The work of Silk Roy (aka Kid Silk) caught my eye a couple of years ago – and from that point onwards I was hooked on his work. As an artist whose first exposure to graffiti was, like many others, riding the train network of Melbourne back in the 90s, his passion ran a familiar course from bombing to piecing, and over the past decade or more he has consistently expanded his skills and outlook to further his craft.
There’s a lot of beautiful abstraction in the linework and colouring of Silks works – from his extruded lettering to some of his Miro-esque works on paper and canvas, he is an artist that doesn’t shy away from experimenting and pushing his style – which he acknowledges with his love for the Graffuturism movement. Vibrant colours interspersed with the familiar graffitied calligraphic signings, not only portrays his current skills as an artist, but also gives way-markers as to where his style may evolve to in the future. This is an aspect that isn’t always seen in an artist who already has a definable style. Often, these artists hone themselves further and become increasingly technical in their approach, whereas with Silk, you get the feeling that what he has already produced is just a brief stopover from where he is going – and that is a pretty fkn exciting element to see in an artists work.
This is one of the reasons why we love his work – and one of the reasons why we really wanted to interview him ahead of his duo show with Putos. Silk Roy is one of the definitive examples of a modern Melbourne artist – open to influence, mindful of the past, and always reaching towards the future.
Check out all the low down on him and his work below, and enjoy …
So where did you start creating artwork? Has it always been something that you’ve been interested in, or did it come to you at a definable moment in life?
Art became a driving force in my life after my introduction to Melbourne’s Graff scene. I moved here in 98′ and was instantly taken by the power and energy of it all.
It wasn’t too long before I was running around with a marker, but over the years that enthusiasm shifted to painting big walls, and now Graff really serves as my artistic foundation and influences everything else I do as an artist and person.
So, where did you get the moniker “Silk Roy from? Tell us a bit of the story behind the name :)
I used to write ‘Sure’, one day a friend was over and she asked if she could have a look at my book, she couldn’t read any of it so I asked her to look a little closer and try to decipher it, she was flicking through until she thought she had it and finally said … uhh Silky Fox?
After that, people started calling me Silk and later I added the ‘Roy’ which is part of my last name.
In terms of aerosol work and stuff you do out on the streets – what is it about painting walls that you love, and what parts of the graffiti and street art culture do you particularly identify with?
I can honestly say I love all of it. I love the entire process, starting from scratch and building yourself up, learning new techniques, constantly pushing your style, catching walls with other artists, being constantly inspired, it’s nice to have something you wake up thinking about!
How about style? What got you inspired at first, and what continues to inspire you, in terms of other artists, today?
At first just seeing graffiti from the train on the way to school inspired me, but now I draw inspiration from all over the place, my surroundings, people, travel, music, the list goes on.
I’m constantly inspired by anyone who pushes their style in their chosen art form, I know that’s a really boring answer, but guys like Barry McGee and Smash137 really do it for me at the moment.
You do a bit of graphic design work, how does the commercial side of design intersect with your artistic creativity?
Graphic design was the logical step as a career choice, of course its a bit different when your dealing with clients with particular requirements, but the way I design is heavily influenced by my artistic background. I’m also getting into digital illustration which is a particularly enjoyable avenue of design.
Melbourne is one of those cities that just oozes creativity and inspiration – in what ways does it influence you? What other locations have had an impact on your work?
Simply put, I wouldn’t be where I am or doing what I’m doing if I hadn’t moved to Melbourne.
There is a definite creative vibe here, obviously the graff scene here is a constant inspiration, there’s talent and competition everywhere which definitely keeps me working hard. I’ve also been lucky enough to paint in places like NYC and LA which were incredibly powerful experiences.
You’ve had a couple of group shows in the past, but how about solo endeavours? You have a show coming up with Putos, how does the work for this relate to the shows you’ve been a part of before? Tell us a bit more about it all.
As far as a solo show goes, that’s something I’ll be keen to do, but I’m not in a rush. Ill be taking my time on that front. Group shows with Studio 615 are a lot of fun, everyone in the group is accomplished in different media so coming together and being exposed to different thought processes are really beneficial to all of us. I use my involvement in the studio setting to develop work with a more experimental, abstracted vibe, more inline with Graff Futurism.
My Seasons Of Change show with Putos coming up lets me indulge in the graffiti side of things, and its a real honour to be involved with a series of shows that has showcased work by Melbournes best.
Tell us a bit about both the negative experiences you’ve had, as well as the positive experiences in pursuing your creative passion? what drives you every day to continue doing what you love – it isn’t easy out there these days to push yourself forward, in what ways do strive to better, and hone, your skills?
It can be frustrating, there’s definitely days where I question myself and my style, but its necessary if you want to move forward. Passion is what keeps me moving, especially after those bad days its what gets me to pick myself up and go hard. As long as it feels right, Ill continue to do it, theres nothing like producing work that your happy with.
Tell us a bit about your work with the 615 crew? where is everything with that at the moment, are you guys still doing collab work together?
615 is myself, Sam Octigan, Michael Danischewski, Marcus Dixon and Doug Aldridge, we are a collective of creatives involved in different areas of art and I think that’s what gives us our edge, we can come together and really create something different, something I think our Time Flies show last September really reflected. At this point we focus on collaborative projects, we are in the beginning stages of putting together another group show set for the latter part of this year.
So, after this next show, what do you have planned for the rest of the year? What other projects are you aspiring to get done during 2014?
After this show, as always I’ll remain open to anything really – if its a creative outlet inline with what I want to do, I’m in!
Shout outs to everyone who continues to support and follow their passions!
Everywhere, thats where you’ll see his work. Phoenix, the street artist, is one of Melbournes most recognisable fixtures – no matter what laneway you have walked down, no matter what corner you peer into, there you’ll see one of his instantly recognisable works – cutouts and paste, collage and glue, entities hidden in the corners and staring out at you with text and schematical leanings.
I’ve known Phoenix for many years. He is at all the shows. He comes along and checks out all the paintups. He’s a fan, and in turn his work has also garnered him fans – in cyclic nature, akin to some of the various philosophies of his work, Phoenix embraces the diversity of the streets, cadging statements and espousing his creativity with abandon (though, thoughtful abandon).
When you look at one of his works, you see the surface – you see an image that catches your eye. It might be witty. It might be playful. Hell, it might not even make any sense to you whatsoever – but herein lies the beauty of these pieces, the more you look at them, the more you ponder, the more the layers unravel in your mind and its themes work their way into your subconscious.
This isn’t limited to singular pieces, either. The more you see, the more the puzzle begins to lay itself out before you – there are themes. There are repetitive motifs – what the hell does the earth mean in that context? Whats with the Dali images? What the hell is the spiral? It’s like a labyrinth of words and images, some of it decipherable, some of it seemingly an inner joke that perhaps only Phoenix really knows.
I admit. Sometimes I get his work – and sometimes, I just don’t. Sometimes I feel like his statements are obvious, at others, I feel like I need a decoder ring – but this is why, unfalteringly, I enjoy his work. It’s not always simple. Its not always just pretty. It isn’t always within my own ability to always “get”.
This interview has been a long time coming – I’ve been meaning to dig into the mind of Phoenix for quite some time – but for some reason, it seemed, not a daunting prospect, but something that I had to actually think about, the timing had to be right to do it. I wanted to know all these things – I wanted to get handed at least, if not some of the answers, the fkn decoder ring – so I could keep trying to work it out for myself!
Well, I can say, he happily obliged, and provided us with a really great, highly comprehensive response that I absolutely loved. But, you know what they say, be careful what you wish for, because, I have to say, I probably now have even more questions than when I started …
1. The Fire That Made Phoenix.
The “Phoenix” name was in response to the March 2004 fire which destroyed my home studio, most of my collected works from the previous 20 years, and a large part of my collage library and processing system.I had been making my collage and copy art since the middle 80s – although most of the works I made were ones made for special occasions for family and friends – and it was only during the early 2000s that I began to gather art for a future exhibition.
The fire started in a power board right at the back of my home studio – in front of the red-brick wall. The intensity of the fire caused the roof to collapse. After the structure was rebuilt at the end of 2004, I named it Phoenix RisingStudio - a name that in 2009 inspired my street art name.
The loss of these works in the fire, an inferno sparked by a faulty power board which took four fire engines almost an hour to put out, was significant to me because of the works lost – but even more so because of the destruction of my collage system. My collage system was, and is, designed to facilitate multiple and radical juxtapositions – mining the coincidence of combination along the lines of the traditional Dadaists’ cut-up collages or Bowie song lyrics. William S. Burroughs, an avid practitioner of such methods of making art, suggested: “When you cut into the present the future leaks out.”
