And that’s half of 2020 gone already. Although lets be honest, this year has seen a fair amount of activity, some shitty, but others important and long overdue. This month’s collection acknowledges these struggles, as well as looking to the past, the future and art as a gateway to explore and consider more than our immediate preoccupations. From Askew One’s haunting risograph print with MK Press and Fiksate, to our tribute to graffiti legend Jungle and the countless voices he inspired as a rebellious actor in the local urban landscape, here are our favourite things from the month of June…
Askew One x MK Press x Fiksate collab
The month started on a high with the release of Askew One’s limited edition print as part of the MK Press/Fiksate artist collab risograph print series. Following Dr Suits’ initial release, Askew’s striking red and black abstraction continued the popularity of the concept, selling out in just hours. The work embraces and explores the qualities of risograph printing, while continuing his digital studies drawn from urban environments. The result is a twisting, jagged image filled with a sense of terror and dread due to the blood-like tone. Setting a benchmark for the series, you wouldn’t really expect anything less from Aotearoa’s finest, would you?
Graffiti jam for the New Brighton Outdoor Art Festival
The delayed and reconfigured NBOAF signed off with a traditional graffiti jam wall, with a number of local talents transforming a wall in the middle of New Brighton Mall. The green and magenta colour scheme tied the various pieces together, while individual styles and characters by YSEK and Dove ensured variety as well. The wall was intended to represent and celebrate traditional graffiti art, and as such was always going to draw criticism from some corners. The online discussion about the wall’s appearance was interesting to say the least, highlighting the ongoing and deeply held misconceptions and prejudices around graffiti, even when produced legally…
When local graffiti legend Jungle passed away in March of 2019, Christchurch’s graffiti culture spoke by painting tributes across the city’s walls. I had discussed with Ikarus the idea of a larger written tribute that explored Jungle’s legacy, however, by the time we got to sit down with an eye on the one-year anniversary, lock down struck. In addition, what started as an interview with Ikarus, developed into a multi-generational project, stretching the process out. However, by June, the lengthy tribute was finally online. Hearing stories of Jungle’s influence, it was quickly apparent how consistent his impression was, a man who the city’s graffiti culture was indebted to, but also a character who influenced people by his charismatic personality…
Black Lives Matter Protest Posters
The latest issue of Art Beat, the visual arts newspaper edited by Dr Warren Feeney, featured an insert of A4 posters drawn from the shared archive Posters for BLM (@posters_for_blm). The three variations, by Stephen Powers, Sara Froese and local designer Roydon Misseldine, were risograph printed by MK Press and included inside the free paper. Importantly, the posters ensure visibility to the cause and serve as a reminder of the potential to raise a voice about oppressive systemic issues. While a small gesture, it attempts to continue this vital narrative. More posters are available for free download (for non-commercial use) from the archive, with a link in their Instagram bio.
Porta x FOLT Skull Collab
The collection of FOLT skull cut-outs continues to grow around the city (although many have disappeared as well, seemingly too attractive to collectors), and this subtle variation by Porta is a personal favourite. Porta’s recent investigation of pixelated video game aesthetics is utilised here, but with an understated approach, the granite colouring giving a bare concrete appearance that only reveals the highlights, shadows and blocky shapes upon closer inspection.
And that was June 2020, for me at least, let us know what you enjoyed over the month in the comments…
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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:
If you follow us on social media, you will know by now that we are super excited about Saturday’s Highlight street art party! That excitement is for good reason, as Highlight is shaping up as one of the most impressive urban art events the city has seen in several years. Hosted by a number of SALT District businesses, and occupying SALT Square and nearby locations, the one-night only party is a result of the collaboration between a number of entities, including Oi YOU!, the masterminds behind the massively popular Rise and Spectrum festivals, as well as the recent SALT mural produced by Dcypher and Paul Walters of Identity Signs.
Speaking of Dcypher, the recently relocated artist (having returned from a decade long stint living and working in Los Angeles) will be joined by his DTR crewmates, Ikarus, Wongi and JacobYikes in painting live at Highlight and producing a pop-up gallery of their work. Another pop-up gallery space will be created by the city’s leading purveyors of urban contemporary art, Fiksate, who will present work from their impressive collection. On top of that, Nelson’s Shady Collective (of Spectrum infamy) will present demonstration stalls for screen-printing, t-shirt and stencil-making, giving punters the opportunity to both make and take pieces!
Being that urban culture extends beyond graffiti and street art, there will also be live music (thanks to Bassfreaks and RDU DJs), food and drink (from the Little High Eatery and surrounding restaurants) and retail pop-ups of street wear from some of the city’s leading urban fashion masters, including Hunters and Collectors, Curb and The Recycle Boutique. Oh, and did we mention that once the official street party winds up, there are multiple after party options, from The Retropolitan to Smash Palace, The Slate Room and Dux Central.
And of course, another of the ‘Highlights’ will be the live video projection animation of the SALT mural, the first of it’s scale in Ōtautahi. This is sure to be an impressive, eye-catching activation of one of Christchurch’s newest pieces of street art muralism.
Highlight will kick-off at 5pm on Saturday at SALT Square on Tuam Street and is free entry. For more information, check out the event page on Facebook.
Spread the word about what's happening in the Christchurch urban art scene:
Back at the beginning of the year, Ikarus shot me a heads up that Wellington and Aotearoa hip hop legend Juse1 (TS crew) was in town for the second annual New Zealand International Tattoo Expo and suggested I try and interview him. Much like Ikarus, Juse has a lengthy history in graffiti, but his exploits also spread across the realms of hip hop, notably as an MC. On his last day in town we finally got to sit down and have a chat, grabbing a coffee while local artists VROD and Sewer prepped a wall for a colab in the Hereford Street space. Not only is Juse a dope artist, with a can, a microphone or a tattoo needle, he is also a thoughtful figure whose experience has given him insight into graffiti writing, hip hop culture, the relativity of creative processes, and the importance of learning throughout life. Sitting down for a while and listening to him talk, it was clear that he has a lot of wisdom to pass on to the upcoming generations, much like he acknowledges having learnt from his influential mentors…
I know it’s your last day in town, but I will still say welcome to Christchurch! I was looking through your Instagram feed, and one of the things that I got to thinking about was the idea of tradition. Not in a regressive way, your work is always fresh, but there is a clear respect and reverence of the traditions of a lot of the different realms that you occupy, right? Is that a big thing for you?
Yeah, not always consciously pushing it as tradition, but I guess it’s my foundation and it’s something that I have learnt. I always found that when you plant a foundation and you decide to build from it, it is always going to influence some way or another the work you might be doing ten years, thirty years later. I guess in a way, I’ve never been one to drastically jump, whether it be my [graffiti] style or my rhymes. I guess it’s me as a person as well, I kind of tie that not only within hip hop, but also being of Samoan culture as well, it does play as an influence into my creative aspects. The culture is something that is sort of engrained in me, so it comes through. Learning history for me has always been really important, and I guess the more knowledge you gain from history, it influences what you do and how you go about doing things, and how you approach it from all the different perspectives you have, you know what I mean?
You mention those two elements: graffiti writing and rhyming. I have recently been reading a lot about pre-hip hop New York graffiti, the early seventies and the guys who were just as much listening to psychedelic rock, soul and disco, stuff like that, and I was thinking, New Zealand’s possibly a bit different. Because of the time graffiti arrived, you almost can’t remove it from hip hop, right? Hip hop and graffiti are so tightly entwined. Did you get into writing through hip hop as a culture, or did graffiti provide a pathway to the other elements of hip hop?
