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July 28, 2014 | by  | in Features |
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BMD [Full Interview]

Tell us about BMD’s beginnings.

BMD is a two piece sort of band. We grew up together in small town New Plymouth. It’s a pretty boring town, not sure if you’ve been there. You’re either a farmer, or a rugby player, or like you work in oil and gas. Very conservative community. We were pretty bored there. The other half of BMD, he’s very creative. His dad’s in a band, quite a renowned band, and so he had a creative music background. We were both really bored and so we used to go round with a stencil. We started out as stencil artists and would spend days and days and days cutting these tiny little stencils. We had like a pringles face, a little monopoly man.

Then we realised how long it took to do it- he’d be on his side of the street doing his little dude and I’d by on my side doing my little thing and it’s take forever. We realised it wasn’t that efficient so we thought why don’t we just do this together. So we started making stencils together, while one person was painting the other was looking out for cops and that sort of shit. It was fast. It grew from there. We moved to Wellington to go to university once we finished high school. I’m an ex-Vic student and he went to Massey.

What’d you study?

I did environmental science. As I say I was like batman, by day I was going to lectures and writing notes on all sorts of shit- economics and stats and all the boring stuff- but you look through my notes and I was just drawing the whole time. Scraping through class and trying to get the right marks. But then at night time I’d go out with him and my Massey buddies and get pissed and go tagging pretty much.

By that time we were looking at what was happening in the city, and there was a few stencil artists around doing some cool stuff. We realised we could do it quicker if we were painting. We started painting on paper doing post ups, going round and putting those up. It’s quite a big city so there’s lots of room for heaps of stickers, heaps of posters.

From that we realised it wasn’t lasting long enough. People were tagging over our stuff and it was kind of annoying to put all that effort in with little return. It was sort of like an arms race, the evolution of our style has been an arms race against what happens in the city. We started getting a ladder and going higher, above where people could reach. It meant our stuff lasted longer. That got bigger and bigger until we started using scissor lifts and things like that.

We had our first big break doing a project in Auckland and we used a lift for that, and everything we do we try to get a lift for it. At that time no-one was doing it- it was all micro street art- posters and stickers. But we tried to make our stuff last and stand out and get noticed.

So the problem was more that other taggers were tagging over your work rather than the police painting over it?

Yea the council in Wellington dropped the ball. Like I think they have been quite slow to respond to graffiti, and I think it would take a shitload of funding to clean it up. Auckland is all very clean and grey and boring but down here they have a harder time managing it. Possibly because of the density of youth in the city as well- two universities, small city. Aucklands more dispersed. We never had many run ins with the council. We’ve had a few run ins with police.

How’s your relationship with the cops?

Well we painted illegally for years and years and years and still dabble in it a little bit. But we generally work with people. You get away with a bit more if they’ve agreed for you to use their wall. When you’re operating on a big scale painting, you’ve gotta work with people I think.

But we still get into trouble ya know, we still go out and have fun and that sort of stuff. We’ve been chased down a few times, had a few run ins with the law. But in the last couple of years we’ve cleaned up our act a bit.

What’s the process you follow from idea to wall?

We’re pretty loose with how we do it. Most of our work started on a napkin. One of the biggest things we’ve done started on the back of a pak n save receipt- we’ve gone there to get dinner and just had an idea. A lot of our work is conceptual so it’s all about getting a spark- like a woman in a bath made out of cats – and going from there. If you do realism, it’d be hard to then do them so big. Our ideas start very micro and it develops- what materials we can use, what space we can paint on.

One of our values is kind of prolific originality. We don’t want our stuff to look like anyone elses, just our own. Working together, we can be prolific and out there, and people then identify it with you. We try to do two or three walls a week between Wellington and Auckland. The other half of BMD has just moved up to Auckland to sort of replicate what we’ve got down here.

Do you have a day job or is BMD it?

It’s pretty sad being an artist ae. Most artists can relate. We do alright- like we’ve done some paid jobs and private commissions. We get a huge amount of enquiries for canvas prints but we don’t do that. As part of our identity we don’t really do sellable, tradeable art. We try to navigate those people into doing a private wall. Some people get us to paint their studio or their business or their house. So private commissions that are not resellable is our bread and butter.

