Category Archives: street art

Christchurch Revisited

Beautiful historic New Regent street. Here you can almost pretend that no earthquakes had happened in Christchurch.

Beautiful historic New Regent street. Here you can almost pretend that no earthquakes had happened in Christchurch.

A few days ago I spent two days in Christchurch at the end of a 10 day New Zealand holiday.  I had also visited the earthquake-ravaged city in August last year.  I was curious to see the changes between then and now.  This post is a small photo album of how Christchurch is looking in April 2014.

How wonderful to see that the trams have started again. Also it is incredible that there is so little damage in New Regent Street! It is well and truly open for business.

How wonderful to see that the trams have started again. Also it is incredible that there is so little damage in New Regent Street! It is well and truly open for business.

I enjoyed coming across art in the streets.  This is a different kind of street art; SANCTIONED street art.  Some of it is organized by Christchurch Art Gallery.  Its own building is still closed while extensive repairs take place.  Therefore it has been instrumental in putting copies of its pictures out and about.

A ballerina from Swan Lake is being sprayed onto a wall. You can see the artist working from the cherry-picker.

A ballerina from Swan Lake is being sprayed onto a wall. You can see the artist working from the cherry-picker.

Twisted reinforcing mesh makes a good spot for pigeons.

Twisted reinforcing steel makes a good spot for pigeons. (I couldn’t help noticing the pigeons when I was photographing the big ballerina mural.)

Notice the art works on this building...

Notice the art works on this building…

Here is a closer view.

Here is a closer view.

Another piece organized by the Christchurch Art Gallery. It is lovely to come across these images when you are walking in Christchurch.

Another piece organized by the Christchurch Art Gallery. It is lovely to come across these images when you are walking in Christchurch.

Can you see the subject of this painting? Crazed seagulls.

An enormous mural of sea birds covers a wall.

A striking abstract wall.

A striking abstract wall.

One of the two large knomes who stand to attention outside the Christchurch Art Gallery.

One of the two large gnomes who stand to attention outside the Christchurch Art Gallery.

Dance floor complete with music (which you can change to suit yourself) and disco ball.

Suspended dance floor complete with music and disco ball.

Here is the source of the music - a musicked-up washing machine. Please enjoy DANCE O MAT.

Here is the source of the music – a musicked-up washing machine. Please enjoy DANCE O MAT.  Seriously – you can choose your song!

Sometimes small gardens have been erected but in most cases it is just hard ground and lots of it.

This huge mural (you can see the size of it compared to the man standing in front of it) tells us that this is a strip joint.

This huge mural (you can see the size of it compared to the man standing in front of it) tells us that this is a strip joint.

Public art juxtaposes with buildings and space to make some strange compositions.

Public art juxtaposes with buildings and space to make some strange compositions.

Sometimes it is the traffic sign which inadvertently becomes art.

Sometimes it is the traffic sign which inadvertently becomes art.

There is too much space in Christchurch.  Remember this was a city.  It was hard to find a car park before September 2010.  Now one is so aware of SPACE.

Three walkers through - what was here? High Street, Manchester Street? I forget.

Three walkers stride through – what was here? High Street, Manchester Street? I forget.

Huge spaces around the Forsyth Barr builidng. In the earthquake of February 22nd 2011, the staircases inside this office block collapsed.

Huge spaces around the Forsyth Barr builidng. In the earthquake of February 22nd 2011, the staircases inside this office block collapsed.  Workers had to be rescued through an upper-storey window.

This was a block of extremely expensive and brand new apartments. It is being demolished right now. You can see a hole in the wall? That is where the building next door was hitting it during the quake.

This was a block of extremely expensive and brand new apartments. It is being demolished right now. You can see a hole in the wall?.. (near the top and to the left). That is where the building next door was hitting it during the shaking.

Some of the massive empty spaces have been planted with grass making urban paddocks. Here is Matthew posing for me on one of the paddocks.

Some of the massive empty spaces have been planted with grass making urban paddocks. Here is Matthew posing for me on grass where city buildings used to stand.

More grass with a church behind which I believe will be saved.

More grass with a church behind which I believe will be saved.

We briefly went out to the coast to the suburb of Sumner.

Here is some vertical space which developed with huge rockfalls. Nobody would have expected cliffs to fall away.

Here is some vertical space which developed with huge rockfalls. Nobody would have expected cliffs to fall away.

Not so far from the site of the cliff in the last photo is a landmark which had been known as Shag Rock. Can you believe the forces which shattered an enormous rock? Now it is known as Shag Pile.

