This edition of Street Treats is eclectic and varied, ranging from playful whimsy to blunt anti-establishment messaging. That ultimately is the beauty of guerrilla practice (or in the case of some of these works, permissioned but free from curatorial censorship), the opportunity to say what you want, how you want. As contemporary muralism has taken over the popular image of ‘street art’, it has also transformed the imagery and ideology deployed. While this still results in some pretty stunning works occupying our skylines and there are, admittedly, different levels of input and freedom, it is left to the smaller interventions to speak in an unfiltered voice. The content is not always explicitly political, but the act itself is, always. So whether it is a beautiful surreal flower sprouting from a concrete pillar, a constantly recurring pencil, playfully collaged scenarios, vibrant names or scrawled messages that question the colonial history of our city, look and listen, they are speaking to you and about us…
If you have submissions for upcoming Street Treats volumes tag us on Instagram or email your pictures to firstname.lastname@example.org!
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When the Canterbury Museum’s hugely popular Rise exhibition finished in early 2014, the walls of the main exhibition hall were covered with long black curtains, the murals from the show obscured with only teasing snippets still visible for more inquisitive visitors. With Hakē: Street Art Revealed; the Museum has drawn back the curtains, allowing the public the chance to revisit the Rise legacy, while also encountering a new floor-to-wall mural by Tāmaki Makaurau artist Benjamin Work.
A member of the celebrated TMD crew, Aotearoa’s most notable graffiti collective, Work brings urban art credibility, but his involvement also ensures a wider discourse that extends beyond the focus of Rise. Work’s evolution exemplifies the new trajectories of artists reared on graffiti and urban art, while also explicitly exploring the complexities of both cultural institutions and the Pasifika diaspora. Drawing on his Tongan heritage, Work has pushed his art in new directions over the last decade. Inspired by the iconography found on cultural treasures such as ‘akau tau (war clubs), his refined, graphic paintings have sought to find new spaces and ways for audiences to engage with Tonga’s visual culture, both inside institutions and on the streets.
Over the span of a week, Work created Motutapu II, a massive mural that sprawls across the floor and walls of the main exhibition hall. Inspired by the Canterbury Museum’s collection of ‘akau tau, the painting extends outward from two orange diamond shaped mata, or matapā (eyes of the pā), a vertiginous pattern of interlocking black and white lines leading the viewer toward more sacred symbols framing the work. Work explains Motutapu II as a metaphorical representation of ancient gateways marking arrivals and departures of voyaging vaka. ‘Motutapu’ is a name used across Polynesian cultures for sacred or sanctuary islands, neutral spaces for visitors before arrival at the mainland.
In the museum mural, the black and white lines create pathways, leading the viewer to each end of the hall; a hovering māhina (moon) glows in mottled orange to the east, while to the west, a soaring Tavake (Tropicbird) accompanies three figures symbolising Tonga’s chiefly lineage. Inviting viewers into the painted space, while maintaining a reverence for sacred imagery, navigating the complicated task of maintaining traditions and engaging a contemporary audience. After observing the creation of Motutapu II, I had the opportunity to sit down with Benjamin Work to discuss his experiences in Ōtautahi Christchurch, the future directions of his practice, and the experience of working at the Canterbury Museum…
It’s been a busy month for you! It started with the TMD: An Aotearoa Graffiti Story exhibition at The Dowse Art Museum in Lower Hutt, then you arrived here in Ōtautahi to paint a mural for the Etu Pasifika Health Centre with (fellow TMD Crew member) Charles Williams before starting work on your floor-to-wall mural at the Canterbury Museum. Is such a busy lifestyle still enjoyable or do you miss your own bed?
We were talking about this the other night, I have friends whose practice often works at this pace, but I think this has been one of the busiest periods I’ve experienced, including the work prior to my month away. I’ve noticed it’s easy to move from project to project and not take time to be present, to really be in the moment, so that’s something I’m focusing on. And once I’m home, I will have time to process what’s happened.
It must have helped to have had friends and family alongside you for these projects…
Definitely! I can’t function without friends and family. I am a relational person. Most of my life has been experienced in a collective environment, whether it was TMD crew, church settings or amongst my Tongan family. I’m at a point in my life where I have a greater understanding of the way I am, and that’s to help others navigate their way as I find my way.
I assume that is also an influence from your graffiti background, a culture that has a strong sense of collectivism and collaboration, which brings me to the Museum project. The opportunity came from the Museum revealing the wall works from the 2013-14 Rise street art exhibition. The idea was to add a floor mural to extend the narratives around that exhibition. Your work has moved beyond description as graffiti art or street art, both stylistically and contextually, highlighting the evolution of artists who may have roots in those origins. How do you respond to people designating you as a graffiti or street artist?
They are different practices which I want to navigate how and when I want. This is hard for many people to understand inside of their boxes. I don’t want to be referred to as graffiti artist, street artist or a Tongan artist, simply an artist who is telling stories both old and new.
You mention that you have become more comfortable in the studio, but the idea of bringing Tongan iconography to public spaces and giving them a new visibility was a central aspect of your work, how has that intention changed?
It has been an important part of my process but there has been a shift of late due to migrating back to Aotearoa, Covid, time alone and making new work. I have seen a shift in style, painting techniques and even using loose canvas. There was a period where I engaged with a lot of institutions, between 2015 and 2019, and it was important for me to engage with our Tongan treasures and bring them out into the public space. But I’m not sure if that’s going be a focal point going forward. What I’d like to do is use those connections and my platform to connect other Tongans that are searching for those answers with those institutions. Many communities don’t realise that they have access to all the museums that hold our treasures.
Working within cultural institutions you must have to consider the colonial history of such spaces. Do you see yourself as challenging that history from the inside, or are you more concerned with opening doors for people who have not had a relationship with these institutions previously and as such have not been exposed to the treasures they contain?
I hope that the way I move and the way I am, and the work that I make does challenge those places. Naturally I’m a bridge-builder, so for me, engaging with an institution such as the Canterbury Museum, one goal is to reconnect our people with our treasures, but if there are challenges that arise, I have to face them. I don’t go looking for confrontation, but if I come face to face with it, I have to say something because I’ve got the privilege of being in that space and if not me, then who?
