And That Was… May 2022

May is the month when you can feel winter coming, daylight savings ends, the weather becomes just that little bit more unpredictable, and t-shirts start to be accompanied by warmer layers (just in case), yet we can also ignore these signs and enjoy the final throes of Summer’s waning presence. This May, we have enjoyed a range of treats, from the streets of Ōtautahi to gallery walls in Te- Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington, a beautiful secluded gem in Waltham, a haunting surprise outside one of our favourite bars and the odd geeky nightmare…

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Cape of Storms – The Paste-Up Project

We welcomed the third artist to the Phantom bollard take-over The Paste-Up Project, with Cape of Storms adorning the circular structure with a signature blast of colourful retro collage posters. The installation, titled Foreign Objects, reflects on the adjustment to life in Aotearoa, highlighting Kiwi quirks through nostalgic compositions of food and fashion and vintage media. The appearance is easily mistaken for official poster advertising, until closer inspection reveals the acerbic humour – check it out on Manchester Street!

Jessie Rawcliffe – Adam Portraiture Award

We’ve always known our pal Jessie Rawcliffe was super talented – now she has the certificate to prove it! Jessie’s striking portrait Richard, of Wellington tattoo artist Richard Warnock, was highly commended in the Adam Portraiture Awards at the New Zealand Portrait Gallery in the capital. From 351 entries, the Adam Awards exhibition was narrowed down to 45 works, with Jessie’s painting being placed in the top 7 by judges Linda Tyler and Karl Maughan.

The Haunted Teacup

You may know about Watch This Space’s plans for The Little Street Art Festival in 2023 (if not, more to come soon!) – but did you know about Ghostcat‘s Haunted Teacup – a work created to exemplify the types of works the festival will celebrate? The worn Victorian-styled automata viewing box has been surprising viewers passing The Last Word on New Regent Street through May, drawing people in with the promise of a terrifying supernatural experience, but is it what it seems? Go and check it out… If you dare!

7 Oaks Mural

We recently had the chance to work with Life in Vacant Spaces and the amazing community at Waltham’s 7 Oaks – an incredible site where array of groups make use of a beautiful space. Together we created a participatory mural welcoming visitors to 7 Oaks, a team effort where 3 year olds and those just a little bit older all contributed to a mural that draws on the surrounding environment.

Return to the Upside Down

Last, but not least, is a shout out to my nerdy side (which is possibly 73% of me) and the long anticipated debut of season four of everyone’s favourite 80’s homage Stranger Things! I may or may not have binged all seven episodes in one night, but who is asking, really? I also may have already re-watched it and now wait impatiently for the final two episodes… Bada Bada Boom!

What made your May list? Let us know!

 

Welcome to 7 Oaks…

In collaboration with Life in Vacant Spaces, Watch This Space recently worked with the 7 Oaks community at Hassals Lane to create a welcoming mural on the beautiful site. 7 Oaks is a diverse community who have made the old school site in Waltham home, the space a wondrous environment of creativity and nature.

After a consultation process with the community, a participatory mural concept was developed to reflect the 7 Oaks space and to send a warm welcome to visitors as they enter the site. In a simple typographic concept, a variety of leaves, many drawn from the site’s own plush greenery, were roller stencilled by people of all ages inside the text, ensuring a sense of engagement and legacy for multiple generations (the youngest artist was just two years old!). The understated, but bold outcome echoed the colourful surroundings and the community spirit of cooperation.

Truly a team effort, the mural would never have eventuated without the many hands and minds who contributed; Elisha from LiVS (and her predecessor Rachael), Marian, Lily, Ollie, John and the many more members of the 7 Oaks community, Mike and Nick for their technical and practical assistance, and most importantly, the tireless Lydia from LiVS – team work makes the dream work!

 

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Are you interested in a mural project? Email hello@watchthisspace.org.nz and let’s see how we can help!

Dr Suits goes to Akaroa…

Back in November, we caught up with our good friend Dr Suits to chat about his experience at Taupo’s Graffiato festival, Aotearoa’s longest running street art festival, what he didn’t let us know at that time was he was in talks about a massive mural on the grounds of Akaroa Area School. Akaroa, the picturesque waterside township south east of Christchurch on Banks Peninsula, is not an expected location for such a project – but word of Dr Suits’ ability to produce bold, striking mural works had obviously spread. In January 2022, Dr Suits and Porta loaded up and headed to Akaroa to spend a week transforming the junior school with colour and the result, Polymorph, is stunning. When he got back we sat down to talk about the project and the technical process…

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How on earth did you find yourself painting such a massive ground mural in Akaroa?

It’s funny, the last thing I talked to you about was Graffiato (the street art festival in Taupo). As soon as I got off the plane in Rotorua after leaving Taupo, I checked my emails, and I had a message from Ross, the principal of Akaroa Area School asking if I would be interested in painting the junior area of their school. He didn’t really give away too much in terms of what he wanted, but it was quite exciting, especially having just painted at Graffiato

You must have felt like you were on a roll! How did you get on their radar?

One of the teachers showed Ross an article about Crossings, the red zone work we painted last year, and he must have thought, that looks good, this artist can paint a ground! I have a ground that needs some paint, so it’s perfect…

Did Crossings inspire the concept or were they already sold on the idea of painting the ground?

They wanted to paint the junior ground and after a conversation with them, they had some really clear ideas about what they wanted. When they asked me to quote the area, I was like, far out, how have this school got the money for this? To go through the design process with a school, I’d imagine it would be quite a long process…

I imagine there are a lot of stakeholders that must be consulted…

Yes. Their ideas were directed at traditional games and instructing children to play in a certain way and interact with the space in a very traditional way, like we probably would have interacted with spaces when we were kids…

You mean like hopscotch, that sort of thing?

Yeah, like Four Square, roads to follow, those types of things. I knew I wasn’t going to have a lot of creative freedom, so I just quoted the job. Anyway, Ross got back to me and said we can’t afford that, which I was expecting, so I called him back and I said, what is your priority? Is it to have those traditional elements, or is it to get a whole lot of color on the ground? He said if we can get that area covered, that’s the priority. So, I got talking to him about how we could make that happen, just using a more mathematical approach to working out surface areas and ordering smartly, basically designing according to how much material would be used…

So, you figured out a formula to achieve that? 

It was quite challenging. I hadn’t really approached the design process in that way before, I usually approach it more artistically. I’ve done it in fashion design, where you’re really conscious about material and how to maximize the design based on materials, so I kind of used that thinking. Basically, I tried to keep the design quite simple and geometric, because curves would slow me down, details would slow me down. I did a few concepts and gave them to my friend Roberto who put them into CAD, and he worked out their surface area, and then I calculated how much product I would need, and I tweaked it from there. I also had to consider the surface of the ground, because if it’s rougher, it’s going take more product, yellows and pinks will need more layers. So, I reduced the yellows and pinks and added more blues, because they cover the ground really well. It was all about efficiency, really.

You’re known for your color palette, particularly in your outdoor mural works and those pinks and yellows are pretty prominent. Was that a challenge to minimise those colors?

Yeah, it wasn’t a challenge as such, but I had to have some in there!

Did you use the paint product that you used for the basketball court in New Brighton?

A similar product.

Which is different to the standard paint that you used in the red zone. So, how did you go about sourcing the paint?

There were a few contenders, but it came down to durability and workability. I’d seen another company that used the same product, and I could see what it looked like in a similar context. I also had conversations with the sales rep. There are a few products within their range that are similar; some are acrylic, some are water-based, which is great, there were others that were chemical-based, which I wanted to avoid. I wanted to avoid playing around with solvents, which are unpleasant to work with and to clean up…

Particularly when you are doing such a massive job as well, that would have required a whole heap more gear just to get the job done…

Yeah. The paint company rep was great, he was really helpful. He probably got sick of me asking questions!

So, this product will be your go to from now on?

Absolutely, I got my head around how to use the product, putting the hardener in, laying it out. I had to get scales, a paint mixer and a few more things. The scales were a bit more expensive than I bargained for, but they came in extremely handy. I mean I couldn’t have done the job without either of those tools. There are different options for the application, the rep even recommended spraying it…

With a pressurized sprayer? Were you tempted? 

Spraying would be OK if you had a sprayer, but you’ve got to take into consideration masking, the wind, clean up and waste, and I wanted to reduce waste. Basically, once this product is mixed together, you have to use it within 40 minutes.

Was it a case of the old ‘measure twice, cut once’, or was there still a little bit of figuring out as you went?

