Embracing the Brolga March 10 2021

Brolga is a Melbourne-based illustrator. He is known for his colourful drawings that morph into toys, murals, books, paintings, and ad campaigns. His work is all about vibrancy and constant experiments with colour and line.

Interview by Jessica Steger. Photos supplied by Brolga.

Tell us little about your creative background and how you came to be known as Brolga?

Ever since I can recall, I’ve always been drawn to making things and I spent much of my childhood idly doodling on every unfortunate surface that I happened to be around. In my teens, I was right into playing music and I got my creative kicks from writing songs. I eventually realised that I was a terrible singer and shifted my focus to graphic design and that led on to illustration.

Honestly, I think it’s tough as a young creative person to navigate your life towards something that resembles a job as an artist. Initially, I really struggled to connect those dots and I empathise today when I see young people in a similar situation. If you’re reading this and it feels like I’m talking about you, get in touch!

The name Brolga is an old nickname of mine and it originated from my childhood growing up in Darwin. My family used to go camping and fishing with some friends at their home in Arnhem Land. I was a tall, gangly kid and one day I was kicking a footy around with some local boys. They were cracking up laughing and calling me Brolga Legs, because I looked like one of the skinny-legged water birds that inhabited the area. My family thought it was hilarious and the nickname stuck. It wasn’t until when I was living in Brooklyn and needed a moniker for artwork that I was pasting up around the city that I chose it as an alias.

How did you get started as a muralist? And where have been some favourite locations to paint?

Around 2015, I was living in New York and studying illustration. On my commutes around the city, I started noticing the amazing street art pasted everywhere from artists like COST and ENX. I wanted to try it, the concept of putting up artwork on the street under a veil of anonymity felt freeing. I progressed from making small wheat paste artworks, to life-sized, one-off, wheat pasted characters. Eventually, after realising the fragile shelf life of paper artworks didn’t match the effort, I started painting murals.

I love travelling and I’ve been lucky enough to paint murals in some really interesting places. One particular fun one was in Shanghai, China. The guys organising it had to first get the artwork approved by the government propaganda wing that directly controls what artwork is seen in the city, which was an eye opener for me. I loved painting that mural though, when you spend so many hours at street level, it’s a nice way to absorb the atmosphere and feeling of wherever you happen to be.

Can you step us through your preliminary creative process? How do you approach starting a large body of work for an exhibition?

It all starts with flickers of ideas that jump out at me in my day-to-day life. For example, the white, marshmallow-y character that appears in numerous paintings in this exhibition came from a tuk-tuk ride in Bangkok. I was riding around the city while taking photos and noticing the abundance of shop signage that seems to fill that city. A clear picture of a running character filled with shop signs popped into my head and I was able to sketch it out when I got back to the hotel. I don’t always get so lucky. It’s often just a fleeting idea that takes lots of sketching to render it into the real world.

What style of art do you most identify with?

“Graphic” might be the word? I was always drawn to the pop artists ever since I was in high school. People like Lichtenstein and Murakami. Later on while visiting museums in New York, I had my mind blown by Stuart Davis, Frank Stella, and Tom Wesselmann. I grew up on the usual low brow stuff, like The Far Side, Footrot Flats, Ren and Stimpy, Mad Magazine, and even Spongebob Squarepants.

What would be a dream project to work on or something you've been looking to experiment with further?

I have so many crazy ideas for exhibitions but they’ll have to stay secret until I have the gall to try them out! We’re talking things like creating super-giant inflatable characters for an exhibition that double as bouncing castles.

What has been a seminal experience for you?

It would have to be the first time that I found myself in an illustration class. I was on the tail end of a 18-month trip where I had lived in Japan and then backpacked around Europe and Central America solo. I found myself in New York and I took some illustration night classes on a whim, just for something to do. From that first class, amongst all the other art weirdos in the room, it felt like I was exactly where I was meant to be. I ended up going back to New York and studying full time.

Do you have any daily rituals, to help keep the creative juices flowing? Like keeping a visual journal of sketches and ideas?

Not really, I draw in my notebook fairly sporadically, but saying that, it’s pretty often that I have some sort of idea that I’m scratching at.

For any budding artists out there, what is the best piece of artistic advice you've been given? And do you have any words of wisdom of your own to share with us?

I usually just suggest to make as much work as possible and don’t think too much about it. All those things that people talk about, like style, will sort themselves out naturally if you pump out lots of work. And you’ll improve out of sight. Also, don’t be afraid to put yourself our there and stand out from the crowd.

We are excited to have The Embrace showing at Outré Fitzroy! Please tell us about your idea behind the show and what people can expect to see?

For my latest show The Embrace, I’m super excited to show some of the latest things that I’ve been working, including a limited edition release on silk, a run of hand-embellished and standard prints of 'The Embrace' artwork, and a whole bunch of large-scale original works.

Many of the pieces are exploring the character that I discovered that day in Bangkok. I see the character as an extension of how I view modern society and the things that plague us today, like; loneliness, greed, apathy and vanity. Undeniably, the concept dives into capitalism, which I see as something that can be both sexy and frightening.

We really appreciate you taking the time to speak to us, Brolga!