Today on Spray Beast I am very proud to present to the biggest project we have had since the site began and I think you’ll agree it’s going to be nigh on impossible to follow it up!
Here is the Askew x Spray Beast project. Watch the video above, read the interview and make a folder for the ridiculous set of burners that have been created for your viewing pleasure…
(All photo hosted in Hi-Res, open in new tab to view properly)
„Please give a run down of where you are from and how you got in to painting…
I was born in a small city in the lower North Island called Palmerston North. My family relocated to Auckland in 1984 when I was 5 and I’ve said it a lot but this was really key in shaping the path I’ve followed in life. Inner City Auckland back then was rough, archaic, very multicultural and exciting. It was a perfect incubator for movements like Hip Hop and writing. I got in writing for a number of reasons – a local rite of passage, a way to be cool because I was not tough, good at sports or any of the other things that make you popular in school. I was always naturally drawn to art as well, right from the time my little hand could grasp a crayon and make a mark. I bought my lunches from the tuck shop at primary school by drawing Ninjas and Batman for the other kids. The work of the original graffiti crews in Auckland were very visible in my area too. Later on I found out a lot of them were based in my area, some even right on my street.
Can you tell us a bit about the Spray Beast project you have been working on. The stuff you have done for it is completely Next Level!
Thanks man, it’s been fun. I need to create little projects like that for myself to help focus and motivate my work. I get a big kick out of trying to see ways to raise the bar for myself. After we initially spoke about doing something like this I actually ended up in hospital. It felt like a major set back for me and for a moment I thought it could be the end of my painting career! I collapsed while walking through the city one day with partial paralysis on my left side and loss of speech. Next thing I was in an ambulance and heading to the ER. After an emergency MRI, I was diagnosed as had having suffered a stroke which was a shock. I’m Vegan, Eat well, exercise, don’t smoke, don’t drink… It was a real anomaly. After more tests they determined that it was actually Reversible Vasco-constrictive Syndrome. A blood vessel in my right frontal lobe had constricted and spasmed, emulating stroke like symptoms. For the most part I recovered very quickly but there’s no question my life has changed now – especially my energy levels. There’s been times while I was working on the pieces featured in the video where I couldn’t feel parts of my face or felt detached from my own arms. I used this project as a means to have a focus – to enable me to prove I’m still in this game and as a means to measure my recovery.
It seems you paint non stop or at least are keeping creative 24/7, what does a usual day consist of for you?
Pretty much. I mean I only paint one or two pieces in an average week if I’m lucky but I do get a lot of time to work on general ‚Askew‘ related art stuff during most days. I don’t live solely from my art as such but I do get an income from creative sources. I freelance as a designer for a magazine that comes out 6 times a year. I also direct music videos which is quite time consuming work. The rest of the time I am either painting a piece, a canvas, doing an illustration for a print or T-shirt or conceptualizing my next project. Luckily my girlfriend Oche works with me full time right now and I have a great support network of people around me that want to see me succeed. It’s taken a long time to work it to this point though!
You’ve have been writing since 93, do you still get as excited about graffiti as you started out
Probably more excited these days in a lot of ways, there’s so much more territory to explore.
Do you find you do better pieces depending on who you painting with?