I used a grid system, which meant I could get pretty accurate with the layout and composition, which kept me to plan, but when we were putting down the first coats, if there was half a bucket of product left, I’d improvise and chuck it in somewhere to break it up a bit…

How close was the original design to the finished piece?

I’d say 85 per cent. There are a few add-ons here and there…

That’s always good for the creative process, right?

When I was designing it, I was working on such a small scale and when I actually got into the space, it was so much bigger than the piece of paper or the screen that I was working on. It definitely changes the perception of it. I think one of the coolest parts about the project was being immersed in that color as you’re working on it, really experiencing how colors change when you put them next to each other.

What was the area in square metres?

360 square meters.

Did you look at any comparable mural works in Christchurch? Do you know of any other similarly scaled works?

I didn’t even think about that. I was just focused on the task at hand. But, just to give you an idea of what that looks like, the longest straight line on it was 28 meters.

Wow! On that first day when you started painting or even just gridding it out, did you have to stop and ask yourself: am I going to be able to do this?

No, I’d done all that after I took the job on and designed it and been paid the deposit, that’s when I was like, shit! Am I actually going to be able to do this? It wasn’t until I went out there and had a good look around that I was like, OK, it’s not as big as I’ve built it up in my head.

Did it help as well that you had your trusty compadre, Porta, there with you?

Oh yeah! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Porta’s the man!

There were certain restrictions based on the colour palette, and you had to encourage them to move away from including those ‘instructed play’ elements, but was the final design based on any particular concept or idea other than dynamic shapes and space for play?

That’s it, just dynamic shapes and spaces. I used my trusty collage technique. I cut out some shapes and piece them together, and just subconsciously come up with something.

Have you been able to get feedback yet?

I sent Ross a message on the first day back at school to ask about the big reveal on the first morning of school, his reply was: ‘Awesome!! Thumbs up’. So, I figured, it must have been a big day…

Was it disappointing that you didn’t get to see that first response of the kids yourself?

Yeah, I was a little bit, but as we were working on it, people would walk past daily and even when we had one or two blocks of color down, people were pretty excited. It really started coming together towards the end, I knew as soon as we got the yellow down it would really start to come to life, and then when we put the final blue down at the end, that just tied it all together.

You also added a little touch where you painted a pole bright yellow?

That pole’s funny because I’ve always wanted to do a sculpture exactly like that, with a just off axis yellow line…

You finally got to do it! I was going to say that one of the great aspects of projects like this, and we talked about this with your court in New Brighton, is the way they encourage movement of bodies through and across these spaces (which allows people to engage with and respond to abstract art, even unwittingly). It would be really cool to have a drone video that shows the students moving across the mural.

Ross got some drone footage, with his kids walking on it, not playing unfortunately, but it will be really cool to see. With the COVID situation, schools have been really encouraged to get kids outside, and this work will really help with that…

An unforeseen practicality! Doing something in a place the size of Akaroa, I guess the work would reach the whole township. You said some people came past and saw it, did you get a sense that people were hearing about it and the word was spreading?

I think so. I did have that realization that we could have quite an impactful reach. Basically, if you are a family in that town with kids, they go to that school, and if you grew up in that town, you went to that school. So, hopefully people will be really excited about what we added to the school. The school is a really amazing environment, it’s nestled next to a hillside, there are a lot of native trees and birds, it was really beautiful to just hang out there painting…

Now that you’ve done something to this scale, it sets the precedent. How do you go about finding some new places to paint?

The school got funding from the Ministry of Education for the project and a couple of other projects around the campus, so my next task is to put it all together in a nice little package and reach out to more schools, find out what the funding was and how to go about getting it. Then just push them to apply for the funding to get something like this…

You will be taking more notice of school grounds now I imagine!

There were a lot of restrictions around this project, which made it good for the first one of this scale. Those restrictions really helped make it achievable and set boundaries, so I couldn’t really go too crazy with the design and get in over my head, which could have easily happened. I was learning a new product, I was out of town, if I ran out of something it wasn’t like I could just nip down to buy something. The product had to be ordered in from Auckland. So, if I get another job, closer to home, I’ll be able to push it a bit further and explore the color palette…

Follow Dr Suits on Instagram to what he has in store next!

All images supplied by Dr Suits

Dr Suits goes to Taupo

Our pal Dr Suits recently ventured to the beautiful Taupo for Aotearoa’s longest running urban art festival Graffiato, an event now over a decade old. With the dust settled on a whirlwind trip, we thought it would be good to catch up with the artist to hear about the experience and his production on the town’s BNZ building. With a diverse catalogue of public works, it is surprising that this was Dr Suits’ first time as a featured artist at a festival, with his abstract compositions providing a stylish point of difference from other mural styles. Joined by his good buddy and technical painting whizz Porta, Dr Suits created a striking, colourful piece that explored subtle developments of his style, with tonal variations and new iconography drawn from his studio practice, providing that point of difference from other guest artists, which included the likes of Milarky and Xoë Hall as well as a selection of local artists…

How did the opportunity to paint at Graffiato come about?

The invitation came as a bit of a surprise, really. I was walking along the beach at the time, and my phone pinged, it was Olivia Laita from Aotearoa Urban Arts Trust, asking if I was interested in doing Graffiato this year. She was curating the event and thought that my focus on abstraction would be a point of difference to what they already had, so she just wanted to reach out to see if I was keen. This would have been well before lockdown at the start of the year, so Olivia and I have been in contact via email since then…

Image via Graffiato Taupo Street Art

How much did you know about Graffiato?

I knew a wee bit about it. I knew that Wongi has been, that Handbrake and Chimp have been, so I knew a few artists that have been part of it, but I hadn’t really done much research into it. I didn’t realise how many murals they actually have up in Taupo, so I was blown away when I actually got up there…

This is the eleventh year of Graffiato, it is the country’s longest running street art festival. I am not super familiar with Taupo, but it’s not massive, so when you have been doing something that long, the legacy must build up…

Definitely. It’s run by an organization called Town Centre Taupo, so all of the murals are focused around the central business district which is not a huge area, so if you find one of them, you’ve found a vein and you just follow them around…

That is exactly how I like to get to know new places, I find some street art and let it lead me to more…  In terms of your festival experience, you had some involvement with the Rise and Spectrum shows here, but this is your first out-of-town event, and also your first time as a headline artist. Knowing that your work is somewhat non-traditional in terms of muralism, coupled with your strong studio output, have festivals and public works always been a goal?

I really like the idea of diversity within my work and having a broad range of outputs. Murals are lots of fun and a good way to reach a diverse audience as well. So, is it a goal? Yeah, sure. Is it my main goal? Not really, I’ve got lots of goals. I don’t tend to hang on to one too strongly…

Dr Suits’ red zone roadside mural

There is an increasing number of events in Aotearoa now, with Boon Street Festival, Whanganui Walls, South Sea Spray…

I’m totally open to those invitations, festivals are lots of fun. You meet lots of great people, you get to be part of a broader community and you get your work out there as well…

You are process-focussed as an artist. How is the conception and execution of a mural work different from your studio output?

It comes down to the wall. For instance, the nature of the wall in Taupo was challenging because it was broken into two sections and it was elevated from the ground. Above the wall was a series of windows, including to round port-holes, and down the right-hand side there was a pipe. It was a challenge, but I just designed around them. I mean, I could imagine someone who’s going to paint a realistic style might find that really distracting, but because I work in composition, I could use it to my advantage and make it part of the design. I just had to take into consideration where I could use my big brush [the artist’s handmade tool for creating textural patterns] and the directions I could drag it, and which areas I would want to do block colours, like over the pipe to make it disappear. I realized I needed to not do much with the big brush or go too technical at the top, where I would have to mask out the windows. I didn’t want to waste my time masking those windows out.

Dr Suits at work in Taupo (Image via Graffiato Taupo Street Art)

People may not realise that there is real time pressure for these types of events. You were saying you pulled a 14-hour day on the Saturday…

Yeah, we flew up on the Friday, and painted the Saturday and Sunday, we had the option to paint on Monday as well if we needed it, and then we flew home on the Tuesday. The weather was looking pretty patchy for the weekend. So, I decided to modify and simplify the mural ever so slightly, just to make sure that the rain wasn’t going to be a hindrance…

And you had some help?

The coolest thing about the invite was that they asked if I wanted to bring someone with me. Straight away I was like, I’m taking Porta! He’s a machine and we work so well together. We just look at the picture, we hardly even need to talk. We are in sync. By bringing Porta, we got through so much more work than if I was trying to explain things to a local artist.

