The HVW8 crew is made up of Gene â€˜Starshipâ€™ Pendon, Dan â€˜DSTRBOâ€™ Buller and Tyler â€˜ Ty Gâ€™ Gibney. While Tyler used to roll with the crew full time, heâ€™s taken up digs in LA where he hosts his own label, gallery and production studio. HVW8 stemmed out of the Montreal Hip-Hop and graffiti scene in the 1990s and was brought to full fruition thanks to a few lucky live painting gigs and some politically minded pursuits. They are best recognized for their depictions of cultural icons whom they feel are the real heavyweights in their fields. People as varied as Josephine Baker, Barack Obama, or Mohammed Ali.
â€œHVW8 essentially came out of a blend of art, music, graffiti, graphic design, T-shirts, flyers, and album covers. The live painting became our way to get out of the studio and interact with the culture we embraced.â€
Format: What are your backgrounds?
Dan: I read a lot of comics and got in to graffiti and thatâ€™s how I learned how to paint. Live painting for the last 10 yrs, went all over the world with Gene and our other partner Tyler. Our shows arenâ€™t graffiti in galleries anymore, we work in paint, so itâ€™s not trying to be something itâ€™s not. Itâ€™s meant to be in the gallery.
Format: So you donâ€™t use cans anymore?
Dan: No, I still use them. Not so much in the canvas work that I exhibit, but this year I actually rediscovered it and really enjoyed it.
Gene: I grew up in Ottawa and grew up with a lot of painting and drawing through my dad who was a painter and calligrapher. I always had art around me. I was into drawing, cartooning, comics and that sort of thing. I later went to art school in Ottawa and eventually moved to Montreal. Before that, I met Dan and we did graffiti in Ottawa and Montreal together. I was also working as an illustrator/muralist/art director for film and video. I also worked for a few years as an art teacher and then formed the HVW8 collective.
On top of that we were part of a live painting collective called the Spill Collective, so thatâ€™s where our concept of live painting came from. HVW8 essentially came out of a blend of art, music, graffiti, graphic design, T-shirts, flyers, and album covers. The live painting became our way to get out of the studio and interact with the culture we embraced. It became a bit of an art band that we approached as an art project, and we got art and travel grants. With every city we went to, we would perform as a live painting band, pushing our music and the fine arts aspects.
Gene: We reached out to other collaborators as well, filmmakers, other musicians, designers and artists around the world, bringing it back to Montreal and Canada. Recently we branched off and our other partner Tyler spearheaded a music label and gallery in LA, which is where the podcast is recorded as well.
Format: How do you work together as a team?
Gene: It comes from trust, mutual interest and growth. Our collaborations have a bit of a formula. Dan is known for his meticulous detail and portrait work. Iâ€™m just the opposite. Iâ€™m very freestyle and intuitive, but we plot things together at the same time.
Dan: It takes balance. Weâ€™re able to create something thatâ€™s more than the sum of its parts. Itâ€™s rare for one artist to have both styles in their repertoire so that is where we come together. Weâ€™re able to complete something fairly quickly but with a lot going on.
Format: So yours is more structured?
Dan: Itâ€™s more planned. I always have to know what I’m doing I always need a photo reference, planned composition etc. There’s a lot of stuff that happens in the moment, but in terms of approaching a blank canvas, I need a plan worked out ahead of time, but gene can just spontaneously walk up to a canvas make it beautiful.
Format: Your work is somewhat political, how is that received at home and abroad?
Dan: We avoided politics for years. Weâ€™re both politically aware and interested in our personal lives, but previously, most of our painting was geared more towards â€˜party time.â€™ We like to paint people that we consider heavyweights in our own right; people like Stevie Wonder, or David Suzuki. So we did that for a while, but then realized that we had been avoiding the real issue, and decided to have our first political show, Political Minded to coincide with the 2004 elections in the US.
Gene: I donâ€™t think we were necessarily avoiding itâ€¦
Dan: I was. I was totally avoiding it. Hahaha.
