Melissa ‘Skel’ Jaksic is a legend. She recently painted Oxford Art Factory alongside Shannon Crees, Alex Lehours, Anthony Lister and Sprinkles for the VNA launch in Sydney. Her creative projects include work for Absolut, Outpost, Paste Modernism and Secret Wars (now Secret Walls). She also helps run Ben Frost’s online print store, Stupid Krap, in her spare time. We caught her in between beers for a look at how she gets her kicks…
‘Skel’ means, basically, a bit of a lowlife, is that your persona as an artist, or your representation of what artists can be?
I got the nickname Skel from one of my crackhead friends back in my hometown. Because, at the time, I was a bit skinny and I guess they thought they were being crafty, seeing as I was Skeleton-like and it rhymed with Mel. It wasn’t until one of my friends linked me to the definition of Skel on Urban Dictionary that I saw it had all these alternate worldly meanings that, funnily enough, still applied to me as a person. I think everyone has the capacity to be a bit of a lowlife, and my work generally focuses on the darker side of people’s psyches, so I guess Skel is more a representation of what people can and sometimes want to be, but can’t because of societal pressures. The Dr. Jekyll to my Mr. Hyde I guess…
More jump off after the jump off
So, what’s your background? How did you get into art?
It’s so cliché to say “I’ve just always drawn” but I guess that’s applicable here too. At school, art was the only subject I had any interest in and, along the way, I had teachers that really tried to nurture that interest and encouraged me to draw and take classes. But I was just such a shithead that I eventually got kicked out of school and when I left all I wanted to do was get smashed, skate and run the streets. I only ever picked up a pencil when I was stoned with my mates, fucking around. Fast-forward 7 years and, by chance, I ended up meeting with Ben Frost and helping him out around his studio. Working with him reignited that passion I had for creating and got me focused on a constructive way to get all my shit out. As a rule, I had never worked with paint and Ben encouraged me to explore new mediums and mentored me on things like composition and technique. From there I went and studied graphic design while still working as Ben’s assistant and started to take my art more seriously. It’s really as simple as that really. My friend just called me and told me she accidentally melted her favourite water bottle and it now looks like a dildo. Sometimes chance occurrences make for interesting new possibilities.
Do you consider yourself an illustrator, a painter, or a designer?
None. I’m more of a methodical creator. Initially, Graphic Design was a means to an end for me, to get me into art school. But it ended up teaching me so many valuable things about process and form that I never even considered before and I took those things from design and applied them to my artwork. I’m honestly too much of a cunt to ever be a graphic designer. I don’t like being told what to do and taking orders or direction has never been my forte. I have always enjoyed the process more than the finality of a piece… The concept, the ideas, the sketches. By the time I get to actually painting something, it’s almost like I can’t finish it fast enough because my mind has shifted somewhere else. This is why my studio is full of half-finished paintings and drawings.
What drives your creativity?
Relationships, love, sex, hate, drugs, rage, fear, beer… Life.
Your artwork seems quite pop-art inspired, as well as sexually charged, what resonances does it have for you with life?
I can distinctly remember finding Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein’s work in an art book when I was in high school and being fascinated by the fact that I was seeing comics and famous people in our textbooks. I didn’t have a fucking clue what it all meant, but I could relate to it instantaneously, because I knew what these images were. I’ve always loved comic books. My friend and I used to go down to the corner store and buy them with our spare change as kids and my friend was the dopest drawer ever, so we’d take these comics home and make up our own little stoner version of what we saw in the pages. Later on, I got into anime and I started to draw the characters out of the shows I was watching, I never made the conscious decision to use them in my later work, it was just natural for me to create with these images. These characters and logos are as much a part of who I am as the clothes I wear or the company I keep. As far as the sex aspect is concerned, sex is a very powerful tool. It can be used to create things of love and beauty and other times it can be used with great malice. Occasionally it represents the different stages of relationships and personal interactions. Other times it’s there to evoke feelings from the viewer. Feelings of helplessness, control, degradation, hate…. It can be anything.
You also help out with the Stupid Krap print store, what’s your involvement there?
Ben approached me back in 2010 and asked if I would be interested in getting more involved with Stupid Krap as their Social Networking Coordinator. This meant taking care of the website, twitter, and other social networking tools, as well as contributing content to the site, such as artist interviews and reviews. I have always really respected Ben and everything he was doing for the Australian art scene with Stupid Krap, so I was stoked to get and opportunity to get on board. Nowadays I oversee the general running of our website, Facebook pages, Twitter and manage the original art section for our artists. In all honesty, it’s a pleasure to be involved with this, I strongly believe in all the artists we represent and still constantly get blown away by the work that comes through. We’ve got a dope team, making dope products and I get to work with two people I really respect. Can’t fault it.
You seem to have quite a passion for trainers, amongst other things, what trainers flick your switches and what’s your all-time favourite trainer?
Ha ha trainers… They’re a constant strain on my wallet. I’m such a Dunk SB-whore. I actually had to sell some recently because I was running out of room to store them. It’s one of those things were you don’t really notice you’re collecting something, until you look over and there’s 20+ shoe boxes and you’re kinda like ‘fuck…when did this happen’. It’s good though. I went to a shoe launch not long ago and was talking to all these hardcore sneaker heads and it makes you realize you’re a part of this little community. Everyone else thinks you’re insane, but then there’s these complete strangers that get it. Favourite trainer… I’ve spent a minute trying to cop a pair of the Wu Tang Dunk Highs. But I’ve got small-ass feet, so it’s always such a pain in the ass to find anything rare in my size. I’m such a Kanye fangirl too, so I’m about to drop some coin on a pair of Yeezy 1’s. Much to the utter dismay of my partner.
Does music interact with your artwork, or do you keep them separate entities?
Music interacts with your life, which has to affect your work, whether it’s consciously or not. When you’re into a genre like hip-hop, which has such a strong culture associated with it; you can’t help but be immersed in the lifestyle that comes with it. It’s much like collecting the shoes. You don’t notice it, until one day you look around and it’s infiltrated every aspect of your life. From the clothes you wear and the way you speak to the people you associate with. You also have these strong ties now between hip-hop/street culture and these characters that I use in my work. You’ve got toy companies like Medicom hooking up with Disney and Marvel characters on your Stussy shirts.
Do you get as much enjoyment from commercial artwork as you do from your other projects?
I get enjoyment from all work. If someone approaches you for a commercial job, it’s because they like your shit, so you generally have a fair bit of freedom. If they want to control the process too much, then I just let them know I’m not the right person for the job. I can’t produce work that has no meaning to me. I get as much joy from doing a 10-metre wall in a bar as I do from drawing a sketch up at my studio. It’s all the same to me. Sometimes it’s good to work with creative confines. It’s pushes you to work outside your comfort zone and the end product is something you might not normally do, but you’re still proud of it.
What do you love most about Sydney?
I love everything about Sydney. I think people get so caught up in the day-to-day grind and think life will be better somewhere else that they don’t take time to see how epic our city is. If you walk down through the CBD and into the Quay it’s really beautiful. Also I love to drink and Sydney is full of piss-heads. If you could buy beer from the corner store I’d probably never leave.
Shout outs and big ups?
Ben Frost for being an all round rad cunt, Alanna, Jenkie and Houghto for dealing with my shit on the daily, everyone over at the studio, and Roly for the hook ups and letting me talk shit in this interview. Peace