What Are You Watching?

Graffiti and street art have evolved into more than just the writing on the wall. Leaving alone the problematic expansion into commissioned work and mural festivals and the questions around authenticity and even gentrification, urban art has long been tied to other realms of expression. Of course, the documentation and discussion of graffiti culture as it emerged in the seventies and eighties by academics, writers and, perhaps most notably, photographers, ensured a symbiotic relationship between the art and these orbiting parties. Alongside these forms of investigation and documentation, filmmakers have had a strong presence (Manfred Kirchheimer’s Stations of the Elevated of 1981 an early ‘graffiti film’). Both outsiders and those deeply entrenched within the culture have explored, expanded and told the stories of graffiti, street art and the artists who now defy catergorisation through moving image. While some films have attempted to expose many to the mysteries of urban art, others have preferred an informed audience and remained stoically more niche. Some have celebrated the superstars, others have used little known figures to reflect upon more intimate, yet accessible themes. As a result, urban art films reach from mainstream popularity (think Exit Through the Gift Shop) to less grandiose platforms like YouTube and Vimeo.

Following on from our ‘Book Club‘ a few weeks ago, we thought this time we would rope in a couple of friends to give us their favourite graffiti and street art films. We asked TOGO and Berst, both figures with their own experience of producing video content, to name the urban art films that have left the biggest mark on them. If you follow TOGO on social media, you will be familiar with his video productions; embracing chaos, exuding a sense of playfulness and yet always with a thoughtful philosophical beat at heart. It is no surprise that his selections also exhibit those traits. Berst’s Real Time series is a growing documentation of Aotearoa graffiti history, and is surely influenced by the films he has consumed. His picks reflect numerous personal revelations that have fed into his own philosophies and understanding of graffiti culture.

So here, in our opinions and in no particular order, are fourteen urban art films you should check out, starting with a few of our own our picks…

Watch This Space Picks…

Vigilante Vigilante: The Battle for Expression (2011)

Vigilante Vigilante , directed by Max Good (who co-wrote with Julien de Benedictus), tells the story of guerrilla buffers, those figures who exercise a self-imposed mandate to eradicate graffiti from city streets. The central premise is that their silencing of the streets is as ideologically problematic as the art they are removing. While it starts as a sleuth-like investigation into the identity of a mysterious buffer in Berkley, it soon expands to highlight other figures and the story only gets stranger and the characters more bizarre.

Martha: A Picture Story (2019)

When I saw Selina Miles’ documentary about famed photographer Martha Cooper, it was with an audience of people around Cooper’s age. However, as the film began, it became clear that Cooper was not your average 70-something. The film is not strictly urban art-focussed, but Cooper’s role in documenting one of the high eras of graffiti and the decades since has made her a beloved figure in the urban art world. And at its heart, Martha is a love letter to a determined, inspiring artist who refuses to submit to expectation and has no desire to slow down.

Beautiful Losers (2008)

Beautiful Losers is another film that isn’t strictly a graffiti or street art film, but in following the scene that emerged out of nineties New York around Alleged Gallery (the film is co-directed by Alleged founder Aaron Rose, with Joshua Leonard), it is tied to the anarchic spirit and influence of urban street culture, and of course features the likes of Steve ‘ESPO’ Powers, Barry McGee and Shepard Fairey. It is whimsical and funny, while also heartfelt, highlighting a time that continues to be so influential upon art and visual culture today.

Inside Out – The People’s Art Project (2013)

While Faces, Places, made with iconic Brazilian filmmaker Agnes Varda, won French artist JR more critical accolades, this HBO documentary, directed by Alistair Siddons, about the Inside Out project that won JR the TED Prize in 2011, is personally preferred, covering of one of the most enduring urban art projects of the last decade. It extends from the rioting streets of Paris to the earthquake stricken favelas of Haiti, exposing the community-centric concept of JR’s work.

