Teeth Like Screwdrivers – Pencils, Peacocks and Pastes

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.

Teeth Like Screwdrivers pencils on one of the giant spray cans at the youth space on Lichfield Street.
Teeth Like Screwdrivers pencils on one of the giant spray cans at the youth space on Lichfield Street

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!

A Slap City gathering at Fiksate as part of the Road to ZineFest, September 2020.
A Slap City gathering at Fiksate as part of the Road to ZineFest, September 2020

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.

A Teeth Like Screwdrivers pencil sticker, 2019
A Teeth Like Screwdrivers pencil sticker, 2019

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.

Teeth Like Screwdrivers, Lyttelton, c. 2018

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.

A Peacock Liberation Front paste up, alongside work by Cape of Storms and Bexie Lady, 2020
A Peacock Liberation Front paste up, alongside work by Cape of Storms and Bexie Lady, 2020

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.

A small Teeth Like Screwdrivers compass sticker on a yellow pole on the beach, Brighton, United Kingdom (photo credit: Butterstotch)
A Teeth Like Screwdrivers compass, Brighton, United Kingdom, 2007 (photo credit: Butterstotch)

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!

A Teeth Like Screwdrivers 'Bluff Buff' in central Christchurch, 2020.
A Teeth Like Screwdrivers ‘Bluff Buff’ in central Christchurch, 2020

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!

A Teeth Like Scredrivers Gnome and Pencil beside a Bongo character, Lyttelton, 2020
A Teeth Like Screwdrivers Gnome and Pencil beside a Bongo character, Lyttelton, 2020

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!

A vinyl pencil slap, Christchurch, 2020
A vinyl pencil slap, Lyttelton, 2020

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.

A small pencil sticker, Christchurch, 2020
Small pencil stickers, Christchurch, 2020

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!

Teeth Like Screwdrivers' collab sticker with Ocky Bop, 2020.
Teeth Like Screwdrivers’ collab sticker with Ocky Bop, 2020

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.

A Teeth Like Screwdrivers Gnome, Lyttelton, 2020
A Teeth Like Screwdrivers Gnome, Lyttelton, 2019

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…

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Street Treats, Vol. 2

As the city continues to shift, refresh and transform, the little things matter more and more. The vacant and damaged spaces that encouraged more bold and brazen interventions are now less prominent (some of our favourite spots around the city face imminent revitalisation). The necessary contrasts of our urban surroundings are increasingly supplied by the small, unexpected things, clashing with the washed concrete structures and shiny facades that continue to stretch and grow. (Do I sound like a broken record?) Those little details that make a city lived in and alive can raise so many ideas, from the explicit to the subtle, the pointed to the more amorphous and undefined. Yet in each case, their mere presence serves to explore what it means to be part of and have a voice within a larger conglomeration. They provide a sense of the human and authentic (with just a touch of dissent, of course) and signs of contrast and contestation amidst the monolithic towers of progress (both literal and metaphoric), .

This second volume of Street Treats features a host of artists and threaded themes, from the traditional, yet entirely timely ACAB/1312 element, to graffiti’s unerring ability to speak of ugliness and beauty concurrently, or in the case of Teeth Like Screwdrivers’ ‘buff bluff’, the inherent potential in the blocks of grey paint that cover graffiti. Levi Hawken’s concrete sculptures have echoed the physical make up of the cityscape while speaking of his graffiti and skateboarding roots, and notably the Black Lives Matter movement. Vesil’s graffiti continues to be a highlight, diverse and well-placed, with an assortment of accompanying characters and accoutrements raising the spectre of playful nostalgia. Anonymous scribes contest election billboards and the future of human utility (I think…), or  more hopefully, remind us that ‘love is rife’. Stickers and paste-ups continue to have a rising presence in the city, with acerbic, humorous and intriguing additions to urban walls and fixtures. In the case of FOLT’s skull cut-outs, it is as much the absence as the presence that is striking as these popular sculptural pieces are removed. Cosmik Debris’ paste-ups suggest the molecular science behind all things and the scale of being, while Dr Suits blurs the line between art and advertising, without anything to sell. This collection revels in the details of the city, details that many overlook. Yet, when you start to look closely, there are always surprises, always discussions, and always alternatives…

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Photo Essay: Responding to the Gentrification of Street Art – Befaaany

