Creative, Sweet


Posted by Creative, Sweet

While some of us struggle to hold down a single passion throughout our lifetime, Otis Frizzell has managed to maintain a credible stance and presence in the New Zealand urban culture since the early 80’s. From his Hip-Hop duo with Rhythm Slave and contemporary art duo Weston Frizzell, to his taco venture with wife Sarah “The Lucky Taco”. Frizzell has certainly dabbled in many things over his life, but one thing is for sure, they are all met with 100% commitment and passion. We get the chance to go down memory lane with Otis as we discuss his early days as a graffiti artist and how his life has manifested since then. 

Haser: You’ve had a solid presence in what seems like everything, from music and television to graffiti and contemporary art, and now an ambassador for the Taco connoisseur community. For those that are unfamiliar with your art, can you tell us who you are and where you’re from?

Otis Frizzell: My name is Otis Frizzell. I was born in 1971 in Auckland, new Zealand and have lived there ever since. I still use OPTO when I do street art or graffiti. I sign most of my my more conventional art 'Otis Frizzell’, but I also do a lot of collaborative work with Mike Weston, and those works are signed ‘Weston Frizzell’.

Wow, that’s quite the portfolio of alter egos.  

My first introduction to you was through your graffiti and mural art when I was a teenager, what was your introduction into graffiti and how did that manifest into the mural art?

In 1978, when I was 7, my family did a six month road trip through America and Mexico. The trip ended in Brooklyn, New York. While we were there, we rode the subway every day. NYC Subway graffiti was just starting to ‘happen’ in the mid/late 70’s so I got to see some of the very first pieces. Even though they were pretty basic back then, I marvelled at the size, shape and colour. They were beautiful, it seemed incredible to me that these kids were writing their names as big and bright as the Coca Cola signs in Times Square but seemed to have their own language. I wanted to do it, but of course I was only 7 so it seemed impossible. I kind of forgot about it after that, until, back in New Zealand 6 years later, I saw Beat Street at the movies. It was like an explosion in my brain! I was like… “That’s it!! That’s what I saw when I was a kid! And now… NOW I ain’t just a kid… I can try and do this stuff!”. I literally went on the hunt for spray paint the next day. I was snooping round a building site and found some fluorescent paint… Next night I climbed out of my bedroom window in the middle of the night and went down to a squash court down the road. At this stage I hadn’t even thought of giving myself a name or a ’tag’. All I could think to write was RAP. It was pretty shakey with super simple bubbles and I was terrified of getting busted, but it looked ok. Good enough for me to want to try again.

Whoa, that’s a pretty incredible thing to experience New York during that era. I’m quite accustomed to my lifestyle now, but I’d love to go back and experience what it was like back then.

Being you had such an early introduction into graffiti, was this your gateway into making art or were you well and truly into art making before this?

My father is an artist, so I was always surrounded by art, and he was into comics and Pop Art, which both had an impact on Graffiti, so I was kind of in the right environment. We had coloured pencils, paint and paper. I used to copy Uncle Scrooge comic covers. I was totally into art from as young as I can remember.

Awesome, I’ve met a bunch of artists that wish their parents understood their creativity as a child, so like you, I’m really grateful for mine. 

With all that influence as a kid, how would you define the style of art you are making now?

I think Low Art is right on… However, now days I guess it’s evolved into just Art, or Pop Art. I don’t really know, I don’t really care! I never went to art school or studied art, I kind of just absorbed it. But I was always drawn to comics, tattoos, pin striping, graffiti. Those are known as ‘Low Art’ forms because they aren’t ‘Fine Art'. The whole fine art world kind of gives me the shits. Sometimes the wankery that comes with the gallery circuit is fucking unbearable.

I like that, as much as I admire education, and I am an advocate for it, I also think life experience is just as credible, and there shouldn’t be anyone to tell you otherwise. 

Now, not only are you floating between multiple disciplines as an artist, you have a completely unrelated side to you that is basically a full time gig with The Lucky Taco. How have you managed to juggle everything going on in your life and still allow yourself time to create art?

When my wife Sarah and I started The Lucky Taco, I really didn’t do any art for about three years, I just knew it needed 100%. It broke my heart to be honest, but I knew once it was up and running, I could return to the studio, and I did. I don’t really suffer from a big ego. I’m happy to do what it takes. Like one night we were making tacos for a party full of rich people, and this woman said, “Aren’t you Otis Frizzell? The Artist? Why are you working in a Taco Truck? this is great. A famous artist is making me dinner!!”. Like it was a lowly thing to do. Like we were the ‘help’. Then I go home and do dishes for two hours and wipe down the truck. But I was just doing what needed to be done, working with my amazing wife and trying to build a brand from the ground up. 

Good on you, 

To be honest it’s hard trying to get by as an artist, we often have to do shit to pay the bills. I ain’t to proud, when I was younger and doing Radio and TV and Hip Hop shows etc, that all just worked symbiotically with the art I was doing at the time.

Respect, it’s always quite reassuring to see artists continue to live a life on the side, there seems to be this pressure that if you’re not self-sufficient with making art, you are a failed artist, which is obviously complete bulls**t.