My now restored (and far more evolved) collage system allows things to fall together and create visual, textual and visual/textual poetry.
On that hot March morning in 2004, as a result of the five metre high flames and the water from four fire engines, a significant part of the past drained away – but in the alchemic turnaround so aptly represented by the metaphor of the Phoenix, a whole new future eventually leaked out – in my case, literally rising from the ashes.
In subsequent days, I combed these ashes and other debris in my devastated studio, salvaging what I could and laying it out to dry in the sun.
This piece is a charred transparency copy of what was both a collage element storage sheet and collage work: Cloudy Beginnings (1997). Stored in plastic pocket folders, many of these sequential and indexed A4 card-mounted element sheets (of which about 100 went through the fire) burned and melted largely around the edges – fusing to the plastic and paper layers incorporated in them as can be seen here.
The Momentum of Circumstance (1992). This piece – a collage of a junk-mail envelope, a diagram from a children’s science book, and card-mounted versions of the original Column (copies of which inhabit many of my subsequent works), and a hard book cover. It sought to depict the wave of circumstance rippling out from its source – with its inevitable reverberations.
I created some folders and boxes to store these salvaged items (wrapped in plastic to lessen the retraumatising fire stink) in my rebuilt and rechristened Phoenix Rising studio – but apart from continuing to collect found collage materials and to create physical storage spaces within the space, for the next 5 years I directed my creative urges into writing, storytelling, music, and dialectical philosophy.
In March 2009, the collage urge resurfaced and I began to make new works. In the November of that year, I went on a street art tour through Fitzroy by Melbourne Street Art Tours – on which the possibility of being able to collage onto public walls first dawned. When I shared this with Doyle, one of the leaders of the tour, suggested: “Why don’t you give it a go?”
And the name Phoenix seemed the perfect choice for such adventures.
My first ever street art piece: Her Godot Was Worth Waiting For - in Hosier Lane, December 2009. Ironically, this is one of the few pieces of the several thousand I have installed in various places around Australia and Spain that I have some regret about. It was a plastic tray of collage elements melted into position by the fire; the only addition was the photocopied face of Samuel Beckett. It was prised off the piece of wood across the bars of a window and souvenir’ed; it would have been much better archived as a piece in my Fire Salvage collection.
With my first installations, it was like an enormous door had been unlocked and a whole new world of creative practice suddenly opened up to me. I have pursued lots of different creative practices in my life – but I know that door will never again close while I remain capable and breathing.
Inevitably the new demands of making and installing street art then began to shape my practices of making and thinking about art. Traditional collage is quite constrained by the availability of the found source materials used to make it: if originals are used, they cannot be reused. In the street art context, if a piece is given to the street, and subsequently capped or taken, it and the originals used to make it are gone forever. My losses in the fire heightened the significance of this – driving me to find ways to create reproducible art which could be put out on the street while the masters used to make it were kept safe back in the studio.
A sort of breakthrough in this came in mid 2010 while playing with multiple transparencies – and the beginning of my DalíesqueSeries. The Dalíesque Series contains works generated out of possible permutations and combinations of a transparency images of a single Tshirt-framed photo of Salvador Dalí.
This began with the overlapping of multiple copies of the Tshirt framed face – creating images like the one seen below – but also led to the pivotal breakthrough of using the photocopier to colourise my works. I began to create monochrome masters which could be photocopied onto different colours of paper; by cutting out and pasting different elements in the various colours, making highly coloured objects in many different forms.
Double Dalí Tees (Centre Place) July 2010. Solid plywood plaque with PVA-coated coloured paper and fluttering transparency acetate moustaches. The yellow edge of the Tee follows the ripped outline of a Ghostpatrol pasteup.
With the initial work in this series, The Elephants of Dalí (Rutledge Lane, June, 2010), two further very important things crystallised for me.
Firstly was the idea of layer collage - a way of making art by layering coloured papers photocopied from monochrome masters as described above. I continue to explore this method of making art to this day.
Secondly, and more importantly, with this came the idea of structuring my overall body of work into Series, defined by specific rules. The Dalíesque Series has since been joined by The Voice of the Blue Earth, Silent♥ , Tools of Phoenix,TEXTing, NeoSoviet, In the Land of the Blind, EPHEMERAL, MonoChromatic, not aNOTher street art CliChé, YGen, The Resurfacing Project, Iconoclasm and COPYing Series.
Following through on and learning to bending these rules brings to life an endless creative playground. I have made many works which are simultaneously part of several Series – in fulfilling two or more sets of rules.
KEEP ME IN YOUR ♥ (A4 Sticker, Granada, Spain, September 2012). This piece fulfils the rules of both my Silent ♥ and Voice of the Blue Earth Series. The Silent ♥ series consists of text-based works presenting messages about the Heart in which it, and/or other significant iconic elements and parts of the message, are only represented in image form; in the Voice of the Blue Earth (La Tierra Azul Dice) Series the Earth takes various metaphoric forms in order to deliver a message to Humankind – here, with Spanish subtitles.
2. Most Ambitious Works.
You have asked what are my most ambitious works – of which two come to mind (apart from those still fermenting away in my imagination and or Works In Progress Box):
Firstly, my HARD NUT TO CRACK - a solid 3D relief plaque board piece for the refurbishment of Union Lane in July 2010.
HARD NUT TO CRACK - Solid 3D plaque relief on board; 1.4 x 1.4 m, Union Lane, July 2010. This featured a cracking and Bandaided solid Stars and Stripes Nutcracker trying once more to crack the Afghanistan nut. In the bin are broken Soviet and British Nutcrackers.
I really enjoyed the technical challenges of making this piece and installing it securely in its alcove.
Secondly, and in a decidedly double-sided way, my The Little Diver Resurfaced in Cocker Alley in April 2010 was a distinctly ambitious work. I would see it as conceptually and technically ambitious – a restoration of and commentary on a controversial street art piece; I know others have seen it as ambitious in another way: as a form of ‘biting’ -seeking to ride the coat-tails of Banksy’s almost singular and clichéd popular appeal and bankability.
I’ll have to leave that to the reader – and to the punters and artists of the community – to judge.
I personally found the story and visage of the Little Diver a moving and fascinating one. Stencilled opposite one of Melbourne’s main police stations by the elusive artist in 2003, it was beloved by tourists and city burghers; given a price, a Perspex shield and an official street art status plaque by the buildings owners and city council in 2008; and capped soon after with a slow curtain of silver paint by cappers (or artists) unknown.
Noticing that between the long silver strands significant parts of the Little Diver girl were still visible, I came up with the idea of using my camera, photocopier and light-table to create two life-size images of the Diver: one the original stencil, the other the capped one. By tracing and cutting out the outline of the capping, I was able to create a pasteup which almost perfectly matched the parts of the Little Diver girl submerged beneath the silver paint.
And, one morning in early 2010 in one quiet solitary unforgettable moment, I pasted this in place on the wall in Cocker Alley – and a vision of the Little Diver returned to the surface.
The Little Diver Resurfaced - Phoenix (after Banksy), Cocker Alley, April, 2010. Immediately after pasteing.
Of course, not everybody was pleased about her return to the surface in this form – and she soon began to be again vandalised in various ways. For a while, I continued to repair her – and, once, after a particularly enthusiastic ripping and black capping, even repasted another whole pasteup using the master I have kept in my studio – before deciding to let her sink beneath the surface of subsequent rips, tags, caps – and the inevitable graffiti cleaners’ steam.
3. The Tools of Phoenix
XactoMundo (Art Lane off Leicester St, Fitzroy, December 2012) Part of my I ♥ COLLAGE and Tools of Phoenix Series - and incorporating a reproduced collage element sheet salvaged from my fire and bonded with my Xacto Hand drawing via my layer collage technique. Pink, white and silver papers.
Although I spent a lot of my childhood drawing, the collage bug bit me in my mid twenties (aka the mid 80s) – and has not yet let me go.
From the get go, I have always tended towards very immediate ways of attaching things together: blutack, gluestick, staples and tape. Issues of longevity on the street have led me to using rollered PVA as a resilient adhesive and plasticising coating for my works (in combination with ricepaste I cook up myself) and translucent silicone to attach solid plaques to the wall. In more recent years, with my use of the photocopier, reversibility and repositionability are often important to me – so repositionable gluesticks and removable tape are invaluable aides.
In terms of cutting implements, I have several sizes of scissors, a range of sizes of box-cutters, and a ready supply of Xacto knives and blades for fine cutting – aided by my 4X magnifying glasses lenses. I also use a scroll-saw to cut out heavier cardboard or plywood plaque pieces.
