Art Student Q&A

ArtStudent Q&A 3: Skyworld Explained

I am professional artist AZZURRO; Ask me anything! I will respond to any and all student questions regarding my practice and experiences. Follow in my steps or go your own way; the decision is yours. This time I'm speaking to Abi, a Year 12 student who is currently completing a research project on mural art and wanted to interview me specifically about the time I was commissioned by the City of Onkaparinga Council to create my ‘Skyworld’ mural at a newly built Aldinga Library. Abi will be painting her own mural in a similar art style as a part of her Year 12 studies. The Skyworld mural will now come to life when scanned using the Artivive app on smart phones.

The completed Skyworld mural at Aldinga Library (which was still under construction at this stage).

The completed Skyworld mural at Aldinga Library (which was still under construction at this stage).

Abi:         How did you come up with the name ‘Skyworld’?

Azzurro: I envisioned a chunk of rock floating indefinitely in space that had assumedly been ripped out of the ground, detached from a planet after a mystery event- maybe a catastrophic one, or maybe a scientific reason, but somehow whatever is living on this rock (a culture of unseen critters) have managed to flourish and have built a connected world with a sense of adventure and flair. Still- a flaming asteroid looms in the distance, glaring through the holes that spatter Skyworld- maybe from collisions in the past. What would that have looked like? The holes erode like sand being eaten away from a beach by the ocean- sea creatures and coral life springs up on this ominous mass of land which is just a world in the sky.

Abi:        What’s the meaning/theme you wanted to show the viewers?

Azzurro: This piece was all about imagination and interactivity. I actually had true control over the brief- in fact my only reference point as far as concept illustrations for what the client had wanted from me at the time was that the room where I was to paint the mural is ‘the kids’ games room’. This means bean bags, ps4s, screens around the place. The mural was to be painted inside a new, ‘iconic’, and admittedly impressive community facility that was still under construction. This is Aldinga Library. These government commissions where I have access to a strange new place are my favourite, they feel like covert operations and so I take them extremely seriously. This room was under my control, nobody was to enter until the painting was promptly delivered, certainly nobody from the public. The library was being constructed as a part of a huge community centre development that had suddenly appeared in the middle of what I’ve always known to be a patch of dirt next to the Aldinga shops. It looked like a fleet of spaceships had landed in a small, beachy aussie town. I developed 3 concept designs for the space, with Skyworld being the third and most ambitious, and the unanimous, almost instant decision was that Skyworld was to happen.

The concept illustration I had developed which led to the Skyworld mural being commissioned.

The concept illustration I had developed which led to the Skyworld mural being commissioned.

I have grown up with a family beach shack in Aldinga where some of my best memories come from, especially reading and the sense of adventure that video games encourage. So, knowing that this piece was for kids who are more open to adventurous artwork, I went overboard and packed as much life and content as I could into this world. I wanted this art piece to sweep you away for a bit. Maybe it’s worth looking away from the screen for a moment and enjoy something that’s hanging out on the wall right in front of your eyes in ‘real life’. I like to think there are kids who could visit the library and spend a lot of time flying in imaginary spaceships through the houses and pyramids and tentacles. In a way it is sad that I never get the really witness that part of the mural, the enjoyment and conversation that comes in the months, years, decades after you’ve finished painting and left the building.

Abi:         If you could do it again what would you change?

Azzurro: The wall was a lot bigger than I had anticipated when I arrived in person. I could’ve easily packed more into it with an extra week. But given that I had to travel a longer way from my home in the city in Adelaide at the time, this design needed to be well-executed meaning that I could spend a solid 2 weeks confidently working on this in such a way that when completed, needed to feel like I was happy but also that the project was profitable. This can involve containing all of the endless limits you have with this style of artwork and drawing/painting. You need to have a reliable inner monologue that can say ‘that’s it, this is done’ so that you don’t just keep adding and adding and getting sucked into a piece.

