We sat down with Lydia Thomas (a.k.a. Bloom n Grow Gal) recently to talk about her work and her show Peanut Butter & Jam at Flux, which featured a selection of artists from the SlapCity collective. Lydia is not the type to sit still and she is already getting ready to present her next show, the follow up to More: The Show at the Boxed Quarter earlier this year. More: The Show and the new exhibition Even More: The Show are a platform for Ōtautahi female artists, from painters and illustrators to designers and craft artists, from those who work at home, in the studio or in the streets. The premise is to ensure the scope of creativity is not restricted and that people are empowered to show their work to the world, in many cases, for the first time in an exhibition setting. That intention is revelatory of Lydia’s generous nature, she is infectiously energetic and it is always a pleasure to sit down and chat about what she has in store with the latest Hello, I am the Show event…
It wasn’t too long ago that we sat down to talk about Peanut Butter & Jam…
I imagine you woke up the next day and were straight onto this new project, right?
Yeah, I have like two days of rest and then I’m like, right, what can I do now? I always tell myself I’m going to have a holiday, that I’ll take a break, but I can’t sit still. I need to be focusing on the next challenge. I wanted to fit another More show in before Christmas, that was my goal. It has definitely been more challenging this time around with COVID, but just having something to look forward to has been the big drive this time, we need this, we can’t keep canceling things and postponing things. I mean, if you are going into lock down then you have to, but I felt like I had to keep this one going!
This show is the second incarnation of the More: The Show concept, with a new line-up of local female artists, was it always something that you thought was going to become a recurring series?
Nah, I didn’t. I mean, I never thought it was going to work! That’s probably terrible to say, but you know, I was like, I’ll just give it a go. I thought that it would only attract a couple of artists, but then more artists wanted to get involved and I just can’t say no to people. So, the show happened, and afterwards I was getting messages asking when’s the next show was coming. I think what excites me about being able to run your own show is that I’m in charge of the rules and I can make the decisions around what kind of art I want. I love giving the opportunity to people who do embroidery or street art and giving them a platform to put it in a show. I’m so excited this time around, I’ve got people showing clothes and mustard tins, it is so out of the box that I really, really like it.
From what I’ve seen already seen, it is a diverse range of artists…
Yeah, it’s great!
With More: The Show you started with an expectation that it would be small, but then people would say, I’ve got a friend who does this, or I’ve got another friend who does that… Has it been the same this time?
More got a small following on social media and then I created a website which is a collection of the shows and the artists, as well as promoting my own art. I wanted it to become a catalogue. I created a subscription box that people can subscribe to hear about More shows. I realized I needed to actually have a new show that people are going to subscribe to hear about! It’s mind blowing when you start getting subscribers and you have no idea who they are. I don’t really know where half the people have come from, which is great, that’s the point of it, I feel like I’m doing my job! It’s easy if I’m only targeting my friends…
As you grow, everybody brings their own world to it as well and increases the eyes on it, right? Lockdowns have showed us more than ever the importance of having some type of outlet and creating the opportunity for people to reveal what they’re doing is really empowering, for those artists and for you. The artists realise that what they are doing is important, it might not be changing the world, it might be a very personal thing, but it is still really valid and that’s really important…
For Peanut Butter & Jam, I’d approached people teethlikescrewdrivers, who just never associated themselves with being an artist, and he pulled it off and it was amazing, and it’s the same this time around. I’ve got somebody who has produced this beautiful macrame lamp shade and I asked for her artist bio and she was like: artist bio? I’m an artist? Yes, you are! Look at this beautiful masterpiece that somebody’s going to buy and hang and it’s gorgeous. It’s about changing people’s perceptions that what they’re doing is art and it is beautiful.
While it is an all-female line-up, there is no thematic brief, right? That it is all female artists is enough for it to be powerful…
Yeah, I would get messages asking: what’s the theme? What do I have to stick by? For me, the fact that it was a female art show was enough. I don’t want to restrict it any more than that. It’s a platform for females to do what they want to do. There’s no rules after that. Just do what’s on your mind, do what feels right in the moment. That’s what I’ve done and it seems to work so far.
That’s kind of the philosophy that runs through it all?
I don’t feel like I’ve been in enough art shows to know what I’m doing, I don’t know how I’m pulling it off! Other than when I was at university, I’ve been in very few art shows, so my experience with running them is that I’m just a very kind of organised person, I know how I like things and that’s how I’m doing it. I’m not really sure how other people have worked in the past with shows, but I get so many emails asking is this going to be OK? Is this going to work? Or saying: I’ve done this now, I’m worried. My response is always, it’s cool! It will work! It’s going to work! I just have this mindset that it’s going to work no matter what happens, so don’t stress. If I’m not stressing, you shouldn’t be stressing!
In the past, there might have been a tendency to follow a traditional approach, so I think that by not adhering to conventional rules, it reflects where this city is now. Speaking of where it’s at, you’ve got a new venue for this for this show as well…
I’m in the old Green Lane which is the new Clubhouse Creative. Originally the first More was supposed to be there and I got a bit panicked about the walls and thought maybe I just need to start small. But this time around I was like, I can do this now. I want more artists. I want to give more people the option to be involved. The walls are massive so people can submit bigger pieces as well, because last time some artists enjoyed the challenge to do something around the A3 size, but this time they wanted to go big or go home. So, to put it in a warehouse was exciting. I love that kind of grimy, dirty look as well. I’m not so much into white walls. I like off-white, dirty walls with texture…
It also brings up the possibility to think beyond hanging a piece on a wall, maybe more object art, or works that sprawl out in different forms, almost like installations. Now that you have more room you can have a broader scope of display. Have those conversations come up?
