3 Dec 2017

Forum: a celebration of graffiti in Avondale

From Standing Room Only, 12:15 pm on 3 December 2017

The "visual cleansing" of Auckland city for the 2011 Rugby World Cup obliterated a lot of culture that hasn't been seen since, graffiti artists Bobby 'Berst' Hung and Ross 'Trust Me' Liew say. 

Bobby and Ross are two of the top NZ graffiti artists gathering to talk, teach and paint a mural featuring the words of current poet laureate Selina Tusitala Marsh at an event in Avondale called Forum this weekend.

The understanding graffiti artists have of what they do can be a long way from popular perception, and Forum will be an opportunity for people to discuss these complexities, Ross says.

People who paint walls are compelled to do it, he says.

"When you have an experience painitng a wall there's just somethiung that changes inside you. And you don't tend to get that satisfaction from anything else in your studio, working on a canvas or presenting art in a conventional way.

"You're in the elements, you don't have control of the environment, people are free to come and go and tell you they hate what you're painting or they love what you're painting ... If you spend 60 hours painting a wall you have conversations with a lot of people."

Artists usually privately develop and refine ideas that then end up in a gallery or a private collection, whereas public art reaches everyone, Bobby says.

"If you manage to secure a high-profile wall – on Queen Street, say, here in Auckland – tens of thousands of people could be seeing that work every day. For me, that has an incredible impact in terms of being able to bring art to a non-art audience."

Ross started putting his work out in public around 2000 when a lot of people were tagging, doing paste-ups (pasting pieces of paper on a wall to form a design) and stencilling, he says.

"I couldn't help it because there was so much activity taking place I felt compelled to participate as a creative person with ideas wanting to respond to some of the things that I was seeing."

But that changed in 2011 with the Rugby World Cup.

"It was a landmark event, we were expecting a lot of attention, a lot of press, and as a result, all that activity got pretty much obliterated – and it's never been the same since."

The "obliteration" of graffiti in Auckland has made art-making seem less accessible to young people, he says.

"I think about a kid standing there watching someone on a scissor lift painting a four-storey high wall, thinking 'I can't do that' ... Before [2011] it was illustrated, it was so simple – 'I can make that, I can do that I don't need anything to do that'. Now it's 'I need a scissor lift and now I need permission from the owner of that massive building and no I need about $800 worth of materials just to paint this wall'."

Bobby and Ross both work in education, and Bobby says rather than being a gateway to other crimes, graffiti is a gateway to other art forms.