Melbourne based Fred Fowler completed his Master of Contemporary Art in 2012, a decade after establishing himself as one of Melbourne’s pioneer street artists. Complimenting his origins in graffiti, Fowler applies a sophisticated, abstract style and a process driven approach. Visual poetics and subtle symbolism are expertly blended across his paintings, etchings, sculptures and installations. ‘In Decorating The Apocalypse’, Fowler’s debut exhibition at Backwoods Gallery, commercial iconography clashed with graffiti tribalism. For his upcoming show, ‘New Landscapes’ opening on June 20, Fred has expressed the effects of modernity and colonization across the Australian landscape. Fred kindly took some time to talk with VNAussie Damo about ‘New Landscapes’.
DW: Tell us a bit about your early years and how you got into art
FF: I was always into drawing as a kid, my parents are both architects and they always encouraged me to draw and paint. I’ve also been skateboarding since I was six and have always been attracted to skateboard graphics, stuff like ‘Bones Brigade’ and the early ‘World Industry’ art by Marc McKee, also Sean Sheffy’s hand drawn grip tape art. Then when I was about 15 I got really into graffiti and some older guys showed me Style Wars and it was all over. From then on it was all about graffiti. Post graffiti I’ve been focusing on art.
DW: How would you describe your work?
FF: Semi abstract visual poetics. I use a lot of symbols in my work and I like to obscure them and make them sort of ambiguous. I think I like the process of making art more than anything else about it – so I like to use techniques that are challenging and process driven like drypoint etching, oil painting, carving, making bronzes and ceramics. My dad was born and raised in Papua New Guinea and we’ve always had paintings prints and sculptures by PNG artists all over the house which have been a big influence on my work.
DW: Tell us more about your upcoming show at Backwoods Gallery. What is the concept behind it? What motivates you through it and what can we expect to see?
FF: It’s basically a show of landscape paintings, landscapes of Australia. I’m using the paintings as a way to explore the relationship between indigenous and invasive species. The paintings feature native animals like birds, goannas, quolls and bats and also introduced animals like cats and cane toads. For me it’s a way of looking at the effects that colonisation has had on this country and it’s original inhabitants. There are also some seascapes featuring sea animals and boats. For me these are political works, but hopefully they could also be seen as pretty landscape paintings. I like the challenge of trying to make the subversive aspect of the work not bleedingly obvious.
DW: Can you tell us a bit more about the philosophy behind each project you start?
FF: It varies depending on the context of the specific project but I’m always trying to practice subtle subversion. I think art should represent the opposite of mass media and mainstream culture, and also that art is in a war with the advertising industry – so I suppose that philosophy is always there in my work.
DW: Of what achievement are you proudest so far?
FF: Probably just being able to support myself through my work. I don’t really get stoked from anything I’ve done in particular, it’s more the adventures and interactions that are important to me. Stuff like going on a round the world trip with my mates painting and running amok. Meeting and hanging out with my godfather the RAMMELLZEE in New York in 2007 was definitely a highlight.
DW: What makes you laugh / pisses you off?
FF: My dog makes me laugh, his name is Dizzy. He’s a sooky little whippet so he’s constantly sleeping and trying to weasel into comfortable nooks. Or running at 50 kilometres per hour.
DW: What words of wisdom do you have for someone who is trying to get into the scene?
FF: I wouldn’t suggest that anyone try to get into the scene unless you have no other choice – making it as an artist is bloody hard work. If you really have to do it, put your head down, be humble and never stop being curious.
DW: What else can we expect to see from you in 2014?
FF: I’ve just set a kiln up in my studio so hopefully some ceramic work. I’m also looking forward to getting stuck into some bigger paintings after this show. There are also a few exciting projects in the pipelines that haven’t been confirmed yet.
DW: Where else can people find you?
FF: My website fred-fowler.com or instagram @fredfowler