Not so far from the site of the cliff in the last photo is a landmark which had been known as Shag Rock. Can you believe the forces which shattered an enormous rock? Now it is known as Shag Pile. (Very droll!)

The Port Hills have some new shapes. There didn't used to be a nipple here but now there is. It is nice to see that Ferrymead Riding School is still here by the way.

The Port Hills have some new shapes. There didn’t used to be a nipple here but now there is. It is nice to see that Ferrymead Riding School is still here by the way.

Back in town, I’ll finish by showing you the new Cardboard Cathedral.  The old Anglican Cathedral is still in tatters in Cathedral Square.

The Wizard of New Zealand - yes, there really is such a character - wants to save the Anglican Cathedral in The Square.

The Wizard of New Zealand – yes, there really is such a character – wants to save the Anglican Cathedral in The Square.

The Transitional Cathedral, better known as the Cardboard Cathedral.

The Transitional Cathedral, better known as the Cardboard Cathedral.

While debate rages about what to do with the iconic Anglican Cathedral in Cathedral Square, there is a new Transitional Cathedral made of CARDBOARD!   It is designed by Japanese Architect, Shigeru Ban who has this year won the Pritzker Architecture Prize.  You can read about his award here – http://www.pritzkerprize.com/2014/announcement

Interior view towards alter. Even the cross is cardboard.

Interior view towards altar. Even the cross is cardboard.

I thought the windows might be perspex but no, they are glass. There is a beautiful atmosphere of peace and hope inside the Transitional Cathedral.

I thought the windows might be perspex but no, they are glass. There is a beautiful atmosphere of peace and hope inside the Transitional Cathedral.

A suspended sculpture of a steeple hangs in Latimer Square. Beyond the trees is the Transitional Cathedral.

A suspended sculpture of a steeple hangs in Latimer Square. Beyond the trees is the Transitional Cathedral.

Matt and I both had the song “(Nothing But) Flowers” by Talking Heads playing in our heads while we were walking around the city.  Some of the lines are, “There was a shopping mall/Now it’s all covered with flowers/you’ve got it, you’ve got it/If this is paradise/I wish I had a lawnmower/you’ve got it, you’ve got it/This was a discount store/Now it’s turned into a cornfield/you’ve got it, you’ve got it…” And the final lines are “Don’t leave me stranded here/I can’t get used to this lifestyle.”  (Apologies to Talking Heads as I have only picked out a few of their lines.)

If you would like to look back on my August Christchurch visit click here.  I was told that 70,000 people left since the shaking began in September 2010.  The population is growing again now as the city rebuilds.

Just a New York Conversation

Just a New York Conversation My drawing of Russell King's street art. 263 x 397 mm. March 2014.

Just a New York Conversation
My drawing of Russell King’s street art.
263 x 397 mm. March 2014.

When Matt and I were in New York for a week last August, Matt was going through a busy time with work.  He apologized each morning for having long skype meetings and not being able to come out.  I hope I looked suitably sorry about this.  In reality my thoughts were, “So long Sucker, I’m outta here…” as I dashed out the door each day, camera in hand.  “Call my mobile when you’re done!”  I was delighted to be out with my other companion (my camera).  All I wanted to do was explore the immediate neighbourhood…and I really do get the best photographs when I am by myself.

New York was rather overwhelming and big.  Where was the human scale?  In the street art.  I walked, searching out material by street artists.  A term I dislike is “stable of artists”.  Some galleries claim they have “a stable of artists” (thankfully not the gallery I’m with).  I don’t want to be anyone’s performing pony!  But if there ARE such things as stables of artists, then American street artists are unbroken mustangs out on the range.  They put art where they will.  And some of that art is quite beautiful.

I came across this piece on one of my lone morning walks.  I decided to take a line from Lou Reed for its title – “Just a New York Conversation”.  Who are the speakers?  Artist Russell King started the conversation.  A-trak, ASMA and the decomposing piece of paper piped in.  I, the viewer, am the other participant.  I am having an internal dialogue with the art.  I am thinking about the contrast between King’s work and its banal hard edge surroundings.  His piece celebrates the curvaceous seductive female.  She is a flirt and a tease yet her wistful gaze off to the distance suggests melancholy reflection.  The artist whispers to the passer-by, “pause and look” in the midst of a noisy rushing NY street.

