Jacob Yikes: Street artist's solo exhibition reveals different shades
Over the past four years, Christchurch street artist Jacob Yikes has maintained a robust visible presence in the central city.
A participant in the street art festivals Rise (2014) and Spectrum (2016), in addition to his work on the wall of Aliceinvideoland on Tuam and Manchester streets and buildings in Sydenham on the corner of Colombo and Battersea streets, Yikes has recently brought new life and colour to the former Rydges Hotel car park building overlooking Cathedral Square.
These are only a few of the public murals by an artist who is completely fearless confronting the challenges of the walls of any five-story building as a blank and open canvas. He intuitively understand the necessary demands of seizing the attention of unsuspecting pedestrians and motorists, working with flat and imposing colour combinations and bold black outlines in figurative images of eye-catching surrealistic interiors and landscapes.
Yet, as his first solo exhibition in two years currently reveals, his art can be as meticulous and subtle in its detail and use of materials as it is loud and manic in its messages. Am I Confused? is an exhibition of works on paper of complex images tempered by the sincerity of their humour that seeks to make sense of the chaos that is life in the 21st century; the excess of information, virtual and actual realities, and, for the artist, the ongoing presence of trigger memories of living in numerous homes as a child and his current life as a parent.
It is also a beautiful series of works in mixed media and Yikes admits that this can be a dilemma for his work, but both aspects of it "feel like this is where I am heading". "It is a love/hate relationship with the public works, but I put a lot into them and they do feed off one another, so both are necessary. I couldn't see myself doing only one of them. I am at the point where my public work will help my studio work.'
Recently described by street-art academic and curator Reuben Woods as a "leading figure of Aotearoa's urban art scene", Yikes readily acknowledges that his increasing profile nationally has been due to the impact and influence of Christchurch's street art festivals.
"They were hugely important to my work and career. A lot of what I have done in public spaces has been off my own back. I can produce very large works – not to advertise myself – but these works do get my name out there.
"Rise provided me with an important opportunity as a local artist to be associated with international street artists like ROA and also to develop the complementary project, From the Ground up. Holly Ross, Leeya Warrander and I invited 10 artists from the North Island to come to Christchurch and paint several large-scale walls throughout the city.
"It was a small scale version of Rise, but with a lot of local businesses supporting it. We painted a whole lot of works around the city, consulting with George Shaw, who integrated the two bodies of work of local and international artists. It made sense to do it. Rise was already doing it on a larger scale and they both worked really well together. From that point, I was also able to produce a large enough work for a public space. I did the one on Aliceinvideoland, as well as the Spectrum show."
Yikes' gallery works and his street murals have increasingly begun to share mutual imagery. Vast and empty landscapes infested with houses rising up from the earth with entrances and exits, taking on human personas with eyes and wide-open mouths and assaulted on all sides by the chaos of the circumstances they find themselves in. The surreal and frenzied images of Am I Confused? seem conscious of the weirdness of their circumstances, a kind of medieval madness that looks back to the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch, but also to more contemporary influences, like the underground comics of American artist Robert Crumb.
The works on paper in Am I Confused? began two years ago and complement the imagery in Yikes' recent public mural for the 2017 street art festival in Tauranga – Paradox Inside . He literally took the Nursery Rhyme of The Old Woman who Lived in a Shoe, as his subject as a way to make the work accessible to audience and to encourage their deeper curiosity about what might be going on metaphorically with the house rising from the ground and its puzzled inhabitants.
"It is a response to childhood memories that haven't gone away. I had a colourful childhood and you can get glimpse of that from the street work in Tauranga and also from my current exhibition. As a family, we travelled a lot. As a child, I stayed in a lot of different houses. For many of them, I have these very vivid memories of not of doing things in them, but of different parts of these random houses."
Yikes also says that although the subjects are directly personal, they are also universal in their concerns. "The basic thing that every human needs is shelter.
"Concoction dates back to my teenage years and a life of excess and getting past that. The subject matter was referring to a dream that I was having. It is chaotic and you can see that in the work. I didn't want to give away the idea that it was influenced by narcotics. Instead, I wanted to give this feeling that I was getting over that. I like to include doorways or little holes in my work. They are shut, but then I also want them to be open as well. The staircase tells you this is where I am going to.
"In Light House, that is a light going on in my head, but it isn't actually helping me to produce the works I want to produce. Concoction and Light House are works that address one another, but I am also making fun of myself as well. There is humour in the works in Am I Confused? I am trying to provoke different possible reactions to circumstances in all these paintings."
Jacob Yikes, Am I Confused? Art Box Gallery, Madras Street, until June 22.