You probably don’t know Jon Drypnz, but chances are he’s part of your Wellington routine. Look up, while walking down Manners and you’ll see the mad tricyclist. Have a drink at Havana Bar, beneath the green faces staring down from Tattoo Apartments. What about the vagabond rowboat navigating Majoribanks? Or the larger than life men with the little heads, running in the alley behind San Francisco Bath House? Bright colours, cramped faces atop expansive bodies, Ralph Steadman-like swirls and motion: they’re everywhere, when you start looking. That’s part of the street artist’s game, learns Amanda Witherell.
Drypnz cuts a quieter wake than his art. Close cropped hair, wood grain eyeglasses, clean dark jeans and a simple coat. His sneakers spill the beans: black, splattered with paint. Organising the interview I’m warned he’s a shy guy, and though he guards some details (he lives somewhere with a harbour view; he went to school, but don’t worry about where), he’s eager to share thoughts about his upcoming involvement in Semi-Permanent, the one-day design conference launched by Wellingtonian Simon Velvin. It’s been a hit overseas and in Auckland, drawing 50,000 attendees during its 10 years circulating the globe, and comes to the capital for the first time, November 16.
Drypnz speaks quickly, often in half sentences, stringing together thoughts on the spot, as if putting words to his paintings is still a work in progress.
“I’ll be talking about my influences and how I’m progressing as an emerging artist and how Wellington is a part of that,” he says, but he’s not planning to spend the whole time alone on stage. It’s going to be an experiment that will hopefully spark some discussion.
“Hopefully I’ll be able to get some people on stage and actually create something,” he says, playing on the theme of routine and repetition, expressed now as the running man painted around Wellington, which he’s transferred to crime scene-style tape. Lacing spaces, creating barriers, paths and connections, is a recent fascination he’s pushing and which, he says, has had a positive effect on his painting.
“It’s about using a space in a particular way, forcing someone to use or look at that space differently,” he says of the tape installations. “It forces you out of your regular routine. That’s how most street art works. It forces you to explore, to look for something new. The routine of walking to work, everything’s repeated in some sort of way.” He’s not necessarily criticizing repetition – he admits he likes taking the same paths as he makes his way to work at The French Art Shop. “It’s being aware of it.”
Working nine to five isn’t cramping his style too much. It keeps him in paint and he still has time to work on murals and prepare for shows. Since 2005, he’s been doing street art in Wellington, as well as Nelson, Taupo, Auckland, Sydney, and Bangkok, as part of Little Lotus Project. He’s shown extensively in Australasia, most recently here at the National Portrait Gallery, and has London representation. Some pieces are solo, others in collaborations with Pie Rats, BMD, Editor, and PNTR. He usually gets permission for his murals, and occasionally commissions, working with architectural firms like ArcHaus, which built the Tattoo Apartments that prominently feature his unmistakable figures.
“Being in design school and rebelling against that and now essentially working with architecture companies, it’s a strange notion,” he says. “The unconventional path I’ve taken can still lead to success. Getting to do what you want, you don’t need to do the conventional hard yards,” he says. “It’s still hard. I’m not making money, but it’s worth it.”
Semi-Permanent will also be a chance to tune into the international scene, as well as connect with others in a new way.
“I’ll be on a raised platform. On a street, people see you doing your stuff, but they don’t talk to you. A lot of the stuff I’m doing now is trying to break that down,” he says. “I wouldn’t be who I am without an audience.”
Other Semi-Permanent speakers include graphic designers Astrid Stavro of Spain and New York’s Jessica Walsh, who often combines type and messages with figurative art; Sydney’s The Glue Society and @Radical Media, who worked with indy music sensation Arcade Fire; Melbourne architects Herbert & Mason; and UK designers Hellicar & Lewis. Besides Drypnz, the only other New Zealand speaker is Auckland’s film crew, Perceptual Engineering, whose recent work includes special effects for Two Little Boys and the New Zealand Pavilion at the Frankfurt Book Fair.
Originally published October 31, 2012 in Capital Times.