I am not turned off by the other three additions on the receptacle’s surface either.  I am fascinated by their randomness and variety.  I wonder if ASMA is just somebody’s tag OR if the person is meaning asthma and is commenting on the pink smoke?  For if you say out loud “asma” it sounds like “asthma”.

Last week I had a brief written exchange with Russell King.  It was easy to find him on the internet since his name is written within the smoke swirls.  I wrote, “I’m drawing a piece of your street art.  I hope you don’t mind”.  Of course, I wondered what I would do if he replied, “Yes, I bloody well do mind!”  However, being a generous fellow-artist, he replied, “Go for it”.  Wasn’t he kind?!  I found an interview with him at www.powderzine.com titled “classic on nyc streets – russell king” which I recommend reading.

I don’t generally like going into dealer galleries.  I find them intimidating and sometimes snooty.  The art world can be so up itself.  Conversely, it is an utter joy to come across art in the open air.  It is one of the delights of life.  Thank you, Street Artists, for your daring and dialogue.  You have my attention, appreciation and admiration.

“Did you see what she did to him/did you hear what they said/just a New York conversation/rattling in my head.”

Related page:  Street art

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Tableau

Tableau 395 x 395 mm Coloured pencil drawing completed in February 2014. A moment captured one evening in Saint Germain des Près.

Tableau
395 x 395 mm
Coloured pencil drawing completed in February 2014.
A moment captured one evening in Saint Germain des Prés.

“Tableau: a group of models or motionless figures representing a scene.” Australian Concise Oxford Dictionary.  What does this scene represent?  To me it speaks of domesticity; the never-ending care of others…especially if one is a woman.   It isn’t a complaint.  It’s just the way it is.

I found this tableau in Saint Germain des Prés on the first night I arrived in Paris in October 2012.  I had come from another part of Europe and was exhausted from long flight delays.  I’d already been away from Australia for a week and I still had another week left of my solo trip.  I felt lonely for my family and Paris seemed aggressive.  Outside my hotel window brakes-screeching buses honked their horns at cars and pedestrians.  Police cars and ambulances raced through traffic with ear-splitting sirens.  My hotel room was tiny and so close to Boulevard Saint Michel that the sirens wailed within my tiny ‘cell’ rather than without.  Good old Paris plumbing; the toilet made wierd gurgling noises every time somebody in another room flushed.  How would I sleep?  It had been a mistake to come back to this city.   Reality contradicted Romance.    But I was here to work so I picked up my camera and went outside.

Though I started out feeling low, my senses were alert and on the look-out in the fascinating Saint Germain des Prés surroundings.  Without realising it, Paris was working its magic on me.  Ever so slowly I began to have fun.  One of the photos I took that evening became this drawing.  When I got back to my room I wrote in my journal “I went out tonight in the worst mood, feeling so hostile towards the crowds and the noise.  Despite all that I did feel some of the charm.  Much of the time I felt that my affair with Paris was over!  It probably isn’t.  Despite my misery at the ‘shock of the new’ ie being back in Paris on a thoroughly swarming-with-crowds Saturday night, and my thinking I don’t like it any more, I still have taken some lovely photos”.

This drawing could have been called “Art Meets Life”, “Life Imitates Art”, or “Strange Days” (the latter from a “Doors” album).  In the end I chose “Tableau”.  It doesn’t matter that only one of the figures is a living human.  The motionless dog waits expectantly for his human.  The paste-up smiling housewife eternally mops while the woman sees to the dog’s needs.  The paste-up head of Sid Vicious has an A (for ‘anarchy’) coming out of his mouth.  I couldn’t have thought this up.  It happened in front of me.  Extraordinary ordinary life.  And … I still hold a candle for Paris.

From my drawing "Aberration" you can see that the chain from the bucket is shackled to the paste-up lady. Whereas in "Tableau" it looks like it might be attached to the dog.

From my drawing “Aberration” you can see that the chain from the bucket is shackled to the paste-up lady. Whereas in “Tableau” it looks like it might be attached to the dog.

Early next morning the streets were silent.  That is when I got the photo for the drawing which became “Quiet“.   I still like Paris best first thing in the morning and yet I appreciate that sometimes one needs people (and dogs) about to get a source photo such as the one for “Tableau”.

Quiet A drawing of Saint Germain pre-dawn.

Quiet
A drawing of rue de l’Echaudé in Saint Germain des Prés pre-dawn.

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Life is Beautiful

“Willkommen!  Bienvenue!  Welcome!”

Life is Beautiful 255 x 350 mm My drawing of a wall I came across in the Marais district of Paris in 2012 containing street art by Zalez.