No-one owns a BMD artwork unless they own a building or they’re a charity. We’ve done a few things for charity.

It’s an interesting constraint to put on yourself.

Yea, it is. We kind of try to play God with the supply and demand part of it. If we play our cards right, restricting our art now will give it more value in the future. A lot of artists will have a show or sell a print for $50 bucks and it waters down the value of the work a little bit. It’s about creating scarcity but being prolific publically- so people see it and they get a demand for it.

What was your first big artwork in Wellington?

One of our first projects, a mural, was at Garage Project [the brewery in Aro Valley]. We did a big wall. That was a long time ago- maybe six or seven years. It’s been painted a million times since.

What other art works stand out?

I’m really proud of what we did on the side of the Museum Hotel. We’ve got job doing the swimming pool there at the moment, they’re gonna empty it out and we’ll paint it up. We’ll do some sharks and some marine creatures so you’re sort of swimming round with them. The owner there is a real avid supporter of what we do and art in general. He’s a successful man but he’s got a lot of time for creatives.

I really like the cat girl in the bath. That was for the band @peace for their album. They turned it into a digital version of the artwork and put it online when they released some songs. We try to collaborate with people like that- they’re upcoming rappers and we are building ourselves up as visual artists which are both hard sells. But we pulled together with the Young, Gifted & Broke collective, which is a group of young people with different skill sets who get together to collab.

What formats other than walls have you done?

I read a quote the other day that really nailed it on the head, it was like “Be careful of artists because they dabble with all parts of society” and I think I’ve really lived that the last few years. Ya know to do the Museum Hotel, and I just met DoC about doing a project with them, then met a little old lady who wants her mailbox painted, I go to school and do talks about the Shark Wall. You dabble around pretty much from all socioeconomic spheres which is really cool.

Is it more graffiti, or is at an artform? Or is it both or neither?

We’re a real hybrid, have a bit of both ae. The other guy I work with in BMD is from a fine arts background. He could paint you looking like you and frame it up in a gallery. He’s an incredible visual artist fine artist, but he just loves painting the way we do in public space. It’s a nice vehicle to get people to see your work. I know people who spend like 6 months on a painting, and like what the fuck ya know, like they hate it in the end, it looks like a photo and I just don’t get it. It ends up in some old ladies hallway and it’s dark and noone looks at it. Boring. That dude spent 6 months on that.

We’ve been doing BMD time trials, seeing how quickly we can do an artwork. We can do an artwork in like six minutes, five minutes. And it’s big, it’s like as big as that wall [points to decent sized wall]. Really really quick. We sort of do it to have a dig at those guys cos they spend so long and are so particular about their work, where it can be produced quite quickly. People say art is dying among young kids because they’re not going to galleries anymore but art is just changing. I think with the internet age we’re in- like with Tumblr. Why go to a gallery when you can curate your own little exhibtion online. You choose what you want to follow: nude people, architecture, coffee joints around the world, art, whatever, you can tailor it to yourself. On a rainy shitty day of course a kids gonna stay in bed and look at that. Y’know like I would. I do!
Don’t get me wrong, I do support art galleries and go out a bit. I see the value in both. It’s just changing times. Social media is changing the way people view art, just like the ipod changed the music industry. It’s a similar transition.

What are your thoughts on people being free to paint art on public spaces?

It’s interesting ae. It’s an arms race where they can never really win. It’s an efficiency thing. Like I can do tens of dollars worth of damage for five dollars. And then to clean that up is tens of thousands of dollars. You can never win while there’s kids whose only thing is to paint. There’s always people painting. It gets extreme, like I’ve heard of security guards getting stabbed so people can paint a train. I painted over there and almost got bet up for my paints cos I was painting in the wrong part of town. It’s very competitive. It’s an industry that regulates itself- the police don’t get near it. It’s like a little free black market. Natural competition kicks in, people are like why the fuck are you painting in my spot, all this sort of stuff.