For the latest entry in our photo essay series, we reached out to Befaaany, a Christchurch photographer whose work showcases the urban and concrete landscapes of the city. After being impressed with her striking pictures on Instagram, we knew she would be a perfect fit. Befaaany’s response was a beautiful collection of black and white images that run the gamut of urban expression, small stickers, bold graffiti, abstract paintings produced in perilous environments and the ephemera of a eradicated presence. In compiling these photographs, Befaaany is able to highlight the issue of street art’s gentrification and mainstream popularity, a process that has in many ways clouded our recognition of street art’s subversive and disruptive potential…  

 

Local street artists are constantly finding new ways to create art in a city filled with council-funded installations from international artists. These have included challenging gentrification of graffiti directly, blurring the lines of ‘legitimate’ and ‘illegitimate’ street art, disguising their art into the city, and  leaning into the temporary nature of their art form. – Befaaany

 

Follow Befaaany on Instagram to see more of her amazing work…

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Street Treats – Vol. 1

While Watch This Space was founded on the concept of mapping out Ōtautahi’s street art, and our online map has been primarily populated with commissioned murals, we have always understood and celebrated the importance, urgency, poignancy, rebelliousness, hilarity and, basically, goodness of guerrilla graffiti and street art. In a time where urban art faces an identity crisis, the power of bypassing permission and making or installing art in the streets, from an elegant tag to a pasted pop-culture riff, is necessary and energising. As a reflection of this belief, welcome to Street Treats, a new recurring series that tries to capture the authentic spirit of urban art by collecting our favourite works of guerrilla art and presenting them to you.

The events around the world in recent weeks have rendered an environment of energy, of action and of hope for change, sentiments that graffiti and street art have also sought historically. Striking images of graffiti-covered walls and monuments have served as iconic backdrops of a time of social revolution, but also a reminder that writing on walls, artistically or not, is a way to attack the structures of our social contracts and the injustice they often protect. The images in Street Treats – Vol 1 are not exclusively political, but they do share the rebellious motivation of bypassing consent and altering the urban environment in which they have been placed. In each case, someone has chosen to bypass authority, to subvert and surprise, to add a voice to the street, as a secretive whisper or a defiant yell. Either way, it pays to listen…

If you have some treasures to share, email them to hello@watchthisspace or message us via our social media (@watchthisspacechch) and we can include them in future Street Treats volumes…

And if your work is featured but not credited the way it should be, get in touch and let us know!

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Dr Suits and the Art of Isolation…

When Aotearoa entered the level 4 lock down as we faced the threat of Covid-19, many of us took to a daily walk within our bubbles, nominally for exercise, but if we are honest, as an escape from the confines of our homes, to remind ourselves that the world around us was still there.

Luckily for me, my suburban surroundings provided plenty of points of interest, and chief among them were the constantly expanding series of stickers and paste ups produced by the prolific Dr Suits.

Dr Suits’ output over the last few years has shifted to a process-centric fixation with abstraction. As he has investigated materials and techniques, he has also grappled with the transference between street and studio. While he has produced a range of outdoor works (including commissioned murals and even a basketball court), the lock down period saw perhaps the most cohesive body of street work he has created. From small vinyl stickers to large-scale paste ups, sweeping textural waves and various geometric forms of flat colour were juxtaposed to create items of intrigue. To learn more about this flurry of creativity, we caught up with Dr Suits to talk about the inspiration and motivation for these (sub)urban additions and how extraordinary times have inspired his work…

The notable thing about this body of work was just how quickly it seemed to come to fruition and appear on the streets, was it something you had already considered, or were you specifically inspired by the lock down?

It was spontaneous really. I think a lot of my work happens like that, when I find a delicious tasting fruit, I feast on it, until there’s no fruit left.

When we entered lock down, we just raided the studio for a bunch of materials and resources with no clear plan of what we were going to do with them. We just wanted to make sure we had stuff to work with at home. The stickers were great because they were small, and I could just mess around in the lounge.

The stickers led to the much larger paste ups, a form that you have a bit of experience with…

They were something that just came out of the stickers. It was a similar process, I just wanted to do the stickers bigger. I had the materials, the paint, the paper, the glue. The beauty of paste ups is that you can work on them at home, and then it only takes ten minutes to install them, which was great for lock down. It reminded me of the post-quake period, when I first started doing paste ups, but I adapted them to my present artistic approach.

