Vexta is one of the most interesting artists to come out of Australia. She was picked up by some guy called Banksy to feature in his ‘Cans’ Festival and subsequent film, Exit Through The Gift Shop. Recently, while every other wannabe was shamelessly networking at Miami Basel, Vexta was over on the other side of the world, working hard at India’s first Contemporary Art Biennale. Despite some near catastrophic events and a very temperamental internet connection, we managed to connect with her for a few words while she painted…
More jump off after the jump off!
So… Whereabouts are you in India?
I’m In Kochi in Kerala. It’s this cute old fishing town, full of beautiful old Portuguese architecture and crumbling walls, where there are more crows and eagles than I have ever seen in one place before… It’s super tropical, with plants growing on everything, and the wildlife is next level. The first Contemporary Art Biennale of India is taking place in the town, so that’s why I’m here. I have a big painting in a group show and then I have created site-specific murals that run though out the centre of Fort Kochi, they all relate to each other and thematically connect to the work in the gallery. It’s basically this narrative you can read in any direction, like a mythological story you can follow in the streets of Kochi.
Do you find it difficult coming to terms with the difference in lifestyles?
It is quite poor here, I mean, there are people without shoes and the gap between tourists and their lifestyles and the average Indian’s life and lifestyle is huge. I don’t find it difficult to come to terms with it though; it’s the nature of the world right now. You can be wealthy in other things beside money.
What’s the hardest thing for you being in India?
The hardest thing has been dealing with general bureaucracy, getting anything done here takes a lot longer than anywhere else and sourcing materials in a developing country is always going to be difficult; for example, I had to import spray paint from Australia and it ended up stuck in customs 15 hours away from where I needed it. Getting it out of customs and delivered to Kochi was a procedure that took two customs officers, a ship captain, the gallery staff, the staff at my local café plus my assistant and I working our asses off for a week. The other difficult thing has been the gender imbalance, I think it really freaked the men out here to see a woman painting on the street, often they seemed confused that there wasn’t a man in charge of my project. That’s something I’m not used to at all.
Do you stand out like some mystical white being, surrounded by clouds of paint fumes?
Pretty much that’s exactly what I look like… only I’m surround by neon fumes and I’m dirty, sweaty and covered in paint splatters. Add to that balancing on anything I can to reach certain heights and scaling the sides of scaffold built out of rubble and held together with rope in 35-degree weather… I’m not sure what the locals make of me! But now everyone in town seems to know who I am, haha.
There are a lot of commercial paintings, but no-one really paints just for fun, right? What’s the reaction been like to your artwork in India?
There’s some art kids up in Mumbai who paint for fun, and actually there’s been quite a lot of murals painted for the biennale here in Kochi. But in general not really, you can’t even get any decent quality spray paint here. The reaction has generally been great, people have loved my work, I’ve had flocks of school kids watching me and this cranky old man who lives in the centre of Fort Kochi and would never let anyone paint his old falling down wall came out of his house and told me I could “painted whatever I wanted” on his house. All the shop owners in the street were in shock because they had been offering to pay to have his place painted a plain colour for years and he wouldn’t let them. Who would think he’d be more into crazy neon shapes and skeleton crows flying out of a crystal death egg than the maybe just the colour blue.
Does being in India make you want to do more with your artwork for others who aren’t as well off as you?
I always want to continue making work on the streets for people to enjoy for free, it’s a really important part of my practice, I came from the streets and I need to stay connected to it. I also try to do as much for non profits and charity auctions that I can. Art for the people is important. It rocks my world to have a 10 year old in Brooklyn love my work, a 12 year old kid in India turn up to my gallery show after seeing me paint on the street and ask me how he can be in a Biennale, or a tuk tuk driver showing me that he’s saved my work as his ‘phone screen saver, just as much as someone going to a gallery to see my paintings and sculptures.
Watch out for a brand new exclusive VNA x Vexta video coming very soon!