Wonderwalls Festival, which begun in Wollongong in 2012, returned once again to Port Adelaide in 2017. The event aims to fill the port with colour while supporting various artists from diverse backgrounds. This years event featured a host of local and international artists, who tackled a mixture of large and small scale murals around Port Adelaide.
Running from the 21-23 of April, the Wonderwalls festival hosts a plethora of live mural painting, free tours, free artist talks and an electric launch party.
The team at Verso chose a day each to head down and take part in the festivities.
Alex Beckinsale - Wonderwalls Opening- Friday 21st of April 2017
The sun had just dipped beneath the waves when we arrived at Hart's Mill, Port Adelaide, for the Wonderwalls Opening Night. The last golden rays glinted off the water and filtered into the street. Strings of incandescent bulbs bobbed over head, casting strange, dancing shadows on the asphalt.
At first glance the border of food-carts and outdoor cafe furniture would have looked at home at a farmers market or bazaar. On the surface, nothing seemed to indicate the actual artistic attraction of the event. Then, through the haze of people which mingled about the barn sized entrance, we started to discern glimpses of the art on show. A vast mural on the inside wall of the mill immediately drew our attention. The light was fading fast however, and there was work on display in more places than just the glimmering Mill.
Our guide, a participant in the Wonderwalls festival, Thomas Readett, lead us past the mouthwatering smells of freshly cooking street foods and toward the water. If I hadn't known better I would have thought we were leaving the majority of the ‘exhibition’ behind us. But on a temporary wall constructed behind the main part of the building were a series of paintings completed on an almost epic scale. Cans, brushes and buckets lay half empty on drop sheets, and artists, still covered in paint, continued their work on prescribed sections of the wall, or mingled with the visitors. Sections of the mural still remained unfinished and hinted at the painting that would be undertaken with the coming weekend.
The outdoor paintings became harder to see as the twilight drew on, and we made our way back to entrance of The Flour Shed. The warehouse-like space stretched out in front of us, with people mingling around the art and the food. The crowd was made up of people of all ages, and a few canine companions seemed to appreciate the scraps of food accidentally dropped on the floor more than the art which they'd been dragged along to see.
The crowd of people that filled the space seemed modest in comparison to the immensity of the venue. Relatively small, wire structures had been assembled to hang two dimensional art from, and larger more sculptural pieces had been placed around the room on the polished concrete floor. I counted four separate display areas as we wove our way through the tangle of people. The work on show included works by artists such as Aida Azin, Thom Buchanan, Jimmy Dodd, Peter Drew, Damien Shen and Joshua Smith.
Despite the enormity of The Flour Shed, there almost seemed to be a scarcity of art. Each artist had contributed around 1-3 works, which all ranged in size and style. However, in contrast to the enormity of the space, they seemed dwarfed; overcome by high ceilings and a sea of concrete and steel.
However, this did not detract from the vibrancy of the night. The room, large as it was, bubbled over with interested and cheerful conversations. Seasoned art viewers found themselves in the company of a less “art accustomed” public. The relaxed and convivial atmosphere created a delightful space for everyone to engage with the art on display. The mixture of art, music, and good food, seemed to fulfil everyone’s expectations for the night; whether artist or not, young or old, human or dog.
Edwina Cooper - Wonderwalls Artist Talks - Saturday 22nd April
The artist talks on Saturday the 22nd April were headed up by panel members Claire Matthews (Fuzeillear)(England), Elliott Routledge (Numskull) (Sydney), Georgia Hill (Sydney), Vans the Omega (Adelaide), Amanda Lynn (USA). The panel spent the hour answering the audience’s questions in The Flour Shed, Hart's Mill. Below are a select group of questions as answered by the panel collectively. Find out what we learnt!
Where did it begin for you?
The panel had varied answers for this question.
Vans the Omega said he was inspired by graffiti along the train and tramlines he would take as a child to visit his grandparents.
Georgia Hill said it was a 5 year progression for her - studying visual communications at university, followed by illustration, which then moved into large scale mural painting. She said as a child she would stop to look at cracks and broken windows - so for her, there has been a continual interest in textures in public places.
How do you get perspective?
There are different methods used by different artists. These include the use of a grid, projectors, creating layers in photoshop or just going free hand at it instead. The panel emphasised that the more you do, the more you get used to the scale and perspective.
Do you have a plan before you start?
For some people, it’s best to get to the wall and assess the site. It might be different from what was expected - a different shape, it might be raining or encounters with angry locals can all change the direction of the work. For other people, planning every detail is the way to go. The panel explained that everyone is different in this sense.
Georgia Hill spoke about how making plans asks for something to go wrong. She explained that often ‘reach’ is a big limitation to making these kind of works, so they twist and change as they go.
Vans the Omega said that he would be turning up to his site the following day (23/04/17) and would probably start by working with the feeling of the wall and site, then go overtop with something photographic. He said he would be trying to respond to the energy, and not overcook the work.
How do you come to be as good as you are … there is a lot of crappy graffiti ‘stuff’ out there. Do we have to accept that as a step towards what you people do?
