A Chat with ECCE

One of the earliest and most regular contributors to StencilArchive's
photo cache just happens to be the farthest away. ECCE (Latin for
behold and pronounced A-che) lives in Australia, where stencil art is
apparantly beginning to really take off. After doing some research
online, and figuring out that we're 17 hours apart, we then coordinated
a couple of online chats. Here's what we discussed.

SA: Hey, is this ecce?

E: Sure is. How are you today?

SA: I'm fine. just got back from a Greek orthodox food festival. Thanks a lot for hopping online to chat.

E: No problem, I've been looking forward to it.

SA: Let's get started with questions. I'm interested in the name "ECCE". What does it mean? Or what's the story behind it?

E: It is Latin for "behold". I wanted to adopt a brand type name to parody the big corporations.

SA: Oh. I guess you pronounce it a-che then. You use the recycle symbol with it. Is that part of your "branding strategy"? (Had to sound corporate with that phrase.)

E: Yeh. The recycling symbol if you look closely has been altered to turn on itself. I'm into recycling culture and imagery.

SA: I guess this all ties into the rant that you have on your web site. You state that art is for everyone and that public space needs to be reclaimed from advertising. Is this what most of your art is for?

E: Most of it is just because I like doing what I do. I love playing around with images and coming up with something that other people can look at and visually like. If I can slip in some sort of message between the lines then great. I think the message needs to be second to the imagery though.

SA: Your stencil art seems to fit that description. Nice images, like the octopus or bode figure, put up on the public walls. Their actual location is the message, and the images themselves are nice to look at. But then you've got the art on your site called ironic consumption. That seems to be a heavier message.

E: Yeh. That's an exhibition I had last year. It was a mix of paintings sculpture and collages all with a serious political statement. My politics are pretty left wing and the show went off nicely. I even served cheeseburgers and fried chicken which was pretty funny with the whole theme of corporate evils.

SA: Do you have a main medium for your art? How did begin to do stencil art along with your sculpture and collages?

E: I studied painting at university, although after that I began working at a copy centre. This gave me a great source of images to collage with. I began making collages into stickers and then posters for the streets. After this street style I began seeing a few stencils and as a teenager I was into graff, so stencils seemed to e the perfect next evolution of my work. Did that answer it???

SA: Yeah, that works. Did you teach yourself how to make stencils?

E: I have a friend called 7u? and they have been doing this sort of stuff for a while. They showed me the basics, such as materials and stuff, but everything else has developed into my own techniques and styles.

SA: When I tell people about my passion for stencil art, they are usually interested in the methods and techniques used to make them. What basics did you get from 7u?, and how did you develop your technique and style?

E: First I find or create an image I think will work as a stencil, then I photocopy it, enlarging or reducing it to the size I need. I then get it laminated as this is easy to cut and pretty sturdy. While I'm cutting it, I work out shadowing, island and everything as I go. None of its really planned no matter how complicated the image is. You begin to notice as you go, what will work and what won’t, but it takes practice.

SA: Interesting that you used the island terminology. Someone once explained stencils to me by means of islands and bridges. Does the laminated image stay together for a while, or dies it get soggy?

E: Hahaha, I've only picked up that term recently.
The more you spray, the sturdier it becomes. I’ve got some that are over a year old.

SA: Can you cut nice details with laminated photocopies?

E: Yeh. I can get some nice stuff happening, although I tend to think it comes down more to the spraying.

SA: What exactly do you mean? If you cut details, its the spraying that will make them lay down on the surface?

E: If the spray get underneath the stencil, no matter how much detail there is, it will be lost.

SA: I see. You have a point with that...have you tried other materials to cut stencils out of?

E: I tried cardboard but wasn't able to cut what I wanted nice enough. I prefer the laminated way as the image doesn't need to be transferred across.