Looking back to some of your previous work, like the mural you painted here in Christchurch for From the Ground Up in 2013, there was an explicit narrative unfolding in a relatively conventional pictorial format, but your work now feels much more evocative and suggestive without that overt storytelling, a quality that is evident in the Museum piece.
Graffiti was quite literal, it’s a letter-based art form and I painted my chosen name over and over again. This is me! Know me! Read me! I’m famous! Transitioning away from a graffiti aesthetic in 2011, I realised I didn’t have to be so blatant which led me to engage with the more abstract iconography found on our traditional ngatu (bark cloth). The inspiration for that particular mural came from reading Olaf Ruhen’s book called Minerva Reef, a true story of Tongan boxers on their way to Aotearoa for a tournament who were shipwrecked on the Minerva Reef for four months. I used iconography to communicate this story on the wall. It was a little strange at the time painting it in Christchurch but that shifted when I found out descendants of some of the survivors lived in Christchurch and visited the wall.
Did that evolution come about as your exploration of Tongan artefacts such as ‘akau tau (war clubs) and tapa cloth deepened? What were your experiences with those types of objects growing up?
Ngatu bark cloth, fala (floor mats) and ta’ovala, the mats we wear around our waists, are filled with mostly abstract motifs which are embedded with ancient knowledge, we engage with them from birth. We have an intimate knowledge of them, of their texture, and even their smell. We had ngatu bark cloth and mats folded under our bed, most Tongans do, that’s where you store them, where else do you store these humongous things? Ngatu bark cloth was my first point of reference when experimenting with other mediums, but the war clubs were love at first sight. I was first introduced to them in a book called The Art of Tonga by Keith St. Cartmail, I was instantly intrigued by the iconography carved into them. I wanted to work them into my practice, especially the warrior figures.
I was lucky enough to join you when you were examining some of the ‘akau tau in the Museum’s collection, and I was struck by the small scale of the carved designs on the clubs, possibly because I was familiar with your work’s larger scale, which has been an intentional shift to make them more visible…
I wanted to use my platform to tell the world about our Tongan iconography. I wanted the scale to be impactful and for our people to be proud once they had learned that these are our designs, that they come from our ancestors for us. What better way was there than public murals? I feel I’ve started something that other Tongans will continue with bigger and better murals.
You said that living in Tonga you noticed young Tongan men seem to physically engage with their surroundings, constantly touching or hitting surfaces. That kinesthetic or tactile tendency becomes important in the context of your work as you have to think about how people engage with artefacts and art within institutions. I know you had to grapple with the idea of people potentially walking over the floor mural and that influenced the design, especially the elements drawn from more revered sources. That question of how to treat objects of culture and how we engage with them must be a central concern for you, especially as you shift between sacred cultural objects, utilitarian objects, public spaces and white cube galleries…
My process evolves slowly, I’m OK with it, as long as I’m still exploring different ways to communicate through my work, the speed of change doesn’t matter. Living in Tonga has challenged me to think differently when it comes to materials and the way I present my work. I’ve seen my people touching and desiring to hold my work rather than simply viewing it in a gallery, and I’m now OK with that, but if you asked me five years ago, I would have had a heart attack!
What was the process for the Museum piece, from exploring the collection of Tongan artefacts to producing this massive floor to wall mural? What are you looking for as inspiration in those objects and how do you then translate it to a massive mural work?
An important part of this project was me coming down to Christchurch viewing the space. I was emailed the specs for the floor and walls, but if I’m able to see the physical space, I’m able to respond to the space better. Likewise, with the ‘akau tau, I’ve seen many throughout my years of research but I’m always looking for unique motifs within each museum’s collection. I had a similar experience at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York with Dr Maia Nuku (Associate Curator of Oceanic Art at the famous museum). She took us into the collection of Tongan treasures, which is small, but there was a club there with this small motif of two warriors reaching out towards each other, their hands above their heads. That motif then triggered the idea for a mural which she organised in Spanish Harlem. In the Canterbury Museum’s collection is a beautiful abstraction of a Tropicbird which I included in the mural.
By coincidence, the mural you painted with Charles featured a tropicbird as well…
It was meant to be. There was no prior communication on that. Even though it was a Pasifika Health Centre, it would go against Charles’ kaupapa of painting foreign birds in Aotearoa. The Tropicbird is known as an Amokura in Māori and Tavake in Tongan and is a sacred and significant bird that can still be sighted from time to time in Aotearoa. It is said some elders would cry as it was a tohu or sign reminding them of Hawaiki.
You have admitted your connection to Christchurch is rather limited, but some of your Scottish heritage does trace back here. Being born and raised in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland and also living in Tonga, what have you made of your experience in Ōtautahi?
I’ve enjoyed Ōtautahi, but I definitely love Tāmaki! No, I visit a place and try to feel the environment, watch and engage with people of that place. Both Māori and Pakeha have been shaped by the landscape, seascape, mountains, and rivers. My great-great-grandparents migrated from the Shetland Islands to Christchurch and are buried in Linwood Cemetery – something I’m learning more about recently. I’ve engaged with the land and people down here, wondering if there are any attributes of that generation in the people I’ve met. I have questions: Why did they choose Ōtautahi Christchurch? Did they walk these same streets? Did they learn the story of this land?
Have you had the chance to engage with members of the Pasifika community here in Ōtautahi during this project?
Associate Curator Hatesa Seumanutafa went above and beyond her job description in supporting this project. Having a person from Moana Oceania with our treasures in the Museum is vital! Not only for our material culture but as a lighthouse for our people to connect with within the institution. Ōtautahi has a unique Pasifika story, one that is sometimes dominated by the Pasifika stories from Auckland and Wellington. I was able to connect with some of the amazing community here and make space for us around a kava session in the Canterbury Museum indigenising space to talanoa and tend to relationships – the first of many.
