Watch This Space, in partnership with the Flare Street Art Festival, was proud to present the first ever Flare Street Art Festival Artist Panel; a chance to sit down in conversation with five of the headline artists from the festival and reflect on their work in Christchurch, their careers, their influences and aspirations. The conversation, hosted at 12 Bar on March 11th, 2022, provided some great insights into contemporary urban art in Aotearoa, it’s evolution and the motivations of the artists who are transforming city walls brick by brick. With a mix of local artists (Ikarus and Meep) and visiting creatives (Kell Sunshine, Koryu and Swiftmantis), there was a sense of diversity among the panel and experiences spanning many years and settings, making it a great deep dive into graffiti, street art, muralism and more. Check out the full discussion below…
Thank you to Ikarus, Kell Sunshine, Meep, Koryu and Swiftmantis for their participation, the support from Selina Faimalo, Dcypher and the Flare crew, Matt, Kendra and the team at 12 Bar, the WORD Festival for the live streaming gear and to Corban Tupou for the technical expertise, we could not have done without you!
Almost five years since Street Prints Ōtautahi, Christchurch’s last significant street art mural festival, Flare Street Art Festival provided a welcome shot in the arm for a city with an established reputation as an urban art destination. The brainchild of ARCC, a urban activation collective of local business people and place makers, Flare burst into life with a roster of seven headline artists painting huge murals and a flurry of additional activities.
Flare was built around the selection of massive new murals that would transform the SALT District and surrounding environs, landmarks that showed an impressive diversity, each artist flexing their unique styles, interests and intentions with creative freedom.
The largest mural, on the side of the newly renovated Cotters Lane building, was completed by Koryu, a Japanese artist who has been based in Aotearoa since the 2020 lockdown, living in Geraldine but travelling across the country to paint murals. While relatively new to urban art, picking up a spray can just three years ago after visiting Melbourne, Koryu’s impressive depiction of fierce Niō warriors, guardian statues of Buddhist temples in Japan shows his quick development. The circular motif in the middle of the image suggesting the infinite quality of existence, the warriors themselves representing the beginning and end of all things (the open and closed mouths symbolic of the in and out breath, the first and last characters of the alphabet). The huge work, over 160 square metres, was a massive undertaking, filled with detailed musculature and gestural painting and aware of the shared experiences of Christchurch earthquakes and the Tohuku earthquake and tsunami in Japan in 2011 when both regions were struck by devastating natural disasters, making this work, a gift of guardians, even more resonant.
Nearby, overlooking Manchester Street, local artist Wongi ‘Freak’ Wilson displayed his technical skill with a vibrant depiction of a woman wearing rose-tinted glasses and chewing bubble gum. The pink gum exploding into a cloud of pop culture references, a baseball cap, a paint roller, headphones and more bursting out of the cloud. The combination of realism and pop-esque cartoon work a summation of Wongi’s style. The upbeat energy of the work infecting an area that still bares the scars of the city’s ongoing .
Tucked down Memory Lane, behind the imposing SALT Mural by Paul Walters and Dcypher in Evolution Square, Gisborne artist Kell Sunshine added a rolling, lyrical mural, a beautiful contrast to the architectural and pared-back piece around the corner. Floral forms blooming and unfurling around the phrase ‘Take a walk on the wild side’, Sunshine’s mural reminds us of the need to break from convention and embrace our ‘wild side’ – a literal depiction of nature amidst the urban jungle. The 70s vibe is relaxed and the somewhat secluded placement allows for the viewer to stop and absorb the message before returning to the bustle of the city.
On St Asaph Street, homegrown talent Meep produced the largest work of her career, with a stylised self-portrait against a bright orange backdrop. The massive image shows the artist, with a backpack filled with paint, a roller and a blackbook, walking along the tracks (a traditional graffiti hot-spot and suggested by the large roller piece behind the artist), headphones plugged into a television-headed representation of hip-hop music – her constant companion (the homage to hip-hop cemented with the Kangol bucket hat and the MF Doom and Wu Tang Clan t-shirts). The strong representation of a female graffiti writer illuminating an often marginalised presence in a predominantly male sub-culture.
