Schacter has captured a feeling about street art and contemporary muralism, a nagging fear really, that seems to have been bubbling just beneath the surface for a while now. Basically, Schacter argues that street art isn’t rebellious anymore. Rather, that it’s most notable form is as a tool used by corporations to spur gentrification. Agree or disagree, the article is a must-read.
We’ve interviewed Vexta, now a New Yorker by way of Australia, twicebefore, so why not a third time? Last summer, she invitedTim Hans and I to rooftop in Brooklyn to meet up as part of his continuing series of photo-portraits of artists. What we found there was not just Vexta, but a semi-secret gathering of street artists taking over this random rooftop and just having a fun time together. Thanks to Vexta, Tim ended up photographing a bunch of artists whose photos we have been posting over the last few months. Rhiannon Platt recently included Vexta on a list of “15 Women Who Are Killing It in Street Art Right Now,” so of course Rhiannon was the perfect person to interview Vexta for this post. – RJ
Rhiannon Platt: Tell us a little about yourself.
Vexta: I’m from Sydney, Australia… though I came up in the street art scene in Melbourne where I live for a long time. I moved to Brooklyn about a year and half ago… since then though I’ve been traveling a lot painting walls, making art for music festivals and other exhibitions, commissions and projects in India, Mexico, Australia and across Europe. My artwork is pretty psychedelic and I guess I’m most interested in ideologies surrounding ultimate freedom and the interconnectedness of all matter and how that can relate to us in a real world way.
Rhiannon: Why did you choose this image in particular?
Vexta: It was a while back when I painted this… it wasn’t too long after Pussy Riot had been put in jail in Russia and in general there just felt like this global oppression of human rights and women’s rights… I start thinking about protesting and the connection to graffiti culture and started painting a series of people in bandanas and ski masks… the bandana part of that painting is made up of these diamond stencil shapes. I’ve been using these in my work for a while and they signify transformation and the atomic particles that make up all matter… so they create another layer of meaning too… like a physical representation of communication and the need for it. I like to leave a certain ambiguity in my work though so there’s space for people to bring their own meanings.
Rhiannon: You paint abandoned or repurposed spaces a lot. How was painting this space in Brooklyn different?
Vexta: I haven’t painted that many rooftops because in Australia we don’t have that many locations like that… It kinda felt like painting an empty warehouse only in the sunshine with a view of Brooklyn.
Rhiannon: What was particularly important about painting on this roof?
Vexta: So it was a rooftop accessed by my friends Icy & Sot’s place. We had been talking for a while about getting a group of us together and painting it. So one day we had a bbq up there, spent the day hanging out and painting. I think there was maybe 8 or 10 of us up there painting that day. It’s those moments when street artists come together as a community and inspire each other and make new connections. That part of our world is important – Making art for ourselves and each other, making an empty space beautiful together.
Rhiannon: What did you take away from this experience?
Vexta: Some new friends & happy memories and I left behind a small piece of beauty with some ideas and feelings imbedded in it…
Wow! What a year it has been in Melbourne street art and graffiti, this is my 2nd last post covering 2013. December post coming soon. I hope you all had a good Christmas and New Years Eve whatever you got up to.
I’ll start off with this great talk Ghostpatrol gave at Renew NewcastleCreative Talks. GP talks about his current life as a full time artist, growing up and the influence and importance of street art on his current work. GP also mentioned the ABC documentary made about him (and his partner – Miso) which is also definitely worth a watch – available here.
Kaffeine used the All Your Walls event as a launching board for her latest project HEARTCORE. (I’ll be doing a separate article on All Your Walls Part 2 soon).
Kaffeine painted her 1st piece for her new projectHEARTCORE. For this amazing project Kaff is working with Berry Street, a child and family services organisation, and using real stories created by young people at the at Berry Street.
From the Just Another Blog “Creative writing and poetry from young people in Berry Street School will be interpreted by renowned Victorian street and contemporary artist Kaffeine and painted as a series of large and small street art murals on walls across Melbourne; including one that will take up a whole inner-‐city laneway. A coffee-‐table book titled HEARTCORE will then be launched at the conclusion of the project, made up of professional and artistic photographs of the murals together with the writing”.
Longtime readers will know that I am a big fan of Very Nearly Almost, a British art magazine for street art, graffiti, illustration and the like. Their latest issue has been a very welcome reprieve for me as I’ve turned to it in between writing essays upon essays for my final exams. Issue 22 features interviews with Vhils, Vexta, Cranio, Moneyless, Husk Mit Navn and more.