TOGO’s Picks…

Dirty Hands: The Art & Crimes of David Choe (2008)

It’s all or nothing for the wild David Choe and this film, the result of director Harry Kim’s multi-year trailing of the artist, is a case for living unrestrained and defying suppression. It profiles the artist’s life over seven of his most crazy years from big commercial success to a long stint in prison. The film offers a rare insight into an interesting individual who will questionably entice you out of that comfort zone.

The Antics Roadshow (2011)

A look at ‘famous pranks and acts of activism’, this documentary film directed by Banksy and Jainie D’Cruz, affirms all our unruly behaviour and questionable habits. Artists such as Mark Roberts, who streaks at major international sporting events, and Noel Godin, who throws cream pies at celebrities and politicians, are praised and celebrated in this thought-provoking piece of work. Bad intentions can bring good results. And remember, you can always rely on a golfer for a reaction…

Momo Bad Murals (2016)

In this short film, abstract artist MOMO travels around Italy in an attempt to paint bad murals. Illegal, fun and free, his aim is to care less about the outcome of the work and more about the experimentation. It’s an enjoyable and amusing film that reminds us to occasionally take a step back in order to move forward.

The Price of Everything (2018)

Nothing makes you want to paint the streets more than watching auction houses sell paintings for squillions of dollars. The Price of Everything delves into the contemporary art world, examining the relationship between creativity and commodification in today’s money-driven society. While the film, directed by Nathaniel Kahn, reveals how absurd the art market really is, it also provides a fascinating look into what makes art valuable.

Infamy (2005)

Yes, it’s commonplace on lists like this, but none would be complete without it. Go watch it again and tell me otherwise.

Berst’s Picks…

Style Wars (1983)

What can I even say about this documentary that probably every single writer in the world hasn’t already said? It’s a timeless classic. It’s a documentary that captured a beautiful moment in history and gives us some insights into the early contexts of graffiti and hip-hop culture. This is definitely a documentary that I have watched quite a few times and happily watch again. Each time I watch it, I learn something a bit different about the movement. The quotes in this are also really memorable particularly the segments from the likes of Seen (“never mind probation…”), Cap (“Blood wars, buddy…”), Skeme (“You do doodle”), Kase 2 (Yeah, I vandalism alright…”), and Min One (“That’s never forgive action”).

Infamy (2005)

The cover of the graffiti documentary Infamy

I remember watching this for the first time and being blown away by the individual vignettes of each writer. There was a really good cross section of writers doing different things and for the first time, it gave me an insight into the writers’ lives. During this time, I was only tagging and just being introduced to piecing, so Earsnot is a notable standout with his daylight tagging and stories about racking. I was also particularly drawn to Toomer and Saber’s stories. They are examples of two writers who had dedicated themselves to the game and had made some major sacrifices to get up. There are also so many quotes that came from this documentary that my friends and I still say to each other today.

Piece by Piece: The History of San Francisco Graffiti, Documented (2005)

From memory, Piece by Piece was the first DVD I actually purchased and still have. It was accompanied by a little booklet which profiled a couple of main writers from the San Francisco scene. I read this book so many times during my part-time call centre job. I recall reading the Revok, Norm, Saber, and Reyes profiles many times over. It was the first time I actually got to see a city’s graffiti scene through so many different perspectives because they had interviewed so many people. Piece by Piece introduced me to a lot of ideas about inner city bombing, territory, catching high spots, and productions.

Kings Destroy (2006)

I watched this documentary at my friend’s house. I’m not sure how we got it but GBAK had more or less just formed as a crew and after a house party we went out bombing because we were so hyped. The message of this video was to go all city, and this really planted the idea in our minds of how to get up. It’s also one of the first videos that profiled one singular writer and had so many people vouching for him that it instantly gave him this kind of celebrity status. It was interesting because he also showed his identity but at the same time was also painting trains and bombing illegally on the streets.