For me, it came with hip hop. Visually I saw graffiti first, like in the eighties, around my neighbourhood. There were dudes getting up and doing full pieces when I was a kid, but I didn’t know what it was because I was a kid. But when I actually started to get into it, and found out what it was, it was through hip hop, through early Source magazines, through album covers, stuff that my older brother would bring home. I was young so I couldn’t access it at all. Everyone caught a tagging buzz in like 1990, and from there, we just kind of grew. Like you were saying, it is linked with hip hop, but graffiti in itself, the energy of it, can relate to so many things and I guess that’s why so many people who don’t necessarily come from a hip hop background can relate to it just as well. It’s kind of universal in that way. The energy of graffiti is to get busy, it’s a movement in itself, but it can attach itself to all these different genres…
It has all these off-shoot variations…
Yeah, but personally, it was through hip hop for me. It was through the album covers and the magazines…
When people think about your hometown, Wellington, nowadays they probably think of the trendy hipsters…
The cafes! There’s a lot of coffee there, bro! (Laughs)
But Wellington is also such a key place for hip hop in Aotearoa; the Upper Hutt Posse, DLT… When you look back, do you appreciate that importance?
Yeah, I really do man. Growing up there, before I started travelling around and meeting other scenes, I took it a bit for granted. But going away and coming back, I realised that the city and the scene itself was special. I mean the city, in terms of the environment, allows for people to see each other often. It’s not a big city, but geographically it is centralised, and if you have got to do something, you all come to town. You can stand in the middle of Wellington and guarantee you are going to see at least three people you know. In regard to the hip hop scene, that was a real way for people to link, because everyone could get to one point, and just share whatever they had. I think with the hip hop scene in Wellington, I’m lucky enough that generations before me are still active and are still around, you know what I mean? It’s something I’ve noticed a bit more than in other cities. When I say generations, I mean people who go way back, watching That’s Incredible! [An American television show from the early eighties that became an important early influence on New Zealand hip hop due to performances by b-boy crews] There are still dudes that turn up to the graf walls, or the MC jams or battles, and you still see them. The benefit of having these local pioneers around is that the knowledge is shared, and the scene just grows from generation to generation…
That must be important due to the fact that comparatively, New Zealand has a smaller cultural history in that regard, right? Even looking at those older scenes around the world, many of the older participants kind of disappear and then pop back up, especially now that there are more platforms of exposure, if you think again about the figures from the early New York scene…
The guys who disappeared and then popped back up…
Yeah, like all the photos of Taki 183 at different events over the last few years. I think there was even a photo of Taki and Cornbread meeting for the first time not too far back…
That’s crazy! (Laughs)
So, in places where there is an older culture, those figures can ghost away and become legends, but when they are still around, as you say, it helps feed the culture, the traditions, but it also helps people develop because they can see that historical lineage, right there…
Yeah, if you ever had questions, they were around. The thing Wellington was known for across all the realms, was a being a little bit hard-headed in regard to teaching. If you weren’t doing it right, you were told you weren’t doing it right, you know what I mean? It wasn’t necessarily, do it like me, but just that you’re not doing it right, if that makes sense. It was a harder form of guidance and if you got shut down, you weren’t expected to stop and disappear, you were expected to go work on your shit and come back better. That was kind of the teaching through all of the elements of hip hop, from DJ’ing to b-boying, to writing and MC’ing. Even fashion sense, like if you were trying to rock some new shit and nobody was feeling it, you got told: ‘That’s just wack, bro, don’t come back to the gig looking like that!’ (Laughs) In a way a lot of people, from outside the scene, thought that it was quite snobby, or kind of elitist, but to me it was just a firmer hand to teaching, you know? It wasn’t as cutthroat as people thought it was, but it appeared that way. I definitely see why people can see it that way…
Does that approach help crystallise your own views? That hard-headed-ness, as you say, it’s not, ‘do it this way’, it’s just, you’re not doing it correctly, and surely that helps crystallise an approach in your own head because you are being forced to think about it more and more….
Yeah, it does…
So, did that ensure that you developed a strong, enduring philosophy about letterforms, and how you make letters? Obviously for a lot of people, there’s a science behind their construction of letters, and some people talk in great detail about how they build depth and use negative space, those sorts of things. Is that something that you have developed through that expectation of having to go away and perfect something?
Yeah, definitely, like not just in the elements of hip hop, but life in general, you’ve got to keep learning and studying, especially if you love what you do, and you want to rock it for a while. You should take your own time and discipline to really break down exactly what you are doing, why you are doing it, and yeah, it definitely relates to that teaching that if I wasn’t doing this right, how do I make it right? Not just to please someone else, but for yourself. How can you get the best out of every letter for example? Like, if you’re doing a five letter wildstyle, one letter itself has to be dope before you start doing the next letter, then the next letter, then the whole thing is going to be dope. So, stripping away all the bells and whistles of a letter really helps. For me, each letter, each angle, each arrow, has to be on, you know what I mean? That teaching definitely helped with that, you can’t just be throwing shit around, because it doesn’t really have a foundation or a sense of why it comes from there…
The other aspect is that when it comes to things like composition, colour, balance, those formal aspects, the beauty of graffiti is that it’s not beholden to established ideas that that they would teach in painting classes, right?
Yeah, like red and pink don’t go together, that sort of shit?! (Laughs) Graffiti writing is anti-establishment in most ways…
Yeah, so in graffiti you can find any sort of combination that pops or reflects some idea or reality, or is simply created out of necessity, right? You had these colours, it was what you could get, so that’s what your painting…
That’s it, that’s what you had. But also, the drive was to be seen, to be noticed, so smashing together colour combos was how you achieved that.
At the same time, because you’re not necessarily subject to the normal expectations, you do need that kind of guidance I guess in some way, but you’ve also got that freedom to experiment within all of those things as well…
Yeah, that’s it. You need some knowledge of foundations in all aspects of life.
Having been active for quite a while, what’s your take on Wellington’s, and more broadly New Zealand’s, graffiti scenes at the moment? Can you define scenes from city to city anymore, or is it becoming too difficult?
Nah, it’s muddy! I’m not saying that it’s wack, but in previous eras you could see definite influences from prior writers instantly. Nationwide you could see it, from generation to generation to generation. You could almost see what the writers were doing at the time, and who they were looking at around the local scene. I’m not saying they were biting, but the influence was there, the style was there. You could define writers from Auckland, Wellington or Christchurch, all quite clearly. I’m just talking about New Zealand at the moment, but on a global scale, I think now, you can’t really tell who is from where, because people take influences from everywhere, and put it into one piece, which again isn’t a bad thing, because everything changes and everyone experiments, and with graffiti, it opens up. It’s a realm where there are no rules. I suppose, it’s like, you could do what you want, just make it look dope, you know what I mean? I guess for me though it started changing, and the internet has had a huge influence. You have more access to stuff than ever; you can see shit from anywhere. But the other thing, the biggest thing, is that people stopped learning from other writers, and started self-teaching. To an extent that can be detrimental because you don’t really find out the whole knowledge on it…
Things aren’t just done for one singular reason, right? There’s always more going on as to why something is the way it is, and you need that depth of knowledge to really push it further, otherwise you are only getting that first layer…
And even on top of that, it had a wider effect on crews, because people were going out and learning from pictures, they didn’t really need other people to bounce ideas off or get energy from. I notice a lot of writers are solo these days, they don’t really roll as big crews anymore. Crews had heaps of roles back in the day, like for protection, if you go to a wall in numbers and shit, it became about strength in numbers to a certain extent. But at the same time, the unity of writers is kind of breaking down, it’s more about: ‘I’m doing this’, ‘I’m going to do that…’ So yeah, it’s kind of muddy in the sense of style and influence…
There’s possibly also more mobility as well, right? Like, going back to that global scale, it’s easier to travel now. Also, while it is still a youth culture, it’s not only a youth culture, because you now have people who make their life travelling and painting, right? So, there is definitely a different sense of fluidity and the flow of information and influence is making it all a different game… What about Christchurch and what’s going on here in terms of what you have seen over the last few days?