There is a level of trust, as well I suppose, and that synchronicity is vital. Also, Porta’s so relaxed that it just helps eliminate the potential for stress…

We’ve got really similar taste in music, so that helps as well…

I can imagine! So, tell us more about the actual work, you touched on some of the elements. The work seems to combine elements of previous outdoor works you have created, but it also brings in aspects that have been prominently featured in your studio work as well, so it seems like a slightly new direction in some ways…

That was the idea. It was an open brief and I wanted to do something that was really striking, I wanted it to be recognizable within both my studio work and from of my past murals or ground works. I wanted to smoosh everything together and come up with something that the town likes, and if they don’t, well I like it….

Dr Suits and Porta add some detail (Image via Graffiato Taupo Street Art)

Originally the plan was for you to do a ground mural, right?

Yeah, Olivia saw the basketball court and the piece that I did in the red zone and was really excited to get a piece on the ground, but it never fell into place. They showed me places that wouldn’t be suitable, like a tiled surface or a rough paved area. The places they had available were mainly pedestrian areas because a lot of the town at the moment is currently being redesigned, so all their roads and the way the traffic moves is being redone and they didn’t want to get something painted and just dig it up. So, we went down the road of painting the BNZ building, which was cool, I’m stoked on that wall…

A festival is intended to have a level of public engagement, but we live in the age of Covid and obviously that affected the event, there were quite a few artists and Olivia herself, based in Auckland, who couldn’t be there, and I’m sure there were other changes, did you still get a sense of that communal festival experience?

Absolutely, the crew have been running Graffiato for eleven years. You can tell that they are really passionate about looking after the artists and making sure the public are engaged. They run a well-oiled machine. They’ve got good sponsorship with paints and equipment, so when we were picked up From the airport they were like, do you guys want to start today or tomorrow? The weather was looking pretty iffy, so we said it would be good to start that afternoon and they just said, sweet, we will get you a scissor lift onsite by 3pm and you can start. They had the projector back at the house and we were good to go. We were well looked after, they put us up in a really nice Air B’n’B, there was food in the fridge, with beers and wine. We had a little car to zip round in…

Dr Suits’ final production for Graffiato (Image via Graffiato Taupo Street Art)

Those types of things make a big difference, right?

It just made it so easy for us to paint the wall. They would bring us lunch at the wall. They had a volunteer sitting on the wall with us to talk to visitors so we weren’t getting distracted, unless we wanted to be. Big ups to Linda, she would hand people a map and a flier with all the information about the festival and talk to them about where the next closest mural is and talk about our mural. There was a photo of our concept down at the bottom and she would talk them through it. That volunteer element meant that we could actually get the work done in the time frame. There have been commercial murals that I have worked on where people are coming and going all day and pretty much someone is always talking to a visitor…

It is interesting, because talking to people is a really important part of this new profile of urban art, so you don’t want to seem too cranky or unapproachable, and of course, it can be fascinating meeting new people, but it can end up eating up a lot of time. You were the only South Island artist at the event this year, why do you think there is often an under-representation of our artists at these North Island events in particular?

Maybe it just comes down to the cost. The logistics of getting artists up there. I mean, the other artists probably just would have driven. I know Milarky just drove from New Plymouth…

We have such a strong reputation here in Christchurch in particular, but maybe you are right, it might be the practicalities, although we still bring a lot of North Island artists down to events here. With all that said, who did you enjoy spending time with?

Me and Porta and Milarky were in the same house, so we got to hang out a little. But I just really enjoyed hanging with Porta, we basically spent the whole weekend together, apart from when I was asleep. Apart from that we didn’t really hang out that much with the other artists. There was a briefing at the start and we all caught up at the end for some pizzas and beers, but everyone was really trying to negotiate the weather and seeing if they could maximise the sun and weren’t really away from their wall. Julie, one of the organizers from Town Centre Taupo, picked us up from the airport and was saying there is a bit of a running joke that she chains the artists to the walls. She makes it so that the artist doesn’t have to leave other than to go to the toilet. If you need paint, they will go get it, if you need coffee, they will go get it. They do a circuit, and you see them every hour with paint or coffee or something to eat, you just put in an order…

Follow Dr Suits on Instagram for more of his work

Follow Graffiato on Instagram to see what other artists got up to…

And That Was… May 2021

They say good things take time, and this edition of And That Was… is cutting it fine! It has been a busy few weeks with lots happening and as such it seemed like the months have melded into one. But when looking back over images from the month of May, it was quickly apparent that those four weeks had their own flavour, a flood of memories came rushing back…

For this recap, we run back some our favourite paste ups, wall paintings, slaps, shows and even a doorway! We have largely stuck to urban art this month, temporarily returning to our formative roots, but that doesn’t mean we have forgotten the fact that all of these things are also entangled with our broader experiences of Otautahi’s central city, and in particular the food, the bars, the music, the people and all the vibrant things on offer. All of these things make up our urban culture and it is vital we celebrate and support these events, occurrences and interventions to keep our city lively!

So, after much delay, here is your And That Was… for May 2021…

Gary Silipa’s UFO Slaps…

I have been a fan of Gary Silipa‘s work and simplified iconography for years, especially his skulls and spaceships, which I found all over Wellington’s streets on a trip to the capital in April. The orbiting red UFO’s then appeared here in Christchurch in May, a legacy of the artist’s brief trip here. The ubiquitous presence in spaces high and low suggest the idea of exploration and observation, our strange contemporary customs intriguing to these small visitors…

Mark Catley’s Ascending Freak Angel

Mark Catley added a couple of fresh paste ups to the Boxed Quarter‘s ever-expanding collection of urban art. Taking his poor sack girl toy (pasted on Manchester Street) and twisting the image into a strange new appearance, the girl becomes a three-eyed ‘freak angel’ as the artist described, her outstretched hand now seemingly elevating her into the sky. Lit by a coincidental spot light, the seemingly celestial being is a trippy sight!

Jessie Rawcliffe’s Marriage of Figaro Mural

Jessie Rawcliffe‘s mural for the NZ Opera’s production of The Marriage of Figaro (which will be staged at the Isaac Theatre Royal here in Christchurch as part of a national run) was completed in May, with the artist’s stunning dry brush style giving the piece a stunning beauty against the smartly used graffiti-ed wall on which it was painted.

More: The Show

Back to the Boxed Quarter for More: The Show, an exhibition and event featuring talented Otautahi wahine artists. With a slew of our favourites and some new talent to explore (such as Sofiya Romanenko, who recently produced a beautiful photo essay for us), the show was a convergence of amazing talent and featuring a range of activity – unfortunately we forgot to take quality pictures! It was a one-weekend show so you had to be in quick!

Our favourite doorway…

Last, but definitely not least, we just had to include this doorway. OK, so it technically isn’t something that ‘happened’ in May, but we took this photo then, so it counts! Just look at it, it is a thing of beauty and couldn’t be left out!

Let us know what would make you list in the comments and if you know someone who would be a great guest writer for And That Was… – drop you suggestions there too!

 

Benjamin Work – Motutapu II at the Canterbury Museum

When the Canterbury Museum’s hugely popular Rise exhibition finished in early 2014, the walls of the main exhibition hall were covered with long black curtains, the murals from the show obscured with only teasing snippets still visible for more inquisitive visitors. With Hakē: Street Art Revealed; the Museum has drawn back the curtains, allowing the public the chance to revisit the Rise legacy, while also encountering a new floor-to-wall mural by Tāmaki Makaurau artist Benjamin Work.

A member of the celebrated TMD crew, Aotearoa’s most notable graffiti collective, Work brings urban art credibility, but his involvement also ensures a wider discourse that extends beyond the focus of Rise. Work’s evolution exemplifies the new trajectories of artists reared on graffiti and urban art, while also explicitly exploring the complexities of both cultural institutions and the Pasifika diaspora. Drawing on his Tongan heritage, Work has pushed his art in new directions over the last decade. Inspired by the iconography found on cultural treasures such as ‘akau tau (war clubs), his refined, graphic paintings have sought to find new spaces and ways for audiences to engage with Tonga’s visual culture, both inside institutions and on the streets.

