The story behind some of Canberra’s most dramatic private murals | The Canberra Times

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Ex-footy player Sam Newman may be stubbornly conservative in a lot of his views, but he was definitely ahead of the curve when he commissioned a blue glass mural of Pamela Anderson to cover the entire exterior of his home in St Kilda, the image unveiled in all its three-storey glory in 2001. The mural might not have been to everyone’s taste but it won the house a national architectural award and set the pace for what has become an increasing trend – homeowners commissioning artists to create a mural on their own houses, transforming walls, garage doors, even the front door into individualised and, often, meangingful artworks. The huge mural of AFL legend Adam Goodes unveiled this week on the side of a building in Surry Hills last week was proof, again, that artwork on private property could be striking and powerful. And once you start searching for them in Canberra, you quickly find these pieces of domestic art are popping up across the suburbs. One of the biggest works in Canberra, is in Garran. Damien and Sanaz McAullay’s home in Brereton Street has almost its entire front facade given over to a woman’s face, her eyes looking upwards, into the distance. Yet, you could drive past and miss it. It is stunning but unobtrusive. The mural is by Melbourne street artist Rone, the couple commissioning him to do the work, which was finished in 2017. “We did some house renovations and that wall, which is part of the original house, is quite blank and sort of the prominent side of the house, facing the street,” Damien said. “We wanted to make the wall a bit more interesting, so I think my wife had the idea of getting an artist, did some research and liked the work that Rone does.” The face is of a person Rone knows but she has no connection to the McAullays. That doesn’t stop passers-by wanting to know who she is and what is her story. “I’ve only had positive comments,” Damien said. “Often you’ll be standing in the kitchen and see people spinning around and taking photos, which is pretty cool. If we’re out the front of the house, people will come up to you and ask about it. Everyone wants to know who she is. “I’ve had a few notes in the mailbox. One note I have on the fridge from some guy says, ‘I love the fact that you have the painting on your house. It’s beautiful, it’s brought joy to my day’. “Apparently, when Rone was painting it, some old couple stopped their car and tooted their horn and gave him the thumbs down,” Damien said, with a laugh. “But that’s the only sort of negative thing.” Rone says the Garran house was almost a one-off for him, in terms of a private residence, although he did do a similar large portrait of a woman’s face for the Spanish embassy in Yarralumla in 2015. He has painted large-scale faces on the side of massive buildings and even wheat silos. “It’s not really about the person, even though the person I’ve referenced is an amazing person, it’s more about the contrast between beauty and decay, that’s what my work is about,” he said. His work was meant to look not quite permanent. “It might be the way it’s painted ,with the drips and the runs and it’s quite thin, there’s a fragility to it. A lot of people ask me, ‘Oh, is it going to wash off?’. And that’s when I know, I’ve got the right look,” he said. As an artist, Rone was thrilled that a homeowner would commit so strongly to his work, live with it every day and show it so publicly to the world. “What an honour,” he said. “It’s, of course, very flattering. I don’t think I’ve painted anyone else’s home, really. There’s a unique situation in Collingwood, Fitzroy where there are terrace houses and there’s already a lot of graffiti on the side walls, so in that sense, it’s people’s homes, but they’re rarely commissioned. It’s more, ‘Here’s a launch pad’.” Canberra artist James “Smalls” Small is another street artist being commissioned to do more private work. His public work is seen around Canberra, from the Woden squash courts to the Bradley Street dining precinct at Westfield Woden. The former Belconnen boy, who recently relocated to the Gold Coast, says his plan is to continue to do commissions in his home town. And he is in demand, especially for native flora and fauna pieces. “I kind of started painting birds a few years ago. When I was a really young kid, I used to draw birds all the time, they were my favourite thing to draw,” he said. “When I got into graph, I stopped drawing birds because I didn’t think it was cool. But I think as I’ve progressed as an artist, I’ve wanted to explore what I could do.” Smalls also loves that people take the leap of faith to commit to his work. “It’s fairly nerve-wracking for me as well, which is good. Having that pressure on myself forces me to create something extra special. I’ve worked for a range of high-profile clients and in a way, painting a couple’s front door is more important to be to deliver a perfect piece for them.” Angela Braniff and Chris Foster commissioned Smalls to paint a native bird, the tiny Striated Pardalote, on their front door of their newly-renovated home in Holder. The birds had nested in a hole in the eaves, inspiring the mural. “We were thinking we wanted a bright colour on the door but the colour wouldn’t match with the inside when the door was opened,” Angela said. “We thought, ‘Why don’t we just get a painting on there?”