It has been a while since our last Street Treats edition, in part due to the lock-down situation, but even as we all play catch up on the livelihoods that were put on hold, the streets were a fascinating site to explore with the range of expressions and interventions to be found. This volume of Street Treats features a cacophony of diverse forms, and rather than dealing with explicitly political messaging, they are affirmative and declarative and playful, inherently meaningful concepts in a time where it is easy to feel invisible and somewhat powerless. Graffiti is a strong presence, bursts of colourful existential expression, bound by certain conventions but constantly searching for ways to stand out. The examples here run the gamut of styles and modes of production (some are legal, others not so much), but importantly they speak to the game and represent both a here and now and the countless numbers that have come before, a lineage of urban commentary. The repetition of other, non-signature forms lives up to the concept of post-graffiti, like characters, pencils, flowers and rocket ships, these symbols are both as mysterious as calligraphic tags, and yet also familiar and therefore more approachable. They share the idea of proclamation in the public realm, but are perhaps satisfied with intrigue rather than alienation. Why do so many find it more challenging when someone boldly writes their name than the positioning of an iconographic proxy to do the same job? Is a name a more confrontational and confident vessel for expression? Regardless of your take, the effect is the same; the city speaks, quietly, loudly, in whispers or in defiantly boisterous screams…
Stay tuned for more Street Treats soon!
If you have any corrections for the credits above, let us know in the comments!
Spread the word about what's happening in the Christchurch urban art scene:
The Paste-Up Project is a collaboration between Watch This Space, Phantom Billstickers and a selection of Ōtautahi’s finest paste-up and poster artists. With support from the Christchurch City Council, one of Phantom’s Manchester Street bollards has been transformed into a paste-up art installation space for the next 12 months, with local artists commissioned to push their work in new directions with a three-month takeover. The Paste-Up Project bollard serves as a supported platform for one of urban art’s most enduring forms and for the long historical lineage of urban postering (just ask Phantom!), with artists enabled to grow the scale and material qualities of their work within a setting that will challenge the perceptions of an ephemeral form of art.
First up at bat is teethlikescrewdrivers, an easy choice really as he is the driving force behind SlapCity, the loose collective that has embraced the potential of stickers and paste-ups across Ōtautahi. His instantly familar, yet continually beguiling pencil icon has become a recurring feature of the urban landscape. The simplicity of the image opens up a range of potential readings, and yet requires none, it exists, it is, and that is enough. More notable for the Lyttelton artist, is the sense of collaboration and community that his urban art adventures have instituted – from online mash-ups to weekly meet ups to explore the city, teethlikescrewdrivers constantly strives for connections and in doing so has created an expansive network of disparate, yet kindred spirits who see the urban landscape as one of play.
His installation for The Paste-Up Project embraces these ideas, celebrating each in a segmented yet cohesive production that will be on display for the next three months in central Christchurch. Of course, the pencil is the star, refashioned and re-formed across the circular base, and in doing so speaking to the various personalities who have inspired, influenced and embraced the artist’s signature form. But that’s enough from me, let’s hear from teethlikescrewdrivers as he explains his installation…
For the two people who don’t know you already, introduce yourself…
Hi, I’m teethlikescrewdrivers and I draw pencils.
I will admit that there was really no other choice for the first artist up for this project – what was your take when we first discussed the concept?
Really? Oh man.
Initially I was doubtful, mostly of myself! I couldn’t really think of anything other than doing bigger pencils and I wanted to give the space something it deserved. I’m fine with doing more pencils, but it wasn’t really bringing anything new to the table. After a few discussions with people and reading the brief, I started to think more about the possibilities it offered someone who usually only does one thing.
It is a surprisingly big space, how did you come up with the concept to fill the bollard and what incarnations did you go through?
I was going to just use it as one giant nine metre-squared canvas. After a few visits with a tape measure and some really basic planning, I decided to divide it into small, medium and large ‘panels’. This then made me start thinking about three themes. It kind of rolled on from there.
Your piece is titled Community, Collaboration and Connection, and it reflects the various elements that form such integral components of your experience in the world of urban art, how does each section relate?
After I settled on three panels, the themes were easy. I wanted to highlight paste-ups as a medium and have the chance to play around with that, I wanted to introduce more of the international sticker and paste-up community to Christchurch and I was always going to give our SlapCity family some love. I had to measure up pretty accurately for the community one, just so the pencil slotted in. The collaboration panel used the Vermin poster (Vermin is an artist from Manchester in the UK) as a starting point and then I just filled in the space like a sticker bomb. The big connection wall I had a rough idea for…kinda . I figured if I turned up with all the stuff I had, made and cut pastes on the spot and used posters salvaged from clearing the bollard something would happen. I just started throwing up stuff and discovering gems!
You got to play around with some cool material concepts, from large scale pastes to smaller overlapped pieces and of course the tearing away of layers, tell me more about each of these ideas…
Firstly the bollard is bloody ginormous, so I knew making three-metre tall pencil was going to be a struggle and would basically cover a whole panel. By splitting it I was able to physically manage it and still give a chance for the stuff behind to be seen. On the connection wall I really got to play with all the layers; negative spaces and using cool materials such as the old posters and wallpaper. On the second day I came back and started tearing into the layers from the day before, I really enjoyed that element of the process. I also really liked making my own wallpaper and giving the whole thing depth.
You spent a sunny weekend on the bollard, what was it like to have the time to explore the ideas you had developed – it must have been a new experience compared to the missions with friends. Did you find it still quite communal? I imagine it was like a mural painter – do you have any interesting stories of people stopping to chat or asking questions about what you were doing?
I kind of set up camp for the weekend, it was ace. I had a picnic table for drawing and cutting paste-ups, a speaker playing music, my car right there and my shit spread out all over the place. It was ideal! I had lots of good chats with passers-by about the bollard and my car; both great conversation starters. Having the time to step back really helped the big panel come together. That one is more artistic, I guess, it’s less about one piece and more about layers and how they fit together so time helped.
Oh, I almost got signed up to the Peninsula Trampers Club by one old fella who I had a good chat with! Did you know there are a whole bunch of boulders like the ones at Moeraki, but in the streams inland!? You do now!
My whanau popped by and I had a lunchtime beer with a bunch of mates and lots of people came and hung out. It was like a paste-up Glastonbury!
