In the final episode of our ‘Post-Graffiti Pacific’ series, we chat with Berst. Instilled with the working-class ethics of his Chinese family, Berst has applied his full energy and dedication into his passions, education and the evolution of graffiti letter styles. After completing his Masters Degree in Education in 2014, his attention to his students and himself as an Urban Contemporary artist have organically become his new lease on life. Incorporating both his worlds into his innovative and current teaching programs for tertiary institution Unitec, his outreach amongst students and youth have made him highly popular. Having immigrated to New Zealand as a child, Berst’s current post-graffiti works explore the commonalities of Chinese and Maori mythologies using bold and intense illustrations and symbolisms.
Damo: What does it mean to you to be part of Post-Graffiti Pacific?
Berst: Over the past fourteen years my art practice has been situated within the exploration of graffiti and lettering. I’ve always had an interest in other art forms such as illustration, comic books, cartoons, and tattoos, and over the last five years I haven’t stopped doing graffiti but certainly shifted a lot of my attention to creating more illustrative work. My main goal is to maintain the same type of graffiti mentality and approach to painting outdoors while painting different forms. Within the last ten years the term ‘street art’ has become extremely popular and recognized and maybe I fall into that category and maybe I don’t but when people see my illustrations on the street its recognized as street art so it is great to be apart of this movement that is ‘Post-Graffiti Pacific’. Not quite street art and still having our roots firmly planted in graffiti while physically located geographically in the pacific.
Damo: Can you talk us through your piece, and how you responded to the brief from conception to finalisation?
Berst: I’ve been working on a series of illustrations where a majority of my work over the past couple of years has been an exploration into Maori culture and wider global culture. The inspiration for the series of paintings presented at Ambush was inspired by an old Maori myth and a battle between two female goddesses in the sea. I do not try to replicate the story but rather use it as a starting point for creating my own world and my own narrative. In this instance the world is underwater and all the characters are soldiers that are about to go to war.
Damo: How does your piece reflect the ‘dawn of a new movement in art’?
Berst: I wouldn’t say that my work reflects anything new or groundbreaking but I am attempting to appropriate a variety of visual culture from a variety of different sources to create a remix of the world and as a representation of my world. While painting graffiti for fourteen years has been exciting and ultimately shaped my aesthetic, it lacked the narrative and dialogue that enabled audiences to engage. Graffiti is very one sided in conversation and people are forced to engage while a piece of work with a story can be interpreted so I’m working to create works that can have this type of presence rather than just writing my name.
Damo: How do you define street art? Has your inclusion in Post-Graffiti Pacific changed your view on this?
Berst: I’ve done a lot of reading over the past couple of months and a part of my Doctoral thesis at University is actually research about Street Art. I think street art is great and it’s awesome to see a variety of artists from totally new disciplines playing with the visual environment. You do not need to come from a graffiti background to participate in street art and as far as I’m concerned if you’re putting work out on the streets you can call yourself whatever you want to be called. The term ‘Post-Graffiti Pacific’ is really just to highlight that we don’t quite fit within the street art paradigm but work outdoors and create works that aren’t exclusive to images.
Damo: How does it feel to be included in an exhibition among several of your contemporaries? Did this influence you in any way?
Berst: All the artists that are apart of the ‘Post-Graffiti Pacific’ movement is a stable of artists represented by Olivia Laita Gallery and we are also all in the same crew TMD (The Most Dedicated). We all feed ideas off each other whether it’s intentional or subconsciously but how you could you not? It’s natural to be influenced by your surroundings and environment so I definitely take a lot of inspiration from my peers.
Berst is part of ‘Post-Graffiti Pacific’ now on show at aMBUSH Gallery.