The prolific Californian artist was recently on the move again, this time creating artwork on the fringes of Asia in the urban spaces of Istanbul.
ISTANBUL STREET ART
Not yet a year has passed since San Fransisco artist DYoungV came through Hong Kong and left his signature style of art in the streets. The prolific Californian artist was recently on the move again, this time creating artwork on the fringes of Asia in the urban spaces of Istanbul – an idea hatched while chatting with Hong Kong’s own local tattoo artist Ross Dixon Turpin of the famed Star Crossed Tattoo. The promise of Istanbul’s ‘free reign’ to get up proved too great a draw, and soon DYoungV had booked his ticket to the enigmatic Turkish city, which did not disappoint. Style by Asia offers insight into the artist’s impressions of working in the Eurasian border city that has become a beacon of street art culture.
Of his experience working in Istanbul, the artist commented:
“In a city of nearly 15 million people that are up during all hours of the night, there is always someone around watching you. Even down the darkest and quietest alley at 5am, there are still people hanging out. This can make one very nervous when putting up work. What I learned… is just put your work up regardless, take your time to get it right and 99.9% of Istanbul people will not bother you at all.”
With this being the artist’s first visit to unfamiliar territory (where he had no long-standing contacts nor spoke the language), the trip was a crash course in Turkish culture and the individual local neighborhoods of Istanbul. He reports:
“Beyoglu is a neighborhood that is large in size and massively dense with people. Its walls are covered street to street with extremely well executed graffiti pieces. Literally thousands of pieces can be seen on every roller door, ground level wall, alley way and accessible rooftop. Finding it difficult to find open space in that area; most of my works in Beyoglu can be found in abandoned lots, on top of demolished buildings, rooftops above local markets and residential areas sightly off the more busy streets…”
In addition to Beyoglu, the Kadikoy neighborhood proved to be a quite impressive area for street art.
“Just over the Bosphorus Strait exists Kadikoy on the Asian side of Istanbul. Kadikoy offers a variety of well executed graff pieces, enormous sanctioned and unsanctioned street murals and a very large street art scene. Unsolicited pieces done by the artists in this neighborhood can be seen covering whole sides of buildings, roof tops, freeway entrances and public parks.”
Despite a lack of contacts in the area, the artist was able to connect with creative local talents for collaborations through Istanbul’s Mixer Gallery. He says:
“The artists here are talented, courageous, ambitious, defiant, and very open to collaborating with travelling artists. Thankfully, through the help of Mixer Gallery I was able to connect with local artists: Canavar, Oneson, Ares Badsector and Gevsek. They took me around Kadikoy in search of walls. We spent the late evening/morning creating collaboration pieces all around that area.”
For DYoungV, the act of creating street art is both deliberate and meditative after careful consideration of a neighborhood. Regarding his process in unfamiliar international destinations, he offers:
“I believe that doing street art in foreign cities adds a unique perspective on the dynamics of that city’s culture. For me, a neighborhood has to be visited three times. One day to scout, one night to get work up and a third follow up visit to photograph and interact with the completed work. This allows for hours upon hours of exploring new alleyways, residential areas, visiting mosques, eating at local cafes and interacting with locals all while working. It’s a very rewarding experience. The perspective of getting work up allows for visits to areas that one may not travel to otherwise.”
British artist J.Fishy shares his process for creating the surreal ‘Fruit and Veg On’ pasteup series in Hong Kong.
HONG KONG STREET ART
China’s bustling Southern harbor city has recently experienced a new artist-in-residence crafting surreal encounters in urban spaces. Walking down the street in Sai Ying Pun, a vibrant neighborhood enclave West of Central, one might come upon a young man with an eggplant on his head. Or, for that matter, you could pass a young lady carefully balancing an ear of corn atop her crown. Further in Pok Fu Lam, a child can be found wearing a sprig of spring onion, and a couple has appeared in Po Hing Fong steadily balancing oranges upon their heads. The observer of street art on Hong Kong Island would surely have seen such phenomena by now, as you’re practically bound to meet one of these figures around town. An unsigned enigma, one cannot help but wonder of the origins of this exceptionally prolific series.
Turns out, the images are part of a new photographic portraiture street art series entitled ‘Fruit and Veg On’ by a British artist who prefers to be called J.Fishy. Luckily, UrbanDNA was able to catch up with the artist just as he wraps up his 6 month stint in Hong Kong. He shares insight into his latest work that can be found throughout the city (no, the fruits and veggies are not photoshopped in!) and his inspiration. Funny enough, the series was sparked simply by the artist’s friend playfully placing a carrot on her head. Of this he says, “It was so simple yet had this beauty to it that I kind of became transfixed with.” Also, if you have been candidly asked on the street to pose with a piece of fruit on your head, you might just find yourself featured as a work of art!
Read on for the entire interview with the artist.
:::::INTERVIEW | J.Fishy & UrbanDNA:::::
Where are you from, and how has your background shaped your artistic practice?
J.Fishy: I’m from London but also had the pleasure of living in Bristol for a few years and have now been based in Hong Kong for the past 6 months. I’ve also been lucky enough to travel through quite a few other countries and getting to experience different environments and cultures has definitely influenced what I make.
