Style Is The Limit - Atune & Byrd
01 May 2016 by Sancho Murphy
Ahhhhh, that old chestnut of Graffiti vs Street Art, blah blah, blurbity blurb, *fart noise*. Despite the division, neither form should be more culturally valid than the other, both have their place and allure.
From conversations and observations, it seems everyone is playing the same game, but each to a different set of rules in terms of technique, function & intent. Whatever rules you're playing by, it's totes obvs that Style is the limit and those that push the limit & actively get up will resonate.
Atune & Byrd, united by the potential of cans and walls, have been pushing against the tropes of 'OG New York' style graffiti together since the mid 90's. Atune has now completely moved away from letters, rather focusing on painting expressive line work which brings movement and a dark atmospheric depth to his work. Byrd is drawn to more post graffiti styles, making 'stuff both flat and lumpy', drawing and painting at all scales and looking how the wall sits in the broader space and preparing his anthropomorphic characters and textural colour burst compositions to advantage this. Perhaps this is why their styles marry so well together.
Fellow Canberra creative Juliette Dudley put together some questions for us to send over to Atune in the lead up to the exhibition at Lobrow Gallery & Bar (though, I took forever to edit them, because........ life). We touched on the changing Canberra 'scene', commercial commissions vs street painting, motivation to evolve style, influences and how the playful partnership between him and Byrd began.
How did you become involved in street art, who/what were some of your influences?
I became interested in graffiti in my young college days circa 1996, my mate got me into it and we would go out and paint as much as we could nearly every day/night. We were pretty hooked on the thrill of getting away with it, and seeing the pieces the next day to get pics etc.
How did you meet each other – and how did you end up collaborating?
Byrd and I met in 2001 I think, down at the Civic drains, he was doing a character, and I was with another mate doing a piece. We stayed in touch and have painted together ever since.
Describe your process – do you sketch out a piece first or go straight to painting?
I usually just have a rough idea/concept in my head of how I want the piece to flow and be composed. I then mostly paint freestyle and see what happens from there, adding in layers and building up line work. I don’t really enjoy drawing too much, my work never seems to stay to the sketch.
For mural works and collaborations I usually design a digital concept, and work on the wall from there, trying not to be too constricted and limited by the design.
You both work in quite different styles, how do these come together as a finished piece when you’re working together?
Somehow over the years of painting we have just been able to lock into each other’s way of thinking and process of painting. We don’t need to plan too much, we just have a rough concept and let each other’s strength go from there. We never really seem to struggle too much on a wall unless we are working with others as well. Our styles - though very different, just seem to flow and merge together naturally.
Where do you turn for inspiration? Who are some of your favourite artists at the moment?
Pretty much looking on Instagram and the net. Some of my favourite artists at the moment are still Loomit and Daim, Vesod, Penor, Krzysztof Syruc, Lokiss, Kwest, Bom K, Stendec and Bond.
You’ve been creating work in Canberra for about 15 years, how has the scene evolved over time?
I think over the years street art has increased a lot and become more mainstream. Graff and Street Art are pretty much two different things. The graff heads are pretty much about hating on the street art kids, and don’t think much of anything done legally or for paid murals. Also anyone who seems to try and push away from the accepted graff form of letters, outline, fill, key line, background will cop hate, me being one of them haha. I pretty much really dislike the scene at the moment and don’t care to involve myself in it much anymore. I spent my younger years going out causing havoc and have lost my drive for it, guess I’m just getting old.
There has also been a huge increase in artists doing commissioned works over the last few years. It sort of seemed Byrd and myself were the only ones doing this kind of thing 10 years ago. Now you have people setting up their own small businesses who just do commercial murals and are only in it for the money, they don’t even practice or work to develop their own style. This is really sad for the scene, as the work pretty much has no edge and is just there to please the client and fit what the mainstream public would want. I myself have contributed partly to this, but I always try to add my flair and incorporate my style somehow to make it my own.
I can’t see the Canberra scene improving or changing too much for the better really.
Atune & Byrd
What’s your favourite piece you’ve ever created (so far)?
The cat’s wall on Antill St with Byrd was one. A wasp I once painted at Pork Barrell, also a skeleton and zombie production in Belco.
What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever seen while painting on the street?
Nothing too weird really, just the odd chases in my younger days. A few years ago a guy got distracted as he drove past watching us paint, and ran up the back of someone, pretty funny. Also some other idiot tried to act tough and do a burnout, then hit the gutter and smashed his wheel up pretty good haha.
If you could paint any building or surface in Canberra what would it be?
Basically any available walls will do, I have no particular ones in mind, whatever pops up in the future. I think Canberra is very restricted for artists to paint whatever they want on a wall. It seems there’s always a theme or some other restriction. It usually has to appeal to what the general public or the property owners would want, which is a shame, but that’s just Canberra.
What are your plans for this year – any big projects or collabs lined up?
I have been pretty unmotivated to paint walls lately and a lot of stuff is getting wrecked, and I have lost some drive for the scene. I have been more focused and motivated to push my studio works, and want to try and break more into the gallery sphere.
We have a couple walls we usually paint regularly, whatever else comes up will be a bonus.
What advice would you give to up and coming artists?
Just to keep on trying to push and develop your own style, don’t try and fit into what others are doing, and don’t care for what anyone thinks, just paint what you want. I still haven’t really found my own unique style, or it just keeps developing and changing, which is ok. Why keep doing the same thing over and over for years, it’s sort of pointless. Also if you are going to try and make a dollar from mural works, you should probably have at least 5-10 years painting experience as to produce more quality works, but I highly doubt that will happen the dollar always wins.
Tell us about the exhibition, what can we expect?
Pretty much a merge of our styles, and the way they have developed over the years.
You can peep the studio work of Atune & Byrd in a collaborative exhibition at Lobrow Gallery & Bar, featuring large scale murals direct onto wall, stencils, canvases & framed works - all for sale. The exhibition has been extended for another week until Sunday 8th May, see Facebook Event for more info.
*Lobrow Gallery photographs by Victor Tawagi Photography.