Dr Suits’ bright abstractions have become notable over the last few years as he has eschewed the tendencies towards representation in favour of blocks of colour and dizzying diagonal lines. We were recently lucky enough to support the Fiksate-based artist as he produced Crossings inside the East X East red zone in Burwood. Applied directly to the now unused road of the green space, the work plays on the natural shadows and road markings to coat the concrete in bands of colour. Created over several days with fellow New Brighton legend Porta, the work buzzes with colourful blocks – yellow, pink, blue, black and white stacked and interlocked. With subtle details such as small yellow lines extending off the main body and slightly offset lines, the work is both rewarding of inspection and striking from distance. Dr Suits intended the work as an invitation to play, a work that people can explore from inside rather than gaze at from outside, adding another interesting element to the red zone environment and suggesting the possibility for more interventions…
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April has come and gone and while the year moves at a steady pace, there has been plenty to keep us entertained. Although the weather is getting a little less predictable, it is providing a late flurry of sunshine (at least after the inevitable chilly mornings), extending the window for outdoor activities like painting murals! While there have been a number of new outdoor works to explore, there have also been some very cool things going on indoors as well. Exhibitions like Ghostcat’s Shadow Town at Fiksate Gallery and the Canterbury Museum’s Hakē: Street Art Revealed, have provided popular experiences. As always, we have a recap of what tickled our fancy, compiled as an easy-to-follow list! So, without further ado, here is our And That Was… April 2021…
Ghost’s Shadow Town @ Fiksate
Ghostcat’sShadow Town was highly anticipated and the crowd that showed up for the opening night at Fiksate were not disappointed. The collection of miniatures drawn from Christchurch’s urban environment were hot tickets, with people drawn to the beautiful intricate details and the associated nostalgia. With just a few days left at the time of writing, if you haven’t made it to Shadow Town, hurry!
Benjamin Work @ The Canterbury Museum
When the Canterbury Museum were presented with a window to reveal the legacy works from the massively successful Rise exhibition, they also wanted to add a new work to the main exhibition hall. Enter Auckland artist Benjamin Work, whose massive, striking floor mural Motutapu II draws from the iconography found on the Tongan ‘Akau Tau (war clubs) in the Museum’s collection. The work adds a new element to the surrounding wall paintings from Rise, highlighting the diverse trajectories of urban artists over the last decade.
TMD x DTR x Ysek X Chile One in New Brighton
On a cold Saturday morning (the night after the Shadow Town opening), a heavyweight collection of artists got together in New Brighton for a painting jam. Local artists Dcypher and Ikarus of the DTR crew, Christchurch-based Chilean artists YSEK and Chile One, and Auckland’s Phat1, Diva and Dyle of the legendary TMD crew, freshened up a popular New Brighton wall with traditional graffiti pieces and characters, creating a legacy of the meeting of some of New Zealand’s biggest talent.
Charles Williams and Benjamin Work @ Etu Pasifika Health
In the wake of the launch of the TMD: An Aotearoa Graffiti Story at The Dowse in Lower Hutt, crew members Benjamin Work and Charles Williams arrived in Christchurch to paint a mural on the new Etu Pasifika Health Centre. The work combines the signature styles of the two artists with a design conceived by fellow TMD member Janine Williams. The background is coloured in a bright blue, black, yellow and white pattern, with Work’s Tongan warrior chief figure on the left couched within the architectural framework, while Williams’ depiction of a Red-tailed Tropicbird soars upwards from the bottom right. The harmonious combination of styles creating an impressive new work for Christchurch.
TMD: An Aotearoa Graffiti Story @ The Dowse
It may not have been in Christchurch, but I couldn’t leave out my trip to Wellington for the opening of the TMD: An Aotearoa Graffiti Story at Lower Hutt’s The Dowse Museum. Combining history and installations that spoke to the culture and roots of New Zealand’s most iconic graffiti crew with a group show of crew members’ contemporary practice, the exhibition struck all the right chords. The additional benefits of seeing the crew members painting murals around Lower Hutt and then as part of a panel discussion topped off the weekend. I highly recommend – go see it!
And That Was… April 2021 – what would you add to the list? Comment below to let us know!
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Wellington. It’s a personal favourite. The capital city is perfect for an urban weekend away, with it’s cool bars, vibrant street life and innumerable cafes for mornings after (personally, no trip to Wellington is complete without a breakfast burrito from Sweet Mother’s Kitchen). While Ōtautahi will always be home, a trip to Wellington always leaves me planning a return, looking for reasons to make my way back soon. The beauty of the city for me is that the main event (Wellington is a favourite gig venue personally) is supported so well by the city’s additional charms – I always take a day to simply wander, up and down Cuba Street, along the waterfront, up the hills, and in doing so, catch the urban art that marks its walls and alleys. From big murals by well-known local artists, to the array of smaller additions, Wellington’s urban art is always fun to explore and seems a good fit with the city’s lively profile and physical layout. From painted boats to schools of sharks, piles of skulls to bicycle rides, playful to meaningful, what follows is a postcard from Wellington’s streets!
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High and low, under and above, inside and outside, protected and exposed. The city presents innumerable contrasts, all of which can provide opportunities for intrepid artists. From graffiti writers marking spaces no one else sees as useful or functional, to street artists creating moments of engagement in unexpected places, a city is always full of sites to explore and alter. From rooftops to wooden hoardings, lampposts to stop signs, revealing, playful and existential interventions can be found across and beyond our lines of sight. This diversity of locations is matched by the diversity of practice, with no material form invalid or off-limits; Chero One’s rocket ships, painted scrolls, or even hot sauce-filled buttons warning you not to do what you so urgently want to do. Always mimicking the visual culture that we come to expect, such interventions play on our tendency toward assumption. Popular culture rifs depend on your recognition of trends and eras, like digital memes, requiring some savvy understanding. Anti-advertising grasps the ubiquity and absurdity of commercial communications. Graffiti is an expected response to our dictum that success means having your photo on a billboard or the back of a bus. Ultimately, the streets are full of life, both official and unofficial, you just have to look closer and further, higher and lower, under and above, and start to sort out the relationships…
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I first met Rowee the Kiwi when he joined a street art tour I was hosting. His camera was clicking from the first minute to the last, and not just capturing the murals and more prominent works we were exploring, he would often shoot off down an alleyway or into a vacant lot to capture something much smaller in scale. It was clear Rowee was what you might call a ‘street art hunter’, an urban explorer who understood the way artists can transform a cityscape. And he has seen a lot, his travels have ensured his collection of flicks includes some amazing works by renowned and anonymous artists, many that have since dissolved, leaving his records as a legacy. Having returned from living in Australia, he settled back in Invercargill, a city he has roots in, and this shift has coincided with the emergence of urban art in that part of world, notably through the effort and work of DEOW (both his mural work and his organisation of South Sea Spray, an urban art festival that attracts impressive rosters to the picturesque south).
