Review: Oi You! Founders Heritage Park Energy Centre. Reviewed by Gail Tresidder.
After a modest start to Oi You! at last year's Arts Festival, this year's expanded show in the Energy Centre has been remarkable. Not only did it attract a staggering number of visitors, roughly 17,000 by close on Labour Day, possibly the largest attendance for an art show of works on paper in Nelson's history, but, judging from the messages they left and the animated atmosphere from day one, most found this exhibition refreshing in its ebullience.
One of the four galleries off the central entrance displayed works by Banksy, Faile, Micallef and other major artists of the genre who, with others, have helped make street art a collector's item – four years ago, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie paid US$1 million for their Banksy original. A second space showed work from Auckland-based Cut Collective; Milton Springsteen's Corrupt Kiwi Classics were in another; with the fourth given over to the open and school finalists of the Oi You! Urban Art Competition.
Urban art is currently the subject of passionate discussions. Will it last? How significant is it as an art movement and could this morph from the pop art of the Andy Warhol era be compared to the impact of impressionism, for example? Critics of the late 19th century were scathing about the impressionist artists – a flash in the pan, merely wallpaper, they said, or French words to that effect. Any art form that can speak directly to all kinds of people with a universal voice, as this does, surely has to be reckoned with. As with the impressionist movement, time will tell.
We all have our favourites, the works that resonate for us. George Shaw, Oi You! mastermind, says that, although he could, if really necessary, do without many of the pictures on the walls in their home, he would not want to be without Banksy's Flower Thrower. This image of a youth, face covered and wearing a back-to-front baseball cap, throwing a bunch of flowers sooner than a petrol bomb or brick, is remarkable for its powerful message so delicately executed. It has been said, as of another man whose legacy has changed the world, that "if Banksy had not existed, we would have had to invent him".
Self-described "Milton Springsteen from Gore" has a wicked way with him and would make an exemplary forger of things valuable. He makes us smile and think and consider.
Would Bill Hammond appreciate his Placemakers 1 acrylic on canvas 1996 reworked as street art, the mystical birds, one with a spade, another a spirit level, while yet others push a red wheelbarrow and a shopping cart – all this against a Know How, Can Do logo? One would hope so and it would be splendid to see more of Springsteen's wacky creativity at future urban art shows.
The Cut Collective's piece de resistance was huge; an enamel on board pastiche featuring Kate and William's nuptials as a colourful shiny Disneyland fantasy surrounded by bright-eyed rabbits and happy dwarfs. Adjacent is the black-and-white reality for many of the world's people, the creatures with unseeing eyes, on a bed of skulls, joyless and down-trodden by war and poverty. Also from the Cut Collective, a poignant image of two boys, one a child soldier with a gun, the other fishing in a river. Life's a lottery indeed.
The standard of the Oi You! competition entries was excellent. From Nelson College for Girls, Emily Narbey's Waiting Downstairs, her image of a wheelchair at the base of a flight of impossible stairs, with the Disabled Parking Only symbol at the top, painful in its reality. In the open section, Aucklander Chris Lewis said much in his simple graphic Spike, a Nike swoosh piercing the heart of a child worker, a tiny drop of blood on each sneaker.
It has not been easy for George Shaw and his wife Shannon Webster. Both are passionate about this art form. They deserve medals for their vision and hard work in gathering and displaying so much of it together to challenge and entertain us.
They now move on to a Sydney exhibition with their collection. More please next year.
- © Fairfax NZ News