Conversations at the Stencil Festival

Conversations with the international stencil artists at the stencil festival. Talking with John Koleszar, a stencil artist in a conservative town in Arizona and with Russell Howze from San Francisco, author of Stencil Nation. I wasn’t really interviewing them; I didn’t have any questions prepared like the other journalist at the gallery. I wasn’t in a journalist mode as I was taking a break from preparing the gallery for the exhibition. I was just listening to what they had to say about the art in the exhibition. Russell Howze tells me about that stencil art is common on the sidewalks in San Francisco and New York rather than on the walls.

I learnt a new term “spaghetti style stencils”; as a critic I am interested in term to describe images. Ralf Kempken’s recent work uses spaghetti style stencils, long thin lines of contrasting color that form an image. Kempken has cut the strips right out of the canvas, using the white gallery wall for contrast. We are all very impressed with Kempken’s series of images made from long lines cut out of the canvas that form a picture a right distance.

John Koleszar and Russell Howze talked about the love of hand-cutting stencils and spray-cans. This love of stencil cutting is evident in Koleszar’s multi-layered work, that take months to cut and resemble color photograph except for the differences in paint sheen and very slight over-sprays. Even when there are commercial mechanical means of producing stencils that are accessible to the serious stencil artist and airbrushes that use mixed colors Koleszar and Howze both prefer hand-cut stencils and spray-cans for reasons of “soul”. It seems an odd concern to me in some ways given how many mechanical or digital means are used to produce stencils. In some ways stencil artists are like woodcarvers whittling away with their knives to produce what plastic injection molding could mass-produce.

I haven’t really spoken to A1one from Iran, a quite guy with a moustache; I’ve just said hello. His paintings include images on wide paintbrushes bristles, 12-inch records and canvases. I hope that I can catch up with him before the end of the festival.

About Mark Holsworth

Writer, independent researcher and artist, Mark Holsworth is the author of the book Sculptures of Melbourne. View all posts by Mark Holsworth

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