Can you describe your creative training? What mediums are you drawn to?
J.Fishy: I studied art at university and was initially interested in sculpture and installation work. At that time I was casting bits of my body and growing plants out of them. I then increasingly became interested in people rather than objects as such. It was at this point I started primarily working with video and photography.
Have you always been interested in ‘street art’? When did you begin making public artworks?
J.Fishy: While most of what I’ve previously made hasn’t been ‘street art’, I have always liked encountering work outside and been interested in its accessibility to a wider audience than art shown in a gallery. While I’ve got a lot of love for art galleries, I think for many people they are this cultural entity that they feel disconnected from. Putting work outside removes this barrier between ‘the art world’ and the general public. I also think there becomes a more natural dialogue between what is made, the viewer and peoples environment. The first work I put outside was a series of text based pieces about 5 years ago… I initially started by getting pieces of wood out of skips and spraying onto them and leaving them in places.. I then moved on to getting ‘for-sale’ sign’s and old doors, giving them a bit of a makeover and then locking them to fences or street lamps. I found this way they stayed where I left them for much longer. I’ve only very recently begun wheat-pasting.
How would you describe your practice – primarily studio based?
J.Fishy: While some stuff is studio based, the majority of what I’ve produced over the past couple years has been created in public. There is an immediacy between myself, what is being made and other people that seems to keep driving me to work in this way.
Why did you choose Hong Kong for your most recent street art series, and how did you select specific site locations?
J.Fishy: Hong Kong is where I’ve been living for the past six months so that’s where I’ve been producing work. That said, quite a few of the pieces I’ve recently put up are from photos taken in other countries. As far as finding specific locations for each piece, I tend to travel on foot and keep my eyes peeled for good spots.
Can you describe your process for creating your Hong Kong series?
J.Fishy: The ‘Fruit & Veg On’ series started with a friend simply putting a carrot on her head. It was so simple yet had this beauty to it that I kind of became transfixed with. Two ordinary things (a carrot and someone’s head), took on this obscure relationship to one another through the simple action of putting one on top of the other. After this initial event of the carrot on the head, I decided to go buy some fruit and vegetables and walk around asking people to choose a piece to put on their head. While it takes me a while to ask the first person on any given day, once I start I’m hooked. I find the brief interactions with people somewhat therapeutic.
Are all the models posing with items on their heads, or is there any element of Photoshop involved?
J.Fishy: All the people are posing with the actual fruit or vegetables on their head. The only editing involved is blowing the images up and also slightly brightening them, as I generally choose to shoot slightly underexposed.
Do you know all the people who are subjects of your work? If not, how do you ask strangers to be photographed with fruits and vegetables on their heads? Have potential subjects ever refused your offer?
J.Fishy: Nearly all the photos are of just random people on the street. I simply approach them and ask if they’d mind putting a piece of fruit or veg on their head for a photo. Lots of people inevitably refuse but thankfully lots are happy to get involved.
What is the resolution of your images – do you shoot in raw?
J.Fishy: I have never shot in raw until about a month ago… I use photo zoom to blow the images up to get them nice and big and it was only once I started doing this that I started to realise the benefits of shooting in raw for what I do.. I generally choose to shoot slightly underexposed and raw images respond much better to being brightened than jpegs.
I notice you don’t sign your street art works with your name or pseudonym – any particularreason for this?
J.Fishy: I feel the works being signed would slightly detract from their obscurity. I prefer the idea of people encountering a lady with a bunch of bananas on her head with no explanation of it being owned by anyone, or necessarily even being a piece of art.
What type of printer do you use to create the Hong Kong paste-ups? Do you have access to this equipment in Hong Kong, or did you prepare your printed materials before leaving?
J.Fishy: The works I’ve pasted up so far have been made by splitting the images over lots of A3 pages and then printing them at a local printers in Sheung Wan. Each page is then cut out and stuck together before heading out to paste them up.
What is your overall impression of the Hong Kong street art scene?
J.Fishy: I think the scene here is at an interesting point. It is much younger than in London but feels like it’s definitely growing. There seems to be a real interest and desire for more of it from the local people.
Have you ever had any problems with authorities when installing your artworks?
J.Fishy: Thankfully not yet.
How long will you remain in the region? Will you be creating street art elsewhere in Asia?
J.Fishy: I leave in a weeks time and will be making a couple of other stops in Asia before heading back to the U.K.
What is inspiring you now, and how has your time in Hong Kong affected you creatively?
J.Fishy: The biggest source of inspiration is people I encounter on the street, MTR or wherever. I love the peculiarities of people and how they interact and operate with one another. Prior to coming here I was simply taking the photos and occasionally showing them at exhibitions… I’m now taking the pictures back out onto the streets to exhibit which seems to make far more sense.
What’s next for you – can we look forward to further showings in Asia?
J.Fishy: I’m preparing 20 new pieces at the moment that will be going up in the next week before I leave.. keep your eyes peeled.
Invader returns to the scene of last year’s infamously removed ‘invasion’ to present ‘Wipe Out’, offering exciting new LED light artworks.