Gene: I think it was just timely, you know? With the war, and all that shit. I think we just responded to what everyone else was responding to.
Dan: So yah, we named it Politically Minded because we felt that it was really hard not to be politically engaged at the time. The response was really positive. The first political piece we did was intentionally done that way. We were at this really cheesy party in Miami; I donâ€™t even remember what it was.
Gene: It was a Vice party.
Dan: Haha, it might have beenâ€¦
Gene: No, it was.
Dan: Really? It was? Ok! So we did a portrait of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. It wasnâ€™t because we like his music, even though we do, but it was because we wanted to pick someone that we felt had a very clear anti-war message and put it in our subject. We didnâ€™t want to beat the audience over the head with the anti-war message, but at the same time, if you know who that person is and you know what they stand for then you would get the message. It was March 20th, 2003, the day that the US invaded Iraq I think. The DJ at the club played â€˜Bombs Over Baghdadâ€™ by Outkast and everyone thought that was fucking hilarious, but we were horrified, we were really freaked out, so we felt we had to respond to that. Weâ€™re just artists, weâ€™re not activists or politicians, we just reflected that in our work. There was actually this film crew there from New York who were the only people that realized who it was. They asked us if it was an anti-war statement, and we were actually like, â€˜Yah! Thatâ€™s exactly what it is!â€™ So thatâ€™s how our political thing started. Itâ€™s been well received and a great experience.
Format: Pretend you were given free range on an actual Obama campaign. How would you play that out?
Gene: Well, we actually did it! We did a painting of Obama that ended up being featured in Juxtapoz magazine. From that, we were invited to come out to a show called Manifest Hope at the Democratic Convention in Denver this year, but we were told to tell people that we were from Vermont if anyone asked because all of their participants were supposed to be American. Manifest Hope was basically an art show supporting Obama with profits going towards his campaign, and also to promote awareness.
Format: Was there an event that pushed the HVW8 live performances in to the cultural forefront?
Dan: It was during the Montreal Jazz Fest one year where we did a live installation along side some DJâ€™s. I think Luke Vibert was there with the Herbalizer along with some other guys. The Herbalizer was actually going on tour and thanks to some of the guys at Ninja Tune, we were lucky enough to travel with them through the States. Things just blossomed from there. We often do big shows like the WMC (Winter Music Conference) in Miami, and Coachella, but it all stemmed out of the jazz festival gig.
Gene: The iconography that we were putting together was a way to fit in to the venue. We would create a rapport with the music, and bounce of what the DJ was playing. Like for the first jazz festival in Cape Town, we did a series of old disco portraits from South Africa, to capture the era. With every new performance we would focus on the music or something that was happening at the time, politically or related to current events.
Format: What can you tell me about the musical aspect?
Gene: Thatâ€™s all Tylerâ€™s department. But much of that came through our travels, and meeting other djs. Earlier on, with the Music Is My Art compilation, we did some trades for paintings for tracks. Thatâ€™s where the podcast was born. Itâ€™s based out of LA, and itâ€™s called Live At The Barbeque, and you can find that at our site .
Format: I understand that you worked on some projects with Adidas as well?
Yah, we worked on the Muhammad Ali track jackets. They asked us to portray different values that Ali embodied. We were given the value of Giving. The photo imagery came from Howard Bingham, who documented his life through photography.
Format: What lies in the future for HVW8?
Gene: Weâ€™re working on a new music compilation, and a book. We wanted to have it for our 10-year anniversary but it might end up being for our twelfth.
Format: Anything else?
Gene: Hopefully less live painting, more installations and gallery shows, definitely! Weâ€™re doing more projects with Adidas. Weâ€™re also working on more studio stuff, which I think is all part of the natural progression of an artist.
Dan: I was jut in Asia and connected with some artists in Hong Kong and the Philippines. Iâ€™d love to go back and work on some collaborations over there as well.