In this latest article in The Guide, DPG’s Photo Editor Lia Barrett pins down the elusive ocean artist Amok Island to answer a few questions about his work and vision.
“Barracuda,” Leederville, Western Australia, 2014
Who doesn’t love street art? Whether it’s political, humorous, or merely for our aesthetic pleasure, street art is unique in that it is accessible to all who happen to stroll past. It eschews the stuffiness of the museum, breaks away from the pretentiousness of the gallery, and strips away the layers of privilege and entitlement of personal collections. From graffiti to murals to sculpture, public art must weather the storms of both the elements and the general public. Therefore, all who meander down this artistic path hide nothing—except perhaps their identities.
And so it happens that we, in the underwater community, have our very own, somewhat rogue, street artist who goes by the name Amok Island. Amok takes what might be considered simple façades of brick and concrete, and covers them with vibrant hues from our ocean gallery, creating stunning displays of sea creatures that lift the spirits of even the most jaded passerby.
DPG: Tell us a bit about your work and what you are trying to achieve.
Amok Island: I am a Dutch artist living in Fremantle, Western Australia. I guess I’m most known for painting large murals of marine animals. Aside from murals I paint on canvas, I print my own screen prints, and I make an occasional sculpture. I have been always been fascinated with the underwater world—looking at fish was not enough, so I started drawing them as well when I was a child. And now, with some luck, it has turned into my full-time job. What I’m trying to achieve is finding a stylised but recognisable way to portray animals I like, focusing on patterns, geometric shapes and color combinations. Something like a balanced mix between a logo and a realistic representation.
“Hippocampus Subelongatus,” Fremantle, Western Australia, 2014
DPG: How did you get into painting large-scale murals, and when and where did you paint your first?
AI: I grew up in Amsterdam and have been doing graffiti as a teenager since 1996. I started to become more interested in trying to paint different things than graffiti on walls and canvas, and slowly I experimented with different styles and media.
DPG: Have you ever painted a mural illegally in a guerrilla graffiti manner?
AI: Sometimes I have no clear permission for a wall…
“Histrio Histrio,” Leederville, Western Australia, 2014
“Raja Ampat Walking Shark,” Sorong, Papua, 2014
DPG: What is the biggest mural you’ve ever painted?
AI: That would be a seahorse mural called “Hippocampus subelongatus” in Fremantle—it is six stories high. The seahorse is a species that is endemic to Western Australia, and you can easily find it in the local river systems. It was a really fun project, painting in a little bucket attached to a giant crane. Painting large-scale walls is probably my favorite part of what I do—any artwork just becomes so powerful when painted at such a large scale. I really like to drive by and see it from a big distance.
DPG: I know it’s an obvious question, but are you inspired by someone like Banksy?
AI: Sure! Although I think my work is totally different, Banksy has very clever ideas, and my work is more about the design.
“Flatback Turtle Hatchling,” Port Hedland, Western Australia, 2014
DPG: You go by a pseudonym—how come?
AI: That is a remnant from my graffiti past. I also like that my art is a bit more separated from my personal life.
DPG: What inspires you to paint underwater life? Do you scuba-dive?
AI: Yes, I try to spend a lot of time underwater, taking underwater photos. I like to use my own photos as a reference for my artwork.
“Red Bellied Piranha,” Claremont, Western Australia, 2013
“Sharks of Australia,” hand-pulled screen print, 2013
DPG: When you are painting, what kinds of reactions do you get from the public passing by?
AI: I think murals are very popular at the moment in Australia; people are very positive—fortunately.
DPG: Where can we see your work?
AI: Most murals are in (Western) Australia, but if search a bit you can find my work in the Netherlands, Indonesia, Thailand, Japan, Portugal, Papua, and more. Otherwise, you can follow my work on Facebook or on Instagram.
DPG: Next projects?
AI: There are a few more murals and exhibitions coming up in Western Australia, plus I have some more travel planned to New York, Hong Kong, Amsterdam, and Iceland. Also, I’m planning to do some more screen-printing in the studio.
“Untitled,” Pilbara desert, Western Australia, 2014
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