Not necessarily, plenty of my best pieces were done by myself and with a lot of personal reflection rather than the sacrifice/trade off that comes with collaborating. In saying that, a lot of of pivotal things in my career have come from working and more importantly, talking at length with others. There have been some really important people in my life that I’ve spent hours at a time breaking down everything about what we paint, why and how. I think my initial contacts with European writers really exposed me to that type of critique and taught me to pay attention to every nuance of lettering style. Writers like Cantwo, Wow123, Atom were the first to really start schooling me or asking me really tough questions about my pieces. Through them I met Smash137 who operates on a really impressive level when it comes to the thought and process behind his work. I was really impressed with that and I spent some cool times with him really chewing the fat about everything to do with graffiti. Him and I fell out for a couple of years – I was really gutted through that whole time. It was healthy and necessary though because it really pushed me to become my own man artistically. I misunderstood a lot of things – mainly about being stubborn and pushing my own ideas regardless of what others thought. Through some of my times spent in Europe, having my style broken down and analyzed quite harshly by all these writers I really respected I became less of a leader and more of a follower because I started to think in terms of ‚right and wrong‘ when it came to painting a piece. These guys are all articulate in English but still – there’s something harsh about German English and if you take some things too literally it’s easy to misinterpret the intent. Being forced to step away from the people I admired and also had been guided by so much was frustrating but ultimately the best thing ever. I became set on doing everything as different and outside of the box as possible – pretty much there were no rules at all for a time there. Berst became a very close painting partner during this whole time and has remained so ever since. Even though I was doing all this soul searching there was a conversation about style happening with him that is still ongoing. Berst is young, talented, ambitious and adventurous with his work. Locally speaking, I’ve never had this dynamic with someone in my own city and I am so thankful for our friendship and working relationship. This guy has quickly gone from being an up and coming writer to being the one guy that consistently keeps me motivated to push myself. It’s a very even relationship as far as what we each bring to the table which is great. I also need to say that I was late to go to the US and really connect with the current crop of American writers. America played a big part in revitalizing my outlook and enthusiasm for painting. Revok, Rime, Ewok, Pose, Saber, actually everyone in MSK/AWR for that matter.. Wane COD is easily one of my biggest heroes… Just so many incredible, intelligent and original writers that just welcomed me, encouraged and influenced me for the better. I have so many friends over there that play a big part in me striving to keep going hard.
3 of your favourite or most influential pieces? (Please attach photos)
1. Revok and Rime – what’s not to love about this wall? Raw style, massive pieces, no frills just straight style and tough and hell!
2. Daim – This was so ground breaking, just one huge and perfectly executed Daim piece on a raw brick surface.
3. Berst – This was the moment I knew Berst had really arrived on the next level. It’s not the greatest piece of his career of course, but it’s the intent and potential I could see in this. I got so hyped!
I find it interesting how your stuff has almost gone full circle. You use to paint 3d pieces which then became flat lettered and more recently your stuff is almost becoming 3d again. Do you think you’ll ever drop some fully 3d pieces again with a modern twist?
I think my style has gone 360 more than once. I used to treat my versatility as a curse because I’ve never been able to ‚specialize‘ like some people do. I’ve always admire those people that can focus on one constant style or stream of work for a whole career but that’s honestly not me. I can do anything I set my mind to. I’m trying not to sound arrogant but I can paint a lot of different styles and techniques. I can paint characters, background, I bring fresh ideas into the mix and I’m usually trying to communicate something valid in the process. Additionally I’ll shoot and edit a video, make the motion graphics, maybe even make a beat on occasion for the soundtrack if time permits! That’s me – restless, ADHD, patient and impatient at the same time. I can’t wait for other people to do things for me so I just work out how to do it myself. I might not be the greatest at each of those things but I try damn hard to be as good as I can be – I very rarely rely on others to help me get things done, just a very trusted few. I like to look at all creativity the same and people that are on top of their game are often like that from the best directors, musicians or whatever. I’m really inspired by iconic pop artists like Prince for example – I’m trying to be in control of every aspect of what I do and really ensure that it’s from my heart and genuine. So as far as 3D pieces goes – for sure – it’s a part of my artistic repertoire like an artist like Prince will draw from Funk, Blues, Soul, Hip Hop etc. I can bring elements of my various influences into a painting, choosing how far I want to go. I think the important thing is not to make work that is pastiche or a homage to particular era that has dated badly unless that’s the statement you want to make. So as you say – modernizing is the very key.
Can you tell me a bit about Ironlak and how you started working with them?
