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TikTok Modernising Time

Vancouver, Canada: where
10.16.2018: when
8 mins: read time

Tik Tok shows me a piece which has been primed and colour coded.

In Vancouver, Tik Tok welcomed me into his studio space to sit down and talk about his process and the pieces he will be showing in the Scraps show series. The series is hosted by Pat Christie at Space and presented by Vancouver Arts Community. Inside, Tik Tok’s works are placed, hung and displayed as if for consideration or study. The finished works are carefully wrapped and stored in an organized way, his spray paint cans sit on the table in neat rows. The studio is tiny but feels very functional. On the table which we stand around to chat is a piece whose form looks like a topographical map. Each layer is neatly placed and labeled. On another desk small circles of MDF are sorted and organized by size. 




Where do you start out on these, this piece looks like a puzzle?

It is how I draw my sketches, I do a lot of adding and subtracting until things get masked and layered, so there are a lot of hints of former forms, with the overall affect being something that reflects a puzzle.

*I point to a component of the piece* Do these pieces come out of here?

Exactly, sometimes I'll get leftover parts after the initial cutting and I can redistribute them within the piece. These three pieces go to work as supports in the back and these two go to support behind here, so they are able to work back into the structure which becomes a subtle involvement within.

Are they laser cut?

Yes. Then I prime them before I give them a colour code. Then they are painted, assembled and framed. Lastly, the clock pieces are inserted into them. They are all laser cut from an illustrator design of a symbol I have created. This is probably the seventh or eighth series now of these clocks.


Up on the wall, I have some older ones. Like the pink one there. So you can see when they were a smaller size and just done with paint. As of last year, I've started doing this laser cut approach and it was instantly addictive as well as effective. It adds another layer to the work and brings a whole new life to it.


They are modern but still have a retro look to them.

From the design or the colour?

I think some of the colour-ways have a retro feel. But also the design has that sort of modern retro configuration.

I would agree with that, absolutely. I mean that’s been a pretty solid consistent as far as feedback on the majority of my work. Especially with this colour palette on the most recent clocks. I have gone with a bit more muted vs tertiary on the colours and it definitely has a retro hold. But yeah, the design itself has modern aesthetic.

It is nice that the materials are modern.

You know things have been cut out and assembled like this for a while. But there are definitely a lot more artists utilizing laser cutters and CNC designs these days. There are a lot of creatives who are getting into that 3-D realm and it's just interesting to see how it affects the work and what each individual approach is. Whether you are expanding in scale or expanding layers it definitely changes the piece, how it's viewed, and how people interact with it.

For Made From Scraps are you planning to laser cut onto the wooden scraps you have been given?

I picked out some pieces for the show with Pat the other day, but I still haven't stepped into that project fully. I just picked some parts I was drawn too. I think that the scraps will be separate or they will probably be done as more of a decoration or assemblage around my piece. I am going to be doing a faux sundial where I’ll have a circular band and the scrap pieces working around it. I don’t want to really affect the scraps, more I want them to stand on their own to greater juxtapose my forms. They will be in the same realm and I will be using lighting to bridge that divide between the two, but some paint could get spilt over onto the parts or something could get attached, it’s still pretty newborn as far as what is going to be happening with that. 

photos above courtesy of TikTok


I was actually going to ask you about sundials. I was looking at your clocks and wondering about what brought you there. Have you been interested in visiting the entire history of time telling and clocks?

That wasn’t the initial approach no. The TikTok pseudonym has been my handle for a while now, that was just sort of through a graffiti name. Overtime, as my graffiti started to move onto panels it only seemed natural for me to start working in clock pieces. It also gives my work an approachable function and shifts it from art into the product design realm, which is something that I have been drawn to as a new avenue for my art.

If you could travel in time, do you think you would travel back or would you travel forward?

If we're talking as far as for arts sake, I would probably want to go to the future to see what art work is doing as far as technological innovation. I think a lot of the artists who are doing assemblage or kinetic work, will eventually start to work with some type of mechanisms or electronic function, and we will start seeing a whole new world of interaction between pieces and the user or viewer. I think that will grow tenfold. Pieces will be able to be moved by remotes and sensors, or lighting capabilities could be integrated. I'm very interested to see how technology will be worked into art as a medium. That is the direction that my work is currently focused towards.

Looking back for you, you mentioned that you got your name TikTok through graffiti and you are still using spray paint on these clocks. How else do you think that your work as a graffiti artist has informed the work you are doing now?

Definitely by the tools, and with the usage of spray paint. I do have a comfort in that as a utility and I enjoy using it. As far as the designs themselves I was doing some pretty abstract stuff as a graffiti writer later on. Minimizing letter structures into basic forms and playing with those— not necessarily to purvey a letter in a sense but to see what the shapes themselves would do. Then I took two years of Graphic Design in Victoria and that is what really got me experimenting with form. I had never done anything digitally like that. Between the graffiti lettering and the digital design approach was where I birthed a lot of what I am doing now. The tool of spray paint is still in there but my pieces are quite abstracted from being letter-based, but still a lot of the stance and posture of a graffiti style is present.

How does it feel using such a fluid material [spray paint] and coming to a smaller canvas?

That is one of the huge benefits of knowing how to use aerosol and masking techniques. You can go very small and effective or you can expand to large scale. I am still learning always, it is a moody beast to control. It can be a super unforgiving tool when you are doing the finite work, and cleanliness is definitely a key element of what I produce, so a lot of control and patience is needed.


Are you using a laser cutter as a stencil making tool as well? 

Nope. I have yet to do that. These pieces are all spray paint. I will make the forms; the circles, the curvatures with painters tape to create the layers. That is something that I have done for quite a while now so I can produce them really clean. I haven’t done laser cut stencils because I feel like they won’t have the same cleanliness of execution, also a lot of the forms I make can be spastic in design so I like the ability to stray from the original idea, which is tough to do with a prefabricated stencil. Maybe if I was working large scale on a mural and needed to place something or was doing some street work then I would use stencils for speed.

Looking at your pieces, everything is very very cleanly finished. What advice do you have for other artists in terms of finishing their work to really offer a final professional look on a piece? 

I would say mainly, look at other people’s work and ask questions -  if you are around other artists - to see what varnish they use, or what archival finish, or how/where people are framing. Explore and research all the avenues with the finishing of the piece. I re-glue all the back and gesso it before adding bumpers and hangers, it is just another level to reflect what you are doing as an absolute. If you have more of a messy edge on a painting that can work for you too, if it reflects your style and work. Really It is about what you as an individual are trying to portray. My approach just happens to be extremely clean.

Interview and photos by Alexis Venerus


See more of TikTok's work


Follow TikTok @jaketiktokjohnston

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