Channelling ARRRGHNOLD with Stephen Doan October 28 2020

Originally from Canberra, Stephen Doan (known also as Stevie D) is a Melbourne based illustrator, tattooist, graphic designer and failed breakdancer. Best known for his hyperrealistic stylised portraiture work, Stephen's tattooing influences have also armed him with a more loose, graphic approach to his image making. With a strong interest in low brow art, 80s paraphernalia and tattoo culture, coupled with a graphic design background, this has enabled him to explore other subject matters with the same sensibility and eye for composition.

Interview by Viet-My Bui. Photos supplied by Stephen Doan.

Tell us about your creative journey. What paths have lead you to this point?

I was lucky to have parents who really nurtured my creativity at a young age. Being the youngest in a family of six and having much older siblings, I was exposed to a lot of different genres of music, art, film and television. This played a huge part in forming my early creative identity. That journey continued to grow and evolve through the friendships I made while studying design at uni, being a member of the Outré Gallery family, as well as the vibrant and diverse tattoo community. All these elements have played a key part in shaping my creative journey thus far.

How do you think your tattoo practice has informed or influenced your art practice?

Tattooing has in a lot ways really pushed me to be more intuitive in my problem solving and trusting that instinct more. There are parts to my process that I would attribute to tattooing, having a more methodical approach while still having the flexibility and openness that the end goal will work out. At least that is what I strive for... lol.

There is a mischievousness present in all your works. Why do you think humour plays such a big part in your practice?

I think humour plays such an important part in preserving the human spirit; it really is the connective tissue that binds all of us. Especially during a time like this, where everyone needs the opportunity to feel something other than despair and hopelessness. This is something I’ve always championed in my work. If my art conjures up a smile, a snicker, a chuckle, uncontrollable snorting and laughter – then I would say my job is done.

Tell us about the foray into a new medium: acryla gouache. What was the impetus and what do you think of the results?

Haha, I knew you’d ask this question! During the first lockdown, I decided I would try learning something new. Painting had been something I was always interested in but always kept at bay. To add to the challenge, I also decided to work in a full colour palette, which is entirely unheard of for me.

With very little expectation, I set out to do a self portrait with whatever paints I had. From there it turned into a weekly art exercise with my friend, Vee! :) Both of us were using gouache for the first time. This really set the momentum and helped propel me into a new medium. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the results with each painting and have really enjoyed seeing how I translate work into full colour and build upon the last one.

This pandemic has forced all of us to shift our routines and priorities. How has your art practice been affected by this year?

Being a tattooist and also living in Victoria, COVID-19 really put a spanner in the works in terms of certainty and creative energy. For me personally, it completely took work off the table. In turn, it opened a door allowing me to explore my own personal art a lot more. Of course, this all fitted around a schedule that was dictated by home schooling and teaching my five year old son how to ride a bike. It also magnified the importance of knowing when to step back if you’re just not feeling it and made me realise the importance of being present in the process.

You have a veritable vinyl collection. What have been your favourite tunes to listen to whilst working on this show?

Oooh, I’ve definitely been digging Khruangbin’s new album Mordechai which provides the uptempo weekend treat. While Surprise Chef, a local Melbourne group, keeps me primed in the late night sessions with tasty mellow jazz vibes.

ARRRGHNOLD 2020 opens this week and will show a new body of work from you. What is the concept behind your show for Outré Gallery?

ARRRGHNOLD 2020 was born initially out of frustration, circling a deep creative block. Somehow the idea evolved into something that encapsulated all the feelings that I personally went through during lockdown. It's a real visual feast of being kicked in the nuts both literally and metaphorically.

What do you think makes Arnie so enigmatic and compelling?

The decision to run with Arnie was simple: everyone who has seen at least one of his films knows the likelihood of him losing his shit in those films is high. It just made sense to channel Arnie’s very visceral and relatable expressions to capture a universal sentiment about 2020 while providing some comedic relief. We all need some laughter and release right now.

What’s on the horizon for Stevie D?

Not too sure at this stage. I’m about to re-enter the world of having a newborn very soon, so perhaps I'll just be building up my sleep reserves.

Thanks for the chat Stevie, and congratulations on the highly anticipated arrival of a new member to the Doan clan!