What were some of the challenges you faced? It is obviously not a traditional flat surface…
The wind and the physical size of the paste-ups were the big ones. But because I had time I was able to leave stuff and come back to it, or think my way around it.
What are your hopes for The Paste-Up Project, not just in terms of your own installation but as a concept? Do you see it as a way to change perceptions, or at least the visibility of paper art in Ōtautahi?
I hope it opens the door for more artists to get their stuff up. There is a real delight in putting your work up in the streets rather than in a frame or on Instagram. Having a dedicated paste-up ‘show’ really lets people see some of the more established artists’ work and hopefully inspires others to get out there into the streets with a bucket and brush or just a pocket full of homemade stickers. Down the line I would love to see this kind of collaboration move into different towns and cities.
You have developed a web of connections around the world with artists through collabs and trades, and many are featured on the bollard, have you had any responses from those people overseas yet? What have the responses been like from the local scene?
Instantly! The collab wall was really just a huge collab and mash-up sticker bomb and everyone is always stoked to see a bit of their work in one, especially way down here in Christchurch. I think there are mash-ups and collabs with over 50 artists on that panel; everywhere from Brazil, Russia, most of Europe and even just down the road.
I’ve had comments from people about how well my pencil scales up, this was a good test for that! I was really stoked with the Vermin collab, it looks epic as a huge poster and you can really appreciate all the details. I was also really pleased to get work up in New Zealand from good friends from overseas.
Do you hope this is just the start of more opportunities like this, and if so, do you have any ideas of how it might be harnessed?
I really hope so. I would love to see sticker and paste-up walls as part of the ‘street art’ scene alongside graffiti and murals here in New Zealand. Maybe down the road a sticker and paste-up show? It would be amazing to see some dedicated paste-up walls or permissioned spaces in the city. Personally, I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing and see where it leads me.
While the weather was perfect for installation, it rained heavily just a day later, what impact did that have and were you philosophical about it?
I think putting a layer of straight-up PVA onto wet paste last thing was a double-edged sword. The next day the whole thing was covered in white streaks and all the paper was still really wet, I thought I’d knackered it! But after a while it dried clear and I think will add a bit more protection in the long run. The good thing about all paste-ups is you can always add more layers. If it all falls to bits over the next few months I will just go and tear a bunch off and add more.
Who do you want to shout out?
Watch This Space, Phantom, the Christchurch City Council, the SlapCity family and all the amazing venues that have let us use their spaces over the past two years. All the artists here in Christchurch who paved the way and have got us to a point where a project like this can even happen. My whanau and all the rad artists who have let me use their art for mashups or who have taken my pencils and messed with them.
Follow teethlikescrewdrivers to see what he gets up to next, and keep your eyes and ears peeled for more about The Paste-Up Project on our channels!
Oh, and get down to the site on Manchester Street to see this amazing installation in the flesh!
Spread the word about what's happening in the Christchurch urban art scene:
Tune! is a brand new series where we ask artists about the importance of music in their practice. For many creatives, forms of art overlap and provide incredibly important influence, whether it is those who are multiple threats (you know, the amazing musician who is also an incredible painter), or those who admit to the vital sustenance consuming one form has on their production of another. Music and visual art or object-based art have a long entwined relationship, from bands formed at art schools to iconic album covers, or even the idea that a fully formed creative eco-system is vital to any subculture, such as the four elements of hip hop. So, here, Tune! allows us to create an ongoing eclectic playlist of music to make art by…
For this edition, we hear from local stencil artist Bols about his failed dreams of rock ‘n’ roll stardom, how his tastes vary and what music he listens to while at work…
I was nine when my parents gave me a cheap guitar and I started lessons. Unfortunately, I showed neither an aptitude nor a willingness to practice and after just a handful of lessons my fledging path to superstardom came to an end. Yet, I never completely gave up that faint dream of somehow writing a song that would change the world, I just made sure I didn’t tell anyone until now. I cringe when I say this because it is such a common response, but I have diverse musical tastes. It might seem weird, but I love abstract painting and sculpture, but musically I have always connected with songs with potent, evocative, cinematic storytelling rather than beats, whether that is edgy alternative, soundtrack indie, conscious hip hop or even morose alt-country. I was probably the wrong age for the rise of electronic music, that was the domain of the nerdy kids who knew something the rest of us didn’t. I have always appreciated the way music can evoke a spectrum of emotions, I like nothing better than a song that makes me sad. Music connects with a time or an event in my life and as I get older that becomes even more powerful (there is a line in a song,When You’re Ready by Brian Fallon, where he talks about watching his daughter colour in while wearing new pyjamas and it gets me every time), it might be in the way it makes me feel, it might be because I was listening to it whenever, but my life has played out to a soundtrack. I tend to think of my art in musical terms, from perfectly phrased lines to more abstract lyricism. I find inspiration not just for ideas but also for a call to action to work as well. There are a heap of artists I could have included, but for now, here are a handful of songs that inspire me…
Lord Huron – Twenty Long Years
This album, Long Lost, is on high rotation right now and this is my favourite song from it. It has an old-time feel, with feelings of regret in a last guy at the bar vibe. It’s lonesome and romantic: “I gotta find a way out of this mess, I’m in trouble and it sure looks bad..”
Bruce Springsteen – Jungleland
Springsteen is not everyone’s cup of tea, but this song pretty much sums up my creative outlook – it’s cinematic, it’s romantic (“kids flash guitars just like switchblades”), it’s sprawling, it’s escapist, it’s epic (“the street’s on fire in a real death waltz”), but it is also relatable in a strange way. I rise and fall with the tides of this song, and always seem to find some new line that resonates – I feel like every time I hear it, I scramble for a notebook thinking there is some way to add that to a work…
Big Thief – Not
I discovered Big Thief when I heard the album Capacity and was immediately smitten. I was one of those people who raved about them every time I got the chance. I had tickets to see them in Auckland, but Covid. Not is still the track that stops me in place – it has an urgent energy combined with evocative lyrics that have me singing along while trying to unlock what Adrienne Lenker is saying…
Frightened Rabbit- Keep Yourself Warm
I heard Frightened Rabbit’s Swim Until You Can’t See Land first, and I loved it, but when I listened to their second album Midnight Organ Fight, it was stuck on repeat for months. The whole thing was so relatable and anthemic. It ultimately took on even more meaning with the death of Scott Hutchison, the leader of FR. Keep Yourself Warm is a cathartic song written in Hutchison’s style of witty self-deprecation that is also affirming, it is vulgar and yet uplifting. The version by The Twilight Sad after Hutchison passed is heart breaking and cathartic.