I have to transfer with my stencils and it does create extra steps in the process. What do you like about using stencils as a medium? I love the fact that it can be reproduced over and over, just like screen printing, but stencils are ready to go anywhere. I also love the nice edges you get on some images and the challenge of cutting just the right sections to make it work.

SA: In my last interview with Chris Stain, we discussed screen printing's similarity to stenciling. Stenciling seems to fit in to your web site rant too. Are their corporate stencils in Australia? There are here.

E: I remember when Microsoft was launching the Xbox over here they were stenciling it everywhere. Turns out they got busted and were made to clean everyone of them off..... hahaha. I think that has deterred a lot of marketing via stencils, so we don't get all that many

SA: That's funny b/c IBM covered several cities, including San Francisco, with stencils and got busted as well. They had to sandblast or pay big fines. Do you screen print your posters and stickers?

E: No, after working with photocopiers, I tend to now use them with pretty much everything I do. I colour copy onto sticker labels for the stickers, but most posters I do have been black and white.

SA: When you go out wheat pasting and stenciling, do you do it alone or with a crew? Any advice for the wary street stenciler?

E: Iv'e got a funny system happening. My girlfriend drives the car and I jump out to do my thing. Vie even done it just by hanging out of the car window. This works for me b/c I like to cover large areas quickly and then be out of there. There are some really good tips Vie found on the net if you are walking around, like cutting the stencil into the bottom of a pizza box.

SA: The pizza box is a good idea. I’ve seen a person dress up nice and carry a stencil in a briefcase (with the cans in there as well). Others have mentioned art portfolios.

E: Hahaha, yeh, if you are going walking you need to be creative. I heard of cutting into record sleeves and carrying a dj record case.

SA: A few more questions. Stencils and graff seem to be distant cousins here in the U.S. Is that true for Australia?

E: Only just. Stencils are really only just coming big over here now, and it seems to be more designer types doing street art. I can only think of maybe 3 or 4 stencilers that have crossed over from graff, myself included.

Over here, you really don't see the cultures mixing. I've run across graff artists who think that stenciling isn't as creative. Others like stencils b/c you can redo the images.

I personally think they work well together. I see stenciling as a creative tagging technique where you can use images as well as your name to get up.

SA: Yeh. I don't want to sound harsh on the graff world, but one reason I started the site was b/c there was a lot of graff documentation going on, but very little stencil doc. I have seen pieces with stencil signatures and graff handles stenciled around too.

E: Yeh, but I've noticed lately that stenciling is really coming of age, thanks to the internet, and sites like yours, people are beginning to take notice and see it as its own art form instead of some graff throw back.

SA: Thanks. Tristan Manco's Stencil Graffiti book does a lot for stencil art as well (he's linked on my site).

(We ran out of time with the initial chat, so got together a second time to talk.)

E: Howdy

SA: Hey man. Something told me to log on early. How's Friday?

E: Chillin.

SA: That's cool. Tomorrow San Francisco celebrates ten years of critical mass. We're also having our first ever car free day. Looking forward to Friday.

E: Man, that’s cool. I had no idea critical mass had been going for that long.

SA: Yeh. It started here and was originally called "commuter clot." I bet there are going to be about 2,000 cyclists wandering the streets tomorrow. Is there a crit mass in your city?

E: Yeh, but its no where near that big.

SA: At least you have one. There's another one in Washington, DC tomorrow protesting the IMF and world bank. Those usually end up with lots of arrests.

E: Yeh, I've been to a few here in Sydney and only just managed to avoid all the trouble.

SA: I'm curious, just what do Australians think about all the war mongering with the US and UK on one side and Iraq on the other?

E: The government supports it, but the majority of people (that I know anyway) think that US has no right and in the end it all comes down to economics.

SA: Yeh. Iraq has the second largest oil deposits in the world after Saudi Arabia. Do you see many political stencils around? Most of the ones you've given me are more artistic than political (even though its a political statement putting one up illegally).

