Pre-Covid (why yes, there was such a time) the Metro Tunnel Creative Program commissioned local artist Taj Alexander, aka ‘Deams’ to create an original artwork to flank the outside of their work-site and splash a little colour into the world!
If you’ve walked past the Fed Square thoroughfare along Flinders Street, you may have noticed his eclectic style.
We were lucky to snag an interview with the artist himself – check it out below to learn all about his inspiration and creative process!
And be sure to wander through Fed Square in the coming weeks as we again welcome visitors with open arms.
Photography: Charlie Kinross
Q. Can you step us through your process of creating a piece of this size?
A. At the start of all my commissioned works there is usually a brief, or at the very least an expressed intention from the client. This might be as simple as wanting something vibrant or subdued or may extend further into wanting the work to represent particular emotional qualities.
In the case of the Fed Square mural, the brief was to create a vibrant backdrop that reflected the perpetual motion of the city environment. Additionally, there was a simple yet important desire to reimagine the black construction hoarding and transform it into something uplifting for residents and tourists to walk past on their daily routines.
The second component is the development of the work, which involves pencil sketches, scanned drawings, digital mock-ups and colour development. I played with a variety of colour treatments, but it was decided in the end that the use of the entire selection of Fed Square brand colours produced the desired effect.
The integration of the typography was also a requirement. Key placement was considered in the larger text blocks but its interpretation and layout was part of my own creative development, and I decided to break up some additional letters so that they became a part of the geometric landscape within the wall.
Once a successful design has been presented and approved by all parties, I then have to source and mix all the colours for the piece and match these as close as possible to the proposed design. Materials are purchased while the logistical planning and timeline is established. On a wall of this scale and complexity I work with an assistant (my partner Laure) to lighten the physical demand of the painting and to speed up the process.
The first stage is to apply a grey undercoat that will ensure the best application and opacity of the colours to follow. The wall is then sketched out with chalk and string-line using a printed reference image to establish the correct scale. The hardest thing about a wall like this was adapting the design onto a variable space – in other words, the wall was far from straight: it changes height and shape all the way along, whilst the proposed design was based on the correct length but an average height.
Once the wall has been successfully sketched out, the first coats of paint are applied to the geometric design. Depending on the colours used these shapes will need to be re-coated two or three times. That means that in a sense the wall has been painted three times over.
Once the design has been applied and I am happy with the thickness/ opacity of the forms, I paint the background area in, in this case black, and ‘cut back’ all the edges of the shapes to produce a sharp and digital-like image. The second last stage is the application of the typography, which was done with vinyl adhesive stencils. The final stage was the application of a sealer to protect the wall from dust and grime.
Q. What are the differences between smaller works for a gallery context, and larger works in the public realm?
The fundamental difference between my mural and exhibition work is their contexts. My mural work responds to the form and shape of the building. The environment is architectural, and the work has evolved to reflect and enhance this space. Scale is also a contributing factor – there are some techniques that don’t translate from canvas to wall. My exhibition work is more refined, more complex and focuses on the emotional and psychological landscape.
Q. What beats are on your Spotify Playlist when you’re painting these murals?
A. I listen to a range of music. Sometimes just the humble sounds of the environment can be conducive too. When I really need to get into the swing of things music is definitely an effective tool. I often listen to mixes on Soundcloud so I can have an uninterrupted stream or ‘journey’. Some of my favourite DJs/producers at the moment are Rambadu, Esteble, Tim Heaney Chaos In The CBD & Martha Van Straaten.
Q. What do you find the biggest misconception is around you as an artist?
A. The biggest misconception around myself as an artist is that everything I do is controlled or calculated. My work portrays a sense of ultimate control because of the time and attention I give to each element within the artwork, and of course the cleanliness of the finished product. The reality is that I embrace the chaos within my process. The unknown and the unpredictable often provide important discoveries. As an abstract painter I find that a big part of unlocking the ‘new thing’ is found in surrender. You really need to detach yourself from the process but simultaneously maintain a present awareness. There is of course a highly controlled element to what I do, but it does not define my practise.
Q. If you could invite three people to dinner (dead, alive or fictional) to inspire your work, who would they be and why?
A. Joan Miró, for his playful perspective on form and colour coupled with a difference of cultural perspective. M.C Escher, because of his love and mastery of geometry, pattern and technical experience. John Coltrane, so he can hang out and vibe on the conversation, filling in the gaps with his unique, melancholic saxophone.
Q. Where is the strangest/weirdest/most memorable piece you’ve painted?
A. Probably an abandoned linoleum factory in rural Luxembourg with my friend and fellow painter Eric Mangen. We spent about a week painting in this incredible abandoned wonderland. There were trees growing indoors and it felt as close as I’ll (hopefully) get to a post-apocalyptic environment where nature has taken back control. These spaces are so inspiring as an artist, as they provide so much space to think, create and experiment. The unique thing is that you may be the only person to actually see the piece in person: all you take away is a photo and a vivid memory of the energy of the space. I’ve been told it has since been demolished.
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