Dirty Handz 3: Search and Destroy (2006)

The third of three Dirty Handz documentaries, Search and Destroy is definitely the most refined and well put together. The narrator behind the video gets you hooked the moment he starts speaking. It’s almost a video diary of a train writer. Crews like WUFC and SDK lead the way in this video for hardcore train painting in Europe and it is just jam-packed with action. It really showed me what was possible with teamwork and it had a bloody awesome soundtrack as well. It had some hip-hop music but mostly electro and techno vibes which was quite a different to the American representation of graffiti.

That’s our list, what have we missed? let us know…

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And That Was… March 2020

March 2020 will be a month that won’t be forgotten in a hurry. There were a number of things happening, from art-related shows and projects, to the anniversary of the Christchurch Terror Attacks (and the perpetrator’s guilty plea), all with the hovering threat of the Covid-19 pandemic spreading around the globe. Then, in the final few days of the month, the country, along with much of the world, was sent into lock down. Social distancing became the catch-cry, and with it, social events and occasions were postponed, cancelled or digitised (Houseparty anyone? No, maybe Zoom?) With such an overbearing event casting a long shadow, in the coming years it may prove hard to remember anything else from this month, but we thought it was best to reflect on the things that still excited us and share that goodness, from projects that brought communities together, to small moments caught unexpectedly, this was March 2020…

Halves on an Exhibition – Harry King and Reece Brooker

A watercolour painting on paper of a snake wrapped around itself with tattoo styled elements and bright colours
Snake by A Tribe Called Haz / Harry King from the exhibition Halves in an Exhibition? at Outsiders

 March started with a sense of normality (despite what was happening around the world), when Friday nights meant you could go out and socialise. On March 6th, we headed down to Outsiders, the St Asaph Street skate store that for one night became host to Halves on an Exhibition?, a show by A Tribe Called Haz (Harry King) and Reece Brooker. King’s acidic and surreal style has developed over the last year, and his pop-up shows have an endearing anarchic and anti-traditional energy to match his work. Some of this newer body of work depicted seemingly post-apocalyptic landscapes that combined low-brow with decadence, devoid of presence and looking like the vacant scene of some horrific act, while others illustrated the clear influence of tattoo and skate culture with simple imagery. King’s art is proudly chaotic and laced with humour, but also shows an increasingly refined technical approach, his handling of line and watercolour notable in its confidence. Brooker was a new name for us. An arborist, his work added a different sense of materiality; painting circular panels cut from trees to frame his motley, at times fantastical characters.

Welcome to Ōrua Paeroa

A long block wall is painted black, with the words Welcome to Orua Paeroa painted in bright colours.
The Welcome to Orua Paeroa mural produced by the Fiksate Crew, the first event of the New Brighton Outdoor Arts Festival (Photo credit: Gavin Fantastic)

The day after Halves on an Exhibition, the Fiksate (Dr Suits, Jen_Heads, Porta and Bols) crew joined forces with the organisers of the New Brighton Outdoor Art Festival and members of the local community to produce a massive mural welcoming people to New Brighton. The graphic mural, with a bright segmented colour palette against a black background, drew on the Maori name for the area; Ōrua Paeroa (the name covering both the New Brighton and Travis Wetlands areas and referring to the place where the Easterly winds and the ocean meet), recognising the history of the suburb beyond its European call-back. The mural acted as a paint-by-numbers affair, the huge letters gridded out and people invited to paint sections. The result is an impressively bold addition to the neighbourhood. Unfortunately, while it was supposed to signal the upcoming NBOAF, the Covid-19 pandemic has seen the rest of the programme postponed indefinitely.

Urban Nipple

A sticker of a nipple is stuck to a lamppost
An Urban Nipple sticker outside Te Puna o Waiwhetu – The Christchurch Art Gallery

One of my favourite things about urban art and particularly smaller urban additions, such as stickers, is the ability to make you double take and look closer. Those small interventions that make you think you recognise something, asking yourself, surely that isn’t… is it? In doing so we are surprised and made more aware of our environment, often left with an urge to investigate, or at least a nagging wonder about what we just saw and who might have been behind it. I had that experience in early March, casually strolling past Te Puna o Waiwhetu – The Christchurch Art Gallery on Montreal Street. As I passed the Bunker and Jess Johnson and Simon Ward’s video arcade game inspired piece, a small circular sticker caught my eye. I did the double take as I passed, then stopped, back tracking. I was right, it was a nipple, an urban nipple on the lamppost. The sticker is one of a number of interventions under the Urban Nipple project (Instagram: @UrbanNIPPLE), intended to encourage the return of the banned nipple into our shared lives through humorous interactions, getting people to think about sexism and discrimination.

