Gary is a NZ-born Samoan artist with a varied art practice that includes art education, production, curation, and facilitation. Since 2010 Gary has focused on developing his artwork outside of the letter-based forms of graffiti, which he had been heavily involved in early in his career (1998). This transition sees Silipa producing work that shifts between the streets and indoor settings.
Gary’s artwork continues to explore his unique, yet shared identity as a first-generation New Zealander from the Pacific Islands growing up in a modern, urban environment.
Outside of making his own art Gary helps to deliver Auckland’s longest running outdoor mural project on behalf of TGTB Charitable Trust, Bradley Lane Project, and leads an artist-run community arts gallery called The Good The Bad Gallery in Glen Innes.
The Oyster spoke to Gary about his time exhibiting in Otara below ...
This is my second time exhibiting in the Otara location and my exhibition focused on my pride in being Samoan.
My parents moved to NZ from Samoa in the early 80’s and I was born in Auckland not long after. My cultural dentity is something I struggled with for a long time. In NZ I was considered a Samoan even though my knowledge of Samoan language and culture is not that strong, but in Samoa I was called a ‘palagi’ since I was from NZ – a reference Samoans use for Europeans.
I’ve been pretty settled for a while now thinking I fit somewhere in between yet separate from both. The recent success of the Samoan rugby league team and the parades and pride it showcased (especially in Ōtara) stirred something in me that reminded me that being Samoan is a big part of who I am and I should acknowledge and be proud of that.
The exhibition in a way is a thank you to Ōtara for the reminder.
Who is one of your biggest influences?
Keith Haring is one of my favourite artists. I like his use of symbols and how simple some of his artwork is drawn yet convey a much deeper meaning if you scratch the surface. You can enjoy it on lots of different levels.
What do you love most about being an artist?
Making art – the process and final outcome. Usually starts with a rough idea which develops as you work on it with surprising and unexpected results. There’s normally challenges and obstacles faced to move forward or steer you in different directions which keeps it interesting. I really enjoy when the final outcome includes aspects that weren’t anticipated at the beginning or if it was technically challenging and I managed to pull it off.
What recent exhibition most excited you and why?
I was really looking forward to checking out an exhibition in Melbourne in 2020 with Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat at the National Gallery of Victoria. Two of my favourite artists. Everything was booked then we went into lockdown a week before leaving.
How do you think your heritage informs your art practice?
Samoan culture has a strong connection to patterns and symbols that help to identify it. These traditional patterns were created at a particular time and place with references to the surrounding environment on the island. I use this same idea to help me understand what my cultural identity is. But since I was born in an urban environment I create patterns and symbols from my surroundings and what I grew up with experiencing in NZ.
What is the main message you want to convey through your work in general?
Life. Identity, beliefs and interests from my personal perspective. The good and the bad. Universal stuff I think lots of people can relate to.