His murals are sprinkled around Adelaide, bringing colour and other worldly characters to iconic places. A mind influenced by the study of psychology and an uncontrollable imagination, Azzurro is an Adelaide artist that is breathing life into the otherwise drab spaces of the world. We took his eyes away from the walls (for just a moment), so that we could shoot him 16 questions:
1. Your pieces are very detailed – how long does it take you to do one of your intricate murals?
Some of my most intricate pieces I’ve started at 7am and finished at 5pm, other more seemingly simple works have stretched out to months. I always lose track of time when I’m engrossed in a project. I’ve stopped giving myself deadlines because often my clients don’t care and are cool and laidback and enjoy having me around.
2. Out of all of your artistic accomplishments, which project has been the most personal or the one that really stands out to you?
I think every art piece I finish, I find myself saying ‘this is my favourite so far’ only to go on to the next and say the exact same thing. My body of work is forming a never-ending narrative for me. So I think the project that screams the loudest is the creation of ‘Azzurro,’ this mysterious artist character who appeared out of nowhere in the dark, sexy, haunted corners of Spats Cafe, unleashed himself upon the city through a liberating art show and has since then been making a relentless assault on the public eye with whimsical and pretty (but confronting and sometimes overwhelming) creations that if anything, make you think. Azzurro began as a pseudonym but I’ve found he’s also an impossible idea I’ve been able to look up to and now I feel like it’s who I’ve become.
3. Many people find art therapeutic. Is this the case for you? With your background in psychology, do you think there is a place for art therapy in mental health treatment?
Absolutely, I think the colouring book thing has gotten a bit silly so for now art needs to back off from the mindfulness sphere a little bit before it gets too contrived — otherwise it just needs to evolve. I think the term ‘art therapy’ has become synonymous with ‘adult colouring book’. Don’t get me wrong they are awesome, I have my own for sale on my website and it’s done really well, but we can’t place all of our eggs in one basket and just claim ‘problem solvered,’ because that’s the thing — these books are just products for sale. I can personally vouch that colouring in with pencils on paper is nothing compared to lining up a big piece of plywood or street wall and then painting it in. It engages all of your senses, you can run your hands along the crisp primed canvas, smell the paint, watch the moisture disappear from it as it dries, feel the grainy matte brush strokes left behind. With your back to the world your senses heighten. At the end, you get to stand back and say ‘I did this, I made this happen, I created this from nothing’. You only have to do it once to understand, there is very little time or space to be anywhere but right there in the moment.
4. What is your preferred medium to work with?
It used to be fine liner on paper, and then it evolved to acrylic paint pens on walls. They’re not cheap, I have kept every one from each mural I’ve done and now I have bags and bags of hundreds of them, I’m thinking maybe I could turn them into an art piece. Before I started doing murals I hadn’t picked up a paintbrush —now I am addicted and leave a 12 hour work day only to come home and paint more. I still haven’t touched aerosol.
5. What is your favourite colour...
...to wear: Black
...to work with: ‘Splice of Life’ (a fancy paint supplier word for lime green)
...to look at: Hot Pink
6. Your pieces are often filled with strange, otherworldly creatures. Where do you find the inspiration for these creations?
My art used to be my own introverted exploration of this strange, other dimension inside my mind, but then something happened and my inner world began to leak into this one. I have always been bombarded by visions, an extremely overactive imagination and now I have the chance to turn them into real images and also be paid for it. I love what I see but I don’t get a say in what flows out of the pen.
7. Who are your artistic heroes, dead or alive?
Amy Winehouse, Daft Punk, Lady Gaga, Douglas Adams, Lemony Snicket, Terry Denton, Graeme Base, Martin Handford.
8. Do you have a studio? If so, what is it like and what would we find there?
I’m a gypsy, all of my art supplies travel with me in a cute little trolley cart that Westfield Marion gifted me after I did a wicked 6-day art stint for them. My studio is wherever I am working on a mural, which has been the case everyday 9-5 for as long as I can remember now. I’ve rented out studios in the past only to find I’m never there, I’m always on site, on top of a ladder in a jumpsuit covered in paint.
