The Richmond Mural Project Interviews: Meggs

by | Oct 31, 2014 | STREET ART

Australian muralist Meggs came through Richmond this summer and wowed everyone with his colorful contributions to the Richmond Mural Project.

His murals on the sides of Bacchus (Main & Meadow) and The Pig And Pearl (Broad & Allison) burst from the walls with energetic lines and a sense of frantic motion.

The influence of everything from comic books and science fiction to punk rock and metal music comes through in his art, making him a perfect artist to contribute street art to the RVA landscape.

Meggs, real name David Hooke, has had a similarly energetic artistic career, beginning back in his college days circa the turn of the millennium. Gaining fame in his native Melbourne for stencil and poster art, he soon turned his attention to murals, forming Everfresh Studio in 2004 to unite the street art scene in Melbourne. The Everfresh Crew has since gone on to have work exhibited in the National Gallery of Australia, and in 2010 released a retrospective publication designed by Meggs, entitled Everfresh:Blackbook. Meggs recently relocated to Los Angeles, but his art continues to take him all over the world. During his brief stopover in RVA, we caught up with him to talk about comic books and Australian street art, among many other topics.

How did you get involved with the Richmond Mural Project?

I got involved through working with Shane and Art Whino. Last year, I came out to D.C. to paint the interior of the Art Whino church [Blind Whino, a DC event venue that was formerly a church]. It was the first project we did together; I was really stoked on the result of that. Last year, Shane planned to have me out for the Mural Project, but it got bumped back to a different time in the year than originally planned, and [he] couldn’t coordinate his schedule. [This year], he still wanted me on board, and I was down to do it.

What do you think of Richmond, Virginia so far?

I’m liking it here in Richmond. Definitely in the process of painting murals, I’ve found an enthusiastically positive response to what we’re doing. I’ve painted a lot of places and generally, anyone that stops is going to have something positive to say, but [here] it’s almost like every person stops or leans out of their car window and yells out how much they’re stoked on it. One of the key things that I get is the sense that folks are [excited about artists] coming to Richmond and making the city better. You don’t usually get that as often. This is kind of the city that’s really open to it and really into it. So yeah, it’s cool.

How’s the mural and street art scene in Australia?

Pretty good, actually. Melbourne is quite a supportive city of murals and street art. It’s a little bit of a catch-22 situation, because I guess the inner city is fairly small, and technically our law is a zero tolerance policy towards graffiti and street art. At the same time, street art has become a really good tourist attraction for the city of Melbourne. Melbourne’s known for its laneway culture and conducive to that; that’s where street art is based and most heavily started from. Not so much graffiti but street art. So mural culture has grown bigger. There’s not as many large scale murals in Melbourne as there are other places that I’ve been, but it’s definitely a really strong culture. I feel like the community’s support is really good. It was a really good place to come from to get to the point where I am today. There’s a really good community of artists, and a good level of work. [The art in Melbourne] is definitely a little bit different to… maybe not so much the States, because this and the UK are our primary influences, but [we] definitely have stylistic differences to the guys that I see coming from Europe. It’s just interesting that each different place has its own little flavor, and I think that Melbourne definitely has its own. It’s very much a kind of city where the proof’s in the pudding. So it’s like, if you talk shit and you can’t back it up, there’s no point.

What is Everfresh?

Everfresh is a collective of guys who do street art and graffiti. [We] met through a few different avenues. [I knew] one of the guys for a long time through university and street art, met a bunch of other guys [on] online forums and DIY exhibitions in the city of Melbourne, when their street art in the early 2000s was kind of flourishing. Nine of us ended up sharing a warehouse studio together, which became like a collective art space just to work. It became a hub for a lot of other artists, both in Melbourne and from visiting from out of town. We could do whatever we want. People would come through, they could crash if they wanted and we’d be there–like, for me, increasingly I’d be working no matter what time, day or night. So it became a collective studio, and then from there became a collective crew of artists that worked together. We’d all jam on stuff and that would evolve into collaborations and group murals. I think we kind of gained a bit of notoriety. We are all establishing our names as individuals as street artists, and then doing projects together on a small scale. But when we started, large scale street art production was kind of new to Melbourne. Not necessarily graffiti oriented, but more like character-based.

So your book [Everfresh:Blackbook] collects a decade of work. Was it hard to slim up the content and get it all into one publication?

Yeah, totally, totally. I was the one that was in charge of the graphic design from start to finish. So going through hundreds of photos… because we had such a broad range of stuff! Like hand drawn stickers, hand drawn pay stubs, stencil pay stubs, traditional graffiti, roller pieces, characters, larger productions, inside gallery work, studio shows, parties–[in] ten years, all of us collectively have done a shitload of stuff. Cutting that down was tricky, but I just had to give some rules. Like, pick your best 50 photos, give me that, and then when creating a layout of the book, we’d do it in sections. A sticker section, a pay stub section, a stencil section, a free hand section, inside studio sections. That helped me categorize everything. It kind of mowed us over a little bit, but it was definitely a long process.