Over the span of a week, Work created Motutapu II, a massive mural that sprawls across the floor and walls of the main exhibition hall. Inspired by the Canterbury Museum’s collection of ‘akau tau, the painting extends outward from two orange diamond shaped mata, or matapā (eyes of the pā), a vertiginous pattern of interlocking black and white lines leading the viewer toward more sacred symbols framing the work. Work explains Motutapu II as a metaphorical representation of ancient gateways marking arrivals and departures of voyaging vaka. ‘Motutapu’ is a name used across Polynesian cultures for sacred or sanctuary islands, neutral spaces for visitors before arrival at the mainland.

In the museum mural, the black and white lines create pathways, leading the viewer to each end of the hall; a hovering māhina (moon) glows in mottled orange to the east, while to the west, a soaring Tavake (Tropicbird) accompanies three figures symbolising Tonga’s chiefly lineage. Inviting viewers into the painted space, while maintaining a reverence for sacred imagery, navigating the complicated task of maintaining traditions and engaging a contemporary audience. After observing the creation of Motutapu II, I had the opportunity to sit down with Benjamin Work to discuss his experiences in Ōtautahi Christchurch, the future directions of his practice, and the experience of working at the Canterbury Museum…

It’s been a busy month for you! It started with the TMD: An Aotearoa Graffiti Story exhibition at The Dowse Art Museum in Lower Hutt, then you arrived here in Ōtautahi to paint a mural for the Etu Pasifika Health Centre with (fellow TMD Crew member) Charles Williams before starting work on your floor-to-wall mural at the Canterbury Museum. Is such a busy lifestyle still enjoyable or do you miss your own bed?

We were talking about this the other night, I have friends whose practice often works at this pace, but I think this has been one of the busiest periods I’ve experienced, including the work prior to my month away. I’ve noticed it’s easy to move from project to project and not take time to be present, to really be in the moment, so that’s something I’m focusing on. And once I’m home, I will have time to process what’s happened.

Work's piece for the TMD: An Aotearoa Graffiti Story at Lower Hutt's Dowse Art Gallery. The unfurling piece is dark blue and depicts a moon glowing at the top of the section on the wall, there are figures on the section rolled along the floor.
Work’s piece for the TMD: An Aotearoa Graffiti Story at Lower Hutt’s Dowse Art Gallery.

It must have helped to have had friends and family alongside you for these projects…

Definitely! I can’t function without friends and family. I am a relational person. Most of my life has been experienced in a collective environment, whether it was TMD crew, church settings or amongst my Tongan family. I’m at a point in my life where I have a greater understanding of the way I am, and that’s to help others navigate their way as I find my way.

I assume that is also an influence from your graffiti background, a culture that has a strong sense of collectivism and collaboration, which brings me to the Museum project. The opportunity came from the Museum revealing the wall works from the 2013-14 Rise street art exhibition. The idea was to add a floor mural to extend the narratives around that exhibition. Your work has moved beyond description as graffiti art or street art, both stylistically and contextually, highlighting the evolution of artists who may have roots in those origins. How do you respond to people designating you as a graffiti or street artist?   

They are different practices which I want to navigate how and when I want. This is hard for many people to understand inside of their boxes. I don’t want to be referred to as graffiti artist, street artist or a Tongan artist, simply an artist who is telling stories both old and new.

The floor space inside the Canterbury Museum as the artist prepares to install Motutapu II.
The floor space inside the Canterbury Museum as the artist prepares to install Motutapu II.

You mention that you have become more comfortable in the studio, but the idea of bringing Tongan iconography to public spaces and giving them a new visibility was a central aspect of your work, how has that intention changed?

It has been an important part of my process but there has been a shift of late due to migrating back to Aotearoa, Covid, time alone and making new work. I have seen a shift in style, painting techniques and even using loose canvas. There was a period where I engaged with a lot of institutions, between 2015 and 2019, and it was important for me to engage with our Tongan treasures and bring them out into the public space. But I’m not sure if that’s going be a focal point going forward. What I’d like to do is use those connections and my platform to connect other Tongans that are searching for those answers with those institutions. Many communities don’t realise that they have access to all the museums that hold our treasures.

Working within cultural institutions you must have to consider the colonial history of such spaces. Do you see yourself as challenging that history from the inside, or are you more concerned with opening doors for people who have not had a relationship with these institutions previously and as such have not been exposed to the treasures they contain?   

I hope that the way I move and the way I am, and the work that I make does challenge those places. Naturally I’m a bridge-builder, so for me, engaging with an institution such as the Canterbury Museum, one goal is to reconnect our people with our treasures, but if there are challenges that arise, I have to face them. I don’t go looking for confrontation, but if I come face to face with it, I have to say something because I’ve got the privilege of being in that space and if not me, then who?

Work adds some final touches to the massive mural.
Work adds some final touches to the massive mural.

Looking back to some of your previous work, like the mural you painted here in Christchurch for From the Ground Up in 2013, there was an explicit narrative unfolding in a relatively conventional pictorial format, but your work now feels much more evocative and suggestive without that overt storytelling, a quality that is evident in the Museum piece.

Graffiti was quite literal, it’s a letter-based art form and I painted my chosen name over and over again. This is me! Know me! Read me! I’m famous! Transitioning away from a graffiti aesthetic in 2011, I realised I didn’t have to be so blatant which led me to engage with the more abstract iconography found on our traditional ngatu (bark cloth). The inspiration for that particular mural came from reading Olaf Ruhen’s book called Minerva Reef, a true story of Tongan boxers on their way to Aotearoa for a tournament who were shipwrecked on the Minerva Reef for four months. I used iconography to communicate this story on the wall. It was a little strange at the time painting it in Christchurch but that shifted when I found out descendants of some of the survivors lived in Christchurch and visited the wall.

Work's mural for From the Ground Up in 2013. The image in red, black, grey and white, features figures escaping from a ship wreck with a bird flying above them.
Work’s mural for From the Ground Up in 2013.

Did that evolution come about as your exploration of Tongan artefacts such as ‘akau tau (war clubs) and tapa cloth deepened? What were your experiences with those types of objects growing up?

Ngatu bark cloth, fala (floor mats) and ta’ovala, the mats we wear around our waists, are filled with mostly abstract motifs which are embedded with ancient knowledge, we engage with them from birth. We have an intimate knowledge of them, of their texture, and even their smell. We had ngatu bark cloth and mats folded under our bed, most Tongans do, that’s where you store them, where else do you store these humongous things? Ngatu bark cloth was my first point of reference when experimenting with other mediums, but the war clubs were love at first sight. I was first introduced to them in a book called The Art of Tonga by Keith St. Cartmail, I was instantly intrigued by the iconography carved into them. I wanted to work them into my practice, especially the warrior figures.

I was lucky enough to join you when you were examining some of the ‘akau tau in the Museum’s collection, and I was struck by the small scale of the carved designs on the clubs, possibly because I was familiar with your work’s larger scale, which has been an intentional shift to make them more visible…

I wanted to use my platform to tell the world about our Tongan iconography. I wanted the scale to be impactful and for our people to be proud once they had learned that these are our designs, that they come from our ancestors for us. What better way was there than public murals? I feel I’ve started something that other Tongans will continue with bigger and better murals.

The finished Motutapu II, surrounded by the revealed Rise paintings in the Museums main exhibition hall.
The finished Motutapu II, surrounded by the revealed Rise paintings in the Museums main exhibition hall.

You said that living in Tonga you noticed young Tongan men seem to physically engage with their surroundings, constantly touching or hitting surfaces. That kinesthetic or tactile tendency becomes important in the context of your work as you have to think about how people engage with artefacts and art within institutions. I know you had to grapple with the idea of people potentially walking over the floor mural and that influenced the design, especially the elements drawn from more revered sources. That question of how to treat objects of culture and how we engage with them must be a central concern for you, especially as you shift between sacred cultural objects, utilitarian objects, public spaces and white cube galleries…

My process evolves slowly, I’m OK with it, as long as I’m still exploring different ways to communicate through my work, the speed of change doesn’t matter. Living in Tonga has challenged me to think differently when it comes to materials and the way I present my work. I’ve seen my people touching and desiring to hold my work rather than simply viewing it in a gallery, and I’m now OK with that, but if you asked me five years ago, I would have had a heart attack!

The floor-to-wall mural has become a striking element inside the Museum, while also adding a range of fascinating discourses.
The floor-to-wall mural has become a striking element inside the Museum, while also adding a range of fascinating discourses.

What was the process for the Museum piece, from exploring the collection of Tongan artefacts to producing this massive floor to wall mural? What are you looking for as inspiration in those objects and how do you then translate it to a massive mural work?