Aesop Rock – Blood Sandwich
My taste in hip hop stems from Public Enemy and follows a path through Arrested Development, The Roots, BlackStar, Common, Brother Ali, Atmosphere, Doomtree and of course the verbal master Aesop Rock. Blood Sandwich is just amazing song-writing and makes me want to wrangle words, Aesop evokes eras and moments in such visceral quality it is hard not to feel present in these events: “Can you even imagine a death in the fam from industrial fandom?”.
Reigning Sound – Stick Up For Me
I’m a fan of that guitar-driven British R’n’B sound, I think it comes from my Dad who with some mates ran a nite club in Christchurch when he was younger with a house band in the style. It is the grimy sound and energy that hook me, with this a particular favourite from the mid to late 2000s revival… It is a motivator, which is always vital for me as a procrastinator.
WU LYF – We Bros
I was introduced to WU LYF by Hitnes, an Italian artist who visited Christchurch in 2013. He played it but I forgot the name of the band and struggled to find them again for several years as they had disbanded. But when i did finally find their album Go Tell Fire To The Mountain, I listened to it over and over. It is menacing and mysterious and heavy and it allows me to drift off as I paint…
Follow Bols on Instagram and keep an eye out for more editions of Tune! coming soon!
Spread the word about what's happening in the Christchurch urban art scene:
We pick up with the second part of our interview with Cracked Ink immediately where we left off, discussing the artist’s entrance into the festival scene and how it necessitated a different approach to his work. For Cracked Ink, his character-based creations have unlimited narrative potential, dancing their way across walls, their interactions place them as story tellers. Jump back into our conversation with Cracked Ink as he reflects on the importance of knowing your worth, the role of social media, and the balancing act of an artistic career…
As you started doing events and festivals like Sea Walls, did it make you think more about the process of creating murals? A lot of artists coming up now, they are almost immediately thinking of large-scale muralism, but that hasn’t always been the case, that transition for writers and for character-based artists or artists who were working in that post-graffiti style, muralism wasn’t necessarily the end goal…
It certainly became more narrative driven, which was actually really good for me, it made me look at my own work. The Sea Walls stuff, it’s all about ocean conservation, which allowed me to start to drill into different narratives. Is it just a visual that people want to see, or a story? It really made me look at my stuff and ask how can I push it in different directions and use different narratives? It was a kick in the ass for me a little bit, it got me thinking again. I started off with good intentions of trying to do something with content, but sometimes you drift off into this little abyss and you forget what it was all about. So that really helped me to re-centre and rethink my own game and what I was doing. From my perspective, these days new people are coming into it from different worlds, which is totally cool and amazing, there are talented artists coming into this world of muralism and stuff, but they didn’t necessarily get the opportunity to grow up the way I got into it, which is going out and painting. I don’t think it is right, I don’t think it’s wrong…
It’s just different.
I think it’s just the way life is. The trajectory of these things, the whole thing has changed.
It will be interesting to look back and see the direction of muralism under these new influences. Askew made a similar point recently about how the motivations for graffiti are completely different now that young people have more platforms to express themselves. It used to be that you felt invisible and graffiti was a way to be seen, now you can post selfies 400 times a day on Instagram. That doesn’t mean graffiti becomes futile or pointless, it just means that the motivations have changed.
It’s interesting the whole dynamic with social media. As it has picked up speed over the past five years, it has changed so much. When I first signed up for all this social media stuff it was exciting, because it was about getting your work out there. But it quickly became a bit of a drain, just that whole thing of checking my phone and going through it all. I mean it is an amazing tool to share your work and for people to follow it and catch up on what you’re doing, but that need for likes and follows can make it tough to navigate…
I sometimes think it has the potential to take people away from the primary act of making and doing. You get the feeling for some people, understanding and manipulating algorithms of social media becomes the drive, rather than celebrating the work, it feels less organic. That original power of allowing people to put things in the world, empowering people, it feels like it is now overshadowed by the commercial potential of it all…
I feel sorry for the guys and girls growing up on these platforms. I feel like the purpose of why you do your art, it should always be for yourself. It should never be for someone else, the purpose of being creative and doing art is for you. It’s that outlet of yourself. When you start trying to please other people, it changes. You should be doing it for yourself, and from that people are going to like it, people are going to dislike it, but that shouldn’t change what you do. That’s a big thing that I have stuck to, I always do it for my own reasons. If other people like it, then happy days. If they don’t, that’s not my problem. I’ve always had that attitude. Once you put it onto that platform, whether people are hating it or people are loving it, you have no control over that, it shouldn’t be a focus. Creativity has never been about that.
Once you start fishing for things it becomes problematic because you start listening to an audience rather than building an audience. That’s another issue with the likes of Instagram, we are exposed to styles and trends and we start thinking about how to jump on them. In the past, it was more localised, the engagement was more real and immediate, it didn’t seem so curated. But it also meant that you were influenced by what worked in your surrounding environment. Speaking of local environments, you established the Whanganui Walls event in your hometown a few years ago, what was the inspiration to start your own festival?
Being part of the scene for 20 years and being part of so many festivals, I found it had a really interesting dynamic. When I first started, the chance of painting a big wall was kind of the ultimate goal, and with festivals you would get to paint what you want, generally. Over the years, seeing and being a part of these events, the major thing that I noticed was the amount of stuff that a city was getting and the artists were willing to go and do it for free. It is tricky because when we initially started painting, we’d go and paint stuff in the street, because that’s your zone, that’s your place, you want to be there. But there is a difference between painting a festival and painting in the street. The festival is a curated thing. Ultimately, the festival gets funding to pay for the paint, to pay for the machines, to house the artists, feed the artists, all that kind of stuff. After doing so many different festivals, it really interested me that the festivals never thought of actually compensating the artist. Some of these festival walls are absolute bangers, and the time and the effort the artist takes out of their schedule to come and paint these walls, for me, it seems unfair to the artist. Even though the artist wants to paint that wall, don’t get me wrong, they also have to pay their bills…
It’s not the super-strict commissioning relationship that you might get in another project, but it is still being used and leveraged as cultural capital…
Yeah, you see cities claiming: This is what we did! Well, I’m pretty sure there were other people that were part of it as well!