I have come full circle in terms of drawing. In my first twenty-five years of proper art practice (ages 25-50) I did little drawing for art purposes. My collage works through this time were based on found materials, photographs and illustrations; however the need for specific images in my Voice of the Blue Earth series and in graphically expressing my affection for my art tools in myTools of Phoenix Series have rekindled my love of drawing – and, although there are some illustrations by others which have become an essential part of my iconic lexicon, I intend to use my own drawings as much as possible from now on.
I am currently reorganising my studio to streamline my various key areas:
storage areas: a vast collection of fileboxes and files, pocket folders, queueing boxes, pigeonhole trays, collections of paused works, colour and monochrome works masters;
collating areas: surfaces on which things can be combined together in all sorts of ways;
cutting areas: a light-table cutting mat as well as various sizes of opaque cutting mats;
my copying area: surrounding Roxie, (aka Xeroanne), my FujiXerox colour and monochrome copier printer;
and my pasteing areas: where it all comes together.
I am proudly non-digital apart from those functions available through my photocopier or digital camera; there is only one small element on a Phoenix piece made in early 2010 using Photoshop (lets not mention this again). I believe my adherence to this principle is at the heart of how my work looks.
I am always experimenting with different tools and processes in the studio – with a general aim to distill the best possible (easiest, simplest, most effective, and most elegant) way(s) of doing something. Some of my favourite things which have been distilled out of the years in this way are things like:
photocopy transparencies: wonderful things that allow complex layering and bonding together of images ; • removable tape tabs: these reusable attachers, which I make up from a combination of removable and permanent tapes, are invaluable in positioning things for photocopying – and can be left in situ, repeatedly readjusted or easily decommissioned;
• PVA: King of Adhesives – and like a shrink-wrap coating; and
• silicone: so strong, so easy (on a flat, clean surface);
• trolleys: you GOTTA love ‘em.
My beloved removable tape tabs reliably hold things in place – yet are instantly repositionable and reusable. They are made by folding over a small permanent tape ‘handle’ at the end of a piece of removable tape.. Developing a master for my XactoHand Spiral, October 2013.
I am an unashamed equipment fetishist and love making up a mobile studio for taking with me wherever I go, on a trolley with a fold up table or milk crate equivalent for setting up on site, on the back of my bike, or for taking on the road. When I travelled to Spain in September 2012, I could take my mobile-studio-in-a-bag and works/materials storage folder to the dining table of my accommodation, to a café, down into a hotel lobby, or to a stationery/digital printing outlet; or onto a train. I LOVE art on the move.
Mobile Studio: Lobby of Hotel Granvia, Barcelona. The contents of my works/materials have partly spilled out – revealing works and pasteups already prepared at home, files of works to be constructed, various types of paper and card, transparency masters taken along for making new works, and new works themselves.
Hand of the Café Studio. Working on my Gluestick Hand fuelled by a Café Solo (aka Expresso) – making art opposite the Puerte Mayor (main gate) of Sevilla Cathedral, Seville, Spain.
One of the things I have been working towards in terms of my other mobile setup – the generally trolley-based kit of pasteups and street art installation tools I wheel around the streets with either specific sites or general areas in mind – is to have a very flexible set of items with which I can make improvised collage on walls.
All the different ways one can approach street art installation are potentially satisfying: a specific work made in the studio for a specific site; a folder of pasteups and/or stickers and plaques in various sizes with which to wander the streets looking for good spots to place them; or a collection of seemingly random bits and pieces which in the right space and moment of inspiration can be combined on site.
I am constantly thinking about easy ways of getting high – i.e. getting things into the High Zone. Up there it’s blissfully too high to even bother .. tagging .. capping .. stealing .. steaming .. or buffing.
4. The Double Spiral (aka The Double Whirlpool)
You have noticed my obsession with spirals in both my works and notebooks. Much of my art, personal philosophy and professional work in health practice – and even one of my signatures, is based around the Double Spiral symbol whose formal philosophical name is the Double Whirlpool.
The Double Whirlpool is a dialectical device I have developed to help understand processes of change and interrelationship. It represents a comparison of two Whirlpools – here a Positive versus Negative one.
Double Spiral motifs are timeless: seen in either readily identifiable forms (in Polynesian, Druidic and Celtic cultures) or in other less identifiable but equivalent ones (single Whirlpool = pre-Nazi swastika; Yin/Yang; Star of David/Alchemical Star (As Above, So Below); the Cadaceus of Hermetic traditions which persists as a medical symbol (two snakes winding around a staff). The concepts of the Virtuous vs Vicious Cycle; the J-curve, and concepts like a Catch 22 or tipping point also embody the same type of thinking.
Essentially the Double Whirlpool is about the tendency of things to turn in cycles and thus to either remain in stasis or to spiral towards a new state. Our bodies are maintained within a central balance or homoeostasis - in which changes and challenges to our state are counterbalanced and brought back to a natural centre.
Blood pressure, for example, is kept within a fairly narrow range despite changes in our posture like when we rise from bed to a standing position. This is achieved by a complex interrelated series of mechanisms in the heart, blood vessels, kidneys and coordinating nervous and hormonal systems – all of which act in concert to maintain blood pressure and therefore blood and oxygen flow. These would be represented in the diagram below by the various Events around the edge of the Positive Whirlpool on the left side of the diagram below – each of which relates to each other in a positive cycle like that shown between Events A and B.
Small to medium losses of blood can be compensated for by blood vessel constriction, changes in fluid balance and excretion by the kidneys. As losses of blood become greater, blood pressure will at first be maintained but signs of strain will appear (increased pulse rate, cooler and paler extremities); with further losses blood pressure on rapid standing will begin to show a drop and the person likely to feel lightheaded or to even faint on doing so.
If blood loss continues, the person moves towards a significant tipping point, where the system flips into a state of hypovolaemic (low blood volume) shock. In this state, systems that ordinarily support each other will begin to increasingly disrupt and counter each other. The heart, for instance, will. because of the lowered blood pressure, have reduced blood and oxygen flow which will decrease its capacity to pump - and to maintain blood pressure. The person in this situation is in the increasingly slippery slope of the Negative Whirlpool on the right-hand side.
The Double Whirlpool: a model of balance, imbalance … and change.
Unless this person rapidly gets a fluid and blood transfusion, he or she will soon go down the proverbial ‘gurgler’.
I have found such a model widely applicable in working in health practice: in helping people to reverse and decrease negative patterns and to reestablish and promote positive ones. There are typically key negative patterns, behaviours and dynamics – as opposed to key positive ones. The journey towards healing and the restoration of health can be mapped out and guided using my Double Whirlpool and other dialectical tools.
The same logic and way of thinking about health is also very pertinent to our fragile and beautiful planet – one of the reasons the Double Whirlpool has found its way into a number of my Voice of the Blue Earth Series pieces.
(Significant) TIPPING POINT (ahead). Detail of pasteup, Enmore Rd, Enmore, Sydney, 2011. In this piece, the Blue Earth warns us of the increasingly perilous state we are more and more leaning towards. Voice of the Blue Earth Series. The Double Whirlpool is represented within the Globe.
A very good example of a significant negative tipping point like that of the heart losing pumping power as blood pressure drops can be seen in the melting of the polar icecaps – a process represented here as in many of my other VotBE pieces. Ice reflects about three-quarters of the heat that falls on it; when it is melted to sea water, however, it absorbs more than two-thirds of the heat. In other words, the more the ice melts, it more and more (and more) it melts. HELL-O!!!… PEOPLE!! – as the Blue Earth is wont to say.
One of the key learnings from the Double Whirlpool is the importance of synergy (aka win/win; you scratch my back/I’ll scratch yours) and positivism – and the Voice of the Blue Earth Series attempts to put this into action – alternating between a black humour to point out our Human failings and vulnerabilities and a sweet optimism and kindness of a planet that does love our Species.
At this level, this Series is a deliberate form of artistic activism: some sugar to help necessary medicine to get down. I know that politically-oriented art (and perhaps even more so street art) is not everyone’s cup of tea – but what’s the point if we’re all going to Hell in a hand basket? As you so eloquently put, Fletch: “Hey! Pay attention! This shit is happening!”
5. On Being Political
Last year I was sought out for a large wall commission by one of the owners of a business who is a bit of a fan of my work. He suggested using getting me to do the wall to the other owners; the feedback was that they thought I was “quite political” and maybe not the right fit for the wall.