On the corner of Manchester and Welles Street, local legend Ikarus of the DTR Crew recounted his own experiences in graffiti through the lens of an AR video game (a cartoon version of the artist shown in full AR goggle mode in the corner). The levels of the game move through the stages of graffiti, from tags to throw-ups and finally ascending to masterpieces, the obstacles and intricacies thrown in as well. The shout-out to traditional graffiti an important inclusion in a forum where the culture is often excluded in favour of birds and buildings. The shout out to the legendary Jungle acknowledging the legacy of those who have come before and the important role of mentorship through example.
In the rear of the Little High car park on St Asaph Street, Palmerston North artist Swiftmantis continued his series of ‘Stray Stories’ with a huge depiction of black cat Olive, her green eyes surveying the surrounding area. The amazing detail reveals the feline’s character, her tattered ear a sign of her survival. Currently with the Cats Protection League of Christchurch. Olive, perhaps now the city’s most famous cat, is still looking for her forever home, the work serving to highlight her situation and to celebrate the work done by the Protection League. The image has already stopped hundreds in their tracks, wowed at the production and enamoured with the beautiful, majestic animal.
The final work, located on Manchester Street, was delayed when Elliot Francis Stewart was unable to make his way to Ōtautahi until the final (or at least the final official) day of the festival. Renowned as a supremely talented illustrator, Stewart drew inspiration from Christchurch’s ‘Garden City’ moniker to depict a sweetly nostalgic scene of a shovel and bucket in a garden. The electric colour scheme of blue, yellow and magenta highlights the intricate detail, the leaves, bark and even tiny lizards occupying the serene setting. It is a show stopper that draws you in, your eyes led across the incredible detail of the wall.
While these murals were the central focus of Flare, there was plenty more going on across the extended two week programme. Just prior to the official launch, Dcypher, Ghostcat and Dr Suits installed an anti-war 3D mural – an oversized Molotow pen fixed to the wall appearing to be the tool used to scrawl over the image of a tank in bright pink – a peace sign and the declaration ‘Make Art Not War’ defacing the symbol of military force. Just around the corner, Flare made use of a High Street shop as a pop-up gallery, featuring local and visiting artists, an array of art and apparel available. The pop-up served as the central hub for the festival, with artists hanging out and passers-by drawn in (our Watch This Space guided tours also departed from the pop-up space, while the Watch This Space Artist Panel was held at 12 Bar on St Asaph Street). An unassuming High Street space hosting a projection work, a collaboration between Fiksate Gallery and the Offline Collective, added a dynamic night-time presence to the festival. The BOXed Quarter’s collection grew with the ‘Wahine Takeover’; Jessie Rawcliffe, Jen-Heads, Berlin and MKA adding fresh paintings to the panels. The final Saturday of the festival saw over two dozen artists take over the lane ways surrounding popular bar Smash Palace with a graffiti jam, artists from different cities and generations lifting the veil from graffiti’s often mysterious presence as visitors could watch the paint being sprayed on the wall. Finally, on the last weekend, Billens Lane, next to Little High, received a make-over with fresh hoardings painted by Jacob Yikes, Dcypher, YSEK, Chile One, Ikarus, Tepid and Bols, adding further diversity to the collection of Flare works.
With over 40 new works of art painted across the city, and over 30 artists involved across the festival, Flare served to connect the dots as an event that was for the city and the culture. This is an important element of such an event, recognising the need to support local talent and provide opportunities of varying scales, to raise the profile of urban art and foster the seeds of the city’s creative foundations. Of course, with new incarnations will come new challenges, from finding fresh walls to the massive task of finding money, but Flare has made a promising start, and we are already looking forward to 2023!
Christchurch’s street art reputation is, in many ways, built on the legacy of festival events. The likes of From the Ground Up, Rise, Spectrum and Street Prints Ōtautahi established the city as a destination for artists to find opportunities and for a new audience to experience amazing examples of urban art in a setting that was forced to re-imagine it’s creative profile and identity. It has now been five years since the last significant festival was staged in Ōtautahi, but with the emergence of the Flare Street Art Festival, Christchurch is braced to once more flex it’s status as Aotearoa’s leading urban art city. We sat down with Selina Faimalo, project manager for Flare, to discuss the challenges of developing a street art festival in 2022, what Flare promises, and who we should be excited about…
I’m really excited to see it all, well nearly all, coming together! Obviously, I’m still a bit nervous because things can change between now and then, as we know, but we’re pretty fool-proof under the red traffic light setting. We’ve adapted.