Can we look forward to seeing more murals from you in the future?

Absolutely. I still love doing murals. But I tell you what… I’m nearly 50 and it certainly gets harder. I did a giant wall last year, a really nutty piece with a bunch of sheep portraits. 24 meters long and 3 meters high, all on my own in 4 days. It nearly killed me!

Sounds like you need some assistants, I like to think I’ll be doing it for a long time, but even at my age I can feel it, it certainly is a young persons game.

Now, let’s jump to the other side of your art career which is the collaborative force of yourself and Mike Weston aka Weston Frizzell. 

Like a lot of people I once thought Weston Frizzell was another member of the Frizzell whanau, can you tell us how you two met?

Mike used to have a gallery behind K Rd. He curated a graffiti show in the mid 90s that I was a part of. He loved my work and offered me my first solo show, and after that became my art dealer. It was strange because at fist I couldn’t understand why I’d need a dealer/manager, but the relationship worked. He really pushed me. He found commissions. Sure, he was taking a dealer cut but he pushed up my prices. So all of a sudden I was getting 60% of $4000 rather than 100% of $1000. It made sense.

Nice, I guess you have to see the bigger picture and it seems it paid off. I feel bad asking for big $$$, but I know I’m only selling myself short, so it usually is good to have someone do it on your behalf.

It’s cool to hear how you two met, but how did you guys start working together and is there a process to the way you guys work?

It evolved… After a while he was helping with ideas and concepts. We started to share a studio space. Some days I’d just be standing there staring at a panel. Painters block. You know… Sometime there are no ideas. He would come in and say… “Just paint Marilyn Monroe.”. I’d be like… “Everyone has painted Marilyn Monroe.”. He’d say, just paint it better than them. So I would. And then we’d sell it. 

The process now, thou? BEHAVE is the best example. One day mike came in and said, “I've got an idea…”. He had a really bad scribble copied from the BeeHive match box. He said I want to make this picture but it says BEHAVE instead of BeeHive, with a Gordon Walters style Koru as the door/entrance. He is not a good illustrator/draftsman, but he has good ideas. I took a look and said, we could make the whole thing like a Gordon Walters style painting. then he said, In Red, Black and White! Then I said, we could use that stencil font for the letters to pay homage to Ralph Hotere! It went back and forth until it was done. Neither of us had any more ideas to throw at it… But the question was, who’s idea was it. The original concept was Mike’s, but I had shaped it into something. So basically, there and then, we invented and artist called Weston Frizzell, who would be responsible for our collaborative works. Then we both painted it. Mike doing textures. me cutting stencils. Mike sands it back. I paint it on...

Collaborative efforts that escalate by a continuous back and forth conversation always end up turning into something great. I have always wondered how that relationship came about, so I’m glad you were able to shed some light on it.

You seem to be a very busy man, but if money and time weren’t an issue, what would your dream project be?

I would LOVE to do some giant 3D sculptures. 5 stories high… More! Stuff that’d need a team of civil engineers.

Admirable, there’s a huge sense of accomplishment when you have people working with/for you. I hope you follow that dream, I’d love to see how it goes.

If you could live anywhere in the world and make art, where would it be? 

That’s a hard one. I love New Zealand. But I’d love to live in New York for a while… that’s always been a dream.

That certainly is the dream.

Who is on your inspiration feed and what artists have inspired you along the way?

My dad is a big inspiration. Many unknown pinstripe artists… Warhol. The graffiti greats. SEEN. DONDI. But equally The Smooth Crew in Auckland and Elliot Francis Stewart, ASKEW, Charles PHAT Williams, The Sacred Tattoo crew, Stan Lee. YOU! 

Thank you, I’m honoured and R.I.P Stan Lee. 

On the subject of inspiration, what music is banging on ya playlist at the moment?

Dam. I’m LOVING the new school Hip Hop coming out of Aotearoa right now. Swidt, Church and AP, Eno x Dirty, That new Guilty Simpson jam that samples Marlon Williams!! Ooosh. Bailey Wiley is on heavy rotate at our place...

Ya def have some bangers on there, and you’re right, the NZ music scene is at a very healthy stage right now.

Where would you like to see yourself in the next 5 years? 

If I can keep on being relevant, I’ll be happy. If I can make art and people buy it, I’m happy. I have a wee house in Western Springs, beer in the fridge and a wife and family I love very much. I consider myself very lucky. If I’m right where I am now in 5 years I’ll be winning.

Admirable, if there was any part of your art career you could rewrite or advise your younger self on, what would it be?

Nuthin’. I like to take the evolutionary path. Like a river over time, it bends and changes but keeps moving. 

100%, I think if you are happy now, than you have to accept anything that was.

And last but not least, your favourite burger from BurgerFuel?

Always the CNCheese with extra pickle. I’m a cheese burger guy, and that has been the one since waaaaay back.

The best.

Thanks a lot for your time Otis, if you would like to see more of Otis Frizzell’s work you can follow him on the grams and purchase his work here.