboards first. There is an art form to putting a sticker on a skateboard, there is a certain way you do it. You put it in a certain place because you know that it’s going to get fucked if you put it in a different place. There is also the branding. I’m not going to put any old sticker on my stuff, it’s going to be representing me and therefore that’s important. So, I guess the placement, the branding, it has all led to where it is today. I am still like, why the fuck would you put a sticker there!? You could have moved it four inches and overlapped that one and it would have looked brilliant! That’s my inner nerdiness coming out, but there is a certain way to do it. In Lyttelton, one of Bongo’s pastes was coming off, and I wanted to put my one up, so I took his off and re-pasted it just a bit to the right and put mine so they overlapped nicely. He was like: ‘Did you move my piece a bit?’ Well, I had to because mine overlapping yours makes both of them look better, if i hadn’t it would have fucked up both of our work!
That’s the thing about urban art, it doesn’t exist in a vacuum, it doesn’t exist in a white cube. The surrounding context of space gives it meaning, but also is part of the aesthetic. A mural on a wall has to work with whatever is going on there and it’s the same with a sticker. There’s a subtlety in terms of placement, and there’s also a mindfulness, right?
That’s trial and error too. The amount of times I’ve stuck a sticker up and it’s just slipped off. It’s all covered in dust and grime! But again, the buffs are a great example. You posted a picture of an alleyway somewhere, and instantly, I knew what had to happen! There’s a light grey, a dark grey, there’s an overlap, there is an obvious point for me to put a buff pencil. Again, it comes back to skateboarding. Skateboarders look at the world in a different way than most others, they will go past a spot and to anyone else it’s not a spot, but a skateboarder recognizes the fact that you could do a trick there, or you know, that curb’s looking really rad. It can be anything and the same thing applies to stickers and paste ups and graffiti, you see a spot and you’re like, ohhh, hello, that will work well…
It’s like those movie scenes where a character’s thought process is visualised and you see diagrammatic lines and mathematical equations in space.
Yeah skateboarders have that in spades! If you watch a skateboarder walking around town, you can just see the way they are trialing shit in their head. It’s just instinctive. I’m finding it’s the same with stickers, I’ve got a pile in my car and when I’m driving, I’m looking and thinking that spot would be perfect… Even colour is a part of it now, I never used colours in the past, I used white and black, now I’ve got all this colored vinyl. I’ve got this bright green, and I’m like, that will look so good on that wall, you know? It’s madness, it’s actual madness!
Urban art, graffiti, skateboarding, parkour, they are all tactical, they are always a response, and that’s the thing, they are constantly evolving. You can’t eradicate something that is not rigidly defined, things that can grow and evolve…
Certain styles of skating have come out of different cities because of the way that councils have tried to stop skaters. When rumble strips first came out in the UK, they were stated to be for blind people, so they can feel them when they are walking. But no, they are not, that’s bullshit. They were put there to stop me hitting it on a skateboard. But people were quickly figuring out how to go over them, doing tricks, and I fucking love that, it’s great.
It’s the same with graffiti, attempts to stop it are just going to change the way it occurs.
It’s just misdirection. I guess it is how cities get their style; if you’re in a city that’s heavy on trains, then a lot of train bombing is going to go down. In the UK, we didn’t have the train thing, so it was always on the buses, which is why stickers came about. You could get on the bus and just slap. If you lived in a city where there weren’t any trains coming through, you did the buses, because that was the next best thing.
And those different vessels mean different styles and techniques evolve in response.
Which is interesting for Christchurch because we are a city of concrete tilt slab buildings. I mean there are some fucking wonderful huge murals, and they are street art, it is definitely art on the street, but it’s also blocked off and lit and fucking ginormous, you know, and I feel that maybe there’s more to it all. I mean, I look at that [gestures to a nearby decorated window] and I don’t know whether someone’s done that themselves or someone’s been paid to do that, and I think that’s a really nice balance. We are so full of the big mural stuff that you can get away with putting a big paste up and no one questions it.
With the breakneck change that the city’s gone through, it’s going to change the responses. So, it’s not just the eradication methods, it’s also the physical make-up. We had broken abandoned buildings that were perfect for graffiti writers to commandeer and then we had lots of exposed walls from buildings coming down which were perfect for murals, now we’re going to find more of these spaces that are more traditional spots, liminal spaces.
But weirdly they will be new! They will be sharp and fucking clean, perfect spaces, which for me, as someone who puts stickers up, I love that! The smoother the surface, the easier it is! I don’t want to deal with bricks and shit, I just want nice, clean walls. Also, the up and the down of this city, you know, there’s stuff on the floor, there’s stuff up high. We don’t have many high-rise buildings, so things stand out more. It’s got a sense of panorama.