HONG KONG STREET ART EXHIBITION
In a windfall for street art in Hong Kong, French graffiti mosaic artist ‘Invader’has ceremoniously returned to the scene of last year’s infamously removed ‘invasion’ to present ‘Wipe Out’, an exhibition exploring his work in the city and beyond. The non-profit show is the third project presented by HOCA, the Hong Kong Contemporary Art Foundation, which launched in 2014. Curated by Lauren Every-Wortman, the event is held within the expansive Qube space at PMQ – a rare 600 square meter multi-function hall in the Central district of Hong Kong. Within this abundant space, Invader and Every-Wortman have constructed an engaging sensory experience that simultaneously educates and amuses whilst offering the artist’s exciting first foray into sculptural LED light art.
A walk-through of Wipe Out presents a series of different aspects of Invader’s creative work. In addition to the display of countless material examples of the artist’s mosaic artworks displayed in Hong Kong and on streets around the world, the show also conveys his conceptual work ‘gamifying’ the discovery of the works in urban spaces worldwide through his ‘Flash Invaders’ mobile application. Further, a thorough historical documentation is recounted of the artist’s Hong Kong invasions spanning from 2001-2014– including a full-scale reenactment of the artist’s street mosaic HK_58 (better known as ‘Hong Kong Phooey’) in its original in situ placement.
The center of the exhibition space also holds a must-see treat within the ‘Wipe Out Cinema’– a video documentary relating how the artist effectively ‘invaded’ his dream frontier– outer space. The improbable journey of Invader’s mosaic hitched upon a weather balloon is breathtaking, inspiring, and indeed a bit magical – audible gasps could be heard as the artist’s signature mosaic character floated away to reach the unthinkable and then survive falling from the top of the earth’s atmosphere. In the end, it is an elegant metaphor for the boundless capabilities of the persevering spirit facing insurmountable challenges; the documentary film footage capturing this unearthly journey was eventually retrieved from Florida swampland after the literal threat of poisonous snakes, insects, and (yes!) even an alligator. +10,000 points!!!
It was, however, the artist’s debut works of sculptural LED light art that stole the show. The medium translates perfectly to the artist’s nostalgia for early gaming technology, elevating his work to new frontiers of possibility. With a firm understanding of Invader’s past work challenging the boundaries of public expression worldwide, this new experimental use of sculpted, animated light proposes a future of dazzling possibility.
WIPE OUT: An ‘Explosition’ by Invader
Dates: May 2-17
Venue: The Qube, PMQ, 35 Aberdeen Street, Central, Hong Kong
Amidst Art Basel Hong Kong and D*Face’s sold-out show at the local Above Second gallery, the exhibition’s curator Richard Scarry of ‘Coates & Scarry’ talks with UrbanDNA.
Street Art/ Fine Art Curator & Exhibition Producer Interview, Hong Kong
In the flurry of Art Basel Hong Kong and D*Face’s sold-out Honestly Dishonest show at the city’s local Above Second gallery, Richard Scarry of the London-based art curation and production design superduo ‘Coates & Scarry’ talks with Style by Asia.
As a leading international expert on the integration of street art into the fine art world, whose many credits include introducing the works of D*Face to Hong Kong and Asia, Scarry offers rare insight into how the international perception of street art has evolved in the past decade. In light of this, we discover once-ambiguous ‘street art’ is becoming better understood, and has been embraced by “the validator’s collections,” as it enjoys recent and upcoming high-profile museum retrospectives visiting upon the topic.
Read on for a detailed, intimate chat with Richard from Coates & Scarry, as he discusses the unique work of D*Face in Hong Kong, his personal journey from the fine art auction environment to the contemporary art world, and tackles some of the difficult questions surrounding urban art– including issues of permission, public funding, and administrative policy.
::::: INTERVIEW / Richard Scarry with Erin Wooters Yip for Style by Asia :::::
How does Above Second’s Honestly Dishonest show represent something new and different in D*Face’s work?
RS: When I talk about D*Face, he’s a fine artist who is street slash pop, who may or may not do work on the street… We started working on this show with D*Face last September. All of these pieces are brand new pieces only for Hong Kong that will not be available anywhere else. That’s what I love, if he’s going to [do a project] he wants to do something special for each city.
These works are in really high-gloss paint, baby blues and yellows, candy colors, which he has never done before… I think whenever D*Face does a body of work, whether it be for New York, London, Hong Kong, Tokyo– every time he’s asked to do a show he wants to create a new theme and tell a new story. Because all of his work is hand-painted, hand-screened, and everything is made by him from beginning to end, I think that makes it more exciting for him. When I asked him to come to Hong Kong during Art Basel he was very excited to do something specifically for the city. These pieces are also homage to how everybody in this city lives very much on top of each other… We decided to do our show this week because it was Art Basel Hong Kong week, it’s one of the biggest dates on the globe– the entire planet– for art. We believe so strongly in what we’re doing that this was the week to do it… By doing work on the street we’re bringing people out of Basel to see art outside the convention center.
How has D*Face’s work evolved from being created in the public environment to the canvas and studio environment?
RS: It’s been about a twelve year journey for D*Face. Originally he worked in design and advertising, and that’s why he’s so hyper-aware of the garbage that’s being thrown at us everyday– buy this, go there, do this, be this. We are constantly being told, ‘This is who you should be, this is acceptable, this is the status quo.’ What D was doing in the beginning was taking some of those advertising methods and gimmicks and spinning them to show you what they’re really saying. To take you behind the scenes. The gallery thing started because as soon as people saw the work on the streets, they wanted it in their house. This connection happened organically and naturally because his fan base was so instant.