FOLT Skull Collabs

One of the FOLT x Bols collab skull cut-outs

I first started noticing FOLT stickers a few months ago, from the handwritten tags and deconstructed skateboards to the block printed, angular graphic versions, and they have been a personal favourite since. Recently, that sticker profile has expanded to sculptural installations, with an array of wooden skull cut outs appearing around the city. In March, the skulls were fixed to various sites, inviting people to hunt out the various incarnations. The skulls include both exclusive FOLT productions and several collaborations, including with local artists Bols and Jen_Heads. Hopefully we can see more in the future, because if the attention of the lady while I was photographing one was anything to go by, they are intriguing additions to our cityscape…

TOGO – Toy Stories

The pink cover of Toy Stories, with a plain white text
The cover of TOGOs Toy Stories publication

On a personal level, my month was made by the arrival of TOGO’s Toy Stories publication on door step. I was lucky enough to get a copy of the limited run, and I am glad I didn’t miss out. It is a beautiful thing, the understated cover concealing the funny anecdotes and intimate photographs inside. It is full of humour and importantly exhortations and revelations, celebrating graffiti’s compulsive rebellion. A combination of specific stories of memorable nights and close-shaves, mantra-like prose detailing the realities of graffiti life and photographs of urban space from the creases (a sense of the embrace of the perihperies permeates the grainy images), Toy Stories jumped the pile of books I have been meaning to read and has already been digested…

These were some of our favourite things from March 2020, what made your list? Let us know in the comments…

 

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Book Club

The Covid 19 enforced lock down period will have an undeniably massive impact on all facets of our lives, potentially permanently altering our routines. It is important maintain our mental health, and, for me, making and consuming art are vital aspects of my personal balance. I have been promising to catch up on the growing stacks of books at home for months and now I have this unforeseen time to finally make a dent. Urban art has a long relationship with the written word and documented image (graffiti itself is typographical, and slogan-based street art has a long lineage including The Gorilla Girls and John Fekner), from the early classics to the increasingly flashy publications of today. For an initially underground art movement, new publications (not to mention online content) emerge regularly, from big publishing houses or independent sources, echoing the complex (and at times contradictory) nature of contemporary urban art. Graffiti and street art books have spanned a range of approaches: seminal explorations of emerging creative cultures, academic studies, artist monographs, historical documents, surveys of themes and specific geographic locations, photographic collections and publications accompanying exhibitions and events.

We figured this was a perfect time to discuss some of our favourite urban art books. This is not a ‘best of’ compilation, nor are these entries reviews as such. It is intended to show an array of books, each with something that grabbed us; from the conceptual content to the pure beauty of the physical object, or even historical importance, these are the pages we love. There are also plenty more not included here, books we plan to share with you in the coming weeks on our Instagram page (think of it like a book club), so please let us know which books you would include on your list…

Subway Art – Henry Chalfant and Martha Cooper (Thames & Hudson, 1984)

The cover of Subway Art, which features train painted with graffiti

What else could start this list? Perhaps the most revered graffiti book of all time, Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant’s 1984 documentation of the rising force of New York graffiti is responsible for inspiring waves of future writers. Tatty copies, sometimes photocopied, are regularly cited by graffiti artists as their introduction to the culture, used as a guidebook for early attempts. Part of the success of Subway Art comes from its accessibility, avoiding overwrought analysis and focussing on the visual images (Cooper and Chalfant are primarily photographers), but it was also perfectly timed, coinciding with the seminal documentary Style Wars (of which Chalfant was a co-producer with Tony Silver). To put it bluntly, if Subway Art isn’t in your collection, you aren’t doing it right…

