Cristina NualART

Tag: Graffiti

Ha-ha! A graffiti artist’s magical trip to Saigon

This article was published in Word Vietnam magazine, December 2013, p.16.


How do you explain your job to people? In a recent interview, a non-starving artist based in South East Asia said he is ‘a dancing poodle for the 1%’.  Another artist, Ha-ha has a business card that says he is an ‘alien theorist’. Being an artist has its perks.

Ha-ha believes that aliens can help us achieve solar consciousness, which is a step above from planetary consciousness, which is what we would achieve if we connected with trees, fish and all living beings on earth. Connection is a word Ha-ha uses a lot, both in relation to technology, and, I infer, a metaphysical form of bonding with others. Think Avatar, but without the Smurf blue.

haha_by_cnualart4Aliens are just like us’, says this graffiti artist. On his first visit to Vietnam, Ha-ha talked extensively about collective consciousness, archetypes, alternative realities, and other uncommon phenomena. I should have asked him if he has met many aliens, but my mind was clouded with visions of Age of Aquarius predictions.  I learnt, for example, that since Disney has acquired Star Wars, future episodes of the series will become a form mind control.

The original Star Wars film, Ha-ha believes, is a veritable encyclopedia of archetypes. After seeing the film in childhood, he began to draw pictures of spaceships and of Darth Vader, whom he thought was a good character, not an evil one. Prophetic…

The nickname Ha-ha comes from another media character: a boy in The Simpsons series who bleats ‘ha-ha’ when he hits other kids.

Ha-ha’s real name, Regan Tamanui, rings of his Maori ancestry. Fed magic mushroom soup by his grandmother from the age of 5, Ha-ha decided early on that he was going to be an artist. His career started taking off in his 20s, after he moved to Australia. There he joined the first group of Stuckists that formed outside of England. The Stuckists advocated for a return to good, old fashioned painting. Ha-ha made oil paintings.

The he tried spray-paint, and things took a turn for the better. He is now ranked as one of the world’s most influential street artists. He doesn’t say ‘street art’ though, he deplores that elitist way of referring to graffiti.

His artistic trademark is to merge two separate stencil portraits, overlapping two faces. These stencil fusions began as a way to illustrate archetypes. The bond in relationships  -between couples, people and robots, people and animals-  is an archetype. The pair is more than the sum of its part. This unity, easy for all of us to understand, is a small-scale version of collective consciousness. Ha-ha hopes we will elevate and ‘connect to a higher consciousness. Hopefully it will be a love consciousness.’

haha_by_cnualart5Acetate is Ha-ha’s tool. The artist cuts the transparent film into templates for spray-painting. For some portraits, he needs to cuts over 60 sheets of acetate to get all the detail. The front of his sketchbook is tattooed with rows of numbers. They’re not numerological charts. He notes how many metres of acetate he gets through, and how many cuts he makes. It’s a trick to keep focused. Ha-ha practices art as a form of meditation.

In October 2013, Ha-ha was invited, quite spontaneously, to be the first artist in residence at Saigon Outcast. It was quick and easy to bring him over from Singapore, where he was exhibiting, to live and work in one of the shipping containers overlooking a wasteland in District 2 for a month. Ha-ha enjoyed his first visit to Vietnam, and devoted himself to creating a series of portraits of Ho Chi Minh. The works, sprayed on walls or on paper, show the figurehead of a young man, or as the unmistakable legendary president.




‘With the internet, and the global collective consciousness, we are manifesting this god, a god that is there and has answers for us. If you want something, you can just, like, order a pizza online, and it gets delivered in 20 minutes.’


 Text and photos by Cristina Nualart


High culture art marketing in low culture spaces

Those of you in London some weeks ago may have noticed these adverts in the Southbank space were graffiti and skateboarding interrupt the train of high culture spaces like the National Theatre, Tate Modern, Hayward gallery, et al. Yes, it is contemporary auction house Phillips de Pury (in alliance with Saatchi gallery, of course) putting up posters on pseudo-derelict youth hang out places.

I’m sure it gives kudos more effectively than advertising the village fair’s home-made flapjacks in Tatler… However, seeing as Saatchi was also behind the advertising campaign, I didn’t think hi-art branding would continue to invade our plebeian realms. But I was stunned this week to see a red bus go past me, well in the outskirts of London, with a large side-panel paid for by Gagosian gallery, to get crowds (is that what they want?) flocking to their current Picasso exhibition. I was so confounded by the sight, that I couldn’t even pull out my camera and take a photo of it. If you missed the bus, you’ll just have to take my word for it. If you do see it, snap a photo and let me know!

I didn’t think ads on red buses were anything other than for breakfast cereals, second rate Hollywood films and yet another mobile phone. In our hyper-saturated world of force-fed culture consumerism, I will, however, praise this ad:


Exit Banksy, enter Swoon

I finally saw Banksy‘s film Exit through the Giftshop, now on show in only one London cinema. Glad I made it to the big screen before it becomes just another DVD.

