Posts tagged new zealand
'Golden Summer' - A joint exhibition by Greg Straight and Ross Murray

An ice-cream run to the corner dairy; that road trip up the coast; a cold one on a long, hot afternoon. ‘Golden Summer’ celebrates all this and more on a nostalgic journey around New Zealand. ‘Golden Summer’, is a joint exhibition by New Zealand based artists Greg Straight and Ross Murray. The show opens this Friday at Endemic World on Ponsonby Rd.

How did the show come about?
Greg: Last year Ross and I were both featured in a street art / design magazine called No Cure based in Australia. They released a New Zealand issue and interviewed a bunch of amazing artists. Ross is from the Mount and I have family at Papamoa, so I decided to drop Ross an email and introduce myself. I am a big fan of his work and we soon became friends.

Last year I started researching and developing a series of art prints looking at different NZ landmarks and places, many of these were rural settings. On my way to the BOP I just kept seeing these typical New Zealand scenes and wanted to turn them into artworks. Ross had been working on a similar range and by coincidence we were totally on the same page but executing them in very different ways.

Ross’s works have a beautiful organic hand drawn feel to them often looking at old packaging and logos combined with retro styled cars while mine are all very hard edged, geometric and kept fairly simple in their compositions. We decided to put an exhibition together to showcase the new works and Elliot at Endemic World was the perfect guy to help make this come into fruition. 

Can you tell us about the theme of the show?
Ross: The show is essentially a celebration of the New Zealand summer. It features some recurring imagery: dairies, beaches, vintage advertising, Cortinas, Kingswoods and plenty of sun-baked landscapes. The overall tone is very nostalgic. Greg’s work has a beautiful simplicity to it, which in a way, symbolises the rose-tinted memories of our youth. And my work focuses on the idea of the summer road trip and how modern ideas of nostalgia are often linked to the things we consume. We both set out to make our artwork really evocative; so while a lot of the locations are imagined, they feel super familiar.

"I’d go surfing all day until my arms felt like they would drop off, sometimes taking out my Uncle's 9 foot Big Kahuna surfboard when the swell was small. The sand on your jandles, offshore breeze in your hair and the sound of laughter from the family sharing a long lunch together, that to me is my favorite memory of summer."


Favourite NZ summer memory?
Ross: My favourite NZ summer is a combination of two or three summers at Opoutere in the Coromandel where I lived about ten years ago. Collecting Tuatua and making fritters soaked in freshly squeezed lemon juice; that lovely long beach, completely empty except for the dotterels and oystercatchers; shady walks through the pines; driving to the local orchard to buy stone fruit and Frujus; watching the kaka fly north in the morning and return south at night; and bobbing in the surf at dusk with the bronze whalers.

Greg: It would have to be the family tiki tours down to Papamoa to visit my Aunty Hazel and Uncle Jim back when I was young. We would all pile into the old station wagon, me and my two brothers in the back or sometimes boot with surfboards on the roof, fishing rods and enough luggage to sink a ship. My Uncle would put the long line out and catch fresh snapper for dinner and aunty would make a huge spread with veges and salad grown from their garden and hot Tuatua fritters. 

Although they had very little money they had huge hearts and would welcome anyone into their home. I’d go surfing all day until my arms felt like they would drop off, sometimes taking out my Uncle's 9 foot Big Kahuna surfboard when the swell was small. The sand on your jandles, offshore breeze in your hair and the sound of laughter from the family sharing a long lunch together, that to me is my favorite memory of summer. / / 


Jelly and Bean.jpg



You describe your style as ‘lilac infused prismatic death’. Could you expand on what that means, and what it means to you?
I was quite a fearful child. I was constantly convinced something terrible was seconds away from happening. Over time, my mind naturally found ways to cope with this, and after my teenage years, I was considered a pro and artwork helped me a lot with this too. You (and I) could see it as an overcompensation with colour from all the madness in my mind. If I had any say in the way I die, I would like it to be a spectacle.