How did you get your start in the art world?
RS: I started in a small fine art auction house with good integrity and a great history that works with collectors all over the world… So, I spent years working with dead artist’s work, clearing out estates and working with Rauschenbergs, Rosenquists, Lichtensteins and Ellsworth Kellys. Twentieth century fine art, Americana. So it was exciting for me because I spent quite a long time in auction houses and looking at older works and helping people find the value…
Before that I worked in HIV prevention testing, and ran a men’s wellness clinic. I did frontline work within the gay community and all communities as an activist. I had a friend who worked at the auction house and I wanted a job in art, so I started packing paintings and holding things up. Within three years I was the head of the decorative arts department. That was my history of art course– that was my degree in the art world. The knowledge and experience was great. And then, when I went from the auction house to the non-profit gallery, I learned how a gallery works. I found that I came naturally to what I was doing… It was interesting, I ran a non-profit graffiti street art gallery in Los Angeles called Scion. It was sponsored by Toyota– they wanted their brand to be hip, so they gave us a big space and said ‘Do whatever you want to do.’ With their funding, all the money from the sales was able to go to artists. My very first show was Shepard Fairey, David Choe, D*Face, Saber, Retna– this was back in 2005. I was headhunted by a collector and ran his space until I moved to England.
Tell me more about how you work as Coates & Scarry.
RS: My partner Chippy is such a great balance for me because he is very much an academic. He curates very differently than I do. When I bring up artists, he’s like, consider the work and justify the show. Why does the show matter here in this location? And what can we do with education around it? How can we bring more people in and benefit the local community? How can we make this a symbiotic relationship between the art, the street that it’s in, the gallery, press, and the audience?
…One of our greatest privileges is going to artist’s studios and doing talks and interviews. On our blog, Coates & Scarry, we interview artists from all over the world. That’s how we started, interviewing artists on our blog… We were interviewing artists, we were fans and we were reaching out to artists who we respected. We ended up with a blogspot on Juxtapoz for three years and on DailyDuJour, and we were being picked up by blogs all over the world. The word got out there… We ended up with about 250,000 followers a year for our interviews. Our little blog has grown into a business but it takes a lot of work. We have seven artists that we represent on a full-time basis and do their shows internationally and in the U.K. It’s a work of passion, we love what we do, but there’s a lot of work involved as well.
Would you say the early 2000’s represented a resurgence of graffiti within the gallery scene?
RS: In the 80’s when you talk about guys like Crash and Futura and Kenny Scharf, it was more about tagging and trains, and the integrity only lasted because it was on the streets of New York at the time. However, Los Angeles never really had a moment with street art. It wasn’t until we were able to get funding behind it and get spaces that we were able to get people to come and see it as art…
There was also a great magazine at the time looking at graffiti and street art called Swindle Magazine. Also Juxtapoz and Beautiful/Decay are art magazines with a twist because they look at graffiti and street art and things outside of the contemporary gallery space. They were also looking at skate culture and punk rock, and how that all kind of crossed in music and art and fashion. It captured what was going on in the West Coast of America in the vanguard of culture.
So the early 2000’s were L.A.’s first confrontation with street art as fine art?
RS: Absolutely. Because as much as the West Coast of America is about movies and music, it was pretty conservative about art. There was a lot of photography and some lowbrow comic book illustration coming on, but until the street artists and graffiti artists merged together and started creating works together– that’s how street art gained integrity… [Around that time] Saber did the biggest piece of street art in the world in the L.A. River, which could actually be seen from space. So, it was an exciting time, especially for someone like myself…
Where New York had its big pop art moment in the late 60’s and 70’s with Warhol and the Factory, and England had its YBA [Young British Artist] moment in the 90’s with the Damiens and the Emins and that crowd, I think street art is now having its moment. This is its time. What’s interesting now is that we’re selling to some of the biggest collectors in the world who buy the big stuff. They’re realizing these artists matter and the work matters. The validation and integrity is there… It’s realizing, what these ladies and men are doing on the street is extraordinary work because it’s now hanging in museums with some of the most prestigious organizations in the world. It’s in the validator’s collections. It’s become more and more well respected. It’s arriving and evolving. This is a very exciting time.
What notable collections is street art present within?
RS: It’s in the Kohn Collections, it’s in the McRobbie Collections, it’s in the Kevin Wall Collections, the Rubell Collection, the Sandra Powell and Andy King Collection… [It’s collected by] Jose Mugrabi, Damien Hirst, Jeffrey Deitch, Charles Saatchi… The Obama’s have a painting by Ben Eine… The interesting thing is street artists or fine artists who put work on the streets are now making their way into some very important permanent collections after being supported by music, fashion and film actors and producers for the past ten years.
Where do you see as the center of street art culture globally?
