Transforming Vienna's walls

"It was amazing. Dude, it was really cool,"

HANNAH FLEMING
Last updated 07:41 13/11/2012
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Street artist Mikaere Gardiner, aka Eno, has just returned from spending a month in Austria.

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Street artist Mikaere Gardiner can now add a concentration camp, world-famous canal and Austrian castle to his list of painting accomplishments.

The former "graffiti vandal" recently returned from a whirlwind trip to Vienna, where he spent half his time on a farm, and the other half in Niederwaltenreith, a small village north of the city.

His first trip from New Zealand was definitely one to remember, Gardiner said.

"It was amazing. Dude, it was really cool," he reflected.

"I met so many talented people over there. The trip was inspiring and motivating, and very cultural."

Having minimal experience of big cities, Gardiner said that when he was first dropped off in Vienna, he felt sightly lost.

However, after a few leisurely strolls around the city, the artist had no trouble hunting down random exhibitions and making himself known.

"I met some pretty good friends at one of those exhibitions and sort of just hung around with them for the rest of the time," he said.

He couldn't have asked for a better group of people to link up with.

They soon invited him to take part in Die Letzte Weltausstellung (The Lost World), an exhibition that Gardiner said was the highlight of his trip.

"It ended up being a massive, massive exhibition.

"It was quite a big deal because it was the last exhibition in this factory that was used as an art space for ages.

"I was just so lucky to get into that show. It wasn't planned. It just worked out really well."

He sold nine of his works while there, and attracted the attention of a Swedish art collector who commissioned him to do a $4000 piece of work.

"There was some pretty gnarly stuff there, though.

"There were people doing some weird installations and performances. Yeah, they do a lot of nudity," he said, laughing.

While there, Gardiner also painted 99 wooden blocks he discovered on the farm he was living, as well as a mural on the back of his accommodation built in 1335.

"While I was over there, it was the first time I hadn't sketched anything. It was just about working with the space and making it up as I went. It was a lot quicker and a lot more satisfying to do."

He also did a large work on the banks of the Danube Canal, which runs through the middle of Vienna and stretches for 171 kilometres.

"I did a wall on there next to one of the cafes. It's kind of legal, but some areas aren't," he said.

"The wall I did was quite tricky to get to. It was really high up, which is why not many people had painted it."

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Those who did paint it more than 10 years ago paid Gardiner a visit while he worked on it, and the New Plymouth artist said it wasn't long before things turned ugly.

"The guys who painted it originally were quite gangsta and, in the first few hours, they kind of came and stepped me out. They were cursing at me in German.

"They said to me: 'Why'd you paint this wall? Why this wall?' They were quite aggressive, but it was cool.

"They hassled me for quite a while, but then they left."

He also spruced up three walls in a place called Arena, within Vienna.

"It's a gated-type community for anarchist punks, which was quite intense. You can only paint there if you've been invited.

"It was actually an old concentration camp and about 40 people live there. That was really cool," he said.

He also took part in a collaboration with famous French street artist Manuel Murel and the Perfekt World collective, which does the commercial advertising for 42 Below in Austria.

It seems the New Plymouth artist managed to fit a lot into his four-week trip. However, he said painting was the only thing he had to focus on.

"I wasn't doing anything else. I literally had nothing to do, except work, and I did work - a lot. When I got back, I was zonked."

Gardiner said his work was well received in Vienna, and was embraced by notable artists such as Nychos The Weird, Austria's biggest street artist.

"The fact that I was a street artist from New Zealand - a lot of people thought that was different.

"I'm pretty sure they liked what I had done over there."

The trip to Europe has inspired Gardiner to do a lot more group-based work, which he hopes to achieve in Taranaki in the coming months.

"Everybody I met there wanted to link up and do stuff," he said.

"Here we have a very different arts scene and people can kind of be a bit less encouraging and warm, but over there everybody wants to work together and just do it. I loved that."

The next project on his list, however, is to paint the Boon Goldsmith Bhaskar Brebner Architects building on the corner of Courtenay and Gover streets.

Although his work is now recognised and appreciated in many different places, Gardiner said there was still the odd person who had a negative view of his street art.

"The guy I was sitting next to on the plane on the way down said, 'Oh, you're an artist?" And then he goes, 'Oh, you're not that guy are you?'

"Then he kind of stopped talking to me.

"So he had a different perspective, but that's always nice to hear," Gardiner said.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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