A lot of your previous paste ups were illustrative. These works are a clear reflection of your more process-driven abstract direction of the last few years…

I thought of a few ideas to do some illustrative paste ups with more on-topic commentaries, but I couldn’t find the motivation because I was too distracted with the process of making these stickers and just doing what seemed natural…

Do you connect these works in any outward sense to the Covid-19 pandemic?

I could probably think of something more specific if I wanted to, but they are a direct response to that situation because if I didn’t have that situation they wouldn’t have been created, so in some ways they are a direct response.

The paste ups and the stickers both use a collage technique, but they can be experienced very differently because of their materials and size. Were you interested in how people would respond to the different works?

It’s more driven by the process of creation. I know people are going to respond to them in their own way and that’s what I like about abstract art. People always see something that you don’t see or think something that you don’t think. Even though they use the same process, I wasn’t really thinking about it. Obviously, the paste ups don’t demand as much inspection because they’re so big that you can see them from afar, you may or may not notice that it’s collaged. I was just really enjoying the process of cutting the shapes and overlapping them and exploring different compositions. That is really similar to the way I previously would do it, but I would use Adobe Illustrator or something like that to play around with shapes and I would just pick the ones that I liked. But with the stickers, each one was a development, and I would just keep each one, it wasn’t just picking the ones that I liked and then using those as a composition to make into an artwork…

When you’re putting the paste ups on the wall, are they constructed with the final image in mind? I’m assuming they are applied on the wall in sequence…

Yeah that’s right. With the stickers, I’d start with the background, with the brushy effect using the wide-tip Molotow marker, and then I would just cut shapes out of colorful vinyl, some which I’d spray painted first, and I’d play with compositions. Then I used those stickers to inform the larger paste ups.

Were you thinking about spots for paste ups in a different way to the stickers? I assume there was less planning around the stickers, whereas the paste ups would require some forethought…

There’s an abundance of spots out in New Brighton, so it’s not hard to find a spot. And during lock down it was so quiet, no one was around, I mean I could have painted them if I wanted to. At the time, I was more interested in the collage approach and finding those small imperfections where they are slightly offset and seeing the depth between the layers, the paper sticking on top of another layer which is on top of another layer and building up. The paper ripples and it creates little shadows and as it gets wet it shrinks and it might warp a bit, the stripe might move off to the side a little…

In terms of placement, what makes a perfect wall? It feels as if your works like to have room to breathe, but also it seems that geometry is an important consideration…

Definitely, I really like a wall to have similar or reflective elements that are going to make it relatable to the work. I like to have contrast, but I also like it to have some sort of unity. That balance is what I like in my work more generally anyway. You want it to stand out, but you want it to fit in, so I try to find texture or line or some shape or something in the composition of the space that’s going to contribute to the overall composition on the wall, like a box or a down-pipe, a color or a paint change or a set of windows.

Do you feel this has taken your studio work in a new direction?

Definitely. The stickers started developing with more curves and softer lines and the collage approach to the process is something I’ll take forward.

Your work seems to evolve in quite a fluid progression, with certain elements recurring and coming into focus, does it feel that way to you as you are working?

think with abstraction, it can be very sparse in terms of the elements you’re working with, so the changes are noticeable really quickly when you do change an approach or technique or some process behind how you make an image. I can really latch on to something just by changing that one thing and that change becomes a solid basis and everything else around that can change but you are still kind of keeping a consistency within the work.

There’s an anchor…

I like to have an anchor, especially with colour or shape or composition or texture. The anchor’s a link, you could look at it two ways; it’s a safety thing, I don’t want to jump too far away from what I’ve been doing, possibly because of fear, but also it keeps it recognizable from previous work so you can see a progression, that connection between where you are going and where you’ve been.

Has this series made you think about the street/studio balance?

I’d like to do more of the paste ups. I’ve got lots of ideas for those, but I can see them influencing my paintings as well. I want to take that same process, just do a little collage sticker and then maybe do a paste up or a painting directly from that, maybe try to do both, and just push that image out in more than one way…

 

Follow Dr Suits on Instagram and find more of his work at Fiksate Gallery.

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Photo Essay – ‘We All Love Stickers’ by Teeth Like Screwdrivers

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.

I love stickers, we all love stickers..