The work I had imagined putting up would have certainly been distinctive and hopefully thought-provoking: a muralised and illustrated depiction of my poem ‘Born Free’ – which uses the metaphor of a chained elephant learning to free itself - suggested how we might liberate ourselves from the phenomenon of being the French philosopher Rousseau described by suggesting that “Man is born free – and everywhere is in chains.”
If I am perceived to be political in this sense, I am more than happy to be so – and to be known as someone willing to put meaningful ideas into the public space. I am interested in the politics of things like cooperation, respect, love, and spiritual emancipation.
Sometimes this is about using street art as a way of publicly promoting things that I think are important – like the attention to matters of the heart suggested by my Silent♥ Series.
LET YOUR ♥ BE FREE - Layer Collage, Silent ♥ Series.
At other times this politics is about holding a light up to the innate darkness and negativity of those seeking control to promote fear, hate and alienation – as in my Mathematics of FEAR shown below.
The Mathematics of FEAR – Pasteup, Hosier Lane, December 2013.
Of course, sometimes my work comments on specific and topical political issues like that of the deliberate exploitation of underlying xenophobic attitudes to asylum seekers by both sides of Australian politics.
WE SCARE BECAUSE WE CARE - Pasteup/plaque combination, Hosier Lane, 2011. WE SCARE BECAUSE WE CARESeries.
They say socially- and politically-interested artists have got more material to work with in leaner, harder and more right-wing times – and boy are we all heading that way Down Under. Perhaps it has always been thus, but it seems to me we live in increasingly selfish, superficial and deluded times. One of the key and enduring roles of art is to hold up a mirror to that which lies beyond the surface reflection that mesmerises and numbs the potential Narcissus within us all.
And, as I have suggested above, issues like climate change are too pressing to ignore.
6. What’s Next?
The dawning of 2014 (already a month in) is an exciting time for me with a new photocopier and structural organisation of my studio. It is also the year in which I want to begin to establish a proper income-stream from my art. Art is a great life-choice – but surely there are other accommodation options than the proverbial garret. I am fortunate to have an alternative livelihood – and I have no interest in becoming rich from art: but I would love for it to become a self-sustaining livelihood and something that supports me travelling the world on Phoenix wings in the next few decades I may get in this life.
I think Einstein had the ratio about right when he talked about science being 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. There’s lots of joyful hard work for me – in my notebook, in my sketchbook, with my camera, on my laptop, in my studio, out on the streets, and in creating commercial opportunities in gallery, retail and virtual marketplace spaces.
And I’ve got plenty to work on: I am not exaggerating when I say there would be a thousand uncompleted works in my studio; summertime has been about organising a proper queueing system to move these through to finished gallery and street works and get them out onto walls – but I would be lying if I said that I won’t be more than occasionally distracted by the inevitable lure of the immediate new idea that appears on my workbench or in my diary notebook. I love working on ideas which are right at the leading edge of the wave of process.
In particular I am interested in going up in terms of scale. I very much like small intimate pieces that find small corners to adorn – but I also love the impact that larger pieces have – and would love to be able to do some really big pasteup and/or plaque installations on a similar scale to some of my bold, big-thinking colleagues and art mates.
But, more than anything: what’s next is .. whatever’s next!
I first came across Putos down in Richmond a couple of years back – it was one of those “Ha!” moments, walking along and seeing a nicely lined blocky, spouting the artists moniker, way up above me. Knowing a little fragmentary Spanish, I couldn’t help but chuckle, and filed the name away in in the “interesting, gotta see what else he’s done” pile in the back of my (admittedly often overcrowded) mind.
When I next saw his work, I almost didn’t put two and two together as to it being the same guy that I’d seen way back when, but there it was – a big beast of a creature with the same fine lines and shading I’d seen earlier on, yet this time the beast was exemplary in its rendition. I was pretty damn eye catching. From that point on I was hooked, no longer was Putos’s name lodged in the back of my mind – it was at the forefront, and he swiftly became, in my eyes, one of those Melbourne artists who was, definitively, on my “fucking rad” list.
Putos most certainly has a style all his own – a culmination of years of infusing graffiti styles with modern pop cultural icons such as cartoons and anime, with a heavy dose of his own fantastical beastiary. I unashamedly devour every new piece from Putos, his work is just in that vein of “shit that does it” for me. His imagination touches on my own personal love of the weird and wonderful, and his can skills are more than worthy of admiration.
Read on for a cool insight into the artist, and find out why it is we fucking love his work, in the interview below …
Anyways, tell us how you got your start with being creative – have you always been into doing art and creating stuff?
I’ve always had a love for drawing since an early age, inspired from cartoons and anime I would draw heaps of dinosaurs n monsters n stuff like that… I would be in the back of the class sketching and the teacher would be like “You’re in trouble young man!… but that’s a nice dinosaur …”
How about your earlier days doing graffiti – how did you first get involved, and how did you become involved in it all?
I was playing around with graf for a while tagging n stuff, but I gradually got more serious into it when I met Silk Roy at uni and we started painting together a lot. We pretty much taught ourselves how to do this and that through trial and error.
What are some of the earliest lessons you learnt when painting in walls, and do you still carry those lessons with you today? What did you once think was all-important, but no longer believe is relevant when getting your work up?
I think the main lesson for me was to always try new things. I was focused for the first few years of painting on getting my stuff clean and crisp, doing a lot of cut backs and minimizing over spray so my images would look like my ink drawings. But after a while I started to get a bit bored of that and started to change up one element of what I would be doing, whether it be variations in the subject matter, the shapes and lines, fill pattern etc., so I would still be in my comfort zone but I would be trying something new as well. Through this I’ve discovered many different effects and techniques that I wouldn’t have come across otherwise.
I also love to play the Mr. Squiggle game where you just draw some squiggles on a page and then try to turn it into an image… this helped change up my shapes and flow of the images, and so I could paint a dog ten times in a row and still have a different thing going in each one.
Gotta ask, where did you derive the tag Putos from? It has a whole swag of interesting slang behind it, if you google around … Haha
Yea, it’s a joke name that just kinda stuck. I wrote some other words before that and they all double up with other writers so I was like, ‘what’s a word that no one will be writing?’ and before I knew it I was writing this word all the time… I also liked the letters for my pieces back in the day, but now I dont really do pieces so yea, its just a funny name.. In Australia the word isn’t too common so it’s not a problem, but in LA there’s a huge Hispanic population and when I was living there the name caused quite a stir haha
Tell us a little about the evolution of your style, where have you derived fundamental inspiration from for your work, and where do you want to drive your style to in the future?
I try not to be one style and be flexible, but all my stuff ends up taking on this certain aesthetic somewhat. I’ve been focusing on my fading for the last year or two, and so now people associate that with my style, which is cool but I dont really want to be locked into and be known just for that.
Soon I plan to change my focus to something else and hopefully that will evolve my style even further, right now Im just searching for what that next focus will be.
What have been some of the more interesting and challenging spots, both environmental and architecturally, that you’ve painted?
Most large walls I do I find challenging in their own ways. The wall I did with Silk, Dvate, Bail Libre and Nektar along the tracks between Richmond n South Yarra was fun, there was a 3+ meter drop at the wall – so we had scaff, and 7 meter ladders, and still only could reach 3~4 meters on the wall. It got a bit hairy trying to get to the top of the wall …
The dragon I painted in Brunswick St backpackers was also fun, it took me half a day to do the head and took me over a week to do that body… I decided to do this triangle pattern on the belly side of the dragon and that took way longer than expected on a ladder.
Beyond that, you’ve painted in some interesting spots over time, I remember seeing your “Rampage” video you did with Dcypher some time back in LA – how did you find painting in the US, and what have been some if the most interesting places you’ve travelled to to paint?
I lived in LA for like just under a year, and that was awesome because I found myself chillin with CBS dudes and learned a lot painting with them and being around them. I owe a lot to those guys, they helped me with everything there from work, a place to stay, linking up with cats there etc. which made my stay there absolutely awesome.
Painting in France and at the Meeting of Styles 2010 in Perpignan was also great, I didn’t know any French and they had minimal English but we had a ball painting together.
There I was chillin with ODV crew, and they also took care of me when I was there and I am super grateful to those guys too. France has its own unique graf styles, and I love the aesthetic that they push there where it’s a nice fusion between illustration and graf, which is right up my alley.
Have you extended your work much into the gallery realm before? What kind of stuff do you enjoy doing away from the walls?
I haven’t done much in terms of exhibitions except for a few lil group shows here and there. But I will be doing the Seasons of Change exhibit in March, which will be my first semi solo thing (with Silk) which I’m looking forward to.
