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Multitalented Sydney artist and curator Mark Drew has been behind the scenes of around 150 art shows, as the co-owner and co-director of China Heights gallery. The response is a loud and resounding acceptance as Drew’s hands spend less time supporting the clipboard and more time gripping the paintbrush.

Photography by Mike D
Interview By Marc De Carne

Has your music taste in the teenage years carried over into adulthood?

Yes, definitely – in many cases right down to the same albums! Public Enemy, BDP (Boogie Down Productions), Beastie Boys, Ice Cube, Ice-T, Gangstarr, D.I.T.C… I listen to some newer stuff, but it’s still predominately 80s/90s. actually stuff I consider new, is usually just podcasts of old music… a lot of the work I do now – both art and design, is somehow inflluenced by this period of music. I always have a few of the cassettes in a stack next to my computer, so when taking a break from the screen, they are what I see. there is something about the early-mid nineties rap period that I love so much. I guess I was 13/14 at the time, and enjoying my first freedoms in life… and that was the soundtrack. I love sample based music, as it references the past, and that is something that I like to bring out in my own work – allowing people to feel a familiararity/reminiscance in the things that I make.

Do you still play the cassettes? 

Not really, as I now have most of it in easier formats – but there are a few tapes of old radio shows that come out on occaisison. In 1992, before opening ‘The Lounge Room’ (a hip-hop shop), Sydney veteran Blaze was very busy educating, and I would set my alarm clock for the late starts – rugged stuff for a school night, but not many other avenues to find what I was looking for. A lot of the stuff he would play, I’ve never found again… when the internet came out, the first thing I did was search for Ice Cubes early stuff with the C.I.A Crew, and early live Cold Crush Bros recordings he would play. Sometimes when doing an all nighter, once you get past 2 or 3 am, you start to crave weird things – like a clearly mastered version of a Main Source track isn’t going to satisfy… you need the one where Blaze fades out early and starts talking about the Def Wish cast gig on the weekend, and how he dislikes the (then) current trend of chanted chorus lines, rather than the chorus being the DJ’s time…

You have have your fingers in many different pies, design, painting, sculpting, fashion, curating, zines. I’m sure I have missed something. I understand you don’t see these things as mutually exclusive, but is there a focus for you in 2009?

I want to continue the focus from 2008, which was dedicating more time to my own projects, rather than them being just an after hours thing. Setting up the gallery (China Heights) with Edward Woodley took a lot of hard work and time, and was pretty much all encumbering for its first couple of years. We’re in the 6th year now, so after helping produce around 150 shows for other people, things are more streamlined, and I’m able to channel some of that effort directly into my own work.

How do you go about choosing the tapes? Do you choose tapes that compliment one another in terms of genre’?

All the tapes I use are in my possession, even Stezo’sCrazy Noise! they are either from my and my families own personal collection, with a couple of extras from op shops here or there. most people by now have chucked all their cassettes, but I’ve always carried mine from house to house, as I love the aesthetic of them. It took a while to work out what I could do with them. that’s where running the gallery has been good, as I have been able to see so many other shows and techniques, before doing my own solo exhibition. The first show began with my personal faves, and then my sisters tapes – so the theme developed of different drawers and closets around the house, some that are your parents, some that are your brothers… forgotten ones in a box under the stairs… that kind of thing.

Each stack seems relevent to me – I like to include some lessor known stuff -I have always liked that about hip-hop, that it is kind of a secret club. Obviously now, it’s a lot bigger, and most people have some opinion of what they would consider hip-hop. Mtv type stuff, but real diggers know… cassette culture was such a big thing when I was younger, and it’s that feeling I want to evoke in people when they visit the show.

I’m 31 now, so probably the last generation to really be all about tapes. I held back from the cd for ages… mainly cos I’m cheap, and my paper delivery job couldn’t sustain the interest, although in 1992, if you found 10 new albums a year you were doing well. Each album would really get a lot of attention, every liner note and shout out would be read, and we’d find out who was down with who, and who was a sucker mc – it was kind of like a much slower version of wikipedia. Albums would be played back to back for weeks/months. you needed auto-reverse, or you were up for a lot of trips to the stereo!

As we move more and more into an ‘all digital’ era how do you think this will affect peoples relationship with music?

On one hand its great, but on the other it just seems so disposable. However, I do prefer skipping tracks over the old method of spooling the tape with a pencil to save battery life.

Were you happy with the response that the C-90exhibitions received in Australia?

Yes, both shows were very well received. I have been in a lot of group shows, but C-90 was my first solo show, and touring that to Melbourne was another thing on top of that. It went down well on both accounts. This kind of artwork is very graphic, and being produced in monotone, its easy to take in – so it becomes mostly about the music itself, and what people remember from their own collections. I’m still making each piece by hand (and from scratch) but it feels like I am just curating peoples youth. Thats a role I enjoy too.

You’re about to go on an extended living trip in Japan what are you expecting to get out of the experience?

Japan is such a fun and confusing place – I want to be there until it feels normal.

Will you be continuing to produce work whilst in Japan or are you using it as a sort of break period?

Yes, I definitely plan to continue making artwork overseas. I’m looking forward to being in a new environment, maybe gaining a new perspective on things.

Any shout outs or final words?

Thanks to everyone in the garden state who came to my show, or let me sleep on their couch. And thanks to the Ghostface Killah crowd at The Espy for not killing me when I didn’t participate in the ‘Fuck Sydney’ chant!

You can learn more about Mark Drew’s involvement with China Heights and works they are exhibiting by visiting their website. You can also visit Marks own site and keep up to date with with his latest work or purchase a collection of his prints, zines and more at makingends.com.