12 Apr 2015

Chimp: Wellington Zoo's Artist in Residence

From Standing Room Only, 1:45 pm on 12 April 2015

Ash Sisson with an artwork for auction image courtesy of Wellington Zoo
Ash Sisson with an artwork for auction. Image courtesy of Wellington Zoo

“When I started, I didn’t really even think what I was doing was art. I was just trying to progress my style [because] I don’t think I was naturally gifted at drawing, I think I just enjoyed it enough to stick at it.”  

Ash Sisson A.K.A Chimp may be underplaying his talent, but at eighteen years of age he proves that youth isn’t, and should never be a barrier to success.

Gallery: Artwork by Chimp

Over the years, Ash has accumulated a massive back log of work and his passion for longboarding merged with his art at the age of fourteen when he began making and selling skateboards under the brand name, ‘Planetary Longboards.’  

“I got my first skateboard when I was ten, but then I got into downhill longboarding and I was way more passionate about that, just because the scene was probably more friendly,” he says.

Though he never considered himself an entrepreneur, the business of making boards and even doing custom orders proved a useful time for experimentation where he admits to having made mistakes along the way—mistakes mind you—that have allowed for further growth and development.

Today his skateboard and longboard are close by—usually in the back of his car, which also features Chimp artwork, along with his social media details. Astute and brand aware, he admits to having learnt a bit about business and marketing from his parents, though he isn’t prepared to share any of his secrets.

Assisted by a creative urgency to produce work and improve his craft, Ash is also incredibly organised and likes to map out his goals, without which, he says, “If you don’t have goals then you’re planning to fail [so] you have to keep growing or you lose [the reason] why you’re doing it.”

Thus far, he has a group and solo exhibition under his belt, and has also completed an array of commissions in New Plymouth, Wellington and Hutt City, with a string of private commissions to complete this year, all of which, he will fit alongside his first year of study as a design student at Massey University and not to mention his work for the Wellington Zoo, as their Artist in Residence.

With a graphic style that features eye-catching native birds and wildlife, his work fits seamlessly into the zoo’s environment. Often applying unexpected colour combinations that catch people off guard, he emphasises the importance of colour in his visual aesthetic:  “People talk about complimentary colours like it’s part of the colour wheel, but to me, complimentary colours shouldn’t be about what science tells you, but what visually looks pleasing.” 

Chimp in action at Concrete Bar photographer Sam GorhamTaking on commissioned projects has been a welcome challenge for the young artist, who believes that working within the confines of a brief, pushes him beyond his comfort zone, so he is constantly learning on the job.

Having just completed his final year of secondary school at Hutt Valley High, Ash is confident about putting his work out into the public sphere; including driving his own publicity and contacting media organisations to have his projects featured. He believes too, that being young has been advantageous and people have been impressed with his work ethic, talent and level of productivity—he can complete a large mural within the space of a 9-5 day—as he did with the art work inside the zoo’s penguin enclosure.  

His parents have supported his every move from supplying him with spray paint, allowing him to take over the family garage as his art studio, and early on, prompted him to set up a market stall to sell his art work. For Ash, receiving positive feedback through the market stall experience provided the encouragement he needed to see a future for himself in the art world.

“I kind of just realised one day that I wasn’t making opportunities for myself, and I thought, there’s no reason why I have to wait. There are so many people doing exactly what I do and they’ll be doing it better…but I went out there and I did it, and made sure I’ve learnt long the way.”  

Learning on the job is one thing, but making the decision to continue his study did not come easily, especially considering that he had already begun establishing a name for himself in his chosen profession; with an ultimate goal to work on international commissions, he sees value in having a back-up plan if his graffiti dreams don’t come to fruition.

“It’s still a shock to me, choosing to go to Uni, [but] If I can’t make it as Chimp, I’ll be able to go to a design firm [and] have experience, because you need  a degree to get into these places to even get an interview. There are so many people who want to do what I want to do [and] it’s a competitive market, so you have to be one step ahead.”  

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