Mik Shida discusses conservative views on street art, his influences and the dangers of social media influencing young Australians opinionsMik Shida is an Australian multidisciplinary artist who is internationally known for his impact in the street art scene through his fractal and ethereal artwork. Residing in Melbourne but spending time abroad frequently, Shida’s practise also encompasses film, publishing and illegal public art, and he has painted murals across five continents. A few months ago we caught up with Mik, and talked about what inspires his art, attitudes towards street art and the danger of social media influencing young Australians views on social issues.
Aware: So you’ve been in street art for a while, how long has it been?
Mik: I’ve always been an artist, since I was a kid, but I got into street art when I was 13 or 14, so that’s 11 or 12 years ago. I was doing what I called characters.
Aware: And it wasn’t the fractal stuff that you’re doing now?
Mik: No it was really quite different at the beginning. It’s evolved slowly into what it is now.
Aware: So you were painting for a while before you were 13 though?
Mik: Yeah I was always into art, my family’s quite artistic, my parents are both architects so they always supported me, and I was quite an introverted, quiet kid who was always drawing my fantasies, so it’s always been a big part of my life.
Aware: Why street art, as opposed to other forms of art? Especially when at times it is illegal and you can risk a lot for it?
Mik: I would say for me it made sense, it sort of coalesced my art into something I could get credit for, and engage with people. Whereas before it was just that people noticed, and it was exciting, and I could make friends through it, can get positive feedback, and I guess that started the loop. It’s a little bit to do with ego in that sense, but not in a bad way necessarily. It does make you feel like you’re doing something, building on something. As for the risk, I mean, it’s a calculated risk. In New York for example, I went to jail for 3 days for graffiti. They didn’t actually catch me doing graffiti, but they caught me putting up a sticker, and went through my bag and straight away I was against the wall in cuffs. I expected to be interrogated, but they just take you straight to jail in the states. Just thinking, hope I’m not in here for too long. I try to make a point of not doing anything that I wouldn’t be proud of, that I wouldn’t show my parents. So yeah I do a lot of illegal stuff, but it is all art, and it is all something that I wouldn’t hide from anyone or be ashamed of.
Aware: And stuff like that, in New York, doesn’t put you off at all?
Mik: It makes you think. I am able to go back to the states but at the time I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to pursue my career, not be able to travel to certain places. So you do have to think about that, but you can’t be afraid.
Aware: What are your main influences on your art?
Mik: I guess from the start it was always science fiction and fantasy and this sort of stuff. Now, I guess, I still have a lot of that, but also like mythology and like art from different ancient cultures, art and where it meets spirituality and all that kind of stuff. That’s like the perspective that I imagine myself creating art from, like as it has always been done through time. Some kind of divine inspiration. Like, it’s not always the case for sure, but in a sense it’s quite natural like that.
Aware: Do you ever come up with artwork specific to a place? Say you come up with a concept or an idea that you’d like to project somewhere, then would you be like, ‘I’d love to do that in Europe, or in Alice Springs’?
Mik: It’s not necessarily preconceived like that, it’s more so when I’m in a place, prior to starting work, I like to do a bit of tourism, to see the sights, meet people, get a feel of the place. That of course influences the work I’m going to create. Also, depending on the context you do have to think about what’s, not necessarily appropriate, but what you do want to do in that place. Like if you’re in a big city, you can do something that’s really, like, brash and fucked in a sense, whereas I wouldn’t want to come to Alice and do something that’s just going to be controversial, and people will miss the positive aspects of it. I definitely do get influenced and think about where I’m working. But then of course, because it’s more on wall and on different shaped surfaces, that really comes into it as well, what style you can do, what’s going to be the most effective depending on what it is. There’s a lot of logistics to think about as well.
Aware: Street art can have a lot of negative connotations as a form of art, mainly because of it’s relationship to graffiti, and at times it can be referred to as graffiti or as illegal. How do you feel when street art isn’t really recognised as a form of art?