RS: Where do I see the gravitational pull of street art? I still see it in London. Maybe I’m biased, but I’ve been to New York and worked on a show recently with quite a famous stencil artist… New York is very much photography, painting, sculpture, a little installation. I think New York is coming along and becoming more educated about the value of street art. The great thing about London and Europe is that the young guys and young girls who have grown up and now become the middle aged generation, they would see something on the street and find the artist. The artist was trying to make a living and they were young collectors, and they would make deals. The art made it into collections much faster… People are now realizing that [street art] is part of a relevant art collection.
What do you see as the difference between graffiti and street art?
RS: Everything should be well thought out and have meaning– that’s the difference between tagging and writing and street art. Because tagging is spontaneous and about getting away with it– it’s about breaking the law. The more risky the location, the better the location. It has nothing to do with what they’re saying… I think street art is much more considerate. It also takes a lot longer… When we talk about street art, we talk about the work as paintings. And now the work is going from the gallery back out into the street. The show is designed in the gallery and then it goes out into the street to reflect the show… Most street art is pop art, it comes from popular culture– it’s subversive. There is a message in some way or another– that’s why they’re putting it on the street. If you took it out of the context of appearing on the street saw it only within the gallery, most of it would be [seen as] pop, political, and propaganda driven art.
Do you view permission as important?
RS: When artists are doing work that is as labor intensive as D*Face’s work, if it’s a permission wall it gives him space to know it will stay for awhile. A permission wall is working with the city, so it’s leaving a gift for Hong Kong. It’s been curated, this has been okayed… What I don’t necessarily advocate is the people who run around hustling buildings and then selling walls to artists and making a whole industry around finding walls. What would be amazing is if the city went around to all of their people who have walls and buildings and spaces, and said, let’s do something beautiful and extraordinary… Coates and Scarry, Above Second, we’re all big advocates of public art and finding ways to give back to the community. There are positive ways to do that. I know it’s difficult in Hong Kong because of the size of the buildings and available wall space. But I know HKwalls is actively curating walls and getting walls licensed.
Can you think of a pivotal moment in the past decade when street art entered the popular consciousness as fine art?
RS: The Banksy vs. the Bristol Museum exhibition at the Bristol Museum [June 13-August 31, 2009], which broke all records of attendance for a regional museum– people queued up for six hours a day. That was the pivotal moment for public spaces and museums and city officials to start taking notice. And the amazing thing about the people in the queue was, there were little kids, and then grannies up to the age of ninety. It created the understanding that street art can be the people’s art. Everybody has a reaction, even if they don’t like it, at least they have an opinion…
What’s amazing about that show is that it was organized without the knowledge of most the museum administrators and city officials themselves– only a small handful of people really were in on it. There was a very small team, and Phil Walker, an extraordinary exhibitions manager at the Bristol City Museum, is the one who worked with Banksy’s team. He was the only one in the know that worked on the show, and he’s taking the secrets to his grave. It was one of the most successful museum shows outside of London in all of Europe that year. It put Bristol on the map as a tourist destination for people from all over Europe and Asia and America to come to, and Bristol has carried on with that legacy… All the sudden, Bristol had arrived, art-wise. It was interpreted as a city that was willing to take risks, take artists from outside, bring them in, and not lose the integrity.
In ‘Banksy vs. the Bristol Museum’ there was one particular piece– Peckham Rock– that was originally displayed in the British Museum and rumored as a new addition to its permanent collection, which later disappeared into obscurity. However, it appeared to mysteriously resurface at the Bristol Museum show…
RS: Everything there was very well considered. That’s why the show worked. Another thing they did, other than having a main gallery space for the show, it integrated his work with the permanent collections. So, you had to go through five floors of art history, antiquities, decorative arts and taxidermy, to actually see the whole show. It made people re-engage with their city and their city’s history while they looked for what they really wanted to find, which was the [Banksy] piece. It was very much like an Easter egg hunt. And we like a bit of mystery and we love the chase. It’s fun to seek and find.
In light of the recent trend in the U.K. of valuable street art works being removed from the public environment to be sold at auction, do you think controls are needed to keep valued street art in situ?
RS: That’s a very interesting question. I have some acquaintances who have had to deal with this on a regular basis. It’s lovely to see neighborhoods rise up and fight to keep what has been given to them by the artists… There are artists out there for whom they’re cutting up walls… There are galleries out there who are not street art galleries but they’re hiring people to cut up walls to place the work at auctions, and auction houses are putting them up without any provenance… The truth of it is, especially with the Banksy work– not that I’m an authority– artists who don’t sign their work on the street, they do this so you can’t take it and sell it. Because I came from an auction house background, when things come to auction, people want provenance. They’re like, ok, I like it, but where did this come from, where has it been, who originally sold, and tell me this piece’s history, because I’m also buying into the history. You need the proof because some stencil work is so replicated.
In light of the changing attitudes taking place within street art, have you seen the administrative approach change in the policy environment? It is becoming more tolerated or still taboo and risky?
