‘Content by the Kilo’ – Callum Preston

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‘Content by the Kilo’ is Callum Preston’s first venture north to exhibit artworks from his home town of Melbourne, with Church Brisbane being the perfect venue considering his history creative visual work in the music industry.

The artworks are a collection of what he calls ” fast and loose” butchers shop signs, the kind of thing you would have seen as a kid while shopping with a parent, proclaiming the finest cuts, the cheapest prices or the freshest produce. Big bold and eye catching, from a time before social media, you wanted to say something, you wrote it down and put a splash of neon around it.

Callum sat down with Damo over at Everfresh Studios to have a yarn about his show and what else is happening in his world.

Damo: Thanks for taking the time to hang out today. Can you introduce yourself and talk about your various artistic practices?

Callum: My name is Callum Preston I am based out of Everfresh Studios in Collingwood (Melbourne, Australia). I’ve been part of Everfresh since around 2004/2005 when I was a lot younger. I’m currently 33 and I’m a full-time… I don’t really have a full-time title but I’m sort of a full-time artist / designer / sculptor. It’s kind of very blurry; basically I’ll have a go at anything. That’s sort of my motto. I have just come to accept that I don’t really like the ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ phrase. I think it’s not as simple as that, it’s more that will do a lot of things to the best of my ability and then I have to decide whether I think that’s an acceptable quality. I’m sort of still finding my feet in all elements of my practice but I really am enjoying myself.

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Damo: How did you get into art?
Callum: I was just always drawing, making and doing things when I was a little kid. For example making tree houses, billy carts and skate ramps. I would draw on my skateboard and on the bottom of my school bag and that led to being a young kid, exploring drains and doing graffiti and things like that.

I just loved being out and about exploring when I was a kid. I’d watch ‘The Goonies,’ ‘Police Academy’ and funny 80’s movies; but I couldn’t just sit there and watch those on repeat. I’d watch one and I would barely get to the end of the movie. I’d be like ‘I want to go out and find an abandoned drain like the Ninja Turtles’ or ‘I want to go and ride my skateboard or make booby traps and things like that’ so I think that my own energy is what pushed me out from just being passive and observing these films.

I went to a fairly conservative Anglican school and in the library there was the Martha Cooper graffiti book (‘Subway Art’) and there was a couple of skate books. There was a book called ‘Skate Hard’ that was an Australian produced skate book from back in the 1980s made by the Hill Brothers who now run the GLOBE brand. I would also get hand-me-down Thrasher magazines. We did art at school but it was always so strict, you know the ‘this week we’re working on this style.’ I would be more excited by something that I saw on the train home. By the end of high school I dropped all my art subjects and I was doing Media Studies which was the closest to art. I was into that because I was playing music and I thought I could use that to make music videos. Out of high school I went to university and I did an advertising degree which was very much about concepts and not so much about execution. There was very little training; I think we did three weeks on Illustrator at one point and that was about it.

Beyond that all of my training and learning was through throwing myself into learning Photoshop and Illustrator out of necessity because I was playing in bands and I became the organizer of these bands so if there was a show I’d be making a flyer or making a t-shirt, if there was a record I’d be making the art for it and stickers.

Around the same time, I rediscovered street art through more of the stencil realm. At that time in Melbourne it was really just at its starting point. I kind of fell into it at a really perfect time and met a lot of people who I’m still either sharing a studio with today or I see on a regular basis. We were all just kids writing to each other on a weird message board on the Internet and then meeting up in the city or in the back lane ways of Carlton or wherever. None of it was really a plan it’s just all sort of been an ongoing exploration.

Damo: You were saying that you watch movies and stuff go outside want to make the stuff you just saw. Do you think that’s where you’re sort of DIY attitude that you’re quite all known for has come from or is that been instilled in you by your parents or…?