What are some of the significant changes you have had to make?
We originally planned to have a large celebration of street art culture, hip-hop and urban art at the end of the festival. We were going to close down High Street and have a big market and festival with live music, dancing, skateboarding, food trucks, urban stallholders and a pop-up gallery, all sorts of things. That part of the festival had to be cancelled, so instead we’re doing micro events over the ten days; we’re going to have street art tours with Watch This Space, which we were always going to have, they can still go ahead. There will be tours on each weekend of the festival. We’ve still got a pop-up gallery and kind of hang out space, that will be open during the days. Fiksate and Offline Collective are collaborating and going to do some street art projections in some vacant spaces in the SALT District. We have the panel discussion with the artists, that is also with Watch This Space, with some of the headlining artists at 12 Bar, which will be an awesome way to interact with the artists and get to know a bit more about them. It’s going to be live-streamed as well, which is really cool as we can’t host as many people as we wanted to…
It still is a really good program. I think it is important for street art and mural festivals to provide chances to engage with different elements…
The festival or market day would have been amazing, but I guess there’s a silver lining in that you can now perfect it for next year and grow the festival as a recurring event…
Totally, it might be a bit of a blessing in disguise. I’ve spent about eight months on the process of organizing this festival, so I think it gave us a lot more time to re-evaluate things and put that energy into different things. Obviously, it’s unfortunate that we had to cancel those elements, because we have musicians and vendors were relying on that income from the event. Cancelling those individuals and businesses was really sad, because you have already committed and turned down other bookings… It’s been tough for all in the events industry.
Bringing together the wider urban art community is really important. As you said, there are the headline artists, but that’s not the whole picture, you’ve got other artists too, like the Fiksate team, the artists with work in the pop-up gallery and some smaller live painting events as well. There is a much wider array of people than the names on the posters…
It was important to involve as many Christchurch artists as possible, to make it inclusive and diverse, including, the “OGs” as well as the younger generations, as well as making sure there are female artists represented, who are not always as predominant in the street art scene.
Can you give us a little bit of background on ARCC, who are the organization behind Flare?
ARCC is a group of business leaders and place-makers, who just want to make a bunch of cool stuff happen in the city and revitalise what’s happening here. George Shaw from OiYOU! is a part of ARCC and is obviously a big advocate for street art and he recognised that a lot of the murals from the Rise and Spectrum festivals are not there anymore, as the city is being rebuilt the visual aspect of street art is not there as much, it’s being built in front of or covered, so he just wanted to bring that back, putting it on new buildings and filling these blank walls with street art again and retaking that status as a street art capital, we were obviously in the Lonely Planet as one of the street art capitals of New Zealand and the world…
A lot of that recognition came from the festival events, because you’re seeing a lot of work appear in a short time, there is a rush in activity that captures the attention. So, Flare becomes an important way of re-claiming that title. How did you come to be the project manager for Flare?
I’m actually a trustee of the SALT District, so I already knew about ARCC because a lot of the team are on the SALT District board as well and they had mentioned it. I was going along to the street art meetings and they were talking about it and I’d already been in touch with George anyway because I’d mentioned to him ages ago that I really wanted to do some type of hip-hop street art event and I wanted to know how you would make that happen. He said let’s keep in touch, maybe there will be something that we can do. I also run the Conscious Club with Kophie (Su’a Hulsbosch), we do social and environmental events in Christchurch, we’ve been doing it for the last two years, in which we weaved creativity into the majority of our events. We have held exhibitions together and shared creative working space with her for a while now. I’m not part of the street art community, but I’m a massive fan of street art culture and hip-hop in particular. I really wanted to do a hip-hop event, I talked with Red from the Hip Hop Summit about all the different things that we could do. George’s plan was to run Flare, but he had another exciting project come up. The timing wasn’t great for him to project manage Flare, so he asked if I would be interested in project managing it with his help and guidance, along with the rest of the team at ARCC helping out as well. As business leaders they have great connections to building owners to help make this happen. One of the biggest challenges of a festival like this is getting a building owner to agree to getting their wall painted without knowing what it will be, so without those connections and networks I don’t think it would be possible!