The panel discussed the stereotypical ‘branding’ associated with the use of a spray can and how as a material it demands space (such as the wall) to practice and learn the medium. Some people mightn’t realise the lineage of mural artists of this calibre, growing up through graffiti. They said these days spray paint is made for artists, however, previously a more makeshift approach had to be taken to get a variety of colours. The panel made the differentiation between the intentions of trying to have a voice or experiment with materials, based on the choice of site (a fence as opposed to an abandoned wall). Whilst graffiti and tagging might belong to a ‘street art’ culture, Vans the Omega clarified this in saying that he instead identifies his practice as ‘post graffiti muralism’.
If you didn't start with graffiti, where did you start and how did you get the space?
Claire Matthews explained that she started out doing biro drawings and portraits which were very intricate. She was later asked to take part in a festival in her home town in the UK and paint a mural. She approached this first mural by using the projecting method, and using the same small brush as she would for her intricate drawing work (which as she discovered, didn’t really lend themselves to the scale of a wall). Matthews emphasised that when starting out you need to find walls, and much of this is about who you know to give you those fledgling opportunities. You need to be able to show people what you can do before they’ll give you their wall to paint on.
Georgia Hill said that she lived in Berlin before moving back to Sydney to focus on illustration. She had a friend with a gallery and one opportunity lead to another. Hill also emphasised the importance of collaborations and practice - saying she had was drawing 18 hours a day when she moved back to Sydney, as she felt like she had some catching up to do.
A mother in the audience explained that her son was showing talent and interest in lettering and graffiti art. She asked what advice could the panel give her as a mother.
‘Let him do it!’ was the overwhelming and unanimous response from the panel. They explained that you never know the outcome, but with encouragement only good things can happen. The artists discussed how their parents had gone about fostering their interest - whether it be dedicating a part of the house for them to practice (to avoid them sneaking out and doing it elsewhere in the night) or building respect about where and what it is that you paint. It is normal for parents to be nervous about the outcomes of graffiti - but there are workshops and support available for children with a similar interest.
How many street art festivals are there?
The panel says mural festivals are taking over the world! They estimated there to be around 1000 events (like Wonderwalls) occurring worldwide. Some artists hop from one event to the next. You’ll find these events growing in smaller cities - as larger cities are harder to work with (too many people need to approve things). Which means festivals of this calibre end up in unexpected places - they draw people out of where they think they need to be to view art, out of major cities. Numskull also explained that perhaps they’re growing in popularity as for many people the traditional art gallery model is unapproachable, can cost money and can be hard to digest. These festivals, and the works produced are not.
So it sounds like we will be seeing much more of this kind of thing in the future.
Christina Peek - Wonderwalls Canon Photo Tours - Sunday 23rd of April 2017
I am not local to Port Adelaide and bar a few expeditions out to Port Adelaide Artist Supplies I have really not spent much time there. However, every time I drive in from Wauwa street and see the murals by Askew One and Bezt, a mural from Wonderwalls 2015, looming above me, I get an overwhelming sense of awe.
Unsure of what to expect from the festival I parked my car and made my way to The Flour Shed, Hart's Mill on Mundy street, the hub of the festivities. As I walked through the back streets, google maps open on my phone marking me as one with a horrendous sense of direction, I didn't mind the few wrong turns I made as I stumbled on different artists completing murals.
I had enrolled in one of the festival's free Canon Photo Tours. Though free, bookings were essential for this tour and I was concerned that, as an amateur photographer, I would not have the skills or knowledge to take full advantage of this event.
I had arrived early and was excited to explore the exhibition in The Flour Shed. Stunning murals and artworks were dotted around the space but James Dodd and his painting machine was the stand out. A strange bike/drill/remote control car/painting hybrid used different mechanical elements to create a machine which painted two or 3 canvases at a time!
I met Steve Huddy, a member of the Canon Collective, at the front of The Flour Shed. He was approachable and friendly, greeting me with a warm hand shake. As we waited for any late comers he talked us through the basics of composition and landscape photography.
Then we set off! Though time did not allow us to hit every mural we were able to see many of the larger canvases. Steve was fantastic and at every mural he talked us through depth levels, focus, IOS and even what lenses we should consider if we wanted to take our photography further.
Beyond the photography advice, which was applicable for any level of skill, Steve was knowledgeable about the local area. He showed us his favourite spots, told us when buildings were built, the general history of Port Adelaide and which of the murals were going to be torn down or built upon soon so we could come back an photograph them.
Throughout the tour Steve would approach you and ask you how you were going, analyse your compositions and the settings of your camera enabling you to get the best shot. 'Get the whole thing, but don't forget about the detail!' he would remind us.
What struck me was that at every mural a crowd had gathered. A mixture of locals and people who had travelled there for the day, pointed their phones and cameras up to capture the works. Many posed for photos while some people had brought deck chairs, clearly intending to see the mural through to completion.
The dual intentions of Wonderwalls to support artists and rejuvenate the city has certainly been achieved. Each of the murals brought life to an otherwise unremarkable piece of architecture. Every artist had drawn a crowd; the sense of awe from the people around us was palpable. Wonderwalls is aptly named.
For more information about the Wonderwalls in Port Adelaide: http://wonderwallsfestival.com/