That being said, I recently revisited the piece which I have programmed into an animation that appears when visitors phone-scan the mural with the app Artivive. There was so much more that I was able to build into this world thanks to now having iPad Pros and design apps that have improved significantly even just in the few years since the piece was painted in January 2017. There is actually a version of Skyworld that you can interact with using a mouse, launching spaceships and finding hidden gems. At this stage as it is a part of something else I haven’t released. But there you go you’re the first to hear about it! I think future generations of artists and designers will be proficient in using software to enrich their creations. I’ve always been really interested in retrospectively exploring some of my murals in a digital world because a lot of my paintings actually directly connect. I don’t think anyone’s realised but there is a key inside a portal floating on the rings of a Saturn-like planet behind Skyworld. The portal leads directly to a piece at Tea Tree Gully that I painted which features Australian animals hanging out at a billabong beside a portal that actually reflects this scene. You can see a faraway Skyworld from behind in that mural. I’ve been setting up heaps of my murals to relate like this. So, even though I had a finite amount of time to paint this Skyworld piece (and therefore the design needed to be tight and smart) there are ways for me to ‘change’ or explore it better in the future. I definitely remember this job as a complete and well-executed one, it’s as perfect a commission as any that I could ask for or expect.

Abi:       What do you like about the piece?

Azzurro: I feel like this piece was a success. The memories I have while painting this mural are some of the best in my career and life. It was summer, I stayed on my own at my family’s shack and only had access to the library from 9am-5pm. I made it a thing that I would finish for the day and drive straight to the beach, where I would walk up and down combing the unique rocks and silver sand there until it got dark, when I’d go cook dinner and then spend the rest of the night painting and developing concepts for my next piece which was a commission for the Fringe and Westfield. I think because of the structure and discipline I had to take painting this government piece, the theories and hypotheses I wanted to explore with this Skyworld artwork felt satisfied in my mind, with concise answers. My client was exceptionally happy with this piece and it was very fulfilling to watch the staff and construction crew react over the 2 weeks. It was an important moment for the library staff as they were relocating from a very old building that was a part of a (very old) shopping centre. A lot of the staff were very passionate about what they did and we spoke about Graeme Base and Roald Dahl. This is a piece that you can feel and hear and I think it succeeded in its goal of provoking the imagination.

Abi:         How long did it take?

Azzurro: I think I managed to start on a Monday and finish the following Friday. I worked a bar job on the weekend for that time which made it a bit trickier to continue the flow and momentum again on Monday. So eventually when I was confident that the commissions were coming in, other casual work had to go. This happened a few times on and off which I guess other young artists probably deal with too. This was actually a really quick project compared to others, the main hurdle was that access to the government building was so strictly secured to business hours as it was still being constructed and so basically had its guts hanging out. This is different with other pieces I’ve done where I’m just in public-land and can paint all night or all day because I’m essentially just in the outside world.

Abi:         Tell me about the gemstones? What was the purpose for them?

Azzurro: I wanted to tap into the world of collectibles in video games. I had just been to the Great Barrier Reef where I saw tiny, cute objects dotted all over a big rocky lattice, which I started to draw, which is where the artwork comes from. I wanted it to look like a game in that there were exciting buildings you want to enter and rocks you want to look behind and secrets to unlock. I wanted to create a genuinely immersive experience that was offline that kids could easily access or self-initiate, and gemstones are a universally treasured symbol. Also the video games room protrudes from a corner of the huge library with its entry cut geometrically to look like a big wooden nugget of gemstone. I didn’t know this before I arrived to paint but it ties in really well. On a small wall beside this mural, there are the words ‘CAN YOU FIND THE LOST GEMS OF SKYWORLD?’ surrounded by a gemstone of every colour used in the painting. I have actually heard since that kids have been running up to this wall to touch a gem, then finding the gem in the mural with their fingers, then running back to touch the next colour until they have found them all. Nobody shows them or tells them that they have to do this. That was exactly the aim of the project.

Abi:        What is some advice you would say to a fellow painter working on a mural?

Azzurro: On one hand I have so much advice to give, ironically I believe ignoring most people’s advice is a good move, well maybe it’s safer to say that being critical of all incoming information is important. Being an artist involves literally designing your own reality, it is your craft to bring images into existence, that you are doomed to stare at for hours as you make ‘the artwork’. The world you are creating needs to be one that you can bear to inhabit. It’s especially true of other street or mural artists, maybe graphic designers too, I think we actually have a hunger to see our own art represented around the place, on the streets and banners, bus stops, libraries- we are directly manipulating our city and our environment and our lives. So I think if you have a good relationship with yourself, you’re going to be able to get over a lot of hurdles that an art career will throw at you and they are many.