Even from here, we can see the lay out of the city. There’s an expansiveness which is kind of inspiring in a way, because you don’t feel smothered or captured.
Or penned in. It also means that you’re not cliquing it, you know? I drive from Lyttelton to here, that’s the whole city, and it takes me fifteen minutes. So, there isn’t anywhere you can’t hit, which is fucking brilliant.
Which gives a real sense of possibility. Speaking of expansive, I really enjoyed watching your lock down collaboration project.
That came about as a lock down version of Inktober. Their first theme was like ‘green’ and then the next one was something else, and I couldn’t think of anything to do with my pencils for it. The collab thing is big in sticker culture anyway, so I just decided to write a list of twenty people I wanted do it with and I just put it out there. Then it became forty and then sixty and it just kept going. The concept is more of a mashup than a collab I guess, taking someone else’s art and doing it yourself in your way or blending your styles together.
You often use other people’s stickers to adorn things anyway, even if you’re not street slapping.
Yeah, exactly, so the mashup is just taking it to this next degree, I guess. MarxOne from up in Nelson, he is the fucking king, he has sheets and sheets and sheets of collabs with different people. As an artist, if someone does a picture of a pencil and they tag me in it, I’m not going to be like, that’s my pencil, don’t do that! That’s bollocks. But everyone has a style. I’ve tried characters and I’ve got a big fucking ginger beard character with a stupid bald head, who is basically me, and people now recognize that and that’s what it should be about and that’s the family thing again. No-one’s going to get pissed off, there’s no reason to, because someone’s literally saying: ‘I really like your shit, can I do my own version of it?’ You just go OK, send me a sticker when you’re done. I did one with Ocky Bop, one of his skulls with pencil’s for teeth. I just drew it and took a picture, and he’s like, I’m printing that shit! Now I keep getting tagged in all these pictures all over the world! It’s not complicated, I literally drew my pencils as his teeth on a sticker and now it’s gone everywhere!
At the end of the day, that’s the beauty of sticker culture, it’s global nature. The internet has changed some of the ways we think about graffiti because now influence can be much wider, but graffiti still has an immediate localism to it. With stickers the mobility is unlimited, as you say, you’ve got pencils in cities all around the world and other people are doing it for you.
My favorite thing is that you send a pack to someone and they go: ‘Well I’m going to keep some for myself and put them in my black book because that’s cool, and I’ve got another fifteen, so I’ll put fucking five of them out in the street and I’m going to send ten to another five people…’
There’s a viral quality.
Yeah, for instance, my pencils, and my gnomes as well, they’re all over the UK and I haven’t sent a single one there. There is a guy called Spirit of Mongoose who is just printing a shit load. Which makes my job way easier. Of course, it’s not even my art, I just scanned a picture, but it’s the thought that this would happen.
The nomination is the act, and then as you say, someone else becomes part of it, and that comes back to family and community, this community is just much bigger than you ever realize until you start to make those connections and networks.
And it’s there all the time, it’s there and it’s getting bigger and bigger and more fun…
During the Covid-19 lock down, with our guided tours unable to run, we applied to Creative New Zealand for funding to create a virtual tour – a video series where you could learn more about some of the city’s most beloved graffiti, street art and murals from the artists who created them, all from the socially safe distance of your couch. With our friend Centuri Chan manning the camera and the editing desk, we talked to 17 New Zealand artists to get some insights into a range of works and topics, from Ikarus‘ take on graffiti writing and Paul Walters‘ stories about the massive SALT mural, to Jacob Yikes‘ discussing his signature style and Flox recalling her Ode to Hinewai work in Beckenham.
Originally conceived as a singular continuous feature, it became apparent that a segmented, episodic approach would prove more manageable, more adaptable and more consumable. As a result, the concept evolved into 16 individual vignettes, forming a cohesive series and spread across multiple platforms, including our online map entries. Featuring artists from around New Zealand (Paul X Walsh, Cracked Ink, Berst, Chimp) alongside local talent (Wongi ‘Freak’ Wilson, Dcypher, Dr Suits, Nick Lowry (Tepid), Dove, Jacob Root (Distranged Design), Josh O’Rourke, Jen Heads, Caelan Walsh), the series spans an array of styles and projects, highlighting the multifarious approaches within Ōtautahi’s urban art scene. Artists share humorous stories, intriguing insights and technical details, providing context and content to works that have become familiar sights in the city. With a level of normality returned, we like to think the Ōtautahi Christchurch Urban Art series is a perfect companion to a guided walking tour!
The Ōtautahi Christchurch Urban Art series can be viewed on our YouTube channel, via our social media platforms or on our website. With new episodes released each week, follow and subscribe to our various forums to receive notifications when new episodes go live!
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