A week ago New Zealand lost one of our greatest cartoonists, Murray Ball. The night that I heard the news I went and painted a tribute to his primary character – the dog simply known as Dog – on a concrete water tower in our local dog park.
I didn’t publicise this at the time because it was done without permission, but the public response has been so overwhelming that I had to break my radio silence to give thanks. So thanks to Fairfax Media (Stuff / Central Leader), TV One and Ana Samways for the publicity; thanks to local politicians Julie Fairey, Michael Wood and Cathy Casey for petitioning Watercare to let it stay; thanks to Watercare for being good fellas and letting it stay (and not pressing charges!); and of course a huge thanks to the tens of thousands of people who left positive comments, likes and messages in response.
Murray Ball was an amazing cartoonist, I read every dog-eared copy of Footrot Flats multiple times, and it was an honour to create my own small tribute to his genius and the indelible imprint he left on life in these islands i call home. May he never be forgotten. Chur.
I was honoured to team up with the Child Cancer Foundation and Mr Vintage to produce this t-shirt. CCF Child Ambassador Sophie drew her monster, and then I painted my version of her drawing – and now you can help her fight the monster by buying one of these awesome shirts.
At any given time, the Child Cancer Foundation is supporting over 500 families nationwide whose children are battling cancer. 25% of all sales from ‘Fight the Monster’ will go to the Foundation’s essential family support services that help ensure the whole family is supported, informed and remain connected when a child is diagnosed with cancer.
“Nothing can prepare you for it. You never want your child to have to face this. The day of diagnosis is a blur. Our Child Cancer Foundation Family Support Coordinator was always, and still is there for us.” – Sophie’s mum Julia
Done! Huge thanks again to everyone that donated money and paint, particularly Cracked Ink, Dulux New Zealand, and that one super generous guy that donated $400.
Here are some before shots, progress shots, and a photo showing them in relation to each other. Here’s a brief writeup on the finished walls…
In Māori mythology, Tāne is the god of forests and birds (and humans!). In this piece I tried to show the range of his domain by showcasing some of the flora and fauna that we have here in Aotearoa; landscapes that range from subtropical beaches, to huge stands of untouched podocarps, volcanoes and snow-capped mountains. I also included some hibiscus flowers – technically not a native plant, but the school is predominantly Pacific Islander, and the hibiscus is a powerful symbol amongst those communities. (Being the child of immigrants myself, I also like to acknowledge the changing face of our environment!)
The wildlife includes (L-R) a gecko, a fantail (pīwakawaka), a kiwi, a weta (and a huhu grub hiding below him), an eel, and the majestic – but unfortunately endangered – white heron (kōtuku).
Tangaroa is the god of the sea, and is the estranged brother of Tāne. They don’t get along – which is clear when you see waves attacking the coast! – so if humans ever leave our domain and head into the realm of Tangaroa, we must pay him the respect he deserves.
Personally I love snorkelling and spearfishing, and enjoy getting into the ocean around the North Island as much as I can- and, of course, I love my kai-moana (seafood)! This wall reflects that – crayfish, mussels, snapper, pāua and kina (sea urchins) all make an appearance. I also added my three favourite underwater creatures; an eagle ray, a blue whale, and of course a very happy octopus.
Video from TV3’s”Story” (Tuesday 13th October 2015)
Thanks again to all those that donated. The kids (and staff) absolutely love the walls, and I hope they inspire them to fall in love with our amazing natural environment as much as I have!
Hi friends. So I’m not one to ask for money lightly, but I have a cool opportunity to make something awesome – and I’d love some more funds to make it more awesome. So I’d like to ask y’all to see if you can help.
I was recently contacted by Mayfield Primary School in Ōtara, asking if I would like to give a talk to the students about my art. This school is categorised as Decile 1, which means the school’s catchment area is one of the poorest in the country. After a quick google, I also realised that this school was in the news last year after their ex-Principal stole $30,000 of their operating budget and spent it on overseas holidays! They haven’t had the best luck recently.
So I decided to go one better than speaking to the kids; I offered to paint the school a mural, if they could cover the cost of the paints. Then I visited the school, and afterwards I wanted to spend longer than one morning painting their walls. The school grounds have seen a lot of use, and the few murals they have are looking faded and decrepit.