In Invers, Rowee the Kiwi explores Invercargill through his photographs of DEOW’s work and centrally, the massive mural Mia… So let’s take a trip down south…
Mick Jagger famously said “Invercargill is the arsehole of the world”, but then… he’d never been to Bluff. Having lived here during the 70s and 80s, I certainly didn’t have much to complain about. Which is why it was such an easy decision the retire back here.
I first learnt of Danny Owen, aka DEOW, through my grandson Zac, who was doing work with him, mostly on rooftops and factory walls. This one is in the YMCA building on Tay Street, created with Ikarus from the DTR crew and members of the SLK crew, Devos, Omen and Dias.
After many years of apparent neglect Invercargill’s inner city is showing signs of a renaissance. Most of a whole city block is being redeveloped. Plans seem somewhat fluid but already important works by DEOW have already gone.
The Kelvin Hotel underwent a face lift in recent years and a lot of people were interested in what was hidden under the wrap…
At the time this was the biggest work of art in the Southern Hemisphere. Now surpassed by Adnate’s public housing block work in Melbourne and more recently by the Adnate Hotel in Perth.
The face of Mia revealed…
Demolition around Mia…
DEOW and Mia…
The fear is that most of Mia will be covered by a proposed accommodation block that may be built on the now vacant block beside it.
One piece that has fallen to the developers’ bulldozer is DEOW’s magnificent Tua’s Story of the Ghost Bird…
One that lives on is, to quote DEOW himself: “The ghost bird” – Ngāi Tahu / Rakiura’s Tītī.
It is said when the ghost bird takes flight on the new moon, all tītī scamper from their islands and start their epic journey north. The girl symbolises the next generation, the next one to tell the legend. The Southern Lights reflect over the South Coast and the Foveaux Straight, as the birds glide past the skyline of Bluff – Omaui – Centre Island – Riverton – The Longwoods – Takatimu, all seen from the city of ‘Water & Light’.
To see more of Rowee the Kiwi’s urban art photographs, follow him on Instagram…
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2020. Sigh. I still remember the first day of 2020, the sun was an ominously fiery orb in a grey sky, the result of the marauding bush fires in Australia. There were intriguing stories of a virus outbreak in China. There were rumblings of an escalating conflict between the U.S. and Iran. Let’s just say the markers were there.
2020 just continually threw curveballs. While we spent a lot more time at home (and for some legitimately feared the supermarket), faced massive uncertainty around our futures, and watched the insanity of the U.S. political system play out (t.b.c…) while death counts and infection rates continued to spiral and spike, it is important to look for positives amongst the icebergs, like the vital discourses arising from the Black Lives Matter movement, or our embrace of new avenues to enjoy the things that seemed so far away for much of 2020 (online exhibitions and concerts, and personally, Josh Gad’s Reunited Apart series, where the casts of Back to the Future, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and The Goonies got back together via Zoom). Good or bad, the effects of 2020 (which themselves extend back far further than those 12 months) will linger far longer, surely influencing our behaviour and output in untold ways, from the way we make art to the institutions that police our communities. Indeed, the relative sense of calm normality here in Godzone is a far cry from distant shores, where 2021 is already following an equally hectic path…
With that reflection in mind, we once again reached out to a heap of our friends to look back over the last twelve months and how their year played out. We asked each contributor five questions; the changes they faced in 2020, their lockdown experience, their creative highlights and the art that mattered in 2020, and their contingency plans for 2021…
Here’s what some of our favourite Christchurch creatives made of 2020…
What changes did 2020 bring for you personally? The biggest change for me personally was a new focus and direction within my Jen Head works, which came about through a friend’s request for a birthday card, that I then developed further over lockdown, and it’s just carried on. It has been a sort of ‘ah-ha’ moment. I’m loving this direction, it’s more simplified and has focus, but with endless options to explore, and best of all, it has been well received. I’m enjoying doing personalised commissions at the moment. I’m loving painting realism again and when combined with the abstract character of my Jen Heads, it creates impact.
The biggest change for Fiksate, is packing up and moving to a new location. It has been a stressful few months, but I’m super excited about the new space, it’s a warehouse style spot [54 Hawdon Street, Sydenham] and we can’t wait to start fresh in the new year.
What got you through lockdown? The fact my three-year-old son, Frank, still takes naps got me through! I could count on those two or three hours for my alone time, to create artwork, to have some space. We packed up a lot of studio material and made a desk space in our spare room during lockdown. It was a godsend. Dr Suits [Jen’s husband and Fiksate co-owner] was working at a large scale in the backyard, but I enjoyed sitting and really focusing. I wrote and illustrated a children’s book, developed my Jen Heads and played with patterns and ideas.
Dr Suits was a massive support and did all the supermarket shopping, but there was never enough beer! Our neighbours were amazing and the North Beach crew in general, we could keep in touch through the fences or distanced walks. Facebook video calls daily with my Mum/Frank’s Nana were also helpful!
What has been your personal artistic/creative highlight of 2020? The start of the year was a banger with the Ōrua Paeroa mural in New Brighton. I was able to take part in Shared Lines, an exhibition curated and organised by Audrey Baldwin and colleagues [Now displayed in the new Spark building on the corner of Hereford and Colombo Streets]. I took part in the Conscious Club’s SDG Exhibition, which was amazing. I also organised Perspective – Women in Urban Art, a line-up full of top female urban artists in New Zealand, as well as international graffiti artist Glam. Perspective was super special, we produced a zine to accompany the exhibition which included amazing insights into the creative backstories, challenges, and successes of the artists. Dr. Suits, Porta and I also completed a large mural at Switch New Brighton. It was really fun, and it felt good to bring colour to our neighbourhood.
What pieces of art or cultural events, local or international, caught your eye and which do you think will define 2020? This question is too hard! There are too many in my mind to list!
What are your plans if 2021 turns out worse than 2020? My plan for 2021, if it turns out worse than 2020, is to focus on what brings me and my family joy, from the small things in my daily, to bigger actions, like giving and sharing. To really focus on nature and getting out there and into it. I’ll try not to ‘stress drink’ as much as I did throughout this year, haha!