Ironlak started out as a very small company started by two brothers from Australia, one is a writer. At the very heart of their business is a family mentality that extends to include all of us that work with them. It’s a very unique company and I feel honored to have the opportunity to contribute, offer my thoughts and ideas when asked and of course so grateful to have paint to work freely. It’s a fantastic relationship and I don’t take it for granted. Sirum was the one that vouched for me and Phat1 and got us down – today the group of writers involved is mind blowing and the paint is improving all the time. They are a testament to what you can do with resilience and dedication – they are not a subsidiary of a huge manufacturer or guys from a wealthy background. Ironlak was built with a real humble working class attitude and really shook up the industry along the way!
Would you say all the graffiti on the internet has a positive of negative effect on the way letters and style has progressed over the last few years, I sometimes think originality suffers as a result of the amount of new content
I’m not one of those people that feels negatively about the current state of graffiti since the advent of the internet. Yes, it is easier to bite. Yes, regionalized styles have definitely suffered but over all I think the rate in which graffiti has developed conceptually and technically in the past decade was sped up exponentially by the internet. Flickr, tumblr and video sharing platforms like youtube and Vimeo have enabled the dialogue to extend beyond the confines of who you meet physically to an almost unfathomable extent. The networks have strengthened in a lot of ways as a result and especially since the popularity of the aforementioned platforms the discussion has become much more intelligent in my opinion. Consider also how the internet has enabled countries like mine which are literally isolated from the rest of the world physically – or perhaps those countries that are isolated politically/culturally to engage in this movement. These days some incredible writers are emerging from parts of the world as removed from New York city as it gets!
What’s the longest you have ever spent on a piece some of those monsters look like they take weeks!
I spent 3 months on one piece last year. It was absolutely not quantified in the end result as far as the photos I published online are concerned. It was a vital learning experience and it spawned a few realizations that have continued in my pieces since. I’m actually trying to get back to doing my pieces in shorter more focused sessions now – the type of reflection you may use in a studio setting can be really stifling and counter productive to your graffiti.
Weirdest thing that has happened when out painting a side from the dude jerking off in the bushes when you were out painting?
Oh man, so many things! Slipping over in a homeless persons shit and getting it all up my back, even on my bare skin! Driving home from the spot in my undies hoping not to get pulled over and have to explain myself. I met a guy who thought he was the devil one night when I was out bombing – I asked him for the time and he said it would cost my soul – funny guy! Once when I was a teenager I was painting a old train carriage in the middle of nowhere with Phat1 and Ikon and felt like I was being watched. I kept looking behind me but it was such a foggy night I could see anyone. I was painting away then heard a crazy snort right behind me – turned around and a horse had rolled right up on me and was watching me paint rather curiously! Just being out at the times and in the places we do graffiti you see some crazy shit.
What sort of impact has being part of the exchange project had on your stuff. I love those sketch pages you do!
The Exchange was awesome for me and really vital for better understanding my strengths and weaknesses stylistically speaking. I realized how totally ugly my shit can be in sketch form but somehow I can pull it off when I paint it so there’s something in that. It was good for me to see that at that time. I was also really excited to exchange sketches with all of those writers, a lot of people I’ve admired for the longest time involved and a few artists I didn’t know much about but got exposed to their work as a result. Rime is awesome at bringing people together with cool inclusive projects and pushing intelligent debate. He’s the man!
If you couldn’t do graffiti what would you do?
I would say I’d still be doing something creative – either writing about local urban history and social commentary, making documentaries or persuing music. One of those things.
Any good chase stories?
Yeah I’ve been chased a lot but most of them I can’t really speak on for obvious reasons. At one point in my career I started to feel like I was getting chased more than I was managing to paint and that was frustrating.
What’s the NZ graff scene like?
The benefit of living in a small country is we get to use the ‚highest per capita‘ thing a lot. Usually it’s like highest suicide rate, highest teen pregnancy or something like that but I can honestly say we have the highest amount of really dope writers considering how small this place is. Our scene is great and there’s a lot of talent and plenty getting done. Of course, right now we have a new Auckland Council that is hell bent on painting the whole of Auckland City grey before the Rugby World Cup which is a bit of a buzz kill. Even still there’s so much quality out there and scenes are healthy outside of Auckland too.
Spray Beast being London based, you have to tell me a little bit about when you painted with Mean!