What inspires or influences your unique style?
I like to play with the idea of visual contradiction. I take elements that are considered ‘dark’ or ‘macabre’ and flip it in a way that you can’t stop staring at it. Bright, comforting colours with hints of opposing, offensive hues, almost as if you can see the moment that I got carried away and took it too far. Floral-framed, pastel pink skulls show you the hidden elegance in death or something just as ominous, like it’s luring you in, telling you there’s nothing to be afraid of. I like my work to be distasteful, but like you can’t stop going back for more because it feels so good in your mouth.

How has your style changed over time?
Around this time a couple of years ago I was drawing in mostly black and white. I wasn’t really a fan of colour, and on the off chance that I did use colour it would be heavily desaturated. I didn’t have much direction and I just drew whatever I felt like drawing as if I had a lot to say and didn’t know how to say it, so the artwork repeatedly ended up being stories that had no end and half-truths. Today I like to challenge myself. I like to find possibilities in the ‘impossible’ to literally give weight to whatever I come up with in my head. I still have a lot to say but I’m still inventing the language I will one day say it with.


“Bright, comforting colours with hints of opposing, offensive hues, almost as if you can see the moment that I got carried away and took it too far.”


Some of your paintings are on custom cut wood, could you run us through that process?
I forced myself into the habit of planning an entire painting perfectly at each stage of the creation process. I begin with a sketch that I work on again and again until its lines and shapes are fluid, then sketch it up onto the piece of wood. Before I even touch a power tool I make sure that I know exactly where I am going to cut. By the time I am good to go, my adrenaline is so pumped I’m not even thinking and the whole process is automatic. Once the first line is laid the thing pretty much paints itself. Most of the time I don’t remember doing it, which is a good thing seeing how tough it is on the back.

"I like my work to be distasteful, but like you can’t stop going back for more because it feels so good in your mouth."


How did your use of UV paint and holographic paper come about?
Because I live in the dead-middle of New Zealand, our winters can get quite dark. I will leave for the day while its overcast, and I’ll come home and it’s pitch black. This always has a serious impact on my work and therefore my mental health. I needed to find a way to paint in the dark and not be reliant on natural light. The holographic idea came around about the same time to give my work that extra contradicting angle. Using new colours and mediums was challenging and frustrating and I loved it.

What are some challenges you face as an artist, in your career, or when creating your art?
The hardest thing I find personally is getting my hands on the right tools and mediums. Wellington does have its own art community and many shops that have a large amount of stock, but sometimes it still isn’t enough. I’m trying to do things I haven’t seen a lot of people do, if any, so finding the right equipment in the area is a challenge, and everyone knows the nightmares involved with purchasing art supplies online, as well as the self-inflicted bankruptcy.

What’s next for the future?
I’m currently working towards my first solo show in Wellington. Not to give away any secrets, but it will include playing with an interactive use of ultraviolet light.

Stuart Smythe

Stuart Smythe, a New Zealand-born artist who now calls Bali home, takes No Cure on a journey of mind, body, soul and great design.


“At the end of the day it’s our hands that record our thoughts and if it’s through a machine there are too many channels for it to lose purity.” 

This commitment to analogue creation is a pillar of Smythe’s work. Favouring pencil, ink and acrylic wherever possible, his abstinence from digital tools is an interesting decision for someone trained in graphic design. 

“You can’t replicate the energy and feeling of a hand-drawn line digitally. It just doesn’t translate,” Smythe explains.

His work permeates authenticity as a result. Many pieces in his portfolio sit as easily as contemporary illustrations as they do tribal sketches, an aesthetic directly related to Smythe’s affinity and experience with the environment. 

“Process for me is about feeling. Life is process, that’s all we have. Every thing is in constant motion; the places I visit and ideas for art come from that. Ideas mostly come what’s reflecting in my world or the change I’d like to see. Sometimes it’s direct, other times not.”

