She is a thought-provoking artist with a very cool name. We know her as Baby Guerrilla and she talks with me about how she went from a potential life as an oil painter to becoming one of Melbourne’s most exciting street artists.
Tell me a bit about your background and how you ended up becoming an artist.
I was one of those kids who always knew exactly what they wanted to be from an early age. Some of my earliest memories are being fascinated by pattern and colour. I was fascinated with the intellectual and technical riddle that still forms the basis of art making for me.
I studied oil painting and completed a Fine Arts Degree at Victorian College of the Arts (VCA). I was all set for life as an oil painter and had work hung at the National Gallery of NSW and many other places. Public art started out as a hobby for me and has grown into something else entirely.
It was at art school that I realised that drawing could also be a legitimate form of expression or medium in its own right, not just as the basis of a future painting. I remember learning that there was more than one shade of grey lead, which spun my head around! I can see how those discoveries planted a seed that has led me to where I am currently. However there are a myriad of reasons that I do this kind of art, both personal and political.
You work across several mediums – painting, drawing, stencilling, multi-media. Do you have a preference?
Mediums are like different languages. Concept comes first, then finding the best vehicle or medium to express yourself. There are many ways up the mountain! Artists themselves are just another vehicle to give form to the unconscious. I see artistic practice as an attempt to refine and hone our technique in order to meet those ends.
Art is such a delicious process of learning and discovery. It’s exciting to imagine that over a lifetime artists could become such masters at their craft that they could whittle a concept down to its pure essence. You see this across all different genres whether it’s the delivery of a song line, stroke of a brush or embodied in the way a dancer uses their body to become pure expression.
Photography by Andrew Haysom
Tell me about your inspiration behind the floating characters. Are they all specific characters linked together? They seem to be saving each other in some way. Can you share any specific story behind a piece?
There’s definitely no singular narrative behind the pieces. As politically correct as it may sound, every interpretation is valid. Artists are often acting upon instinct or the unconscious. Many times people have had insights about my work that have had a profound impact upon me, both friends and strangers alike. Stuff comes out in your work that is not always a conscious process, which is why it can be limiting to try and pin it all down on a page. There is no one singular answer.
How do you go from having an idea to getting these massive pieces on walls? What obstacles have you faced in doing so?
Every piece has its own technical challenges and the process of trying to solve those challenges can be very rewarding. Each time I do something new it’s terrifying. Part of the attraction of art for me is the continual process of evolving and learning – doing things in theory will never be the same as doing them in practice. Practice is the key.
I know when I have seen your work it is very confronting and powerful. What kind of reactions do you wish to elicit from your audience if any?
It’s fantastic to have the impact that you describe. My intention with my public art is to affect the public environment for the better and provide an alternative perspective to bland bureaucracy or corporate vandalism of public spaces. My art seeks to provide a sense of wonder and the idea that anything is possible. Hopefully we can take the idea into our daily lives, that we do have a voice and can make a difference in both a smaller and larger context.
How important is it for artists to have access to public space in cities in which to produce art?
Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Public art is all about reclaiming these spaces as spaces for the public and providing an alternative voice to those we are constantly bombarded with by advertising and all powerful oligarchies.
Do you think it is more difficult for female artists to get recognition?
I don’t think it’s harder for female artists to get recognition but it may be harder for them to sustain it in the long term. In the sense that there are no mechanisms in place to support women who want to raise a family. The art world reflects the wider world in general and the statistics are fairly damning in terms of representation across the art world. The art world is meant to be progressive but in the year of 2014 most arts residencies will still exclude families and babies which is fairly shocking but I believe women will find a way no matter what, even though we are still handicapped by narrow notions of a career path and models of success. All worlds, including the art world and the corporate world, are far more balanced and interesting to me when they include women and babies.
Gender aside, artists have few protections in their industry. We don’t have a strong union or wage protection. Without these protections anything goes. Whether male or female, artists have almost no protections in place. Often we are bidding against ourselves. People who are able to carve a career out of that mess are the exception not the rule.
How do you feel about satirical or political street art? Banksy being the obvious example.
I think it’s brilliant. Many would argue that all art on the street is political, that the action of illegally putting something on a wall is an overtly political action or statement in itself. It’s fantastic to have a broad range of artists and art forms in the public sphere and public space will be all the richer because of it.
Are you generally a fan of street art and if so, any artists in particular?
I think if you love art, you can’t help but love it across all platforms. There are so many incredible artists out there. The web has been a huge phenomenon in connecting artists from across the world. We are all continually inspiring each other. Every week I will be blown away by someone’s work.
Was there a time you remember when you went from doing art to being an artist?
No, I guess I’m lucky in that I never questioned the difference between the two. It helps that my family have always supported me in making art. Without that legitimacy or validation it would be an even harder path for artists than it already is.
If you could meet anyone in the world, who would that be and why?
I am looking forward to meeting Australian artist Prudence Flint but I love being part of the arts community in general. There are so many artists I admire and there is so much strength in solidarity. Art can be an isolating process, finding your community and tribe is one of the most rewarding aspects. For any community to be strong it needs solidarity.
What’s on your agenda for the rest of this year? Is there anything coming up that we should know about?
It’s lined up with commissions and various projects. Spending time in the studio has become a priority for me. It is about finding that balance between doing enough jobs to survive but doing those things that I want to do and meeting the needs of my own soul. Finding a way to own the process rather than letting any market own me if that is not too harsh.