Getting Up – Subway Graffiti in New York – Craig Castleman (MIT Press, 1982)

The cover of Getting Up a book, featuring the effect of spray paint

Craig Castleman’s 1982 tome on graffiti culture may not have quite reached the popular status of Subway Art, but it is, for some, equally as important. A sociological study of graffiti culture, Getting Up surveys the youthful graffiti subculture blossoming on New York City subway trains, documenting and explaining many of the concepts that remain central tenets of graffiti today. This might be more of a specialist read due to its academic nature (although it is concise and straightforward), but ultimately it is a reminder of graffiti’s extension beyond art or crime, and into something representative of an entire culture that has spread across the globe. Castleman’s candid interviews revealed the self-constructed community of graffiti and positioned it as a more complicated network than it was considered at the time.

The Faith of Graffiti – Norman Mailer and Jon Naar (Harper Collins, 1974)

The cover of The Faith of Graffiti, featuring a graffiti-ed train in New York

To keep the theme of important early writing going, The Faith of Graffiti is another example of how graffiti writing was capturing the public imagination in the early-to-mid 1970s. While many dismissed graffiti as a plague that was breaking down civil society, others were fascinated by its mysterious nature and practitioners. Norman Mailer, the well-known writer and social critic, brought his own flair to photographer Jon Naar’s images of the infant graffiti culture. Mailer takes on the role of aesthetic investigator (or A1 as his tag moniker in the style of his subject), and interviews members of the subculture before considering the city of New York’s political response to the youthful art movement and even making art historical comparisons. In a sense, Mailer’s stature gave graffiti a legitimacy it was never seeking. The words though are only part of the book, Naar’s photographs providing the necessary visual vibrancy that give Mailer’s writing life and context.

Wall Writers – Graffiti in its Innocence – Roger Gastman (Gingko Press, 2016)

The cover of the book Wall Writers, featuring a 1970s wall heavy with graffiti and posters

Roger Gastman’s Wall Writers accompanies a documentary of the same name about graffiti in its early days. It features an impressive number of interviews with key figures, including Cornbread, Taki 183, LSD OM, Snake I, Cay 161, Junior 161 and Cool Earl. It brings together the keys places, figures, groups and documentarians from the early phases of graffiti writing culture, including dalliances with the art world. Wall Writers unveils the social and historical climate that birthed graffiti as a subculture, including the birth of aerosol, the phenomenon of Kilroy Was Here, and advertising and social messaging. The fascinating social ephemera, along with the personal stories and photographs, make Wall Writers a beautiful production that comes close to what it was really like in those early days, perhaps just with cleaner pages.

The History of American Graffiti – Roger Gastman and Caleb Neelon (Harper Collins, 2011)

The alternate cover of The History of American Graffiti, featuring an array of vintage spray cans

Roger Gastman and Caleb Neelon’s thick survey of American graffiti essentially takes on an impossible task, the authors even admitting as much, recalling one interviewee declaring that: “Anyone who tries to tell you the history of graffiti is either a liar or a fool.” But while it can never be definitive, it is most certainly exhaustive, with stories and images from cities and regions from coast to coast, and including more specific offshoots of the culture (including freight train painting, graffiti inside galleries and the rise of street art). With images sourced from a huge number of contributors, it is a fascinating insight into how graffiti has mutated in different areas, and yet how consistent influences remain central. Its compartmentalised format also makes it more easily digestible, allowing readers to jump into different cities rather than following a traditional narrative.

