ReturnTim Phibs Curates the Surface Festival in Canberra
A great deal of planning, determination and love went into holding the first edition of Surface Festival in Canberra, Australia. 35 urban artists produced work for the event, which also featured workshops, artist talks and dance shows as part of an ambitious program of activities.
We reached out to several key figures to talk about the event: Jacinta Fintan from the festival’s organization, Tim Phibs who painted several pieces and curated the artists who took part, and Ben Morton from Montana Colors Australia who sponsored the event.
Jacinta Fintan is the producer of Surface Festival.
Can you tell us a little about how the festival was founded, and how it has developed until the present day?
In early 2020, we were approached by Government to produce a street art festival in Australia’s capital city, Canberra. After three Covid-19 lockdown reschedules, Surface Festival finally kicked off in March 2022. The launch was a huge celebration after so many pandemic set-backs.
Over the past year we've been working to lock in walls and find the right artists for each site. We've also developed a large events schedule which includes tours, exhibitions, workshops and events. We've been working with many community organisations and local groups to really embed the event with Canberra culture. As an example, Project Beats held a huge Block Party with dancers and a stage on a closed off road out the front of the Canberra Centre shopping mall.
The artist line-up is especially diverse in terms of demographics and style too. What were you looking for when putting together the line-up?
As a curator and a working artist himself, Tim Phibs is always keen to engage with new and emerging artists in both the graff and street art scenes. Having a range of artists paint across styles keeps the festival fresh. We've got artists painting graffiti, stencils, portraiture, geometric art, indigenous art, landscapes - we've tried to incorporate just about everything you can think of.
Ensuring there is gender diversity is also a factor. As a Canberra Festival, local artist representation has also been important and more than half of the artists are from the ACT or grew up there.
Would you consider it a local event or an event with national reach?
We've been running into visitors from Victoria, NSW and Queensland so the festival definitely has a national reach. Even though travel is just starting to open up, many people have decided to visit and have travelled more than 4 hours to get here which is really good to see.
The program of events makes Surface far more than a mural festival. What were this year’s highlights?
The Block Party 'Boogie Down Under' with Project Beats was huge, we had a collaboration with Enlighten Festival where they lit up a 3D mural that Tim Phibs painted at the National Triangle as part of Enlighten.
Art workshops with Crisp, DELM 413 and Houl were a hit and sold out quickly. The 'Panel Sessions' at Gorman Arts Centre were also a highlight and covered topics such as NFTs and Crypto, the commercialisation of street art and graffiti, Street Art Book Publishing and Women in Street Art.
Can you explain the role that the Ngunnawal people play in the festival?
It's really important to the festival team that we honour and pay respect to the Ngunnawal people as traditional owners of the land. We consulted with elders to seek permission to host the festival on Ngunnawal country. Our Festival commissioned four Indigenous artists to paint murals at Surface - Kristie Peters, Eddie Longford, Bronwen Smith and Gavin Chatfield.
Tim Phibs was a participating artist who curated the creative side of the event.
Can you introduce yourself for our readers?
My name is Tim, graffiti name: PHIBS. I'm well known within the Australian and International graffiti/ street art world. I'm currently 47 years old age.
I started making a name and participating in the Sydney scene in the late 80s. Mind you, like most graff kids, it involved more illegal aspects of the subculture, whereas these days I focus more on large-scale commissioned and uncommissioned public art murals and curating artists/festivals. But, I still stay true and paint traditional graff on the regular as it's still a really important aspect of who I am and where I came from.
These days, I consider myself a bit of a 'jack of all trades' and have also been moving into studio and exhibited works. Being an artist, I need to keep it interesting for myself, firstly, as much as the audience secondly. I believe as an artist, it’s important to keep moving, always try new, fresh ideas, and push the limits.
What does the Surface festival mean to you?
Surface Festival was a great opportunity to stimulate the scene and educate the general public about the importance of street art and public art in our communities. Although Canberra has a strong scene already, I would like to think we have taken it "literally" to the next level.
During Surface Festival, at least four walls of around 8-9 stories high were painted - some of the largest public art ever painted in this territory, to date. We also showcased and offered opportunities to some of the new and emerging local and interstate artists.
This subculture is every-changing and moving in interesting directions, so it was important to show everything from First Nations stories about Country, abstract art, portraits, patternmaking and honoring the traditional graffiti artists who helped kick-start the movement. We can only hope that it will encourage more of the same in the future.
What did you produce for this year’s event?
Myself and Beastman created a large piece at the end of 2021 to help promote the upcoming festival. There were a few other side projects, like two underpass tunnels painted in the Parliamentary Triangle with the help of a few local artists.
I painted a de-commissioned ACTON bus, which is Canberra's main source of public transport. It became a makeshift legal wall during the festival. I created a mural for a local craft beer company, Bentspoke - who hosted our launch party and got us jolly.
Enlighten created a small feature piece for Enlighten Festival which coincided with our event. I did a few other pieces with the well-known locals in Canberra.
What was your highlight from 2022?
The fact that the festival got up and running after two years of pandemic restrictions, border closures and three postponed dates definitely felt like a small victory. The large-scale graff wall that I painted with local respected writers, Seth, Wiske, Ruben, and Dai Cameron, was definitely a highlight. This included large traditional graffiti lettering with a Japanese theme of Mount Fuji, tsunami wave, and Yokai characters which are supernatural beings from Japanese folklore. It was nice to see that this wall received a lot of love and attention from the general public.
Other mural festivals don't always include graff as it is already readily found in major cities, but nevertheless, it’s an important aspect of this scene.
What does Surface represent to the Australian scene in general?
It represents a new foundation for Canberra to roll out a staple line up in the Australian festival circuit. Bringing a solid variety of artists, from graffiti to street and indigenous artists.
What do you think really stands out about the event, compared to other festivals you’ve visited?
The curation team. It was good to see Tim Phibs lead the way on this project bringing his knowledge of project management from the perspective of a professional artist.
Can you pick out a couple of artists on the line-up that we should keep an eye on?
There is a couple that would be great to watch their form develop. We can watch out for delm413 - his letter forms are unique, where the fill and colour bring deep definition to his pieces. Definitely keen to see how far he can take his letters.
Another one would be Drez. His approach to colour and forming gradients is bold and exciting, definitely bringing an awesome intensity to the locations his works are in.
Overall, you should check out the complete line up, as each artist brings great execution to forming their mediums into unique pieces.
Check out the aftermovie from the festival right here:ShareApril 04, 2022