‘FACING DECONSTRUCTION’ by Unwell Bunny is somewhat of a self-portrait for Unwell Bunny otherwise known as Ed Bechervaise. It represents a point of reflection both on himself and the urban art movement he has a lengthy relationship with. Captured are faces of Ed’s contemporaries, mentors, figure heads and the new breed of an independent disestablishment art movement.
‘FACING DECONSTRUCTION’ opens at Backwoods Gallery on October 20th from 6pm. Visit the exhibition page for more information. In the lead up to the show, Ed sat down with Damo….
Damo: We’ve finally managed to actually speak in person! Could we just start with who is ‘Unwell Bunny’ and how do you describe your current style?
Unwell Bunny: Unwell Bunny is kind of like my second artistic incarnation; an incarnation of Ed Bechervaise and my first graffiti name in Adelaide that I ran for about seven years. Moving to Melbourne I felt the need to reemerge in a slightly different form and Unwell Bunny was the reemergence. It came from a comic book that I did very early on in about 2002 or 2003 whilst I was actually witnessing the Melbourne street art boom happening. I had not quite ten years’ graffiti heritage and the street art boom was just completely new and I’d never experienced anything like that before. So, Unwell Bunny is the reincarnation of my graffiti past in a new form which has gone on to resemble urban contemporary art -giving me another sphere to project myself beyond my own name.
This allows the work to have secondary perspective on things and that works quite well for me. Keeping my name as a part of the linkage to my artistic practice with Unwell Bunny being an easier vehicle to move forward with.
Damo: What brought you to Melbourne in 2002?
Unwell Bunny: I did first year studio arts and visual communication at University of South Australia and that was a mixture of both art practice and design practices as well. I was still painting graffiti at that point and had a number of graffiti friends. If I’m being 100% honest there was two things going on; I felt like I’d hit the glass ceiling of Adelaide creatively at that point and also some of my graffiti comrades had got themselves in trouble. I maybe thought it was time to spread the wings and…
Damo: Fly before your wings got clipped?
Unwell Bunny: (Laughing)… so it might have been a little bit of that as well. I am really pleased that I came over at that moment because it was everything that I dreamt that it might be and it continues to reinvent itself every other year that I’m here. I seem to keep coming back to Melbourne despite going off and traveling or living overseas. Melbourne feels like my creative home now for sure.
Damo: We’re here to talk about your upcoming show ‘Facing Deconstruction’ which is going to be held at Backwoods Gallery. What’s the story behind ‘Facing Deconstruction’?
Unwell Bunny: I guess at this point in my art career it’s sort of a retrospective.
Damo: This is like your 9th or 10th show?
Unwell Bunny: 9th I think. I guess being a bit of a retrospective it’s kind of a self-portrait as a result of looking backwards. It’s been a moment of pause between things I suppose. The last show I had was about experiences that I had picked up from the US when I travelled through and then I started reflecting on that experience by reinterpreting it through a relook at my home studio. I had a female figure in front of it and that created a secondary view.
Moving on from that show, reinterpretation has always been something that’s been a part of my work. It’s always been linked to experience as opposed to reality and I think that at the end of the last show I started to really observe reality a bit more.
In this show I guess I want to be truly reflective of where I’m at and so as a result of that I thought about the people that have influenced where I am at and started thinking about who the people were that had influenced me along the way as well; so not just contemporary figures that I’ve got in my life currently but also the kind of mentor figures and figure heads that I felt were important in me developing my art career.
Further, I felt like it was a bit of a homage to what I’ve seen the Australian urban art movement progress from. Some of the cornerstone people that have paved the way for a new way forward for a lot of people. I think there’s still quite a long way to go here but really this is a 10-year look backwards. That’s the foundation of the show; that it is reflective and that’s why I called it ‘Facing Deconstruction.’ The deconstructive nature of looking back at yourself and analyzing your inspirations.
The work itself is a kind of a deconstructed narrative. Stylistically it’s also kind of deconstructive coming from me having a second view on the way I look at things; now I see them through the Unwell Bunny lens and as a result of that it’s about reinterpretation. It’s a style that I’m continuing to push and probably simplify. Bringing the facial elements in through that style has been quite interesting for me and something that I found challenging. I’ve also really enjoyed being able to get to the point where I feel like it’s really working. It’s complimentary with a lot of the work that I’ve done before – the figurative work and the cubist sort of geometric work but it’s now got this sense of humanity running through it as well. It has had little experimental kicks and bursts through it but I’m glad to say it came through to the other side and generated a level of comfort for me.
In the second part of the show is there is a compositional almost still life aspect which is more reflective of me looking around my environment; observing the things that I’m inspired by to kind of compliment the people that I’m inspired by. It’s a slightly softer part and I guess for that reason it’s a lot easier for me it’s kind of less emotional, a bit more observational and it’s something I really enjoy doing as well; so two parts of the show create the whole if you like.
Damo: I know there’s a lot of pressure building up to any show. Is there added pressure that you have painted people you look up to, people who are well-known in the community and then put the show on in your new found hometown as well?
Unwell Bunny: Yeah absolutely! At the start of the process I was pretty petrified to begin conceptually choosing and engaging people into the idea because first of all I didn’t know whether my style was going to kick over into portraiture. I was still unsure at that point, I was doing a lot of studies at that stage and feeling quite uncomfortable but pushing myself and moving through that. So then when it came choosing people I felt like I had to be sure that I wanted to do this because I knew then I was committing. Quite quickly I realized that the reason why I felt comfortable committing to this idea was that I’m quite comfortable where I’m at artistically. I paint in a really bold fashion that is quite striking and I think a lot of that comes from my love of blockbuster graffiti. It’s a part of what I used to admire when I was first coming to Melbourne and then in Adelaide. So people like Kab 101 would do those blockbuster murals and they were spectacular. I remember seeing a KASINO mural in Melbourne early on in Prahan and just being quite amazed at that.