47_Swoon_photocnualartIt is really a good watch – tons of fun! I love the amusing turn of events that mess around with your preconceived ideas of who is the protagonist.  At first, your wishes are granted and you get lots of footage of street artists at work, and you naturally expect plenty more footage on Banksy for the main part of the film. But before I tell you what happens, I have to put Banksy on pause, to digress about Swoon, one of the street artists at work in the first part of the film, and the only female one. Swoon, as coincidence would have it, is currently featured prominently in this month’s Art News magazine, for her ‘sailing’ artspedition.

I first came across her work  in an exhibition in Village Underground, East London, last year (pictured). The Thousands was the mysterious title given to the week-short show by the very young curator. 18 year old RJ Rushmore was kind enough to give me an hour of his time to tell me about the stunningly well-light display of street art from around the world in the not-so-underground, superb space. Rushmore is a collector of Swoon and of other figureheads of street art, and some of the artworks in the exhibition were of his collection. He knows these artists first hand, from his childhood days hanging out in both London and New York, encountering the artists at work in teenage infested wastelands and alleyways. They way he told me about it all, I’m guessing that he started collecting with little cash, whereas as we see in the film, street art is now big bucks. Moral: it’s good not to be metrowealthy and grow up in plush, cleansed neighbourhoods, if the vandalism you would otherwise encounter can be turned into gold – and celebrity status. My hat off to the teenage curator/collector for utilising his life experiences to his advantage. And my hat off to Swoon for her skilfully crafted cut-outs and paste ups. She’s worth keeping an eye on.

As for Banksy, he is very clever, as well as skilled. His Guantamo Bay interventions in Disneyland are as funny as the reactions of the Mickeyguards when they discover them. See him also transform a beautiful red phonebox into an equally beautiful, and humorous, sculpture, with meaning appropriated by BT… (if, like me, you’re into red telephone boxes, check out David Mach’s sculpture in Kingston-upon-Thames).

After this exhilarating spur of live artmaking (including -and yes, I disapprove- a live, painted elephant) the way Banksy turns the film around, (by way of ‘revenge’?) is better than fiction. The cameraman and the street artist swap places, and the unexpected outcome brings about a sad-but-hilarious real-life take on the art world. Possible ponderings revolve around the power of money, of advertising, of using your friends because the ends justify the means, of the American dream, of madness or of sheer willpower. Definitely lots to think about, but smiling most of the time. Respect!


P.S.: A really interesting piece of research on the legal quandaries implicit in graffiti:
Tomasz Rychlicki, ‘Legal questions about illegal art,’ Journal of Intellectual Property Law & Practice (Vol. 3, No. 6, 2008) pp. 393-401

Banksy / Exit through the Gift Shop


I was one of the 300.000 people that, last summer, went to the west of England, to queue for 4 and a half hours (which was the average waiting time every single day) to see the Bristol City Museum’s Banksy exhibition. Long drive, long queue, but it was worth every minute (and I’m not good at idle time-wasting, so enough said).

The queuing was one of those situations where people let their solidarity out, to help their neighbours with shopping, food-sharing, newspaper swapping, toilet-break space minding, etc. A lovely communal spirit overtakes the crowd, united in its goal of sharing the rare art experience. I met a skint student who’d come down all the way from Leeds, and planned to return there later in the day – can you get 25 hours in one day? There was a couple who had come all the way from South Africa just to see the exhibition, but they were quite happy to add in a few days to their trip for a holiday in England. Such a fan club! An invisible and unknown artist with the pulling power of a rock legend, don’t you love the times we live in?

The show was excellent, with playful winks all over the place. I couldn’t stop smiling and going: ‘oh, wow!’ Starting with a wild garden party, rocking policemen and all,  the exhibition covered the working methods of stencilling (other artist always want to know about techniques), the range of artworks Banksy is proficient in, and the full-range of backdrop contexts. Brilliant!

It’s hard to tell what is myth and what not, in this uber-legendary mystery. However, I trust the museum staff that admitted that they hadn’t met Banksy, because the whole hanging had been done in secret. I even believe, as they told me, that Banksy had added interventions throughout the museum several times after the show had opened. All, of course, surrounded by the utmost secrecy and puzzlement. Did Banksy have the keys? I mean, how did he get in? It was a Banksy show, it had to be vandal-proof!

Maybe some of the myths will be dispelled when I see ‘Exit through the Gift Shop’, the documentary film opening this weekend.

In the meantime, here is another sample of the humour, the techniques and the ideas of subversion of the artworld that Bristol Museum had to offer in abundance:




Unless otherwise specified, text and images © 2017 Cristina Nualart

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Welcome to my little home on the world wide digital jungle. Previous versions of this site, with different designs and URLs, have existed since 2002.
You'll be delighted -even surprised- that this site does not brainwash you with advertising, bake cookies or spy on your digital data.
This site is also low in bullshit (excuse my colourful language...) due to a personal aversion to it.

Back to top