An important part of this project was me coming down to Christchurch viewing the space. I was emailed the specs for the floor and walls, but if I’m able to see the physical space, I’m able to respond to the space better. Likewise, with the ‘akau tau, I’ve seen many throughout my years of research but I’m always looking for unique motifs within each museum’s collection. I had a similar experience at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York with Dr Maia Nuku (Associate Curator of Oceanic Art at the famous museum). She took us into the collection of Tongan treasures, which is small, but there was a club there with this small motif of two warriors reaching out towards each other, their hands above their heads. That motif then triggered the idea for a mural which she organised in Spanish Harlem. In the Canterbury Museum’s collection is a beautiful abstraction of a Tropicbird which I included in the mural.

By coincidence, the mural you painted with Charles featured a tropicbird as well…

It was meant to be. There was no prior communication on that. Even though it was a Pasifika Health Centre, it would go against Charles’ kaupapa of painting foreign birds in Aotearoa. The Tropicbird is known as an Amokura in Māori and Tavake in Tongan and is a sacred and significant bird that can still be sighted from time to time in Aotearoa. It is said some elders would cry as it was a tohu or sign reminding them of Hawaiki.

The collaboration between Work and TMD crew mate Charles Williams on the Etu Pasifika Health Centre, 2021. The mural features diamonds of blues oranges and yellow, with a realistic tropicbird fllying upwards from the left. On the right, a massive stylised Tongan Chief figure .stands rigidly
The collaboration between Work and TMD crew mate Charles Williams on the Etu Pasifika Health Centre, 2021.

You have admitted your connection to Christchurch is rather limited, but some of your Scottish heritage does trace back here. Being born and raised in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland and also living in Tonga, what have you made of your experience in Ōtautahi?

I’ve enjoyed Ōtautahi, but I definitely love Tāmaki! No, I visit a place and try to feel the environment, watch and engage with people of that place. Both Māori and Pakeha have been shaped by the landscape, seascape, mountains, and rivers. My great-great-grandparents migrated from the Shetland Islands to Christchurch and are buried in Linwood Cemetery – something I’m learning more about recently. I’ve engaged with the land and people down here, wondering if there are any attributes of that generation in the people I’ve met. I have questions: Why did they choose Ōtautahi Christchurch? Did they walk these same streets? Did they learn the story of this land?

Have you had the chance to engage with members of the Pasifika community here in Ōtautahi during this project?

Associate Curator Hatesa Seumanutafa went above and beyond her job description in supporting this project. Having a person from Moana Oceania with our treasures in the Museum is vital! Not only for our material culture but as a lighthouse for our people to connect with within the institution. Ōtautahi has a unique Pasifika story, one that is sometimes dominated by the Pasifika stories from Auckland and Wellington. I was able to connect with some of the amazing community here and make space for us around a kava session in the Canterbury Museum indigenising space to talanoa and tend to relationships – the first of many.

Hakē: Street Art Revealed is on display until June 7, 2021 at The Canterbury Museum.

Follow Benjamin Work on Instagram

 

Dr Suits – Crossings @ The East X East Red Zone

Dr Suits’ bright abstractions have become notable over the last few years as he has eschewed the tendencies towards representation in favour of blocks of colour and dizzying diagonal lines. We were recently lucky enough to support the Fiksate-based artist as he produced Crossings inside the East X East red zone in Burwood. Applied directly to the now unused road of the green space, the work plays on the natural shadows and road markings to coat the concrete in bands of colour. Created over several days with fellow New Brighton legend Porta, the work buzzes with colourful blocks – yellow, pink, blue, black and white stacked and interlocked. With subtle details such as small yellow lines extending off the main body and slightly offset lines, the work is both rewarding of inspection and striking from distance. Dr Suits intended the work as an invitation to play, a work that people can explore from inside rather than gaze at from outside, adding another interesting element to the red zone environment and suggesting the possibility for more interventions…

The red zone road was prepared with a little notice of what was to come…
Dr Suits rolls out the paint

The finished Crossings in the East X East red zone

Street Lights – The Street Art Lighting Project

It seems like an age ago that we were introduced to Brendan Stafford and Greg Dirkzwager from local sustainable tech company Gen Green. The guys from Gen Green had the idea of lighting up some of Christchurch’s beloved street art murals using sustainable solar lighting, not only exposing the art in a (literal) new light, but also activating spaces in the city that often feel dead after dark. When they asked Watch This Space to help them realise the project, we were excited to join forces…

While such a plan seems straightforward enough, the reality is more challenging (even more so when you throw in a global pandemic). The first step was to select the works, looking at those pieces that would be practical and impactful, a difficult task in a city with so much urban art to choose from! We narrowed down the list to ten murals, although as time passed that list changed. The works formed a sort of trail to wander, spanning a section of the central city.

The next phase was to consider how to light the works, both from a design standpoint and more practically in terms of installation. Our imperative was always to ensure the works were not altered, the lighting instead simply highlighting or echoing the existing visual effects of the works. While the lights and charging panels are relatively small, finding solutions to avoid detracting from the works and to ensure safe and secure application was an important task. This was were Guy Archibald and George Clifford and the team at Living Space Group, a local contracting company, joined the project, contributing their skills to ensure all the requirements around installation were met.

With the lights installed, ten works of street art are now illuminated, creating an urban loop to explore the city, and just in time for the summer sun to play its part! And even if we do say so ourselves, they are looking pretty amazing!

Locate the lit up murals on the map below, and for more about each work, click onto our online map:

  1. Kevin Ledo’s Whero O Te Rangi Bailey on the Crowne Plaza, 764 Colombo Street
  2.  Berst’s Sea Monsters on the Isaac Theatre Royal, 143 Gloucester Street
  3.  Askew’s Kristen at 160 Gloucester Street
  4.  Rone on the Quest Hotel in Cathedral Square (107 Worcester Street)
  5.  Cracked Ink, Spark Square, 91 Hereford Street
  6.  Numskull’s I Always Knew You Would Come Back, 605 Colombo Street
  7.  Jacob Yikes’ Alice in Videoland on Alice Cinema, 209 Tuam Street 
  8.  Dcypher’s Kodak mural in Collett’s Lane, SALT Square (between Tuam Street and St Asaph Street)
  9.  Elliot Francis Stewart’s Peering Out, 173 Madras Street
  10.  Erika Pearce on Goose’s Screen Design, 10 Allen Street

Thanks to Gen Green, Living Space Group and the Christchurch City Council’s Enliven Spaces Fund for bringing this project to life!

 

Bulky Savage – Welcome to Crushington

Earlier this year I received an email connecting me with Bulky Savage, a New Zealand-born artist living in Berlin, who was seeking a wall to paint while home visiting family. We traded some messages and attempted to find some options, but ultimately it appeared that nothing would quite line up. Intrigued by a Kiwi artist now based in an epicentre of urban art, I dived into his Instagram to become familiar with his work. His quirky menagerie of characters, seemingly indebted to the influence of cartoons, were immediately endearing, while literal washes of colour added vibrancy but also a suggestive symbolism. Imbued with a sense of playfulness, they were equally comfortable in the digital illustrative realm as they were on the streets.

Fortunately, B.S. was finally put in touch with the owners of Riverside Market and before returning to Germany, finally got the opportunity to produce a mural to mark his temporary homecoming. The wall painting, featuring one of his recurring hollow-eyed skull characters and a flow of colour echoing sloshing paint, is on a somewhat secluded wall in the laneway beside the bustling market. However, that seclusion doesn’t stop it from being a striking sight once you are introduced, beguiling in its seemingly open narrative, with confectionery-esque colours set to flood the ground.

While we had only exchanged brief pleasantries via email, when we finally chatted face to face (or at least via a Messenger call, as is the way in these pandemic times), it was quickly apparent that B.S. was instantly affable and an hour quickly passed. We discussed Berlin, his entrance into the street art world, his experience here in Christchurch and importantly, the state of the world and the modern economy…

While I’m sitting here in Christchurch, you are in the morning sunshine of Berlin, how did you come to live in Germany?

I grew up in Auckland. my dad is English but has been in New Zealand since the late seventies, and that’s kind of how I managed to be over here, with that [British] passport, but who knows how much that’s worth anymore…

So, at what age did you leave New Zealand, and what drew you to Berlin?