What changes did 2020 bring for you personally? At the start of the year I had secured a massive job, I was really excited as it would have been one of my biggest murals yet, but unfortunately due to Covid-19 and the economic recession, the client had to cancel which sucked! So that was my first realisation how serious the pandemic would be for the rest of the year being self-employed. But besides that, I had a relatively steady year in my art/design business, it got pretty scary there for a bit but the Government and CreativeNZ really pulled through for self-employed creatives, which I am very grateful for. Other than that, I have had a HUGE rise this year of people asking me for free or cheap work which really fucks me off. My other business that I co-own, The Conscious Club, definitely struggled as we mainly host events, but we managed to keep going and pulled through together in these rough times. We even got a studio/retail space in town which is pretty awesome.
What got you through lockdown? My partner and I live together, and he had been going full conspiracy mode since the start of January as our friend was over in Hong Kong and telling us how crazy the pandemic was and that it could come to New Zealand. So, by the time it got here we were quite prepared but still pretty freaked out. We both used the time to be creative. I still had work I could do from home, and my partner was making a hip-hop album. The only downside was both our studios were in the same room, so it was pretty loud and distracting. Other than that, we went on lots of walks with the dog and lots of Zoom calls with mates. It wasn’t too bad apart from when you had to go to the supermarket!
What has been your personal artistic/creative highlight of 2020? I have been in a lot more exhibitions this year which has been cool, and I also curated a massive exhibition fundraising and bringing awareness to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals [SDGs]. Also, I have been working with a really cool producer from the UK doing album covers for some big names in hip-hop. Also, the Risograph print run with Fiksate and M/K Press was really cool. That’s all I can remember, I think I have blacked out a lot of this year, haha…
What pieces of art or cultural events, local or international, caught your eye and which do you think will define 2020? I think the anti-racism movement is a huge part of 2020 and from my experience there are a lot of people that are becoming more aware of racism and what it looks like and what people of colour go through every day. I still feel like there is a big divide, and I can see the opposite where there are a lot of people pushing back on the movement too. Getting in amongst it all can be pretty intense and overwhelming sometimes to say the least. This year me and my friends started a campaign called Stand The Fuck Up, sharing the story of our friend who was racially attacked at a party and ended up on the news. We have an event surrounding this planned for 2021 to continue the conversation.
What are your plans if 2021 turns out worse than 2020? Hmm, I think I’ll probably head for the bush, I can’t take much more!
P.K. (graffiti writer, photographer)
What changes did 2020 bring for you personally? This year I moved to a new house, where I can have an actual studio space, which has given me the opportunity to experiment with more things and be closer to the city than I was back at my old place.
What got you through lockdown? Once I figured out it was chill to leave the house without getting stopped in the street, I had a great time in lockdown. I really enjoyed going for long walks and bike rides while it was quiet. The cleaner air was awesome! Although I do feel it has made me even more reclusive than I was before lockdown happened. I’m still not very used to being in situations with lots of people even months after it.
What has been your personal artistic/creative highlight of 2020? Something that stands out in my memory of 2020 is the group show A Tribe Called Haz put on at Outsiders, Haz Called a Tribe, that I was fortunate to be a part of. It was really cool to see such a good and diverse selection of work from people who often don’t exhibit their creations publicly.
What pieces of art or cultural events, local or international, caught your eye and which do you think will define 2020? Props to Weks, Vesil and Dofey for winning graf, the Green Party for all their good work in parliament this year, and to everyone that’s dedicated their year to trying to make the world a better place.
What are your plans if 2021 turns out worse than 2020? Never plan anything.
What changes did 2020 bring for you personally? I’m anti-social as shit, so it didn’t affect me too much apart from delays on a couple of projects, haha. But most, if not all, of those already had funding secured so they were just postponed until after the initial lock down period. Isolation was tight: be lazy a.f. and don’t feel guilty about it, hahaha!
What got you through lockdown? I hang out with my girlfriend all day erry day anyway, so it wasn’t that much different. We did groceries like real adults for a change though and made more interesting dinners cos there was so much more time. I don’t remember if I even did any drawings or arts, but maybe I did…
What has been your personal artistic/creative highlight of 2020? It’d be a toss-up between the South Frame mural and the New Brighton Outdoor Art Festivalproduction. Both were rad concepts and large walls that incorporated large amounts of traditional graffiti pieces and elements. Also, making some 3D diorama street scenes and other kinda sculpture related works was cool.
What pieces of art or cultural events, local or international, caught your eye and which do you think will define 2020? Honestly, I’m a bit of a savage and don’t really even look at or follow art or cultural shit. Fuck racists anyway, if you needed BLM to tell you that shit is fucked up out here, you’re a goddamn idiot. Was it even positive or just more divisive than ever? Weks and Pesto’s killer run during lockdown is my favourite art movement of 2020, hands down. Vesil and Dofey get the honourable mentions too, straight up crushing the city.
What are your plans if 2021 turns out worse than 2020? Keep doing my thing and watch the world burn down around me. I’m more afraid of meteors crashing into the earth than catching a cold. Realistically I’d be kinda keen for the planet to descend into complete chaos and anarchy, we’re too comfortable anyway…
What changes did 2020 bring for you personally? One of the biggest changes in 2020 for me involved experimenting in the studio during lock down, which was well overdue. But once the lockdowns were lifted work definitely picked back up pretty quickly. It felt like it almost gave people an extra drive to get new or pending projects underway.
What got you through lockdown? What got me through lockdown was painting canvases in the studio for sure, nothing serious just painting for therapy really. Obviously, friends and family definitely help in times like that as well. I have friends in the States who are still dealing with the whole problem and its endless ramifications. Just trying to be supportive for them in any way possible was and still is a focus of mine.
What has been your personal artistic/creative highlight of 2020? Some of my biggest and most complex projects to date have happened in 2020, so I can’t complain. All the big walls we’ve painted as a crew would have to be my personal favourites, from the Jungle tribute by the Moorhouse tracks, to the South Frame wall and the NBOAF seaside wall, to name a few.
What pieces of art or cultural events, local or international, caught your eye and which do you think will define 2020? For sure all the looting and rioting and peaceful protests that were attached to the Black Lives Matter movement. And all the street parties after Trump lost the election! America has had a real bi-polar year! I do feel 2020 was a super productive year for graffiti and street art internationally.