So now I want to get $500+ worth of paints, and spend at least five days painting two large murals in the school grounds – more, if I have any paint left. They have offered to put some money towards the paint, but I don’t want to ask them to pay for my time as well – it wouldn’t feel right asking for more funds from the school when it is money that should be going towards much-needed teaching resources. And the more funding I get, the more walls I can paint!
Obviously I could do this via a crowdfunding site, but I did that before and it kinda blew up in my face – I still haven’t finished that project (another two boxes!), and I haven’t finished sending all the rewards I promised (but I will!!). So I’m going to do this one in a much more straightforward manner: please give me money so I can make cool art for these kids. That’s all.
(–Bank details removed as the project is complete. Thank you!)
I’m also not going to promise rewards for giving me $x, because I want to spend my time painting instead of making thank you gifts and waiting at the post office. All you’ll get in return is the satisfaction that you helped brighten the lives of a couple of hundred kids in what may well be Auckland’s poorest suburbs. And, really, there’s no reward I could possibly give that can match that feeling.
I had my second proper solo exhibition a couple of weeks ago. I’m pretty bad at promotion, so didn’t tell enough people, but I still had a nice crowd turn up, drink all the beer, and buy five paintings. So I’d count that as a win!
I had fifteen pieces up for sale, based on my recent Chorus cabinet artworks – the ‘animal meme’ themes. There was only one painting based on an Internet meme, though; the rest were my own construction.
I have just finished adding most of the remaining artworks to this site, if you were looking to purchase a piece. I’m also going to be setting up a mailing list soon, so whenever I have artworks for sale I can send out an email about it. (Not too spammy though; maybe one email a month or so..?) More info here when that’s up and running.
Oh – huge thanks to the BizDojo (especially Gil) and Hallertau Brewery, for helping out with my exhibition. You guys rock!!
“Selling out is the compromising of integrity, morality, or principles in exchange for personal gain, such as money. In terms of music or art, selling out is associated with attempts to tailor material to a mainstream or commercial audience.”
Over the next few months, I’m going to be involved in a couple of marketing / advertising / corporate gigs with my art. Being an old school, DIY-or-die punk rock type that loves my independence, this is something I spent a fair bit of time thinking about; am I going to be a sellout? Is this the first step in a decline where I am diluting my core ideals in exchange for a bit of temporary moolah?
The short answer, of course, is “yes”. Yes, I’m going to knowingly pimp out my artworks to companies that will use them to imbue their products with a sheen of street appeal, and of course I’m going to get paid for it. Here’s the disclaimer, though: I think I’ve earned the right to sell out. Let me explain the grind I’ve been on, and why I think it’s high time I started getting paid a touch more for my efforts..
I’ve been selling paintings for 20 years, and have never sold one for more than a thousand dollars. (Which means the vast majority of people who buy my art have never bought a piece before, which I think is pretty cool.) Some of the steps I’ve gone through to make money off my art have been, well, extreme to say the least… I’ve sat on the side of the road selling my paintings (and been harassed by vagrants, drug dealers and the police in the process). I’ve had over 20 solo exhibitions in cafes, bars, shops, markets and community galleries (if you count, say, hanging five paintings in a dimly lit bar to be an ‘exhibition’). I’ve spent rent money on canvas, painted over old paintings, and bought paint over buying food. I’ve navigated public transport and Wellington winds while carrying multiple 30-40 inch canvases. I’ve scavenged painting materials from building sites and dumpsters.
At the same time, I’ve spent countless late nights working on my art after all day at a dead end job, then sold the resulting artwork for less than the price of the canvas it was painted on. I’ve painted walls under the light of the moon, in tunnels, abandoned buildings and around railway lines, and in the process I’ve been stalked and harassed by angry graffiti guys that didn’t like my shit and tag over my pieces, send me death threats, and pretend to be me on message boards. I’ve sent half a dozen paintings overseas with a promise they’d be sold, and never heard about them again. I’ve designed a dozen album covers and ten t-shirt designs, and 80% of them were unpaid. I’ve given away dozens of paintings, put them up on ebay and Trademe for $1, and sold at least 300 artworks for less than $500. (I’ve removed a lot of these from my website while I tidy it up, but you can see some of them on my Facebook page for now.)
