Symphonising rich classical strokes and piercing graffiti edges into unspoken narratives and frozen moments, Australian artist Adnate has been carving a tantalizing path. Exploring themes like identity, oppression and the subjugation of one culture by external forces – be they a direct aggressor or the wider forces of globalisation, his work drips with pathos and punch. Going back to the source of humanist art, he has incorporated the techniques that define texture, form, figure and physical expression and transported them into a new and beautifully current matrix. His portraits have an ethereal feel – often disembodied into the urban mists – melted into their setting and bursting out in an explosion of colour and feeling. His work with the AWOL crew has built and extraordinarily powerful legacy as his spellbinding figurative work is licked all around by the flames of liquid writing. From primal tribalism to plays on the aesthetics of beauty – from twisted faces screaming in silence to the majesty of humanity unbound – from electric dreams to withering comment, his work is simply superb. We caught up.
What were the creative influences bouncing around you in your early years
I read a lot of comics as a kid and was obsessed with really intense sci-fi films like Terminator and Aliens.
How did you originally get into writing and what was the environment in Melbourne like at the time
I was exposed to some amazing graffiti writers in my early teens. Seeing the ridiculous work along certain train lines in Melbourne made me realise what was possible with graffiti and I never looked back.
How long was it until you felt you had genuinely started to express yourself
Probably when I started getting loose with my letters. I started doing abstract things like opening my letters, having outlines with no fill, using paint rollers in the piece and incorporating drips.
How did you start to move away from writing into more figurative work and develop into the dynamics of human emotion
I’ve always been into creating emotion or attitude with what I’m painting. I got told by a mentor that style writing was all about attitude, whether it be funky hip hop, aggressive wild style, etc. Now when I paint portraits, I can be more direct with what emotion or attitude I’m trying to portray.
What is the essence of a portrait for you
There is a certain level of depth, within different layers, visually and emotive. The essence lies within this.
How much did you go back to classical and Renaissance roots to hone techniques like chiaroscuro
I lived in Florence in 2011 and got to stare right into the eyes of some of the most amazing Renaissance paintings ever produced. These pieces capture a huge level of emotion that I’ve never experienced in other art before.
How do you create movement and drama within your pieces
Chiaroscuro is a huge part, which is the contrast between dark and light. This is what a lot of the old Renaissance artists used. Painting only sections of the face, incorporated with the backgrounds can often put flow into an otherwise still portrait.
What does the interplay of graffiti forms and figurative painting bring to your work
The graffiti elements that I incorporate are a solid representation of my history. I want to always keep my tagging, the most purest form of graffiti, a part of my art.
How much has travelling changed your artistic perspectives A LOT.
Travelling for me made me see the limits that can be pushed with spray paint, with detail, scale, speed and concepts. Each continent in the world has a few special writers/artists that are at the forefront of the scene and its completely mind blowing to see their work in person.
Was an exploration of calligraphy a natural step for a graffiti artist
Even if graffiti artists don’t realize, they are all exploring their own form of calligraphy through tagging. Calligraphy has been practiced for thousands of years, and tagging is now the biggest form as it is done by more people than ever before.
Tell us about your focus on Tibetan and Persian culture
I’m very interested in cultures that are the most different to the West, particularly those that have been suppressed. In its time, Persia was but I’m very focused on Tibet. It’s incredible how the world’s most peaceful country was annihilated and the world just watched. I feel that painting some of these issues publicly will help bring awareness.
You have painted several highly emotive pieces that highlight Aboriginal issues. How would you describe their current position in Australian society – has anything improved
Statistically they have the lowest life expectancy of any other Indigenous population in the world, in one of the richest countries economically. Science has now realized that they are the longest living civilization that has ever existed. There is obviously something very wrong there and their situation is not getting any better.
Tell us about the AWOL crew
Formed in 2006, We are 6 members, Slicer, Deams, Li-Hill, Lucy Lucy and Itch. As the years go on, our styles become even more different than each others, which i think is the driving force behind the crew.
How much pre planning do you bring to a piece and how much do you lose yourself in it
The only preplanning that goes into most of my works is the colour choice and which photo i am going to reference. Apart from that, the rest just comes as i paint it.
How do you adapt to the contrasts of collaboration
By creating as much of a juxtaposition between styles, whilst maintaining a strong flow within the piece as a whole.
How much do you enjoy playing with the existing textures of a wall
It depends, some are very difficult to work with, but then I’ve painted on some that make a piece so unique, that it would be impossible to replicate on canvas.
What does the future hold for you
Only the future knows.