There are real benefits in having something painted on your wall. A lot of cities use murals for their tourism profile. So, why shouldn’t artists be compensated for doing that work? What other industry would you see that?
It’s such an old view, but it still exists and it’s a strange one. It’s one that I’ve been fighting for so long. I have painted a lot of festivals for nothing. That is the big misconception of going and painting a big wall, I end up going there for a week of my own time, I get materials, I get my accommodation and I get food, the basic things in life that you probably should get, you know? So, what more do you want? Well, that’s kind of old school from my perspective. Starting a festival with my partner Shanti, we wanted to bring something interesting and different to Whanganui because the city has never seen anything of this nature. It’s a small place. Compared to Christchurch, it’s just chalk and cheese. So, it was about bringing something different. But for me as an artist, it was mainly trying to create a festival that could substantiate paying the artist something. The artists get part of Whanganui Walls. We want to make it worthwhile for the artists to come to Whanganui, to take that time out of their schedule, to share their creativity with us. Like we said before, the benefits to a place are just so big. So, I feel like we have definitely helped to breakdown some barriers, and there are other guys doing it as well, like Deow down south with South Sea Spray. It’s important to go into bat for the cause, because there is a lot of old school thinking and often it comes from funding process. But ultimately as a festival organiser, its on you.
It is a big undertaking to fund a festival…
These events require substantial investment. We get support from Harrison Hire Master, who really come to the table for us, and Resene, who are the kind of company that have the backing to go OK, we’re going to give you X, Y and Z for free, which is great, but we’re not asking for stuff for free, we are saying, if you are going to give us a discount, then that’s how much money we need to obtain through funding. The whole principle of Whanganui Walls was always for everyone right through the system to get something for their efforts, whether you are part of the operations crew or you’re volunteering, you’re getting something. That was always the principle of the festival. Because these people are putting so much effort into it, and not just the artists, why are you doing it for free? The time it takes to put on one of these festivals is massive.
It’s not something that you fit in on a lunch break or after work. For an artist, its traveling for a week, working the whole time. You may be getting your accommodation and food paid for, but everything else still goes on back at home as well, so they need to compensate for that. It is also important to remember the years spent refining their work to get to this stage…
I’ve always been a big advocate of knowing my own worth as an artist. Sometimes, you have to walk away from things to make things right. I get it. Any artist, no matter how well you’re doing, there are always points in your career where you have your highs and you have your lows, but you have to be careful about how you devalue yourself. It is tough if you just continually bounce up and down. If you want to get some stability in your career as an artist, in my opinion, you have to stick to your guns.
We have so many super talented artists in Aotearoa, is there a real need for more mentorship to build up younger artists’ sense of self value? In New Zealand, we have a tendency to think ourselves down, is this festival a way for you to serve as a sort of a mentor figure?
It’s good to spend time with artists and ask where they are at, because there is always that tendency of not wanting to talk about this whole aspect of being an artist. Let’s take pricing a mural. There is always this tendency to just shut down about it, whether that’s because people are not confident of putting a value on what they do, so that they can survive. I’m super open with the way I do stuff. So, if an artist wants to have a conversation with me about what I do in terms of pricing or whatever it is, then I’m super open to it. I feel like without those conversations, we both don’t learn about it. One size doesn’t fit all, and if you’re at the start of your career in the art world, and in particular in muralism, there’s always things that you feel like you can’t account for, or you can’t price into a job. But even if you’re relatively new to it and you are competent and have the skills and stuff, well, why are you devaluing yourself? You’re going to produce something just as good as the next artist who may be charging double that price. I remember when I started first getting some bigger jobs, it’s nerve-wracking man, it’s nerve-wracking pricing a job because you feel like by asking for this much money and you don’t get it, then you’ve lost that job completely. But even now, if I get some decent jobs there are always tools within that process that you can use to give options to clients which ultimately will not scare them off.
Other industries take a really hard-nosed approach to pricing, charging travel costs, time, materials… But for a lot of artists, there is the feeling that you can’t charge for things like petrol costs, or you need to take this out so that clients are more likely to agree. As much as we don’t want to emulate aspects of the commercial world, it is actually beneficial to adopt some parts…
What are your expectations if you were being commissioned to paint a wall? When you go to do that job are you wanting to pay your own travel costs? Are you wanting to pay for the machinery or for your accommodation while you are doing that job? You’re not trying to dupe anyone by doing this, but you have to try and align yourself with the expectations of a client. If they’re not paying for it, you are, so it’s really just trying to get that happy medium. From my experience doing quite a lot of large-scale commission work, you just have to be fully honest, be honest with yourself and be honest with the client, and then the conversation starts. They can always say, actually, we can’t do that, but if you don’t ask, you don’t get…
As you noted, you need to set the bar for yourself…
This has come up quite a lot recently. Being realistic about how you put your pricing in means you might not always get the dream. It’s about trying to be fair to yourself and to the client. You want to get the job, but you have to be really fair to everyone, and managing your own expectations is the hardest bit. There’s always self-doubt, there’s always that feeling that I would love this job, or I need this job, so that’s when we tend to low-ball ourselves, and before you know it, the client snaps your hand off. So, just go for it.
As an artist, you’re not beholden to only one way of working, you can always balance out projects to satisfy both your practical and creative needs…
It’s a malleable situation. Depending on how you want to operate, nothing is right, nothing is wrong. The main thing is if it is right for you. I have a certain style that I paint and I’m super strong on that in terms of commission work. But if you have a multitude of styles within your work and you can adapt to different commissions and you’re happy to do so, then it’s right for you. It’s just finding within yourself what is right for you, and if someone else feels that it’s wrong, that’s irrelevant. If it’s right to you, you do it. If it’s not right to you, don’t do it. You’ve got to find those boundaries. I feel like I’ve found my boundaries. I’m super black and white in terms of my artwork and in terms of the way I process things. If it’s not what I do, I don’t do it. it’s simple as that. But that doesn’t mean that’s right for someone else. It’s about finding the levels that you’re happy with and that might also ultimately mean that I don’t get as much work, but if I’m good with that, and I can get enough work to balance the books and enable myself to continue being creative constantly, that’s the goal.