There’s a fine art to that side and you probably had to learn on the fly a little bit! You want wall spaces that are visible and attractive, but you also want to ensure that that building owners are supportive of artistic credibility and freedom. You have to find that balance of great walls with the right people, right?
Yeah, we’re telling artists they will have creative freedom, but obviously it can’t be anything offensive or inappropriate, and when we say inappropriate, like when we spoke to John Hutchinson of Team Hutchinson Ford, about painting his wall, he said as long as you don’t paint a Holden! It was little things like that, I just wouldn’t think about. In general I would say building owners can be a little bit conservative, and like to play it safe, might not want certain things on their walls, so it’s a balancing act of letting some know and showing them designs and then we will be surprising some!
I’m a big believer that part of the job of street artists is to bring the audience along, rather than being dictated to creatively to fit a popular trend that supposedly speaks for everybody. The reality is that we are incredibly diverse as a population, made up of individual voices, so why not let murals be a voice of an individual and in doing so, present a little bit of a challenge to the public audience to come with the artist rather than the artist having to go to the audience? What other skills that you maybe didn’t expect to draw on were needed to bring Flare to life?
I guess navigating the street art scene is something I didn’t know a lot about. I’m quickly learning it is tricky! Obviously, graffiti comes from the streets, which means there an element of rebel and conflict. Having people involved in the festival like DTR crew and Kophie, has helped with those situations. The panels along the Smash Palace pathway will be painted with local graffiti artists, and I don’t think that was my call as to which artists would be involved in that, so I asked Dcypher and Ikarus to facilitate that part of it, so they have led that part because they can navigate the relationships within the graffiti community. Even curating the headlining artists, that was tricky. George actually curated that aspect, but I was part of the conversation, and I don’t think I would have thought about who you should choose in case their work gets tagged over because they’re not respected in the street art community. That is a huge thing that I’ve learnt a lot about recently, if you put the wrong person on a wall, then it’s likely going to get continuously tagged over because they don’t have that respect or that mana in the community…
Yeah! He is based in Geraldine, but he travels a lot, he is originally from Japan.
So out of that list, who are you excited to see?
Out of all seven? I mean, I’m going to say Kophie, big respect to the wahine! Being a woman in general is hard and being a woman street artist is even harder and I think she has really stepped up. she has been doing it for over ten years now and I think this is her time to leave a mark in her own city. She’s done commissioned murals but this time she gets to paint what she wants to paint and she’s so talented.
I’m a big fan of Kophie too, she is super talented and its great to see her given this platform. Anyone else?
I would say Koryu, I think his mural will be very cool! I’ve seen his design as well, so that’s why I’m really excited to see what he’s doing. I’ve been watching him this summer, watching every mural that he’s painted and it’s incredible.
He’s relatively new to it as well, right? But he’s developed a style that is both very distinctively his, and I think also speaks to his heritage, but also something that you can understand why the public gravitate towards the detail. It’s graphic and pictorial, you can easily see a crowd going, wow! He also just seems like a lovely guy! There is some amazing footage from South Sea Spray where he won the ‘People’s Choice’ award and he did a break dance because he’s a b-boy as well…
I know, he’s so amazing! That’s one thing I’m really sad about, as part of the festival we were going to have hip-hop and break dancing, and it would have been really cool to have a headline artist paint and dance!
Maybe he could still do that at the panel discussion!
I think so, just break it out!
So, the Flare Street Art Festival begins on the 2nd of March, when the headline artists start painting, but how can people find out more? How can people get involved in the various events?
They can head onto Facebook for the Flare Street Art Festival or the website which is flare.nz. The full program is on the website and if you want to book tickets to any event, you can do that online. I recommend having a look online because that will be have the right information, it is the digital age, we can update things!
The Flare Street Art Festival is located across the SALT District with a range of activities – follow Flare on social media or visit their website for more information and booking options. Flare runs from the 2nd March until the 12th March, 2022.