I’ve been here for a few days, and it’s been a while since I’ve been down, like four years I think, so having a look around is good. I was talking to Ikarus, who obviously is one of the main dudes here, and the older guys in the scene are doing a good job from what I can see, because there is a lot of influence. There’s a range of styles around which is cool as well. But also, people are putting a bit of effort into their burners. When you see people getting down next to each other they make the whole piece work, and you can tell there’s a bit of teamwork going in there, there is a shared understanding. I also haven’t seen much crossing out or capping. You guys have got way more walls than ever now, so there’s probably no reason to cross out people! (Laughs) But I like what I see in the Christchurch scene, there are dudes that just specifically do characters and do them well, there are guys that do backgrounds, and then there are guys rocking letters. There are still a lot of hits around too, which I like, even though there are a lot of legal spaces, people are still bombing and tagging. It looks healthy…
Because of the story here, the murals get all the attention, but of course, when you are thinking about the scene from within the culture, that whole spectrum is important, right? There are the hits, as you say, the handstyles, as well as the throwies and rollers, and when your eyes are open in a certain way, you get as amped seeing a nicely executed throw-up as you do a massive piece…
Yeah, for sure. A throwie, man, if the flow is all there, if you can tell they did it all in one line, man! One-line throwies, whoever masters that shit, that’s hard to do! Especially depending on your name. So, yeah, the scene here looks healthy, man. I guess on the flip side, compared to Wellington, there are dudes who are definitely in the scene, bombing and tagging, but not really pushing it much further, if that makes sense. And of course, not everyone wants to. Some people just want to fuck shit up, and that’s cool, that’s the energy of hip hop. There were a few crews coming through a few years ago, but they all seem to have stopped for some reason, and it makes me wonder why? I’ve been talking to Ikarus about what he’s been doing here, and it’s been good knowledge, it’s been good bouncing energy off someone who has been around the same time as me and has seen everything.
I was talking to Berst a while ago, and he said he found over time that there is this kind of five-year cycle for crews to blow up, to become really prominent, and then disappear, and a new crew comes up. I found that interesting because it is sort of indicative of a certain age range, of ‘growing up’…
Yeah, life comes up! Families and shit, jobs, and then people either stop or they keep pushing. I’ve known some real dope writers, from all ends of the scale, some real style masters, and they just stopped, they don’t paint anymore, and again, it makes you kind of question, why?
Changing direction a little bit, you are down here for the Christchurch International Tattoo Expo, which is another of your creative outlets. There is a strong relationship between graffiti and tattoo. In my mind at least, there are several things that suggest why that relationship was fostered; there’s sort of an outsider quality to both, there’s the idea of that alternative canvas, although in each case very different canvasses or spaces to master, and then there are skills you learn writing graffiti that translate into tattoo, like that certainty of line and mark-making. I’m always fascinated watching someone write a tag to see the refined and certain flow of movement of their hand and arm, how almost intuitive or engrained that movement is. Does that relate as a big part of that transition between graffiti and tattooing?
That definitely does, that fluidity of line and being sure of it, because especially when you’re painting you’ve got to know your start and stops and techniques, and so that mindset comes into play. I say mindset because the physical aspect of it is different, with tattoo you have a 3D surface, so a straight line is no longer a straight line, it’s a curve, and its permanent! (Laughs) It moves, and it cries, and it bleeds, it does all that shit! (Laughs)
It also has a different scale, right?
That’s the other thing, going from painting something humungous to miniscule, that’s kind of a mindfuck at first! But composition is important for a writer anyway. You’ve got to transform your outline from an A4 sketch to a painting a couple of metres wide, so you’ve already got that transition of blowing shit up. The same mindset applies to bringing it back down. I feel like it doesn’t take too long to adjust if you have a writing background, because tattooing is a natural progression for a lot of graffiti writers. But I also think tattooing, like graf, allows all walks of life into it, you can come from any background and make something dope. Definitely, the technical side of things, drawing and just being active, in that sense, translates really well into tattooing. Even the idea that when you are bombing, or painting, you don’t actually touch the wall, you don’t touch the surface, and in a way when you are tattooing you don’t really touch the skin, the needle does, but you do float a bit. So, there are those elements that translate as well. People bug out about how you can go from a fat cap to a fine round liner, but it’s good, I find it really good for me in the sense of balance. If I’ve been tattooing all day, I find it relaxing to go out and bomb something big. It’s different. Switching energies is good. Then vice-versa, before I was tattooing, I was actively doing a lot of painting, commissioned works were my day to day, and to sort of swap that for day to day tattooing, it was a nice shift, you know…
Is the blackbook work the middle ground that sits between the two?
Yeah, that’s the grey area! Fuck, that’s a good way to put it…
What about that flow of influence? Do you now find that one influences the other more, or is it quite an equal flow? Does what you are doing tattoo-wise start to influence more of your writing, or does what you are painting influence the tattooing?
It hasn’t yet. For me, with writing, I’m still pushing my own development in letter style. I’ve always been a fan of wildstyle, like well-balanced interlocking, overlapping, twisting around wildstyle. That’s something that even though I’ve been doing it for twenty years, I still don’t feel like I’m mastering what I want to do in my head, so every piece I do I’m pushing a little bit toward that. When it comes to tattooing influences, I guess, the only part that has come through in my writing has been my Samoan background and adding elements of that to my graffiti, and there are a couple of reasons. I was doing that before I was tattooing. Guys like DLT, Daniel Tippett, Opto, Agent and also the legendary FDKNS crew, and for a while, Phat1, they were using moko within their work, and I started using tatau and elements of the Pacific. Dyle was another cat rocking his Tongan patterns in there too. This was in letters and not just in backgrounds and stuff. What I noticed was that nobody puts the Pacific on the map in regard to writing. We could rock letters all we want, but if you put it up next to another piece, you are not going to necessarily say these guys are from Aotearoa or the South Pacific. So, it was more about claiming our identity of who we are. Our original influence was from New York in a big way, but it was important for us to put our hands up and say we love to do this too, how can we make it our own? Not through style necessarily, but by adding what we know is who we are to our work, and I don’t mean just putting some island background, or some trees, I mean adding to the letters, adding to the piece, creating something out of that…
Actually changing the letterforms, because the letters become the vessel, right? They are a form to subvert, so by making those relate specifically to that cultural influence is important and unique…
Like having a taiaha for an ‘I’, or a hook or a weapon as a letter, because letters are symbols, alphabets are full of symbols, and the way they can interrelate like that is awesome. And it actually works, I’ve had people from New York, pioneers of the game, say: ‘I really like what you guys do…’ They don’t understand it at first, but they like it. (Laughs) But once we told them, they would be like: ‘Oh shit, amazing!’ So yeah, we are adding an older artform on top of an artform, to grow and create something new, which I think is dope…
Absolutely, and there is a rich visual culture to draw on from Polynesian culture. You also just touched on something that I have to ask about, looking through your Instagram feed, there are pictures with Crazy Legs and members of the Wu Tang Crew, in hindsight, is it hard to believe some of the people you’ve met?