That’s the key. As an artist, you have to know yourself, right?
If you can get used to the highs and the lows and make it a part of your life as opposed to making a lot of stress for yourself, which is a hard dynamic to get used to, even now it still throws you, then you can ride it. But the one thing I would say is you cannot just hold in on that and just continue because as a creative, you’re doing it because this creativity has to come out somewhere. Things evolve. Things go backwards. It’s a back-and-forth situation, but I wouldn’t change it for anything. It’s an awesome lifestyle. Opportunities come, opportunities go, and when you really take time to think about what you’re up to and where you’ve been and where you’re going you get to see what you’ve built, and you see that you’re ready to keep on building. As a creative, if you are not questioning and challenging perspectives, you shouldn’t be doing it, and if you are, it will open up a lot of possibilities.
Cracked Ink’s work has always stood out as fiercely fresh and unique, with an undeniably playful vibe. His instantly recognizable black and white codex of monster characters have been deployed, in various shapes and sizes, across walls around the world, unfolding narratives inviting myriad interpretations. For the artist, this combination of a personal style and voice, developed over years, with an open-ended potential in how the audience receives the work, is a perfect balance between the need for his work to reflect his own impulses and the audience’s own agency. Moving to Aotearoa with his Kiwi partner from the North of England over a decade ago, Cracked Ink now calls Whanganui home. While he started painting in the UK, here in New Zealand the artist has turned it into his career, painting at international street art festivals, producing notable commissions across the country and establishing Whanganui Walls, applying lessons from the festival scene to a hometown mural event. Always willing to yarn and share his experiences, this conversation sprawled across topics and effortlessly passed the hour mark (hence the two part breakdown), covering his early days in Blackburn, England, his initiation into painting in the streets, moving to New Zealand, making connections, the need to be true and setting up a festival…
Earlier this year you did some work with Westfield Riccarton Mall here in Christchurch, what is it like working with larger commercial entities?
It is always interesting working with a brand or working with a business. Generally, they have come to an artist because they like the work, so it’s always interesting navigating that dynamic between keeping everything you want, and knowing they are commissioning you to do the piece. You want them to be happy, but you also don’t necessarily want to cross any lines in terms of giving anything up…
I imagine there’s also times where you are just waiting for the ‘but’…
Often there are just so many stakeholders, right? It’s dealing with one person, but before you know it, someone else’s voice is part of that conversation…
You get it from the beginning, generally. If you get a surprise on a job, you just have to deal with it when you get to it. But I try and figure that stuff out straight away, I just put my cards on the table and tell them straight up, and if they don’t like it, then I just politely walk away from it. I don’t get all upset, I just explain that I’ve been doing it for years and cannot twist in that direction, but I always try and help them solve the problem by putting them in the direction of another artist who might be a good fit.
Did it take time to get comfortable with walking away? There must have been times when you just weren’t able to do so, or have you always had that as a kind of philosophical base?
I set that out pretty much from the beginning. There are a couple of jobs that I shouldn’t have done, but I can count them on one hand, so I have stuck to it. It’s easier for me to stick to that anyway because my work is so quirky. It’s not as if I’m painting realism where a client would say: “Well, we want something really specific…” They know what they’re getting and it’s really easy to twist a narrative into my works while keeping my style. But it means that I don’t get as much work as someone who paints more realistic stuff, because when you paint realism and all different kinds of subject matter, it’s way easier to relate to in some form or another, whereas my work is definitely more specific. But I like that, I don’t want everyone to get it.
It’s an interesting trajectory, from the heyday of the early Millennium, when people working in the streets had that very iconographic, stylised approach, to the rise of realism, which is entwined with large-scale muralism. It was a case of technical development, but also the reality of serving a commission…
It is interesting and it is something that I think about a lot. There are so many different angles, but ultimately, I feel like it is going along with human nature and the laziness of society. For example, you paint a portrait of a famous person, that image is so relatable, and so accessible, that it’s never going to be a failure…
But where do you go from there? How do you ensure it develops as a distinct voice?
For me, the creative process is starting a sketch with an idea, coming up with a story, then having these different, weird, interesting, non-functional, kind-of-human-but-not, characters bring it to life. That’s what it has always been about for me, actually being creative, trying to make something that’s completely new, that has a style and also has a story from the beginning of where I started. It’s like a family growth…
Even the poses and the actions of those characters have come directly from you, they’re not drawing from another source. In that regard, when did your characters crystallize? Did they come out of another form of expression, or was it a conscious thing to sit down and develop a character?
I was in the second year of my degree for graphic design and this guy, Dean, came onto my course. He was heavily involved with graffiti and we just connected straight away. I feel like until then it really wasn’t my path to get into doing street art if not for meeting him. I would have been 18, so it was quite a while ago, but I feel like my pathway into doing that stuff was purely because at that moment in time I met this person. It’s interesting how a time, a place, a moment can change your life.
We are a similar age, so were you aware of the street art scene emerging in the UK around the turn of the Millennium?
Definitely. I was studying graphic design, I was always doing something creative, often on Photoshop or layout programs like QuarkXPress. Skating was a massive thing when I was at college as well. Skate culture really interested me, even though I wasn’t massively into skating myself. I had a lot of mates who were into it and that whole movement and style from skating got me interested in what was happening in that scene, particularly when I met Dean. At the time a lot of artists were blowing up, The London Police were massive, they blew up around ’96 through to ‘99, straight away it drew me in…
They had that really graphic quality that must have been attractive to someone studying graphic design…
It drew me straight in. At the same time there were so many different artists that were doing it, the thing I loved about it from that character perspective is that you could interact with any type of medium and apply it to a wall. Other artists were important too, Swoon was massive at the time. I was living in Manchester and Swoon had been in town and you could see her amazing pieces, that intricate detail. I loved both of those styles. It was always a case of how I am going to do something for me that incorporates a super graphic style with these other influences…
You were looking to find a balance that resonated with your own interest?