I think what Banksy’s done is clever. My mum knows Banksy, my nana knows Banksy, everyone knows Banksy. It’s highly topical and it sort of proves the power of the medium. In public, a stencil that took thirty seconds to spray paint, and then some dude comes and changes the world. It goes viral or whatever and some guy comes at night with a concrete cutter and cuts it out of the wall cos its got so much value. It’s crazy how it works but its amazing. I’ve never heard of a gallery stimulating that kind of intense interaction.

We did a project with the Christchurch Museum last year. We got to paint inside the Museum and it was a big deal. But the funny thing was that the people who curated it had all these Banksy prints. They leased them to the Museum for a fuckload of money and then used that to get us to come in and pay for some other little things. It was amazing, there’s like a Banksy economy. There was a video a while back of Banksy dressing up and selling prints in a park but everyone thought they were fakes. Some New Zealand woman bought one actually. Bought it for fifty bucks and now it’s worth heaps. It’s very clever. I don’t think any bad has come out of it.

Tell us about your work in Christchurch, because you did a massive blue wall painting in the central city as well.

That particular project piggy backed off what we did in Museum. There were two projects the wall was kind of the blueprint of what we did in the museum. It fits in with the theme of the rebuild too because blueprints are where buildings start. And they were the plans for our work too so we tried to be heavily conceptual with that. We got real sick of blue! To this day I don’t even want to use blue. We learnt a lot from that. Christchurch is a cool city, we’re trying to get back down there. It’s like an island of buildings and there’s nothing round and some buildings are still half fallen down. It’s mind blowing. I didn’t know from what I’d seen in the media.

Arts a pretty good fix for a gritty situation like that. Places like Detroit have a huge arts scene now because the economy died, there’s a huge amount of space, cheap rent. People go there: it’s a hotspot now. I’ve got a friend in Auckland who goes there once a year just to paint there. I think Christchurch is a smaller scale of that too. It’s grim and people like to paint there and add value to the space.

What do you think of art as a social tool? You also did the shark mural on the wall by the Chaeffers New World in protest against shark finning.

In the last year we’ve realised the value of public space and how good it is to convey messages. We were approached about that project by the WWF and we said we could do something. Since then it’s just been crazy. I’ve gone to schools talking about, they take kids down there and talk about it for conservation. We did the artwork but didn’t really realise the repercussions. We made as much impact as greenpeace. You look at the news and the backdrop is always that wall. The conservation ministers standing there in front of it saying he’s banning sharkfinning. It creates a lot of discussion. People are more likely to sign a petition against finning. It was a marketing challenge; everyone hates sharks. So we wanted to paint a fun little thing that my Nana could like. You hear the kids going “Oh it’s got an anus” or “That ones wearing sunglasses” and it’s funny. A sharks just a thing that’s not so bad, it’s not going to eat you.
We just had a talk about doing Faces for Penguins, which is conservation for penguins.

Is it just conservation issues that you deal with in your art?

It’s not just that. We’ve got some cool projects coming up which might shock a few people. We’ve got BMDisyourfriend as our social media and online presence. That’s the light side. And we might launch BMDisnotyourfriend which will be the dark side. Life’s a crazy thing and we want to start talking about what’s happening in the world. We want to talk about issues like suicide and economic change and grim shit. We want to have the stuff that we do but not have it as the same identity as the other stuff. It will be good to have people talking about this stuff who aren’t just the government or something.

What else is on the radar?

It’s been really fun lately because it’s the first time we’ve sat down and taken it seriously for the first time in ages. Ever. We’re thinking of releasing a colouring in book which is gonna be cool. We’re moving our art onto products in a way that allows other people to sketch their stuff on. We’re releasing a new website [which is up now] and that coincides with a photo competition we’re running. We’ve made little trophies. The best photo and the funniest photo get the BMD awards. We want people to take photos and send them in or instagram them or something. We’ll pool all that on the website. It’s like user content and we love it when people do that. People go out of their way to do that. We want to think of ways of talking to people more.

What’s the Wellington vibe in terms of graffitti and street artists?