Callum: No, not at all. My family are wonderful, amazing people but none of them are particularly from a creative background in the artistic sense. They will openly admit that they don’t know where exactly that comes from. I think it is the influence of media and the things I was consuming which is terrifying considering what modern-day youth are consuming. But you know if Instagram was around when I was a kid maybe I’d be a very different person! Maybe I’d be a body builder drinking protein or wearing luxury sunglasses or something!

The DIY thing is definitely from that and it’s also from my parents in that if I wanted something I didn’t just kick and scream until I got it they would say ‘you can work towards it from this and then it’s your birthday and Christmas. Maybe you can combine those two and that’s how you get that. But still you can’t get that really expensive one here’s the one that’s a step down.’ So for example if it was a BMX bike I was always pulling it apart and repainting it to make it look like the one I wanted or if it was skateboard I was adding graphics to the grip tape and I would build skate ramps and we would paint them. That’s the DIY element – if I couldn’t have the best and the brand name I would be more excited to customize it in my own way. It’s funny because it’s come around that I don’t really want the fancy brand name one I’d rather get it spray-painted and write my name on it so I know that’s mine and I can’t lose it. A lot of my tools have just got my mark written on them and as I have gotten older I have been influenced by other makers and creators but I love just writing my own name in a big fat texta on the side of a expensive new tool and knowing that you use it and you bash it around and it becomes another tool; it’s not it’s not a little idol for worshipping; it should be put to work.

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Damo: You have a show coming up at Church in Brisbane called ‘Content by the Kilo.’ What’s the story behind the show? What does it involve?

Callum: Church is in Brisbane and it is a new space that’s opened inside of a bar called ‘Crowbar.’ The bar is run by some wonderful old friends of mine, Trad and Tyler, and then Megan who is curating ‘Church’ and is a big part of the business as well. They approached me and asked if I would want to do a show there. Given that it’s in a bar that’s a live music venue there’s definitely a connection with my work, a lot of which exists in the music realm.

The space itself is a separate area of the bar which was previously not used and now they’ve turned into this really cool space; it has a cool vibe off the side of what is quite an active bar and music venue. I really can’t think of a better place to display my work and especially the work that I’m creating for this show which is all about music, lyrics, song titles and different sayings and things that sort of I used encounter touring in bands and stuff. It’s sometimes like you’re speaking your own language with people who are constantly on the road and you hit that point of delirium when you’re driving from Brisbane to Melbourne in a van with eight other people and it’s all Dad jokes, you’re riffing on name-calling, rhyming slang and it’s kind of this whole crazy thing! I’ve got friends who back then would come home from tour and their partner would say just ‘talk to me in two days when you’re back to normal’ because you come home and it’s like it’s like you’ve been on school campus something, you’re all bouncing off each other.

‘Content by the Kilo’ is a whole bunch of lettering works rooted in lyrics, sayings and just funny little collections of words that I wanted to see together. I am then presenting them in a style which is something that I’ve been exploring lately. Sort of splashes of neon and black lettering like an old deli sign would have had. So the name ‘Content by the Kilo’ is basically because these signs are inspired by the old ‘Lamb Chops $5.99 a kilo’ kind of signs. They’re really loose and fast and I don’t overwork them – they’re not meant to perfect be they’re meant to have that motion to them. I think that also helps with the fact that it’s in a music venue. It’s sort of it’s a little bit energetic and gestural, it’s not meant to be these perfectly spaced out calligraphy signs.

Damo: What do you hope they will take away from your exhibition?

Callum: I just want people to come along and enjoy the look of it. I’m trying to produce quite a lot of work, as I said it’s not a massive space but I really want to overload it. I want people to go in and be expecting to see a dozen pieces gently spread around the room but instead they sort of slapped in the face by this big explosion of color and letters. I think the show is almost best viewed as a collection rather than individual pieces.