Subliminally, for sure. Whatever form of art you do, whether it is muralism, street art, illustration, sculpture, you always have your peers, you always have someone that influences you in some way or another, whether that’s directly or just something that sits in the back of your head. I always wanted to head towards a kind of sketchy style because when I was at University, I did quite a broad spectrum of study that included printmaking and photography before I specialized in graphic design. So, I did all the printmaking stuff and I loved it, but when I was doing it, it was more just trying to implement the techniques without really knowing how to twist them into what I really wanted to do. So, when I got into doing all this character work, which was super graphic, super bold, I got a little bit, I wouldn’t say bored, but there were a lot of people starting to jump on that direction, so it was like, how can I keep that essence, but drive it in the direction I wanted it to go? I felt like I didn’t have the confidence to make that switch because once you jump into a style, you kind of get stuck and it becomes scary to jump again…
In those early stages, were you making things in the studio exclusively? How long was it before you started getting up in the streets?
It was actually pretty quick. Dean arrived at the beginning of my second year and when we started hanging out, we were basically a couple of stoners. He had a place over in Preston which was close to where we were studying in Blackburn, we would just hang out and have our little sketchbooks. It quickly became something pretty obsessive actually, just constantly sketching. We would go back to his place, get blazed and just start sketching. At that stage he was painting quite a lot, so he would be like, come out with us for a jam. I remember the first time I went out. It was under a train bridge near Preston and it was freezing. It was 3:00 AM in the morning, it was pitch black, we had pre-rolled some joints and we just went out freestyling. As soon as I gave it a go, I was hooked on that rush of just going out and painting. From there it evolved into: how can I take what I do and change it into different things? Paste-ups were massive, I would draw intricate stuff and could literally just turn up and do it…
How early did you become aware of how to approach a physical space? Was it part of what you were learning in graphic design as well? A graphic designer has a functional element, right? Designing objects for packaging, things like that. Did you pretty quickly understand that the streets provided an important context?
It is something that comes with time. I think everyone has something in them, an aesthetic that they can produce or do and apply to certain principles, but actually just getting out there and having a go is how you become aware of certain things and how things should sit, so I think you kind of learn those things on the go. I don’t think you can ever plan for that kind of thing, it’s something that builds, and then as you get deeper into it, you start thinking differently. You start thinking, what can I do with this? I definitely couldn’t plan for it anyway, but my expectations were small at the time, I just wanted to go out and be in that moment of painting. The more you paint, and the more you go out and interact with the outside world and the surroundings, things kind of evolve, things happen to you, and you become immersed in that world.
There is a long tradition of characters in graffiti, were you thinking of your characters as accompaniments to graffiti or were they always intended to stand alone?
I think initially that was the thought because I came into it with a graffiti writer, and it works well having the piece and the character. That was definitely the thing for a little bit, that was what was happening. But I wasn’t really tied to that whole situation. I was fresh into it, so it quickly became about how can my characters exist in this world by themselves? I was motivated to get out and try different things. But it’s been a bit of a mixture for me, it started off as a graffiti thing, but it quickly became more, I guess…
Studying graphic design, I assume you were thinking of that field as a career, when did you start to think what you were doing in the streets could be something more?
It wasn’t for ages, really. It was never a part of my thought process when I got into doing stuff in the streets that this was going to be something that I do as a gig. It was just about going out and painting and enjoying that and it was heavily about being with your mates.
Were you making a full-time living from art or graphic design in the U.K. before coming to Aotearoa?
Definitely not in the UK. I was still working a job and all my art was on the side. I was doing exhibitions and stuff in Manchester, and I was trying to earn some money out of some gallery work, but it was never in my thoughts that this was going to be my full-time job. I came to New Zealand in 2006 with my girlfriend who is a Kiwi, we weren’t actually coming to stay. We came with a six-month work Visa but my partner decided she wanted to go back to study. I was pretty chill, I loved the life here, it’s a whole different world over here compared to growing up in the North of England. You’ve got time here, you can breathe over here, there’s more space, less people. It allowed my mind to slow down a little bit and focus on the direction I wanted to go. So, I jumped into it. I just went for it. In the back of my mind I wanted to make something with art my full-time gig, but the reality at that stage was that I was still working on building sides and all sorts of different things to pay my bills.
How did you go about building connections here in New Zealand with other artists? Did you consciously reach out to people, or was it a case of diving into the work and letting it occur naturally?
That happened just from diving into it, getting out and painting. I did an exhibition in 2007 at this space in Auckland. It was my first little show, and it was in this semi-immersive kind of exhibition space, a community centre type of space in Devonport. It was very low key, but Cinzah lived around that way, and was connected with them through some projects, and he left a message in the sign-in book, saying: “Where the fuck did this come from? Here’s my email, get in contact and let’s go for a paint…” I became really good mates with Cinzah and it just evolved from that. Flickr was massive at that time as well; everyone was posting stuff. That was how I met Drypnz. We became mates on Flickr. He asked if I would be keen to do an exhibition in Wellington. Eight or nine months later, still not having had a real-life conversation with him, I rented a car, loaded it up, and I drove down to Wellington with all this gear. I got to Wellington and met Drypnz on Cuba Street for the first time. The opening for that show was a big occasion in terms of meeting a lot of creatives, especially around Wellington at that time, PNTR, Editor, Ghostie. I met Kell Sunshine, although she wasn’t painting at the time, the BMD boys…
That’s an impressive list! I was in Wellington just a couple weeks ago and the footprints of so many of those names are still strong, not to mention their work further afield as well…
It was crazy man. It was such a good time to be around. Meeting all these guys that were in the scene and were already cranking on what they were doing, it just made me want to crank it up more. It just kind of all grew from there really, having that inspiration of those guys and girls to just get in on it and get painting, it really pushed me to where I wanted to be.
Fast forward a few years and in part through some of those connections you find yourself painting in different countries, that must still be pretty amazing. Do you still think about how you travelled all this way to be here in Aotearoa and now you are travelling the world for festivals like Pangea Seed’s Sea Walls…
Oh man, I don’t know if you call them manic episodes, but you know when things like that happen, it takes you back a little bit. When I got involved with the Sea Walls crew, it was initially to be an artist as a part of the Napier event, and that was a bit of a leg up for me. Cinzah was running that festival, so he got his mates involved. He mentioned he was talking to these guys from Pangea Seed. He had already been to Mexico for a project, and now he was thinking of bringing Sea Walls to New Zealand. He contacted me and asked if I wanted to be in the line-up, and I was like, sure, and things just went from there. I never expect to be part of the Sea Walls crew, that’s for sure, so to end up travelling to different festivals was crazy.