Life is Beautiful
255 x 350 mm
My drawing of a wall I came across in the Marais district of Paris in 2012 containing street art by Zalez.

“So, life is disappointing, forget it!  In here life is beautiful, the girls are beautiful, even the orchestra is beautiful”, sings the Master of Ceremonies in the musical “Cabaret”.

I wonder if Zalez had “Cabaret” in mind when he composed this street art which I spotted in the 4th arrondissement in October, 2012?  The outfits of “Cabaret” heroine, Sally Bowles, and the figure on the wall are similar.  The written words “life is beautiful” supports the theory.  I reacquainted myself with the film soundtrack while I did my drawing of wall, downpipe and street art.  The songs loop around in my head.

Here is the photo I took of Zalez' street art.

Here is the photo I took of Zalez’ street art.

Liza Minnelli as Sally Bowles in the film version of CABARET.

Liza Minnelli as Sally Bowles in the film version of CABARET.

In 1930s pre-Weinmar Germany (the setting for “Cabaret”) life was precarious – as it still is in this example of Zalez’ street art.   The female figure dangles perilously off the balloon.  Is she in control?   In what state will she land?  She looks determined and apprehensive simultaneously.  Maybe she will land in enemy territory?

Perhaps Zalez is referencing “Le Ballon rouge” (1956 Oscar-winning film) by Albert Lamorisse?  The film, set in grim Ménilmontant, tells the story of friendship between a boy and a magical red balloon.  In the finale, Lamorisse’s boy hero (played by his son, Pascal) is swept skywards, pulled by a magnificent team of multi-coloured balloons.

A still from A. Lamorisse's film "The Red Balloon".

A still from A. Lamorisse’s film “The Red Balloon”.

“Cabaret” and “Le Ballon rouge” each reveal a poignant and melancholy beauty sought out and gleaned from the grungy decay of their harsh environments; “Cabaret” in pre-war Berlin and “Le Ballon rouge” in post-war Paris.

So, what was Zalez thinking when he chose this piece of crumbling wall for the site of his artistic expression?  What was I thinking when I made a drawing of it?  In my case, I find truth in what is written and beauty in the stencil amid the decaying stone and rusty steel micro-scape.  “Even the orchestra is beautiful.”  Even the decay is beautiful.

“Aufwiedershen!  À bientôt!  Good night!”

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White Noise

White Noise New drawing finished on 19th January. The subject is street art and graffiti which I came across in Soho, New York.

White Noise
Drawing finished on 19th January 2014. The subject is a composite of street art, graffiti and tagging which I came across in Soho, New York.  360 x 545 mm.

White Noise: “Any random, collective occurrence of unrelated things”-www.businessdictionary.com .  “Noise containing many frequencies with equal intensities”- The Australian Concise Oxford Dictionary.

I came across this random collective occurrence of unrelated things in New York last August.  Here is the first photo I took of it (which I showed in my New York blog post).

The New Yorker.

The New Yorker.

I asked this guy if I could photograph him and his dog in front of the wall.  Man and dog were most obliging.  I thought it might be my only chance at getting a shot at that wall.  One never knows if one is going to come across something again in an unfamiliar city.  I  didn’t even know what street I was on (I still don’t).  However a couple of days later while walking, I found myself at the same spot.  I photographed it a second time, also put it into my post and asked a question in the caption (photo and caption below).

Art exhibit at MoMA or paste-up with mindless graffiti? Guess.

Art exhibit at MoMA or paste-up with mindless graffiti? Guess.

I asked myself something similar.  “Could this urban tangle of marks and torn paper have artistic merit?”  (Yes.)  And then… “Can I make it my art?”  Mulled it over.   Several months later and after seeing a lot of street art, graffiti and tagging in London I couldn’t bear it any more.  I HAD to make a drawing of it.

It is a totally ‘found’ image.  I found it and in drawing it I validate it!  I have read that Jasper Johns paints “…things seen, but not looked at.”  Who would look twice at this?  Me.  To the eye of this beholder it is an exciting and energetic mix of shapes, colours and textures.   It is also loud…in places; in fact, a juxtaposition of noise and quiet.  Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns come to mind when I look at the wall.   Having been at MoMA the day before, I didn’t think this wall would be out of place among the abstract expressionism and pop art within.

Two weeks ago I drew the same paste-up figure (seen in a different location in Soho) in a drawing I named “Low“.  I see “Low” as similar to “Le Fugitif” – two more examples of “things seen but not looked at”.