More often than not these ideas make their way into a concept pad. These books are the lifeblood of Smythe’s creativity, housing sketches, words, random thoughts and everything in between. They are a safe place for him to catalogue lightbulb moments. 

Where these books differ from those of many other creatives is ideas aren’t simply dumped and left to die. Rather than allowing them to become graveyards of untapped potential, Smythe leverages them when inspiration is scarce.

It is very much a dual process of immediate response to stimuli and slow-burn thinking to connect the dots, yet the work maintains stylistic consistency. He attributes this to growing up among the surf culture of Waihi Beach, a beach community to the south of Auckland. Even after moving to Sydney to study and eventually taking off to see the world, surfing remained a stable piece of his identity. 

“There has been times in my life where I have felt more comfortable in the ocean surfing solo than being on land havingto deal with rules and responsibilities,” Smythe says.

“I’ve lost more than one job because of surfing, but in the ocean there is no responsibility except being a good human.”

While that youthful abandon has since being replaced with a balance of oceanic escapism and human reality, one thing remains true; Smythe and surf culture are inseparable.

Purity is a concept that continues to emerge in his outputs, a trend that really gained momentum after relocating to Bali. Prior to this, Smythe was working heavily with graphites, a medium he found pulled him into a time consuming pursuit of perfection. The distinction between perfect and pure is important, in that one is orchestrated and the other is raw. 

Smythe recognised this and began to view imperfection as a more suitable vessel for representing the world – creation without consequence, as he puts it. 

“The only constant is change, and perfection doesn’t exist. We live in a chaotic world and I feel that working quickly portrays that energy in a simple piece and message,” he says.

Consciously separating himself from the rigid control design taught him would have been difficult in the western world, but Bali proved ideal for tapping into the more visceral depths of creation.

“Being in a third world country allows you to get away from preconceptions of what every body else is doing. It allows you to escape the saturation of corporate pollution and visual culture, instead being submerged in a dirty paradise of trash and beauty. A contrasting environment that constantly evolves in a much different way than a planned city, where people are surviving using their primal skills and not collecting material spam to impress peers. The tropics allow my work and mind to be free.”

It’s a perspective soaked in shrewd self-insight, but having being in Bali for three years now, Smythe is shifting his focus from introspection to focus more intently on what’s happening externally. 

“I have been enjoying trying to tell a story and set a scenario with natural elements and symbols. I almost see them as landscapes or a moment in a wondrous place. There is more out there than our eye can see and I try to feel that and put that into my art. I try to get in touch with what else might be out there,” he explains.

Ultimately, the questions his work addresses are existential in nature. How sustainable is our current consumption rate? Will this have an impact on us in the future? What is being done? Huge questions by any measure. Smythe doesn’t claim to have all the answers, either; he is much more concerned with subtle promotion of environmental awareness through use of natural elements. 

What’s most remarkable about Smythe is his willingness to neglect ego in favour of accepting he is part of a much bigger picture, poetically observing, “The world starts to look really beautiful when you see the details as a creation of something much larger than we are.”



Askew One

Auckland-based artist Askew is celebrated for his abundance of creative talents, most notably his prolific history as a graffiti writer. Easily one of the most universally known artists to come out of New Zealand, Askew’s skillset offers quite the contrast, evoking the interest and appreciation of admirers of all kinds. Loved for his profound, urban-contemporary art as well as his achievements as a high-volume vandal, particularly in the train yard, Askew has plenty of stories to tell.  


“The last time I was caught for trains was 1998. It was a long time ago. The last time I was arrested was in 2013 and it was just for painting a trackside,” jokes Askew. 

“I was never the hardcore guy. For me it was still about art. I still wanted to paint a benchmark that was higher than what was being done at the time.

“It’s been a little while since I’ve painted trains, probably two years or something, and I haven’t painted trains in my own city for about three or four years. I probably did a few freights after that, but I kind of had my window that I focused on. I had a number that I was aiming for. I used to be a numbers man.”