They say good things take time, and this edition of And That Was… is cutting it fine! It has been a busy few weeks with lots happening and as such it seemed like the months have melded into one. But when looking back over images from the month of May, it was quickly apparent that those four weeks had their own flavour, a flood of memories came rushing back…
For this recap, we run back some our favourite paste ups, wall paintings, slaps, shows and even a doorway! We have largely stuck to urban art this month, temporarily returning to our formative roots, but that doesn’t mean we have forgotten the fact that all of these things are also entangled with our broader experiences of Otautahi’s central city, and in particular the food, the bars, the music, the people and all the vibrant things on offer. All of these things make up our urban culture and it is vital we celebrate and support these events, occurrences and interventions to keep our city lively!
So, after much delay, here is your And That Was… for May 2021…
Gary Silipa’s UFO Slaps…
I have been a fan of Gary Silipa‘s work and simplified iconography for years, especially his skulls and spaceships, which I found all over Wellington’s streets on a trip to the capital in April. The orbiting red UFO’s then appeared here in Christchurch in May, a legacy of the artist’s brief trip here. The ubiquitous presence in spaces high and low suggest the idea of exploration and observation, our strange contemporary customs intriguing to these small visitors…
Mark Catley’s Ascending Freak Angel
Mark Catley added a couple of fresh paste ups to the Boxed Quarter‘s ever-expanding collection of urban art. Taking his poor sack girl toy (pasted on Manchester Street) and twisting the image into a strange new appearance, the girl becomes a three-eyed ‘freak angel’ as the artist described, her outstretched hand now seemingly elevating her into the sky. Lit by a coincidental spot light, the seemingly celestial being is a trippy sight!
Jessie Rawcliffe’s Marriage of Figaro Mural
Jessie Rawcliffe‘s mural for the NZ Opera’s production of The Marriage of Figaro (which will be staged at the Isaac Theatre Royal here in Christchurch as part of a national run) was completed in May, with the artist’s stunning dry brush style giving the piece a stunning beauty against the smartly used graffiti-ed wall on which it was painted.
More: The Show
Back to the Boxed Quarter for More: The Show, an exhibition and event featuring talented Otautahi wahine artists. With a slew of our favourites and some new talent to explore (such as Sofiya Romanenko, who recently produced a beautiful photo essay for us), the show was a convergence of amazing talent and featuring a range of activity – unfortunately we forgot to take quality pictures! It was a one-weekend show so you had to be in quick!
Our favourite doorway…
Last, but definitely not least, we just had to include this doorway. OK, so it technically isn’t something that ‘happened’ in May, but we took this photo then, so it counts! Just look at it, it is a thing of beauty and couldn’t be left out!
Let us know what would make you list in the comments and if you know someone who would be a great guest writer for And That Was… – drop you suggestions there too!
Spread the word about what's happening in the Christchurch urban art scene:
This edition of Street Treats is eclectic and varied, ranging from playful whimsy to blunt anti-establishment messaging. That ultimately is the beauty of guerrilla practice (or in the case of some of these works, permissioned but free from curatorial censorship), the opportunity to say what you want, how you want. As contemporary muralism has taken over the popular image of ‘street art’, it has also transformed the imagery and ideology deployed. While this still results in some pretty stunning works occupying our skylines and there are, admittedly, different levels of input and freedom, it is left to the smaller interventions to speak in an unfiltered voice. The content is not always explicitly political, but the act itself is, always. So whether it is a beautiful surreal flower sprouting from a concrete pillar, a constantly recurring pencil, playfully collaged scenarios, vibrant names or scrawled messages that question the colonial history of our city, look and listen, they are speaking to you and about us…
If you have submissions for upcoming Street Treats volumes tag us on Instagram or email your pictures to firstname.lastname@example.org!
Spread the word about what's happening in the Christchurch urban art scene:
April has come and gone and while the year moves at a steady pace, there has been plenty to keep us entertained. Although the weather is getting a little less predictable, it is providing a late flurry of sunshine (at least after the inevitable chilly mornings), extending the window for outdoor activities like painting murals! While there have been a number of new outdoor works to explore, there have also been some very cool things going on indoors as well. Exhibitions like Ghostcat’s Shadow Town at Fiksate Gallery and the Canterbury Museum’s Hakē: Street Art Revealed, have provided popular experiences. As always, we have a recap of what tickled our fancy, compiled as an easy-to-follow list! So, without further ado, here is our And That Was… April 2021…
Ghost’s Shadow Town @ Fiksate
Ghostcat’sShadow Town was highly anticipated and the crowd that showed up for the opening night at Fiksate were not disappointed. The collection of miniatures drawn from Christchurch’s urban environment were hot tickets, with people drawn to the beautiful intricate details and the associated nostalgia. With just a few days left at the time of writing, if you haven’t made it to Shadow Town, hurry!
Benjamin Work @ The Canterbury Museum
When the Canterbury Museum were presented with a window to reveal the legacy works from the massively successful Rise exhibition, they also wanted to add a new work to the main exhibition hall. Enter Auckland artist Benjamin Work, whose massive, striking floor mural Motutapu II draws from the iconography found on the Tongan ‘Akau Tau (war clubs) in the Museum’s collection. The work adds a new element to the surrounding wall paintings from Rise, highlighting the diverse trajectories of urban artists over the last decade.
TMD x DTR x Ysek X Chile One in New Brighton
On a cold Saturday morning (the night after the Shadow Town opening), a heavyweight collection of artists got together in New Brighton for a painting jam. Local artists Dcypher and Ikarus of the DTR crew, Christchurch-based Chilean artists YSEK and Chile One, and Auckland’s Phat1, Diva and Dyle of the legendary TMD crew, freshened up a popular New Brighton wall with traditional graffiti pieces and characters, creating a legacy of the meeting of some of New Zealand’s biggest talent.
Charles Williams and Benjamin Work @ Etu Pasifika Health
In the wake of the launch of the TMD: An Aotearoa Graffiti Story at The Dowse in Lower Hutt, crew members Benjamin Work and Charles Williams arrived in Christchurch to paint a mural on the new Etu Pasifika Health Centre. The work combines the signature styles of the two artists with a design conceived by fellow TMD member Janine Williams. The background is coloured in a bright blue, black, yellow and white pattern, with Work’s Tongan warrior chief figure on the left couched within the architectural framework, while Williams’ depiction of a Red-tailed Tropicbird soars upwards from the bottom right. The harmonious combination of styles creating an impressive new work for Christchurch.
