KEO HAS BEEN A BUSY BOY THIS MONTH. WHEN HE'S NOT SLAPPING PAINT ON THE CONCRETE WALLS OF NEWCASTLE, THE CENTRAL COAST & SYDNEY, HE'S GETTING HASSLED BY KIAN AND I TO DO ARTWORK FOR OUR AUTUMN RUN OF TEES. I'VE NEVER MET ANYBODY LIKE KEO BEFORE. COMMITTED, BRAVE AND HANDSOME TO BOOT, HE ISN'T AFRAID TO SAY YES TO SOMETHING HE HASN'T DONE BEFORE - ESPECIALLY NEWCASTLE MIRAGE INTERVIEWS. ENJOY!
By Ryan Williams
So you're not raking in the millions yet?
Never will. I think most of us creatives need to resign ourselves to that fact and do it for the love. But there are worse things we could be doing with our time.
Are you still working at Meal Ticket?
You're actually grabbing me at a really interesting time. I feel like I'm finally doing stuff for me, which is super scary and super exciting all at the same time.
Still trying to figure out ways to keep contributing to the community. I'd love to get involved with the Roost again. I feel like at the moment the space has kind of slowed down doing a lot of those exhibitions we used to do. Using the creatives on hand to submit artworks, to brand and organize the event. The work ended up being for themselves, not for a client. They were amazing opportunities for students and graduates alike to develop their practice.
On top of that everybody got something to put in their folio, and got their stuff hung on the wall. Always be working. When somebody asks you what you're doing creatively, you say you're flat out. Work on a personal project, anything. Boost yourself up. Make yourself sound like big shit.
We should talk about you now, because this interview is about you.
What brought you into this creative frame of mind?
Back in 2004 was year 12 for me, I was discovering stencils and spraypainting.
I'm not sure if Banksy was a thing yet. I feel like it was still building up toward the peak. I remember year 12 art in 2008 was all about Melbourne, street art, Banksy, Shepherd Fairey etc. Yeah it still hadn't hit yet when I was studying. I remember looking at an Australian website called stencil revolution. I think it's gone by the wayside now, but back then it was mind blowing. There was a particular guy I remember, Logan Hicks, his work blew me away. There were that many layers to these stencils, they're basically a photo! A lot of political statement stuff, John Howard, George Bush etc.
From there, I forgot all about that painting/stenciling stuff. When I first started out thinking about what I should do, I was told I shouldn't even think about design or the industry at all because I'm colour blind. That was by an advisor from a TAFE in Gosford. So following that, and spending a year doing engineering, trying to find myself, being diagnosed with bipolar, blah blah blah, I spent the following year saving and traveling overseas. I met up with some family in Germany on the trip, most notably my cousin who is an illustrator over there. She had just published her first book. So during this time I was introduced to some of the creative world in Berlin.
When I got home I immediately went about trying to get into TAFE and the graphic design scene. I actually remember now using some of the techniques I learnt making the stencils as a way to separate layers in Photoshop and InDesign. It gave me a starting point for my design process. Where I grew up there wasn't any graffiti. Maybe some tags occasionally, but no street art.
So how did you get back into painting?
I remember becoming interested in graffiti again around 2011, but I didn't want to be a writer, I didn't want to be a vandal. I don't like grey walls, but I understand that property belongs to somebody else. That being said, I feel like public property, the world of billboards and stuff like that, forces you to be exposed to a certain message. It's in your face. Makes you feel things, makes you react a certain way that somebody wants you to.
Grey walls do the same thing. The message is that it's ok for this space to be without expression. People do it unknowingly. But to me, if you've got a wall, and you're paying somebody a huge about of money to paint that wall a single colour, you could pay an artist the same, probably less, to go something much more elaborate and much more interesting.
So these things were going through my brain. Seeing that the art and design scene were heading in terms of the new handmade culture. Getting a bit sick of computers. I liked texture, I liked...
Getting your hands dirty?
I hadn't gotten my hands dirty in such a long time. I was really lucky in having this be almost a year before things like Hit The Bricks came along. During this time I was freelancing as an illustrator, so I was putting myself out there as much as I could. I wanted to have as many arrows in my quiver as possible, so researching other guys doing this stuff exposed me to Mike Watt and Travis Price. I would get in touch and ask them questions, what they thought of what was happening around the scene. I did a few murals for events at The Roost. The one for the Versus exhibition showed me I liked doing things on a large scale.
Before I really started slapping stuff up I did as much research as I could. Having the Design background, I wanted to minimize the amount of waste I created. Having a finite amount of money, I didn't want to go and buy a bunch of paint that isn't any good. The techniques involved in painting, like anything you want to be good at, takes time. Every paint can feels different in your hand, every time you start painting you feel a bit scrappy, but you learn how to work through it. I wasn't going to start painting until I knew what I was doing.