I sketch a lot in my spare time away from walls, so I’m doing a lot of that for the show at the moment.
What kind of painting projects do you have coming up in the future, and what kind of work do you dream of doing if there were absolutely no obstacles?
I would love to paint bigger and bigger walls. With no obstacles I would be painting the side of a skyscraper or something,
So what do you have planned for 2014? What can we see Putos doing this year?
More of everything. More walls and more exhibitions, more collaborations with other artists, I’m up for anything.
I can’t really put a finger on when I first met Ohnoes - I have a vague recollection of an early Secret Walls gig and getting drunk, but it could have, really, been any time over the past few years. His work has been adorning the walls of Melbourne for a while now, and his art has made appearances across a whole bunch of galleries and shows – even more so in the past year or two.
That might have to do with the fact that he now finds himself surrounded by a bastion of other creatives in the burgeoning Arts Hole studio – who give him that extra impetus to strive further with his work, or it may be that amongst the derth of “urban art” these days, his work is uncompromisingly spot on in terms of what, in my mind, he might be aiming at – a stylised depiction of imagination, graffiti, sports and underground cultures, interspersed with poignant reminders that the fantastical is often closer to reality than we realise.
Sure, there are other people doing this these days – its not uncommon, but Ohnoes is good. Real good. Honest in his interpretations, he doesn’t compromise on what he wants to put out there. He experiments, crosses mediums, is equally skilled with a can as he is with a brush, and there’s a certain stylisation to his work that is recognisable and uniquely his own.
Lets just couple this with the fact that the dude is one of the most genuine artists I know – he doesn’t talk shit, he doesn’t do cliques, he doesn’t bitch or moan or try to one up himself, he’s a humble mofo with a lot of potential to make it big, and get his work in front of the eyes of “the masses”. On top of that, well, for me, some of his stuff is out there – in a positive way, that is, in the way that you take a look at it one second and get that slightly jarring feeling of “hey, that’s not quite … what I expected.”
NBA loving, paint crashin, passionate and reliably cool, Ohnoes is one of those guys that we just love to find out more about – so read on below for the DL on this talented dude …
How did you first start out in your creative journey? At what age did you start drawing, and how did life lead you to doing what you do now?
My earliest memories of enjoying drawing were when I was 8. I remember drawing ninja turtles and my favourite NBA players in class. I never really took it too seriously until I hit high school.
My high school art teacher encouraged me to take it more seriously and began feeding me art history, which just opened a Pandora’s box of experimentation, including spray paint.
Do you have any formal artistic background, and what kind of identities within the art world do you believe your work most identifies with?
I don’t have any formal artistic background; I was pretty much self-taught except for the tips I have gotten along the way. I always enjoyed observing art and trying to understand how it was created, and like a puzzle tries to recreate it later.
My ‘art’ is a very mood or influenced based process. One day I could be illustrating, the next I could be getting messy with an array of different mediums or even working digitally. The subject matter also changes, from realism portraiture, pop culture, graffiti etc. I believe just like in all professions these days to have an edge and grow multiple disciplines go a long way, and if I where to align my art with any movement it would be this one.
You obviously have a lot of influences from graffiti, illustration and hip-hop culture – but what other, random places, do you draw fragments of influence that other people probably wouldn’t realise?
I find my influences in a lot of places, none more then my peers. Being in a studio with so many different styles and methods allows me first hand to study other influences and processes, which eventually manifest into my own experimentation.
Conversations and advice also play a role into my influences. Photography, textures, old signage, lyrics in music – even found objects can also be strong influences in my work.
Tell us a bit about your aerosol work and the work you do up on walls – what is it about spraypaint that you love, and where does it sit amongst your total creative output?
In the past few years my aerosol art has been a development of stylized photorealism. With each wall I paint I learn something new too add to my process as well as a greater eye for detail.
Spray paint is without question my favourite creative output. Aerosol art has been my gateway medium into meeting so many artists and interesting individuals. Spray painting I feel is overseen for its amazing complexities. It is the most forgiving yet the most tedious medium; it covers large areas, but takes patients and attention to detail. It allows for collaborations with other artists who in most cases compliment your work and the diversity enhances the overall mural.
Tell us a bit about your studio, the Arts Hole – how does the place help you in your creative work, and what kind of environment is it? Who there inspires you to get shit done?
The Arts Hole is my ‘happy place’. Since the day it started, my production, quality of work and discipline has grown enormously. It’s become my second family and like families it’s constantly growing. It’s an open plan studio so pretty much what’s mine is yours policy goes in there (even with food and booze). I’d like to say everyone in the Hole gives me inspiration, although having history and watching my good friend Chehehe constantly push his envelope and churn out work every time he’s here pushes me to step up my game.
Unwell Bunny has become a mentor to me. His critical and insightful conversations about art and his processes are always a good way to get inspired.
Losop is a newer addition to the studio and has been an outside the box guy. His process is similar to mine but in a completely different format and learning off each other has also helped in my growth.
Boywolf, I can’t leave this guy off the list, just knowing him is an honour. I began knowing of him and a fan of his work, now a close friend and a guy I learn from and work with on the regular has helped me not only with promotion but my confidence as an artist too.
How about the commercial side of things? Does your day job intersect with the art that you do, and visa versa?
More and more I have been fortunate to be working more out of the studio and nothing makes me happier. I have been commissioned to create interesting murals, graphics for t-shirts and illustrations, allowing me to take ‘art breaks’ to focus on my personal projects.
What have been some of the more interesting projects that you have worked on in the past? Tell us a bit about some of the cool shit you’ve accomplished!
The end of 2013 was crazy in the months of November and December myself and the studio were invited to paint at ALL YOUR WALLS, which was a great honour for us as well as allowing us to work together towards a group effort. David Jones commissioned us to paint a mural for them on Good Food and Wine week and we also had our first group show, which was a great success. Personally I believe growth, as a group, is a much stronger statement then individual accomplishments.
Living, working and creating in Melbourne – how has this city itself changed the way you create art, if it has at all? what is it about Melbourne that gives you a sense of creative energy?
I have had a passion for street art since the 90s, both observed and practiced. I don’t even think there are words to describe how much it has grown in awareness and appreciation. Melbourne has always had it’s own spin to street art that separated it self from the rest of the world. That’s one of the things I love about working and living in Melbourne. Everyday there is something new on my social media feeds, every week someone is having a show and as a community we support each other. The energy is endless and truly motivational.
What do you have planned for the rest of the year, and, indeed, the future? What projects would you like to accomplish, and where do you see yourself taking your art?
This year I am planning to have my first solo show, that’s on the top of my list. The Arts hole plans too have a couple of group shows as well as do tons of kick ass productions.
I never know where my art is going – that’s half the fun.
As a Northern Beaches chick, I guess I can understand their “oh” moment when people ask where I take my photos (the majority being Sydney’s Inner West). Catching public transport is actually a really nice way to start and end my treasure hunts. A quick jump on the ferry, short walk to the train station, then while travelling on the train (getting frustrated at seeing some art on placed that could only be photographed if one was to stand smack bang in the middle of a track area!) some internal dialogue about where to alight and all the while planning a certain route to walk.
Given this is my first article it needs to laid out from the get go when I say “walk” it usually entails 4 hours of meandering the streets, getting lost, getting found and ensuring I can always hear a main road or some form of public transport if venturing into new territories, as my sense of direction is notoriously bad. Ask me where a certain wall or installation is? No problemo! Ask me the name of the lanes or streets: can prove difficult!
Thus it was one of these “new territories” that I looked up (being on the hunt requires much swivelling of head, eyeballs, walking up one side of a street or lane way and then back down the other just to ensure nothing has been missed) and spied a paste-up that while at the time was difficult to see (only had small teeny weeny camera initially but as time progressed and the much beloved EOS110D came in to my life!) I was still pretty stoked at the eventual outcome.
Not really understanding what I was looking at, it became one of those “if you don’t capture it now it’ll be gone next time” moments.
Fast track Outpost 2011 and my instant love affair began resulting in about 10 visits but one of the first images captured was the most INCREDIBLE installation
but it wasn’t long after that I found the true mecca for past up. Paste Modernism 3
Can you give me a little bit of the history of Houl?
HOUL came about quite a bit after I got into street art. I had been putting up paste-ups and stickers without a name to them for a while before I ran into Ears at the first Paste-Modernism. He invited me to check out his new gallery “Oh Really” then asked if I wanted to show any work. I raced home, whipped up some shitty piece and when I got to the gallery with the piece, they needed an artist name and Houl was the first thing that i thought of. In hindsight it’s not the coolest name I could have chosen, but it could have been worse.