TMD: An Aotearoa Graffiti Story @ The Dowse
It may not have been in Christchurch, but I couldn’t leave out my trip to Wellington for the opening of the TMD: An Aotearoa Graffiti Story at Lower Hutt’s The Dowse Museum. Combining history and installations that spoke to the culture and roots of New Zealand’s most iconic graffiti crew with a group show of crew members’ contemporary practice, the exhibition struck all the right chords. The additional benefits of seeing the crew members painting murals around Lower Hutt and then as part of a panel discussion topped off the weekend. I highly recommend – go see it!
And That Was… April 2021 – what would you add to the list? Comment below to let us know!
Spread the word about what's happening in the Christchurch urban art scene:
Shadow Town, an exhibition of the work of local artist Ghostcat, opened at Fiksate Gallery on Friday 9th April, marking the gallery’s first show at their new Sydenham premises. There was excitement surrounding the show, with print and radio interviews and a flow of social media posts drumming up interest in the artist’s miniature creations. Ghostcat’s first exhibition, as the opening date approached the artist confided that he really didn’t know what to expect, but in his endearingly enthusiastic style, he was keenly enjoying the journey.
Ultimately he had nothing to worry about. That nervous period when doors open and nervous doubts that anyone will show up creep up never had the chance to ferment. Almost immediately the Hawdon Street gallery was buzzing with an excited audience. In the smaller gallery the works were spread across shelves on the walls and a network of plinths, making use of the available space to accommodate the impressive number of creations (Ghostcat produced more than 40 miniature builds for Shadow Town). The plinths and shelving created the effect of a gridded network of urban blocks for viewers to navigate and provided multiple vantage points. A large roller door opens the Fiksate space onto the street, further connecting the show to the pervasive influence of Christchurch’s urban environment, explicitly in the case of the miniature replica wall placed in full view of its real-world inspiration just outside. The miniature version re-imagined with a mural by Dr Suits in a suggestive ‘will-it-to-life’ strategy.
Other references may not have been as physically close, but were no less recognisable. As people leaned in to inspect the intricate and loving details on Lyttelton icons the Volcano and Lava Bar (with a tribute to the late Bill Hammond inside), the façade of The Ministry nightclub (including flashing ‘M’ neon sign), the ‘Stairs to Nowhere’ from the Hereford Street carpark (each step painstakingly cracked), The Staveley Market (surely a highlight, the status of corner dairies in Aotearoa childhoods may not be as strong in 2021 but for those of a certain age, we all had a local dairy for $1 mixtures and single cigarettes) and the Berlin Wall segment painted by Jessie Rawcliffe, sparks of memory and recognition flickered. That attachment to the real and lived is central to the success of Ghostcat’s work, a necessary addition to the intricate details. People sharing stories and admissions was a constant chatter amongst the bustling crowd.
Alongside the memories and associations of experience and place, Shadow Town also revels in healthy doses of humour and collaboration. Watching people scan the dirty toilet stall, replete with over-flowing bowl and obscenely graffiti-ed door, or the bags of rubbish filling the Selwyn Street skip, it was clear that art can be both resonant and charmingly low-brow. The row of miniature objects (cans of Double Brown, discarded coffee cups, stick mags) centered on square canvasses along the entrance wall served to lampoon the expectations of the white cube and set the tone for the show’s gritty and playful focus.
The collaborative element was clear as well. The doors and windows hung on the rear wall, the small utility boxes, window frames, walls and replicas of the giant spray cans on Lichfield Street all displayed the artist’s willingness to share the process of creation – Ghostcat’s builds adorned with downsized tags, pieces, throw-ups, stencils, stickers and paste-ups by local artists including Ikarus, Tepid, Dr Suits, Morepork, Teeth Like Screwdrivers, Jessie Rawcliffe, Rubble City, Dcypher and more. Reinforcing Ghostcat’s belief in community, these authentic embellishments, along with the artist’s insistence on hand-crafting, imbue the pieces with a distinct status as unique creations.
Despite the obvious challenge of where to put a scale model of a toilet in your house, the pervasive red dots throughout the exhibition were evidence that this labour of love by a talented local artist struck a chord with a diverse audience. Shadow Town presents a new element in the city’s urban art scene, drawing on the power of urban spaces and harnessing the familiar (of both architecture and art), Ghostcat’s work is worth your attention and inspection. While the enthusiastic crowd undeniably added to the atmosphere and therefore the work on opening night, the contrast of the quiet, clean gallery space with the broken, dirty landscapes adds a certain charm as well and ensures you can truly immerse yourself wandering the streets of Shadow Town.
Shadow Town is on until May 8, 2021 at Fiksate, 54 Hawdon Street, Sydenham.
Ghostcat is set for his first solo show, with Shadow Town confirmed as Fiksate’s first exhibition at their new Hawdon Street location in Sydenham. Opening Friday April 9th, Shadow Town will present a selection of Ghostcat’s fascinating scratch-built urban miniatures, including the detailed recreation of local spots, from the grimy and overlooked to the iconic and vanished.
Originally from Birmingham in the UK, Ghostcat has found a new home in Otautahi, and his work is both a celebration of the physical sites he has explored and the stories of the changing city recounted via friends, adding an emotional resonance to the works beyond nostalgia and visual detail. The artist’s infectious sense of humour, laced with a healthy dose of body horror-influence, will also be on full display, with the grimy elements of our urban environment celebrated over the picturesque; from dirty toilets and graffiti-ed alleyways to dumpsters and sticker-laden street signs.
Many of the works also feature collaborative contributions from local artists, from Fiksate’s own Dr Suits to members of the DTR Crew and the Slap City collective. This has proven an important aspect of the artist’s process, adding authenticity and collectivism to a concept already driven by real experiences and a sense of connection.
Ghostcat’s star has quickly risen as his creations have caught the attention of Instagram scrollers, with interviews and media coverage ensuring Shadow Town will surely be a popular occasion with a hum of excitement already buzzing…
Shadow Town opens 5pm, Friday 9th April at Fiksate Gallery, 54 Hawdon Street, Sydenham.