In short, I’ve worked my ass off in this discipline for a long time; but my income from art is still less than minimum wage.
Alongside that grind I’ve had 30 different jobs along the way; everything from washing dishes, to making sandwiches, to holding a sign on a street corner. I’ve been working as a web designer for a few years, and either I’m not very good at it, or freelance web design just isn’t the well-paid career it appears to be. (Unfortunately I suspect it may be the former).
Now I’m in my mid-30s, and I have a wife, a toddler and a dog to support. The dream of living off my art is still there, though; and now that I’ve been getting some good publicity (shout outs to Reddit, CNN and the Central Leader!), there are more people prepared to pay me for my artistic input. And, in the same way that the Church used to support the great Renaissance artists, it is the corporate world that finances a lot of art in the 21st century. So if I have to engage with that world in order to support myself and my family..? So be it. The marketing staff are generally a really nice bunch of people to work with, and I learn a lot working with them. (Of course it helps that I’ve kind of been working in marketing – via web design – for over a decade, so I can switch to using that side of my brain quite easily.)
There are a few things I’m keeping under control, though. I won’t support any organization that I disagree with ethically. I will retain as much artistic control over my output as I can. And – most importantly – I’m going to make sure that each new project I take on is pushing me creatively, so that I continue to advance artistically (which has been the case so far). If it so happens that I can help support some interesting projects from forward-thinking companies, then so be it; it’s a fair trade-off for being able to do my dream job. The very fact that I can sit down and draw, and get paid for it, is an absolute blessing in itself.
So I find that, if I ever start to get any rebellious urges, all I really have to do is think back to other things I’ve done for money – mopping up someone’s vomit, breaking concrete up with a sledgehammer, scaling and gutting 30 fish in an afternoon, putting security tags on five hundred t-shirts – and be glad that I get to do something I love doing, and I actually get paid for it. And that right there is something that I will always be thankful for.
Plus, after 20 years of these piss-poor wages… I think I’ve earned a goddamn pay rise.
I have been given permission to paint some of Chorus’s exchange boxes around Auckland, after there was some great press about the Grumpy Cat piece I painted; it was featured on the front page of the Central Leader, our local paper, and support for it was so widespread that the local community board – the awesome Puketāpapa Local Board – commissioned a survey to gauge public support, and they are now going to approach the Council about getting me to paint it again – in daytime, this time! But that’s another post…
Anyway, after all that, Chorus – the company that operates NZ’s phone network – got in touch with me via the newspaper, and asked if I’d like to paint some of their DSL Cabinets – big green boxes that sit on hundreds of suburban streets across the country. They couldn’t pay me, though (or else they’d have to sign off the artworks, and it would get complicated and boring). So I turned to the public for funding. And.. wow! The public are awesome. I ran a campaign on Pledgeme asking for $350, and got a total of $1300! So now I am able to take time off my day job and go paint some cool things around Auckland.
I’ve done the first three, and am hoping to do about another 10 – 15 over the next year or so… and it’s going to be SO MUCH FUN.
Thanks to all those who pledged, and the entire Pledgeme crew; and I hope you enjoy the results!
So I thought I’d spread a bit of the love on here and give some publicity to five artists from New Zealand whose work I love, and who have inspired me in my own artistic career. (This, of course, means I can totally link to their profiles on Facebook when I post this, and hopefully siphon off some of their fame to try and kickstart my own piddling career. Yay! Second-hand publicity!)
I’ll start with the lesser known, and move through to the artistic juggernauts… oh and I’ll try and credit the artworks I post; obviously, if anyone has a problem with me posting their work, let me know (and I’ll promptly replace their dose of ‘free publicity’ with a bitter note of disappointment.) Also bear in mind that this is a personal viewpoint; I’m not trying to give the life story of these artists, I’m just explaining why they’re special to me. I will include the addresses of their respective websites for further reading, though.
Full disclosure; Michael is the only one on this list who I actually know in person. In all honesty, though, I’d still think his work was great if I didn’t know him.