What are your plans if 2021 turns out worse than 2020? If 2021 is worse than 2020, I’m going to make the most of it in the studio and really try to produce a large body of work for a show in 2022!
What changes did 2020 bring for you personally? My studies went fully online which just made me have a lot more control over time. I found myself able to relocate my study to evening where I was more productive anyway, and use my days to go out (while we weren’t in lock down). Everything that happened in 2020 gave me the opportunity to find my love for photography again.
What got you through lockdown? Netflix, routine, university studies, naps. Boring things mainly. I wish I could be one of those cool people who were super productive during that time.
What has been your personal artistic/creative highlight of 2020? Being part of the Perspective exhibition at Fiksate gallery. But also just learning how to set aside time for creative projects.
What pieces of art or cultural events, local or international, caught your eye and which do you think will define 2020? I think that celebrity Imagine cover captures 2020 pretty great. And if you wanna get more deep than just how shit it was, the reaction to it was a great example of people (maybe) starting to understand that different people in the same society have different experiences. Whether it’s black people vs white people’s experience with the cops or rich vs poor people with the pandemic.
What are your plans if 2021 turns out worse than 2020? More naps.
What changes did 2020 bring for you personally? I guess my biggest change was a steely determination to get out and put stuff up rather than take a photo for Instagram to show people what I had put up. I pretty much shut all my social media accounts at the start of the year and only restarted my sticker one when my #slapcitycollab started up. I am always on the cusp of shutting it all down. I’ve heard Flickr is making a comeback amongst sticker artists!
What got you through lockdown? Two things: A battery powered chainsaw and the #slapcitycollab (that eventually morphed into #slapcitymashup). I started doing a lockdown challenge, but the inspiration words were a bit ‘meh’, so I wrote out a list of artists I wanted to mashup/collab with my stuff and just started there. Then it turned into 20 days, then 40 days, then 60 days… A whole bunch of rad artists from all over the world got involved and some awesome collaborations came out of it. I was so hyped to see @awasgaga doing a huge Teeth Like Screwdrivers wall for his entry and getting a mashup sticker made with Ocky_bop was pretty epic!
Also, I have a nice garden now.
What has been your personal artistic/creative highlight of 2020? The Slap City Sticker Workshops at Fiksate have been huge for me. We started them at the end of last year and while they obviously stopped during lockdown, when we came out of all that it seemed even more important for us to get together and hang out. While the rest of the world dealt with Covid-19, we were able to sit, draw, chat, have a drink then go out into the street and sprinkle a bit of love around the city. We are fucking lucky, really. Slapcity family!
What pieces of art or cultural events, local or international, caught your eye and which do you think will define 2020? As I said, we are pretty damn lucky here in New Zealand to be able to host art shows, wander the streets and look at stuff and hang out together. Other places are not so lucky. So, my highlight this year happened right at the end in the good old US of A.
The DC Sticker Expo 5.0 was obviously not going to happen in real life this year, so they put the whole show on virtually. You can wander around the gallery and zoom in on stickers and pieces. They did a virtual treasure hunt and I have spent a fair bit of time just looking around. So good! (Keep your eye out for a couple of pencils in there!) Peel Magazine (which used to run in the early 2000s) started a new project after a decade or so: ‘Peel Magazine has a posse’. The basic premise was to design your own version of the classic ‘Andre The Giant has a posse’ sticker and get them all together in one book. Shepard Fairey gave it the green light and it just got printed. Stoked that my design got a full-page spread!
What are your plans if 2021 turns out worse than 2020? To just keep doing shit that makes me happy, I guess. I’m stoked to see friends getting the recognition they deserve. I’m constantly inspired by seeing other people doing amazing things. I like the idea of getting my stuff bigger. I’m going to probably fall out with Instagram again, keep skating a long way, keep buying more records and still be grinning from ear to ear whenever I start up my old car!
What changes did 2020 bring for you personally? The biggest change for me in 2020 was my relocation from the UK to NZ. Moving on my own to the opposite side of the world was always going to be a challenge. As well as saying goodbye to my family and friends, I also said goodbye to my regular pasting crew. I knew I had to find fellow street artists to connect with in Christchurch. Luckily, the Slap City events at Fiksate Gallery helped me enormously with that! Finding this group helped me to not only connect with street artists, but I made friends. Inevitably this helped me settle in. It has also influenced my style, too. I’ve done lots more stickering and started making handmade stickers too, which I hadn’t done before I moved here.
What got you through lockdown? Lockdown was an interesting time. I had just arrived in the country and I didn’t have my current network of friends. My furniture, which I shipped from the UK, got delayed. I was in an empty house (no bed, no couch, no TV, no WiFi!), and on my own. I kind of enjoyed having time to myself and having space to think. I spent the time doing yoga, preparing handmade stickers and making plenty of video calls with family and friends back home in the UK.
What has been your personal artistic/creative highlight of 2020? My highlight this year was taking part in Perspective, an exhibition of women in urban art at Fiksate. It made me really happy to be asked to participate and to have my art showcased with lots of talented artists. It was an exciting project to take part in.
What pieces of art or cultural events, local or international, caught your eye and which do you think will define 2020? What stands out for me in 2020 is how lock down and quarantine seemed to bring artists together from all over the world… So many lockdown art collaborations were being done… I think a lot were initiated by Teeth Like Screwdrivers! I did a lot of collaborations too during lockdown. I guess we all had time, and that’s wonderful.
What are your plans if 2021 turns out worse than 2020? At this stage I have no particular plans for 2021. I think what 2020 has taught me is that life is so unpredictable, no one knows what is around the corner. I’ll continue to make art and spread the spoon love.
What changes did 2020 bring for you personally? One of the biggest changes for 2020 was not being able to head overseas. I’d been psyching myself up, planning to head out into the world and see some sights and experience other ways of life. As to changes in work, I’ve moved away from painting with watercolour into painting primarily with ink. I’ve also used traditional American tattooing designs as inspiration a lot more than I have in previous years.