So you’ve left Australia and Melbourne and you’re set up in LA. Has that been difficult for you, to leave all of that behind?

I’ve only been in LA since September, so only eight months or so, I guess. It was difficult to get used to being there just in terms of settling in and getting into my groove. Like setting up a studio, getting a place to live, all that kind of vibe of LA. Also, [I went] from being a relatively well-known, larger fish in a smaller pond, so to speak, but knowing that I had the contacts in America and that I had people there already. It took a while to get my head around to the momentum of like, “All right, I’m here, this is where I live. I need to start getting work done.” Now I feel like I’m at a point where I’ve found my groove. Doing projects like this, my year is pretty full; I’ve got a lot of stuff going on. It just takes a little time to adjust to that.

What does your family think of your work? Have they been supportive? Or scared?

[Laughs] Probably both. My parents are pretty good like that. My dad’s a schoolteacher, but he’s always been a creatively inclined kind of guy, and they are definitely supportive of it. I think they might have freaked out a little bit if they knew how a prospective sale was going to do. Anything I’ve done illegally, they’re like, “We don’t want to know anything about it. You’re not doing that kind of thing anymore, are you?” But I feel like the direction of my work and the way that it’s going and the stuff that it’s allowed me to achieve, the opportunities… they’re really stoked on it. I think that they can see now that it’s a lot bigger thing for me than just a hobby or a side project. It’s hard for making a living financially, so they freaked out about that at first, because it’s not like–in their mind perhaps–really a job. Leaving a job of graphic design work, like I was doing, to make art–[there’s] kind of no security in it. They realize now that this is me, and that it’s a life. Despite the money, my mind is made up by the fact that I can do stuff like this. I have a better lifestyle, probably, than a lot of people that make more money than me. That’s the trade off from how I look at it. I want to financially be making a living off art, but at the same time, it’s more rewarding. And I think that they get that.

There’s definitely some things that have happened, like the National Gallery of Australia did this big show called Space Invaders. They collected street art from a broad spectrum of street artists in Australia that have been doing stuff for the past ten years. They put on a big show at the National Gallery, which is kind of a big deal. They have an entire collection and those works are catalogued and there’s a printed catalog. That’s kind of rad, and when parents see shit like that, they’re like, “Oh, OK, this is a legitimate, for-real thing. This is a movement, it’s important, it’s culture.”

You definitely have some comic book influences. Are you a fan of Australian comics, or just comics overall? What are your favorite characters?

I would just say I’m a fan of comic books overall. I’m not necessarily a super nerd or connoisseur for any particular style or character. For me, just growing up as a kid, the combination of the cartoons and the movies of the 80’s and reading comic books, it was more of just that visual style that influenced me more than anything. The distinct, powerful, energetic narrative of the comic books. As a kid I collected Phantom comics, which is kind of a weird one but my dad liked it when he was a kid. He got me into that so I got a really good collection of those. And second to that, I was into the character of Batman. It’s the duality I’m really into, so characters like that attract me more than ones like Superman.

Your murals kind of explode off the wall. It feels like there’s a lot of energy. When you’re making pieces, do you ever see yourself as a character you’re making?

Yes, totally. Probably as a general rule, every character that I paint, because it’s all about duality and it’s always someone who’s in a position of movement. It’s a shift of being, and it’s like equilibrium. I have this underlying obsession with balance, trying to find balance. And I’m kind of an all or nothing person, a dreams kind of dude. So I feel like I’m that constantly tormented person that’s trying to find the right purpose, the right movement, the right way to do it. That is balance, and that’s what my work’s like. It’s trying to find a balance between the form of abstraction and the duality, so it’s all pretty self-referential, really. To me, it’s just the way I express my own emotions.

You’ve been to a lot of places. Is there anywhere you haven’t been but want to work?

I’d love to visit South America; I still haven’t done that. Travel around there. Culturally, there’s a lot of really interesting art coming out of there, because it’s still related to the Americas. It’s got a looser, colorful feel to it, and they are quite character-driven as well, so that’s kind of interesting.

Like Smitheone? He’s very character driven.

That shit’s awesome, the walls he did. From what I’ve seen.

He seems like he pulls a lot from folk art.

Yes! That I find kind of interesting. Because I think being Australian is like, we don’t really have a folk art. Our cultural history is English, but it’s a little mixed. It doesn’t take back centuries and stories, which is why I think I’m obsessed with pop culture and mythology–superheroes, and even Greek mythology. Because I grew up with all those films, like Clash Of The Titans and that kind of crazy shit. Cartoons [that] reference that kind of type of character, stuff like that.

R. Anthony Harris

R. Anthony Harris

I created Richmond, Virginia’s culture publication RVA Magazine and brought the first Richmond Mural Project to town. Designed the first brand for the Richmond’s First Fridays Artwalk and promoted the citywide “RVA” brand before the city adopted it as the official moniker. I threw a bunch of parties. Printed a lot of magazines. Met so many fantastic people in the process. Professional work: www.majormajor.me




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