Interview

Reko Rennie

by Lucy Feagins, Editor
Friday 22nd November 2013

Reko Rennie‘s ‘Black Diamond’ series for his recent install at Sydney Contemporary with Blackartprojects.  Clockwise from top left – ‘Black Diamond (Green)’, ‘Black Diamond (Orange)’, ‘Black Diamond (Blue)’ and ‘Black Diamond (Pink)’.

‘Message Stick (Pink)’, 2010 by Reko Rennie, featuring his signature geometric ‘diamond’ shaped patterns of the Kamilaroi people.

Art Gallery of New South Wales commission, Sydney 2011 by Reko Rennie.

Detail from Reko’s Fitzroy studio.  Photo – Sean Fennessy.

Reko Rennie in his Fitzroy studio.  Photo – Sean Fennessy.

Fitzroy-based Reko Rennie is a profilic artist whose bold, graphic work across a variety of mediums explores his indigenous heritage and association to the Kamilaroi people.  Reko uses traditional geometric patterning that represents his community – in particular the repeating diamond shape, which he describes as a sort of ‘family crest’ for the Kamilaroi people.  Alongside this distictive emblem, Reko often employs a recurring crown motif – a symbol of sovereignty, a nod to American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, and a reference to Reko’s own roots in street art.

Originally trained in journalism, Reko always had a strong interest in art, but it wasn’t until 2009, after time spent juggling a ‘real job’ at a newspaper alongside his creative practice, that Reko decided to take the plunge and pursue art fulltime.  ‘I would create all night and then roll into work at The Age’ he explains below... ‘I soon realised where my passion was, and that was when I decided to do art full-time’.

What is interesting about Reko is how incredibly versatile he is.  From paintings on canvas and board, to large scale public murals and even sculpture, Reko seems to steadfastly avoid ever being pigeonholed in just one category.  The common thread throughout all his work, however, is a continual exploration of aboriginal identity in a contemporary context.

I first became aware of Reko’s work after seeing ‘Always was, Always will be’, his INCREDIBLE large scale mural on the exterior of the T2 building in Oxford Street, Paddington (pictured below).   This amazing work was commissioned as part of the City of Sydney’s Streetware program for 2012, and again employs Reko’s distinctive geometric diamonds, referencing the traditional markings of the Kamilaroi people.  The installation was undertaken by Reko in collaboration with Cracknell & Lonergan architects.  It is truly breathtaking!

It’s been a super busy year for Reko.  He’s held solo shows at both Ryan Renshaw Gallery and Karen Woodbury Gallery, he exhibited at Sydney Contemporary art fair, he won the City of Albany Art Prize, undertook a large sculpture commission at La Trobe University, and was commissioned to create another IMMENSE mural at Brisbane’s amazing Gallery of Modern Art, entitled ‘Trust the 2%’ (also pictured below).  Reko has also created a 41-panel commissioned work for Melbourne Now, which opens in Melbournetoday! (Man, and I thought I was having a busy year!)

Huge thanks to Reko for sharing his work and his story with us today, and to David Hagger at Blackartprojects for facilitaing this story.  Reko is represented by Karen Woodbury Gallery in Melbourne, and is working with Blackartprojects on projects in Sydney and overseas in 2014, having just exhibited at Sydney Contemporary with them in September.

Tell us a little about your background – What path led you to becoming an artist, and to creating the style of work you are currently making?

I was born in Footscray in 1974. Growing up in Melbourne’s western-suburbs, it was here that I discovered graffiti and decided to paint and create from a young age. I never studied art. However, I was always immersed in the arts, as my father is an artist.

It was New York graffiti that attracted me and provided me with the medium to first express myself. From there, I started looking at the diamond geometric iconography of the Kamilaroi people and in a western-sense the diamond shape I use through my work is a lot like a family crest – the diamond is my family crest.

The path to becoming an artist was never something laid out for me. There was no progression from school to study art and then full-time art. I had a range of jobs, many different experiences and did graffiti. I had never wanted to go to art school when I was younger, as I thought I could paint and draw so perhaps it was better to learn something else. So I studied journalism, worked as a journalist to pay the bills and painted in my spare time. There were many times I would create all night and then roll into work at The Age. I soon realised where my passion was and that was when I decided to do art full-time.

There are many things that lead me to create the work I do; from my family history, my passion for making and at other times I may simply want to say something or provoke thought.

Studio details.  Photo – Sean Fennessy.
You have a lot going on right now! From participating in Sydney Contemporary, to ‘Trust the 2%’ at GOMA, and inclusion in Melbourne Now, it seems you’ve had a pretty busy year! What have been one or two major highlights for you professionally this year, or in recent memory?