From commissions to street to vagabondness of beyond. Where do you find the most freedom or do you enjoy having restrictions if nothing else other than to have a moment of “structure” in a world which is surrounded by chaos
I find the most freedom exists when painting walls. The limitations imposed by the canvas are removed when painting big murals and you are able to make huge gestural movements, really putting yourself in to the work. Painting Canberra’s underpasses and drains drags my art-making from an internal process into something more external, not only with regards to location but also the way I think about work.
That said, there still exists and element of restriction no matter what you do, but painting walls seems to alleviate it the most.
Where, whom or what inspires you?
Where: the coast line of the city of R’lyeh
Whom: Tom Waits, Swerfk, Bafcat, SMC3, Arvz, The Dirt, Resan, OX, Mr Gawky and David Attenborough
What: Triple Cream Brie, Pizza Shapes and a knob of Hungarian Salami
It is known that scent and music are the most power evocators of memory. Due you draw some of your inspiration from memories or do you simply allow your creativity “flow” to take you where it may and with the end result being as much as a surprise to yourself as an artist and you as an individual?
There is no room for memory in art or the motion that comes attached
For some artist’s a work is never really “finished”. Do you feel at times you have to draw a line in the sand and if that is the case, how difficult a process emotionally and creatively can that be?
Know when to stop an artwork can be tough. There will always be that ‘one more thing’ you need to add, that extra line that will complete a piece. But as much as you think it will be, it’s never just ‘one more’. It can be frustrating working on something that you feel is SO close to being finished, but you can’t quite reach that perfect point.
I don’t even remember seeing my first Burg face – one second I had no idea who the fuck he was, the next it seemed like he had always been there. Suddenly, Burg was just a part of the landscape, his work morphed into the ever flowing world of Melbourne street art in such an intrinsic way that I was caught out. Surprised, even.
Sulking on corners, laneways and thoroughfares – staring out with impeded eyes and forlorn glances, a true face of the downtrodden – aged lines blurring into the heady youth of a young impressionistic attitude flowing with rough, barely concealed zeal. You know Burg when you see him – and trying to grasp onto the emotions on one of his works is an episode in frustration. Ambiguity is one of the most highly sought after expressions in any kind portraiture, that sudden "I don’t know what the fuck he’s thinking" in the viewers eye a most preferential outcome, and in this, Burg has excelled in this.
With a imminent move up to Byron Bay, we’re hoping that we don’t have to wait too long before we see more Burg faces pop up on the streets of Melbourne – in the meantime, read on and find out more about this grand up and coming artist hitting our streets …
Can you tell us how you first started out as an artist and how you first become interested in art?
I first started as an artist, that’s a tough one. it still a weird thought to think of my self as a artist, I guess it started when I saw one of my paste ups on "Melbourne street art" Facebook group as bad as that sounds, I always drew in my spare time but there was never really anybody who saw it until it was on a wall for everybody to see. I always loved my comics from a young age as well as the classic 90′s animations.
I always thought I was going to be a cartoonist but I never had the patience for it – I think my art now is constantly influenced by pop-cultures hatred of imperfection and mistakes.
I think that that’s what makes things interesting …
When was the first time you picked up a spray can? What lead you to painting on walls?
I think the 1st time I picked up a spray can was at a mates house party, its been trial and error since then. He was the person who first took me out pasting, that night we met "Start From Zero" – a crew from Japan. I guess what lead me to paint on walls was the "street cred" nobody who does paste ups really gets the same amount of respect as aerosol art, also its a hugely challenging as well as expressive.
I don’t think that anyone has picked up a can and been amazing at it, from my experience it takes a long time and a lot of $$$ to get it to where you’re satisfied, and to look the way want people to see your art.
Looking around you at all the art up on the walls around Melbourne, where do you feel that yourself and your art fit in to all of that? What have been some of the inspirations you have garnered from such a rich environment?
I kind of hope that my art doesn’t fit in with the others, i want my burg characters to stand out, but with the amount of diversity we have in Melbourne is one of the things that make it special. I’m inspired by the greats that have left their mark on Melbourne, like Phibs, Lister, Gent and Shida. On the other hand our local talent is endless – blokes like Conrad Bizjak, Hancock, JD, Eleven and the AWOL crew keep pushing the limits.
Its a curse and a blessing. It keeps you humble, no matter how good you think you are there is someone out there that is better.
What have been some of the more enjoyable aspects of working with spray paint, and what have been some of the more negative moments? Tell us about the trails and tribulations of working on walls …
Spray paint, its one of the more harder mediums i have used. I get less frustrated with oils. i think its one of those things that the more you work on it and the better you get at it your still not happy, thinking it could be better. i think that’s one of the real holds spray paint has on me, I can’t let it beat me! I have never been shown how to paint with a can, so every time I paint with it I learn something I didn’t know before.
Where did your form of style spring from? Do you have any formal illustration background, and what kind of identities within art do you believe your work most identifies with?
Hahaha, my style – its a hard thing to critique your own work! Well, I see my style as still changing but every artist is trying to refine there craft. It started out as just drawing cartoons with pencil, once I started using a marker i realized how to use every side of the marker to create thin and thick lines, after that it was just having fun using the freedom to experiment and enjoy doing the outline, the amount of times I have sketched out a design and when it came time to go over it with a marker or fine liner it turned out completely different because of a thick line here and a thin line there.
When it comes to formal teaching, I recently finished my Diploma in illustration at Preston – it was a huge influence on my work over the past year – learning and trying things you wouldn’t think about with out the right guidance. Its saved me from being a one trick pony.
One of your characters, what I think of as "the wrinkled dude" is immediately recognisable, and almost a Burg trademark – can you tell us a bit about the evolution of this character and where he came from? I mean, what exactly is a Burg anyways?
Burg faces actually started out as mistake – from frustration.
I remember trying to draw this character that I thought was cool but I couldn’t get it right. I had only a few hours before my mate came over and we went out pasting, and as I started to get a bit angry, I took my frustration out on a scrap piece of paper – after that, I felt better so I got back to my original drawing.
Those hours passed, and my mate rocked up ready to paste. I started to pack up the drawings i was going to take out and he asked why I wasn’t taking that one? I thought it was just a shit scribble, but he made me take it – and that’s how the first Burg was spawned. Since then, I’ve drawn him that much that it doesn’t look the same – but he still carries the feeling of a reject, with all his imperfections and ugliness.
You just recently had an exhibition at The Vic – what lead you to wanting to put on the show?
I did – I met the guy who runs it about a year ago through a friend. He had been asking me to put some stuff up for a while, he asked me again about end of March. At that point I had decided to move up to Byron Bay and had started to save for that. I needed money, and the challenge of having a solo exhibition with a month to prepare was something that felt like it was worth it.
Can you tell us a bit about how you felt once the exhibition opening itself was over? What was the feedback and reaction to the work – and what would you have changed about the experience, or alter for the next time?
Once the exhibition was over it felt great – before hand I was shitting my self. I polished off a bottle of wine before I had even rocked up (and then some).
I had a great response from everybody i talked to. It was one of the more surreal moments I have had – I understand now why people go through all that hair pulling and sleepless nights for that moment of feeling alone – I think I had a permanent smile on my face for about two weeks.
I know that next time, I’ll give my self some more time – have a few extra little things like business cards, stickers and some prints.
What are your next plans, and what do you hope to do for the rest of the year, and the next? What projects are on the horizon that you want to get involved in?
The next 12 months are looking pretty exciting – I’m moving up to Byron bay for a little bit, got a little bit of illustration and film work up.
I have started to paint for my next exhibition as well as a few other group shows in Byron bay as well as another down in Melbourne at the end of the year. at this point I’m looking pretty busy which is always a good thing. so keep an eye out for burg over the next few months.
Right now, travelling through Eastern Europe, Mexico and Central America seems a world away – with so much heavy travel, I’ve been a bit behind on my travel blogs, but I have some downtime here in Lithuania so I’m going to try and do a bit of catch up.
After a couple of days (and food poisoning) in Mexico City (DF) I headed down to the city of Xalapa in Mexico to check out some street art. Xalapa (or Jalapa as its also known) isn’t really hugely on the "tourist route", and every time I told someone at the hostel I was heading down to Xalapa they’d say "where?" – but it does have one thing that makes it pretty important – it is one of the main University towns in Mexico. Therefore, there are a lot of students in the city – which makes Xalapa street art central!
When I arrived in Xalapa, I was greeted by local artist Obake – who graciously offered to show me around the city to spot the sites.
