Flowers, 2020

I have a thing for flowers. I can’t get enough of them and I can’t photograph them enough. I also like to draw them and paint them. I find that the simple, repetitive nature of their design lends them to being the subject of one of my favourite genres, Pop Art.

Pop Art emerged in the mid-1950s as a challenge to elite fine art and as a response to the increasingly prevalent world of popular culture. One influential form was the comic book, with simple designs, cheap materials, easy themes, and a limited colour palette. A major artist working in this area is Roy Lichtenstein, and his 1963 work “Whaam!” was one of my early influences (see Tate).

Another of my favourite mid-20th century genres is Psychedelic Art, in which the artist’s genius is activated through the use of hallucinogenic drugs such as LSD or magic mushrooms. Some effects of a good trip are visions, an intensification of colour, the conflation of images and ideas, and a sense of joy. I was exposed to the kind of art that was produced by my big sister’s record and poster collection. Thanks, sis!

When I saw a call for applications by Arc Art & Design for the Arc Mural Project, I immediately made a concept sketch, digitised it, and then filled it with a few bold colour choices.

I couldn’t be specific because the wall hadn’t been chosen yet (as it turns out, the final mural is some 40% wider so the composition is quite different).

I have a thing for reusing, repairing, and recycling whenever I can so I was rapt to find shelves full of paint left over/donated by other muralists. Also available were drop sheets, brushes, paint tin openers, and a ladder. The only new item I bought was a bunch of paint pens for the comic book-style outlines, bringing me in 85% under budget with a load of carbon credit!

I was given the choice of three walls to paint on, all of which had an extant mural by a former student. I chose the best situated location which featured a work by UNSW alumna, Jamie Parmaxidis. She had also ventured into psychedelic territory, but headed in a very different direction. I’d admired the mind-bending quality of her art since I first saw it last year, but all things must change! One day someone will paint over my mural, too.

After spontaneously chalking up and then base coating my flowers, I started to fill in the background. I knew it would take several coats for the ochre colour to become fully opaque (there’s something about red house paint that makes it somewhat transparent; you even have to use a grey undercoat instead of white). With each layer Jamie’s mural became less visible, but I liked the way persisted in showing through. At this point I made the decision to keep my background somewhat translucent, creating a palimpsest that acknowledges the history of the wall and the presence of previous artists. It also makes “Flowers” look slightly strange as it’s hard to resolve the subtle variations of ochre into anything meaningful. It’s only when you get up close that you can see what’s happening and only if you’ve seen Jamie’s mural that you understand what’s been done.

Meanwhile, I began filling in the flowers in a “randomised” colour pattern, as if a bunch of blooms just happened to tumble across my vision. Even with the base coat, it took three layers to achieve a flat enough effect that emulates the blocky appearance of a comic book cover.

Two weeks after starting, I realised that I’d forgotten to do the hearts of the flowers in contrasting colours, so that delayed completion by a few frustrating days. I did, however, put into practice the trick of wrapping used brushes in plastic so the paint doesn’t dry and you don’t have to rush off to clean each one straight away.

Also, they look delicious.

The first act of inking a comic is to draw the outlines, but painting works the opposite way, making it the penultimate act of this mural. I tried a new technique: Posca paint markers recommended by The Art Scene staff on campus. They’re just like felt-tipped ink pens but are filled with acrylic paint. They were really useful for the outlines and so much easier to use than even the finest brush. I reckon I drew about 200 metres worth of lines from one pen. That’s pretty good value!

The mural took me a couple of weeks to complete, working for 3 or 4 hours on most days. As is usual with a Sydney summer we had bushfire smoke, heatwaves, tropical rain, fog, sunshine, and a leaky awning, so the exposures on the animation I did (above) are a bit “loose”. Still easier than a 2-week time lapse though!

I have a thing for murals and I can’t wait to do my next one.

Flowers, 2020
Acrylic paint over extant image on concrete
6900 x 2800 cm

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