When my good friend and fellow artist Harry Bowe invited me to help him out with the artwork and signage for Tasmania's 2019 Falls Festival I promptly agreed with sparkling stars in the corners of my eyes.
The Marion Bay Falls location is nestled atop rolling grassy hills with a large main stage neighbored by three smaller stages and facilities surrounded by paddocks for camping. To the west of the venue is a eucalypt forest and to the east a marshland leading out to the rosy sand of Marion Bay. We'd be up and at it from sunrise until dusk, stretching canvas, painting, and installing various sized panels around the festival grounds. Between rain showers the sun would come out accompanied by echidnas, wallabies, various bird species, even the occasional snake. It was hard to imagine that in 3 weeks time there would be thousands of people dancing and grooving out to a galore of bands.
View from the main stage, also where we setup up as our studio.
Here's the scoop, Falls Music & Arts Festival is an Australian multi-day music festival held annually in Lorne, Marion Bay, Byron Bay and Fremantle over the New Year's Eve and January period. The festival hosts contemporary music performances, dance, comedy, theatre, circus, cabaret, and other art forms. It was our job to produce the artwork and signage that would set the mood for this year's festival themed 'Party with the Planet'.
Our first task was to create a sign for a new after hours hangout spot called 'Night Cap'. Ya know, the kind of spot you head off to late into the night with your mates or significant other when things are winding down but you're keen for a last drink. We were given a couple guidelines: "Think Miami Beach, neon lights, with pink, lots of pink..."
Using spray paint and a 10 liter can of Dulux's "True Pink" House Paint this is what we came up with.
Harry laying down the background for the title 'Night Cap'
Testing out the cohesion between 3 panels for 'Night Cap' sign.
We thought the neon blue grid would enhance the pink background. We decided the martini glasses weren't enough and had them pouring out neon liquid into the grid.
Install for 'Night Cap' using the boom.
With 'Night Cap' installed we began thinking about ideas for the main welcome sign at the front of the festival entrance entitled 'Party with the Planet'. The whole idea behind this years festival was to encourage its goers to be more environmentally conscious about their surrounding environment. This would mean packing your trash, respecting the local wildlife, and treading lightly across the paddocks.
Immediately ideas came rushing to mind, flashes of Grateful Dead and Rick Griffin, something folky and groovy, something colorful yet simple, something peacefully promoting a clean environment.
I began my design by sketching out some of the local critters enjoying the festival music from afar overlooking the Marion Bay seascape...
A couple ideas sketched out experimenting with composition and color for the 'Party With the Planet' billboard.
Until this point I had never stretched a canvas over 3x4 ft. I can now proudly say I've helped stretch some of the largest canvas I've ever seen (aside from a couple of those monster Courbet's at Musee d'Orsay and Delacroix's in the Louvre... I wonder if they were stretching their own canvas?) In about three days time working between rain showers we stretched two 10x15ft panels that would fit together to be a 10x30ft welcome billboard, as well as 4 other panels ranging in the 9x12ft range.
This being Harry's fourth year in charge of Falls' art assured me there was nothing to worry about. With the confidence of a seasoned vet in large scale canvas stretching he patiently taught me how to clamp tighten and stretch our way around some of the largest panels I've been confronted with. It was a slow and tedious endeavor, "oi mate give it hell!" and I would be pulling any extra material that may warp or bar the panel front. It took about 2 hours to stretch each panel and we would check our efficiency with a light flick of the finger, the tighter the stretch the higher pitched and longer the hum of the drum. Harry has a deep respect for the process of making panels, he's got everything down to the T, calculated and precise. Harry would explain how his paintings go beyond the physical application of paint. That his paintings begin with the frame he constructs out of wood, which goes to support the desired material of stretching. For Harry the painting has begun the moment of its tangible construction, a true craftsman with a deep respect for his work. I would sit there under his macro stretching tutelage, embracing the integrity of his practice. One things for sure, I will never see the process of stretching canvas the same way. I've gained a much deeper respect.
Harry tidying up some corners.
A fresh panel with infinite possibilities.
Stretched, Primed and ready to rock (check out Harry for size comparison)
Harry and my painting styles are quite different, yet when dissected, seem to stem from a similar primordial pool. In Harry's paintings you may find thick impasto texture that jumps off the picture plane, where a majority of my paintings past have been rid of texture, focused solely on creating a believable illusion through a flat surface (I think I was turned on to this after seeing the oil slick smooth surface of Ingres paintings while in Europe in 2012). For this reason we decided to collaborate for the giant welcome sign in the front. He would handle the sky, and I would provide the local critters.
Sketching out the composition in spray paint.
Harry handling the sky and ocean with think application in enamels.
Harry mentioned how the creation of the wooden frame and stretching of canvas is just as important a component to the final piece as the painting is. We agreed and I made this sketch with an audience of local critters eagerly watching some of the behind the scene process.
Thinly layering gradients on the characters and beginning to apply details using a brush with a narrower toe.
"Mate you ever used enamels?" I was thrown a curveball. I couldn't say I had aside from a can of spray paint here and there. Once again I fell under Harry's tutelage as he taught me about bases and tint, how to mix colors with appropriate consistencies. Painting with enamels proved a whole new learning curve, stroke by stroke I learned to embrace the levels of viscosity and control the stickiness. I take pride in myself as an artist willing to learn to work in all mediums. It can be crayons, pastels, wine, mud, sand with a stick, it doesn't matter it just has to make a mark. With this attitude I rejected all frustration and focused on figuring out the characteristics of enamel.
The final production for 'Party With the Planet' complete with a Wombat, Yellow Tail Black Cockatoo, Opossum, Echidna, Platypus, whale, Tasmanian Devil, and Eastern Quoll.
As we installed our freshly painted signs amidst flowing gusts of wind through fields of daises we remembered that soon thousands of people would be arriving for Falls and our sign would be their initial greeting. I learned so much throughout this project and want to give a major thanks to Harry and the rest of the Falls crew for being such legends in preparation for the festival.
You can view more of Harry's work at his instagram- harrybowepotter