I turned 23 very shortly after I left New Zealand. I just wanted to get out. Our tiny little home in the middle of nowhere is great, but it is very hidden away, so I just wanted to see what was going on in the world. Europe was obvious and I had the passport, so that made things a bit easier. I wanted to learn another language, so I wanted to go somewhere in Continental Europe. I bumped into a bunch of German people as I was leaving New Zealand and again while I was travelling, and Berlin came up. It was always a blip on the radar, but I didn’t know anything about it except that it has always had good music. But by my second day here, I was just like, yeah, this is cool, I could do this for a bit. I did spend two months living in London when I ran out of money. I couldn’t get a job in Germany, so I went to London and worked for two months and squatted and got some cash together before settling here.

My impression of Berlin was that there is a palpable energy to the city. It was busy and there was a grit that wasn’t evident in Munich, for instance. 

There is a little bit of everything here in Berlin, something for almost everybody. You either love that chaotic kind of energy like you said, or you don’t, certain people just don’t get on with it, but yeah, it totally grabbed me. I never really had a trajectory until I got to Berlin and saw the street art everywhere, and I was like, this is where I need to be!

So much of Berlin’s history can be seen and felt in the streets. The streets speak in many ways, re-presenting different eras and epochs, and that lineage almost informs the graffiti and street art in Berlin with a potency that some cities lack. While muralism is often charged with complicity in gentrification, in some ways urban art itself has been gentrified, but in Berlin it felt different.  

Yeah, I guess that is always one of the conundrums of being part of this kind of art scene. It does kind of run both sides of the gambit. It is part of the problem and the solution! Berlin was definitely a bubble within it all, at least for a while… Gentrification has become more of a problem recently as the city folds a bit to the mighty Euro and murals do get absorbed into that as well. But yeah, muralism is only one layer of the street art and graffiti scene and there will always be people telling stories from the streets here.

A lot of people have said that Berlin’s a place for lost people. You get a lot of people coming here because they don’t really know what they’re doing with themselves. They spend a couple of years here and then figure it out and go and make money somewhere else. I guess I never got out, I became entangled with Berlin. But it’s become part of my art style and my lifestyle. I guess it’s also spoiled me, I’m not really sure that I could go and do what I’m doing somewhere else, in the same way anyway.

You explore a lot of different creative activities, so how would you describe what you do? Do you define yourself by any particular discipline or medium?

I like to say that I’m an artist who does street art sometimes. I bore easily, but if I’ve got different things to play with, I can always move on to something else. I really like photography, but everybody does photography, so it’s a much more difficult market to break into. I do digital stuff, and I’m trying to get back into painting with paint brushes again and things like that. But spray cans particularly are my jam. I’ve gotten good with those and its really nice to feel capable with something like that. That’s the problem with being multidisciplinary, it’s really frustrating working with things where I’m almost there, but I’m not really there. It’s nice to work with something where I can be like, bang, bang, bang, it’s done the way I wanted it. That is very satisfying.

Bulky Savage at work on a collaboration with @abwasserschwimmer for the record store Latitude in Berlin. (Photo supplied by Bulky Savage)
Bulky Savage at work on a collaboration with @abwasserschwimmer for the record store Latitude in Berlin. (Photo supplied by Bulky Savage)

There is something about the material qualities of aerosol that seem a particularly good fit for an urban environment like Berlin. One of my enduring memories in Berlin was stumbling across a Blek Le Rat stencil, it had almost all been painted out apart from the feet of the character and his name, but I always remember being struck by the way that the paint sat on this brittle concrete surface. But there is a lot of discussion going on now with artists about how to balance environmental concerns with the reality of aerosol, is that something that you think about?

Sometimes. There are always concerns with all sorts of different things for me, not just environmentally, but also keeping myself sane, so I have to balance out the impacts that I have with keeping myself happy. That might seem selfish sometimes, but I live in Germany and Germany’s pretty good at taking care of that stuff. There are proper waste bins for spray cans at a lot of the walls you paint these days, which is good. I hope they get taken care of properly, you don’t really know, there’s only so far that you can go when it comes to things like recycling. I can put all my stuff in all the right boxes, but I don’t know what happens after that. I’ve heard that they don’t even recycle themselves, certain things get sent to China, stuff like that. That is completely out of my control, so I try to not worry about that as much. Its great now that they don’t have things like CFCs, I’ve had people come up and say what about the ozone layer, and actually, you know, technology, baby!

Aerosol really informs the entire process, the final image, the process of making that image, even the conception of that image, it’s a defining tool for a lot of artists, and one that is so hard to replicate…

You can’t get that effect with anything else; air brush is close, but it’s also not. I have been working on an exhibition; it was planned for the first week of lock down. I wanted to make smaller scale works, so I’m using stencils, but I had to use spray cans because I want that beautiful gradient and that granular effect that you get from aerosol. There was nothing else I could use that would work like that…

It was initially adopted by graffiti writers primarily for mobility and efficiency, but increasingly, it’s actually the aesthetic that has become the attraction. The mastery that has been achieved over generations has become what drives and defines its continued use. When did you start using spray cans?

In New Zealand there were a couple of people on the periphery of my friends that were getting into street art. Cinzah was best mates with a girlfriend of mine at the time, and I went along to a couple of his shows and he was doing some paste ups and things. I was like, this is kind of interesting. I really love his style, it’s fantastic. But I was already on my way overseas, so by the time I got to Europe, that was really my first proper introduction to spray cans. I think it was maybe two or three years after I got to Berlin that I really started playing around with spray cans, so I guess around nine years ago. They are a difficult tool to master…

You mention the influence of street art, were you attracted to the act of painting in the streets? Often that is the biggest leap, because it is a decision imbued with more significance as you get older, when you’re more aware of a lot of the mechanisms in public space…

I hadn’t considered it before, but when I got to Berlin it was so pervasive, I felt comfortable getting out and being part of it. I just went out on my own. I made some paste ups because I couldn’t use spray cans at the time, but I could draw. I was all about drawing to begin with, I still am to some degree. I’d gone into a little gallery which is not really around anymore, it was run by this guy EMESS, a stencil artist, and I talked to him about the kind of stuff I was doing, and after that I went out and made my own paste ups. I went out with a sponge, totally the wrong gear! One of those pieces was still around recently actually, it stayed up for like eight years, which is pretty impressive for a paste up. Then, finally, I started doing street art workshops and teaching people how to do stencils, and that was when I really started playing around with spray cans a lot more, just taking it from there and putting it onto the walls as well. I did the illegal stuff here and there, but I’m not sure that I would have done it anywhere else besides Berlin. It is a lot more relaxed here than it is in most places. But the illegal side of it wasn’t really a draw card for me. A lot of people, particularly in graffiti, love that side of it, going out, getting into spaces that you shouldn’t, running from cops, that kind of thing. I guess my parents raised me to be a ‘good boy’, or at least put the fear in me! I was much more into the actual creation and painting part of it. I’ve got a bunch of friends who paint trains and things, and it’s great, but I just don’t have that in me. I like taking my time. That’s why I’ve gotten into murals, spending a couple of days painting is really rewarding to me.

My Parents are Bread, paste up in Berlin. (Photo supplied by Bulky Savage)
My Parents are Bread, paste up in Berlin. (Photo supplied by Bulky Savage)

Even if the illegal aspect wasn’t as attractive, were you still interested in how to situate a work in space and the encounter that you can create with an unsuspecting public audience?

When I was still doing paste ups and things, I’d like to have bits on corners of buildings so you could see it on one side and then pop around and there’s another part of it as well, leading people in certain ways. Interacting with outside spaces is a big part of the street art scene, and now, when it comes to murals, I still like that idea. I don’t want to put big messages into my art. I like to just have something that will pop and grab people’s attention, something a bit out of left field that will make them wonder what’s going on there?

Design and illustration are increasingly tied to urban art, as an interconnected pathway and through the iconographic approach of post-graffiti, the creation of an instantly recognizable and relatable icon. Has your design background influenced your work?

I studied design at Massey University in Wellington for a couple of years because I was young and foolish. I basically thought that was how you made money in art. But really, I’m more into the ‘art’ side of things. You can see that my work is very graphic, although I would say maybe more Pop Art these days. But the graphic design thing, I didn’t only do it because of the money side, I love graphic design as well, and it has definitely influenced my style.

There is an unmistakable, recurring quality to your work, notably with the hollow-eyed character, did that develop as an intentionally recurring presence, or was it something that just kind of emerged and endured?

