Ha Ha – ‘Rise and Fall’

The work of Ha Ha explores the power of mass media within Australian popular culture. The reality TV phenomena, the religion of sport, criminal lifestyles, get rich quick & instant fame becomes the obsessions, the new virtues of the 21st century.

By using multi-layered stencils of up to 40 layers Ha Ha’s work is a reflection of popular culture. He gets his images direct from the newspaper or from photographing the subject to tell a story of the here & now. Without the aid of a computer, his cutting technique produces lifelike imagery.

Ha Ha is a self taught artist who started off by spray painting stencils on the street & has since then graduated to the gallery. He has been exhibiting for over 8 years he has held 10 solo shows in Melbourne, Brisbane, Hobart & Sydney. He spoke to Damo, about his most recent show, ‘Rise and Fall’.

Damo: Can you could introduce yourself a little bit and talk about your practice?
Ha Ha: Yeah like again my name is Regan Tamanui aka Ha Ha from New Zealand. I’ve been in Australia for like 20 years. I’ve always been into art and into oil painting but never went to art school. I got introduced to pretty much straight up in 1999. I didn’t actually do anything till 2001. I’ve just been stencils pretty much. So over a period of time I got rid of oil painting just went with straight up stencil art.

Damo: Why did you do that? Why did you choose to go down that path?
Ha Ha: I had a few exhibitions with oil paintings but like nothing really sold. To be honest wasn’t really feeling a vibe. But once I started incorporating stencils into my art work stuff was selling I was like I should go down this road. so that’s what I would do.

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Damo: That would’ve been very; very early in the stencil movement wouldn’t it?
Ha Ha: There was heaps of stencils on the street. But they were mainly political stuff like anti-Howard, anti-America, anti-Bush (like when Bush went to war and the Middle East or whatever it was.) There were other stencils like that dude from… I’ve got his name he is something he’s got a band called the Brown Hornets. Dylan from some music TV show him and some of his mates were spraying out Brown Hornet stencils around town.

Damo: Why Ha Ha?
Ha Ha: I back in the day I always used say Ha-ha. I was hanging out with one of my house mates and he goes to me “Hey you should do stencils, you should call yourself Ha Ha and do stencils. And I was like okay I should try that.

Damo: Was not attending art school by choice or was it just…?
Ha Ha: Since I was 5, I always knew I was going to be an artist. I lived in New Zealand I did a apply and I got into WhiteCliff Arts School in Auckland but I kind of deferred and came to Australia.

Damo: Why choose Melbourne?
Ha Ha: I had cousins over here.

Damo: So it was just a family connection
Ha Ha: Yeah and then like I got a job as soon as I got off the plane so I had this part time landscaping job. And then the money over here is way better pay than in New Zealand; more pay than the nightclubs, the house party scene was like totally awesome where I lived. This is back then I don’t know about now, now I’m 43. But yeah no it’s totally cool. My intention was to come to Australia work for 2 years and go to Europe go to London like every one else but ended up just staying.

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Damo: So obviously we came to chat about your show that you’ve got coming up and you’ve shown us some of the works. It’s kind of amazing. You’ve kind of known for your stencil work but looking around there seems to be a lot of free hand sketching watercolor painting and less stencil.
Ha Ha: Yeah I’m just trying to break away from using spray paint and experimenting with different mediums. So with the watercolors they are still using stencils. So instead of using spray paint I’m using watercolor and just spraying that to create the image and then drawing of top of it.

Damo: Is there a theme to the show? What’s the show about?
Ha Ha: Yeah the whole idea of the show it’s called “Rise and Fall” it’s about like me as a person and that could be like a reflected on society as well. So with it we’re all like connected somehow through like the greater force or whatever you want to call it. I’m using a lot of maori patterns and symbols and using it as a metaphor for emoticons.

A maori carving tells a story and it’s the same with like a emoticon it could be like a smiley face. And it’s a reflection of how that person is feeling when they are sending a message. So, the whole idea is like the messages behind certain symbols is kind of the same. Do you know what I mean? So an emoticon would be the latest version of an old school carving that may tell a story about the area or could be a warning not to come here or like hey this is a happy place, hang out here. For everything you can think of there is an emoticon for it you just have to Google it.

So like I’m just playing around with that idea. But I’m also trying to incorporate like do a lot of portraits; it’s all about portraits. And these portraits are just trying to tell a story about the here and now and there is a lot of mechanical machinery electronic kind of shit that I’ve drawn into the work. And it’s kind of like our society is moving from the natural like being in New Zealand moving away from nature and embracing technology; that’s if you choose to embrace it of course. I’m a conspiracy theorist I believe that like Earth has been taken over by AI intelligences.

Damo: Wow that’s really cool.
Ha Ha: Just a theory I’m trying to reflect that in my art work. For example there is a new philosophy trans-humanism. Where we merge with technology. But I personally think if anyone is going to merge it’s not going to be like your everyday Joe Blow like me but it will be some rich elitist. Do you know what I mean? We’re just here to finance the world dreams and fantasies of merging with technology

Damo: Why do you think people should come to the show? What do you want people to get out of it?
Ha Ha: That’s a really good question. I think art is a good dialogue between people and art also is kind of the last form of freedom of expression and like when you go to exhibition we see art on the streets whatever there is a dialogue that’s created between the viewer and the artist or the creation of the artist.

I want the art to make people think about like the society that we live in general and who we are. And also like societies come and go. So like for example like the Romans were the dominate world power at the time the ancient times. They got take over by the Vatican. And then all these other empires that have come in trying to be the New World Order. We’re kind of living in that period now where so for example.

The whole idea of rise and fall is things come and go all the time whether societies, seasons or the days whatever. And with these images here it’s all about like rise and fall and maybe this technological world is not going to last maybe it will fall or maybe I will die tomorrow? But then something else will come along and take its place whether it’s good or bad.

Damo: One more question about your stencil work. I don’t know if it’s true but you do everything kind of by eye you don’t do the layering and everything people do on… is that accurate?

Ha Ha: I don’t use photo editing, so I can like get an image and just like an example I’ll get on my computer screen and I could do all the shit in my head. Whether it’s like 5 layers or 100. I’ve been doing it for years. I can also cut with both hands as well. In 2008 I was cutting stencils and I said fuck this is taking ages cutting with one hand. So I started to cut with two hands by the end of the week real easy.

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Damo: My final question I promise. You said earlier you knew you were going to be an artist when you were 5. How did you know? What was the moment you went this is it this is what I’m doing?
Ha Ha: When I was 5 I went to go see Star Wars my mom took me. this was 1977. I came home and started drawing all these like spaceships. I said fuck I’m going to be an artist when I grow up. I couldn’t stop drawing ever since then.

I’ve actually seen a few UFOs and I’ve met an alien from the Plea 80s star system he was in a pub in Sydney. He looked slightly different because I was kind of skeptical and me and my friend were having this argument on whether aliens are good or not. And just so happens this dude was sitting on the next table and he came over and looked like he was a white dude… he was a Goth emo dude and a lot of aliens that come down like Goth and emo music and they also going to Disneyland or like theme parks like Water World, Movie World on the GOLD Coast. They are into the human like adventure parks and stuff like that.

It’s really interesting. But anyway like I went to dude and I start asking him questions and he knew all these questions and I thought this dude has got to be an alien. I bought him a jug. his eyes were slightly yellow as well. Alien is actually a racial derogatory term for extraterrestrials. And they don’t like being called aliens.

‘Rise and Fall’ opens at Collingwood’s ‘Off the Kerb’ Gallery this Friday, 9 September

@regantamanui