The World Atlas of Street Art and Graffiti – Rafael Schacter (Yale University Press, 2013)

The cover of the book The World Atlas of Street Art and Graffiti, featuring a painting by Anthony Lister on a brick wall

Rafael Schacter’s compendium of Independent Public Art (a term he adapts from Javier Abarca) is a globetrotting survey of the new school of public art practices that have emerged out of graffiti and post-graffiti. From ephemeral interventions to technological approaches, the litany of terms considered is intriguing: emotional advertising, symbolic figurative graffiti, conceptual vandalism, hacktivism, bibliographic bombing, and existentialist graffiti to name a few. A reminder of how far these interventionist practices have come, it is thoughtful and yet approachable. Unlike The History of American Graffiti, which attempts a similar, albeit more defined, geographic scope, Schacter’s Atlas does not seek to recount a history, but to take a snapshot of these artists and their diverse practices, and in doing so, reveal the growing maturity of contemporary urban art as a form of new public art. Schacter also includes a selection of maps made by artists to represent their hometowns, with favourites including Momo’s New York journey and Lush’s typical caustic cartography of Melbourne. For good measure it includes Askew and BMD in the ‘Rest of the World’ section.

Trespass – A History of Uncommissioned Urban Art – Ethel Seno, ed. (Taschen, 2010)

The cover of the book Trespass, featuring a yellow and black design and stencilled font

Edited by Ethel Seno and featuring contributions from Carlo McCormick and Marc and Sara Schiller from the Wooster Collective, Trespass is a more cerebral exploration of the rebellious aspects of urban art. Less pictorial (although still a good looking book), it is the essays that consider the various strands of un-permissioned art (even the distinction between terms such as illegal, uncommissioned and un-permissioned is an interesting discussion) within the urban landscape that take centre stage, from legal status, public space, and counter-consumerism, to urban folk art and environmental approaches. Trespass importantly reminds us of the importance of transgression in urban art, a fact that can sometimes be downplayed in blockbuster shows, crowd friendly festivals and commissioned (and especially commercial) projects. To celebrate such aspects is not an easy task in a published book, where external forces may require concession, but Trespass is able to build an interconnected history of urban art’s disruptive potential.

We Own the Night – The Art of The Underbelly Project – Workhorse and PAC (Rizzoli, 2012)

The cover of the book We Own the Night, featuring an aerosol painting of the title as par tof the Underbelly Project

Workhorse and PAC’s documentation of the secretive Underbelly Project, which saw artists invited to paint an abandoned network of subway tunnels in New York, is like a ticket to an exclusive party. The project itself was so clandestine that even artists were blindfolded as they were taken underground. The book is a revealing insight into an inaccessible gallery now closed forever (or at least until a new generation of urban explorers finds the tunnels and its painted walls). The eerie setting is perfect for a book, silence is a key quality and reinforces the isolation of the project, while the spot-lit images, darkened in the corners, provide a sense of being amongst the creepy surroundings, unsure of each strange creak and crack. Spanning several years, The Underbelly Project saw an impressive array of talent paint the aged concrete, from Logan Hicks, Ron English and dabs Myla, to Dan Witz, Lady Aiko and Remi Rough. Much like Trespass, We Own the Night celebrates the rebellious and outsider qualities or urban art.

Flip the Script – A Guidebook for Aspiring Vandals and Typographers – Christian P. Acker (Gingko, 2013)

The black cover of the book Flip the Script with the title in blue

Christian P. Acker’s typographic text is similar to a number of font-inspired books, but is also a fascinating insight into regional hand-styles across the U.S. It is sweeping in locations and time periods, painstakingly recreating letter forms to create a database of styles, revealing the various folk inspirations behind little details. Contributors present full alphabets of their signature style, while Philadelphia’s Wickets are a uniquely specific example explored in depth as well. As the styles pile up, it becomes impossible to not start imitating as the intricacies are revealed and the reason behind those little details become apparent. Acker presents graffiti hand-styles as folk-inspired calligraphy, type designer Christian Schwartz comparing his field recording approach to ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax’s work with folk music in the 20th century. Flip the Script is also a beautiful book, bound in black cloth and restrained in a blue and grey palette, it is clearly a passion project.