E: OK, before we start I should say that I can really only speak about the Sydney stencils, so when I talk about Australia I really mean Sydney. Most stencils around here are artistic, Other forms of street art are used for political means. I have seen the occasional anti SHELL stencil or anti uranium mining, but not too many.

SA: Is there stencil art that you know of going on in other parts of Australia? Part two of the political stencils: here in San Francisco it is a viable means of expressing yourself in public. So much so that most of the stencils I see are just text. Just shot one that said "Eat *****, not cow" ha ha.

E: Hahaha. I know that the stencil scene in Melbourne is really ripping things up and I’ve seen some stuff from Perth. I think there are more political stencils going around, but I tend to like the artistic ones unless they are really clever- like the one you just mentioned.

SA: One thing I like about stencils is that anybody with a cereal box and an xacto knife can make one. Guess you need paint! Focusing back on Sydney. You mentioned earlier that the stencils are taking off. Do you really think the internet sparked the urge?

E: I think the net helps, but also I think the idea spreads as people see them on the street and then discover the means of doing them.

SA: That makes a lot of sense. You mentioned stencil artists 7u? Do you know many other stencil artists?

E: Only from the net. As you would know, most of us like to remain anon. A few months ago there was a stencil exhibition in a small gallery, but most artists there weren’t from the street so it sucked. Anyway, part of being anon, means you miss opportunities like this, but more people will see your stuff on the street than in a gallery.

SA: Stencil signatures are just showing up here in SF. Do most Sydney artists sign their street stencils? btw, should I change the website category I have from "Australia/ECCE" to "Sydney/ECCE"? Are online tips/collaborations traded between the Sydney artists?

E: I have been really getting into the writers forum (12 oz prophets) and meeting a lot of different people from Sydney, but also through festivals and a few shows I've done, people contact me via the net for tips and just to chat. Most of the pics I've sent you are from Sydney with the exception of 1 or 2. Through the net contacts, they are sending me pics from all over now.

SA: We'll leave it at Australia then. Off the top of your head, are there people using different methods to make the actual stencils?

E: Yeh, I've heard/ seen that people here are using everything from cardboard to those plastic real estate 4 sale signs.

SA: When you use the more photographic images, are those drawn freehand? How many color separations have you worked with?

E: They too are worked from photocopies. The most I've used were three and that was the Bode girl. I'm working on another one at the moment and that has three. I like the challenge of working with one layer to make it interesting instead of making it different by just adding more colour.

SA: Trying to think of something else to ask you. What would you like to talk about?

E: Ummm, which stencil artists would you say are really evolving the artform?

SA: There's a guy here in SF, pretty reclusive, but prolific I would say. I have a Scott Williams gallery on my site, and his stuff is just crazy. Even his one color stencils are amazing. He doesn't do street stencils and rarely does gallery either. Banksy is an amazing street stenciler, as is Stain.

E: Do you like blek ?

SA: Hmm. Not sure if I can place him. Where does he stencil, and what are his images?

E: I think he is from Paris. He does these huge images of people from around the world. Some of his stuff is in Tristan Manco's book. Banksy and Blek have been real inspirations for me.

SA: I'm flipping through Tristan's book now. I probably know his stuff and just can't place the name. I'm bad about that...there are a lot of amazing stencils in Tristan's book; all pretty inspirational for me. Just found blek. Always love the larger stencils. Scott Williams does murals over 60 feet long.

E: About page 36-37. Hahaha.I started a 'stencil pics' thread in the writers forum and there has been some very amazing stuff posted by people just having a go at it.

SA: I’ll have to update my links and put it on my site. In the past week I’ve gotten four new links to other stencil collections.

E: Really? I'll have to check them out after the update.

SA: Yeh. One from east London, another from Belgium, and a couple of more. One thing about stencils, they're all over the place and it really takes a lot of people to keep up with them all (I’ve seen many and not had a camera to shoot them with).

E: Yeh, that’s happened to me as well. Would you say that there has been an explosion of street creativity over the past few years? And why do you think this has happened?

