Seeing the Broad Appeal with Neryl Walker April 10 2018
Neryl Walker is an Australian artist, illustrator and designer. Inspired by a love of mid 20th century pop culture, her studio and 1950's home is filled with countless sources of vintage and nostalgic inspiration. While she is best known for her strong playful girls, Neryl’s background in Graphic Design has seen her collaborating on branding, typography, surface design and publishing projects.
We recently spoke to Neryl about her upcoming show Broad Appeal, depicting the female form, innovation as an artist, and inspiring women – amongst other things.
How did your upbringing influence your work? And what was your journey to forming your current art practice?
I grew up in a small country town in the south west of Australia. The youngest of four sisters, I always drew as a child but there wasn’t much exposure to art or creative culture. It was more about sport, apple festivals and catching tadpoles. My imagination grew out of boredom. Watching Countdown every Sunday night was my first exposure to popular music and re-runs of old 50s and 60s movies on the two TV channels were a huge influence on me. It opened my eyes to what was happening outside of my home town. I left home as soon as I finished school to study Graphic Design in Perth. I minored in Illustration and after graduating in a recession, I got a few freelance illustration jobs which I really enjoyed. I decided to switch my folio purely illustration and followed that path. I work digitally these days but I have always drawn and painted as part of my practice.
Photo by Natalie Jeffcott
What is your favourite thing about drawing women? Have you always been drawn to depicting the female form?
Growing up with three sisters, I always remember drawing girls, particularly faces with full 80s make up and making paper dolls with fashion outfits inspired by Hollywood movies. I guess its just what I know best. Plus the female form is just so great to draw, all curves and no hard edges.
You have an avid background in music, as well as a love for finding eclectic and vintage objects for your home. Do you feel these interests have filtered into your artwork?
Absolutely! I see music and art as being creatively intertwined. I’m definitely influenced by it, particularly in the naming of my pieces. My love for vintage objects is also pretty obvious in my work. I just love things with history and lets face it – everything just looked cooler back then.
Which women, past and present, have you been inspired by throughout your career?
First of all my Mum, my daughter, my Nanna who raised 14 children and my Grandma who told my older sisters to get out of the country town, study and see the world. Any women who followed their passion, did what they wanted to do, the risk takers. Jospehine Baker. Rosalie Gascoigne who started exhibiting her work at 57. Florence Broadhurst who reinvented her self several times and launched a hand printed wallpaper business at age 60. Diane Arbus, Cindy Sherman. Female musicians like Lady Bo (Peggy Jones), Suzi Quatro, Poison Ivy, Kim Gordon and Kim Deal.
How does your daughter inspire your creative practice? And in turn, how do you think growing up around your artwork has shaped her view of the world?
I find kids’ art so inspiring. I love the spontaneity and freedom of expression. There is no planning, just painting from the gut. It’s something you lose as an adult and I’d love to find more of this in my own art. I’m lucky that she loves drawing so we have spent a lot of time drawing and creating together. I’m hoping that she grows up as a happy, confident woman capable of anything she puts her mind to.
The ladies you draw are confident, playful and unabashedly sexy. Is there a message of empowerment you want to convey?
The girls in my work are all about having fun for themselves. It’s ok to be sassy, confident, loud, fun, do what you want, wear what you want (or not!). My girls are obviously from another time where objectification in advertising was prevalent so I am trying to turn the tables here. I’m so excited by the female empowerment and equality movement happening at the moment. Things like the #metoo campaign where women are standing up for themselves, speaking up, being heard. I’m hoping that by the time my daughter grows up things may have changed for the better.
You are constantly finding innovative ways to integrate your artwork: from packaging, to stationery, to animated emoticons. How do you manage to stay abreast of the trends, and how do you decide what avenues to pursue?
In regards to my commercial work, I think it’s just part of the job description if you want to do this as a career. It’s a technology driven world now with much more competition so I think you just have to keep up. The animated hand icons Pretty Handy were created because I wanted to make an imessage app. It did take some time as I had to teach myself how to animate gifs and develop an app. It’s true that all these distractions take time and sometimes you can lose your focus but I think if your style is strong your work can cross over into different areas.
Tell us more about your upcoming show, Broad Appeal. How does this body of work differ from your previous projects?
Broad Appeal looks to celebrate women and the power inherent in women owning their sexuality, rather than being objectified by it. All the artworks are original paintings on plywood. The term ‘broad’ originated in the 1930’s and was popularised in the 40’s and 50’s as slang for an independent, assertive/aggressive woman. Someone who sings loud, parties hard, has a strong will and a sarcastic sense of humour. These attributes could be seen as threatening or even slightly derogatory but I am using the word in a positive light. Why can’t women be all these things?
Which is your favourite piece for your show? What was the story behind it?
I have been playing with double figures and female forms in this show. Its always hard to play favourites but I am fond of the invitation piece, Pleasure Seekers. The name comes from an all girl 60s garage band of the same name, featuring a very young Suzi Quatro, and seemed to encompass my thoughts on female empowerment. Girls seeking pleasure for themselves in any way they see fit.
Do you have any projects you are keen to pursue in the near future?
I’d love to start some large scale paintings. I have an agent in the US so I’m always curious about the next commercial job coming my way.
Thank you so much for your time, Neryl! We can't wait to see your sassy ladies in the show.