InForm – New Zealand Graffiti Artists Discuss Their Work – Elliot O’Donnell (Reed, 2007)

The cover of InForm, with the title written in light in an urban environment

Elliot ‘Askew’ O’Donnell is not only one of Aotearoa’s most revered artists (let’s be honest, he is a global powerhouse now), he is also a key voice in the discourses around graffiti and urban art. After founding Disrupt with Pest5/Johnny 4Higher, Askew was already acknowledged as a leader of the New Zealand scene by the early 2000s, and InForm, produced in 2007, was another string to that bow. A combination of a snapshot of the scene and a process guidebook, it features the country’s biggest names, interviewed and then photographed painting, their pieces documented at each stage from outline to complete. It is an impressive undertaking for its time and reaffirms the primary status of graffiti in New Zealand urban art culture. While Auckland is heavily featured, and as expected the heavyweight TMD crew, Ōtautahi is well represented by Dcypher, Lurq and Pest5 (who had relocated to Auckland by that time).

Toy Stories – TOGO (137k Gallery, 2020)

The pink cover of Toy Stories, with a plain white text

The newest book on this list, TOGO’s recently published Toy Stories might be one of my favourite things from 2020. The minimal cover, in TOGO’s signature pastel pink, conceals the energy that the nomadic artist is known for. Mischief and compulsion are central themes, captured in TOGO’s en scene photography and anecdotal writing, all based on real experience. Toy Stories makes apparent the feelings and sensory realities of graffiti and urban exploration, all with a combination of zine-like zest and elegant production. In many ways, this is a manifesto, part written word, part visual image, yet all direct, including the documentation of paint splattered garments and shoes, brushes, a balaclava and bolt cutters in a manner akin to a museum catalogue. Toy Stories is an impressive analogue addition to TOGO’s digital documentation of a graffiti artist’s life on the peripheries and a unique addition to Aotearoa’s urban art scene, a beautiful object as an artist book, and yet undeniably authentic.

So, that’s our list, what have we missed? Let us know in the comments and follow us on Instagram for more book club entries…

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And That Was… November 2019

There seems to be a renewed energy in the air, although I guess Summer will do that. For me, November was pervaded with a flurry of activity, raising my excitement levels for the coming months. November began with the strange and awkward experience of filming for television and film crews, something I must admit is made easier by the great people I worked with, from international sportspeople to crews who were genuinely interested in the city and its urban art. I then had the chance to work on a project that gained national exposure and showed the reach of urban art as a communicative tactic and embraced an alternative to traditional marketing. It wasn’t all about me though, as plenty of other people around the city were doing what they do best, from sharing knowledge or staging exhibitions, to doing what urban artists should do best, painting and exploring the cityscape. There was plenty to enjoy, so, here are my top five for November 2019…

The Human Torch Was Denied a Bank Loan

John Bateman and Lewis Brown stand beside the stencils they helped paint on one of the giant cans for their segment with Sky Sports in advance of the match between the Great Britain and Kiwi rugby league teams in early November.

November brought a bit of wide-ranging exposure for Christchurch’s urban art scene, and I was placed in the position of film and television personality (OK, perhaps too strong a term!). Filming for both Sky Sports and an overseas film crew producing a video for Tourism NZ, the chance to show off our city was only marginally tempered by the awkwardness of being in front of a camera. We showed Great British Lions rugby league player John Bateman around the city and were joined by former Kiwis player and Christchurch-raised Lewis Brown, each spraying a stencil of their team logos on one of the giant spray cans. The video was then featured on the pre-game build up of the Kiwis Great Britain game on November 9th. Keep an eye out for the other production if you fly internationally!