It’s a mixed bag ae. You’ve got dudes that will spend their rent money and their food money on painting graffiti, totally selfless acts just to create art, right through to the dude who’ll steal the clothes off your line and tag on your fence. There’s a spectrum of being a good person and being an arsehole and everyone sits along that. Graffiti generally has lots of people on the other end, people who are out for themselves. It’s an ego thing. I got to say it’s fucken fun, I’ve done it. But it doesn’t add value to the world that much. It just advances those people. It’s got a place in society but it’s important you go about it in a good way. Don’t tag my neighbours fence.

Do you collaborate with other artists?

We’ve hung out with heaps of kids lately. We get heaps of kids emailing asking to come out and they’ll come out and paint every day with us. Some dudes just want to hold your paint brush or something ya know. We’ve worked with other artists around but we generally stick to ourselves cos there’s two of us already. We like to collab with people from overseas.

Where does BMD come from? What does it mean?

That’s probably the biggest secret. Only three people know. None of my girlfriends have ever known. It’s a bit of mystique and we keep it to ourselves. BMD’s a bit of an in joke. It’s more the identity not the name that’s important.

What’s the one work where you knew you’d nailed it?

Artistically, it’s the Museum Hotel wall and the blueprints in Christchurch. Those were like the height of what we could have done, we couldn’t have done better. In terms of the appeal, it would be the Shark Wall because it got noticed and it was a good vehicle. We’ve painted a few naked girls which is like my favourite thing in the world, like painting onto skin. That always gets me in trouble. Again it’s a non tradeable work- it’s intimate, it’s temporary. I reckon it’s awesome but it just pisses off our girlfriends.

Where is BMD in ten years?

It’s been going ten years already which is scary. Might be even longer than that but I try to deny it. The iPhone didn’t even exist back then and that was revolutionary. I’m moving overseas soon to replicate what we’ve done over here.

Where are you going?

I’m going to Melbourne so I’m a total sellout. I’ll be back and forward though so it will be fun. In ten years we want to be the biggest. Not in terms of fame but in terms of scale. From day one we wanted to make the biggest artwork. I think we’re almost there in New Zealand. Shark wall or the blueprint might be the biggest visual artwork in New Zealand. We want that all around the world, just giant walls. Keep going, keep pushing it, keep having fun. While also trying to pay rent.

If it weren’t for BMD where would you be?

I don’t know- I’d hate to know. BMD is sort of like the girlfriend you always have. You’ll always go back to it, it’s always going to be there. I actually had a job at Fonterra for like two months after uni but I was just like nah. Great people there and great causes, I was in the environmental team doing good stuff but it was too many excel sheets and suits. If I absolutely had to get a job I’d do something like advertising but selling out that way would be the worst way to go.

Any tips for people wanting to go from being a small street artist to having big murals all over town?

Be nice to people. Don’t paint over BMD shit! And add value. There’s a big difference between adding and taking value in the public’s perception of street art. If you can be nice and not paint over our stuff and add value, you’ll go far. Being nice is essential. Our good friend Askew in Auckland is like the nicest dude ever and I really credit that to him being where he is. There’s a lot of dicks round.

Have many people destroyed your works? Does that piss you off?

Yea but I don’t get pissed off. Nothing lasts forever. I think when you put it out there, people can tag it. It’s in the sphere, you can’t really fall in love with it. Sort of the rule is that you if you can burn it you can earn it but I don’t know how that ever applied. If you do something and put more effort in, it’s yours. But if someone just does a cheap tag I’ll get angry. I know a lot of them so if I see them I’ll say “You motherfucker”. I don’t mind as long as people have gone to more effort. Arts subjective so those are about the only rules there is.

There’s some respect out there for the work but there will always be people who hate it. You can’t please everyone. The fastest way to please no one is to try to please everyone. There’s always going to be the dude who hates it, but you’ve got to accept it. It’s that nature of competition that’s got us where we are: people were hating us so we thought differently and started painting above them. We went bigger and more prolific and then asked them now what are you going to do? Hate can lead you two different ways: you can say fuck this shit and stop what you’re doing or you can use it to take you higher.

Was there anything you wanted to say to the people?

I dunno. Don’t do drugs.

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