Street Art Journeys

Melbourne may be known as Australia’s street art capital, but Brisbane is an emerging artistic force with an impressive diversity of street art. With many talented artists choosing to live and work in Queensland; there is a creative buzz on the streets of the sunshine state.

Brisbane City has long held an impressive collection of permanent public art spanning from the banks of the Brisbane River to the Roma Street Parklands. It is exciting to see the emergence of a dynamic street art culture sitting side-by-side with this public art collection. While some resistance to temporary public artworks still exists, you only need to round a street corner or drive through an underpass to see this art form is growing, springing up throughout the city.

The expansion of the street art scene in Queensland is also due to the global recognition of street art as ‘legitimate’ art, it is no longer considered to be just unwanted graffiti but instead the domain of highly skilled artists with the likes of Banksy commanding the world’s attention. Festivals such as First Coat in Toowoomba and the new Brisbane Street Art Festival are making legal walls available for artists to work on large-scale pieces and connect with the public through talks, demonstrations and workshops.

Engage Arts is keen to uncover these artists and artworks in a new blog series, Street Art Journeys. To kick things off we talk to the multi-talented Rick Hayward and Emily Devers working together as Frank & Mimi. Rick and Emily live and work Brisbane and share a commitment to low-impact hand-made work. Rick has a background in sign writing and Emily as a visual artist and together they produce hand painted signs, large-scale artworks and illustrations. Their style is illustrative, consisting of beautifully rendered traditional letterforms and dynamic graphic layouts.

Rick & Em at The Foundry

Rick & Emily at The Foundary, portrait taken at the artists’ studio. Image by the artists.

In an age where signs are mass-produced and printed digitally, signwriting and hand lettering are enjoying something of a revival. Rick and Emily share a glimpse of their arts practice with Engage Arts:

Can you tell us more about the story behind Frank & Mimi? How did Frank & Mimi come about?

Rick: Frank & Mimi came about almost by accident when we collaborated on a wall for fun in Vulture Street, West End. It slowly became something we did more often, and then soon enough we were being chased for the work we were doing. We tried to move down to Tasmania at the end of 2012, but were hearing from Brisbane locals so much we had to move back home!

Emily: When we first started working together I was still studying, and Rick was working part time. After a year of working on and off on Frank & Mimi, it very quickly gained momentum and turned into our full time (plus more!!) passion and livelihood. Brisbane’s at a really exciting point in history, creatively defining its own identity, and we’re excited to be a part of the story with Frank & Mimi!

Rick, you practice traditional hand painted lettering and signwriting, and Emily you’re a visual artist. Can you tell us more about how you combine your creative practices and skills under Frank & Mimi?

Rick: We each bring distinct elements to the partnership that we’ve worked hard on to combine successfully. My background and personality lends itself to building lettering and developing layout, whereas Em comes from a fine art background that has deep roots in the traditional painting methods, combining these with contemporary concepts. We combine our skills on most jobs, and more often than not, cross over into each other’s disciplines.

Emily: Even though we both have our distinct strengths, we are both proficient in the other’s practices now. I paint lettering on my own or with Rick, and Rick works on illustrative elements together with me. Things start to blend into each other a lot when you’ve been working together for a while!

You’re both passionate about the process of hand-made marks and nuances. Why are traditional methods of signwriting and visual identity so important to you?

Emily: There are many reasons why Frank & Mimi boasts a low-impact, human-centric approach. Our business mirrors our lifestyle, and we’re both dedicated to a simple existence with minimal impact on our environment. We invest only in products that have a story behind them and are actively disrupting the mass-consumption market. The mainstream sign industry is an ugly one, and comes with a huge cost to the environment. For every vinyl sign applied, there’s almost three times as much wastage that ends up in landfill – most of which are plastic products that will never break down.

Rick: Design-wise the mainstream digital sign industry is not fantastic either, and as a result it’s hard for businesses to establish themselves with a unique visual presence in a heavily oversaturated visual market. Our response to this is to provide something tactile, unique and visually traceable to a human. In return, it’s not only our clients that respond well to it, but everyone who views the work. This authenticity of our original artwork flows over and works wonders for the client’s brand. In terms of Visual Identity, as far as we know we’re the only studio in Australia that offers everything from the branding through to onsite hand painted signs and large-scale artworks, and all from the same hands!

Your large-scale murals can be seen throughout Australia and New Zealand. Where can we see your murals in Brisbane?

Rick: We’ve been painting in cafes, restaurants, bars, breweries and public spaces in and around Brisbane for the last four years, so it’s becoming easier to stumble across our work! You’ll see a permanent installation of ours at The Brisbane Powerhouse, our contribution to The Pillars Project on Hope Street in South Brisbane, and currently we have a series of three artworks in a group exhibition called The Apprenticeship at Gallery Artisan in Fortitude Valley.

City to Sea

City to Sea. 1 of 3 Frank & Mimi artworks at Doomben Railway Station as part of Qld Rail’s positive pARTnerships. Image by the artists.

You recently painted a mural at Arch Lane in Brisbane city, ‘If Only You Knew’, can you tell us about the inspiration for this work?

Emily: In ‘If Only You Knew’ the landscape is distinctly removed from our own understanding of earth. The Great Barrier Reef can be seen from outer space, and is the world’s biggest single structure made by living organisms – devastatingly however, it is under dire threat. Our actions over the next 10 years will change the face of our ocean and the reef, which is why it’s important to draw connections now between our existing cultural heritage and future intentions. Ocean activist Sylvia Earle shared in her 2014 documentary Mission Blue “If only you knew…if only you knew what beauty lies beneath” which became both the title and driving content of this artwork.

Rick: Just as we have the power to deeply harm our ocean, we equally have the power to modify our own behavior in ways that act as an insurance policy for the future of the sea, and therefore the planet. Sylvia Earle has begun implementing “Hope Spots” – marine conservation areas as insurance for our ocean, and we wanted to celebrate these hope spots in paint considering the myriad of threats currently facing our Great Barrier Reef.

Arch Lane, If Only You Knew. Frank & Mimi artwork at Arch Lane as part of the Brisbane Canvas Project. Image by the artists.

We’re very excited to see your heading to Toowoomba for First Cost in May! Can you give us a ‘sneak-peak’ into what you’ve got planned?

Rick: In the lead up to First Coat, we’re heading up a pre-festival activation in Pittsworth curated by Grace Dewar. This will be a good introduction to what we have planned for First Coat, and in terms of content, we’re continuing investigate the modern food industry and it’s impacts on local economies versus the wellbeing of individuals – a starting point we used as reference for our 2015 wall at First Coat.

Thanks so much Rick and Emily for taking time out of your busy painting schedule to share your thoughts with us! – Kerry.

Top Featured Image: Sea Walls (detail). Frank & Mimi artwork at the Pangea SEED Sea Walls: Murals for Oceans festival. Image by the artists.

Details of If Only You Knew, Frank & Mimi artwork at Arch Lane Brisbane.

Google Map – Brisbane artwork locations mentioned in this post.

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