9. What is your pet peeve about the art world?
I don’t like turning up to hyped up art events only to find mostly empty white rooms with blocks of clay with nails shoved in them and ridiculous messages to accompany them — art like that annoys me. Maybe one day I will appreciate it, but for now it pisses me off, and usually it’s the people that enjoy that stuff that tend to tell me they don’t like my stuff. That used to upset me but I’ve learned not to care, I am creating primarily for myself and secondly for the people that like what I create. Anyone else can get stuffed. I believe the idea of the ‘art world’ shouldn’t really be taken seriously at all; it can be so intimidating to young artists looking to get started. But it’s not a place you can point to on a map, it’s not a group of people that get together to go bowling at Christmas, you build your own art world.
10. How do you deal with creative block?
I’m lucky to be dealing with an imagination that don’t quit so creative block is not something I often have to worry about. But when I am asked this question by other young artists I always make sure to tell them that it’s important to find balance between seeing and doing. If you just create and create your ‘visionary well’ will dry up; you need to get up and out of the house and soak in new sights, shapes, sounds, and really focus on feeling your environment and being present in conversations. Hang out with friends and family and put on an album, avoid TV and social media. I call it ‘listening mode’ — you become a sponge soaking up whatever the world puts in front of you and sometimes that’s all you can do. Inspiration will come, you don’t need to force it to happen or you will become bitter.
11. If you could own any artwork in the world, which one would it be?
Alex Grey’s ‘Chapel of Sacred Mirrors’
12. Have you always loved art, even as a child? What is your earliest memory in this sense?
When I was really little I used to play Crash Bandicoot and then draw my own levels and pretend to be running around in them. My Great Grandma had an old cookie tin with Windsor Castle on it full of Crayola pencils, which I would draw with while I watched the Wiggles and Sesame Street.
13. What projects are you working on right now?
For the past two months I have been based at Central Market Arcade, specifically the entrance off of Victoria Square, carrying out a two month long residency focusing on breathing some colour and ‘2016’ into the place which was admittedly pretty drab before. I’ve created 4 huge murals there, full of koi fish, flamingoes, monkeys, dragons, Aztec coffee gods and a nod to Gene Wilder in his popularisation of ‘Pure Imagination’.
14. Do you have any favourite Adelaide artists? If so, who and why?
I love the work of Emma Hack who seamlessly stitches illustrious wallpaper designs directly onto the bodies of beautiful models who become invisible amidst their backdrop, aside from the subtle curvature of the female form. A few times I’ve just stood in her gallery on O’Connell St (she’s since moved on from there) just breathing in the vivid colours and clean, almost salon-like feel to her creative space. Rene brings her years of study and subsequent research in the field of marine biology to photorealistic yet fantastical animal artworks, years ago we were serving pints in a pub together and now we are living our dreams. Steven Papas creates intricate visionary patterns that encourage your mind to twist into its deepest darkest corners and consider the infinite geometric manifolds that govern the visual world around us- I met him as an exhibitor in my first art show and we became besties. Kirstie raises awareness for endangered species through bright, watercolour pieces that splash right out of the page and donates art print sales proceeds to BeyondBlue. I am privileged to have met some young artists who I can now call good friends. When I started I didn’t know anyone, I haven’t gone to art school so it would seem unlikely that I would form many connections but when you pop yourself out there your tribe will find you.
15. Do you have any pets?
No, I have a hard enough time keeping succulents alive
16. What do you hope for your career in the next 10 years?
‘I don’t know where I’m going, but I promise it won’t be boring’ said David Bowie. I have shown Adelaide the tip of the iceberg in terms of what I know I have to offer. There’s still film, fashion, music. Every day I am trying to make sense of the feeling that ‘this is happening’- I am really going somewhere and these opportunities to shine that just keep on making themselves available because I don’t stop hunting them down- I have not come this far to go half way. I want to be everywhere and nowhere- I am in it for the adventure and can absolutely assure that there are entertaining times ahead.
All images supplied by Azzurro