The Vhils and Husk Mit Navn interviews in particular make this issue worth seeking out. Vhils talks about his early career as a graffiti writer and suggests that he’s still active today, although the work isn’t traceable back to his career as a fine artist or muralist. This certainly isn’t unheard of for street artists who have “gone legit,” but it’s still a bit surprising to hear him talk about it, and about how graffiti still informs his work today. And Husk Mit Navn is an absolutely fantastic and underrated artist (check out some of his work here) who also has a lot to say about how his work is perceived in galleries, on the street, and online. Good stuff.
Although he is interviewed, the one thing this issue doesn’t answer for me is what people see in Cranio’s work. Seems to me like Nunca + Os Gêmeos – awesomeness/originality = Cranio, but people seem to go nuts over it. Is he a really nice guy? Is it just that people are so in love with what Os Gêmeos and Nunca are doing that they’ll accept a substitute when the masters aren’t available? This isn’t one of those times where I’m gonna say a grey wall would be better than Cranio’s work. There’s plenty of street art in the world that’s better than a grey wall but still doesn’t need to be celebrated like it’s the next big thing, and Cranio seems to me to fall into that category. If you have an answer or an opinion, I’d love to read it in the comments. Anyway…
For the past few years stencil artist Vexta has been enjoying what she likes to call her “endless summers.” Being an Aussie, the artist tries to avoid cold weather in any way possible; this year that meant escaping to Kochi, India for the country’s first biennial. Vexta sat down to talk with Vandalog about her experiences painting in a small town in India, being a woman artist, and the public’s reaction to her visually intense imagery.
R: What was it like to paint during India’s first biennale?
V: It was my first time in India so it was a lot of things – fun, challenging, confronting at times, really hot & dirty (I would seriously shower 3 or 4 times a day sometimes), late nights and early mornings, super rewarding, hard work and there were some great parties too. The whole of Fort Kochi was full of incredible artists from India and around the world there to paint, perform and create mostly site-specific artworks. It was pretty great.
R: Especially given that India is not traditionally thought of as a mural hot-spot?
V: Yeah I was surprised to see any other murals at all – I thought I might be the only artist painting on the streets but when I got there, there was already some graphic sprawling works going up and by the time I left other artists had started to get up and travel to Kochi just to get involved. The street art definitely changes the city, in a good way.
R: What was the community’s response to the walls?
V: Generally people were inquisitive, and sometimes a bit confused, I mean it’s a small city in India, some people had never seen or heard of street art before.
I had some really great responses from people on the street – one great response I had was this beautiful and serious 9 year old boy who spent hours watching me paint and asking me super thoughtful questions about painting, street art and the art world and his own artworks. Then he brought his whole family to meet me and see my work and they all came to my exhibition opening. He was easily the youngest person there. It’s moments like that which make me love making public work, there is no way he would have ever stepped into the gallery if we hadn’t met on the street. Other times some men would be confused as to why I was a women, was working on the street painting. A couple of them they told me I should be at home looking after the kitchen or something, that was definitely confronting.
R: Can you talk about the specific site you were given to paint.
V: So when I got there, the gallery space which was showing my painting had arranged a couple of walls for me in Kochi, I then found more myself. It’s always part of the adventure, right? Driving around scouting spots, talking to people, convincing people who’ve never even heard of street art or myself to let me paint a giant painting on their wall!
Mostly I looked for walls that were already beautiful in some sense, peeling paint, old and falling apart, moss and plants growing on them. Kochi has a lot of very old Portuguese architecture which is beautiful with a strong sense of history. I wanted the pieces to form a kind of path through the centre of the old town so you could go from piece to piece and thematically they’d link together, like a story.
R: How does your work interact with the location?
V: My street work is really site specific. I had a bunch of sketches I’d prepared for India but then changed things up when I got there. I felt like it was really important to explore creating work that not only reflected my experience of being a woman but also to create something for the women of Kochi. Obviously there’s a connection between the women and the birds and ideas about freedom.
I also painted a lot of skeleton crows in the pieces. The local Kerala crow is everywhere. For instance the massive painting I made of a girl with neon bird wings who is perched on the wire with bird feet, that wall attracts so many crows at dusk, so when the real birds take off and land. It’s like they are coming out of the work on the wall & wire.
