Bulky Savage – Welcome to Crushington

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By 2020 you must be more than a bit sick…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow Bulky Savage on the following platforms:

Web: www.justmorebs.com

Facebook: @justmorebs

Instagram: @bulky_savage

Cover image credit: Antonio Castello

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Jacob Yikes – Immersed (Part Two)

When I arranged to sit down with Jacob Yikes, I had a feeling it could be a lengthy conversation; I have long been a fan of his work and here I was presented an opportunity to delve deeply into his approach to making art, his reflections on how his work and life are intertwined, and as I realised as soon as I stepped foot in his studio, the new directions signified by the impressively-scaled works he had been busy creating. I wasn’t wrong, over an hour after we started recording, it was time to catch a breath. We covered a lot of ground, and it was quickly apparent that our interview would be a bit of a monster, necessitating two parts. Here, in Part 2 of our interview, we jump straight back in and pick up where we left off…

You said before that you have felt that some of these works have been speaking to you in some way, not literally, but kind of telling you when the time is right to work on them and when it’s not right. The process of giving them time and stepping back, which you can’t do to the same degree with a wall, does it lead to frustration, or has it been satisfying being able to work in that way?

It has both. There’s definitely frustration, but I guess with the frustration, because I will start multiple works at a certain time, that time has to be right. I think that is when I feel that, not like that painting is talking to me, saying I have to paint it (laughs), but it’s more instinctively, I will make certain marks and certain gestures with whatever materials I’m using and then I get to point and it almost says ‘that’s enough, don’t touch me right now!’ (laughs) ‘You need to move on from that part!’ While you’re in this head space doing that stage of the works, basically, because the paintings are in stages, I can’t jump from stage to a different stage, from another painting, so I find that working on one or two can be helpful, because now working on a bigger scale, it’s a lot harder to set up five paintings. It’s a big space but it’s not big enough for that, I’ll smash things if that’s the case! it’s just not going to work, so you put that stage down and while I’m in that head space, I’ll move to the next one and then it will stop but there will be a while in between sometimes of me going back to that painting because the feeling is not right. Again, I think it comes down to how I’ve approached the works in the first place, of them being really personalised in terms of so many things, like it’s a real sort of expression, I guess, it kind of changes the look of the painting too, to an extent. There’s certain marks there for a reason, I’m kind of like putting those pieces back together, well not putting them back together, but putting them together when creating the other stages of the works. It’s probably my own little consciousness telling me: ‘Don’t work on that right now!’ I do work quite sporadically, one minute I’m doing something then the next minute I’m onto the next thing and it is kind of just how I’ve worked. It’s even how I’ve worked outdoors sometimes, I could be doing something and I’m not having it, so I leave. But then I’ll go and start the rest of the wall at like four in the afternoon, because I’ve found for me, if I try and force it, just too much negative energy comes out, and I’m not having it. The painting won’t go anywhere from that, so those first stages are super important in the studio works, not so much in the big works because there is a different process to painting them, but there is still that erratic quality, I can only work on them at this point in time, I think that’s more doable in the studio, for sure, but I haven’t really felt that I’ve gone too far with any of the works yet, so I’m just going on that initial instinct with them at this point…

Mixed media on paper, 2018

Because of the intense concentration involved in the finer details of your work, I assume it would be easier to know when the time is not the right for that approach, but with the more gestural stuff, which is such a strong element of these works, there’s a real sense of your physical exertion, and in many ways it must be really necessary to have that ability to know when to stop, because it must be so easy to be swept up in that…

Yep, absolutely man.

These works really have that dynamic sense of the movement of your body, but it’s so different from wall work, which will often, and this isn’t specifically about your work, but often it’s the scale and the size that reflects that, rather than the texture, or those kinds of elements, but these works really seem to reflect your physical presence, either above or in front of a work and engaging with that surface. Do you see the differences between the way that your mark making reflects your movements both on a wall and in the studio?

Yeah, well, it’s all very freestyle, even with the walls too. When I would work on a wall that was a little more expressive with marking making and how I used the line work and stuff, as opposed to the more structured ones that had that room element going on, it was all kind of whatever comes up was coming out, and I will deal with it once it’s on there, to an extent, because I can always visualise what I’m trying to achieve with it, but it’s never ever going to look like that, it’s just a blueprint in my head, to get to that point. I’ve taken movements from painting large works and graffiti and put them into how I achieve those first initial marks and sort of bits, and it’s pretty much the same process in terms of how I attack it, it’s just narrowed down in the studio. I don’t have to step back fifty metres and check out what have I done, I can just do it there. Also, it is completely different mediums, so, while I know the technique to get to there, the result is going to be different. And that result, to be honest, has come about by experimenting. I didn’t one day decide I’m going to start throwing it this way and start putting it here, having a wrecked, half dry brush and doing that with it (gestures), it pretty much was just messing around for a long time. And I mean a lot of the stuff in the past especially, I’ve just biffed, it’s never really come out, and there’s a reason for that too. At the time I’d be pissed off and in a foul mood because I’d just wasted a whole day and a whole bunch of stuff, you know, and then that comes back to me doing things at a time in my brain or whatever, in my day, that I shouldn’t be doing it. I’ve always kind of been a workaholic to an extent, not to the point where I would say I’ve neglected any of my responsibilities, but I would sacrifice sleep to do this, so I’m trying to use the time I get, and if it’s not happening , then I pay for it in the end, because I’ve spent that energy trying to do something I shouldn’t have even bothered doing. But that negative energy, not all the time, but sometimes, I’ve been able to channel that into that first process of making the gestural bits on the paper, building it basically. The paintings essentially have been built the way I look at them, I create a background or a distant sort of space for these images to sit in and go from there. They are always at stages, but I can always fix mistakes, by working with them, not necessarily ‘fixing’ them, but you know, and again it comes down to me thinking actually, that’s meant to be there for a reason, that might not be how I want it be right now, but I can actually work with that. It’s not all the time, but there have been times where I’ve been: ‘O.K., I’ve just messed that up, hang on I’ll put it away for now…’.