Everyone! I count myself blessed in many ways, in that not only through the graffiti side, but also through the MC side, I’ve met a lot of people I’ve literally learned from, through their albums, through their artworks. I never ever imagined that one day I’d be touring with Ghostface [Killah] or having a cipher with the RZA, or one with the GZA, on separate occasions, smoking a joint with Method Man, meeting KRS One, Nas, all these cats bro. Then on the graf side, and even the other elements, I’ve met Mr Wiggles, kicked it with Crazy Legs. There’s too many to name. I kind of forget, and I’m like, fuck that actually happened! But one of my mentors, Kerb1, he told me many, many, many years ago that real hip hop is a small world. I didn’t really get what he meant by that. But now, twenty years later, I think it means that the energy that is shared amongst like minds, means names and fame don’t really come into it, because real recognises real. If you can get on a certain level, and connect on a certain level with that person, it’s good…
Do you think that is partly because hip hop was born, specifically in Washington Heights, but in those neighbourhoods, those boroughs, and that mentality of small scenes, even though it went global, hasn’t really changed in terms of understanding or connecting with people…
That’s what it’s about. The elements are tools, and the tools connect communities and people. When people say hip hop, they think of the music of course, because that’s the most commercially recognised thing. But when you break it right down, hip hop is about community, and it’s about people, without people there’s no hip hop, you know what I mean? Hip hop was the tool to help celebrate people being together, or how to connect with another person. So that mentality, from a small borough, no one thought it was going to go worldwide when they started it, but the energy that was created is recognised throughout the world because it happens everywhere, and like you say, that’s what brings people together…
The need for connection is universal. Nearly every subculture has that power to a degree, but for hip hop it is so holistic, because it combines music, dance, visual arts… It takes all the cultural ideas you need to make a deep, sustainable culture, rather than just one primary aspect. Having those four elements makes it so cohesive and inclusive…
It makes it accessible to everyone too, like if you can’t dance, you might be able to paint, if you can’t paint, you might be able to scratch…
I think I remember reading in a Source magazine article years ago a description of the four elements, with the MC as the bratty little sibling who makes all noise…
The loud one! (Laughs)
The DJ was the quiet studious middle child…
The watcher, the observer.
Then graffiti was the black sheep, the older one who left home…
The one who bailed! The rebel who leads everyone else astray! That’s sounds about right! I like that description!
Thanks for sitting down, it’s been awesome to get some insight from your long involvement in the game, and across different realms too…
It’s not as long as some people, but I’m still there! (Laughs)
Sure, but for some people five years is an age…
For sure, I never thought our crew would hit the twenty-year mark, but we did, and we are looking at thirty years soon. Three of us started the TS crew back in 1996, and I never thought it would develop into what it is now, so yeah, it’s a good thing. But like I said, having those pioneers still around has been important. My bro Kerb, he’s been around since 1983 and he’s still writing to this day, he is still a huge influence in what our crew do. So yeah, I guess it is a long time! (Laughs) I’ve been around a bit, but it’s a crack up, these young cats that Ikarus hooked me up with while I’m here [Sewer and VROD], I was telling them about some of the history here, and they were like: ‘Oh, have you been to Christchurch before?’ Twenty years ago was my first time here in Christchurch, I was here in 2000 for the Hip Hop Summit. They were like: ‘I was born then!’ (Laughs) It’s good though, to meet the next generation and kick it with them, to see where they are coming from. I need to do more of it in Wellington…
This month, we are stoked to welcome a guest contributor to our And That Was… series: the man behind the Instagram feed Rubble City (@rubblecity), Gavin Fantastic. The idea of this series is to cover a wide selection of what’s happening in Christchurch’s urban art scenes, so it was natural to throw our net wider and make use of those people, like Gavin, with their fingers, and cameras, on the pulse. Rubble City is a go-to feed for fresh, and often highly temporary, pieces of art across Christchurch. So, what has been on Gavin’s radar in April? Read on to find out…
Local artist Hambone is certainly setting the scene alight lately with his neo-trad style characters. From pumas with snakes to gorillas armed with bananas, the characters are certainly eye-catching.
Go Hard or Go Home
As the nights get longer the ability to lurk in the shadows also increases for those smashing the scene.
Two artists who have been dropping nasty steez are V-Rod and Vesyl. It has been interesting watching the style of these two artists evolve over the last couple of years from tags and rollers, to the next level pieces seen this April.
Our walls have been graced with additions by painters from afar this month. Showing how the other side of the world gets down were two of Europe’s finest. Resr47 was throwing down snow-capped letters from the Swiss Alps, while Desur managed to fit in a couple of Hamburg burners during his stint at local tattoo studio Otautahi Tattoo.
Jacob Yikes Pop-Up
Situated next to World on High Street, Yikes’ pop-up shop hit my Insta feed (and my wallet!) this month. The man from DTR is selling both originals and prints in a space that is occupied for the next few months selling eclectic furniture. Check it out and support your local artist!
As featured in the ‘And that was … March’ blog post, we saw the passing of local O.G. Jungle. Tributes have been popping up all over Christchurch City and around the world. I’ll sign off with a tribute piece from two other 03 O.Gs – Yikes & Ikarus.
Follow Gavin on Instagram (@rubblecity), and keep an eye out for more guest contributors in the coming months…
Spread the word about what's happening in the Christchurch urban art scene:
Part One of our interview with Ikarus covered a lot of ground, but in a sense, we only scratched the surface. In Part Two, Ikarus continues to reflect on lessons learnt and his encounters with a public confused and often angered by graffiti, before diving into how his own work and style has developed in response to his roots and his worldview. He also discusses his formative influences, and how events like Rise and Spectrum afforded him the unexpected chance to work alongside a number of well-travelled artists. Picking up where we left off, let’s jump back inside the head of one of Christchurch’s graffiti legends…
There are some members of the public who are confused by graffiti, and yet I think that means they neglect some of the formal and performative elements, like for me it’s always interesting watching a someone’s hand-style, there’s an aspect of movement, a physical quality to how that hand-style is formed, a reflection of how the hand moves. But when people don’t see it happening, it’s easy to not acknowledge those things…
Absolutely, a good example is when I was working at Project Legit (an organisation that mentored young graffiti artists, providing opportunities for legal walls alongside workshops and more), one of the big conversations you’ll have with an average citizen who doesn’t understand the culture is: “I love the stuff you do…”, even when its name based and character stuff, when they see it happen, “…but I hate tagging”. I’d say to them, I get it, you might have had your property tagged, you don’t like the way it looks visually when you’re driving around the city, because you don’t understand it, that it is someone’s name, it’s all over this place, and you don’t know that particular style, and whatever. But I will always defend tagging, I will always defend the vandalism side of graffiti because as you say, it’s where it all comes from, none of the rest of it could exist without it. So, I would explain all that and I would say, you know this is just an evolution of that and this is how it had to be in in the early days and this is how a lot of young people had to start out. Then they would say, “well, there’s no skill in doing a tag”. Then I would beg to differ and then I would show them, a lot of times I would give them a challenge: “I have this can, I’ll put a cap on it, and I’ll give you a hundred dollars right now if you can do a straight line that maintains its width, its consistency, it doesn’t go fuzzy at the end, doesn’t drip. If you can do a 50cm line that maintains all those qualities, I’ll give you a hundred dollars right now”. Not one of these people ever did it and I would sort of demonstrate a tag with various elements, like flares, down from the same point at each letter, and it has a flow and rhythm to it, and they would see it and I would say, see you couldn’t do a straight line but I could do this, does that take some amount of skill? And they would have to admit that it does. A lot of it comes down to the fact that they don’t think there’s any forethought, or any culture behind it, they just think it’s mindless vandalism. I did once have a lady, I was working on some stencils with a special needs student, and we’d made an Auckland Warriors stencil for him and I was showing him the process of selecting the image and cutting the different layers, and this lady said to me that she thought you just bought a can with a picture on it and literally waved it around in front of a wall and the picture came out. I started laughing because I thought she was joking, and she wasn’t joking! A lot of the time we’ll be painting, and it will only be the bare bones sketched up of various areas and people will come past and say that its really good, and you’re like: well, come back tomorrow and you will really like it! But a lot of it is that they don’t understand the process, very rarely, and especially over the last half a decade, do you see someone who sees the process and speaks to us, they really don’t go away with a negative thought about it you know, because they see that there is something behind it and that people are actually thinking about what they are doing. I mean, it’s sort of a lot easier for us because we are in the public painting a lot of big colourful works, but it wasn’t always like that, we were doing this back when nobody understood it, and you the police were definitely coming, someone was definitely pulling over and mouthing off at you because you were a bad example you know, the resistance that we used to face was crazy compared to what it is now, for sure…
Even what you were saying before, that people don’t realize the technique that goes into it, like the ten thousand hour idea applies to graffiti: the amount of times a hand-style is performed by someone reflects a real commitment, it is perfected over hundreds or thousands of times…
Absolutely, with graffiti, especially the people into the vandalism side of it, there’s the element of just writing your name over and over again, there’s a certain level of OCD obsessive compulsiveness. I can remember being 17 and a friend of mine had a really nice ‘S’ and I remember sitting for hours and hours and hours and dozens and dozens and dozens of pieces of paper trying to get it, so there’s a certain level of obsessive compulsiveness that comes with it, it’s just something to focus on…
I think of that scene in Style Wars with Skeme’s Mum…
“You do doodle on the paper”! Yeah, yeah, it is like that…
From a personal perspective, in terms of your letterforms, because your style has developed and been refined now over so many years and you can see how perfected your they are, what realisations have come from your personal progression stylistically?