. We’d thought about grafitti art for a while, maybe in the garage or something. And then I thought, ‘Hell, let’s just do it on the front door’.” They are glad they did. “Family and friends are just gobsmacked,” she said. “And getting to know James, and seeing him work, it was great. I think he took two days and 10 hours of ‘shake, shake spray; shake, shake, spray’. It was amazing. A great experience.” Canberra stylist Tracey Davis has two murals by Smalls at her Aranda home, one on each side of their poolside cabana “which is where we practically live during spring and summer”. “My husband is a builder and carpenter, so we explored many different types of materials such as timber and Colorbond for the cabana cladding. Our concern was that these materials were not only costly, they may date quickly as they are commonly used,” Tracey said. “Instead, we opted for a cost-effective, smooth cement sheet and decided we would commission murals that provide a point of difference and reflect who we are today yet could be easily painted over with another mural in future if our tastes change. “As it transpires, we can’t imagine ever growing tired of what Smalls has created.” The work is a colourful native scene, including a spotted pardalote on grevillea, giving Smalls “free reign” to create the design, seeing his work around Canberra for years and then seeing it on Instagram. “We trusted him as an artist and gave him full creative control although it was comforting that he often checked in to ask if we wanted to change or add any details,” Tracey said. Tracey says the murals are “great conversation starters”. “Everyone that visits our home loves how unique and unexpected it is,” she said. “It’s my favourite part of our home. Weather permitting, I drink my tea out there every morning and it makes me feel at peace. Good art, to me, always does.” Canberra architect Rob Henry hopes to see more murals on residences, especially when the private and public spaces merge. He worked with Ainslie couple Meg and Jeremy Ross who wanted murals incorporated into their home, especially a blank side wall which faced a public foothpath. “You don’t have many projects that face onto a public pathway so that was one of the main reasons for it, to give a bit back to the public,” Rob said. “And I think it’s a really amazing things to do.” Rob said Meg found the artist, Claire Foxton, who is based in Jamberoo, and workshopped ideas with her, while he advised on colour and style. Claire painted the mural in a couple of days. “I think it really does work where it is,” Rob said. “I think definitely we should be having more public artwork [into residential homes]. I feel very strongly about it.” Another couple in Deakin has a mural of a girl’s face on the front of their home. “The image is actually influenced by several street artworks we had seen and we commissioned a graphic designer to bring those ideas together along with including the copper, blue and gold colours we had used elsewhere on the house,” the homeowner, who did not want to be named, said. “As the commissioned artwork was produced to fit with the house it also has soft image of brick running through the back of it so it further blends in. We had it placed on a commercial grade vinyl wrap by a local company Leader Graphics. “It has always been our intention to have the artwork change over the years. However, saying that, we are pretty attached to her now four years later.” Canberra artist Geoff Filmer , from Graffik Paint, could probably be described as Canberra’s mural man. He has been commissioned to create vibrant, colourful public murals on everything from a huge water tank on Hindmarsh Drive to a tribute to firefighters in Civic. But he also does a one or two murals a month for private homes, for nothing but the owner’s own enjoyment. “We definitely get a lot of people asking for murals for internal courtyards, that’s massively popular,” he said. In the last few weeks, he’s done design a mural at a Macarthur home creating a lush tropical scene on a retaining wall for a pool and, in Kambah, the face of a yellow-tailed black cockatoo amongst native flowers including banksia and eucalypt blossom. “I think people love having beautiful things in their house and this is another example of that,” Geoff said. “They have a space they look at all the time and often in Canberra, which is such an arts-friendly city, they want something other than a bare wall.” He says the mural is a collaboration between the artist and the owner, helping to create something meaningful. He says a lot of work comes from someone seeing a piece at a family member’s or friend’s home and wanting one too. “I’m sure it will become more and more common,” he said. “Some people might have a mural for a couple of years and then rotate it into something else, which is the nature of street art.” But the owners also become very attached to the works. Geoff completed a mural for a southside couple, showing a magpie and blue fairy wren amongst banksia for a courtyard wall. “We’ve kind of admired his work for a while and really love the vibrant colours and energy of his work,” the homeowner, who preferred not to be named, said. “We love the birds he does. We back on to a reserve and walk every day and see the birds in the bush. One day I was running past one of Geoff’s pieces of [public] art, as I had done for many years, and suddenly thought, ‘Something like that would look good in our courtyard’. It was a way of connecting the courtyard to the bush, which is literally at our back door.” The magpie was chosen for being “so quintessentially Canberra, and Australian” and the wren, because they flit through the nearby bush. They were not usually adventurous with art but this time wanted to “be bold”. “We love it. It’s brought so much colour and life to the space,” the homeowner said. “In the morning, I get up and look at it and it makes me happy.”