SA: When I hit San Francisco in 1997, stencils were everywhere. The output hasn't really slowed down. When I was in New York City, they were everywhere. I think that there were a lot of people like us thinking the same thing: "Wow, using stencils is fun and a good way to express ourselves." Then Tristan's book came out, kinda solidifying all of our similar thoughts.

I was working on this site when his book came out. All at the same time. Don't know when banksy's tiny book came out, but stenciling has really taken off.

E: I first saw banksy's work in a design book called "scrawl too: more dirt". Stencils have been going on here for about the same time, but in the last few years they have spread all over the place, from city to suburbs.

SA: I've been gauging it by checking out the Southeastern United States (where I'm from) when I go there. Slowly, I'm seeing more stencils there, and I've been told that they're all over Atlanta, Georgia. People don't walk in Atlanta, they drive, so this was surprising. Just Seeds in Chicago has a stencil zine that's been out a while.

E: I was in New York back in '99 but I wasn't into stencilling then and am disappointed that I missed the opportunity to get some pics.

SA: Also, when I visited Israel three years ago, I was really amazed at the stencils, and their creativity. Didn't photograph about half of the ones I have on my site.

E: The SF scene seems to be really big not just for stencils, but graff and other lowbrow art.

SA: Yeh. Critics are actually calling it "the Mission School" after the Mission District. Probably 70% of my SF stencils come from there. The Mission School is people like Barry McGee who show in uptown galleries in NYC. As for lowbrow, there's lots of sticker/poster art too. All kinds. Uh, I guess that's what you mean by lowbrow.

E: He started out doing graff back in the 80s didn’t he? By lowbrow I meant people like Robt Williams, Mark Ryden, etc.

SA: Oh yeah. Last Gasp books hasn't been evicted from the city yet and they're still supporting amazing art like that.

E: But stickers, graff, postering and stencils all fit in there as well.

SA: Someone from the Mission Dist. just mailed me a 'zine called "Colour of Shadow"...it has some nice WC graff as well as phone booth graff...and stencils. Lowbrow can also include machine art like SF's Survival Research Laboratories.

E: What is machine art? I was planning on starting a ‘zine of Sydney graff and stencils but I just keep getting sidetracked by other projects.

SA: Machine art is basically robots that either shoot fire or destroy each other. Most of the machine artists I've met drink bud, wear flannel, and love to destroy things. Burningman has a lot of machine art...cars with flame throwers, and rides you can actually sit on in the middle of fire.

E: Hahaha, that's funny, kinda like that show from England- Robot Wars, where they battle each other with their machines. Not much machine art happening over here that I know of.

SA: Except you're standing next to a 7 foot tall machine that throws 2x4 boards into metal at 70kph. I saw an SRL machine do that into a van. The board kept going and banged up the car parked behind the van. Cops showed up, it was great.

E: That's awesome, where do I sign up..... hahaha.

SA: Well, SRL is banned around the world. If you can get them a gig in Sydney, they might just get there with their own money.

E: Man, that's cool. Back to stencils though, do you have any projects other than your site planned for the future?

SA: Not sure if you mean online or off. I always have stencil ideas, but am making a sticker once the Oct. update goes up. I'd like to broaden the site, but time and money always get in the way. I’m going to start asking for donations and give make a stencil to give away for donations over $13.

E: That's cool, I'll do what I can to help promote the archive.

SA: I appreciate that. I'd like to have a stencil centric bbs, an interactive faq. Things like that. Any last thoughts?

E: Ummm? Nope. Just like to say thanks for thinking of me for this.

SA: No problem. Thanks for supporting the site and please keep sending me pics. Can't get enough.

E: No problems there. I love stencilling and anything I can do to inspire other people to get into it is well worth the effort.

SA: I think you've summed up what a lot of people around the world are starting to feel as well. I'll sign off now. Have a good Friday.

E: Take it easy man.