I don’t know if many people know that Mean was based in Auckland for just over a year or so. He ended up flatting with a bunch of us – it was back in 1999. We had an old warehouse space in Ponsonby that was pretty much the hang out for a lot of writers and everyone that lived there was pretty active. Mean was the only one with a real job, the rest of us were juggling small time art hustles like badly paid illustration and legal jobs and the rest of the time was spend racking and bombing. Those were really formative years for me as a writer – I painted every day and the guys around me like Mean, Ikon, Webs (Vents) and Fury (Shake) were very instrumental in pushing, inspiring or schooling me. Ikon in particular taught me how to rack and Mean showed all of us how to get up decent looking pieces in street spots or places you’d generally second guess doing anything beyond a tag. Dude was crazy, he’d rock a tough as chrome right on a busy street corner in front of peak hour traffic. If drama came like the cops or hero’s, he just had such a fun and easy vibe about him that he never let it stress him. It was like water off a ducks feathers. I think he had a great sense of perspective and really knew how to exploit opportunities in our city that no one had thought of yet. Aside from Tank BH/WL I think Mean was one of the most key figures when it came to bringing good graffiti out of obscure places and into peoples faces in our city.
Favourite place you have painted so far?
Probably Detroit – although it was winter and very very cold at the time. That place is amazing. Samoa was another place I was stoked to paint. Neother of those places did I paint very good pieces really but they are places that resonated with me on a deeper level. The US in general is dope and also painting on the Basel line was a really awesome feeling.
Youtube me a good tune?
Here’s 3 haha!
SBTRKT – Wildfire ft Yukimi Nagano:
Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Nerve Damage:
Kendrick Lamar – HiiiPower:
The diamondism stuff you paint literally blows my mind, where did you get the idea from?
I literally got the idea from looking at macro photography of diamonds and crystals. I wasn’t actually looking at the geometry at the time, more specifically the color combinations and how nature can throw the most erratic array of colors together in seamless harmony. The geometric aspect developed over time while trying to work out a way to arrange the colors inspired by the photos onto a piece. Now the faceted style of painting those pieces has altered the manner in which I sketch up – I sketch up something that almost looks like wireframe. This has fed back into my general approach to constructing letters for flat pieces too.
I think I have seen you talking about some Artists before, Would i be right in guessing you get more influence for your graffiti out side of graffiti?
Yeah it’s really important to take inspiration from everywhere you can. Sometimes I get inspired by the most obscure things and the most unlikely sources. I look at all forms of visual art, I listen to music, I look at nature or the environments around me. Often my own photos of places I’ve been or people I’ve observed serve as great inspiration a long time after the fact. I pay attention to politics and world events, that feeds into my work. I also like to collect interesting things, old stuff from markets or around the place. I get a lot of inspiration from the greater context of things, not the immediately visible stuff.
Any writers you are feeling right now?
Man, I am so impressed with the current calibre of artists out there. I read a lot of people being negative about the current state of writing but honestly, I think things are mad healthy right now. I will say this, there is definitely a more discernible divide between the great artists and the mediocrity right now, perhaps more than ever. I know I’m biased but to me Berst is really painting some of the best graffiti in the world right now. When it comes to volume, style and pushing interesting ideas he’s on his own level. I’m a fan of so many artists though. Revok, Rime, Ewok, Wane, Pose, Vizie, Roid, Dems, Score, Smash137, Jurne, Horfe, Sueme, Taps, Moses, Sauce, Bolts, Opium, Ikon, Vents, Aeon, Vans, Saves, Shem, Ryze, Dmote, Dezio, Akobe, Sobeck and Kcis… Oh man, so many dope writers.. I could keep going for days…
Any shouts or up coming projects you want to mention?
Shout outs to everyone I’ve connected with worldwide, to my crew the TMDees and to everyone that has supported my work in any way, instilling the faith in me that this has been worth all the time and energy. I have a lot coming up in the next year so stay tuned!
I just want to say thank you so much to Askew for all the hard work. For more of his stuff, Check here: