Ha-Ha – Legend, alien theorist and oyster connoisseur

This gentle and quietly-spoken man is a pioneer of the Melbourne street art scene.

Originally from New Zealand, he was a practicing oil painter and an exponent of the “Stuckism” movement when he came to Melbourne in the late 90s. He exhibited these works in artist-run spaces. Around 2002, Ha-Ha burst on the street art scene.

Inspired by Psalm, he was part of the original wave of stencil artists and, along with Dlux and Sync, became a notorious and prolific stenciller.

These four were a cultural phenomenon and one could argue that they were 21st Century bushrangers!

It was a period of anti-Bush and Howard sentiment and a lot of their pieces were of a  political nature. However, Ha-Ha doesn’t see this as his motivation.

“We did what we did, purely in the name of art,” he said.

During this period he created a single-colour stencil of Australia’s most notorious bushranger, Ned Kelly, and it was with this iconic image he gained instant notoriety. He claims that the adrenaline rush from this illegal activity was better than sex!

The outlaw was to become a popular image for him: Ben Cousins, Squizzy Taylor and Chopper Read have all been under his scalpel. Two of Ha-Ha’s Ned Kelly images remained until recently in ACDC Lane but, sadly, one was to fall foul of a souvenir hunter and the other is now capped. Obsessed with sci-fi, the robot was also a recurring theme and Ha-Ha, with a nod to Andy Warhol, would repeat and repeat an image until the can ran out of paint.

In 2003, Dlux, Sync and Ha-Ha mounted Cut it Out at Hush Hush Gallery in Hosier Lane. It was Melbourne’s first stencil exhibition. May 2014 saw these three artists reunite for their successful Then and Now exhibition, which showcased vintage stencils and current works.

With time, Ha-Ha’s simple one-layer stencils progressed to complex ones of 40 layers or more. He taught himself to cut with both hands and documents how many cuts he makes with each hand per stencil. His current works are what he terms “fusion stencils”, where portraits of two images are merged to form one.

In 2010, the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra showcased 40 pioneer street artists in its Space Invaders exhibition. Several of Ha-Ha’s stencils were featured and now form part of the permanent collection.

As a form of street art, the stencil peaked in 2004 but 2013 has seen it re-emerge, not with a political message but, this time as decorative imagery (see Akemi Ito in the October 2014 edition of CBD News).

The photo I’ve chosen is from August 2013 and shows Ha-Ha about to stencil his Marilyn Monroe portraits in Rutledge Lane. The lane had been recently buffed “Baby Nursery Blue” by Melbourne’s other Doyle-the infamous Adrian. Creating a clean slate, it was controversial at the time.

Sadly, Ha-Ha’s stencils including The Aliens, were capped before the paint was barely dry! However, some of his recent ones still remain and can be seen around the CBD: in Blender Lane, Tattersalls Lane and Lovelands Lane.

Ha-Ha is currently in Singapore. The reason for this is two-fold – firstly, for a residency at the Australian International Art School, where he is making art and conducting workshops.

His second reason is to particulate in the “50 Bridges” program. Australia is contributing to Singapore’s celebrations for it’s 50 years of independence. It is also the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

One of the elements of the “50 Bridges’ program – 50 Walls – will bring public art to 50 heartland locations.

Along with Ha-Ha, the other Australian artists involved in this program are Tom Civil, Vexta, Adnate (See CBD News of September, 2014), Makatron, Yok and his Singaporean partner Shero. Also participating are local artists, Trase One and Zero.

It also should be noted that Ha-Ha has done similar workshops with adolescents in Malaysia and Senegal. The world, surely, is his oyster!

Lorraine Ellis
If you are interested in Melbourne street art there is more on my Facebook page, StreetsmART.

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