Mixed media on paper, 2018

In reference to the idea that your works often have these landscapes and environments in which structures and scenes are built, despite how tricky those settings are visually or spatially, they feel like real spaces, like something to inhabit, when you are painting them, do you place yor self in those settings?

I pretty much put myself in there, and I’m still really trying to figure out what they are. I think they are an element of my subconscious, kind of a dream world that I can escape to, and I can have full control over. There’s not that much in life that you can have full control over, so I find them an escape, and I think that’s where a kind of therapy does come into my work. When I get to these certain stages, the final bits in these works, its like, I built the set and now I’m creating everything else that ties that all together. While each one might have similar attributes, they are always different, there is always a different concept behind them too, that’s just part of my style. That probably works with that idea, there are certain images in my work that have become quite popular, but each one has its own feeling when I’m doing it, so I engulf myself in those worlds…

With this scale, viewers will be able to feel like they are being enveloped, which raises the logistics and potential approaches to exhibiting works of this size. Over the years you’ve exhibited in a number of different places; Am I Confused? was at the Art Box, which presented a unique space…

Yeah, it was.

Detail of the on-site work created as part of Yikes’ show Am I Confused? at the Art Box site on Madras Street, 2017

It was quite a tight space in terms of how people were able to filter through, with these works it feels like they need a very specific environment in which to be exhibited…

They do, they do man…

Is that a challenge in Christchurch?

It is really difficult. It’s probably the hardest part at the moment, because in the past I have always done the hard work to try and get these shows happening and I like that, but it is hard. Finding a space in Christchurch is hard for anything, so finding the right space for this sort of show is probably going to present a few difficulties, but it’s so necessary. I have to find the right space because for my works at the moment, I’m trying to really put people in a setting as such, whether it’s in my head or whatever, or it’s a setting controlled by me, because visually I know what I want to feel from these paintings and that’s going to be completely different from anyone else seeing them, but if I can also add in the elements of sound and lighting that I want to, then that’s going to help to build the story of them a little bit. It’s a deal breaker for me, and I’m not going to show them until I can get those elements happening. Because of my process of creating these works and how I approach them, it would be so stupid if I didn’t show them in the complete environment. I would just feel like I didn’t achieve what I set out to achieve, if I can’t put those final nails in…

The ideas that you are talking about; the control of the lighting, the sound, that’s a sign of the maturing practice of exhibiting. It’s not about just finding somewhere that will let you hang pictures, it’s about a whole experience of creating an environment for people to view your work and for you to have more control over how it is received. I feel like, for the growth of the urban art scene in Christchurch, there hasn’t really been that opportunity, or an environment that has allowed that in many ways, so that is, as you say, a big challenge, but it’s absolutely necessary for these works…

So much gets put in behind the scenes too, with getting the sponsorship, getting all the little things, all the logistics of it, so you’re putting in a lot of work just to show them, so for me, it makes sense to put in that work and just push a little bit more. With these works as well, the subject matter, it’s really real this time, not that it ever wasn’t, but it’s something that I haven’t really addressed ever, so I know I’ve amplified that, I’ve amplified the scale, but the scale thing for me is only going to really work with those other elements, with the sound, with the lighting, and that will ensure it all makes sense. It’s a specific thing that hasn’t even probably come to be in my own head yet, but I know where it has to go, and I know what has to happen with it. Like you said, it’s something that hasn’t been able to be done with these sorts of shows. I’m not being offered a mint set-up, a humongous space with all these things, and I’m not even asking for that. To be honest, I kind of like the control I get with not having to deal with that, I’m not saying I wouldn’t, but at this point, I’m trying to build this profile for myself which isn’t just about what I’ve done, but it needs to be different. So, for me to do that, I just have to literally make these ideas that have been pushing at me, come to be, and I think that the easiest way to do that is to have that control. My partner’s really good, we’ve worked together on these shows for a long time, she does a lot of the background stuff as well, because at the end of the day if I can focus on this stuff, it is better…

And it’s going to come out in the work…

Yeah, and we’ve learnt that from trial and error, just from having these shows. I’ve had some good shows and some bad shows, but at the end of the day you learn from each one.

Yikes at work in his studio, February 2018

In terms of your growing reputation, and to some extent the reputation of the Christchurch scene, have you investigated the potential to show these works outside of Christchurch?

I’m sort of in discussions at the moment with a few places up in Auckland, so it’s definitely been discussed. To be honest I was battling the idea of just doing the show in Auckland, not here, but I still I want to do both, I want to make it hard for myself! (Laughs) So I think whether it will be a travelling show or I will produce enough work that I feel I can even have two that are kind of co-existing with each other, I’m not sure on the final details yet, but moving them out of Christchurch is definitely something that I think needs to be done too. It’s a daunting thought because I would feel way more comfortable just going to another city painting a giant wall! It’s different exhibiting works, you have to get people to turn up to these shows, because they are not going to stumble across it by themselves all the time like a wall, and I guess I invest a lot more into these things than I do a wall…

There’s a finite timeframe too, a wall can be there for the next ten years…

Exactly.

You might only have the chance to display these works for three weeks…

It’s about getting the works there too, I’ve not made it easy for myself with the scale, but it’s definitely do-able, it’s just a matter of really making it happen. But it’s in the pipeline for sure, I think I need to make it happen this year. I would like to exhibit a little bit more regularly than I have been, it’s not through lack doing any of the work, it’s just through pretty much having to deal with everything else you have in life. It’s definitely going to happen and I’ve made those first initial relationships with a few places, it’s just about taking it from there, and it’s something I’m going to do.

Without sounding forceful (laughs), I think it has to happen, you deserve that exposure, you’ve put in so much hard work and developed such a unique and impressive style…

Absolutely, I am my own worst enemy. I know that I have put in work, and I always will. It’s not like I’m done now, I’m just going to do this now, it’s not that at all, but I know that I am physically here doing stuff, it’s just what I do. I know that there’s only so much I am going to achieve by not moving it around. I don’t want to just let it all unfold, I need to really push that too. I think for me, I always want to put my best foot forward, it’s a matter of what I take with me, what am I going to run with. It’s about not being so indecisive about what I want to take out of Christchurch. It’s a funny one, it’s definitely something I’ve felt for a while, and not even to the point that I’m going to move away and try and make it away from here, I’m not going to approach it like that, I don’t feel the need to have to move away from everything to just start trying to do things…

With Christchurch’s recognition as an urban art location, it also needs to mean artists can succeed here and thrive everywhere, it’s not about becoming a breeding ground for people then to move away, which is the typical kiwi, Christchurch story, right?

It doesn’t need to happen at all, that’s the thing, it really doesn’t. Even in just the past four years, just by producing works outdoors, it shows that it’s all about what you do to make this place what you want it to be. It’s funny, I mean I think people have their own opinions on how they want to approach it, but if everybody thinks they have to move away, what’s left? And that’s kind of what happened in Christchurch, I know a lot of people who just up and gapped it, and that was their own personal thing, which is cool, but that doesn’t mean nothing’s happening here, it’s all about how you perceive it really, and it’s all about what you’re looking for too.

It feels like there is a growing ecosystem locally, there is more diversity in terms of what people are doing, there are things here that can help make it all more entrenched. I guess as well, it’s also about continuing to attract people here as well, not just with opportunities to paint walls, like festivals offered, but if there’s spaces for people to come here and exhibit work, that can prove important too…

I think it’s important to not just all be floating in the same boat. It’s funny, I think oversaturation of one thing just kills it, and each festival, if that’s what’s happening, needs to bring its own thing to it, because at the end of the day, it is what people who were living here were doing, it’s just painting walls, it’s a do-able thing in Christchurch, it’s probably a lot easier than any other city, so you can’t just come and do that , you’ve got to bring something else to the table…

Exactly, I think that’s a really good point, in global terms as well, festivals pop up everywhere, every week, the biggest challenge and the most important thing now is to be unique, to have an thematic or ethical standpoint in some regard, you know, say ‘this is what this represents’, it’s not just about getting colour photos in the paper, it’s about achieving some other type of goal, which is really important.

Yeah man, I think so.

Thanks for taking the time to talk, I must say, I’m really looking forward to seeing you exhibit these works…

Yeah man, in the next couple of months, or sooner than that, I’ll be releasing dates, but yeah, it’s coming up soon. We are just kind of doing all the finer background work now, bringing it all together. When I get close to a new show I always like to go out and do some public work as well…

Do the PR act!

It’s just a way of saying ‘I’m not dead, I haven’t become a hermit just yet!’

Thanks Yikes! 

Keep an eye and ear out for Yikes’ upcoming projects on Instagram and Facebook, as well as his website: 

@jacobyikes

https://www.facebook.com/jacobyikes.artist/

http://www.planetyikes.com/

Featured Cover Image Credit: three-six-six media

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