RS: We have friends who are city planners, friends who work in the city council because we’re now in that age group. Our friends have grown up jobs. To put it in perspective, D*Face is doing a retrospective at the Malaga Museum of Contemporary Art in Spain in 2015. Massive– the whole museum. Shepard Fairey has done the Boston Museum. Swoon has just done the Brooklyn Museum. Jeffrey Deitch curated Art in the Streets with Barry McGee, Shepard, Eine, all these guys. Istanbul is having a street art show in their contemporary museum. All these publicly funded spaces have to answer to a council for their budgets and funding. If they’re inviting street artists to exhibit in their public spaces, it’s because they’re fostering and endorsing the art, and they want what the street artist brings, which is a young, smart demographic. It’s not becoming demystified, but it is becoming more understood… I’m getting calls from Beijing, Shanghai, saying we’ll give you a wall – we’ll get you a government wall! We want this, but we don’t know how to have this without it being chaos.
Do you see graffiti now as part of Britain’s national heritage?
RS: I see it as a lot of countries’ national heritage, definitely in the U.K… It’s becoming part of the Hong Kong heritage. This is our third show at Above Second and the reason we keep coming back to Hong Kong three times in just a year is, for one, we’ve been well received, but two, we’ve found a very sophisticated and smart base of fans and collectors who know what they want. They’re not buying it because they’re told this is the next thing. They’re connecting with it on an intellectual and emotional level. That’s what good street art does. Sometimes you don’t even need to know who made the piece, and the fun is trying to figure out who it was… It draws you in, and invites you into their story. Keeping up with the men and ladies of street art is like a modern day Easter egg hunt for art fans… It’s creating a story all over the world. In South America it’s very much a part of their culture as well. Brazil financially supports their street artists, endorses their street artists, gives them public gallery space, finances the festivals… That’s the one place where I believe the public sector can get more involved, is creating space for outside and inside work to coexist together. Also, we should do more education. Why aren’t school kids taken on street art tours?
What do you think of Space Invader’s recent invasion of Hong Kong, most of which was quickly removed by the Highways Department?
RS: That’s a shame because they were probably thrown away if they didn’t know what they were. That’s the whole thing about education. But the resilient street artists will come back and do it again and again, and people will learn about it, and those stories will eventually get to the people who sit in local government and do policing and management and planning. They’ll understand that art has its place. We live really hectic lives… and just supporting public art creates space in the city to breathe. It creates space to pause, sit back, and take something in. It slows your headspace down, and then you go back to the daily grind.
Where can people find D*Face’s work on the streets of Hong Kong?
RS: At PMQ [the former Police Married Quarters turned art space in Central], he did an extraordinary piece… Along Hollywood Road [for HKwalls], and we’ve taken over Evisu Jeans [on Wellington Street in Central]. Evisu has wrapped their four-story building with his images and he’s done an installation in the lobby downstairs. He’s done a capsule collection with Evisu, and we’ve spent the last two nights at Evisu, he’s painted the inside of the store. That’s an amazing way art and fashion can work together, and Evisu has been an amazing brand to work with…They gave D*Face free range, saying, what do you want? He said, ‘I want to wrap your building,’ and they’ve done it. They’ve done an installation downstairs and there’s a beautiful piece of sculpture there. So the exhibition is actually split over two locations. The new paintings are all at Above Second, and the archive print collection and rotatable monolith sculpture [are at Evisu]– it’s a six-foot tall, twenty-four panel piece of sculpture that you can go in and turn and look at…
There’s also a restaurant here, Bibo– there’s a piece going into Bibo. Bibo has KAWS, Invader, and Banksy, and for them not to have D*Face doesn’t make sense. When they found out we were here, they found us. D*Face has very graciously committed to doing a small piece in the restaurant itself. That’s how hardworking he is– we’ve been here ten days, and his last wall will be his fourth. He’s been painting from nine in the morning till ten, eleven o’clock at night. He’s a hardworking man.
Has D*Face painted elsewhere in Asia?
RS: Yes, he’s done some extraordinary walls in Tokyo. I know he’s done some off the cuff things while he was traveling, so he’s left his mark in other areas. There are three big walls in Tokyo that they’ve committed to keeping for him. Sometimes, D will go in and do a wall and the people will commit to keeping it after they see it, even if it’s not a permission wall to start with. They’re so delighted to have the piece and so excited– it brings visitors and tourists. Sometimes these artists will do this– they think about this– they go to a neighborhood that’s struggling a little bit, where the businesses maybe aren’t as busy as they think they should be, and if they can drive some traffic in, a few more people buy a coffee, do a bit of shopping… It’s a win-situation for everybody. It’s a good thing.
What’s next for you and D*Face?
RS: For D*Face we have his solo show in Los Angeles which he’s in the midst of now. The space is between six and seven thousand square feet– it’s going to be the largest show he’s ever done with an entirely new body of work that he’s been working on for the last year as well. That’s with PMM Art Projects. His last show in L.A. a few years ago completely sold out. He’ll also be doing some big installations on the street– his schedule is full. He just came back from doing work at Coachella, and the Malaga Museum show is coming up, which they started working on a year ago…
For Coates and Scarry, we have the space in London where we’re doing the seven solo shows in the next two years. We’d love to do something in Beijing, and we’d love to come back to Hong Kong. We love Asia… I just came back from the Armory, I’m here for Basel, and I’ll be in Basel, Switzerland for all the shows. Coates and Scarry will be going to all the graduate shows of all the art colleges in England so we can be aware of what’s happening and what’s coming… On our blog, we put up new interviews at least twice a month, so we’re still fans. We still find artists, and we still get butterflies and sweaty palms. We still get excited and reach out to people, like, ‘Do you think they’ll talk to us? Let’s interview them!’ For us, our journey for Coates and Scarry is to keep growing as a brand, keep producing shows and working with the artist, but also not losing the wonder… Art is a privilege to be involved with. A good artist rips his guts out and shows you, and our job is to take care of that and help them along their way. It is a privilege. ♦
Although it is sold-out, D*Face’s Honestly Dishonest show is up at the Above Second gallery in Sai Ying Pun, Hong Kong, till July 6, 2014.