I know what you’re saying, you’re politely saying that I do the same piece all the time! (laughs)
Not at all!
(Laughs) I do hear that a lot though. People ask me why I don’t change my letters, but if you look back over the course of everything I’ve done, it changes. But from day one, I’d never wanted to do anything more than tag. When I was young, I wanted to be a vandal, and I was really anti- graffiti art, let alone what I would of thought about street art back then. I didn’t even like big colourful graffiti murals, I called it borderline graffiti, and I was like argh that stuff, anyone can do that stuff! And I mean that’s still true to this day, anyone can take that much time and produce an amazing piece of work if you have the permission and unlimited hours and you have access to paint, you know it’s still a true thing. It’s one of the things I love the most about vandalism, that it’s pure, you get nothing from it, no one will give you anything. No one will reward you for vandalism, it’s not gonna provide you with anything positive, which is kind of the beautiful thing about it. For people that are really dedicated to it, it is pure, there is no ulterior motive, you do it for whatever reason you do it for and that’s all you can get from it, you know. But as far as my own letter forms, from day one, once I decided, okay I’m getting caught a lot, I’ve been to court, faced various fines and community service and PD and that sort of stuff, I wasn’t willing to give up graffiti, but I also wasn’t willing to keep getting caught just doing tagging and low-level bum shit. So, I was like okay, I’m going to do nice, simple letters, because you can put as many arrows and bells and whistles and fancy fat cap flares and little hooks on the end as you like, but if your basic letterform is garbage, then it’s garbage, it isn’t anything, you know, it’s just a whole lot of colours and squiggles. So, my whole intention early on was only to be able to do a simple letterform and then paint so much that nobody could count me out. I wanted to know that if a kid grew up in Christchurch, was into graffiti and they didn’t know who I was, I wanted it to be their fault, not mine! Some people want to do wildstyle letters, they want to camouflage it, they only want it to be readable by graffiti writers, but I was like no, if I’m gonna waste my time and look at getting myself jail time and getting more fines or PD, what I paint is going to be super simple. I was like, if you drive past it at 60 kilometres an hour or 100 kilometres an hour on a motorway and there is a line-up of five people, your gonna see my name, you’ll read my name first. So, that was always really important to me. Over the years there were times I tried to do like dissected connections and different kinks to letters, and various things but I just found that the thing I went back to that made me happiest was the simplest stuff. You’ll talk to graffiti writers that paint three-day productions, giant, three-metre-high, twenty-metre-long walls, but they get the exact same enjoyment out of doing a ten or twenty-minute chrome piece on a rooftop or in an abandoned building or on the side of a train track. The enjoyment level is different for different things. All I really wanted was to be a tagger, and then when I started painting I wanted my pieces to be big tags, really simple to read, and I think that’s a huge part of it, the simplicity to read and the big bold letters. Especially as my eyes get worse. I’ve got really bad eyesight, so I want my letters to be simpler, my outlines to be thicker, my characters to be bigger, just so I can see them when I stand back.
I would suggest that it’s led to a refined style that is instantly recognisable. I never get sick of seeing them. There’s something to savour about that repetition as well, it’s not redundant, that sense of constant refinement is so evident…
Yeah, it is down to things like logos, and I’ve read stuff with different artists over the years and they want their stuff to be like that, instantly recognisable, and that’s what I want. as I say, you’re going 100 kilometres an hour past it, and there’s an instant recognition, people that don’t write graffiti can still read it. A lot of the time people will come to the walls we’re painting and they will say I don’t know what that says, I don’t know what that says, but they say I-carus? I-karus? They can’t pronounce it, but they can read it and they say oh I know that, I’ve seen it, and that’s what I want from it. The same way you see the golden arches of the McDonalds’ logo. You know what it is. So I want it where you just drive past it super-fast and you see that letterform and you see the style of my characters, it’s super simple but you know instantly, oh I know that! Even if it’s not Ikarus that I’m writing, or the exact characters that I always paint, I still want it to be recognisable. It’s a general thing, I mean I’m not special, it’s something that most graffiti artists write for, to have their style be distinctly recognised. Same as Yikes, you know instantly recognisable. You go past his stuff and you are going to know it. His style on the other hand is so unique, and I wouldn’t necessarily say my stuff is unique because it’s really based on traditional letterforms, it’s really just a big colourful tag when you look at it.
You mention your characters, it feels like you’ve developed their own distinct presence over the last however long. It feels like the various characters have a really distinct sense of personality. Is that something you’ve been trying to develop? Or has it just occurred through repetition?
It’s a little bit of both. There’s been some conscious thought on that level. There’s been some characters I’ve done and in my head, I’ve had my own little storylines about certain characters and who they are. Some characters I do it’ll be a visualisation of something that I was thinking about at the time. Again, they’re all fairly similar. They will be the same character but with a different accessory or some sort of thing that is relevant to whatever I was thinking at the time, or if I was thinking about someone. I hide little things in there for my girlfriend, stuff like that…
They often seem like representations of your worldview in some way, there is a nice sense of cynicism in some ways (laughs), which I think is important because the letterforms have become an indication of you in some way, just through number and repetition, and now the characters are an outward representation of your experiences as well. They add a personal element, they’re not decorative, they are a psychological element too…
Definitely, everyone tells me my characters are just mad depressed looking! They should be cute but they all look suicidal. It’s accurate, I mean there’s a series of emo girls that I think of as the ‘Suicide Girls’. There’s various characters for various things, like the cool kid characters. There was a period where I was painting my little alien dudes with the brain exposed and that was because of whatever fucking traumatic relationship stuff I was going through at the time. But then I generally just keep using them all. Like there’s a series of boxes and cartoon things, around the back of the YMCA, if you know it, it is speaking about something…
There’s a narrative
Yeah, they have their own narrative, I just don’t really explain it to anyone (laughs). It’s just something I will have been thinking about and dramatizing it
And that’s it right? It’s the ability to exorcise things but you don’t have to explain it because anyone can come along and build that narrative up themselves…
Yeah exactly, that’s just art in general. I think it was Seth [Globepainter], his painting of the boy on the cloud with a ladder, at Spectrum, I looked at it and thought, with my general frame of mind, oh, look at that sad little kid sitting on a cloud. Then I saw some other people come in and say that boy’s up on a cloud and he’s so happy! It’s a crazy thing, people see different things. Some people see bright colours, and see a message behind it, some people don’t see anything…
Speaking of Spectrum and the Oi YOU! shows, over the last five or six years, who stands out that you have met or worked with that you might not have expected to get to know?
