Style managed to pull The Zookeeper away from the wall of his newest installation at NEXT Hotel to talk Brisbane street art, challenges artists face and his favourite artists and street art locations. He's been on the street art scene for five years now, but he says he’s only found “appropriate” walls in and around Brisbane City in the past year or so.
Where does the name “The Zookeeper” come from?
I grew up in Darwin, and animals and the outback were a big part of who I was. I’ve always found interest in them, but I think the main thing would be David Attenborough. I go to bed with David every night on TV and I just love everything he does and I find animals so interesting. I find they’re a really good vessel to communicate different ideas, as each animal represents a different thing and I can find ways of using them to express what I’m trying to say or how I’m trying to feel. I just love the relationships you can create with positioning them in different spaces.
Do street artists struggle to perform uncommissioned, free-form art?
I think in the past our councils have been pretty conservative. They’ve thought if they allow for street artists to paint in public places they’re condoning graffiti. I think only in the last couple of years they’ve realised that’s not actually the right way of thinking and they can embrace it. They’ve somewhat realised it’s a reflection of our youth, our society and I think they’re really finding ways to get on board and embrace it. Because it’s not this chaotic anarchy movement. Well, part of it is, but there’s really positive elements to it, too.
So in terms of not being able to do it outside of a commercial and commissioned scale, that’s true and it has been challenging for me. But in the past year or two things have really taken a turn for the better. I still don’t think there’s a single space in the entirety of Brisbane that’s Council property where they’ve said artists can take over this place, like you would see in cities like Sydney and Melbourne. Brisbane’s a little bit behind there, but I do see it happening pretty soon.
What’s the biggest challenge you face as a street artist?
Not many walls to access. The message you want to convey in any of your works is based around the location, the type of people who might see it and the users of the space. Without access to a range of different spaces, you’re quite limited in what you can do and say: it’s really about your voice, your personality and putting out a message that represents who you are. So lack of space is a huge thing.
How hard is it to find walls for street artists?
When I first got into street art, Brisbane City Council had a zero-tolerance policy towards aerosol, which meant unless you were painting a private wall/property you wouldn’t be able to do it (or it would be removed). I think my style of work has really come into practise over the last two years as the opportunity for street artists and graffiti artists has improved and I’ve had more opportunities to display works on a larger scale.
What would be the “perfect” wall?
My idea of a perfect wall is a wall that is infinitely tall. I like to be able to reach high and do giant characters or messages or stories. If I can find a tall wall around, that’s my idea of a good wall.
What’s your signature style?
I paint animals, and I’m known for overdoing details. That’s the part I love: getting lost in the details. And scale. I have a Boston terrier and he keeps popping up in my work a bit lately; he’s a bit of a unique character. I love to paint everything, though, not just animals.
Who are your favourite local street artists?
It would have to be the people I grew up admiring in the western suburbs of Brisbane: Sofles, Treazy, and Drapl. They were basically west side graffiti and street artists that pushed the boundaries and always did something unique. I would have to say they’re a big part of why I continued painting. I always just wanted to do what they were doing.
Where’s one of your favourite pieces?
One of my favourite pieces can be found in a little alleyway in West End, where 50 street artists, graffiti artists and stencil artists had a massive pow-wow and covered the entire wall in complete free-range art. It was one of my favourite experiences.
Like this? Then you'll love these: