Melbourne is a truly unique city. Sure it lacks the world-famous icons of Sydney, and many of our greatest charms are ‘tucked-away’, but that’s what I love about living here.
In my opinion it is a place best discovered on foot, perhaps with a dash of tram-hopping for convenience.
There are sublime restaurants tucked down dimly lit alleys, vibrant bars hidden behind nondescript doorways, coffee-obsessed locals sipping and chatting at their favourite cafes and a canvas of street art dotted across the city and inner suburbs.
And a doyen of this Melbourne street art scene is a chap known simply as – Rone. I spoke to him recently about his art and inspirations.
Rone street art. The early days.
Trained as a graphic designer it was in the early 2000’s that Rone first discovered his gift for painting. It was also around this time that his first forays into street art started appearing around the city. It wasn’t long before Rone became part of the iconic Everfresh Crew who quickly became the dominant urban art collective in Melbourne.
Street art as a movement grew quickly in and around the Melbourne CBD and surrounding suburbs such as Fitzroy, Brunswick and Collingwood. Many fans were being won-over by the high quality of work that was appearing on the building edifices and walls of the inner north. I was one.
It really appeared that Melbourne was becoming the Australian epi-centre for this ephemeral form of urban art. I asked Rone why he thought that was the case.
Melbourne artists have been really fortunate to have a supportive city. The Olympics was a huge blow to Sydney introducing a zero tolerance approach for many years. It really held Sydney back for a long time. Melbourne is also built with a lane between every street so there is always somewhere to paint.
As the reputation and recognition of Rone continued to grow in the mid to late part of the decade so too did the scale of some of his works. However it wasn’t until 2010 that Rone painted his very first extra-large mural. In the ensuing years grandiose murals of sometimes epic proportions have become a signature. I asked him about this transition to larger works.
>> Tell us about painting, what you consider to be, your first very large outdoor mural. Where was it located?
I’ve been painting since 2001 but it wasn’t until 2010 when I painted something over three metres. That was in Miami, I was definitely inspired by what was happening there at the time. I’d wanted to paint large for a long time but working out a technique that suited my style took a lot of experimentation.
Let’s Face it.
Known for his large-scale, closely-cropped portraits of beautiful women Rone is so synonymous with this form of the street art oeuvre that many have followed in his stylistic footsteps. However there are none that can truly replicate Rone’s trademark ‘Jane Doe’ figures – they are heroinic, almost cinematic female portraits with eyes that are as intense as they are beautifully painted.
Pleasingly however it is still possible these days to happen-upon a brand new work somewhere in Melbourne’s labyrinthine back alleys and side streets. Whilst commissions from around the globe enable Rone’s passion to also be his income he never seems to forget “the streets”. It is an homage of sorts to the urban canvases that have helped him spawn a very successful career.
The years 2013 – 2015 saw Rone rarely out of a plane seat having established a strong international following. He was clocking up air-miles rather than coffees on Smith Street Collingwood. There were a multitude of commissions and projects seeing his large-scale portrait work pop up in cities all around the world – from Paris and New York to Port Vila and Taipei.
In 2016 Rone felt the time apt to a return to his roots. Smaller scale, quicker paints. Rather than large-scale corporate buildings his canvases became houses or dwellings that were crumbling or ruinous. Rone Empty – his first solo show in two years – was an attempt to extract beauty out of decay. Light from shade.
“I’ve done quite a few large public works in recent years, so it was nice to return to some smaller-scale work again…The process really took me back to my beginnings – working late at night, going undercover, having to work quickly, and the excitement that comes with that” he explained. “I feel like I’ve come full circle with this exhibition.”
Empty was also the first time that the artist exhibited photography of his own artworks. A new string to his artistic bow.
It begged the question.
>> Hypothetically, if art hadn’t become your career, what job or profession could you see yourself happily enjoying to ‘earn-a-crust’.
I have been a freelance graphic artist up until 2010 whilst painting on the side. I would still be happy to be doing both.
To the best of my knowledge there are no X-Factor-esque tv shows (yet) that purport to create instant, and successful, street artists. Rone has emerged from the pack due to a bespoke mixture of dedication, vision and unabashed talent spanning 15 years. There is nothing ‘over-night’ about his well-earned global reputation.
Today his works criss-cross the globe almost as much as he does. Asking him in December 2016 about what is planned for the year ahead Rone nonchalantly replies…
Not too sure just yet, A few big walls, a few small ones too and hopefully a bit of travel.