I’m hoping that people come along and view that as a whole but also perhaps one or two of the signs individually will mean something to them whether it’s a lyric that they relate to or a favorite band or just something they could connect with. I want people to come along have fun and also to check out ‘Church’ which is an amazing new venue in the heart of Fortitude Valley in Brisbane. I don’t have an extensive knowledge of the area, but from what I can tell there’s not a lot of other spaces in the valley offering that sort of opportunity for young artists. It’s gonna be really cool and there’s also the opening is on Friday the 13th Ocotber and I play in a Misfits cover band which is playing the same night downstairs. So, my show opens at 6:00pm and I think that the band playing at about 10:30pm.

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Damo: Will the lyrics be inspired by the music you’re into? I know you’re into punk and hardcore.
Callum: Yeah there’s definitely a lot of punk and hardcore stuff in there but also there’s Queen and Kiss and Prince as well as the rhyming slang and funny sayings. It’s also inspired by the old product signs with items by the kilo but there’s also strange options like ‘curses on your enemies’, ‘hovercraft repairs’ and ‘week-old mayonnaise.’ I wanted to sprinkle those all throughout.

I’m going to do a couple of bigger pieces in the show to bookend the large collection of smaller pieces. The feel of them is going to be more like a test sheet of these smaller works.

Damo: Everfresh is one of Melbourne’s urban art institutions these days and you were a very early member if not a founding member.

Callum: Very early but I sort of became part of it when it still really wasn’t founded as such it was still just a bunch of dudes in a little shed hanging out.

Damo: So was that just an extension of talking to people on the internet, meeting up going out doing your stencil or there was a formal group of friends who decided to make a studio?

Callum: No it was very much a mixed bag. Some of the guys originally went to school or university together but for me coming into Everfresh was more that I was just around a lot. Whether we would meet up painting walls or I came into the old studio a few times and then they were moving into a new space and I was just there to help out. I was just young, eager and happy to help and I wasn’t doing it for any other ulterior motive except just to hang out because that’s what you do when you’re… you know I didn’t have anything else going on.
Some of the guys recognized my keenness to help and also the fact that I wasn’t just mooching off anyone so they offered me the opportunity to take up some space in there because they knew that I was doing stuff too. It kind of just went from there. I was 20 and I thought yeah I can hang out in here and draw some stuff and make some stencils and now I’m 33 and I still hang out in a big warehouse with a bunch of friends! We’re all older and you know some people are traveling the world doing it for a full-time living. It’s sort of crazy to think that I could very well be a 40-year-old man that works in a little shed inside a warehouse and draws pictures of skulls for money but the world is a different place now and a career can come from many different places.

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Damo: So that was back in the days of ‘The Tooth’?

Callum: Yeah I suppose… It’s funny, everyone had a name, like a street name and I was going by ‘The Tooth.’ Originally I would do stencils under the name LTMP which stood for ‘Less Talk More Poncho’s’ In the early 2000s in high school, you know when a dumb joke just gets out of hand and become something else? I was into all these all these artists that had these mysterious names so I decided I would just do an acronym and that would be my thing. Eventually I was doing a zine which was a punk and hardcore zine called ‘The Cyanide Tooth’ because I wanted to have a name that was like a university newspaper, kind of like they would name after their mascot or something. So I named it “The Cyanide Tooth” which is actually from some band lyrics. A cyanide tooth is obviously what spies used to have in their mouth when, if captured, they would bite down on it and commit suicide. So ‘The Cyanide Tooth’ zine then just shortened to ‘The Tooth’ because it was easier to write and then I sort of just started shying away from that and just doing things under my own name because I didn’t have anything to hide and I didn’t really feel hugely connected to ‘The Tooth.’

I think some people really become their name, like Phibs. It feels as natural to call him Phibs as it does to use his real name, which probably gets used less I would say! I never really had that connection and I think it comes from you earning that name as far as being prolific on the street. I started just going under my own name. A lot of people actually have to put in quite a bit of work to be able to step away from their street name and start using their own name so I’m kind of lucky that I floated in the middle there and that neither name was too famous to have to try to stretch away from.