In the first-ever event of its kind in Hong Kong, HKwalls will enhance outdoor wall spaces in the Sheung Wan district with the painted works of celebrated urban contemporary artists from May 12-18. Property owners may offer their wall for inclusion in the event.
‘HKwalls’ Street Art Festival, May 12-18, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong
In the first-ever event of its kind in Hong Kong, HKwalls will enhance outdoor wall spaces in the Sheung Wan district with the painted works of celebrated urban contemporary artists. The street art festival event will take place from May 12-18 during the busiest week of the year in Hong Kong’s jam-packed art calendar, coinciding with the city’s second inaugural Art Basel fair and its surrounding plethora of satellite art events. Thus far HKwalls has secured permission for artists to paint upon at least 9 walls in the Sheung Wan area, although organizers are still actively seeking additional property owners who are interested in featuring their wall space in this community art event.
While HKwalls is a unique event of its kind within Hong Kong, such a street art festival is certainly not a new concept on the international contemporary art scene. This writer has recently had the privilege of viewing in person the freshly painted artworks from a similar event, PUBLIC, which was sponsored and organized by the City of Perth in Western Australia and took place from April 5-13, 2014. While PUBLIC surely made the laneways of Perth a more visually stimulating place, the city administrators were also aiming to raise the status of Perth on the global creative map. The website for the City of Perth writes that the event aspires to “place Perth as an emerging international street art hotspot, alongside cities such as Bristol, New York, Miami, Barcelona and Buenos Aires; cities that are well-known for the impact of using art to enrich and empower the lives of its people.”
HKwalls is led in part by Jason Dembski, a designer and professor at the University of Saint Joseph in Macau, who also maintains an online archive of Hong Kong street art at hkstreetart.com. UrbanDNA caught up with Jason to learn more about HKwalls and how property owners can include their outdoor Sheung Wan wall spaces in the event, thereby transforming (at no charge!) ordinary, publicly visible surfaces into vibrant works of contemporary art for the enhancement of their surrounding neighborhood.
What is HKwalls? Can you describe how this initiative has come about?
HKwalls is a week long street art festival which takes place during Art Basel HK, from May 12-18. While Art Basel in Miami has become a great success, there’s nothing really interesting happening on the streets of Hong Kong during the week of Art Basel, so we thought we would try and make something happen at the ground level. We also chose the Art Basel week because we hope that it will attract some artists from overseas who can get involved.
Is HKwalls related to or inspired by any particular international street art festival or initiative that has recently enhanced another city?
Wynwood Walls in Miami, Pow Wow Hawaii, etc.
Who are the participating street artists for HKwalls, and where are they from?
This year most artists are based in Hong Kong and we have 1 or 2 who are visiting for Art Basel but in the future we would like to have more of a 50/50 balance and create more collaborations between Hong Kong artists and those from overseas. A preliminary list for this year can be found at hkwalls.org/artists.
How were the participating street artists chosen?
It was not always simple, but generally we made a few lists of artists based on what they do, asked some of those artists for other recommendations we might have missed, and discussed them further within our team and the wall owners.
What kind of content will the artists be painting? Who has creative control over the final work upon a wall?
We do not control what the artist paints at all except that it shouldn’t contain anything intentionally offensive. Being the first year, the theme for the event is metamorphosis, eluding to the transformation the walls will undergo, but the artists are free to take as much or as little inspiration from this as they like. We are also considering a unified color palette across the walls.
HKwalls is seeking additional outdoor walls for the artists to paint upon. What kind of walls are desirable for this initiative?
Any large exterior visible to the public which is located in the area around Blake Garden (Tai On Terrace, Po Hing Fong, Tai Ping Shan, Pound Lane, Square Street, Sai Street, etc).. It’s important that the owner understands that we have to give full creativity to the artist and let them paint what they want, because normally it would be a commissioned piece if the content is controlled by someone else.
What kinds of walls qualify? Must they be privately owned for permission to be properly given for participation in the project?
They don’t have to be privately owned but at least they should have the right to have it painted without causing any legal issues.
Can you describe the initial community response to the project?
So far so good. Within the local art scene it’s been super positive, but getting walls to paint isn’t always easy. Because nothing has been done like this in Hong Kong before, many people are reluctant to give us their walls, and because there’s limited space, we haven’t been able include everyone we would have liked. But we are hoping this will pave the way for a bigger HKwalls event next year.
Will spectators be encouraged to watch artists as they paint?
For sure. Please come and enjoy the week out here with us. It’s not that often you can enjoy this many artists doing live art in Hong Kong, and the plan is to have a final block party/celebration of the work on the 18th. Things are still coming together though, so watch the website for details.
How long are the murals anticipated to remain after the event?