There’s been a bit of talk about live art and things like that, like we did with Peanut Butter & Jam. I’ve got a bit of a performance for the opening night with people hula hooping and things like that and there will be a DJ, but I didn’t go down the line of live art this time. I think the whole Hello, I am The Show idea is something that I really want to keep developing and working on and I think for the new year, my goal is to get somebody else on board that can help me with extra little touches to just go bigger. This time around there is like 35 female artists, I know, it has got too much again! Doing the socials, making sure everybody’s kept in the loop, all of that is so important to me and every time I bite more off than I can chew! So, I need to get somebody else on board. Someone who is just as passionate and also doesn’t mind putting in a lot of work for not a lot of money! But there are a lot of good feelings that you get back instead!
Do you think you will explore individual shows, or is the concept strongly collaborative and sort of community-based?
My idea is not collaboration as such, it’s the pop-up idea that I love: here’s a space, let’s pop something up for a couple of days then it can disappear again, kind of like street art, you know? You don’t know how long it’s going be there, so you have got to go and see it. So, I would love to work with individual shows and things like that in that context, with like a tent or a caravan maybe that appears around town.
Give us your best sales pitch for Even More: The Show!
I’ve drawn a blank! No, here: Even More: The Show. Female artists from around Ōtautahi. Opening night is on Thursday 14th October, 5:30 to 8:00pm. There will be wine, there will be beer. There is going to be such a broad selection of art, there will literally be something for everybody. Big things, tiny things, beautiful things, sparkly things, clothes… It’s on for two days after opening night, so you have got to get in there, that’s the fun of it!
Get down to Clubhouse Creative (22 Southwark Street) on Thursday, 14th October, 2021 for the opening of Even More: The Show, from 5:30pm to 8:00pm. Even More: The Show is open 15th – 16th October. For more information, head to Hello. I am the Show on Facebook…
Spread the word about what's happening in the Christchurch urban art scene:
The Paste-Up Project is a collaboration between Watch This Space, Phantom Billstickers and a selection of Ōtautahi’s finest paste-up and poster artists. With support from the Christchurch City Council, one of Phantom’s Manchester Street bollards has been transformed into a paste-up art installation space for the next 12 months, with local artists commissioned to push their work in new directions with a three-month takeover. The Paste-Up Project bollard serves as a supported platform for one of urban art’s most enduring forms and for the long historical lineage of urban postering (just ask Phantom!), with artists enabled to grow the scale and material qualities of their work within a setting that will challenge the perceptions of an ephemeral form of art.
First up at bat is teethlikescrewdrivers, an easy choice really as he is the driving force behind SlapCity, the loose collective that has embraced the potential of stickers and paste-ups across Ōtautahi. His instantly familar, yet continually beguiling pencil icon has become a recurring feature of the urban landscape. The simplicity of the image opens up a range of potential readings, and yet requires none, it exists, it is, and that is enough. More notable for the Lyttelton artist, is the sense of collaboration and community that his urban art adventures have instituted – from online mash-ups to weekly meet ups to explore the city, teethlikescrewdrivers constantly strives for connections and in doing so has created an expansive network of disparate, yet kindred spirits who see the urban landscape as one of play.
His installation for The Paste-Up Project embraces these ideas, celebrating each in a segmented yet cohesive production that will be on display for the next three months in central Christchurch. Of course, the pencil is the star, refashioned and re-formed across the circular base, and in doing so speaking to the various personalities who have inspired, influenced and embraced the artist’s signature form. But that’s enough from me, let’s hear from teethlikescrewdrivers as he explains his installation…
For the two people who don’t know you already, introduce yourself…
Hi, I’m teethlikescrewdrivers and I draw pencils.
I will admit that there was really no other choice for the first artist up for this project – what was your take when we first discussed the concept?
Really? Oh man.
Initially I was doubtful, mostly of myself! I couldn’t really think of anything other than doing bigger pencils and I wanted to give the space something it deserved. I’m fine with doing more pencils, but it wasn’t really bringing anything new to the table. After a few discussions with people and reading the brief, I started to think more about the possibilities it offered someone who usually only does one thing.
It is a surprisingly big space, how did you come up with the concept to fill the bollard and what incarnations did you go through?
I was going to just use it as one giant nine metre-squared canvas. After a few visits with a tape measure and some really basic planning, I decided to divide it into small, medium and large ‘panels’. This then made me start thinking about three themes. It kind of rolled on from there.
Your piece is titled Community, Collaboration and Connection, and it reflects the various elements that form such integral components of your experience in the world of urban art, how does each section relate?
After I settled on three panels, the themes were easy. I wanted to highlight paste-ups as a medium and have the chance to play around with that, I wanted to introduce more of the international sticker and paste-up community to Christchurch and I was always going to give our SlapCity family some love. I had to measure up pretty accurately for the community one, just so the pencil slotted in. The collaboration panel used the Vermin poster (Vermin is an artist from Manchester in the UK) as a starting point and then I just filled in the space like a sticker bomb. The big connection wall I had a rough idea for…kinda . I figured if I turned up with all the stuff I had, made and cut pastes on the spot and used posters salvaged from clearing the bollard something would happen. I just started throwing up stuff and discovering gems!
You got to play around with some cool material concepts, from large scale pastes to smaller overlapped pieces and of course the tearing away of layers, tell me more about each of these ideas…
Firstly the bollard is bloody ginormous, so I knew making three-metre tall pencil was going to be a struggle and would basically cover a whole panel. By splitting it I was able to physically manage it and still give a chance for the stuff behind to be seen. On the connection wall I really got to play with all the layers; negative spaces and using cool materials such as the old posters and wallpaper. On the second day I came back and started tearing into the layers from the day before, I really enjoyed that element of the process. I also really liked making my own wallpaper and giving the whole thing depth.