Mik: I don’t think it happens too much, I mean everyone has their own opinion, I just let people think what they want. There’s plenty enough people that are positive about it for me to be able to do it, and at this point in my career I don’t feel there are people trying to put it down or put me down or what I’m doing down. So yeah there’s always going to be conservative members of the community, or people really high up in the arts who look down on it, there’s going to be these individuals, but it’s just their opinion.
Aware: So it never really has impacted your creative expression at all?
Mik: When I was first coming up, I was painting a lot in Brisbane, which is quite conservative, and then you do feel people who are opposed to it, and I think that does influence you but I think it pushes you as well, if you’re opposed you have to muscle up to it and push even harder so it doesn’t stop you. I mean, in my personal tastes, I don’t actually dislike graffiti, I even like tags, I think it’s funny, I think people are a bit too caught up in that idea of ownership, or of things being permanent. Graffiti can be ugly, and it is destructive, but it’s only skin deep, like it’s only there for a minute, the world’s not over
Aware: What do you think that people, and I guess more conservative people, need to realise about graffiti, as a form of art, and a recognised form of art?
Mik: Well for starters I think they need to realise that even for the kids that are the taggers for example, they’re putting in a lot of energy. Maybe it’s not being used in the best possible way but it a strong kind of energy that can be channelled into something else. And there’s a lot of skills behind graffiti that are applicable to life, like you can’t be afraid, you have to work as a team, you can’t be lazy. There’s like, basic blocks there for something good, which I think is why a lot of people coming from that background are able to move into successful avenues or art, because they already have this background of being motivated. So I mean, you just have to be smart about it, and treat these kids in a way that’s going to push them in a good direction rather than a bad one. What they should know about street art, if you think of the place where there’s the most street art, and where the scene’s the strongest, it’s usually the cities which are the most cultured, where there’s the most happening in the world. So it’s not a sign of woes, it’s more sign that places are full of young people that are motivated, not inside but outside and actually trying to engage with the community and with each other, so it’s a positive thing. It’s nothing to be looked down upon, it’s a big part of art today I think.
Aware: So, you’ve travelled around the world quite a bit doing murals, where have you spent the most time abroad?
Mik: I think the most time abroad would have been in Poland, which is where my family is from, originally, and I was there for the majority of the last year, based in the city Łódź, which is in Central Poland, where my extended family are except for my folks. It’s a beautiful place, but it’s quite a difficult place to live essentially, because there is quite a lot of social problems and poverty, it’s not a tourist destination within Poland.
Aware: Did you do much street art there?
Mik: Yeah I tried, I did a fair bit. There is a quite incredible mural festival which is based in Łódź which I would say is one of the best in Europe for sure. But at the same time the place is quite conservative, so it is quite difficult to get things across the line, just because of Polish bureaucracy. There’s a lot of nepotism, and you need to know people to get things accomplished, and if for someone like me, while I have family and know plenty of people there, I’m not necessarily comfortable with that way of going about things. I’m not the person that’s going to hustle and try and win people over. I’ve spent a lot of time there, spent a lot of time in Vienna, I really love Vienna, Austria, I have really good friends there and an art collective I’m a part of there.
Aware: What’s the art collective called?
Mik: It’s Erga Erga, which is Slovenian for trouble, trouble. Which gives you an idea about the nature of our art. I mean some of them have a graffiti background and others don’t necessarily, but I mean it’s very funny group of people as you’d imagine.
Aware: Did they care much about the stuff you were doing there? Was it like Poland, and Łódź in the sense that you sort of had to know people to do it legally.
Mik: In Poland for example, it is quite difficult to paint illegally, like it is possible, it is doable, but you do have to be smart, just because if the police catch you, they’ll kick the shit out of you for sure.
Aware: So, last year you shared an article called ‘Where did all the subcultures go?’. Basically, it was a really good article and the key themes were that we don’t have as many youth movements in society compared to what we used to, and that a lot of things are and screwed in today’s society. In regards to that article, what are some things in society, and in particular Australian society, that you think are pretty messed up, and usually ignored, that shouldn’t be?