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IN DEPTH

June 14 2020 – 12:00AM

Ex-footy player Sam Newman may be stubbornly conservative in a lot of his views, but he was definitely ahead of the curve when he commissioned a blue glass mural of Pamela Anderson to cover the entire exterior of his home in St Kilda, the image unveiled in all its three-storey glory in 2001.

Damien and Sanaz McAullay commissioned Melbourne artist Rone to paint a mural on his Garran home. Picture: Jamila Toderas

Damien and Sanaz McAullay commissioned Melbourne artist Rone to paint a mural on his Garran home. Picture: Jamila Toderas

The mural might not have been to everyone’s taste but it won the house a national architectural award and set the pace for what has become an increasing trend – homeowners commissioning artists to create a mural on their own houses, transforming walls, garage doors, even the front door into individualised and, often, meangingful artworks.

The huge mural of AFL legend Adam Goodes unveiled this week on the side of a building in Surry Hills last week was proof, again, that artwork on private property could be striking and powerful.

And once you start searching for them in Canberra, you quickly find these pieces of domestic art are popping up across the suburbs.

One of the biggest works in Canberra, is in Garran. Damien and Sanaz McAullay’s home in Brereton Street has almost its entire front facade given over to a woman’s face, her eyes looking upwards, into the distance. Yet, you could drive past and miss it. It is stunning but unobtrusive.

The mural is by Melbourne street artist Rone, the couple commissioning him to do the work, which was finished in 2017.

“We did some house renovations and that wall, which is part of the original house, is quite blank and sort of the prominent side of the house, facing the street,” Damien said.

“We wanted to make the wall a bit more interesting, so I think my wife had the idea of getting an artist, did some research and liked the work that Rone does.”

The Garran mural has prompted passers-by to put notes in the owners' mailbox thanking them for bringing joy to their day. Picture: Jamila Toderas

The Garran mural has prompted passers-by to put notes in the owners’ mailbox thanking them for bringing joy to their day. Picture: Jamila Toderas

The face is of a person Rone knows but she has no connection to the McAullays. That doesn’t stop passers-by wanting to know who she is and what is her story.

“I’ve only had positive comments,” Damien said. “Often you’ll be standing in the kitchen and see people spinning around and taking photos, which is pretty cool. If we’re out the front of the house, people will come up to you and ask about it. Everyone wants to know who she is.

“I’ve had a few notes in the mailbox. One note I have on the fridge from some guy says, ‘I love the fact that you have the painting on your house. It’s beautiful, it’s brought joy to my day’.

“Apparently, when Rone was painting it, some old couple stopped their car and tooted their horn and gave him the thumbs down,” Damien said, with a laugh.

“But that’s the only sort of negative thing.”