With artworks ranging from the charming to the alarming, Rewriting Portraiture, curated by Rhiannon Platt, features the diverse visions of Jilly Ballistic, Rachel Hays, Vahge & Vexta. Here are a few more images from the exhibit that opens tomorrow – Friday evening – at 7pm at Low Brow Artique, 143 Central Ave. in Bushwick:
Lush also has a show opening in NYC this weekend. His will be a show of drawings at Klughaus Gallery. It opens on August 25th from 6-10pm. Lush’s show are practically a place to expect surprises, so best get their opening night before a blog like this one ruins the shock value for you on Sunday. If you do miss opening night, the show runs through September 7th.
aMBUSH Gallery in Sydney, Australia has a big group show coming up with 67 artists including Anthony Lister, Askew, Does, Numskull, Vexta and The Yok. For Black and White All In Between, all the artists have painted on canvases of uniform sized and only used black ink. The show opens on August 31st from 6-9pm.
Gold Peg’s Release The Wolves go-karting project in South London will have a gran-prix expo on September 1st. It’s gonna be some crazy and fun stuff. And art too, but I think that’s secondary.
Shepard Fairey is finally showing those paintings he did for Neil Young’s latest album. The few pieces I’ve seen photos of are impressive. Americana opens at Perry Rubenstein Gallery (which recently moved to LA) on August 25th from 7-10pm.
Finally, this last one is a mural festival, and it promises to be a big one… This year’s Urban Forms festival in Lodz, Poland includes Os Gemeos, Aryz, Inti, Otecki, Lump and Shida. Certainly the most-anticipated work of Urban Forms is the promised collaborative mural between Os Gemeos and Aryz. The events run from August 24th through September 30th and will bring the total number of murals organized in Lodz by the Urban Forms Foundation to 22. I can’t wait to see the photos of these pieces.
Vexta, originally from Sydney, is another of Melbourne’s favourite street artists. Vexta’s neon drenched street paintings, paste ups and stencils can be seen in and around the suburbs of Melbourne. Her stencils are filled with carefully selected bright colours and are intricately cut, they lighten up any dark alleyway in Melbourne.
Vexta has traveled and painted around the world including Paris, Berlin, London, Sydney, Brisbane and Bogota. Her recent show “Across Neon Lights” at Goodtime Studios In Carlton (Melbourne) was beautiful, showing off her renowned neon colours and detailed mix of painting and stencil print skills.
I caught up with Vexta to talk about the upcoming show in SF, Young and Free, and her art in general.
LM: You must be excited about ‘Young and Free’. What do you think about this amazing opportunity and the impact it will have on the awareness of Melbourne, and Australian, street art and artists?
Vexta: I can’t wait to get over there, I really love San Francisco so its super exciting to be showing there. San Francisco has such a rich history of street art and murals and 941 Gallery is a massive warehouse space so it’s going to be lots of fun for all of us to hang out and make work there. It’s a total honour to be showing alongside so many fine Australian street artists as well. I think Young & Free will help to show that Australian street art is just like other street art from the southern hemisphere, in that its just as great as what happening in the north of the world.
LM: Tell me about your background. How did you get into street art?
Vexta: Well, I was doing quite a lot of travel in the early 2000s. After an massive trip traveling across the Australian outback and SE Asia, I arrived back in Melbourne just when street art was beginning to boom. I guess from traveling I was really aware of landscapes and the interplay of elements in our physical environments so the art just jumped out at me. I loved the stencil aesthetic and so I started creating my own pieces, wandering the back laneways of the city late at night, painting. From there I met other street artists and we started doing shows together and going out painting together. Emptyshows were the best – where a group of us would take over an empty/disused building, install art and hold an illegal exhibition.
LM: What does your name mean?
Vexta: It’s just who I am, it’s a bunch of nicknames put together. A good friend use to call me “vex” when we were teenagers growing up together. Adding a “ta” or “ka” to the end of a name is a Czech tradition, My father came here from the Czech Republic so I’m use to my family doing that.
LM: What do you enjoy most about the whole street art process? The creation, the night missions etc?
Vexta: I just love making art in the street. The streets are the heart of any city… it’s the truly free space. It is the space of the people. It’s the place where ideas and interactions happen. I love making work that is free for the people of the city and to be found unexpectedly. Right now, I’m into making work that is more gentle and subtle than the advertising, signage and modern architecture that surround us in our modern cities. I also like leaving these small pieces of art that connect together into a larger story when put them together later in exhibitions. I also have a bit of a thing for underground spaces. I love all of it. Making work in the studio, painting on walls in the sunshine, drawing on walls in the dark of night, driving around wheat pasting, stickering…
LM: Who or what inspires you?