-TLS

A collection of stickers on a lamppost in Christchurch
Christchurch, 2020. @vez_streetart
An array of stickers on a street sign in Brazil
Brazil, 2019. @k421666
A collection of stickers from the exhibition Characters Welcome
‘Characters Welcome’ Art Show, Philadelphia, 2019. @characters_welcome
A collection of stickers in Christchurch
Christchurch, 2019. @teethlikescrewdrivers
Stickers on a STOP sign in Christchurch
Christchurch, 2020. @teethlikescrewdrivers
Stickers on a lamppost near the graffitied railway tracks in Christchurch
Christchurch, 2020. @vez_streetart
Stickers on a graffitied wall in Dunedin
Dunedin, 2020. @slapsnpastesdn
Stickers cover the reverse of a street sign in Hamburg
Hamburg, 2020. @spaemspaem
Stickers in an urban environment in Hamburg
Hamburg, 2020. @spaemspaem
A board covered in stickers in Brazil
Nosso Trampo, Brazil, 2019. @vanguarda034
A collection of stickers in Canada
Ottawa, 2019. @trp613
Stickers on the freverse of a sign overlooking the ocean in Spain
Spain, 2020. @sympa_1
A sticker exhibition in Belgium
Stickupexpo, Belgium. @mind_and_makerspace
A wall covered in stickers at a sticker fest.
STKR FST4, Sweden. @regelverk
Stickers on a post outside a store in Christchurch
Christchurch, 2019. @teethlikescrewdrivers

Follow Teeth Like Screwdrivers on Instagram or check out www.teethlikescrewdrivers.com to see more slaps and to be part of the SlapCity events!

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And That Was… April 2020 (Isolation Bubble special)

Last month I ruminated that March was a strange month, of course, April was no less so, almost its entirety experienced in lockdown here in Aotearoa (only moving to ‘Level 3’ with two days to spare). The rest of the world was in a similar position, and with limited space within which to spread our arms, it felt like we started to notice things differently. Our immediate environment became unavoidable (those dirty windows, peeling paint or leaking tap), and the digital realm an escape where physical flee was impossible. As a result, this month’s list is compiled of those things I encountered in the suburban streets directly within my ‘bubble’, and those I enjoyed online. Surprisingly, in a month where the world essentially stopped and hunkered down, who would have thought a list of cool things would be so easy to compile!

Dr Suits gets slap happy…

A sticker made from colourful geometric shapes stuck on a textured background.
One of Dr Suits’ many collage slaps produced during the lockdown. (Photo credit Dr Suits)

The most ubiquitous presence of my suburban bubble has been the subtly diverse array of stickers and paste ups created during the lockdown by Dr Suits. Both tiny and oversized material variations on his abstract studio works on board and glass and his mural works, they are unmistakable, yet distinctive enough to make you stop and look closer. While they have a slick look from distance, their handmade qualities, pulled ink and vinyl cut-outs compiled together to form geometric and gestural collages, make them incredibly interesting to investigate.

Jen_Heads asks what time it is…

A large circular head with an array of speech bubbles asking questions such as 'Is it beer o'clock?' and 'Is it coffee time again?' and
Jen_Heads’ large Lockdown Jen Head paste up.

It wasn’t just Dr Suits representing Fiksate during the lockdown, Jen_Heads was also busy producing her iconic faces, including a large stay-at-home version featuring the questions we have all had swimming through our heads for the last five weeks… Surely it is beer o’clock, because I’m sure coffee time was like an hour ago, right?

Home –  A stay at home mural festival…

Cracked Ink's poster for HOME: A Stay at Home Mural Festival
Cracked Ink’s poster for HOME: A Stay at Home Mural Festival, organised by Pangeaseed, Sea Walls, Alternative Arts Initiative, Whanganui Walls and Stay Home.