I first became aware of his art when I was working at the Depot Artspace in Devonport (Michael lives on the North Shore). After seeing a piece floating around there, and how close it was to what I was trying to achieve in my own art – anthropomorphic creatures who exist in a fantasy land, and exist somewhere between’cute’ and ‘threatening’ – I made it a point to introduce myself. Well, okay, my memory isn’t too good, maybe he introduced himself to me. Either way, I gave him some advice on building a website, he gave me advice on paint supplies, my wife insisted we buy one of his pieces at an exhibition, and every time I leave the house now I am farewelled by one of his little creatures poking out it’s tongue.
If I remember correctly he’s been working at an art supply store, and you can see that he has a love of the materials when you view his work. Every detail is perfect, the characters are rendered with depth and well-thought-out colours, and they are presented beautifully. He even frames that shit! Whoooohah. (Edit: I didn’t remember correctly. He just knows his stuff.)
Before I moved to Auckland I was already a fan of Elliot’s work; he made quite a name for himself in graffiti and street art under the moniker ‘Deus’, and worked with the kingpins of that scene in New Zealand, the TMD Crew (which also includes Pest5, Phat1 and Askew, three of my favourite spraycan artists.. but that’s another post). However his work in other mediums has made me appreciate his art even more. His grasp of character, line weight and composition is continually evolving, and the latest pieces – in mediums such as ink and watercolour on paper – are a continual source of inspiration.
Another great thing about Elliot’s work is that – like Michael’s – it isn’t geographically biased. That is, you don’t look at it and go, ‘Oh, that’s a New Zealand artist’. Because, unfortunately, we have had too much weight given to that aspect in the arts made in this country; this bias has resulted in a glut of kiwiana references, Rangitoto paintings and slightly cringe-inducing displays of mild nationalism. Of course this can be done well (see Liam Barr and Dick Frizzell below), but more often than not it’s as corny as using an internet meme in your art to try and give it more traction. (Oh.. wait.)
I’ve met Elliot a couple of times, but I’m not sure if he remembers me; he was busy painting, and I tend to get nervous around people whose work I admire, like some goddamn starstruck fanboy. Anyway, I can only hope he gets more recognition, because he deserves it more than a bunch of the rubbish that is filling up our dealer galleries… well, that’s not including the next two on my list, of course, starting with…
I’m pretty sure this guy’s “made it” by now because I once saw an exhibition of his which was right across the road from the Auckland Art Gallery. Anyway, he’s still not enough of a household name here, and totally deserves to be.
His work touches on all the Kiwiana motifs, but has enough of a creepiness behind it to make it palatable to my jaded, post-postmodern outlook – his Tiki characters in particular seem to have an air of menace, and check out the peepers on that kid in the picture!
Anyway, the main aspect of his work that I love is his attention to technical detail; precise, controlled, and well-defined shapes make up the characters and people, and then he tops that accuracy with a cast of weird, wonderful and slightly Gothic characters portrayed in an original style.
If I had to draw any comparisons it would probably be somewhere between Magritte and Mark Ryden; and those are some awesome comparisons.
Dick is an artist who is very nearly a household name in New Zealand, and rightfully so; he has been exhibiting his work for longer than I’ve been alive – and I’ve got grey hairs.
As well as being the official artist of the 2011 Rugby World Cup, he has also provoked national debate with his ‘Tiki’ imagery of the 1990s (paving the way for Liam Barr’s appropriation, perhaps) and firmly planting a signpost on the road to an enhanced form of multiculturalism, where all sides involved can contribute to a shared pool of artistic motifs and history without either side taking offense (hopefully).
Even more than that, though, Frizzell has taught me that you can be a successful artist and not stay stuck in one stylistic rut. You can pick from the trees of advertising, graphic design and popular culture, blend that all up with your imagination, and create a lineage of work that, combined, has as strong a presence as 100 variations of the same image would have, if not more. It was refreshing to realise that having many styles can, in itself, be a style.
Take this piece as an example; it’s the head of a tiki, which is a common South Pacific motif, but it’s done in the style of Keith Haring, the New York poster boy (heh) of street art, and it also appears to have the notched pupils of Mickey Mouse. Which is pretty much three awesome things rolled into one. What’s not to love?