Vexta: I’m inspired by a lot of things – art, music, science, nature. In particular I’m interested in winged creatures, dream states, hallucinations, the night, taking photos and pattern/repeated painting. My friends constantly inspire me with their support and the work they make, people like Kill Pixie, Tai Snaith, Al Stark, Miso not too mention all the Y&F artists…
LM: Which artists are you into at the moment? Local and International.
Vexta: Ah there’s too many to list! Right now I’m hanging out to see Mike Mills’s new film, I love his work. Bjork’s Crystalline app is pretty exciting in the way it mixes art, music and science. Shida is making beautiful work on the local street art front.
LM: Where do you work from and what is your studio space like?
Vexta: At the moment I’m making my work on the fly, travelling for a while. I have a small space in Melbourne and I’m in the process of fixing up a shack in a bit of remnant forest at my family’s house in North Sydney as a studio space and I’ll probably set one up for big work in the inner city for the summer too.
LM: What is always in your “toolkit”?
Vexta: Depends what I’m doing but I always seem to have stickers, markers & caps in my bag….other that – spray paint, acrylic paint, blades, brushes and a glove that I’ve been wearing for about 5 years to keep spray paint off my skin are fairly essential items… oh, and my ipod.
LM: What has been the highlight (or highlights) of your career to date?
LM: Your recent show “Across Neon Lights” featured some of your best pieces yet, it was a great show. Tell me about the show and your recent work, I noticed your recent stuff features lots of feathers and butterflies/moths.
Vexta: Thanks, Across Neon Nights was pretty site-specific in some ways I really liked installing the works down in the basement of Goodtime Studios, it was great to use a different space that’s not a traditional gallery for a show. The paintings focused on an ongoing exploration of dreams, hallucinations, nights and the way we relate to the dark…our subconscious states, sex and night creatures like bats & moths. Making the light sculpture, bone installation and the sound loop was super fun. I want to do more of that.
Space Indavers is a collection owned by the National Gallery of Australia featuring street art, stencils, posters, paste ups, zines, stickers and graffiti from the last 10 years from across Australia.
The exhibition is like a time capsule containing some of the most well known pieces from the last decade or so.. So many memories! 🙂 There are far too many artists to mention, so have a look here. The exhibition explores the movement from the street into the gallery as many of these pieces signify the explosion of the scene in Australia and also the start of many of these artists gallery based careers.
While the show is running, RMIT is also hosting a number of interesting discussions including ‘Vandals or Vanguards?‘, discussing the political, social and artistic aspects of street art and zines. Nice work RMIT!
I went down to the opening last week to check it out. Enjoy.
One thing that has come up a number of times on Vandalog and in my personal conversations is the seeming isolation of Australia’s street art scene. Although Melbourne in particular as a street art community to rival many major American cities, it seems that most fans of street art are unfamiliar with Australian-based artists besides Anthony Lister and perhaps Meggs. Now, two of Australia’s most committed street art collectors have teamed up with 941 Geary in San Fransisco to put on the biggest show of Australian street artists the US has ever seen, Young & Free. The show has been curated by Sandra Powell and Andrew King, the couple with what is probably both the best collection of work by Australian street artists, and the best collection of work by street artists in Australia.
13 artists are involved in Young & Free: Anthony Lister, Kid Zoom, Dabs & Myla, Dmote, New2, Ben Frost, Meggs, Ha-Ha, Reka, Rone, Sofles and Vexta. That’s a pretty solid line up, representing most of the best Australian-born street artists (but, as far as I know, Ben Frost is not a street artist). If you haven’t heard of all of those names, you can go to the Young & Free website to get a taste for each artist. Basically, without making the trip to Australia yourself, this show will be the best way to see what’s going on with their street art scene. Hopefully, it will also be a massive step towards putting Australian street art on equal footing internationally with American and European street art.
But of course, a gallery may be a place to experience art, but it’s not the place to experience street art. Street art is on the street. Luckily, all 13 of the artists in Young & Free will be in San Fransisco at the start of September, so here’s to hoping that some walls get painted.
Young & Free is still a few weeks away from opening, with a run from September 10th through October 22nd, but we’ve got a quick preview…