Speaking of staying at home (and how can we not at this time?), the good folks at PangeaSeed and the Sea Walls events, along with Alternative Arts Initiative and Whanganui Walls, created a unique response to the pervasive conditions, staging a mural festival where participants painted their own homes and shared across digital platforms. Alongside the ecological concerns at the heart of Pangea Seed’s spirit, this was also a consideration of how to unify artists and utilise art in this strange time. It proved popular, with hundreds of artists spread across the globe painting murals in their backyards and studio spaces. The programme also included conversations with artists and panel discussions, one of which I was happy to be part of, connecting with artists from far afield…

Artists share the love…

The right side torso of a Star Wars Stormtrooper
A section of Mark Catleys Stormtrooper paste-up print out he made available during the lockdown period

Lots of artists have been using their digital platforms to share their work, and some have even made their work, or specifically made things to be, available for people to use, a gesture of community. From Tom Kerr‘s lino cut sticker tutorial (see our post here), to Daken’s colouring in templates, and Mark Catley’s download-able Stormtrooper paste-up, artists have been sharing their talents and encouraging people to get cre-active (yes, I just coined a new term).

Kids take to the streets…

A suburban fence is adorned with an Easter message in chalk.
A suburban fence is adorned with an Easter message in chalk.

I have always believed in the human inclination towards public expressions and the lockdown, much like other periods of distress or great change, has seen people taking to the streets to leave their mark, express themselves of communicate with others. And I’m not just talking about the graffiti and urban art that I am normally fixated on. Footpaths have been commandeered by chalk wielding children, writing and drawing and subverting their function. Likewise, fences have been adorned with messages and symbols, symptomatic of the recognition of the potential of public space as a shared environment.

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DitchLife has a Lino Cut…

The lockdown has given us time to get busy making and doing, and with the magic reach of social media and the digital realm, we have been able to see what some of our favourite folks have been doing to pass the time whilst stuck in a vacancy.

We came across Tom Kerr’s (DitchLife Tattoos) Instagram lesson on how to make lino-cut slaps (using his playful, deadbeat riff on the iconic, punk-ish aesthetic of Shepard Fairey’s ‘Andre The Giant Has A Posse’ as the example) and had to share. Enjoy…

How to make a lino-cut sticker in 5 easy steps:

Step One: Find an idea to copy (nothing is original anymore and all good ideas have been taken, so just rip something off and claim you are doing it as a reference to be cool)

A photgrpah of the iconic Andre the Giant has a Posse sticker


Step Two: Do a draft first, either by hand or digital (when lino cutting, it’s best to go big if you want more detail, especially when first starting out. I went really small with too much detail because it was the last piece of lino I had)

Black and white Tom Kerr Has a Gun design, inpsired by the Andre the Giant sticker


Step Three: Transfer your design onto lino. I do this by drawing the design with pencil then placing it on the lino and tracing over the back of the paper, pressing the pencil from the other side onto your lino (this will also invert your design which is crucial if you’re including type)

The lino cut of the Tom Kerr has a Gun design


Step Four: Cut out the design and cover it in paint or printmaking ink if you have it/can be fucked buying it (it’s really good so I recommend it).


Step Five: Get a sticker and press it face down onto your lino (use a rolling pin or your hand or whatever you want, tbh). I also use masking tape to mark our where the edges of my sticker should be to get ’em roughly in the centre.

The finished Tom Kerr has a Gun stickers

Final tip! Don’t give up! If they look shit that’s kinda cool anyway and you get better every time! Happy sticker making ya’ll…

Follow Tom on Instagram

(This post was taken from Tom’s Instagram post with his permission)

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Jessie Rawcliffe – Close the Door When You Go at LUX Gallery

Jessie Rawcliffe’s figurative works are immediately alluring. The painstaking brush work, the flat blocks of colour that focus the finer detail, and the tight photographic cropping are all recurring effects that combine to explore both the medium of painting, as well as the sense of the ephemeral, the subjects in a state of flux. Figures are coloured with gestures, poses and expressions that serve as tools for communication, notably challenging the submissive female figure historically located in portraiture, confronting the viewer’s intrusive presence. Close the Door When You Go, Rawcliffe’s first solo show, continues the exploration of these themes, the title taking on a passive or aggressive instruction dependent on inflection, either way imploring respite from the outside world.

Oh, and then there are Jessie’s skulls, which come in all sorts of apparitions, including the fruity, revealing the underlying mortality of all life. The sticker versions that find their way onto the streets are definitely some of our favourite slaps going. They may not form part of Close the Door When You Go, but we couldn’t not bring them up!

We can’t wait to see this show!

Close the Door When You Go opens on Friday November 11, from 5:30pm, and will run simultaneously with Tyne Gordon’s show Visitor in CoCA’s Ground Floor Gallery.

Follow Jessie on Instagram

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