I mean pretty much everyone was fucking awesome, but standouts, from the first show, Rise, Thom Buchanan was a rad dude. He painted an amazing work, an amazing cityscape, and painted for like a million hours and layers over two weeks. I hadn’t seen his work before and he was just a rad dude who did some super rad work. Obviously, Sofles is fucking mind-blowing. Everything he did for every show was just crazy and he’s a super rad regular dude. He’s not even one of these crazy super human vegans that doesn’t drink or anything, he gets down and then does his thing, and then bombs and travels the world. He’s super crazy, he blows my mind! And Tilt! Just painting with Tilt was super cool, because early on Tilt was actually a pretty big influence on the way I do my letters. The dude does throw-ups most of the time. It’s one of those things, like from NZ, Addict, ADT, is another dude that inspires me a lot, simple letters, iconic, logo-istic, if that’s a word (laughs), but that instant identification. Early on Tilt was just going to countries and doing his throw-up and putting the country’s flag inside his throw-up, and I was like, this is fucking amazing and this means you don’t have to do fifty-colour, amazing, super technical, wildstyle bullshit and you can still get known. When I was younger, and I didn’t really do the artistic side of it, I was looking for my own style, and when I was looking through graffiti magazines and watching graffiti DVDs or I saw graffiti, it was always super technical stuff, layered up with amazing lighting effects and shadows and detail, whether it be pieces, characters or backgrounds, and that stuff would blow my mind, but it wasn’t anything I ever wanted to do. So, when I saw something super simple, like the London Police, with the big round faces, the Adidas, it was iconic, it was instantly recognisable. With stuff like that, or Tilt’s throw-ups, I would think to myself: I could have done that, I actually could have done that! Not that those guys can’t draw, but it was instantly recognisable stuff like that led me to think, oh there’s a lane I can get into. I don’t have the patience or determination to do wildstyle! My friend Reakt loved to sit down for five hours with a pencil and an eraser and work out his letters and connections and the layers, and I’m there just tearing through black books page by page doing throw ups and tags. I couldn’t do it, but once I saw that really iconic, logo-like stuff, I was like, okay, there’s a lane, there’s an area I can get into. The same as I just want to do simple letterforms, I can do simple characters. The first characters I did were just big round faces, you know still fairly similar, but I used to call them the ‘Bubblegum Fuck Faces’, and they were just big round colourful fucking cartoony looking faces and that was it, and then it sort of evolved from there and moved on over the years.
I know we could go on, but you’ve got some painting to do, and I know this is probably just the first time I hit you up for thoughts and opinions! So thanks for sitting down with us…
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He won’t remember, but I first met Ikarus in the early 2000s. I was a University student and as part of a course on hip hop culture I was taking, Ikarus was painting a demonstration piece as part of a ‘hip hop summit’, as the lecturer called it, at the old student’s association bar. I had taken every opportunity in my studies to write about my fascination of graffiti and street art, and I spent the afternoon intently watching Ikarus paint. I meekly mentioned my interest in graffiti, but understandably, Ikarus seemed non-fussed by some student type’s attraction to a culture that he lived and breathed in real life, not in essays, only serving me a nodding acknowledgement. Close to ten years later, I was re-introduced to Ikarus for a project in the central city Re:Start Mall , affording me the chance to work with him and Wongi ‘Freak’ Wilson. Since that re-introduction, I have been able to get to know Ikarus as the funny, acerbic and insightful personality he is. Fortunately, now I consider him a go-to figure for advice and opinions on graffiti matters. I even joked with him that when I have to reflect on any writing or statements, I use the phase ‘What Would Ikarus Think?’
While he laughed my motto off, Ikarus is deserving of his place as a true legend of Christchurch graffiti art. From his early days getting up in the streets, his place in the mighty DTR crew, working as a mentor and tutor for Project Legit, and his involvement in the Rise and Spectrum shows alongside countless independent productions, he has earned respect. Over the years he has forged strong opinions on graffiti’s traditions and history, as well as the rise of the mural art movement that he finds himself part of, despite never holding such goals as a young graffiti writer, reflections that show a deep understanding of his, and the culture’s roots and potential futures.
In early December, we sat in a loud, windy laneway in the Central City and over pizza slices, discussed some of Ikarus’ recent projects, his take on graffiti and street art, and his own work’s development over a long and winding path…
So, Ikarus, you have a couple of busy weekends ahead, this weekend is the opening of the East Frame youth space, where you, Freak and Yikes are painting three of the Oi YOU! donated spray cans (with other selected artists painting the five other cans), and then next weekend you’re off to Auckland for Berst’s Forum event, which will have you painting, giving an artist talk, and are you part of the event workshop?
No, we go home before the workshop, but we’re painting a couple of walls. They got us one wall that we have to paint and then there’s a couple of optional ones during the weekend as well, which we can do…
As for this weekend, give us a little bit of background as to how you guys came to be involved in the youth space project and the idea behind the giant spray cans…
Basically, we were approached by Oi YOU! and GapFiller regarding the installation. Oi YOU! donated the eight large spray cans, and GapFiller along with Fletcher Living, have created this youth space. The whole youth space itself is going to have a basketball court, a café, a little youth centre area, and of course the spray cans. The way that it’s going to work is that three of the cans will be sectioned off and will be for semi-permanent to permanent works, and myself Yikes and Freak will be painting those tomorrow, and the other five grouped together will be what they’re calling an evolving art space, which will be an open space where young artists can practice and not worry about getting into trouble. It’s kind of the first spot actually in the city that’s been officially declared for young people to come and practice their stuff, so that’s really good…
You’ve been pushing for this kind of concept, as an alternative to kids ending up in other spaces, for quite a while and yet you’ve always met some resistance, so what do you think has made this possible now?
Part of it would have a lot to do with the amount of different graffiti art and street art that’s been popping up over the last few years. Public perception towards it has changed a lot than, you know, ten years ago. People see it as a much more positive thing after the earthquakes when the city was really destroyed. A lot of people started to appreciate the splashes of colour and pictures and stuff everywhere. But also, Oi YOU! donating the spots and then GapFiller having done so many different projects over the years, I guess those two names and the results that they’ve shown over the years for projects that they’ve done, I think that probably helped sway the Council towards them giving it a shot. And yeah, like you say, I’ve been trying argue the point for legal walls for a few years now because obviously kids are going to go and practice somewhere and you may as well structure a place where they can do that without fear of getting into trouble, because you know it wastes a lot of tax payer money just to have the Police called and they’ve gotta go down there and chase it up and whether they end up arresting them and charging them, I mean it’s all those things, it’s counter productive and also leads that kid to have a bad attitude about the community, about the Police and you know about the Council and stuff. Even symbolically, having eight giant spray cans in the middle of the city is a crazy thing in far as it being a statement on Christchurch’s part that they now view graffiti and street art as forms of art. So now it’s really good to have a spot where kids can actually come and practice and try and hone their talents and turn it into something more positive than it has been in the past.