I think I drew the first iteration of that character just before I left New Zealand. I used to work at Cosmic Corner and I did a drawing of that little character one day at work. Characters and cartoons have been a massive influence throughout my life. The Simpsons were my favourite thing growing up, and you can see the shape of Homer’s head in that character. I just kind of absorb things from everywhere. While I was traveling, I started to really develop the characters and then I came to Berlin and that’s when I was like, this is where I can take them. Over the years, I just played around with them and they took on their own personalities. There is the big fat businessman who keeps losing his head, there is the little sad guy, the introspective guy and then the crazy worm guy. They are all sort of similar, and I guess through a slow process I have imbued them with bits of my own personality.

Do they occupy their own universe or are they part of our world? The Simpsons live in Springfield, which is famously never revealed on a map, it is sort of a contained universe, but they are also part of the broader world through storylines and their pop culture status. I guess as soon as your characters are added to public space, they start to occupy our world as well, right?

I have given them this world they inhabit, which is kind of like Springfield, I guess. It’s called Crushington and it is this relatively colourless place. There’s a Crushington in New Zealand as well, which is funny. If you look at some of my line drawings, there’s this kind of desert-like landscape, these big open spaces influenced by New Zealand, where you’ve always got that big horizon line, whether it’s the sea or the mountains. There is also a little bit of Colin McCahon in there. I love Moebius’ style as well, the desert line he uses, I stole that bit. But I like how you were saying The Simpsons are part of our world, but they’re not, because I feel the same with my characters. For the most part they are two-dimensional beings in our world, and I really want to get into sculpture over the next couple of years and bring them into a more three-dimensional form. I want to play with that idea and bring them from their world into ours, because there is this second space they inhabit where they are more like what I know. I haven’t really shared it so much, but I’m going to have an exhibition about Crushington at some point soon…

Crushington Characters for the Love of Three, illustration.
Bulky Savage, Crushington Characters for the Love of Three, illustration. (Photo supplied by Bulky Savage)

Kaws has shown with his Companions that there is so much potential to explore those three-dimensional incarnations, different materials, various scales, and even playing with the perception of high and low…

That’s one of the things that always drew me to the street art and graffiti world, if you want to do it, you do it. You can take that style, or you can take from there, take from there, take from there, and that’s why I think it’s been such an interesting movement, you have all these people coming from different backgrounds and different influences coming together and making something completely different. It’s exciting…

The waves or oozing colours are another recurring element in your work. Do you want to dive into that imagery a little bit? Metaphorically, of course…

I really started with those in 2017. I did an exhibition called Bit Sick, playing around with the B and the S of my name, and it was about how crappy 2016 was, and how sick I was of everything. I’ve always been someone who just goes with the flow and the waves were an aesthetically pleasing sort of rolling vibe, but also fit with the theme, because in that exhibition I had things about being sick of art, sick of commercialism, sick of America. Of course, 2017 came through and really shat on 2016, and things haven’t really got any better since!

By 2020 you must be more than a bit sick…

Well, you know, it all flows and rolls downhill! The exhibition that I’m working on at the moment, which was going to be out already actually, was very timely as well, it was all about not seeing the bigger picture and being focused on these little pieces, as interesting and attention grabbing as they are. Again, it is making us all feel a bit sick and now quite literally making the world sick. It’s really just about being over things as well; the state of myself, of the world, just expressing my feelings at the time. But there’s not going to be any characters in the exhibition, it’s just going to be the waves. They have become really fun to paint with spray cans as well, the shapes, the really nice blends as well, giving it a sense of solidity, so that’s become more of a focus…

Detail of a Bulky Savage collaboration with @tenhun in Berlin. (Photo supplied by Bulky Savage)
Detail of a Bulky Savage collaboration with @tenhun in Berlin. (Photo supplied by Bulky Savage)

I’m thinking of the idea of a purge, or a cleansing, and once you take away that figure, the idea of size and scale changes. If the wave becomes the sole focus, it becomes something else, right? When you see it come out of a figure, you automatically scale it relative to that figure, when you just see that wave filling an entire frame, that can be either overwhelming or it could just be a close-up of a small trickle. There’s something about that idea of the bigger picture and smaller details, and that social element becomes strangely more pertinent when you take them away from the figure. So, tell me about your experience painting here in Christchurch earlier in the year?

I’d never painted in Christchurch before, but my parents live just outside of Cheviot [a small town north of Christchurch], so when I go back, I fly into Christchurch. I would just get to see little bits of it as we drove through, or if we visited somebody there. I remember going there when the city center was still completely locked down after the earthquakes, but this was the first time I got to spend a little bit of time in Christchurch for some years, and it was cool. I saw a lot of opportunity there, personally, as much as the earthquakes were terrible, I love seeing old destroyed buildings, maybe that’s why I’m in Berlin. It’s not something that you really get to see in New Zealand, so I really liked that. I liked the show of power, but then also how the city has risen up from the ashes of it as well. The city is really interesting at the moment.

I found it incredibly interesting that Christchurch became this microcosm of a big city; you had shiny new buildings, you had broken buildings standing there empty and covered in graffiti, becoming spaces for people to explore. Different people could do different things. If your mindset was to explore those broken spaces, you could do that, if your mindset was to sit in a bar and drink a cocktail, you could do that. There was this interesting juxtaposition of old and new and broken and shiny. One thing that does is reveal a lot of the power structures that go into making a city. Christchurch has become interesting in that regard, and graffiti and street art have a role here as both dissenting voices and part of the rebuild as well. It shows why these forms of art have become such a dominant visual voice the world over, because they can adapt to different environments. How did the mural in Christchurch come about?

In a very winding way. Knowing I was coming back to New Zealand mid-last year, I started reaching out to people in September or October, mostly through Instagram. I got bounced around. I got in touch with Preston [Hegel] down at The Exchange, he was doing some cool stuff and was like, oh maybe you could talk to this person… I got bounced around between a bunch of different people before I got put in touch with the guys from Riverside Market at the last minute. I just said I’m going to be coming down in like two days and they said: Sure, we’ve got a space, you can do what you want. It just fell perfectly into place. I was slightly freaking out that I wasn’t going to be able to get a space to paint, and coming from Berlin, I was just like, what is this?! Where are my walls?! In Berlin, if you want to paint, you just go and find a wall. I have a wall that I can just go and paint anytime I want just down the road. I wasn’t necessarily looking to leave a massive mural, I just wanted to find somewhere to paint, if it could stay that would be a bonus, if not then c’est la vie. It worked out great, those guys were really nice, they were just like: What do you need? Here’s money for the paint. They paid me for it as well, which is fantastic. It was this very last-minute design, because I was like, let’s see what the wall’s going to be like and go from there…

Bulky Savage's mural at Riverside Market, central Christchurch, 2020. (Photo supplied by Bulky Savage)
Bulky Savage’s mural at Riverside Market, central Christchurch, 2020. (Photo supplied by Bulky Savage)

The wall is quite high and relatively narrow so that obviously played into the design and I guess allowed you to use those recurring motifs in what seems like a natural fit…

Well, I had ideas floating around in my head of what I wanted to paint. I’d actually thought of having it the opposite way around, with the character at the bottom and all this stuff coming up out of it. But there was this big generator at the bottom of the wall, so I just flipped it around. Most of the time I tend to let the wall tell me what the piece is going to be, so I guess that’s good practice for when it comes to spaces like this one.

There are little references to food in the tattoos on the character, but there was no input in terms of what you had to include, that was just something that you added in?

Yeah, the guys were just like, do what you want. Which was amazing, because when you’re being paid to do something, a lot of the time they are like, it needs to be like this and fit inside this box. But I was really given freedom with it and I guess maybe that was why I thought if they’re still letting me do this then I’m going to throw in these little references to the space. I always like to let the tattoos kind of tell a story. I love tattoos, and part of the reason people get tattoos is to express little things about themselves or their experiences. I quite like incorporating them into my art in the same way, so if there’s meaning to be read from what I’m doing, which generally I try not to do, then it can be read in the tattoos…

Any artist would love that freedom to create something that is your own, but how do you think your work communicates to the crowds that go past, is there an intentional aspect that they should read, or do you encourage them to come up with their own narrative?

Yeah, story and narrative are really interesting for me. I love cartoons, I love stories. Life is stories. But I don’t want to preach, I like the idea of leaving something really open. We are human beings, we make meaning out of everything that happens, whether that’s actually what it is or not. So, instead of trying to push people towards my view or what I want to say, I prefer to leave that open and more abstract, so that people have something to play with. I often talk about Stik, the London street artist, who got famous for doing stick figures, but because they are so basic you can project your friends or your relationships or anything onto them because it’s such an open canvas. These very hyper-realistic pieces are beautifully done and technically fantastic, but there’s a bit of a distance because it’s just a picture of somebody that you don’t know. So, I like a more open experience…

Did the freedom of the mural energize you to strike out and do anything else while you were here? Is there anything hidden around Christchurch that I might not have stumbled upon yet?

