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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And That Was… September 2019 (with Dr Suits)

This month I asked Fiksate’s Dr Suits to look back over the month of September. While normally this series highlights events and additions to the streets, guest contributors continue to bring a fresh perspective to the experience of living in Christchurch as a creative city. Dr Suits is a compulsive creator, with a prodigious output. His paintings serve as progressive studies that track his ongoing visual evolution. His abstractions are entwined with the surrounding urban environment, and as his list illustrates, he is hyper aware of the intriguing details of the cracked concrete and applications of paint around Christchurch. The direction of influence is unclear, as he suggests: “I’m not sure whether the urban photos inspire my work or my work dictates what I shoot. But I use images of buildings and textures to help with compositions, shapes, forms, textures, line and colour in my work all the time. And when I take photos, I’m looking for content which translates back to my work, so it’s a bit of a circular process.” It is no surprise then, that his list is a collection of intimate snapshots of urban surfaces and how they influence his work, reflections on how we can perceive and recontextualise the aesthetics around us. With that said, in true Dr Suits fashion, he declares dryly: “I try not to over think it to be honest.”

The Contrast of Concrete

I’m into looking at surfaces and seeing how others have interacted with them. I get satisfaction from the angle of line someone made when they cut and fixed the concrete footpath, the contrast of the old and new surface material really interests me. It’s not something I usually talk about with my mates though: “Yo, check out the change of the angle in that line in the concrete, that’s nice!”

The Buff Squad

As much as I love urban art and graf, I really do appreciate how layers of buff form abstract compositions on buildings. The different shades of grey that never match, often in square or rectangular arrangements. They are often accidentally beautiful. The buff squad should have their own Instagram feed. If they do can you send me the tag? I’m literally checking now to see if they do…

Diagonal Lines

Then there’s diagonal lines, I love them. In the physical world they are everywhere. They are designed to stand out and grab our attention. I have used them quite a lot in my work over the past few years and I’m constantly exploring the dynamic impact they can have in a composition.

Yellow All Around

Yellow is super visible, and from a long distance. Yellow cuts through. I like yellow lines. Yellow traffic poles, yellow road markings, yellow lines. Yellow is bloody great. It appears in my work regularly, especially in combination with black.

What is This Wizardry?

I was down at the Thompson Park skate bowl in North New Brighton. It had recently been buffed out PEEEP grey (if you know, you know). Some absolute fucking genius had used a black spray can to mark out all the seam lines in the concrete to highlight the wizardry behind the intricate shapes used to form the skate bowl. Now this is urban abstract art at its finest…

Dr Suits will be featured in Fiksate’s upcoming exhibition Urban Abstract, which will also feature Elliot O”Donnell, TOGO, Levi Hawken, Tepid and Pener… Opening October 25th (more to come on that!)…

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