After a good dose of Mexican coffee, we started wandering the streets of Xalapa, spotting all kinds of cool work around the place. Obake showed me some of her favourite spots, and some of the work that she’d put up.
We then wandered down to a small store in the backstreets to meet a good friend of Obake, Mister Trauma. This shop, Trauma Studios (located at Belisario Domínguez 55) is a must-see if you are visiting Xalapa. Stickers, magazine, and artwork adorn the walls, and its great to see such an independent shop getting work out there and promoting the local artists.
Communicating with my absolutely shitty non-existent Spanish, Mister then asked if I wanted to go out and have a quick paint – well, I’m always up for a paint, and though completely unprepared we headed off to find a cab to head to the outskirts of the city and a wall that had out there. I wasn’t entirely sure at the time what the fuck was happening – you know, spontaneously jumping into a cab with complete strangers to go to the outskirts of a town in Veracruz, Mexico – but it was fkn cool fun.
A couple of Mister and Obakes friends showed up at the wall, and as late as it was and with the sun setting, we painted until late into the night – sipping on beautiful bottles of what was to become my favourite Mexican beer – Leon!
The next day, I took a walk through the central part of Xalapa, and got a bunch more shots. Walking up the main "market alleyway" – Callejón del Diamante (Diamond Alley). Sure, theres a lot of tourist shit up there, but I also spotted a bunch of independent artists selling artwork right on the street – one in particular grabbed my attention – ESV Mounstrotopia.
Not far up from where he was selling his art, I found another really cool shop that seemed to specialise in pushy toys of small monsters and the like – Marabunta Tienda, it was really pretty cool, and worth checking out for its range of independent toys and design laden stuff.
Later that night, we went off to grab a few beers and take a look around the city by night – lead in tow by Obake we did a good bit of paintspotting.
As I was planning on painting before leaving Xalapa, one question I had was "Where do I buy spraypaint in Xalapa?" – and Obake kindly advised me that there was a store up the top of Callejón del Diamante where I could get some. Though I didn’t see a name on it, it was to the right as you reached the top of the alley, in the corner – the front of the shop is actually filled with … well, Halloween shit and Hot Topic-esque bits and pieces, but behind all of that, on the counter, was a good deal of paint to be had. The only two brands I saw there were the usual Mexican brands – Arte Xpress and 360.
The next day, Obake and I headed down to where we were going to paint for the day – El Cafe De Nadie. I’d spotted this place a day before, with a huge and amazing Quetzalcoatl mural on the side of it. This was one of my favourite spots in Xalapa, a really cool cafe and place to hang out – great brownies!
Struggling a bit using the high pressure 360 paint (I haven’t used high pressure paint since my much younger bombing days) we knocked it all out and I was pretty happy with the whole thing – Obakes piece was, as always, very fkn cool.
After finishing up late in the evening, it was time to go and catch an overnight bus down to the Yucatan – stinking of paint and sweat, and more than a little chromed out, I made the bus in time and promptly passed out on the journey to my next destination …
Xalapa was my first real introduction to the street art scene in Mexico, and it was a fantastic stay. The artists in Xalapa are, as always, stuggling to get their work up in the face of government adversity, but they are really making a scene of it all. I wouldn’t be surprised if Xalapa turned into one of the real street art capitals of Mexico over the next few years, there’s certainly enough talent in the city to make it so. Big thanks to all the crew, especially Obake and Mister Trauma, for helping me out and showing me around whilst I was there.
Check out a whole bunch more photos below from my visit to Xalapa!
This post is something a little different to the norm. We ummm’ed and ahhhh’ed about the format for ages, should we transcribe it, should we make a video, should we edit it, should we chop it into smaller clips? We ended up deciding to just post it as is (with some work on the sound levels). It was such a special experience for us, it felt like we were watching a documentary.
To start off with, we have to thank Dean Sunshine. Dean took Futura on a street tour of Melbourne the day before. As you will hear, it was the best tour he’s done to date and he really loves Melbourne. He’s also a big fan of invurt which you’ll hear about too! Check out Dean’s photos from the day on his blog here.
We were called up for our turn, waiting in club 23 (which Hennessy had booked exclusively for Futura) at Crown.
It’s funny. We planned and planned this interview, and just before we sat down we heard Futura speaking to some other members of the press. He’s such a captivating speaker. Impromptu we decided we would just sit down and have a conversation with him. And while I had my list of questions handy, I didn’t have to ask one of them, Futura covered off basically every thing we wanted to ask.
It was possibly one of the most amazing conversations I’ve had with anyone from the scene, ever. I mean this man is a god father, he’s seen it all come and go and he’s still keeping it real.
We were also blessed to hear about the person behind the artist. We spoke intimately about his family and friends and some of his other passions; photography and exploring new cities.
Anyway, you’ll understand after listening! Kick back, grab a beer, have a listen and enjoy! Also check out the mad shots by David Russell below.
After having spent a really good amount of time in Kuala Lumpur and checking out the streets and walls of Singapore, I picked up stumps and headed over the Pacific on the next part of what has now turned into an epic adventure; San Francisco – I’m in Guatemala right now, so San Fran actually feels a world away!
That said, I fucking loved San Fran. Apart from my shock at how badly the homeless situation has worsened since my last visit there ten years ago (wtf America, how can shit get so bad, seriously?), I have to say it was pretty amazing. San Francisco is a city of so many facets that, well, there’s just no way I can cover it all here. Instead, I’m going to split my visit up into two pieces – one from an amazing day trekking through The Mission district, one covering all the stickers I saw and the one with all the rest – all, I’m happy to say, are big, big posts and are absolutely fascinating.
One thing that San Francisco has, for which I am many others are more than thankfully are, is a veritable plethora of paintspotters – those who seek out new pieces of graffiti and street art to share with those of us who may not be fortunate enough to live in the area. Melbourne has them, and almost every city has them, and for a certainty San Fran has them, spanning San Francisco graffiti and street art every day. So, it was a no brainer when I arrived in San Fran that I’d try to catch up with one of my favourite instagram paintspotters – @pixelina.
I’d been following @Pixelina on IG for some time, and have had the pleasure of seeing a huge bunch of amazing images that she’s taken from all over the city – so when I contacted her and asked if she could show me some of her favourite spots, she was more than obliging. It just so happened, that another of my favourite IG paintspotters was in town on the same day, @purpurella (who takes a bunch of great shots from around LA), so it all turned into one big paintspotting mission in the Mission – honestly, these girls were amazing.
We started out meeting at coffee shop in the Mission, have to say, this was some of the nicest coffee I’ve ever tasted. It wasn’t long though, until the crew arrived and we headed off to see what the day had to offer.
Not far away proceeded to walk down a variety of the many laneways throughout the Mission – each harbouring a multitude of art. From graffiti, murals to street art, the cornucopia of colour reminded me in many ways of what we have in Melbourne around Fitzroy and Collingwood, the two had a very similar feel … I have to say though, that there may be a little more art in the Mission than there is in the F&C area … but that’s okay, I’m sure we’ll catch up ;)
Whilst trekking through the multitude of streets, I spotted a store on a corner that had a bunch of art on the walls, and discovered Faze Apparel. I loved this place – these guys are doing really cool things, promoting local artists and artist designed clothing.
The art up on the walls was damn cool, and the threads were fresh – if you’re in the Mission at any time, drop by here. They also do regular art exhibitions as well, in fact, that’s what they started out doing before they opened up the store itself.
We walked through a great carpark that was a couple of blocks down from where we started, and spotted a bunch of great work in there as well.
Towards the end of the day, we found we’;d been walking for around six hours – so one of our last stops was to check out a neat van being painted by some friends of @pixelina – Eon75 (Max Ehrman)and someone whose work I’ve actually followed for a while (big fan of his toy!), Jesse Hernandez. It was a great way to finish off the day and watch some of San Frans finest in action.
Nearby, there was a huge collab wall – one of the parts had this robot, that I fkn loved!
On the way back, there were, of course, more walls to be seen – but probably my favourite one was this wall that Meggs, Ha-Ha and a bunch of others had painted when they were in San Fran for the Young & Free exhibition – a great wall to see on the last part of our journey throughout the mission.
Ended up the whole day exhausted and tired, and having a pint at the infamous Zeitgeist bar – felt like I was back in Fitzroy!!
Again, thanks to Pix, Purp and the others for a wonderful day – if you get yourself to San Fran, you can easily lose an entire day, or more, just walking the back streets of the Mission in search of great art – you cant miss it, its everywhere.