No, to be honest I was a little bit out of shape and the mural was exhausting. I think I did about 19 hours in two days, and on the first night I was just completely burnt out. I was thinking about going and painting on the cans while I was there, but I just burnt myself out, I just went to bed! But I would love to come back and do some pieces in other spots, when and if that ever becomes a possibility…

Are you a Kiwi living in Berlin or a Berliner from New Zealand?

Good question! I’ll always be a Kiwi, but Berlin’s definitely become home for me. I would like to be able to split my year between the two places, because my heart is somewhat split, half of its here, half of its there, particularly with my parents being there. I love New Zealand, it’s refreshing. New Zealand people are almost the opposite of Germans in a lot of ways, very easy going, very open and welcoming, whereas you know, Germans are a lot more strict. That’s harsh, its an over generalization, obviously! But yeah, I love coming back to New Zealand, and just talking to the bus driver. It warms the heart. Christchurch in particular is looking interesting because there’s so much space, so many opportunities there at the moment, which was really good to see.

A small part of the reason for being away for as long as I have was because we had the John Key government which was in no way supportive of arts and artists, and as far as I’m aware, it’s still not super easy to be an artist in New Zealand when it comes to support from the government and things like that, but maybe that will start to change…

With lockdown precautions in so many places, it’s clear that people have been relying on art; on music, on film, on a range of forms of art, to get through isolation. And yet at the same time, no one ever positions the arts as vital, they talk about tourism or other industries, which is infuriating because if anything this situation reinforces how important the arts are to humanity. But we seem to have to go through this every time something significant happens, it was the same after the earthquakes as well. There’s still a real need to acknowledge artists’ ability to make their living doing what they do because what artists do makes life better…

Yeah definitely. I wouldn’t want to claim that my art enriches people’s lives, maybe it does and that’s fantastic. I always tend to feel a little bit selfish about my art, it’s something that I need to do, it’s very much my own expression and when someone can connect with it, that’s fantastic. Knowing that people have bought my stuff and have it hanging on their walls is nice, but again, the money side of it is not why I make art. I’d like to be able to just make art and not have to worry about the commercial aspects of it, you know? Universal Basic Income baby! People always think we need to make money and that becomes a driver and that’s when art loses a little bit of itself. I need to eat, so I have to make art that’s going to sell, but it would be nice if we learn something from this whole thing about what’s important for people, for people’s health and mental health. I run a little gallery and art shop space here as well and it’s interesting and frustrating thinking about what sells and what doesn’t and what you need to do to make money from it. I always feel still slightly grimy making my art into easily package-able things, being channeled into commercialism. Down with capitalism!

Follow Bulky Savage on the following platforms:

Web: www.justmorebs.com

Facebook: @justmorebs

Instagram: @bulky_savage

Cover image credit: Antonio Castello

And That Was… March 2020

March 2020 will be a month that won’t be forgotten in a hurry. There were a number of things happening, from art-related shows and projects, to the anniversary of the Christchurch Terror Attacks (and the perpetrator’s guilty plea), all with the hovering threat of the Covid-19 pandemic spreading around the globe. Then, in the final few days of the month, the country, along with much of the world, was sent into lock down. Social distancing became the catch-cry, and with it, social events and occasions were postponed, cancelled or digitised (Houseparty anyone? No, maybe Zoom?) With such an overbearing event casting a long shadow, in the coming years it may prove hard to remember anything else from this month, but we thought it was best to reflect on the things that still excited us and share that goodness, from projects that brought communities together, to small moments caught unexpectedly, this was March 2020…

Halves on an Exhibition – Harry King and Reece Brooker

A watercolour painting on paper of a snake wrapped around itself with tattoo styled elements and bright colours
Snake by A Tribe Called Haz / Harry King from the exhibition Halves in an Exhibition? at Outsiders

 March started with a sense of normality (despite what was happening around the world), when Friday nights meant you could go out and socialise. On March 6th, we headed down to Outsiders, the St Asaph Street skate store that for one night became host to Halves on an Exhibition?, a show by A Tribe Called Haz (Harry King) and Reece Brooker. King’s acidic and surreal style has developed over the last year, and his pop-up shows have an endearing anarchic and anti-traditional energy to match his work. Some of this newer body of work depicted seemingly post-apocalyptic landscapes that combined low-brow with decadence, devoid of presence and looking like the vacant scene of some horrific act, while others illustrated the clear influence of tattoo and skate culture with simple imagery. King’s art is proudly chaotic and laced with humour, but also shows an increasingly refined technical approach, his handling of line and watercolour notable in its confidence. Brooker was a new name for us. An arborist, his work added a different sense of materiality; painting circular panels cut from trees to frame his motley, at times fantastical characters.

Welcome to Ōrua Paeroa

A long block wall is painted black, with the words Welcome to Orua Paeroa painted in bright colours.
The Welcome to Orua Paeroa mural produced by the Fiksate Crew, the first event of the New Brighton Outdoor Arts Festival (Photo credit: Gavin Fantastic)

The day after Halves on an Exhibition, the Fiksate (Dr Suits, Jen_Heads, Porta and Bols) crew joined forces with the organisers of the New Brighton Outdoor Art Festival and members of the local community to produce a massive mural welcoming people to New Brighton. The graphic mural, with a bright segmented colour palette against a black background, drew on the Maori name for the area; Ōrua Paeroa (the name covering both the New Brighton and Travis Wetlands areas and referring to the place where the Easterly winds and the ocean meet), recognising the history of the suburb beyond its European call-back. The mural acted as a paint-by-numbers affair, the huge letters gridded out and people invited to paint sections. The result is an impressively bold addition to the neighbourhood. Unfortunately, while it was supposed to signal the upcoming NBOAF, the Covid-19 pandemic has seen the rest of the programme postponed indefinitely.

Urban Nipple

A sticker of a nipple is stuck to a lamppost
An Urban Nipple sticker outside Te Puna o Waiwhetu – The Christchurch Art Gallery

One of my favourite things about urban art and particularly smaller urban additions, such as stickers, is the ability to make you double take and look closer. Those small interventions that make you think you recognise something, asking yourself, surely that isn’t… is it? In doing so we are surprised and made more aware of our environment, often left with an urge to investigate, or at least a nagging wonder about what we just saw and who might have been behind it. I had that experience in early March, casually strolling past Te Puna o Waiwhetu – The Christchurch Art Gallery on Montreal Street. As I passed the Bunker and Jess Johnson and Simon Ward’s video arcade game inspired piece, a small circular sticker caught my eye. I did the double take as I passed, then stopped, back tracking. I was right, it was a nipple, an urban nipple on the lamppost. The sticker is one of a number of interventions under the Urban Nipple project (Instagram: @UrbanNIPPLE), intended to encourage the return of the banned nipple into our shared lives through humorous interactions, getting people to think about sexism and discrimination.

FOLT Skull Collabs

One of the FOLT x Bols collab skull cut-outs

I first started noticing FOLT stickers a few months ago, from the handwritten tags and deconstructed skateboards to the block printed, angular graphic versions, and they have been a personal favourite since. Recently, that sticker profile has expanded to sculptural installations, with an array of wooden skull cut outs appearing around the city. In March, the skulls were fixed to various sites, inviting people to hunt out the various incarnations. The skulls include both exclusive FOLT productions and several collaborations, including with local artists Bols and Jen_Heads. Hopefully we can see more in the future, because if the attention of the lady while I was photographing one was anything to go by, they are intriguing additions to our cityscape…

TOGO – Toy Stories

The pink cover of Toy Stories, with a plain white text
The cover of TOGOs Toy Stories publication

On a personal level, my month was made by the arrival of TOGO’s Toy Stories publication on door step. I was lucky enough to get a copy of the limited run, and I am glad I didn’t miss out. It is a beautiful thing, the understated cover concealing the funny anecdotes and intimate photographs inside. It is full of humour and importantly exhortations and revelations, celebrating graffiti’s compulsive rebellion. A combination of specific stories of memorable nights and close-shaves, mantra-like prose detailing the realities of graffiti life and photographs of urban space from the creases (a sense of the embrace of the perihperies permeates the grainy images), Toy Stories jumped the pile of books I have been meaning to read and has already been digested…

These were some of our favourite things from March 2020, what made your list? Let us know in the comments…