We're not really sure why, but artists who perfect their craft in Auckland seem to end up breaking the boundaries of their field. It could simply be because Auckland is an incredibly creative, supportive city — artists are always looking to the future, making do with what they have and collaborating on projects that push each other forward. In partnership with Nike, who are working with some of Auckland's most innovative new artists for the 30th anniversary of Nike Air Max, we asked two New Zealand artists that represent Auckland's creative future to talk about the industry, and tell us how they shaped their style. Neither Andrew J. Steel or BAYNK have any official artistic qualifications, but they're pioneering the future of arts innovation in Aotearoa. Have a read and get inspired for the future.
Andrew J. Steel wears the Nike Air Max atmos Elephant.
ANDREW J. STEEL
Andrew J. Steel's creativity used to leave him on the wrong side of the law. Formerly a street artist people used to call the police on, he's now commissioned to create beautiful cartoon-style artworks on the street as well as buildings and windows around the city. He started out pretending to be Banksy, but he's grown up a little and has combined his love of graffiti and street art with a more contemporary edge.
How do you rate Auckland's creative scene?
The street art scene was crushed when some asshole ex-mayor went on a rampage and destroyed years of work — murals and public art and stuff. There's definitely been a resurgence now, people are coming together and grinding to make their dreams happen, but I think we all need to streamline and collaborate more in the future to get the street art scene going properly again.
Can you describe your niche and how you stay true to your own beat?
I'm diverse — not a mural painter, not a writer, not a fine artist, not an illustrator, not any one single thing. My niche is being a creative. It started out with the thrill of doing something you shouldn't be doing — everything is twice as fun when you're not allowed. That's why people cheat, steal, lie and paint graffiti. I get a buzz off finding new places to take my work and pushing the limits, if I keep doing that I know I'm staying true.
Where do you draw inspiration from?
I'm like everyone else — a product of my environment. As a creative you need to tune into a variety of different things to keep the fire going — for me this is music, design, nature, exercise and friends. I work around many other talented creatives at my studio, Sunset Tattoo, and I get a lot of energy from them as well.
What is the piece you're most proud of, that best embodies the Air Max mantra of looking to the future and unlocking creativity?
I love some of my early illegal work — where I would just take space, painting in a fluoro vest in the middle of the day to pretend like I was actually allowed to do that shit. Fake permission. It had a good energy — it had to be fast, simple, relatable. That style shapes how I work now and it definitely helped unlock my creativity in the early stages.
Do you have any advice to offer future creatives in Auckland?
I'm from a skateboarding background and that world is all about creative use of your environment; back in the day I used to get chased off when tagging people's fences, now people pay me to do it. As I've grown up, so too has my practice; I've created some of the largest scale works in the country and now collaborate with New Zealand's most forward thinking and innovative people. My advice would be to make good art, and make people aware of it. Collaborate and leave the world better than you found it.
Jock Nowell-Usticke (aka BAYNK) grew up playing guitar and saxophone in Hawkes Bay, where he studied and finished a degree in chemical and process engineering, before immediately deciding that it wasn't for him. He started a band, and after getting the mix of their first single back, he knew it needed more work. Unable to afford a studio, he went DIY and bought some recording equipment, downloaded some production software and fell in love. With his one and only single 'Sundae' he made it onto the Laneway line up. Since then, he's been smashing it and has become one of Auckland's most innovative producers.
What was it about New Zealand's creative scene that helped you get picked up by the industry?
For me the only opportunity and scene I ever needed was online, the web provided all the connections I needed to get a start. The fact that I was given an opportunity to play at Laneway with only one song out was testament to New Zealand's culture of giving everyone their shot to help release their potential, that was a huge break for me.
How do you stay true to your own beat?
The most important thing for me was always to be as unique as I possibly could. Whatever niche I have now started as a passion to find new sounds and combine them to make something no one had ever heard before. Since then that passion has slowly dipped into other fields like photography, cinematography, graphic design and fashion which I've all sort of glued into one package.
I was getting incredibly frustrated and angry in the beginning because I wanted everything to happen straight away — it doesn't. The first guy who ever booked me (Mark Kneebone for Laneway) told me that nothing happens overnight. "Have a clear vision," were wise words from my manager that I've always followed, and my parents have always said, "work hard but follow it up with just as much play". That last one has been a staple throughout my life.
To date, what is the song you are most proud of, and that best embodies the Nike Air Max mantra of looking to the future and unlocking creativity?
'Poolside' for sure. There's not a large percentage of artists in the industry who write, sing and produce their own work. There's nothing wrong with working with others, I love collaboration — I'm just proud that I managed to do everything myself. Education is definitely necessary but it doesn't have to be typical university education. You can unlock creativity, and educate yourself in your field in many different forms. Jamming in a band or watching Bob Ross paint on YouTube can be tertiary education if you want it to be. It's different for everyone. You don't need a degree or any other accolade to be a creative, no one should feel that way.
Do you have any advice to offer future creatives in Auckland?
The internet is by far the most powerful tool in any undiscovered musicians arsenal and it's ready and available — for free — to be taken advantage of, especially in Auckland where the industry is pretty small. I was picked up by an online blog called Hillydilly, they pride themselves on finding the best quality music regardless of how famous the artist is. All that's needed is great music and an email address. Auckland is small, but supportive, and creatives should take advantage of that.
Andrew J. Steel and BAYNK collaborated with Nike for the 30th anniversary of the Nike Air Max — BAYNK wears the Air Max 90 Flyknit and Andrew J. Steel wears the Nike Air Max atmos Elephant (which sold out globally within hours of its release).