Framed: Secret Walls

Framed: Secret Walls

Meet the team behind Secret Walls - kinda like a rap battle with pens and paints instead of words and mom's spaghetti.

The upcoming CoLAB Festival is rapidly approaching, and while the music lineup is a cracker (Hermitude, Midnight Juggernauts, The Jungle Giants, The Kite String Tangle, Sable, Indian Summer, Gang Of Youths, The Creases, Citizen Kay & KUCKA) - it's the added value elements, and their very local-collaboration focus, we're looking forward to just as much.

One of those will be the global art collective Secret Walls. Working in a similar way to Fight Club (minus the Tyler Durdens and soap), Secret Walls art battles are set up and promoted through word of mouth and social media, and involve two individual or teams of artists going head to head in an art battle. Rather than us explain it though, we had a chat with one of the brains behind the operation - John Zaheer-Flaherty.

secret walls 3

First up we’ll start with the basics – what exactly is Secret Walls?

Secret Walls is a unique art battle format where teams of artists are given a large blank white canvas and 90 minutes to create a work of art. No sketches or pre-determined themes are allowed and the artists rely on their wits to challenge the opposing team and win over the crowd who will place their vote via a decibel meter alongside two neutral judges who will determine who wins on the night. If you can imagine an MC battle and all the wit and antagonism that goes with that – then imagine that – with marker pens and paints!

And how/when did you become involved with the project?

Secret Walls (or Wars as it was known then) emerged out of Shoreditch, London in 2006 and I got involved between 2007 and 2009 as part of my day-job marketing role at Reebok. After meeting the founder Terry Guy of Monorex I collaborated with him on pop up events and tapped into the amazingly talented pool of young creatives that came through Secret Walls.

I retained a friendship with Terry and then after emigrating to Australia and having a couple of disappointing professional experiences I decided it was about time I started stoking my passions again. Secret Walls was established on the East Coast of Australia in 2011/12 but then the organiser moved on to his own projects. Perth never got a taste hence why I want to introduce it here and then look at re-establishing Secret Walls as an Australia wide tournament!

Do you have a background as an artist yourself? 

No, my background is marketing. I’m a keen advocate of young creative talent. I don’t believe that traditional marketing and advertising agencies need to have the monopoly on fresh ideas and I believe that a young, connected artist has an immense amount to offer. I want to support young artists by creating platforms and opportunities that help them raise their profile and hopefully get work.

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How do the live art battles work – is there limitations on the materials etc. involved, or does this vary according to each given situation?

Yes – there’s a simple set of rules:

  • No pre-set themes
  • No pencils on canvas
  • Only black on white
  • Only 90 minutes
  • Stay on your side of the canvas
  • Battles are judged by two nominated and neutral guest judges and crowd vote (3 point system) using a decibel reader

What kind of artists do you look for when it comes to “picking teams” so to speak, I noticed a big part of this is providing an avenue for younger, up-and-coming artists to be a part of it and maybe work alongside more established people?

Yeah, the beautiful thing about Secret Walls is that you can flex some different themes within the overall structure. At its core Secret Walls is definitely about exposing fresh talent and for CoLAB we thought it would be a good idea to connect some of Perth’s more established artists with some of the most exciting emerging talent so we came up with a loose ‘Master & Apprentices’ theme.

Have you been involved in many art battles down here (or overseas), and has their been any stand-out moments in Secret Walls, be it with artists you’ve had participate, or battles that have stood out over the past few years?

Two things standout for me. Firstly the ongoing phenomenon of undiscovered talent rising through each tournament wherever it’s held. To see young artists develop over the course of a tournament and grow in confidence and develop relationships with artists across diverse scenes and backgrounds is very rewarding. Secondly I think the recent development of the ‘Pro Series’ events has been amazing and continues to reinforce the fact that the strength of Secret Walls is in its spontaneity. Without the crutch of preparation or set themes and with the added spice of competition it has proved to be a really challenging concept for even the most established artists. This just reinforces how talented any artist that masters the Secret Walls concept is.

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What happens to the pieces created after each event?

We will offer them for sale with a very healthy split going to the artists.

Secret Walls will be making an appearance at the upcoming CoLAB festival, what can we expect at there – there’s going to be live art going on while the acts are playing right?

Yeah, we’re hosting the ‘Masters & Apprentices’ battle around 5.30pm with a DJ and our MC - Wisdom2th – stoking the crowd with a host of guests. During the afternoon we’ve got 10 of Perth’s finest young artists painting murals in a fence gallery.

Gallery: Secret Walls Black Book Battles at Lot Twenty.

There’s been a couple of smaller events around Perth recently right? How have they gone so far?

Yeah, we’ve launched softly with what we describe as ‘Secret Walls’ younger sibling’ – Black Book Battles. It’s an amped up sketch club where artists get 15 minutes to respond to a theme on one half of a landscape A4 and then when time is up they swap with another artist and get a further 15 minutes to ‘battle’ against what they see and create a new image on the right hand side. It’s a great way to introduce people to the art of battling and thinking on your feet. We also want to allow artists to connect and cultivate their network. So far we’ve had 26 artists across three events 

A broad/tough question for you – pick two artists in history to combine for a Secret Walls battle, who do you pick and why?

Basquiat vs Da Vinci. Two innovators, amazing storytellers although I think Leo may need to work on his speed.

Besides CoLAB and Beaufort Street Festival, what’s coming up for Secret Walls in Australia over the summer?

We’re not getting too far ahead of ourselves but we have ambitions for a Perth tournament and (fingers crossed) establishing a nationwide tournament so that we can take the cream of Perth over East and take on the best from the sprawling metropolis’s of Melbourne and Sydney. We’re rolling our sleeves up as I type.

CoLAB Festival hits the UWA Oak Lawn November 29 - check all the info and grab tickets HERE.

Follow Secret Walls Australia: FACEBOOK // WEBSITE

Header photo via.

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