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THREE DAYS AT WONDERWALLS

This year I was excited to be an invited-artist at the Wonderwalls FestivalWonderwalls is a street art festival organised by the folks at The Opening Hours and Verb Syndicate. This year’s event was directed by Joel Moore and hosted in Port Adelaide. There was some stellar talent – international and local – who came out to the sleepy town for three days in January to spruce up the walls, alleyways and buildings with their art.

Prior to Wonderwalls, I’d painted indoor murals for Volcom and for a few gallery spaces, but I’d never painted something ten metres long before, and I hadn’t painted outside before either. Needless to say I had a few butterflies as the festival approached. The only thing I knew about Port Adelaide before I arrived was that there were dolphins in the port: city dolphins! Apparently they’re the only dolphins that live in a city in the world, and they don’t mix with regular ocean dolphins. Pretty cool.

When I arrived in Adelaide I was picked up and taken into town. On the way, I spotted the nine-story mural coming to life at the hands of Polish wonder duo Etam Cru. Their work is absolutely incredible. Locals were huddled around the bottom of the scissor lift with their jaws dropped and eyebrows raised in awe. On the other side of the wall, Elliot 1 (ASKEW) and Elliot 2 (Elliot Francis Stewart) were painting an equally epic piece with a girl standing over some cool, smoky lettering. Elliot 2 was scared of heights and kept spewing before going up in the scissor lift.

On the first night I met all the artists at the launch dinner, and then headed back to the artist house early to put the finishing touches on my drawing. On the walk home my phone died and I got completely lost in the deserted streets of Port Adelaide. I found a small old pub and there were three old men there. One of them was called Romeo and he bought me a Pepsi while I waited for my phone to charge. I told them that in the morning I’d be painting a mural on the main street that read “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea.” They all smiled and Romeo said, “That sounds about right for Port Adelaide”. I don’t know exactly what he meant, but was glad they seemed to like it.

Once it got dark, I went out to the wall with my projector to upscale my drawing to the ten-metre space. Port Adelaide is a bit sketchy after dark, so the other artists drank beer and acted as security while I penciled in my outlines until about midnight. A couple of them grabbed pencils to help me get it up faster and I promised to camouflage their names as credit somewhere in the final painting.

The next morning I started painting. My wall was on Commercial Road (a main street through Port Adelaide), next to Elliott 3 (Numskull) and Brad (Beastman). (It should be noted at this point that THREE of the artists at this event were called Elliot. Fifteen percent of the artists at Wonderwalls were called Elliot! They were already nearly finished their works and looked pretty damn good. They used aerosols while I pulled out my paintbrushes and started filling the blacks. Locals walked past with the dogs and kids and said nice things. A nine year-old girl came and critiqued my work, and then asked me a question I ask myself every day: “are you a real artist?”

After a long day of painting in the sun, we put down our tools for the official opening party of the festival. It was hosted in a huge old flourmill, inside of which Guido Van Helten had spent the last 48 hours painting a huge piece on the main wall. Apparently he’d stayed there all night painting, then slept in his van, then woke up and kept painting to get it done in just in time for the opening. It looked so, so good. We all got drunk to celebrate how good it looked. After we got drunk, we got hungry, so we ate a chimney cake from the food truck. Do you know what a chimney cake is? We didn’t. Which is why we bought it and ate it. We still don’t really know what a chimney cake is. We continued drinking back at the artist house and Elliot 1 told crazy stories about painting in Dubai for the Prince, who wanted to break the Guinness World Record for the longest graffiti scroll in history, and another story about a lice epidemic in a hippy commune. We then all got some serious shut-eye before the final days of painting.

Back at my wall in the morning I finished painting the main letterforms and sea creatures in black, then mixed up a deep blue to finish off my piece. People who had stopped by over the last three days were excited to see the process of it all coming together. This was the first time I used colour on a mural, and I was happy to see how it popped off the white background. I wore the Volcom lived-in tee while I painted, and somehow successfully managed to avoid a t-shirt tan and any paint stains! Unfortunately my hands and legs were not spared.

Everyone’s final artworks were incredible and gave the town a real energy. I was floored by everyone’s talent. I still can’t get my head around how the artists worked at such a mammoth scale. SMUGS’s hyper-realistic portraits are ridiculous, and I love how his subject matter feels so Aussie. Elliot 2 overcame his fear of heights and finished painting the girls face in fine form. The precise yet organic rhythm of KAB101’s calligraphic work was beautiful, and Kyle Hughes Odger’s girl-in-a-bottle turned out super sweet too. I flew out of Adelaide feeling impressed and inspired, wanting to create bigger and bolder works in 2015. The Wonderwalls pieces converted Port Adelaide into a little art oasis and it’s planned that they stay up for good. So if you find yourself passing through make sure you take the time to check out the art and say hi to the city dolphins.

Thanks to Luke Shirlaw (Ironlak), Pina Falzarano  and Carol Coles for the snaps. Check out #wonderwalls for more photos from the festival

Gemma

@mrseaves101

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