Yes I know! It’s been a full year, from GOMA, a show at Ryan Renshaw Gallery, to exhibiting with Blackartprojects at Sydney Contemporary, the City of Albany Art Prize, a solo exhibition at Karen Woodbury Gallery and a large sculpture commission at La Trobe University Institute of Molecular Science building. So yeah, it’s been full on. Major highlights this year have been the commissioned work at GOMA, the work I have made for Melbourne Now, and winning the City of Albany Art Prize.

‘Trust the 2%’, 2012 by Reko Rennie – and installation at Brisbane’s Gallery of Modern Art, for an exhibition entitled ‘My Country, I Still Call Australia Home’, curated by Bruce McLean.
What can we expect to see from you in the Melbourne Now exhibition?

I have made a new 41 multi-panel work of varied sizes titled ‘Initiation’. This work is about six metres in length and over four metres in height and features drawings, text and symbols on birch panels and relates to initiation from within an urban context. This work will be installed at NGV International, and I have three neon works titled ‘Regalia’ at NGV Ian Potter Centre.

Your practice flips between painting on canvas, to installation / specific work, often on an enormous scale! Can you give us a little insight into your process when working on a large scale project such as the T2 building painting in Sydney? How do you tackle a project like this, what time frame is involved and do you enlist assistance on projects of this scale?

I’m not that interested in creating work in only one medium. There are so many beautiful mediums to create work, and at this point in time, I’m not going to limit myself.

I have so many works that I want to make – some works need to be created in various mediums or environments, such as public artworks, neons or just written words on the street. It just depends on what I want to create and where I can do it.

The T2 building was a little unusual, as there was a very quick turnaround needed due to the restrictions of the scaffolding and permits in place. Firstly, this work was designed at home by me in collaboration with Cracknell & Lonergan architects in Sydney. It was great to collaborate with Peter and the team as this was a large scale building that needed to be painted very quickly. Once the design is done, it is then redrawn and scaled to fit the building and then masked out with tape and painted.

Certain projects like the T2 building need assistance and some others don’t. It really depends on a number of variables when doing large projects from required timeframes, budgets and the weather.

Reko’s amazing mural on Sydney’s T2 building, created in collaboration with Cracknell & Lonergan architects in Sydney.
What does a typical day at work involve for you?

I’ll get up and check any emails, then head to the studio and start working on something I’ve got going on and then I’ll pick my daughter up from school and hang out or if I have a pending exhibition, I’ll be doing long hours in the studio – it just depends on the time.

Reko Rennie in his Fitzroy studio.  Photo – Sean Fennessy.
Can you list for top resources across any media that you turn to regularly whilst you work, or which inform your practice?

There are many resources and books, too many to name. In terms of magazines, I like Tank Moto, anything about old cars and motorcycles.

I like listening to music in the studio and I’ll play anything from Radiohead to The Presets or Schoolly D.

Studio details.  Photo – Sean Fennessy.
Which other local artists or creative people are you liking at the moment?

There are too many to name, but I really like Shaun O’Connor work, a New York City-based Australian artist.

What is your proudest career achievement to date?

There are many, but I have to say being invited to work with various Aboriginal communities and doing workshops with the community around art are always proud moments for me.

What would be your dream project?

I’ve always wanted to paint the Bowery Wall in NYC, so that would be great but I’d love to do another huge project like the Redfern Project I did with Hetti Perkins in Redfern earlier this year.

What are you looking forward to?

Having a break down the coast! In terms of art, I have a show at Chalkhorse Gallery next year and a show at the Art Gallery of NSW, so that will be a bit of fun to make something new, plus some shows internationally.

Studio details.  Photo – Sean Fennessy.

MELBOURNE QUESTIONS

Your favourite Melbourne neighbourhood and why?

My studio is in Fitzroy, I really like it around there as there is some great food and I get a few of my art supplies around the corner. I also love parts of the West as it reminds me of being a kid.

Where do you shop in Melbourne for the tools of your trade?

There’s a few places I go – St Lukes on Smith Street, Collingwood is great and it’s a shop run by artists for artists, so they know their stuff. Fitzroy Stretchers is great too. When I need some inks or spray-paint I always like to pop into Giant Productions in North Melbourne, the urban art suppliers.

Where / what was the last great meal you ate in Melbourne?

Homemade pasta, just before I wrote this!

Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?

Either out eating with family, getting ready to head down the coast or in the studio.

Melbourne’s best kept secret?

Can’t tell!

Another of Reko’s distinctive emblems, the crown, rendered crudely on the wall of his Fitroy studio.  Photo – Sean Fennessy.

by Lucy Feagins, Editor
Friday 22nd November 2013

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