Check out a mass of photos of all the walls we saw in San Fran below … this is the largest collection of pics I’ve posted up here before, there’s about 280 of them – I could have culled, but there’s so damn much that’s good, and I wanted to document it all! In the next two part of my San Fran posts, I’ll post up a bunch more shots stuff from Haight and the rest of the city, murals, stickers and a visit to the newest minted Zero Friends store!
Enjoy – there’s several pages of these images so browse through by clicking on the numbers below!
For thousands of years, philosophers and mathematicians have been pondering the deepest intricacies of our lives – seeking the answers to mysteries that have plagued mankind since he first glanced up towards the stars. Foremost in these explorations, has been the desire to unlock one of the most enigmatic keys to the nature of our existence – the fundamental order attributed to our physical universe by the rules and laws governing the geometric form.
As an artist, Tom Vincent not only pays homage to these millennia of explorations, but further attempts to add to the vast amount of knowledge, theory and thinking that surrounds their inherent philosophical musings. By vigorously expanding both his knowledge and understanding of the many facets of geometric lines and shapes, yet never eschewing nor relying on their mathematical underpinnings, Tom breaths life into what is often an overplayed motif in contemporary art – the results of which are astonishingly beautiful.
Juxtapositions of intricate lines are enfolded within simplicity, shapes meandering between true and construed – all held together by an eager willingness to expound upon the colourful flow of spectrums to which each shape is attributed – it is, simply, art that entrances and beguiles you with its depth.
Tom is an artist who has designed, illustrated and painted walls with spatterings of aerosol across Melbourne, who has now come forth with a unique vision that sits apart from his youthful exuberances, and yet still maintains the trappings of "rebellion" that harken back to his formative years – for what is there more rebellious, than to try to challenge people to see the hidden beauty in the underpinnings of our existence, beauty to which we are, shamefully, all too often oblivious to?
I grabbed an interview with Tom on the eve of his show, Toroidal Fields, this coming Thursday at the Anna Pappas Gallery in Prahran – I hope that you enjoy it, and find yourself as enamoured of his work and artistic philosophies as I.
Tell us about how you first picked up a pen and brush and started doing art – when you were young, what first gave you a feel for being creative?
When I was young I was always drawing in my spare time, just doodling stuff. Then it sort of evolved into drawing stuff onto the bottom of my surfboards and skateboards. I began snowboarding a lot around the age of 13/14 and I was doing graffiti in my downtime and the summer.
A few years later, I ended up breaking some collarbones at a time when I had a lot of snowboarding ahead of me – doing graffiti was a release from the frustration of that happening. From there it pretty much sucked me in and I stopped the snowboarding.
You have an early history of having done a bit of graffiti around Melbourne – can you tell us a bit about it, and how you got into it? What made you want to get up and paint, and who, at the time, were influential in you starting out?
My first exposure to graffiti was when I saw Reset and Sirum painting in the lane way at the back of my house, it just sucked me in right from that moment. I watched them for probably 2 days and I immediately started to mess around with some sketches.
I kept seeing them when they would re-do the wall every 6 months or so and I would be out there watching and learning from them. I started to paint my first piece on our back wall in the lane way and they saw this and gave me a few pointers and showed me some tricks. I had some friends at school who were also into it at the time and we just started to paint. I used to get a lot of motivation from seeing all the really good pieces around and it just made me want to get better and paint more.
Have you done any sort of formal training in terms of art and design – what in the way of artistic education has contributed to your work today?
I haven’t had any formal training with art & design, instead I ended up sharing a studio with David Milne. David is a brilliant hard-edge painter and his technique is spot on. I was in that studio for about 3 years straight out of high school, I ended up living there for a period and it was just a constant barrage of art.
It was exactly what I needed to develop my work, I was completely sub-merged in it.
Tell us a bit about the studio spaces you’ve found yourself working in over the years – what, especially, do you believe that a studio space can contribute to an artists work, and what kind of activities do you usually find yourself conducting in the studio, beyond painting?
I’ve had my fair share of spaces over the few years and i believe it is important to have a work space that is comfortable for you, by that I mean a space that allows you to focus 100% on your work. But it is also good if there are like minded artists around that can give you some feedback on your work and to do some fun things along the way.
Often I find that it is a very fine line between being much too serious or far too relaxed. I guess in the best places that line is blurred and it allows you to maintain a steady work output whilst having a relaxed feel.
Tell us a bit about how you came to be exhibiting at Anna Papas gallery, and why you chose there for this most recent show?
Anna was kind enough and helped me out by showing me, she is a lovely person and I have a lot of respect for her gallery. I really enjoy the actual space that she has as well, and I had always dreamed of showing my work there. She has a really good stable of artists that span a variety of mediums and it was something that I wanted to be involved with.
In terms of the show – I know you’ve been working on it for some time now, and that you had a big bulk of it completed a while back, but what in the duration of putting it together changed in regards to what you were producing, and how did time help to shape the final product as it now stands?
In the beginning the work was changing quite rapidly. Initially I had it all planned out, but as the weeks went by the plans changed. The ideas remained the same, the actual images were changing. Then I just began painting – I decided that I had lost myself in the planning stages so I moved on. I felt the work should evolve organically so I allowed it to take its natural course.
Having the time allowed me to really step back from what I had made and connect the pieces more intricately. I have had the work finished for a month or so now so it has been quite a relaxing time in the lead up to this show, something I don’t think will happen every time.
Some would say that the work that you are doing now is a direct opposite to the earlier work you were doing with graffiti and design – well, I would! How have the two directions coalesced or did you make a conscious decision to move towards a more contemporary feel in your work, or did it just happen in an organic fashion?
The two different styles of work are vastly different. I can tell that the current work is coming from a different pattern of thought than when I was doing graffiti.
When I was in the very early stages of exploring geometry, I was still painting a lot of graffiti. It was always a conscious decision that I wanted to step away from graffiti on canvases, so when I had my first studio I would be painting inside, then I would also paint outside and they were two completely different things. I begun to slow down with graffiti and really focus on painting canvases with out even really thinking of graffiti.
I always had ideas that I couldn’t fit into the graffiti model, so to speak, and this other direction has really allowed me to pursue these ideas.
What is it about geometry that you find most alluring? Some would say that geometry can be a trap of rigidity, others find it the bare basics of the world around us, and yet others relish the mathematical of it – which of these most speaks to you, or doesn’t? What other ideals of geometry most excite you?
I am completely fascinated at how geometry has constructed the material world. Geometry might seem simple to many people, but there are still a lot of things we don’t understand about shapes.
There is a massive history with geometry dating all the way back to the ancient Egyptians and it is pretty obvious how good their understanding of geometry was. I do love the rigidity of geometry also, but exploring the boundaries of this notion is more interesting to me. I tend to stay away from the mathematical side of it, as this is not my forte, but I will still get the compass out and check the angles etc.
I am a big fan of Plato, Archimedes and the rest of the ancients – to me it is a wild notion that I am learning the same things they were.
You also have a pretty interesting development cycle when it comes to the colours that you use in your work – having seen some of your test pieces and a lot of your work in progress, you’re quite meticulous when it comes to colour placement – is it the technical side of colour variation and spectrum’s that fascinates you, or the sheer variety? What theories of colour do you most look to when utilising it in your work, if any?
I tend not to try and go by any theories with colour selection, I usually have a few colours I’m particularly interested in at a certain time.
Then, for me, its just a matter of exploring all the different variations of the select colours, seeing how they sit next to other colours and just feeling it out.
I tend to work through colours quite slowly, at first I might not even notice when a new colour starts emanating through my work but then I realise I am completely obsessed with it. I am constantly taking note of colours I see and it plays a big part in general life for me.
What do you hope comes out of this show, what is it that you are trying to say about Tom Vincent, the artist, with this work?
The ideal situation for me would be if everyone enjoys the work, they realise they know these shapes and begin to notice geometry in every aspect of life around them.
That is what I want out of art – to show people that these shapes are important, and that we don’t know enough about them. These shapes have been around us since this planet came into existence, and it remains the governing force in all of the planetary bodies we have found.
After this show, will you continue to investigate geometry in your work, or are there other facets of creativity that are piquing your curiosity? What’s in the future for Tom Vincent?
I will defiantly be continuing along this path, I don’t think I will ever be finished with geometry.
I have a few group shows in the pipelines for the end of the year, so I’m just working towards those and developing the work into a different aspect of this knowledge.
Invurt webzine provides information on AustralAsian street, urban, illustrative, graffiti and other genre defying, nu-contemporary art to readers around the world. It specialises in events and artists who are working, displaying and visiting Australasia – particularly with a focus on exhibitions, live art and other events the artists are partaking in.