You spent a sunny weekend on the bollard, what was it like to have the time to explore the ideas you had developed – it must have been a new experience compared to the missions with friends. Did you find it still quite communal? I imagine it was like a mural painter – do you have any interesting stories of people stopping to chat or asking questions about what you were doing?
I kind of set up camp for the weekend, it was ace. I had a picnic table for drawing and cutting paste-ups, a speaker playing music, my car right there and my shit spread out all over the place. It was ideal! I had lots of good chats with passers-by about the bollard and my car; both great conversation starters. Having the time to step back really helped the big panel come together. That one is more artistic, I guess, it’s less about one piece and more about layers and how they fit together so time helped.
Oh, I almost got signed up to the Peninsula Trampers Club by one old fella who I had a good chat with! Did you know there are a whole bunch of boulders like the ones at Moeraki, but in the streams inland!? You do now!
My whanau popped by and I had a lunchtime beer with a bunch of mates and lots of people came and hung out. It was like a paste-up Glastonbury!
What were some of the challenges you faced? It is obviously not a traditional flat surface…
The wind and the physical size of the paste-ups were the big ones. But because I had time I was able to leave stuff and come back to it, or think my way around it.
What are your hopes for The Paste-Up Project, not just in terms of your own installation but as a concept? Do you see it as a way to change perceptions, or at least the visibility of paper art in Ōtautahi?
I hope it opens the door for more artists to get their stuff up. There is a real delight in putting your work up in the streets rather than in a frame or on Instagram. Having a dedicated paste-up ‘show’ really lets people see some of the more established artists’ work and hopefully inspires others to get out there into the streets with a bucket and brush or just a pocket full of homemade stickers. Down the line I would love to see this kind of collaboration move into different towns and cities.
You have developed a web of connections around the world with artists through collabs and trades, and many are featured on the bollard, have you had any responses from those people overseas yet? What have the responses been like from the local scene?
Instantly! The collab wall was really just a huge collab and mash-up sticker bomb and everyone is always stoked to see a bit of their work in one, especially way down here in Christchurch. I think there are mash-ups and collabs with over 50 artists on that panel; everywhere from Brazil, Russia, most of Europe and even just down the road.
I’ve had comments from people about how well my pencil scales up, this was a good test for that! I was really stoked with the Vermin collab, it looks epic as a huge poster and you can really appreciate all the details. I was also really pleased to get work up in New Zealand from good friends from overseas.
Do you hope this is just the start of more opportunities like this, and if so, do you have any ideas of how it might be harnessed?
I really hope so. I would love to see sticker and paste-up walls as part of the ‘street art’ scene alongside graffiti and murals here in New Zealand. Maybe down the road a sticker and paste-up show? It would be amazing to see some dedicated paste-up walls or permissioned spaces in the city. Personally, I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing and see where it leads me.
While the weather was perfect for installation, it rained heavily just a day later, what impact did that have and were you philosophical about it?
I think putting a layer of straight-up PVA onto wet paste last thing was a double-edged sword. The next day the whole thing was covered in white streaks and all the paper was still really wet, I thought I’d knackered it! But after a while it dried clear and I think will add a bit more protection in the long run. The good thing about all paste-ups is you can always add more layers. If it all falls to bits over the next few months I will just go and tear a bunch off and add more.
Who do you want to shout out?
Watch This Space, Phantom, the Christchurch City Council, the SlapCity family and all the amazing venues that have let us use their spaces over the past two years. All the artists here in Christchurch who paved the way and have got us to a point where a project like this can even happen. My whanau and all the rad artists who have let me use their art for mashups or who have taken my pencils and messed with them.
Follow teethlikescrewdrivers to see what he gets up to next, and keep your eyes and ears peeled for more about The Paste-Up Project on our channels!
Oh, and get down to the site on Manchester Street to see this amazing installation in the flesh!
Spread the word about what's happening in the Christchurch urban art scene:
To recap September we caught up with Cape of Storms, our favourite street collage paster-upperer! You will know Cape’s paste-ups, even if you don’t realise it, they utilise vintage cooking books, kitsch knitting images and more retro finds to create whimsical juxtapositions that are at once funny and mysterious, adding that sense of wondrous inquisition as they appear across the city, revealing the absurdity of life. As I suspect it was for many of us, Cape of Storms’ September was hectic, catching up on a life that was put on pause… So, what was keeping Cape of Storms busy? Read on and find out…
September was a blur. My recollection of how the month passed by is somehow not linear. I remember key events, like feeding my best friend’s new baby girl for the first time, dressing up and going out for a special meal with my partner at Soul Quarter just after we passed into level 2. Going back to the gym, the stress and irritation around how and when to mask up. But most of all, I remember the build-up and anticipation, coordination, ultimate execution of of MOVING HOUSE.
Moving house is awful. It confronts you with all your life decisions and lifestyle choices and forces you to judge yourself as you pack up your life, box by box (well, at least for me anyway!).
I arrived in New Zealand just under three years ago with two suitcases full of clothes, a racing heart and a head full of dreams for my new future. For the first few weeks I muddled by sleeping on the floor on a blow-up mattress, eating at a rusty camping table and managing the delicate balance of ice-to-water ratio in a chilly bin.
Slowly and steadily I started to accumulate stuff. Four months after relocating from Cape Town, four modest boxes arrived by sea, filled with precious kitchen and household items from my previous home.
Fast-forward to September 2021 and van- load upon van-load of stuff needs to be ferried from the old house to the new house, multiple trips to Ecodrop required, $850 raised in Facebook marketplace sales and days and days of sorting, cleaning and reorganising.
And what did I learn about myself during this process? Well, a quite a few important things actually.