Hopefully till next year.
How can property owners get involved and include their wall in the event?
Hong Kong, you say you aspire to be an art hub, and I truly want to believe you. But really, it’s time we had a talk, because I’m not sure you know what an ‘art hub’ is.
COMMENTARY: HONG KONG STREET ART
Hong Kong, you say you aspire to be an art hub, and I truly want to believe you. Heck, I want to live in an art hub!
I was among the crowd at Art Basel Hong Kong and the gallery scene has been steadily improving in recent years. It’s all been very promising.
But really, it’s time we had a talk, because I’m not sure you know what an ‘art hub’ is. You seem to have the term confused with something to do with numbers and dollar signs, like if the most art is sold here, then our city would somehow become a cultural leader. This, my friend, is a nonsense. Contrary to the popular belief that you so poignantly stated at ART HK 12, money does not create taste, class, or culture. And this is why Hong Kong’s status as a top logistical art market alone will never elevate the city to the ranks of the actual art hubs, New York City, London, and Paris.
So what does create create taste, class, and culture – and dare I say, an art hub? Perhaps tolerance of expression. Maybe the ability to mindfully operate outside of rote mechanical habit, or allowing a little individual dignity. For starters, you can stop removing every piece of stray art you find in the streets. The point of such a removal is lost in its incongruence to the city’s goals.
I know it’s hard to formulate new ways of doing things. Urban art preservation policy is a tricky issue that can easily ensnare one into circular, incoherent arguments. After thorough research into Hong Kong’s urban art preservation policies, it is apparent your administrative difficulties are self inflicted. Of course art is uncategorized when you haven’t yet devised a category for it! Haven’t you learned anything from the ‘King of Kowloon’? You need to find a sensible way of dealing with the preservation of unsanctioned art because the issue isn’t going away. Remember, administrative procedure is meant to serve the interests of the city, and Hong Kong is not at the mercy of its own outdated policies. If you need to dream up a new law/ordinance/public art designation to serve your interests, that’s what you must do – be creative! This city is not going to develop a reputation for the arts by stamping out the little creative sparks that try to bloom within its borders. A city that is trying to develop its ‘brand’ as an globally relevant art hub that also zealously removes valuable gifts of art left upon its streets simply looks foolish. In any case, it’s very poor branding.
So Hong Kong, I must ask you, do you want to be an art hub, or do you wish to continue with your old ways? Because the old ways and the new path aren’t compatible. It is your task to devise new ways of thinking about art, beauty, expression – fleeting moments of human connection and happenstance – and their place in everyday life. A leading intellectual atmosphere that can forge new ways of thinking about art and life – this is the secret ingredient of an art hub that all the money-made taste in the world can never provide.
Also, be optimistic and have a little faith in people. Just because you practice tolerance doesn’t mean people will take to the streets writing unsavoryness upon every surface. In fact, the opposite might happen- it might just raise the bar.
It’s time to match your actions to your words. Think of urban art policy development as an experimental investment in yourself. If you can see the problem clearly, it is actually an invaluable opportunity to demonstrate Hong Kong’s progressive leadership in an administrative space that has been puzzling the world for years now. Just please, for your own sake, leave the peoples’ art alone.
This autumn witnessed the creation of a very unique outdoor space in Hong Kong, although this oasis of graffiti art ultimately proved ephemeral and was painted over as just months after its creation.
HONG KONG GRAFFITI
This autumn witnessed the creation of a very unique outdoor space in Hong Kong, although this oasis of graffiti art ultimately proved ephemeral and was painted over just months after its creation. To be clear, it was not an art space that was technically supposed to exist. Situated directly behind the Hyatt Regency in Shatin and minutes from the Chinese University of Hong Kong and University MTR station, the graffiti art sprung up rather spontaneously in September, the handiwork of various international artists who gathered in the city for the Neon Golden exhibition at the local Above Second gallery. Works by celebrated artists Kyle Hughes-Odgers, Shida, Twoone, Beastman, Numskull, Sheryo, and the Yok could be seen in this quiet enclave, and just hints of the art could be viewed from the public bike path beside the Hyatt Regency. King Brown Magazine posted a short film detailing the creation of this and various other graffiti sites throughout Hong Kong during the Neon Golden exhibition – check it out here.
Most of these paintings mysteriously disappeared a few weeks ago, having not lasted even three months. The swift clean up is admittedly surprising, as high caliber graffiti can sometimes remain for awhile in Hong Kong – even within plain sight in the city. The Wall of Fame in Mongkok especially comes to mind as a place where graffiti seems to be tolerated. In the case of the graffitied waterfall location, it is interesting to note that not all the art was removed – some still remains although not within view from the bike path. Hint: bring your rainboots if you fancy a peek! Although this peaceful painted art oasis in Shatin cannot be experienced any longer, it is amazing to see what artists are capable of creating in the outdoor space of Hong Kong.
Hopefully the trees prefer whitewashed concrete to these happy colors.
All photographs are property of the author, Erin Wooters Yip, copyright 2013. Please refer usage permission requests to firstname.lastname@example.org.
These works by Shida and Twoone still remain – an interesting edit on behalf of city crews. Follow UrbanDNA on Instagram for more on Hong Kong street art.