Spray cans have had this sort of stigma attached to them for a long time, so as you say, symbolically, these objects show a shifting of the guard. I also remember you saying quite often that what authorities are doing, what they have been doing, is not working, that it’s time to change and try something new…
Yeah, exactly, I mean it’s that classic saying: the definition of insanity is to continue doing something that isn’t working, and expecting a different result. For years the policy or the stance has been anti-graffiti, anti-tagging. It’s been catch a kid tagging and whether they arrest them, charge them with wilful damage, give them community service, or on a couple of occasions people have done small prison sentences for it, but like I say, all that does is foster negative energy and it’s a lot easier for a young person, if they are interested in the art form, it’s way easier for them to get one can of spray paint and go out and write their name on a bunch of stuff than it is for them to be able to gather half a dozen to a dozen cans of spray paint and then find somewhere that their allowed to go and practice. It’s sort of like the proactive vs reactive measure you know, there’s not much point just continually catching kids that are doing it, punishing them and then having no real change. I haven’t seen the statistics, but I’d be surprised if graffiti ever went down based on that approach…
It’s important to reflect on whether the culture of today would exist if there wasn’t that history of having to react against the institutional response. I mean there’s now this really big divergence in how artists come to be defined as ‘street artists’, but a lot of the roots of what is now this immensely popular culture, have to be acknowledged as coming from the resistant nature of graffiti right? It’s born from the need for people to express themselves and to get out and do it. You’re a traditionalist around this in some regards, and it’s going to exist either way, but as you say, just giving a space like this which is going to remove some negative energy is a positive move…
Yeah, one of the things I would always try to explain if I was having this conversation with Council members or just general members of the public that don’t understand the whole art form, is that graffiti and vandalism is going to exist because its so easy. It’s always existed you know, people have written their name on things before spray cans and before graffiti as the culture we know it today was born, people were still writing their names on things. When we were young and there was nowhere for us to paint, the only reason that we got to learn the things we did was because people we knew gave us places to paint. There were a couple of walls you were allowed to paint, like we’d gotten through, not public ones but through owners of buildings and places. So we would have our own spaces to paint, and without that we would’ve, I would’ve just kept on the same path without ever probably evolving into anything else.
Graffiti also suggests that you can understand urban space in a different way through commandeering areas. Graffiti writing is kind of symptomatic of the ability to navigate a space whether you are given permission or not. A graffiti writer will go to those places that a normal member of the public shies away from. I think there is something interesting in that, and particularly in Christchurch, where we’ve had so many spaces that have been empty or available, but now these spaces are being redefined. There will always be a need for people who head out and explore the city and actually illustrate to other people that there are spaces we ignore or forget or don’t know…
Yeah, absolutely, a lot of that has to do with the fact that originally and historically graffiti has that stigma attached to it, and oftentimes it is forced into those areas because they are the spaces that the general public aren’t paying attention to, you know like an abandoned building, your train lines, your rooftops in the middle of the night, your alleyways, stuff like that where regular people aren’t going to be as much, so it was sort of a necessary thing. Plus there’s that aspect that graffiti and street art are, or in the past have been, largely youth cultures, and as a teenager you’re always out exploring a city, through skateboarding or graffiti, or whether it’s just through being among friends. Like when I was young, long before we were even thinking about graffiti, we used to climb a lot of rooftops around the city just because it was accessible, and we wanted to see what’s there and you want to be there. Graffiti became that thing where like I will make a small mark so that the next person that comes will know that I was here as well. It has all grown from that.
Post-quake there is a new generation that have experienced this really unique landscape where there has been so much access to the myriad damaged and abandoned places, so it will be interesting to see where these creative impulses lead a newer generation who have grown up knowing a city that is basically a giant playground…
One giant playground for that sort of thing, absolutely. We’ve definitely had that conversation among ourselves that if we were younger and still in our earlier destructive phases (laughs), when this all happened it would’ve just been like the biggest playground! It has, not necessarily created, but spawned a lot of extra graffiti and vandalism and art because things were in such a state of disrepair, because youth are going to go out and explore these areas, they really blew up. But then also because it had such a huge visual impact, because there was so much, you started to get more and more regular people taking notice of it, and now you know there’s a lot of areas, and I’m not talking about large scale murals, I’m talking about like some of the car parks and alleyways around the city that have just traditional graffiti characters and name pieces where like no matter what time of the day you’re there, you’re generally going to run into people who are there taking photos, whether it’s people who live here, or tourists that have come to see the city in the way it is. I feel like we’ve got a lot of earthquake and graffiti and street art tourism in the last few years, so there’s just constantly people in all these areas now. But ten years ago, even if we were painting a legal commissioned wall, people would see us and call the Police. People would think we were doing something wrong until we spoke to them. Now, 95 to 98 per cent of the feedback you get from your average pedestrian or onlooker as they come past is all super positive and especially from Christchurch residents, you know a lot of them have told us stories about how seeing a certain work really uplifted their spirits in times when everything was super bleak around here…
That broken environment exacerbated the impact that those sorts of expressions can have. The interesting thing now is how people reconcile the shiny glass facades that have popped up everywhere against the knowledge that there are all these other types of expression that can make a city lively and vibrant as well. It will be interesting to see how those reactions evolve…
Yeah, definitely, I feel like during the rebuild there has been a really great amount of integration of art and large-scale mural work alongside the rebuilding of the city. It’s becoming a focal point. People see these big walls they have and see there’s an opportunity for a good piece of art or a large-scale work. I think that’s possibly going to continue until it bottlenecks, and everything has something large scale on it… (laughs)
I think the interesting thing is how the different types co-exist, because, as you say, the large-scale murals are generally going to bottleneck, there are only so many walls. But there will always be other smaller spaces for people to leave a mark as well…
There’s only so many artists as well…
Especially wen it comes to artists who have the experience to work on a larger scale, the chance to get to that level is, at least traditionally, tied to those smaller spaces…
So, the Forum event in Auckland is a good chance to connect with other well-known graffiti artists, which must be pretty exciting. Berst has organised the event and he is a pretty key figure in the New Zealand graffiti scene, what is your relationship with him like?
Yeah for sure man, it’s exciting but also just fills me with dread and anxiety! There will be a couple of top tier guys there, but we know these dudes, we’ve met them and painted with them several times over the years. We met Berst in like 2006-07, and back then he was just a super active graffiti writer. He was really amazing, literally the first time we went painting with him I was amazed, but he was just a regular cat man, painting a bunch of freights. But he was super motivated though, that’s the difference. He’s a bit of a super human you know, and he’s really active in trying to widen, I mean similar to what Freak and myself have been doing for years, just trying to widen the general public’s perspective on what graffiti is, what street art is… The event is called ‘Forum’ and maybe half a dozen to ten artists are coming from various places around the country, a couple from Wellington, some Aucklanders. Everybody who is doing it is coming from a different avenue, some are graphic designers for example. Myself, I’ll be speaking about my time with Project Legit, back in 2008-10, as well as some of the stuff we’re doing now, like the youth space project, the workshop stuff we do. Freak [Wongi ‘Freak’ Wilson] is going to talk about his business. It’s sort of a talk about the various offshoots that graffiti has led a lot of people to. There is a lot of stuff that I never would’ve imagined doing or even that I was aiming towards when I first started out, so it’s good to give people an idea about this, about what is behind it, and what can come of it as well…
How you see the traditions of graffiti fitting into what is now commonly referred to as the ‘street art’ movement (which is a problematic term anyway). Specifically in a formal sense, because the formal elements of graffiti, the letterforms, even the elements like character work, the techniques that are important for graffiti writers, they’re distinct and street art has sort of opened this big bag of other approaches which are not perhaps faced with the same stigmas that graffiti writing has had to deal with. As someone who is a graffiti writer and a constant defender of it…
Staunch defender, advocate!