Friends, and friends who have become like family are my “home” in this new country. The physical objects I own only carry meaning for me if they are linked to how I can interact with the important people in my life, or bring me comfort and act as reminders of special memories shared with the people who are no longer physically present due to distance and time zones.Being a bit of a clutter-bug, I was amazed at how easily I was able to get rid of things that did not meet these requirements, and how important the objects that remind me of my home country and family actually are.
My home environment has become very important to me. This space has become my nest, my anchor which I can categorically call “my own”. Where I can express my personality and recharge. Taking the time to curate my space a bit better and only surround myself with things I truly need has been wonderful. Also, realising that my space is now shared with my partner makes this even more special as we create a life together.
When my life was in limbo for a few weeks, I really craved my routine and the activities that mean the most to me, the things that create balance in my day. For me, that was “studio”/workspace area back in order. This move has been really great as I have now seriously upgraded my work space and I really look forward to a lot of productive time being creative on a day-to-day basis, as I’m trying to incorporate making/creating into my daily routine. Another big one was realising how important regularly connecting with my fellow artist friends at weekly Slapcity meetups are to me. Slapcity is a group (I won’t use the dreaded word “collective”) of like-minded artist friends with a passion for street art. Some artists focus on sticker making, some on paper paste-ups, some on graffiti writing, some on drawing – but honestly any medium is welcomed. We get together every Wednesday evening to chat and do a little bit of work on whatever we feel like really, usually with a beer or cold beverage in hand.
So September was for the most part spent preoccupied with the move, but by no means all that I got up to…
Danny Knight-Baréat PB & JAM
Something that’s been preoccupying me throughout September is Slapcity member Danny Knight-Baré’s stunningly intricate multi-layered screen-printed pieces I saw at the PB & Jam show in mid-August. At first glance you would mistake the abstract colour-blocked pieces for digital prints, but once you realise that each line and dot have actually been screen-printed onto the surface, sometimes in up to 23 layers you truly realise their genius. I could stare at those textures and colours for hours. PB & Jam was an awesome group art and music show put together by the gorgeous Lydia Thomas (another Slapcity member!).
Level 3 saw us getting together via Zoom calls, but a return to Level 2 meant face to face meet-ups again! The pleasant sound of scissors snipping, vinyl cutting, the heavy smell of marker pen ink hanging in the air, good tunes playing in the background and our inane and random chatter is the definition of my happy place. It’s a totally relaxed and free environment, and I just feel so recharged and energised after every session. We alternate between the workspace at Fiksate Gallery and a few other locations around Christchurch central. New members are always welcome. Check out the Insta page for more info.
Mine and my partner’s favourite brunch spot on St Asaph Street in the central city. Excellent coffee and yummy fresh food (especially in the cabinet), all in all a beautifully decorated hanging plant-filled space. The hanging plant jungle that covers the entire ceiling of the café has Millenials and Gen Zs frothing at the mouth, but looking beyond this #hashtag nirvana, the food, coffee and service is really amazing. Our favourites are the Eggs Benedict, the Salad bowl with halloumi and the Florentines from the cabinet.
Aussie art rock and my trusty Blundies
I’ve had Twilight Driving by Methyl Ethel on repeat on a daily basis. I just can’t get enough of Jake Well’s gender-bendingly unique voice and the haunting lyrics. I’ve been listening to a lot of Holy Holy as well. Coupled with the fact that I have been wearing my beloved brown Blundstone boots so much that I’ve had to introduce “rest days” for them is making me question my loyalty to this Antipodean island in favour of the other, larger, hotter one. But then I think of those poor sods in Melbourne and happily return to sipping my flat white and dunking my ginger slice. Also, Blundstones are actually made in Vietnam now…
Trawling op shops for old textiles. Saturday morning hours lost inside the labyrinth of Creative Junk. Clandestine printing missions at my office photocopier. Gluing things to other things. Figuring out how to paint and paste onto old biscuit tins and suit cases. All in preparation for Even More The Show, opening Thursday, 14th October (and running through the 15th and 16th) at Club House Creative on Southwark Street. Even More The Show is yet another group show organised by the charming Irish creative dynamo Lydia Thomas. I was so stoked to be invited to take part, and it is made all the more special by the fact that proceeds made from the show will go to Youthline. Quite a few of my local female artist friends will also be taking part, its going to be a hell of a lot of fun!
Teeth Like Screwdrivers is one of those people who radiates enthusiasm. Not in the cheesy, annoying way, but simply through a desire to bring people together and to see things happen. I came across his pencil stickers before I met the man himself. They were the type of sticker I love, although simple, they pulled you in through a spark of the familiar that made you ponder, is that what I think it is? Since finally meeting the artist, I have followed Teeth Like Screwdrivers’ busy trajectory, his own prolific and expansive output, his global network of contacts and collaborators, and the formation of Slap City, a sticker and paste up club that that has brought together a diverse roster of artists. When we caught up, all of these factors became apparent both in the scope of our conversation, but also in the way Teeth Like Screwdrivers spoke, excitedly, almost breathlessly darting back and forth through topics. From his early days in Christchurch after arriving from the UK, to the formation of Slap City and his lock down sticker collab project, we covered a lot of ground, fitting for an artist who thrives on activity…
We first met at the giant spray cans, where you were part of a DTR crew workshop. I remember you just had this massive grin on your face enjoying the experience. Is a sense of community and participation a central concern for you? It seems that Slap City is very much about forming a community.
I’ve always organized stuff. When I first moved here, I started the Garden City Session [a Christchurch longboarding group], which I’m no longer doing but has now got like a thousand members. Within the first week of arriving in Christchurch, I got hold of Cheapskates and was like, right, who’s organizing something for skaters? They hit me up with Scotty who was doing Skate School and we did a couple of longboard ones and then it spiraled and spiraled and spiraled. We used to do pub crawls on skateboards. So, I was always the one organizing events, rocking up and being the hype man.