So feeling confident in my style and feeling like it has its voice I think I thought it was a worthy time for myself to do this and I guess to make it clear to people how much they meant to me on my own journey, my own career. I have really been quite bold in how I presented them and paint their emotion through my artistic construction. Some of the pieces are more abstract than others but they’re all quite bold. I’ve just tried to push that person’s personality through from start to finish and not think about where they’re coming from but just feel the sense of who they are. I think I’m pretty happy with how it’s come out and it will be interesting to see it all together. But you know it was one of those bodies of work that’s been more exhausting than others…
Damo: But as always you have pushed yourself though?
Unwell Bunny: Yeah I have always pushed myself but I think the idea of painting the people that you feel are important puts an extra level of emotional pressure on you as an artist because you’re not just projecting yourself you’re projecting a sense of importance through those that you think are major contributors. So yeah it’s been a really interesting sort of process.
Damo: When I caught you recently you were talking about your grandma and the influence she had on you and your career…
Unwell Bunny: Yeah it’s been interesting to kind of have that emerge as a… as an idea at the end of this show because it wasn’t something I had thought until now (at the end). It really was a sort of crossroads of thinking for me because I realized that in this show I have gone back to a sort of traditional basis of art; portraiture and still life – a kind of artistic context that have been around for many hundreds of years. That was a kind of interesting realization that I have come out on the other end perhaps doing the opposite of what I set out to do in the first place – starting to write graffiti, something with a sense of rebellion to it to then come back around and to be looking through a really traditional lens.
I realized that the reason I had gotten to this point was because I’ve done all of that externalization where you are essentially fighting the system and I have come back at this point of reflection and part of that was what framed me as an artist right from the beginning. It was probably my grandma as a figure in that I remember her showing me medieval art very early on when I was a really young child (She was an art history PHD). It’s interesting because like medieval art, all the figures are presented on their side; so they are quite … they use a sense of profile. I reckon that somehow subconsciously that has snuck in to my own work to deconstruct things back to their basics which is part of what the medieval art representation was doing, it was less emotional, it wasn’t Romanticism though… it hadn’t got to that point yet. But anyway that was sort of her influence. She gave me this book called the “The History of Art”. It’s in my bookshelf and I looked at it the other night and I went ‘oh my’ I’ve had that the whole time. this whole time!
So in a way the show is reflective of knowledge that I was raised in somewhat a kind of traditional… with the traditional influence and I’ve got to thank my grandma for that. After all of these years the black sheep has kind of come back to the flock! But that makes sense to me, I feel ready to be a part of the establishment now, so that might be part of what’s going on with that one.
Damo: You mentioned you’ve had a home studio and you’re now part of a group studio recently set up in Melbourne. Do you have a preference where and why?
Unwell Bunny: I’ve kind of developed a bit of a formula over the past five or six years in having two studios. The external studio is a melting pot. So that’s where like I start the thinking. There’s more space and it’s a bit combustive, as in you’ve got people around you, the energies flow harder and you just go at it. So that’s really good at starting off any body of work. It’s rawer.
Then the home studio is a little bit more like a sanctuary; it’s quiet; I’ve got (my fiancée) Lucie tinkering around in the lounge room or the kitchen; and it’s probably a place where I finish most things. I have that contemplation time and a sense of peace and I can kind of get into the detail there; be a bit more considerate I guess.
Damo: You’ve exhibited internationally and extensively in Australia; What’s next??!
Unwell Bunny: I’m at this point where I feel that what really interests me sits between really pushing the importance of the kind of art that I do but also that the genre that I’m a part of is independent. That it’s come from grassroots, it’s self-made and it’s rebellious. I love that space and I’ve tried to seek it out internationally to understand it better and I recognize how young we are with it in Australia. I also think we can only grow further here because it’s so important.
Every great artist that has pushed this independent spirit forward has gone on to make a great impact internationally and I think we have enough artists here that have started with that headspace that it is only going to happen more and more and that’s part of what the show is about in a way, to acknowledge those people that I think are going to have that impact.
The post graffiti urban contemporary art movement is what I’m going to continue to produce. I am really interested in the traditional side of art now. The side which is much more contemplative, it’s about refinement, it’s about understanding, it’s about breaking things down and it’s about reasoning. These are all things maybe I bucked against early on. I’ve come full circle and become much more theoretical in the way I look at what I do, the way I look at what other people do, and the way I make things as well. That’s kind of the balance that I am probably going to continue to push; that sort of bridge between those two spaces. It’s like anything emerging; it keeps finding its place in different places. That’s what’s really great about you know being part of being part of the movement I suppose.
Damo: If you could go back in time and catch up with Little Ed bombing Adelaide, what piece of advice would you give him?
Unwell Bunny: … I would say that everything… everything you do you do for a reason but you don’t know why you’re doing it at the time. You will only understand the tapestry of it later on but it’s all linked. I would say to him to slow down a bit. I reckon once you start to contemplate things you really start to figure things out. But all that being said I think you have to go through all of that rush.
I’d say it’s all for a reason and it all kind of comes with time and it’s interesting you make the contribution that you dream about without knowing that you’re doing it. I think early on you know you dream about making some level of contribution and then one day you realize that you’ve already done that.