What got you through lockdown? Pretty much all my energy during lockdown was directed towards painting, DJing or running. I’d wake up around seven each morning, chuck on a podcast and just paint at the kitchen table until I got hungry then I’d make breakfast and carry-on painting. I definitely produced the most works I’ve ever made in my life during that period. Then if the inspiration fountain was running a little dry, I’d jump on the DJ setup we (the Winton Street crew) had also set up in the kitchen. I began getting really into running to combat the claustrophobia I’d feel from spending every day in the kitchen. Everyone knows how good exercise is, so I don’t really need to gas up running and its benefits!
What has been your personal artistic/creative highlight of 2020? My highlights would definitely include Halves on an Exhibition, which Reece Brooker and I had at Outsiders in March (pre-lockdown), then Haz Called A Tribe, the first group show Becca Barclay and I put together at Outsiders in July (post-lockdown). It featured two-and-a-bit handfuls of talented locals/pals. The night got pretty large! I also had my first month-long exhibition filling up all the walls at Black & White Coffee Origins (thanks Chris!), it was an awesome experience, and I learnt a lot.
What pieces of art or cultural events, local or international, caught your eye and which do you think will define 2020? The BLM protests and the USA 2020 election featuring COVID-19 will definitely be the most “2020” thing. You wouldn’t believe it if it wasn’t true, absolutely unreal!
What are your plans if 2021 turns out worse than 2020? Probably learn how to cook, haha! (I can’t cook)
What changes did 2020 bring for you personally? Art wise, the biggest change that 2020 brought for me was probably the retirement of a particular style of work and the pseudonym under which all that work was made. With freedom from the confinement of that one style, I’ve been able to delve into producing work under my own name that has been floating around in my brain for a while. New work. New materials. New fun.
What got you through lockdown? Skateboarding every day in the car park next to my house made lockdown super bearable for me. Luckily, I had a pretty decent supply of art materials as well and with the extra time on my hands it was good to tinker away on plenty of new stuff. With the small amounts of “real work” that I had to do at home and skateboarding and good flat mates and art to work on, lockdown was surprisingly good. I was very lucky.
What has been your personal artistic/creative highlight of 2020? I would have to say the retirement of the ‘Uncle Harold’ pseudonym has been a huge highlight, such a weight off my shoulders that was obviously well overdue. As far as a particular project I was a part of in 2020 that was a highlight, it would have to be the See Me Skateboards project. A bunch of epic local artists got to go into schools and run workshops with the kids painting their own skateboards. It was awesome seeing kids realise art doesn’t always have to be super serious and boring and they got to go crazy with it and experiment with all sorts for materials and styles. Seeing all 200 of the kids’ boards exhibited at the 013 Gallery was fucking rad too.
What pieces of art or cultural events, local or international, caught your eye and which do you think will define 2020? Reading this question, particularly the ‘2020’ part, regarding what pieces of art stood out, my mind instantly jumped to all the Covid-19 conspiracy theories written in chalk on the Bridge of Remembrance in town. I walked past new messages every day and I’m not sure which had more mistakes, the facts that supported those theories, or the actual spelling mistakes in the messages themselves. That’s pretty fucking 2020 if you ask me.
What are your plans if 2021 turns out worse than 2020? At the moment my life seems to be way more of a shit show than 2020 or 2021 could ever be, loooooool. Come at me 2021, I’m already way ahead of ya! Hahahahaha…
What changes did 2020 bring for you personally? 2020 was the year of change! The whole world is going through a cosmic shift. At the same time, my personal world also went through HUGE changes. I managed to get married, go on a honeymoon, renovate my house and have a baby all within the year of Covid-19. (That’s just the main stuff!) With all of that put together, change is inevitable. I only got to host one show at my gallery (The 413 Local), we put it on after the lockdown. It was called Isolation and the artists showed work either made in or inspired by the New Zealand lockdown. Before Covid-19, I had hoped of putting on at least two or three shows. But alas, plans change. I did end up trying a lot of different mediums and techniques that I have never used. The changes around me allowed me to become more experimental and less precious about my art. I tried my hand at watercolours, pushed myself with Copic markers, and made my first bootleg toy. All while also having fun with my usual tools and materials. My main focus for my personal art this year though was drawing and making my first comic book. I released A Dog’s Mind (Issue 1) with the thought “There are no such things as mistakes, just happy accidents” in mind. (Thanks Bob Ross!)
What got you through lock down? Definitely my wife, Sammie, she pushed me to create and make things when I fell into the trap of Playstation and potato chips. But also, a lot of podcasts, I’ve been on a real scary story/horror and live play 5E D&D buzz this year. Music is a big one. Lots of O.G. hip-hop, Fall Out Boy and I ain’t afraid to say it, Lewis Capaldi. Then reading, I’m really into non-fiction lately, and a healthy dose of comic books, of course! I have actually been moving away from the big two (Marvel and DC) lately and finding more indie/underground artists and books, which is really refreshing.
What has been your personal artistic/creative highlight of 2020? So, I also joined a local comic group called Funtime Comics. We meet once a month and talk and draw comics and hang out. Every year they produce a graphic novel from artists all over New Zealand. I got published in their special Covid-19 issue and will have work in their next issue as well. So, on top of hand-producing the first issue of my own comic, and starting the next issue, I will be in two Funtime comics as well. Pretty chuffed with that to be fair! I also did my own version of Inktober called Daktober. I did 31 prompted ink drawings. It did take me like two months longer than everyone else to complete, but my daughter Clarke was born just after I started, so I kind of had a good excuse! But to tell the truth, she is probably the greatest thing I have ever had a hand in making. Clarke is definitely my biggest highlight this year!