Christchurch’s Flavor Flav!
If I’m really interested in something, it is really easy to do. As a schoolteacher, if I’m doing a lesson I’m not into, it then it’s probably going to be shit, but if I’m into it, it’s going to be brilliant! So, with the sticker stuff, the same thing happened. Stickers were happening, of course they were, but I enjoy the hanging out and someone else going: ‘You could do this…’ It was the same with that DTR workshop last year. I don’t use spray cans, I’m not a graffiti artist. I’m as far from your stereotypical graffiti guy as you can get, but I wanted to see how it’s done. In my head I wanted to make my work look like a marker pen. I love markers, I’m a little bit OCD and I love the different thicknesses. So, I was like, how can I make spray paint look the same? I went and watched them and I realised you could put one line there, then you can do another line there and it cuts that first one back. That was all that was about. But I was loving it because I was surrounded by people who just knew their fucking trade, who were really good and they were just like: ‘You could do this, you could do this…’ I was like, this is brilliant! But I also realised there are lots of ways to do things. There was a really good Safe Kasper artwork on the cans a while back, he’d sprayed the bulk of it and then used a marker for the details, I was like, what the fuck? I can just paint the outline and marker the details which is essentially what I’m doing with a sticker, doing the background and then the marker over the top, so it made sense. But running shit is fun, that’s the joy for me. I like sitting at home and spending an hour just cranking out stickers, but I also like having other people around and bouncing ideas off each other.
Obviously within graffiti culture there has been this history of mentorship and camaraderie in terms of crews.
Skateboarding is similar, you learn, not from the masters directly, but an older person will go: ‘Actually mate, it will be way easier if you just pop your foot off the left and put pressure on there…’ It’s the same thing. I remember I went down to the cans the other day, the DTR crew were doing a big paint jam. I’m an outsider, like I said, I’m about as far away as you can imagine from graffiti writers, but they’re like: ‘Get in bro, grab a can, give it a go…’ I was like, really? It was wonderful.
I feel like when we talk about post-graffiti or street art, it can be more isolated, because you tend to be making something in advance, it doesn’t necessarily have the same sense of community or camaraderie, but undeniably the potential’s there.
Yeah, most people want to be nice, most people are good people, you go up to them and say I really love what you’re doing, can we do something together? They are probably going to say yes, just get in there and see what happens. The worst that can happen is they say no, in which case OK, cool. Christchurch is small enough that you will bump into the same people. If you’re doing something similar, chances are you’re going to bump into me, so that connection may as well be as easy as possible. I don’t know those DTR guys from jot, but they all remembered me from a year and a half ago.
Because Christchurch is small, the competitive element isn’t necessarily as strong as it might be in bigger cities where street cultures have diverged.
Vez is a great example. I saw her stuff all over the place before I met her, and she sent me a message saying: ‘I’m moving from England to Christchurch.’ I told her that I’d started this sticker thing and that she should come along, thinking she’s had artwork everywhere in the world, she won’t want to come! But she rocked up and was just like ‘Hi!’ Now I see her work everywhere and I know who she is and what her stuff is about, and that’s what it should be really.
The fact that Slap City is held at Fiksate is another example of that sense of community in the local scene.
There are lots of examples of it in other cities where people meet at a pub or somewhere where they’ve just got a big old table and they all sit around and just pass some shit around and share. I was like, why don’t I do that here? Then we just kept doing it, then we made it every two weeks rather than once a month. But again, it fits nicely at Fiksate. We go in, it’s super chill, we set the tables up and it’s just like a second wee family. We just chat, talk about what we’ve been up to the last couple of weeks. Someone will have some new things that they want to share, or they have worked on a whole bunch of new stickers and we all kind of pass judgment on them, in a good way!
In addition to that sense of community, has Slap City allowed you to do things artistically that maybe you wouldn’t have done by yourself?
I think I’m keener to get up in the streets. I mean I’m not your typical person who goes and puts things in the street, but you know, we go out and half of us go and have a beer afterwards. It’s all about walking around. People will rock up with some paste and we just go for it. So, I guess it’s not a solo sport anymore. I mean it is, it can be. I’ve spent many evenings just putting stickers up by myself, but there’s something more fun about there being a whole bunch of you. Someone will put one up and you try to put one higher, it’s just that kind of thing. But it could be anything, it could be a bike gang, it could be a record collecting crew. It’s having that little group around you who are just as enthusiastic as you.
That energy and excitement feeds everyone, and opens the gateway just enough for people to come through…
I mean we’ve got it all now. Suddenly it’s gone from me saying I can get a few people and we can do some drawing, to having this crew. People come and go but there’s probably six or seven regulars. Three of them are part of an exhibition at Fiksate [Vez, Bexie Lady and Cape of Storms are all featured in the show Perspective: Women in Urban Art], which is crazy! Bongo’s screen printing now, so he offered to do a run of a hundred stickers for this amount of money, and everyone was chucking money at him and that comes from just talking to people, getting shit done, you know? It is almost self-fulfilling. If I want to go and do some stuff on the street, then I can probably find someone keen to come along. Even if it is just wandering around and putting stupid stickers of pencils up, it doesn’t matter, that’s the fun of it. We are all very different, some crews have a particular style, especially with graffiti, but we’re drawing pictures on paper and sticking them up, it is different. One week a guy came and just did smiley faces, which was great!
People sometimes assume that there’s a right way to do street art.
Right, a particular highbrow view that you have to do this or that. I’m sure in the graffiti world there are styles and techniques that are passed on, but with stickers the joy is that they are literally just a marker pen and sticky paper. You could draw a picture of your own bum and it would count. Anyone can come along and draw funny little things on a piece of paper, and it counts. It doesn’t have to be ginormous.