Damo: What do you find so good about a group studio?
Callum: A group studio is amazing. It doesn’t always have to be something as physically beneficial as borrowing something or getting advice from someone but seeing other people progress is such a huge motivational tool which people take it different ways. Some people see other people doing really well and step back and kick themselves and can get quite bitter about it but luckily for me I see my friends doing well it just gets me more excited for them and motivates me to try harder. The group studio is a great inspiration. We’re all running our own show here and we’re not competing with each other. When someone has a really great show or gets a big commission I just look at all of that as being good for everyone because it means that more people are accepting this kind of art form as a viable medium.

Damo: Whenever I bump into you you’ve got many projects going on. I know you’ve got a secret project which we’ll discuss later in the year but what else is on for you at the moment?

Callum: I play drums in an old country kind of band, ‘Eaten by Dogs.’ We have a new record coming out the day after ‘Content by the Kilo.’ So I’ll be at the show in Brisbane and then we have a record launch at Melbourne’s The Tote on the 14th of October.

I’ve been doing a lot of stuff in smaller group shows. It’s been awesome there’s so many new people coming up who are organizing little group shows and there’s little new galleries and things popping up. I have been in different shows that have been at The Stockroom; the ‘Dodgy Paper’ show and there was also a show on found materials which is perfect because I love hard rubbish and I didn’t even have to go searching for things. When they said we need to do a show on found objects and I just looked at the pile of them sitting here in my studio and chose one. I’m really enjoying just doing little bits and pieces and being part of this community. The shows are getting good turnouts and some of the shows have upwards of 50 artists involved. It’s really cool, not all of them are traditionally from a street art background, for example they might be fine artists or tattooers or illustrators. It’s really cool way to meet a lot of younger people. I kind of lost sight and thought that I was the younger person because I was for so long; I was the baby of the studio.

Damo: It’s like the next wave is coming?
Callum: Yeah totally. that’s why I fell in love with this neighborhood originally because there were these little shows and pop-up galleries and stuff but people’s lives change direction; they have kids and responsibilities and someone has to pick up that torch. It’s awesome that there’s people organizing these shows so I’m thankful to be in them, hopefully I keep getting invited!!

Damo: And the Smith & Daughters domination continues?

Callum: Smith & Daughters and Smith & Deli (a vegan restaurant and deli in Melbourne) is a big ongoing project by me to a lesser extent but mainly my wife and our business partner Shannon. It’s a whole other beast of its own but it’s really cool and I’ve been doing a bunch of merchandise and stuff for that. We’re doing some new things to come out in summer which will be fun. Everyday there’s great food there to be had. I just try to be my best in a supporting role for whatever they might need on a day-to-day basis which can be anything from plumbing and trying to fix a broken dishwasher to designing t-shirts. For me it’s a good personal challenge, it’s like learning new skills through necessity.

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Damo: What’s an ideal day in the studio for you?
Callum: I like it when there’s people in here. It’s been quite quiet of late because a lot of people been travelling but it’s sometimes nice to sort of zone out. I often will listen to a podcast and just work on a painting for a few hours. I would just like more days where I’m not trapped by my email. I guess that’s not a rare complaint, I think it is society’s burden at the moment; we’re all bound to that. A lot of the times I kind of at emails and think ‘let me get to what we’re talking about here and I could actually just do it rather than talk about doing it’. But it’s a necessary part of the sequence of events to get jobs happening.
So an ideal day in the studio would be just catching up with everyone but also feeling like I’ve achieved something for that day plus trying to tidy up. It’s a constant cycle of tidying and then making it messy and tidying it again. Sometimes it’ll go weeks on end feeling really messy and then in a whirlwind of cleaning it’s back to normal and you realize it really wasn’t that much stuff, it’s just a few odds and ends that make it feel dirty!

‘Content by the Kilo’ opens this Friday 13 OCotber at 6pm at Brisbane’s Crowbar. For all the details, check out Crowbar!

@callumpreston