After achieving his ambitious aim to paint and photograph 100 ‘nice panels’, Askew’s enthusiasm for illegal graffiti began to wane while his focus on graphic design and illustration led him in a new, less illicit artistic direction.  

“I spent 23 years writing my own name... and just decided I wouldn’t mind doing something new,” he says. 

Internationally acclaimed and universally praised for his progressive style, reputation and commitment to graffiti, Askew’s decision to let go of his involvement in the illegal art expression and his status as an active train painter to shift towards a more commercially viable (and less criminalising) career as an artist was a difficult one to make.   

“It had been on my mind for a little while and I really struggled to let go. If you work really hard to be the king of your city or something, and kind of hold it down for so long, [it’s difficult]. Then there’s that voice in your head that says enough is enough… now is the time you need to focus on something that’s going to bring some stability into your life as opposed to doing graffiti, which really does the opposite.

[Painting trains] was really factoring on my health. It was factoring on my economic stability and the stability of my relationship.

[Graffiti] isn’t a career, it’s a lifestyle. I needed to get focused on making some art that wasn’t so ephemeral... something that was going to survive and last.” 

Still a regular representative member of crews TMD and MSK, ironically Askew finds both creative and remunerative success within graffiti,  now traveling around the world to paint with legal validity. It’s stories like his that prove success in notoriety can triumph over penalty and punishment. 

“Right now, of the top artists internationally, there are a real disproportionate number of them that are Australian, particularly from Queensland, and a lot of them used to paint trains before they started focusing on large-scale muralism. 

“I tend to feel I was lucky in a lot of ways to have also been doing a lot of work that was perceived as quite positive, and I had quite a large fan base and a lot of support.

“We took advantage of a very archaic time and were very fortunate that maybe 70 or 80 per cent [of trains] ran for a full day in full service, so you could photo and video nearly everything.”

Having his fair share of run-ins with the police and clocking up countless hours in courtrooms, Askew despises the over criminalising legislations and fines used against graffiti artists. He believes everyone has the right to dispute costly allegations when police “make up magical numbers” to charge artists obscene amounts of money for property damage and graffiti removal. 

“I’ve been arrested a number of times, but I don’t think that any of my arrests turned into anything substantially detrimental to my lifestyle or what I do,” he says.

“Here’s the thing: if you’re dealing with cops that make up numbers, you’re going to need to call them to task to verify.

“It’s their fight against people who are under resourced, because you’re never going to have as much money as the state or the prosecution or the rail company. They’ve got endless money to throw at it, but we all have the right to ask for a realistic breakdown of cost and damages.

“This has always been my rule of thumb. I have no problem admitting guilt for something, believe it or not, if I’ve been caught red-handed. If you catch me red-handed, then that’s cool, that’s not what I’m going to dispute. But if you’re going to just make up a magical number and try to make me become completely indebted to the system for how ever long while I struggle to pay it off and also struggle to pay for my basic necessities... then no, I have a right to dispute that.

Askew says he’s always chosen to represent himself in court, getting legal advice and counselling to determine the process and the outcome he’s going for. 

“I get the legal terminology so I can speak the judge’s language, which really helps,” he explains.

Although the success of Askew’s career as a contemporary artist is widespread, his connection and dedication to graffiti on both a local and international level is undoubtedly cherished. 

Now spending almost all of his time in his Auckland studio, Askew works long days creating uniquely inspiring art using a combination of techniques comprising a fusion of photography, screen printing and brush painting. 

Dramatically simplifying his efforts as a graffiti writer, he leaves on a jovial, lighthearted note.

“When I started writing graffiti, I was just writing my name to be cool. That’s all I was doing. I was just trying to say, ‘hey, I’m here and I’m cool!’”

As Askew talks animatedly about the experiences and occurrences of a colourful past, it’s clear that the artist will eventually tire of the train yard, but you’ll never get the paint off his hands.

Read the entire scope of artists in the NZ edition available in newsagents and online.