His art is vibrant, thrilling to the eye and stimulating to the mind. Old school character melds with contemporary innovation within each piece, satisfying the lustful longing for the street art aesthetics of the past. Self-taught and considered New Zealand’s most prominent graffiti writer, Askew One is recognized across the globe for his innovative and eclectic style. Holding extensive talent in graphic design, illustration, photography, publishing, as well directing and editing music videos and moving pictures, Askew has managed to master the major facets of visual art. We were lucky enough to have a chat with this jack of all trades – check it out below.
LF: When did you first pick up a spray can / how did your get started in graffiti?
AO: I got into graffiti during my first year of high school. Not seriously at first, it was just something we did after drinking and on our way home from parties or other mischief. It seemed like everyone had a tag in Auckland during the 90’s.
LF: You’ve been at the forefront of the New Zealand graffiti scene for years – do you feel like it has evolved much since you were just a kid, and how?
AO: Yeah totally, it’s had several waves and distinct eras. Auckland is clawing it’s way back from a really dead period post the big clean up for the 2011 Rugby World Cup. The city really wiped out everything and maintained the buff diligently but finally I’m seeing some cracks and a new generation of young writers emerging. Our generation have really started to develop beyond graffiti and started making work in the street and gallery more reflective of our growth as people and thinkers in general – it’s nice to be a part of that.
LF: How did you like your recent stint in Los Angeles? How did the show come about? It’s your first time showing in a gallery here in Cali, right?
AO: LA has always felt like home for me because of my big group of very close friends based there. Also there’s a growing contingent of kiwis based there too which is fun. I love making a body of work in a place away from home and showing it, it’s a nice feeling. You source all the materials etc and work in a makeshift space – people roll through and hang and so socially it’s different to being at home in solitude. This was the first solo show I’ve done in LA, it’s been a goal for a long time so stoked that Casey and the team at Known allowed me that opportunity!
LF: Tell us about the underlying themes of “Diaspora” at Known Gallery.
AO: Diaspora is the continuation of all of my work from the past 2-3 years and my appreciation and excitement about the region I come from – the South Pacific. That’s extended now to encompass the whole pacific as a region and what fascinates me is the migration of people’s across this region over the past 50-60,000 years. The earliest people were the ancestors of the Indigenous Australians, New Guinean, Solomon Islanders and the Fijians. Their ancestors made the migration into this region 20,000 years before the ancestors of modern Europeans had left the African continent. About 6000 years ago the Lapita people left the coastal parts of China and migrated down through the region – Micronesian and Polynesians descend from them. The concept of migration is integral in these cultures origins and how they exist still today – the idea of maintaining a cohesive sense of cultural identity and how these communities evolve and affect new places they settle fascinates me. I live in Auckland which has been totally changed by it’s pacific communities and I’ve observed the same in Australia and the US too.
LF: Do you feel like your creative process changes a lot as you transition from the street to a canvas?
AO: Absolutely but it’s a process of refining the two and bring them closer together as well. I don’t want a total separation of the two.
LF: When you start with a blank canvas, what is your thought process?
AO: Well I never really paint on canvas anymore I paint the reverse of plexiglass so there’s very little contemplation by the time I’m physically starting a work. I start with the white layer that make the facial details and once they are done I get to have fun layering heavy layers of colour. There’s a lot of preparation before I get to that stage though.
LF: Who are the people you portray? Who are your muses?
AO: I like to paint people of Pacific origin, mainly women as a lot of these societies are more matriarchal than people realise. I like women with a strong sense of personal style, sass and exuberance. I like it when they can project a strong link to their culture and flip it in a modern way.
LF: The nature of your work makes you travel a lot -what’s your favorite city in the world right now?
AO: I love LA & Detroit a lot. Sydney in Australia is growing on me, it’s going off right now. I love Paris and Berlin too!
LF: Why do you think public art is so important?
AO: It’s important for the environment to reflect the people that live in it rather tan having bureaucrats deciding and controlling that.
LF: What’s next for you? Any exciting project you want to share?
AO: I’m off to Tahiti on Sunday, can’t wait! Showing in London, Scotland & Ireland this year. Very exciting!
LF: If you were not an artist, what do you think you would do with your days?
AO: I really can’t even imagine, seriously. Nothing productive I’m sure! Haha.
LF: If you could give a young aspiring graffiti artist one piece of advice, what would it be?
AO: Persistence is key and listen to advice but only to a certain point because it’s best to trust your own instinct.
LF: What gets you off, literally or figuratively?
AO: Haha! I love seeing people being themselves unapologetically. Freedom is the hardest thing to achieve so I love seeing people be free.
LF: When are you happiest?
AO: On a west coast beach in NZ.
LF: How FAST do you live?
AO: Pretty fast but trying not to burn out – I’m in this for the long haul!