“It’s not really about the person, even though the person I’ve referenced is an amazing person, it’s more about the contrast between beauty and decay, that’s what my work is about,” he said.

His work was meant to look not quite permanent.

“It might be the way it’s painted ,with the drips and the runs and it’s quite thin, there’s a fragility to it. A lot of people ask me, ‘Oh, is it going to wash off?’. And that’s when I know, I’ve got the right look,” he said.

As an artist, Rone was thrilled that a homeowner would commit so strongly to his work, live with it every day and show it so publicly to the world.

“What an honour,” he said. “It’s, of course, very flattering. I don’t think I’ve painted anyone else’s home, really. There’s a unique situation in Collingwood, Fitzroy where there are terrace houses and there’s already a lot of graffiti on the side walls, so in that sense, it’s people’s homes, but they’re rarely commissioned. It’s more, ‘Here’s a launch pad’.”

Canberra artist James “Smalls” Small is another street artist being commissioned to do more private work. His public work is seen around Canberra, from the Woden squash courts to the Bradley Street dining precinct at Westfield Woden. The former Belconnen boy, who recently relocated to the Gold Coast, says his plan is to continue to do commissions in his home town. And he is in demand, especially for native flora and fauna pieces.

“I kind of started painting birds a few years ago. When I was a really young kid, I used to draw birds all the time, they were my favourite thing to draw,” he said.

“When I got into graph, I stopped drawing birds because I didn’t think it was cool. But I think as I’ve progressed as an artist, I’ve wanted to explore what I could do.”

Angela Braniff had artist Smalls paint the front door to her Holder home. Picture: Jamila Toderas

Angela Braniff had artist Smalls paint the front door to her Holder home. Picture: Jamila Toderas

Smalls also loves that people take the leap of faith to commit to his work.

“It’s fairly nerve-wracking for me as well, which is good. Having that pressure on myself forces me to create something extra special. I’ve worked for a range of high-profile clients and in a way, painting a couple’s front door is more important to be to deliver a perfect piece for them.”

Angela Braniff and Chris Foster commissioned Smalls to paint a native bird, the tiny Striated Pardalote, on their front door of their newly-renovated home in Holder. The birds had nested in a hole in the eaves, inspiring the mural.

“We were thinking we wanted a bright colour on the door but the colour wouldn’t match with the inside when the door was opened,” Angela said.

“We thought, ‘Why don’t we just get a painting on there?”. We’d thought about grafitti art for a while, maybe in the garage or something. And then I thought, ‘Hell, let’s just do it on the front door’.”

“Family and friends are just gobsmacked,” she said. “And getting to know James, and seeing him work, it was great. I think he took two days and 10 hours of ‘shake, shake spray; shake, shake, spray’. It was amazing. A great experience.”

It’s my favourite part of our home. I drink my tea out there every morning and it makes me feel at peace. Good art, to me, always does.

Aranda home owner Tracey Davis

Canberra stylist Tracey Davis has two murals by Smalls at her Aranda home, one on each side of their poolside cabana “which is where we practically live during spring and summer”.

“My husband is a builder and carpenter, so we explored many different types of materials such as timber and Colorbond for the cabana cladding. Our concern was that these materials were not only costly, they may date quickly as they are commonly used,” Tracey said.

“Instead, we opted for a cost-effective, smooth cement sheet and decided we would commission murals that provide a point of difference and reflect who we are today yet could be easily painted over with another mural in future if our tastes change.

“As it transpires, we can’t imagine ever growing tired of what Smalls has created.”

Tracey Davis at her Aranda home with the mural by the Canberra artist Smalls. Picture: Elesa Kurtz

Tracey Davis at her Aranda home with the mural by the Canberra artist Smalls. Picture: Elesa Kurtz

The work is a colourful native scene, including a spotted pardalote on grevillea, giving Smalls “free reign” to create the design, seeing his work around Canberra for years and then seeing it on Instagram.

“We trusted him as an artist and gave him full creative control although it was comforting that he often checked in to ask if we wanted to change or add any details,” Tracey said.