Low Mixed media drawing. 290 x 320 mm. January 2014.

Low
Mixed media drawing.
290 x 320 mm. January 2014.

"le fugitif" coloured pencil drawing, 29 x 30 cm, 2013.

“le fugitif” coloured pencil drawing, 29 x 30 cm, 2013. This is a drawing I made of somebody’s notice for his lost cat – who had fallen out of the window, according to what is written on the sign.

Related post:  Le Fugitif: Cat on the Run    Related page:  Street Art

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Low

Low Mixed media drawing. 290 x 320 mm. January 2014.

Low
Mixed media drawing.
290 x 320 mm. January 2014.

Having immersed myself in street art recently I am keen to make a few street art-related drawings.   “Low” is the first.  It is not just the art itself which interests me but its immediate surroundings.  Cracked concrete, rusty pipes, torn paper, tagging and filth all become part of my composition.  Elegance and random gunk rub up against one another making for a composition of contrasts.

I found this paste-up in an emtpy fenced-off lot in Soho, New York.  It was a little bit of poignancy within an area of derelict nothingness.   The little paste-up cockroach at the bottom right of the drawing was right at home here!

I named the drawing after David Bowie’s album “Low” which I was listening to while drawing this.  The melancholy sound was a perfect accompaniment to the vision.  This is drawn with coloured pencils, oil pastels and wax crayons.

February 2014:  “Low” has been reviewed by Erica Lindsay Walker, Vice President, Education Chair of Pencil Art Society in Canada.  See the article here

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Are you a street art fancier?

fancier_edited-1While I photographed a huge hedgehog on a wall in Shoreditch, this gentleman stood across the road watching me.  I wasn’t even aware that he was in my photo.  He crossed over, came up to me and asked “Are you a street art fancier?”  Thus followed a conversation on the subject.  He told me that one of the artists lived right behind where we were standing (but I can’t remember what her name was).  I said that yes, I was a street art fancier.  Below are some of the images I captured during my time in London.

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I came across a guy talking to a group of people about street art.  It was a walking tour of some sort.  I waited till he finished talking and then asked how I could get onto one of these tours.  The guy’s name was Josh and the tour was an introduction to the history of East London with an emphasis on street art.  If ever you get to London I highly recommend this tour.  The website is http://www.alternativeldn.co.uk  I went on the walking tour with my family a couple of weeks later.  It was one of the highlights of my trip.  When I returned for the tour at the designated time and place I asked “Is this the street art tour?”  Josh replied “It is SO MUCH MORE than a street art tour”.  And it was!!!

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I learned that graffiti taggers are on the opposing team to street artists.  They think that street art is naff hence they often tag over the top of it and mess it up.

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Is the following photo of street art or graffiti?  I guess you’d say the latter – but it still caused me to stop in my tracks and laugh.

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Street art sure ain’t paid though some is permissible and some is illegal.  ‘Permissible’ means that some business or other has allowed an artist to work on its walls.  Street art done with permission is often much more time consuming than art done on the run; the latter is done as fast as possible (or made off-site and then pasted or sprayed on site).  The piece below is an example of art done with permission.  The artist still doesn’t get paid but he doesn’t risk fine or arrest either.  This whole massive work was done with spray cans which is almost an impossible feat and took extrarordinary skill to get the lines so even.

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While I hunted out street art in East London (on three separate occasions) I felt that it was like looking in an art gallery only better as I had to seek out the work myself – rather like being on a treasure hunt.  Yes, some is huge – but some is so discreet you wouldn’t know it was there unless you were ‘forensic’ about finding it.  The two following images show tiny works – both of which I missed until Josh (during the Alternative London tour) pointed them out.

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So many people love street art (the humour and brilliance one can find) that you can buy your own bits and pieces of it from shops which make profit from photographing examples and then mass producing fridge magnets and the like.  Of course the artists who thought the designs up don’t get a red penny from it.  The original works may disappear in a minute.  I guess at least these magnets etc give some permanency to them…one way of looking at this type of ‘art theft’.

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Why do we artists do it?  I’m not a street artist but I am an artist.  Even when one is a regular gallery-exhibiting artist, there is no guarantee of pay.  Something might sell but it might not.  Gallery-exhibiting or street-exhibiting, we are compelled to make art and then we do what it takes to get seen.  Our currency is not necessarily money.  It CAN be – and we’d LIKE it to be – but sometimes our currency is just admiration or notoriety.

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Related post:  Right Royal Ribbing  Related page:  Subject 4: Street Art

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