So I went to YouTube, friends, tracking down pieces and looking super close at the flares and speckles of the paint. Looking only at photos of paintings doesn't really convey the whole package. Discovering that these bigger pieces that look sharp from a distance, then close up it looks quite rounded out.
Around mid 2012 I started to go out at night and find dilapidated spaces to and have a play in. I remember one particular spot I went out to on an Australia Day, when nobody would be around, and I figured the police would be pretty busy. It was tough. Painting at night in particular, being a colourblind person, I was choosing colours that I couldn't even see.
I became involved with the Facebook group LA'Division (local artist division) set up by Luke Okay of Mambo, and Trait Cross, a painter from Wollongong. It was these guys collecting interesting painters and artists together and trying to create a little hub for them online to chat, collaborate, share work, techniques and concepts. Still running 'til this day. It's expanded quite significantly nowadays. So I got involved with them, guys like Mike Watt, Sydney Sin and Grizzle.
I had painted a few things around the place by this stage. I painted a piece down at the Sourdough Baker, which is horrible. Eventually I decided that I would go and paint for free. I didn't want to get arrested, and I wasn't any good. I said yes to everything. Signs, murals, all that stuff. I realized pretty quickly that because businesses and people weren't being approached by the artists themselves, there was a gap in the market, but also giving me the confidence to say that I could do this, and I can learn. People will barter for it even, for food and coffees as opposed to paying me, so I ended up with a bit of regular work that way. Graphic Design work was drizzling through at the same time.
I decided I wanted to do the hard yards. I started to go down to Sydney, collaborate, run into other painters in the world. I always considered myself a really terrible painter. Even to this day I see a lot of the stuff I've done and it makes me cringe. Ultimately though, for the period of time I've been painting, I've increased my profile quite quickly because I haven't been afraid to say that I'm a painter. Expressing interest and putting out a positive helping hand, in opposition to saying I want this work and I want you to pay me. I feel like that's where a lot of artists fall down. Knowing where there's a budget and where there's not. I took on a lot of free work for a lot of the time. Now I've got a little bit of a name, not much.
Being able to do the tee with you guys to me is epic. Going and painting somebody's living room is great, but this type of thing, contributing to the hometown, helping you guys out it's great.
I don't know how many people I've spoken to and said "we're doing a new shirt, I'm not going to tell you who's on the back" and they've all said Keo Match. You're the Newcastle Illustrator guy.
I feel like there's a big difference between the people who call themselves illustrators between 15 and 30 and the ones between 30 and 60. Guys like Trevor [Dickinson] are deemed to be the older generation, and tailor to a different market, their peers. They've also been through enough to know that they shouldn't be cheap. They've got families and all that to provide for now. I feel like that's what your 20s is all about.
In the art scene in general I feel like everyone is trying to find their 'style'. Or voice. What they want to execute, and whether they want to put it out there. There are a lot of artists out there that hold on to their work for years, and then finally let it out. Maybe that's the difference with your practice in general, you show up in the morning, you do it, it's done. The whole thing is in front of everybody.
For me, street art is the most adventurous form going. On a wall, out in public, doing it in front of people, sometimes it's legal, sometimes it's illegal and it's always going to be judged. You are making a decision to insert your art into a space forever, or until somebody is so pissed off that they have to take it off the wall. That to me is the most attractive thing about it. You've got to have a huge amount of confidence to be able to say "I did that". I can drive through Newcastle and see some of my pieces that I haven't finished from 3 years ago.
Where is that?
It's the one next to Civic Station. I wrote 'Back soon, too hot' and I still haven't been back.
It's a tough surface to paint on, it's actually got an anti graffiti coating on it, it’s terrible.
So you've been in this painting game for about two years now, but you seem like you've been doing it a lot longer by the amount of stuff you've done.
I just love making stuff. Not much of my stuff ends up getting to a product spot, unless it's a commission, like a mural gig, where I'm getting paid for it, most of the stuff you see out of me is just for fun. That's what I do it for ultimately.
I feel like there is so much value in personal projects. If you take an idea and make it exist, get it through to it's final stage, or even halfway, you've gotten that concept out and you've started to experiment. Couple that with social media, you can show people (and potential clients or collaborators) you're a genuine human being, and you're figuring stuff out. People love figuring stuff out with you.
So what are you working on at the moment?
I've got a job painting a living room out at The Junction. As well as that I was approached by somebody recently to do some calligraphy in his Japanese tearoom. It's from my perspective of that location. Very interesting work. Some other little jobs around the sides, proposals for councils.
Finally, is it true you've been working on a tee design for Newcastle Mirage?
The rumors are true.
SIDEBAR - SEE KEO'S PAINTINGS
Block By Block, Belmont (behind Cafe Macquarie)
The Boom Box - Beside the railway tracks in Hamilton. Down from Sam Egan surfboards.
Honey Espresso - Interior Mural, Hexagons on the outside.