In the lead up to the Post Graffiti Pacific group show, curated by Olivia Laita at Ambush Gallery, we had a quick chat to Askew One as they prepare for the opening of this monumental break through show.
‘Post Graffiti Pacific’ group show
Where: Ambush Gallery, Sydney
Opening: Thursday 16 July
We are super excited that this exhibition is being held in Sydney. Why did you choose to have the show here and not somewhere else?
To be completely honest, Bill and John at aMBUSH are the first people to extend an invite for us to showcase this movement, it’s that simple. Olivia and I were out in Sydney a bit late last year to work on a project they organised and during some afterwork drinks one night we got into a really in-depth conversation about what how we see ourselves as artists or more specifically how we want to define ourselves, what is our legacy?
It seems like the core topic of this show is on the minds of ALOT of artists like yourselves. How does this new term or definition effect you as artists, and also how did the old way of being pigeon holed as “graffiti” or “street artists” effect you?
Yeah exactly, it has been a big point of discussion amongst us, especially as we have all deviated away from just painting graffiti in the traditional sense and started making work that the public can only perceive as ‘street art’. I guess for us, that term irks us a bit because in the 90’s it seemed like a term that was born to create a distinction between us – people who painted more letter-based work which the public hated and another set of artists who started working on the streets as well. From our point of view, the streets were where we did all of our learning and developing and it seemed like a lot of people suddenly came from art schools and the comfort of their studios. The street artists often made something more public-pleasing than us, more identifiable to the average person and did so away from view rather than taking the risk to create in-situ like us and so there was this divide. Obviously this divide is way less apparent today, it’s much less defined because so many people from traditional graffiti writing have evolved to consider themselves artists in a broader sense and make more varied work. The current big trend is towards studio practise and large scale muralism and a lot of the people really thriving in that movement come from a background of painting trains and streets, still not from an art school background. Furthermore, we come from Auckland which is a true Pacific city and the Polynesian capital of the world. Our upbringings, influences and attitudes have been shaped by this very unique experience. As we explore this more it weaves it’s way more and more into our work. We feel this gives us another vital point of difference in the global context.
Graffiti is obviously a big part of who you all are. Is there ever a part of you that would like to leave it behind? Is that even possible?
I think we all have different outlooks on this, for example I think some members of our collective stopped painting graffiti in that way earlier than others. For me personally it’s still a huge part of who I am, who I know and how I’ve experienced this world. I’d never turn my back on it completely but I have had to shift my focus a lot. Whereas I used to be concerned with painting graffiti everyday, I’m OK with doing a lot less now and channeling that energy more into my studio practise. It’s just the stage in life I’m in. this deserves attention, I find it engaging and in some ways I think graffiti is much more honest from a younger person. There’s a lot of angst, bravado and energy when you’re young that is hard to maintain forever. I also feel some attitudes in graffiti are very rigid and stifling to creative and personal development, like a strange form of conformity that I find doesn’t adhere with how I view the world anymore. I used to hold some really passionate viewpoints that I laugh at now.
Does the actual work in the show and that you produce currently still represent your past graffiti, or has it evolved into something completely separate?
I think it’s different once again for different artists. I think the likes of Misery and Elliot Francis Stewart have made that transition in a way that still clearly adheres to their outdoor work. Although I’ve seen the progression of Gary Silipa, Benjamin Works and Berst’s art personally and know it’s connection, to someone that just knows them from their old pieces it could be seen as a much bigger jump. Route52 has always been shooting photos as well as painting graffiti. I think with my stuff I used to keep a much bigger separation being the two but my studio work has been influencing my outdoor work more than vice versa.
Does being located in the Pacific region of the world, more specifically New Zealand, have an effect on your work and process?
Oh absolutely. It’s something we probably overlooked a lot when we were young because our view was always so outward looking. We basically looked everywhere for influence but our own backyard for a long time. When we really reflected on this collectively and asked each other a lot of questions about what was distinctive about our scene, a lot of the powerful stuff can be seen in the documentation of our outdoor paintings. It wasn’t motif or thematic elements, it existed in our surrounds and the people mostly – the stuff we took for granted. Once you turn the microscope on that you find it much easier to understand what makes us different.
What can people expect to see at this show?
I’m really proud of the show, so proud of Olivia for curating this and blown away by what my friends have created. Everyone has produced very well realised and finished works, each a progression and distinct leap forward from their last. We are stoked to have the opportunity to show this in a great space and with people like aMBUSH who through their understanding and appreciation have enabled us to do this in an ambitious and grand way.
Will all of the artists be in Sydney for the opening, and have you got any other events or projects lined up for while you’re in town?
Nothing else lined up so far. All of us will be there in person except Misery and Berst who have commitments here in Auckland.