Not only do I admire talented artists but I also admire those who can quite happily create their art from a lofty height. For someone averse to raised platforms, the thought of balancing precariously on a ladder to create large-scale artworks on the sides of buildings brings on a touch of vertigo. Yet for Melbourne artist Baby Guerilla this seems to come quite naturally.
Intrigued by her ‘floating’ characters and other-worldly scenes she depicts on walls around the city, I decided to find out more about her art – both at and above street level – as well as the artist behind the pseudonym.
Please introduce yourself. What’s your background and, how have you ended up where you are today?
I was one of those people who always knew exactly what they wanted to do from an early age. Some of my earliest memories are being fascinated by pattern and colours. I was an oil painter and completed a Fine Arts Degree at the Victorian College of the Arts, Melbourne. It was there that I realised that drawing could also be a legitimate form of expression or medium in its own right not just as the basis of a future painting. I remember learning that there was more than one shade of grey lead, which spun my head around! I can see how these discoveries slowly planted a seed that set me off on a path that has led me to where I currently am. However, there are a myriad of reasons why I do the kind of art that I do, both personal and political. It would take me pages and pages to document that process.
Your artwork in all mediums seems to have a common feature of the human form. Tell us more about this and your creative process.
I’m interested in the power of the human form and the world around me. My creative process is not super complicated in that ideas come to me and I choose the ones that I can’t ignore. Art is often a technical and conceptual riddle with the question being how do I best create and express this concept? You get better at answering those questions through practice. I don’t see myself as any one kind of artist. This is the kind of art I enjoy doing at the moment but I admire a broad range of artists. One of my favourites is Anish Kapoor who is not a figurative artist at all.
Your street art has really ‘taken off’. Tell us more about this and when and why you began exploring with street art?
At one stage I had a studio in the city where I was drawing a lot. I started mucking around with the idea of collage imposing my drawings onto different surfaces. It was a lot more immediate than oil painting and opened up a whole new direction for me. At some point I thought it would be fun to take these intricate little drawings out onto the street and share them with people. It was a way of expressing myself and connecting with people and things literally grew from there. I think part of it was a frustration with the gallery system. On the street I didn’t have to ask anyone permission to express myself, it was a way of taking back some of the power from an often rarefied and exclusive art world.
How does it differ working in this medium compared to drawing or painting on paper/canvas?
Working in different mediums is probably similar to speaking in different languages. Ironically I got into drawing as a release from the detailed, time-consuming paintings I was working on but over time my drawing practice has become similar to my painting one. I got more tricky and elaborate, so now each drawing has become like a full scale production. Part of the beauty and satisfaction of being an artist is evolving to meet new challenges posed by the work you create.
Tell us more about your recent teaching residency at the Victorian College for the Deaf.
Over the past couple of years I have done some interesting workshops and worked with some beautiful individuals. VCD was another interesting collaboration.
What’s behind your name ‘Baby Guerilla’? And are we allowed to know your real name?!
I have always felt very strongly that I would like my art to represent me. So many times in public life I think a woman’s contribution to whatever field they are in becomes diminished by an intense and unhealthy focus on appearance rather than what it is they actually do. I have never wanted to be the face of anything. I just want to make art. That is my passion.
My dad is the one who gave me the nickname Baby Gorilla. It was his way of expressing affection. He meant that I was a little bit wild and couldn’t be domesticated. After he died I realised the love and insight he had into my character. The name has turned out to be very prophetic. The change of spelling reflects my political motivations. ‘Baby Guerrilla’ has a lot of resonance for me.
Who or what are some of your influences? What other artists, designers, peers and creatives do you admire?
There are so many. I think the internet has been a godsend for artists. We are all constantly inspiring and connecting with each other all the time. Each week I am blown away by some artist somewhere in the world. My latest ‘art crush’ (as I call them) is Gehard Demetz. Astounding!
My guilty pleasure is …
Op shops! I love recycled things. I have spent way too much money and time in these places over the years but it is such a feel-good and creative experience. When I buy something too outlandish I justify it by saying I have donated money to a good cause and have lightened my footprint on this earth.
If you’re in Melbourne, pop in to the House of Bricks in Collingwood to see her solo show (until June 1) – an exhibition exploring her painting practice and her attempts to set her figures free from the square and onto walls around Melbourne (see above).