Touching on that idea of size, there has been a tendency in urban art towards placemaking and an increasingly big scale, and yet really placemaking is also about the small stuff.
I’m a big fan of the little things that are hidden away, the things that you don’t notice at first, but then you do and it makes them even more rad. Paste ups are fun because they let you work on a bigger scale than stickers. You can literally put up any size, but it’s still a smaller scale in terms of just drawing on a piece of paper and sticking it up on a wall. It’s generally never going to be higher than you can physically do it. I guess that’s why making stupid machines to put stickers higher up a wall amuses the shit out of me. There are a few that are up there and I’m just like, it’s so high off the ground! That’s pure amusement for me.
That idea of simply playing in the streets…
I did some pastes in Lyttelton with a mate of mine recently. So, Lyttelton has an issue with peacocks. Someone I might know really closely released a bunch of peacocks into the hills and the farmer on the top of the hill kicked off and started cooking them and eating them! So, me and said friend, we had a few beers and started pasting a whole bunch of peacocks around the port. One day I got a text message from him, he was at work and he said: ‘I think I’ve gone too big!’ He sent me a picture of a massive peacock poster coming out of a large format printer. There’s a spot above the tunnel and we pasted this huge thing up. I woke up the next morning and I’m a long way from the tunnel, my mate’s even further, but I could fucking see it! Everybody in port would be able to see it! It was like a big white postage stamp of a huge peacock head. We were just pissing ourselves because of the stupidity of it! I’m not trying to be artistic, it’s just genuinely hilarious, you paste a huge peacock so this woman who’s been killing them and eating them, every time she leaves port she sees a massive fucking peacock! We are still pasting little ones everywhere; we must have put fifty up throughout Lyttelton. They only lasted a wee while because it was shit paste, but I laughed so much.
Speaking of repetition, how did your pencils come about?
For my art A Level in the UK I made a bunch of skateboards and they had scratched up backgrounds painted to look like they had been skated on and then I added a white silhouette of different pieces of furniture. One of the silhouettes was a classic UK school chair, an orange pre-formed plastic chair with black skinny metal legs and a hole in the back. I realized I could tag it in one hit, and it was identifiable as a chair really quickly. So, for years I wrote FURNITURE, which is a lovely word to write by hand, it’s really gorgeous. I was tagging it and at the end of the E I would then move in and join the chair onto it, so that’s where I started. I realised it’s obviously a school chair, I’m a schoolteacher, it ties in, so what else could I tie in? I went to a compass, and actually I’ve got photos of doing quite big ones on the side of The Drawing Room in town, I even went on a bit of a tiki tour all over Melbourne and Sydney, just sticking stuff up. I did the compasses for a wee while and they were really simple, inspired by a particular genre of stickers at that time. Then one day I put a pencil in the compass, and I was like, oh, I really like that! So, I drew a few more pencils. They were square, so they had the rubber bit at the end with the metal, then they were triangular, pointed as if they had been sharpened by a sharpener. I got a whole bunch of small stickers, but I couldn’t draw the whole pencil on that size, so I just did the nib. But it didn’t really look like a pencil, it just looked like a triangle with the square side. But then when I scalloped it, suddenly it looked like my pencil, and then I thinned the lines. The first ones I did, there’s a few around still, they look like pencils, shaded and with straight lines, but you know, they looked too much like pencils, and it was taking me forty minutes to draw one because my inner OCD kicked in. I needed to make it quicker, so I dropped the end off, scalloped it, and put in the wee dots to make it look like it had been cut by a knife. There’s a book I’ve got called How to Sharpen a Pencil. It’s well worth finding because the boy’s a genius, he literally wrote a book about the different ways to sharpen a pencil. It has all these different pencils and who they are used for, there was this perfect one he called ‘The Architectural’ for architects. It’s really ironic but really funny. One of them was a really long-nibbed, scalloped version and I was just like, that is how I love my pencils! I just copied that and put in a few dots to show that it had been sharpened and now I just draw them non-stop. It’s just gone from there really.
Was there an element of the phenomenology that Shepard Fairey talks about, taking something that might be meaningless but repeating it enough to make it meaningful?
Fucking over and over and over again… I’m a huge fan of The Toasters, a crew from the UK who just did outlines of toasters. I remember first seeing one of them in the mid-nineties and being like, why the hell would you make a sticker with a toaster on it? But also, why not? I wasn’t really into Obey, but there were The London Police, D-Face and a whole bunch of those guys around that time that were doing thick-lined icons on white backgrounds, repeating them so they became like a signature. I’m a handwriting nerd, I love a good-looking tag that’s really been thought out. I like drawing pencils; the lines work really well for me. I love the straight lines, and there’s enough individuality that you can make each one different. You can make them short, long, you can put stupid little rubbers on the bottom if you want to, you can write words on the side, there are lots of options. But it’s still always the same identifiable thing – everyone has seen a pencil. Even with the silhouette stuff, if you’ve seen the pencil and then you see the silhouette, you can see those two are related and maybe there will be a little link in your brain, like, I’ve seen that somewhere before… That is not my idea, I got that from The Toasters, doing the outline and people thinking what the fuck is that? It’s a fucking toaster! That sense of wonderment. People are like I’ve seen your sticker things everywhere, and I’m like great! That’s the point! There isn’t a purpose behind them, there is not some subliminal message, I’m not trying to alter what you’re thinking, I’m literally just drawing a stupid pencil!
Yet even without that intent, they do change the way people think because they are becoming more aware of their surrounding environment.
I think it was Erosie in a video about The Toasters, he says: ‘This is city glitter’, you know? It’s little sparkles that might brighten someone’s day and if it just does that once, if someone says: ‘I fucking know them! I’ve seen them!’ Then great, that’s all I need to do!
When you talk about the silhouette pencils, you are referring to your ‘bluff buff’ pieces, they remind me that the buff itself is essentially a bluff. We can look out and see the way that buff jobs just block out graffiti, they echo the shapes. I mean the most ridiculous buff jobs are the ones where you can still read the graffiti.
Yeah, they have just outlined it, you could go over it with a pen and it would fill in the gap perfectly. There are some great ones around!
No one is ever going to say that the buff itself is an act of beautification.
It’s like that PEEEP Trust, they are actually stencilling their logo onto the walls they buff! At first, I thought it was an artist signing their work. It’s like the classic ‘official’ graffiti walls, with a spray can and it just gets filled. But I googled PEEEP and it’s an actual fucking thing! They are paid, or at least they raise money to do that shit.
It speaks more to masking than improvement.
It is deliberate censorship rather than enhancement.
The pencil bluffs play on that…
I don’t have roots in this. But it creates a grey area. If I’m painting on the wall and someone pulls up, I just say someone wrote the word fuck on it and I’m covering it up, and they go, ‘oh shit, that’s OK mate, see you’. No street artist is going to be using a tub of grey paint and a paintbrush, so the moment they pull up, because it’s essentially a rectangle with a bit on the bottom and a bit on the top, I can square it off and be like someone drew a dick and I’m covering it up. So, it’s making it safer for me because I’m that person.
You mentioned your love of skateboarding, was that the gateway to sticker culture and graffiti?
Skateboarding came first. I had stickers on skateboards first. There is an art form to putting a sticker on a skateboard, there is a certain way you do it. You put it in a certain place because you know that it’s going to get fucked if you put it in a different place. There is also the branding. I’m not going to put any old sticker on my stuff, it’s going to be representing me and therefore that’s important. So, I guess the placement, the branding, it has all led to where it is today. I am still like, why the fuck would you put a sticker there!? You could have moved it four inches and overlapped that one and it would have looked brilliant! That’s my inner nerdiness coming out, but there is a certain way to do it. In Lyttelton, one of Bongo’s pastes was coming off, and I wanted to put my one up, so I took his off and re-pasted it just a bit to the right and put mine so they overlapped nicely. He was like: ‘Did you move my piece a bit?’ Well, I had to because mine overlapping yours makes both of them look better, if i hadn’t it would have fucked up both of our work!
That’s the thing about urban art, it doesn’t exist in a vacuum, it doesn’t exist in a white cube. The surrounding context of space gives it meaning, but also is part of the aesthetic. A mural on a wall has to work with whatever is going on there and it’s the same with a sticker. There’s a subtlety in terms of placement, and there’s also a mindfulness, right?
That’s trial and error too. The amount of times I’ve stuck a sticker up and it’s just slipped off. It’s all covered in dust and grime! But again, the buffs are a great example. You posted a picture of an alleyway somewhere, and instantly, I knew what had to happen! There’s a light grey, a dark grey, there’s an overlap, there is an obvious point for me to put a buff pencil. Again, it comes back to skateboarding. Skateboarders look at the world in a different way than most others, they will go past a spot and to anyone else it’s not a spot, but a skateboarder recognizes the fact that you could do a trick there, or you know, that curb’s looking really rad. It can be anything and the same thing applies to stickers and paste ups and graffiti, you see a spot and you’re like, ohhh, hello, that will work well…
It’s like those movie scenes where a character’s thought process is visualised and you see diagrammatic lines and mathematical equations in space.
Yeah skateboarders have that in spades! If you watch a skateboarder walking around town, you can just see the way they are trialing shit in their head. It’s just instinctive. I’m finding it’s the same with stickers, I’ve got a pile in my car and when I’m driving, I’m looking and thinking that spot would be perfect… Even colour is a part of it now, I never used colours in the past, I used white and black, now I’ve got all this colored vinyl. I’ve got this bright green, and I’m like, that will look so good on that wall, you know? It’s madness, it’s actual madness!
Urban art, graffiti, skateboarding, parkour, they are all tactical, they are always a response, and that’s the thing, they are constantly evolving. You can’t eradicate something that is not rigidly defined, things that can grow and evolve…
Certain styles of skating have come out of different cities because of the way that councils have tried to stop skaters. When rumble strips first came out in the UK, they were stated to be for blind people, so they can feel them when they are walking. But no, they are not, that’s bullshit. They were put there to stop me hitting it on a skateboard. But people were quickly figuring out how to go over them, doing tricks, and I fucking love that, it’s great.
It’s the same with graffiti, attempts to stop it are just going to change the way it occurs.
It’s just misdirection. I guess it is how cities get their style; if you’re in a city that’s heavy on trains, then a lot of train bombing is going to go down. In the UK, we didn’t have the train thing, so it was always on the buses, which is why stickers came about. You could get on the bus and just slap. If you lived in a city where there weren’t any trains coming through, you did the buses, because that was the next best thing.
And those different vessels mean different styles and techniques evolve in response.
Which is interesting for Christchurch because we are a city of concrete tilt slab buildings. I mean there are some fucking wonderful huge murals, and they are street art, it is definitely art on the street, but it’s also blocked off and lit and fucking ginormous, you know, and I feel that maybe there’s more to it all. I mean, I look at that [gestures to a nearby decorated window] and I don’t know whether someone’s done that themselves or someone’s been paid to do that, and I think that’s a really nice balance. We are so full of the big mural stuff that you can get away with putting a big paste up and no one questions it.