Mik: For starters, talking about that article, I mean it was definitely different 10 years ago, and I feel like they were a little bit more apathetic to a lot of things, as far a subcultures go definitely. I feel like at this moment, from my personal experience, there’s quite a lot of extremism, in a lot of different ways. Just from being in the arts scene I see a lot of people, and I feel people are forming a lot of really dogmatic, extreme views on the world. Whether it’s extreme neo-progressivism, or people reacting to that and just being really fucked and racist. I guess people in Australia really feel like they have the right to tell you how you should be living or what you should think, as if it’s their right. I feel like that’s something I get a lot from all sides just from being in my position. Like, telling me I’m doing street art and graffiti wrong because I work commercially, for example. I think it really stems from the internet, where people do really get stuck being friends with people who really share their kind of ideas, and they forget that Australia is really very diverse and there are people with different opinions to theirs. You can get on your Facebook, and get lost in this kind of echo chamber of people smashing the same kind of views as yours, and what I’ve noticed is that people start to believe that these ideas are right, or that they are right, or that they are morally justified and this is something that really bothers me. And I don’t think this is really an Australian problem, it’s more a problem in the world in general.
My personal philosophy, I think, is more be and let be. I don’t try and push my beliefs on to anyone if I can help it, and not let people rile me up or influence me either. If I’m trying to do something positive or inspire positive change I’ll do it through my art which I can do well, rather than being part of some political group. I feel like Australia is very polarised in a number of ways, and young people have opinions, affiliations for example, without even knowing what they mean or the facts behind it just because they’ve picked a lane. And with social media and their friend group and all this, it’s confirmed and they’re done. What’s great for me, with travelling for example, and painting, is I do meet people from really diverse backgrounds, with really diverse opinions, and I love that. Like, I’m not the kind of person who will meet someone who says something inappropriate and will judge them harshly on that. I think everyone has fucked opinions in certain things, you just have to see the good in people, where you have things in common, how you can actually like, do good, rather than judge. Who am I to judge and who are people to judge me?
Aware: How would you find this issue of polarisation and opinions being broadcasted on to people different in somewhere like Łódź as opposed to Australia?
Mik: I think it’s similar, I mean it’s incredibly different in the fact that the general opinions held by young people are really different, like you would be shocked knowing just how different people are in Poland for example, how different young people are in Poland to how they are in Australia. I would meet young artists and other sorts of people who I would expect to have a sort of worldview and then you’d get on to the subject of something like race or something like this and then they would have the most incredibly kind of racist, inconceivable views. I can understand racism coming from someone who is ignorant, but not from someone like an educated artist, let’s say, and they start speaking about like, blood purity. It’s a really popular opinion there, and they’re frightened from all sides. That the Russians are going to get them, that the Germans are going to get them, all of Arabia’s going to come. And people are messed up, and this is what I’m saying about the echo chamber, they just sit in a circle and everyone just gets this kind of extreme opinion. Which was for me, difficult to deal with, because it’s not like something that I can get down with, and not how I look at the world. But at the same time these people were my friends, and apart from this opinion that almost wasn’t their choice essentially, that was almost pushed on to them, apart from that they were beautiful people, beautiful artists, interesting and intelligent with a lot of good to give as well.
I guess in Australia, what I find a lot of the time is the extreme in the opposite sense, where people are afraid to say a lot of things, because they’ll be labelled as being racist or being sexist or being misogynist or anything like this, and I think that’s not necessarily healthy either, because if you just suppress what you’re thinking it’s bullshit really. All people fall into line, and there’s a set canon of what is appropriate to think and believe, which isn’t the case. What I’m saying is the world is diverse, it’s okay to have different opinions on things, it doesn’t make you a bad person necessarily. I think my advice, I’m not going to preach, but my advice is to not only try and hang out with people who share your kind of view on the world, because you will learn much more, and you will form a much more view of your own, and your own ideas if you have different influences not just the same ones. If you have all the same ideas and influences you’ll be stuck in the same opinion, but it’s not yours, it’s just the story written for you. I think you really have to work through and think about it.