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Chimp - Aliases

Words by Reuben Woods - 9 September 2019
Chimp - AliasesChimp - AliasesChimp - Aliases

Fiksate is excited to host Aliases, a new body of work by Wellington artist Chimp. Aliases is the first presentation of Chimp’s studio work in Christchurch. It is also his first solo show since his 2015 exhibition at Wellington’s ROAR Gallery, and his last New Zealand show before undertaking a 45 day residency with the Street Artist in Residency programme in California.

Aliases extends beyond the captivating technical virtuosity of Chimp’s stunning mural in the Justice and Emergency Services precinct, adding more diverse pictorial elements within an investigation of the complex act of identity-construction in our contemporary environments. Elements of portraiture, native bird-life and flashes of geometric forms, both abstract and suggestive, are deconstructed and placed together in fragmented compositions, allowing Chimp to explore the way we adopt personas for the personal, public and digital arenas we occupy, each pieced together from accumulated segments of expectation, like birds compiling a nest from various detritus. The result is a series of performances we play to suit our surroundings and situations, never wholly consistent and always shifting. Aliases opens August 9th and runs until September 7th at Fiksate Gallery, 165 Gloucester Street.

How would you describe the themes in Aliases?

It is about all the parts that make up a personality. I’m not trying to depict any specific personalities or people, it is more the idea that people are their contradictions. They are built up of lots of parts that might not necessarily go together, like a collage of different interests and passions, that often subvert expectations. It’s a celebration of people curating different interests, curating their identities and aliases. When I’m talking to someone about a commission, I act in a different way than when I’m talking to a friend.

We occupy all these different realms today, perhaps most notably the digital, and we have all these professional, private and public personas that we very carefully curate. It is telling that you use the word ‘celebrate’...

I think it is both a critique and a celebration. For me, the celebration is my recognition that I can do it, because I need to be able to do it. But it is also a critique of the idea that it is a skill that you need. I read John Lennon’s autobiography earlier this year, I was interested in his story because it ended so tragically, but he is described as quite hypocritical and just constantly changing. My work is trying to describe this idea that no one is standing still, that they are always changing and that who you were a couple of years ago, you’ve left that behind. These paintings are me depicting an alias right now: these are the colours that make me feel something right now, these are the things I want to say right now, what I think is relevant right now. And then it is sort of like shedding them, putting them down so I can do something new…

There are elements of portraiture throughout Aliases, but the native birds are there too, how do those two forms relate within this concept of identity construction?

Once I had an idea of what this body of work looked like, I was thinking about what connected these works. I realised it was the collection of parts, the collection of separate things into a curated form and the metaphor of birds collecting specific things that they want to make their homes struck me. It’s not a literal translation, but the construction of the nest as if it is their personality, I think that’s quite a powerful metaphor. Of course, graffiti artists use aliases as well, but I think I’m talking about it in a different way, although I like that it aligns with the fact that I use a pseudonym in my work, so that’s another line of connection to the show…

Technically, is the transition from wall to studio a big shift?

When I started, I was painting walls and canvasses together, there wasn’t that much difference. It was just practice, I was learning. Then I got more mural commissions and the techniques grew more for outdoor work at a large scale. But over the years I’ve had a lot of studio commissions and I have transferred the practice.
It isn’t like I’ve been painting outdoors for four years and now I need to paint smaller, it is constantly a bit of both, although there have been stretches where I haven’t painted in the studio for months, or viceversa.

Painting large means you can paint in more detail, because there is only so small you can go with a spray can, but my technique has levelled up a lot for this body of work, which has meant I can do a lot of compositions that I didn’t think I would be able to do at this scale, which has been quite liberating. These
paintings are built from very gestural, free-hand sketches. I do a lot of digital design, and I do a lot of concepts as blackbook sketches and it goes back and forth. If I get stuck, I will work it out in my blackbook with a pencil and try to figure it out and then I will do a rough digital render. Then I do a rough compositional sketch, it will be a gestural aerosol sketch, with big flares, sharp lines and confident strokes. From there I will tighten it up a lot more. On a wall you sketch gesturally, and you will still tighten it up, but at that scale it won’t be as extreme because the lines will make more sense on a larger scale. On a smaller scale it becomes harder to get clean lines, so the process of going from a gestural sketch to the finished work is more satisfying and impressive…

How does it feel to see this body of work unpacked and being hung, is there a sense of completion?

Definitely! I’m happy that I pushed my style and the look of what you can produce with spray paint. That’s my biggest motivation, developing what you can do with aerosol, but also what urban contemporary and post-graffiti art can be. I think I’ve come up with something that’s original and I want to take it as far as I can. This has been a big step up in a short amount of time, it’s been a couple of months of work, but it has been a couple of years of development of these ideas, so to see it come together as a fairly large body of work is exciting...

See chimps works here...