It’s no secret we have a soft spot for street art, and Cinzah Merkins (also known as Seekayem) is one of New Zealand’s best writers. He’s also a champion of the local scene, and together with some friends is putting the finishing touches on a full-length documentary on NZ street art – its culture and its characters. How he does it all we’re not sure – because he’s also a full-time illustrative artist, working on commercial projects with Watermark, and in his spare time creates works for exhibitions… and now, a series of prints for endemicworld! And despite how much he has on his plate, when we asked him to tell us a little more about himself and show us around his studios (yes, he has two of them – one at Watermark and one at home) he couldn’t have been more stoked and obliging…
Cinzah in his home studio
Pitter Patter art print – limited edition of 80, available at endemicworld
Can you describe your process for us with these prints – from where the inspiration came from to how you worked them up into finished digital works?
Sure thing… In general I always start in my sketchbook. Everything i do that translates to a finished digital illustration, or painted original starts in the sketchbook. I’ll usually scribble a really loose, rough sketch/ thumbnail of the general idea and story I want to tell, follow that with a couple of other slightly more thought out sketches, taking composition more into consideration. Then when i’m happy with one of these sketches, i’ll scan the sucker in, and Mac it up.
These works available on endemicworld were created in Adobe Illustrator using a wacom tablet. Sometimes i’ll scan found/photographed textures, and different mark-making images for effect. I quite like having an organic feel to my work. Flat digital generally bores the hell out of me.
‘Pitter Patter’ – was created originally as part of a larger group project I worked on with a handful of other illustrators in the collective i’m part of at Watermark. The image is a visual representation of the onomatopoeic title – ‘Pitter Patter’. I was trying to portray a mood / emotion and sense of nostalgia through use of minimal colour and tone. It was also a nice experiment for myself to create something with a geometric ridged approach, rather than my usual flowing line-work and forms.
‘Arctic Fishing’ could be inspired by a number of different things. A cute story exploring the relationship between a fisher man and a polar bear. Nature, and mans place within the natural world…. Maybe a response to proposed drilling in the Antarctic? Who knows – take what you want from it. Too me, its cute, fun, and childish. But also has a slightly darker/ heavier message somewhere in there. Will the fisherman be mauled by a giant wild animal? Or will the Polar Bear help the little dude catch some kai?
Cinzah begins concepting in one of his many sketchbooks…
How and when did you make the decision to dedicate your working life to your talent?
Kind of a long, and unplanned journey as to how I got here. Not quite sure how it happened myself! A few key moments and turning points in my life I guess. I always new I wanted to make cool shit for a living, and didn’t think i’d ever be able to survive an office job, or working under some big boss man. When I was in primary school I wanted to be an archeologist (basically because I was infatuated with Indiana Jones), then I found out you don’t really get to fight zombies and run around ancient ruins. I was always drawing. I was a bit of a gumby kid when it came to sports so avoided all that and hung in the library and sketched pictures out of comics, then one of my teachers told me I should be a cartoonist. That sounded pretty cool until I realized what cartoonists actually did.
Cinzah’s home studio is chocka with toys and treasures – like his awesome 80’s stereo collection…
I went to ELAM for one year then dropped out. I did really well and got great grades while I was there, but constantly questioned if it was right for me, I got sick of having to constantly justify every image I wanted to create, and back things up with crazy amounts of thematic research, so jumped ship and went out on my own trip. After my short stint at art school a whirl wind of events took place in 2006 – which ended up me canning University education altogether, crushing a vertebrae and being hospitalized for 7 weeks flat on my back – having my first art show at the Depot in Devonport – setting up and running a gallery space on Queen St (Treehouse Gallery) – curating a number of NZ and international based exhibitions – Meeting some rad illustrators – traveling – painting copious amounts of walls – traveling some more – then getting offered a spot with Watermark.
…and his studio at Watermark is a home-away-from-home.
I work as an Illustrator full time with these guys now, and curate exhibitions / paint murals and teach youth art workshops in my spare time. It’s a good balance between commercial and personal projects, but It’s taken me about 7 years of hard work to get to where i’m at now.
I’ve worked a bunch of cafe jobs here and there, as freelance work can be a bit up and down sometimes. I’m still new at this game, and am constantly learning.
You’re also a seriously talented street artist – where in the world would you most like to put up a mural? Ha thanks! Best spots for me would be somewhere discrete or the complete opposite and in the publics eye. I quite like places where the viewer has to go exploring to find it, a nice hidden secret spot – adventure painting is fun. Anywhere were the artwork really engages and adds to it’s environment… Mexico looks fun, San Fran would be fun, Indonesia maybe? Either a massive multi-story building in the heart of a city, or a decrepit abandoned building in a jungle.
Do you have a favourite piece/work of all time?
I think my best work is still to be created.
Tell us about a good movie to see, a book to read, a website to check out, a place to visit…
‘Moonrise Kingdom’ – Wes Andersons latest flim is great! I also hear theres a really awesome documentary coming out on NZ’s public art scene – ‘Dregs’… haha. www.dregs.co.nz
Thanks, Cinzah! Get yourself a piece of his amazing work here.