What pieces of art or cultural events, local or international, caught your eye and which do you think will define 2020? As I was reading this question, instantly the BLM movement came to mind. How could it not? Tragic events that are still shaping worldwide generational protests. Compare that with taping a banana to a wall, I don’t think it stacks up… Not only did I see art come from the reaction to the BLM movement, but it’s still on going. From fine art, graffiti, music, there is a massive influence. It seems to me that the arts are not only a tool but also a release for artists all over the globe to tell others about their emotions and experiences. That’s what the arts are for, right? To give a message, leave a mark, communicate. It’s not often that a culture-changing event like BLM happens. A Van Gogh painting got verified this year. A Salvador Dali painting might have been found in a thrift store. Both are amazing events that took place this year. Both add to their narratives in the space of society. But it is the old guard. BLM has a spark of new energy. Watching statues of Confederate generals fall and being replaced by A Surge of Power, a work by Marc Quinn and Jen Reid depicting a young black female protestor raising her hand with the Black Power salute, was powerful. Listening to the stories and political knowledge woven together with beats from the likes of Run the Jewels or Tobe Nwigwe, or seeing a painting by Shaquille-Aaron Keith, while reading a poem he wrote to accompany it, I feel like there has been a shift. BLM was a massive push in the right direction. A direction with many events and situations that seem to have been culminating the last couple of years, have come together. Looking to the future, I feel under-represented people from all walks of life, extending beyond BLM, will not only find their voices in all genres of the art world, but they will dominate it, leading the way for more diverse storytelling, bringing more people together.
What are your plans if 2021 turns out worse than 2020? Not too sure, but I got my crow-bar ready for the zombie apocalypse (it’s the superior choice for that situation).
What changes did 2020 bring for you personally? I’d planned to spend a lot more time out of Christchurch and lean on some North Island connections to push my work getting seen in other places. I definitely had to put this on hold but managed to change my focus to making some stuff I’d had in my head for a whole so overall I came out reasonably unscathed.
What got you through lockdown? Having a routine but also being fluid enough to decide each day with what it was that I needed (emotionally, physically) and letting myself deviate as required… Having my studio at home, checking in with my close friends, Star Wars, our espresso machine, a boxing bag, oh and the Covid-19 Wage Subsidy!
What has been your personal artistic/creative highlight of 2020? Lockdown gave me time and space to experiment without impending deadlines or having to go to work. The most notable thing I made this year, which encompasses lots of the ideas I played with during that time, was probably a painting called Ophelia which was in an exhibition run by the Conscious Club. It ended up being something I was super proud of and didn’t immediately want to pick apart.
What pieces of art or cultural events, local or international, caught your eye and which do you think will define 2020? Has to be Vesil’s toilet paper piece that went up just before lockdown, iconic.
What are your plans if 2021 turns out worse than 2020? Go full hermit and probably have the most productive year of my life with nobody around to give a single fuck.
Keep an eye out for our monthly And That Was… entries throughout 2021!
Feature Image: One of Levi Hawken‘s BLM concrete solvs in central Christchurch
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Actually, 2020 has been such a surreal and, truthfully, emotional year that it almost seems insensitive to joke about it. Between the Covid-19 pandemic, the loss of lives and livelihoods, the Black Lives Matter movement, the farcical post-election shenanigans in the U.S. and more, there has been real and wide-spread heartbreak and tragedy. While some developments will stretch beyond the 12 months of 2020, in part due to their enormity and the necessary concentration to effect meaningful change, it is still necessary to take stock of the good things in a year we mostly just want to be over. The And That Was… series has always been about those things that bring joy, from the seemingly incidental, to the showstoppers, so let’s finish 2020 with a recap of some good stuff from December. With the end of the year approaching and a flurry of projects and events taking place, thankfully there has been a fair bit to consider… (This month we took the reigns, but don’t worry, we are working on something with a whole bunch of friends for the coming days, so keep your eyes peeled!)
Mike Beer goes to the dogs…
You probably all know sculptor David Marshall’s three bronze corgis on High Street, right? I mean, they have been there for over a decade now. What you may not have noticed was that a few weeks ago, the dropped ice cream cone one pup inquisitively sniffed disappeared. Sniffing an opportunity himself, our new favourite scratch builder Mike Beer decided to create and install something a playful replacement, drawing on the influence of subversive guerrilla street sculptors. You may just need to check it out for yourself, but perhaps don’t get too close…
Dcypher dropping science…
With a massive wall exposed by the demolition of a section of the Ara campus on Madras Street, which incidentally also meant the eradication of the Vans the Omega mural produced back in 2013 to announce the coming Rise festival, a new mural seemed an obvious requirement. Into that void stepped Dcypher, filling the gap with a striking anamorphic mural. A giant hand reaches towards a silver key, suggesting the importance of the search for knowledge, all within a disintegrating framework that dissolves the built environment. It has already gained international attention on Global Street Art.
Glass Vaults at Space Academy
The return of live music must be one of the best things about the second half of 2020! Space Academy hosted Christchurch-based Glass Vaults in early December, the group touring their new Sounds That Sound Like Music album. Their unique psychedelic-pop is heading towards dreamy disco funk, and the live show was definitely a winner, culminating with the infectious 2017 track Brooklyn. Also, is the pocket of St Asaph Street now home to the Darkroom, Space Academy now the live music district of the city?
Distranged Design goes big…
Jacob Root (a.k.a. Distranged Design) has generally worked to a scale that reflects his stencil-based approach. But with a new technique that still allows his stencil aesthetic, the artist produced his biggest work yet in December. The work, visible from Manchester Street and Tuam Street, was commissioned by a local property developer and seemingly pays tribute to the lost churches around the city, titled Christ Church Restoration City and featuring an angel figure flanked by two crosses.
Fiksate find a new home
Fittingly, the last And That Was… of 2020 (kind of, you’ll see…) ends with the beginning of a new chapter for a local institution. After two years and plenty of memorable exhibitions, Fiksate will close the doors at Gloucester Street, relocating to a new base in Sydenham (details to come!). With a new home and surely a dash of revitalising energy, it will be exciting to see what Jen, Dr Suits present in 2021…
Well 2020, what else can I say but, see you, wouldn’t want to be you! We do however, look forward to what 2021 brings, so stay tuned for future installments of And That Was…
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Urban art is heightened and exaggerated by the environment in which it exists. Over time, the urban environment becomes layered with the remnants of its ongoing subversion and alteration. Graffiti adds to the cacophony of visual noise, while peeling paste ups echo the pervasive deterioration of worn surfaces. Stickers expose the multiple potentials of surfaces.
Urban Textures takes a closer look at the often ignored details that add to the fascination of our surroundings. The collected images skip between dense fields of graffiti, worn concrete, blocks of ‘buff’ paint, and peeling paper, but always with an eye on the textural surfaces that give ground to such layers. While the shiny and new garner the attention, here the focus is firmly on the broken, busted, worn and deformed, because, sometimes, beautiful is boring and the lived is more intriguing.
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