Tracey says the murals are “great conversation starters”.

“Everyone that visits our home loves how unique and unexpected it is,” she said.

“It’s my favourite part of our home. Weather permitting, I drink my tea out there every morning and it makes me feel at peace. Good art, to me, always does.”

Canberra architect Rob Henry hopes to see more murals on residences, especially when the private and public spaces merge.

The mural by artist Claire Foxton on a home in Ainslie. Picture: Davey from 5 Foot Photography

The mural by artist Claire Foxton on a home in Ainslie. Picture: Davey from 5 Foot Photography

He worked with Ainslie couple Meg and Jeremy Ross who wanted murals incorporated into their home, especially a blank side wall which faced a public foothpath.

“You don’t have many projects that face onto a public pathway so that was one of the main reasons for it, to give a bit back to the public,” Rob said.

“And I think it’s a really amazing things to do.”

Rob said Meg found the artist, Claire Foxton, who is based in Jamberoo, and workshopped ideas with her, while he advised on colour and style. Claire painted the mural in a couple of days.

“I think it really does work where it is,” Rob said.

“I think definitely we should be having more public artwork [into residential homes]. I feel very strongly about it.”

Another couple in Deakin has a mural of a girl’s face on the front of their home.

A mural on a house in Deakin. Picture: Megan Doherty

A mural on a house in Deakin. Picture: Megan Doherty

“The image is actually influenced by several street artworks we had seen and we commissioned a graphic designer to bring those ideas together along with including the copper, blue and gold colours we had used elsewhere on the house,” the homeowner, who did not want to be named, said.

“As the commissioned artwork was produced to fit with the house it also has soft image of brick running through the back of it so it further blends in. We had it placed on a commercial grade vinyl wrap by a local company Leader Graphics.

“It has always been our intention to have the artwork change over the years. However, saying that, we are pretty attached to her now four years later.”

But he also does a one or two murals a month for private homes, for nothing but the owner’s own enjoyment.

“We definitely get a lot of people asking for murals for internal courtyards, that’s massively popular,” he said.

In the last few weeks, he’s done design a mural at a Macarthur home creating a lush tropical scene on a retaining wall for a pool and, in Kambah, the face of a yellow-tailed black cockatoo amongst native flowers including banksia and eucalypt blossom.

“I think people love having beautiful things in their house and this is another example of that,” Geoff said.

“They have a space they look at all the time and often in Canberra, which is such an arts-friendly city, they want something other than a bare wall.”

He says the mural is a collaboration between the artist and the owner, helping to create something meaningful. He says a lot of work comes from someone seeing a piece at a family member’s or friend’s home and wanting one too.

“I’m sure it will become more and more common,” he said.

“Some people might have a mural for a couple of years and then rotate it into something else, which is the nature of street art.”

Geoff Filmer's work on a house in Canberra. Picture: Supplied

Geoff Filmer’s work on a house in Canberra. Picture: Supplied

But the owners also become very attached to the works. Geoff completed a mural for a southside couple, showing a magpie and blue fairy wren amongst banksia for a courtyard wall.

“We’ve kind of admired his work for a while and really love the vibrant colours and energy of his work,” the homeowner, who preferred not to be named, said.

“We love the birds he does. We back on to a reserve and walk every day and see the birds in the bush. One day I was running past one of Geoff’s pieces of [public] art, as I had done for many years, and suddenly thought, ‘Something like that would look good in our courtyard’. It was a way of connecting the courtyard to the bush, which is literally at our back door.”

Geoff Filmer has even painted a mural on a home water tank. Picture: Supplied

Geoff Filmer has even painted a mural on a home water tank. Picture: Supplied

The magpie was chosen for being “so quintessentially Canberra, and Australian” and the wren, because they flit through the nearby bush. They were not usually adventurous with art but this time wanted to “be bold”.

“We love it. It’s brought so much colour and life to the space,” the homeowner said.

“In the morning, I get up and look at it and it makes me happy.”

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