Australia has tried it’s hardest to claim Reg for their own, but let it be known – Reg was born in Auckland, New Zealand, as Chris O’Doherty, and he lived here for nearly 20 years before his family moved to Australia. So, much like Crowded House and Phar Lap, we helped spawn something which has now come to represent Australia. Huh. Anyway, that’s irrelevant; he’s freakin’ awesome, and his partnership with the clothing company Mambo led to pre-teen Paul seeing some really interesting art masquerading as T-shirt prints. I can confidently state that his ‘farting dog‘ print was a profound inspiration on my art. (In other words, I saw that when I was ten years old and it was the coolest shit ever.)
In later years, as I came to appreciate the breadth of his catalogue, he has also given me the confidence to continue injecting humour into my works (not that I’m great at it) and, more importantly, to embrace commercial output as a way to reach a wider audience. I wouldn’t know of his work if it wasn’t for him pairing up with Mambo, but the important aspect is that he retained control, kept his artistic integrity intact, and has continued to stay true to his artistic vision throughout.
It’s been a fact of the artistic lifestyle for as long as there have been artists; we’re usually shit at selling our work, we need to be aware that our art is a precious commodity, and it’s nearly impossible to exist in an artistic bubble outside of the commercial universe. You are either going to pair up with like-minded people and help them take your work to a larger audience in a meaningful way, or you can close your eyes to the opportunities and try to survive inside your hermetic art bubble. I’ve been doing the latter for far too long, and it’s only thanks to artists like Reg (and Dick, Liam, Elliot and Michael) that I have built up the confidence to get my work out to more people…. and hopefully, one day, I can create something as memorable as that farting dog.
So, there you have it; five of my local sources of artistic inspiration. I ended up writing for longer than I expected, which probably means I have work I was meant to be doing, so I guess I should go and do that now… but thanks for reading!
Start with the archetypal apology for sporadic updates, which inordinately draws attention to the date of the previous entry (it’s August last year). Offer up excuses; new baby, busy job, lack of hours in the day.
Anyway, now I’m back to the regular schedule. My new fans and more observant haters may have seen the first four pieces of my new series bubbling up in the last year. You can see them collected here, and I will add more as they are (slowly) finished.
The series is called ‘Exoplanets’, and it is based on loose artistic interpretations of the exploration and settling of extrasolar (and possibly habitable) planets. (You can see a list of some of these planets here.) Of course I can’t stick to that brief, though, and one of the first four is based on one of Jupiter’s moons instead, the weird little hunk of red rock and ice known as ‘Amalthea‘.
The series is inspired by my life-long fascination with science fiction – particularly from the ‘Golden Age’ of the genre, the American and English sci-fi of the 1950s and 1960s. (My favourite authors include Philip K. Dick, Isaac Asimov, Frederick Pohl and John Wyndham.) Refreshingly free of the cynicism that pervades so much modern art, the genre has always been facing outwards, ignoring humanity’s petty struggles, and imagining where our longer arc was going to take our species.
Science fiction has generally been looked down on as a subject matter by artists – too fantastical, too mainstream, and a bit too much of the ’14 year old boy’s bedroom’ for most fine art aficionados to even acknowledge. It’s only in the last few decades that space-faring science fiction has matured into a wholly legitimate genre, with the success of genre-bending films such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Alien, Cargo and Moon showing the true depths of the human psyche that can be explored when we focus our attention on the stars, and our struggles to reach them.
The flagship piece of this series so far is ‘Kepler 22b‘ (pictured), which I believe is the best painting I have created in terms of realising the initial vision. You can purchase prints of this work on my Redbubble page, and the work itself will go up for sale as soon as I find a gallery that will consider showing the ‘Exoplanets‘ series in full. (Apparently I’m too sci fi / amateur / illustration-ish / fantasy-based for the majority of galleries I have spoken to, but the search continues…)
Any ideas for the next piece in the series will be welcomed, as will any suggestions on Auckland galleries that may consider showing the works.
I’m putting a bunch of old paintings and prints (and other random items) up for sale on NZ auction site Trademe this week. If you’re in New Zealand and are looking to pick up some of my work for cheap, check out the auctions here.
Overseas fans – if you see something you’d like on there which hasn’t been bid on, I can cancel the auction and work something out with you over Paypal. (Convert the ‘buy now’ price to your local currency for the price, and I’ll find out shipping costs for your location.) Just drop me a line, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
UPDATE: Sold all of that batch. More to come by the end of the year though..!