How do you place it within everything that is going on and how have you managed to maintain your roots as you’ve been part of it as well?
The bottom line of all of it is, I feel like with this new wave of street art, and this isn’t to bag any particular image or artist or anything, in regards to the large-scale murals, but a portrait of a face, paint a giant bird, you know, paint a nature scene, give them a pukeko and some native fauna or flora, and it’s an easy sell, you know what I mean? It’s easily digestible and palatable to the public. It’s a commodity and it’s able to be commercialised in that respect. While all of those things are great, a lot depends on where an artist has come from and their general stance on various aspects of it. Like you say, traditional graffiti in the way of name-based colourful pieces, cartoon style characters, bright cartoony colour combos, stuff like that, is often, I feel, driven to the wayside in the wake of this new emerging style of street art and street murals and large-scale work. They are all great together, but I personally would hate to see the traditional stuff pushed all the way out of the way for the new stuff. As anybody who has sort of invested in the history of any movement, the new stuff couldn’t exist without the old stuff, and I feel like it has to have some sort of precedence, it has to have some sort of importance.
Talking about lineage and legacy, I’m thinking about some street art imagery and some of the imagery you’ve talked about, and you know often it’s coming from people commissioning work rather than artists. Because if you think about some of the imagery that would have defined street art at the turn of Millennium, it was those subversive riffs on popular culture, and you don’t really see those images turned into murals either. Likewise, it can still be hard for artists to get the chance to do something abstract when it comes to commissioned work (at least in Christchurch), and with letterforms there’s a lot of the same qualities as abstraction as well, so many artists have to exist within this compromised, dichotomous approach: “this is what I want to do, but this is what I’m going to have to do…”, and reconciling that becomes a real challenge…
Yeah absolutely, I find it the same. I do a certain amount of commercial work and from time to time the subject matter is going be something you’re not the most stoked about, but as long as you can keep it true to your own style and the definition of what you’re doing, then you can basically do it. Like I say, the bottom line with graffiti, and the whole idea of it as an art form, is that you do what you want to do, but with that said, within a defined set of rules and guidelines, an as much as you can bend and break those guidelines you do need to know them, to know the history. I mean it’s the same as any culture, you’ve got to learn to walk before you can run and you’ve got to know something of the history of the thing you’re interested in and where it came from…
Like you said earlier, some of the defining characteristics of graffiti, it doesn’t seem like people should have such an antipathy to things like bright colours, names, cartoony characters… We all write our names thousands and thousands of times over and over again, we use signatures in our day to day business, and we take pride in our signatures, so there’s not that much difference, but that affront to private property overrides any aesthetic enjoyment…
Yeah and that’s it, traditional graffiti in its name-based, character-based cartoony form, is of course derived from tagging and vandalism and destruction of property, so it is always going be tied in with that. Newer street art, like with a bird, or scenery, or a portrait, is very far removed visually from the idea of writing a name. Often as well, the mediums the new artists are using, it’s paint rollers, brush work, there are still cans involved, but it’s not the same thing, and I think that lends to the palatability of the new forms of street art and mural work. Whereas traditional graffiti as an art form is always going be difficult, and so it should be. But they are branches of the same tree, it’s an evolution. Graffiti as an art form is an evolution of a basic signature, it’s all based around a name and around having your name known, manipulating letters, the structure of letterforms, working with different colour palettes to create something unique and visually appealing. But yeah, like I say, the main problem it has as an art form and the main reason it is held back is that vandalism side. Plus, a lot of people that are practitioners, traditional graffiti-style artists are perhaps not the most personable people (laughs). You know they are not always the most eloquent, they don’t always want to explain themselves. We’ve gotten good at it because we’ve spent years at the forefront of it, trying to change people’s perception of it, so there’s sort of like a bunch of go to phrases and references, that I can draw on.
Check in next week for Part 2, where we talk about the public perception of graffiti and the technical qualities people don’t necessarily see, Ikarus’ own stylistic development and influences as well as some of his experiences in Christchurch’s post-quake explosion of art in the streets…
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Saturday, December 2nd, saw the official opening of the new ‘Youth Space’ in the central city’s East Frame. The space, a project facilitated by GapFiller, Ōtakāro and Fletcher Living, combines a basketball court and a rock climbing area, with perhaps the most forward-thinking element: an evolving art space that allows artists to freely paint in public without fear of repercussion. This is a first for the city, a step further than those spaces where painting is tolerated or ignored, but not technically allowed (those peripheral spaces that have long served graffiti and street art’s development, such as alleyways and train tracks). This is an innovative move that has been pushed for a long time by those from the cultures, but has too often fallen on deaf authoritarian ears.
The space contains eight giant spray cans which have become literal objects for art. The eight cans are physically split in two groups, with three cans intended for more established artists to produce long term works that will be refreshed sporadically, and five serving as ‘free-for-all’ surfaces, as evolving canvasses. They will operate on a first come, first served basis, and as artist Wongi ‘Freak’ Wilson has noted, people should be prepared to document their work, as any contribution may last a week, a day, or a minute, as is the nature of such a space, and of course, is an undeniable aspect of guerrilla street practices anyway. On the opening day Wilson, Ikarus and Jacob Yikes, from Christchurch’s famed DTR crew, painted the three ‘permanent’ cans, while local artists Beksi, Dove, Bore, Smeagol and Drows were given the opportunity to give the five other cans their first layer.
Notably, the surfaces on which people are invited to paint are part of the lineage of the city’s ongoing love affair with urban art: the giant spray cans were fabricated as part of Oi YOU’s Spectrum shows, and if they are aware of history, the city’s youth can now paint on surfaces to which artists such as Jorge Rodriguez-Gerada, Sofles, Berst, Seth Globepainter, Tilt, Flox and many more are historically connected, even if no longer visible. That these objects are in proud place in the inner-city streets is testament to a shifting opinion around the art with which they have an unavoidable kinship. It is also important to note that the cans are not buildings, they are specifically in place as surfaces for art and that is both unique and partly why the concept works; their decoration is not an affront to private ownership, not even by association.
Of course, such a concept is not without risk, and it should be admitted, it will not prove a cure-all for vandalism (which is not the explicit goal of the space, but will surely be read as such by some). Vandalism, which is not a by-word for graffiti, and exists without a pen or a can of paint, is driven by a desire to fracture physically and symbolically, and a permissioned space will not attract those who are interested purely in transgression. But it will importantly provide an opportunity for artists to develop, to experiment, and to grow and that is no small thing. Indeed, the potential this space provides should be celebrated as a significant shift in thinking around these artistic cultures. Also, it should not be expected to rival the sheer scale and cohesive appearance of the grand murals dotted around the city (and notably nearby). The space will instead produce an aesthetic more akin to urban art’s natural state, a visual quality that many find infinitely fascinating, created in layers over time and representative of thousands of voices, but admittedly, others find harder to comprehend. This is always at the heart of such an undertaking, the various positions and desires of contributing factions will be at odds, a microcosm of the city at large.
The future of this innovative approach will of course be in some way determined by outcomes authorities are interested in, regardless of whether such desires are realistic. But with planned workshops and other events, it will become an important and fascinating location for the city’s ever-evolving graffiti and street art cultures, an important step in the city’s creative evolution, potentially unearthing new stars and providing a continuing reminder of the potential found in opportunity.
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