With the breakneck change that the city’s gone through, it’s going to change the responses. So, it’s not just the eradication methods, it’s also the physical make-up. We had broken abandoned buildings that were perfect for graffiti writers to commandeer and then we had lots of exposed walls from buildings coming down which were perfect for murals, now we’re going to find more of these spaces that are more traditional spots, liminal spaces.
But weirdly they will be new! They will be sharp and fucking clean, perfect spaces, which for me, as someone who puts stickers up, I love that! The smoother the surface, the easier it is! I don’t want to deal with bricks and shit, I just want nice, clean walls. Also, the up and the down of this city, you know, there’s stuff on the floor, there’s stuff up high. We don’t have many high-rise buildings, so things stand out more. It’s got a sense of panorama.
Even from here, we can see the lay out of the city. There’s an expansiveness which is kind of inspiring in a way, because you don’t feel smothered or captured.
Or penned in. It also means that you’re not cliquing it, you know? I drive from Lyttelton to here, that’s the whole city, and it takes me fifteen minutes. So, there isn’t anywhere you can’t hit, which is fucking brilliant.
Which gives a real sense of possibility. Speaking of expansive, I really enjoyed watching your lock down collaboration project.
That came about as a lock down version of Inktober. Their first theme was like ‘green’ and then the next one was something else, and I couldn’t think of anything to do with my pencils for it. The collab thing is big in sticker culture anyway, so I just decided to write a list of twenty people I wanted do it with and I just put it out there. Then it became forty and then sixty and it just kept going. The concept is more of a mashup than a collab I guess, taking someone else’s art and doing it yourself in your way or blending your styles together.
You often use other people’s stickers to adorn things anyway, even if you’re not street slapping.
Yeah, exactly, so the mashup is just taking it to this next degree, I guess. MarxOne from up in Nelson, he is the fucking king, he has sheets and sheets and sheets of collabs with different people. As an artist, if someone does a picture of a pencil and they tag me in it, I’m not going to be like, that’s my pencil, don’t do that! That’s bollocks. But everyone has a style. I’ve tried characters and I’ve got a big fucking ginger beard character with a stupid bald head, who is basically me, and people now recognize that and that’s what it should be about and that’s the family thing again. No-one’s going to get pissed off, there’s no reason to, because someone’s literally saying: ‘I really like your shit, can I do my own version of it?’ You just go OK, send me a sticker when you’re done. I did one with Ocky Bop, one of his skulls with pencil’s for teeth. I just drew it and took a picture, and he’s like, I’m printing that shit! Now I keep getting tagged in all these pictures all over the world! It’s not complicated, I literally drew my pencils as his teeth on a sticker and now it’s gone everywhere!
At the end of the day, that’s the beauty of sticker culture, it’s global nature. The internet has changed some of the ways we think about graffiti because now influence can be much wider, but graffiti still has an immediate localism to it. With stickers the mobility is unlimited, as you say, you’ve got pencils in cities all around the world and other people are doing it for you.
My favorite thing is that you send a pack to someone and they go: ‘Well I’m going to keep some for myself and put them in my black book because that’s cool, and I’ve got another fifteen, so I’ll put fucking five of them out in the street and I’m going to send ten to another five people…’
There’s a viral quality.
Yeah, for instance, my pencils, and my gnomes as well, they’re all over the UK and I haven’t sent a single one there. There is a guy called Spirit of Mongoose who is just printing a shit load. Which makes my job way easier. Of course, it’s not even my art, I just scanned a picture, but it’s the thought that this would happen.
The nomination is the act, and then as you say, someone else becomes part of it, and that comes back to family and community, this community is just much bigger than you ever realize until you start to make those connections and networks.
And it’s there all the time, it’s there and it’s getting bigger and bigger and more fun…
Stickers perhaps have the broadest reach of any form of urban art, ranging from handmade to commercially produced, and extending from branding to political to purely aesthetic. Anyone can make a slap and anyone can apply a sticker, increasing their ubiquity in our urban environments. When we need to know anything about stickers, our go-to is Teeth Like Screwdrivers, sticker maven and founder of SlapCity. When we invited him to compile a photo essay, it was always going to be a collection of stickers, but what we didn’t realise was how wide-reaching his iconic pencil slaps have become…
We all love stickers.
From our childhood visits to the dentist, the skate shop, our international luggage or even a daily piece of fruit, stickers are part of our everyday life. For me it started when gazing into the cabinet of my local skate shop and spending what seemed like hours, and all my change, deciding which sticker I wanted. Then after buying ‘The One’, the agonising decision of how and where to stick it would follow. It probably only lasted one session before being destroyed, but that wasn’t the point.
Stickers are simple in every way. They may be the quiet, annoying, street art step-brother to graffiti, stencils and paste-ups, but their simplicity is undeniably appealing.
Stickers are cheap (or better still, free!). They are clean, discreet and you can make them by the hundreds. They fit into your pocket, they are visually compact and can be slapped up with the sleight of hand, quickly and in large numbers. This is their appeal.
Repetition works, and stickers are a perfect medium to demonstrate this principle. As long as stickers are being put up faster than they weather or are cleaned, they are accumulating. – Shepard Fairey
Stickers are the perfect medium for characters, typography, graffiti, illustrations, tags, politics or personal messages. Sometimes a sticker is just made to disrupt your eyeline, hidden in plain sight, fighting against the blandness of the modern cityscape, making passers-by search for a hidden meaning. Stickers are also temporary; the elements and scrapers making short work of their papery fragility.
The sticker family is a close-knit, friendly one. Sticker art started local; getting out and slapping up your own, spotting and recognising other’s work. Packs started being posted internationally; traded, swapped and collected. Now it is easy to get your stuff up in places you would never visit alongside artists you will never meet. You are able to collaborate on pieces and put up combos from artists from all over the world in your hometown. Stickers have made it into galleries and sticker-specific art shows continue to multiply.