Ruby Jones – All Of This Is For You

One of the Ruby Jones paste-ups found around the central city. Photo Credit: Rachel Eadie

You all know the iconic post-Terror Attack image of the two women hugging, one wearing her hajib, accompanied by the wistful declaration: “This is your home, you should have been safe here.” It was viral, and it gained its creator, Wellington-based illustrator Ruby Jones the opportunity to design the cover of the iconic Time magazine, the first kiwi to be given the platform. Ruby has recently released a beautiful book of her illustrations, All of This is for You through Penguin Books. To celebrate the release, and to recognise the role of Christchurch’s experience in Ruby’s work, the amazing Rachel Eadie from Penguin Publishing approached us to work on a unique campaign. Initially, the concept was perhaps a painted mural, however, the nature of the illustrations, their messages and the way they were to be experienced in the book, led to a new idea, a street art-inspired paste-up campaign that offered small engagements around Christchurch. In early November, we posted the range of images at various locations across the city, including the brick work exterior of Riverside Market, Market Square at the Arts Centre, Little High, City Mall, the Boxed Quarter and Tū The interventions provided the chance for reflection, for the chance to stop and take stock amid the bustling surroundings. Some have already disappeared, but that was inherently part of the beauty…

DTR Workshop and Painting Jam

Dcypher whips up a skull character on the day of the DTR workshop.

In mid-November, the city’s leading graffiti crew, DTR, hosted a one-day workshop and painting jam at the Lichfield Street Youth Space. Participants were supported by the talents of Wongi, Dcypher and Ikarus, and after a drawing session, painted the giant cans with an array of designs, from traditional letter forms to characters and even pencils. The energy and good vibes of the day were evident, with artists of various experiences colluding. I spent the afternoon just observing, seeing people figure things out and pieces coming together. As cheesy as it sounds, events like this are a reminder of the potential power of art.

Urban Abstract at Fiksate

Fiksate really knocked it out of the park with the impressive Urban Abstract, a show that brought together local, national and international artists who are united by their investigations of abstraction. Featuring Elliot O’Donnell (Askew), Levi Hawken, Togo, Tepid, Melinda Butt, Pener, Bols and Dr Suits, Urban Abstract showed the diverse range of abstract approaches, materially and conceptually, while also drawing on the roots of graffiti and street art as an inspiration for this interest. Graffiti’s reconfigured letter forms but tradition-heavy emphasis provides a conflict, while post-graffiti’s focus on accessibility and iconographic visual language means it has often been more marginalised, yet, of course, contemporary muralism’s increasing diversity has seen the emergence of abstraction on a grand scale. Togo’s photographs and video, Pener’s electric, angular sketches and O’Donnell’s painterly urban landscape work were personal highlights among a strong collection.

From the Rooftops

The newest addition to the Christchurch skyline, an abstract piece by TOGO.

I absolutely love this new rooftop piece by our favourite urban adventurer TOGO. A perfect tie-in with the focus of Urban Abstract, the work is a hazy, drippy contrast to the sharpness of other pieces around the city, disrupting the pristine white building. The fresh colours (notably not in the TOGO’s iconic pink and black) give a radiate a summer feel. It’s placement also ensures it is an surprising treat, appearing unexpectedly on the city skyline, distant from so many other examples. Works like this always renew my energy, cutting to the heart of urban art’s presence.

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Urban Abstract at Fiksate, Friday 25 October

This Friday sees the opening of Fiksate’s latest group exhibition, Urban Abstract. A long time in the making, the show represents something of a passion project for the Fiksate crew. An exploration of abstraction within the urban art realm, the show will bring together a diverse roster, including Poland’s Pener, Aotearoa heavyweights Elliot O’Donnell, TOGO, Melinda Butt and Levi Hawken, and local artists Tepid, Bols and Dr Suits. These artists represent a number of approaches and interests in abstract work, from Hawken’s concrete sculptural forms, to TOGO’s photographic and videographic documentation of his in situ practice, as well as a wall painting by Fiksate’s own Dr Suits. Other artists explore gestural painting, collage, stencils and more, all with distinct signatures. While abstraction has long roots in urban art, it has not been explored locally to any significant degree, a fact that Urban Abstract seeks to address, celebrating the emergence of urban contemporary’s diversity. As with all Fiksate shows, the drinks and atmosphere will be supplied and with a few surprises in store, it is most definitely worth marking the date in your calendar…

Urban Abstract opens Friday, October 25th, from 5pm. The show will run until November 29. Fiksate is located at 165 Gloucester Street.

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