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Street appeal

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Street art could be described as an art movement in its infancy but what is most exciting is that Christchurch is becoming its international centre. Architect Cymon Allfrey explains.

Throughout the rebuild, and particularly in the last eighteen months as the soul of the city returns, we have talked about how our city can make its mark. How we can be special, and stand apart from others. Street-art is one of those ways.

For George Shaw his obsession with street-art began with the simple act of buying a t-shirt and has grown beyond comprehension. British born, he settled in Christchurch pre-earthquakes and has openly shared his love and passion for street-art with us all. While you may not know the name, the post-quake environment means you will most definitely know, and have experienced, the work that comprises his Christchurch Oi YOU! collection.

Having become a champion for an artistic movement – as underappreciated today as pop music was in the 1960s – Shaw has achieved a balance between an idea and an obsession and ultimately constructed his life and a living, out of it. With Oi YOU! having curated over twenty-five completed installations around the city, with more taking shape this summer.

For some, the appeal of street art may be hard to grasp, with many of the graffiti based works often perceived as vandalism. However, like all art, design and architecture where one piece polarizes your taste, another will have you coming back for more.

Having recently attended the annual SPECTRUM Street Art Festival and previously having heard Shaw speak, I was surprised to discover that we have more street art installations than Melbourne. As a city, we have found ourselves at the centre of the street art movement. We have seen, and experienced, the transition of this art form from tagging into something special and collectable.

It is inspiring and refreshing to meet someone who wants to make Christchurch special, and not just through the rebuild of buildings’ and homes, but through a creative outlet. Through partnership with the YMCA Shaw has opened a facility in which to exhibit street-art. This year’s SPECTRUM Street Art Festival saw eight artists from France, Holland, Spain, Australia, Invercargill, Auckland and Christchurch create large scale pieces across the city. While smaller examples of their work, coupled with work by several returning artists, were on show at the YMCA building. It was an amazing festival in which both the scale and technique employed to create, were available to be witnessed and experienced up close. Providing greater depth and understanding to the stories behind the pieces and the artists.

As an architect this artistic display gives me another view on the possibilities that exist when it comes to the side, back and even structural walls. Where once material finishes were engaged to provide texture and interest to these vast spaces, we now have the opportunity to have it embraced as a canvas for artwork. No longer are these walls that face the wrong way, but a space in which architecture can have an identity. One that traditionally can’t be achieved through geometry, texture and light – we all know where the Elephants are on Manchester Street and the Ballerina in the central city, but how many of us know the buildings on which they are found?

There is some debate about the longevity of such pieces. As the rebuild progresses and they become obscured from view some may argue that the point of the art was short-lived and therefore unnecessary. However, this is all part of the fun. They are a remarkable time capsule. We cannot be disappointed when they are built out; they simply become a secret of our city.

Published in Metropol Magazine

Published on Thursday, January 28th, 2016