Late last year, whilst in the throes of staging our fifth annual TDF Open House project in Collingwood, we were the lucky recipients of an unexpected gift – an unsolicited piece of street art carefully adhered on the outside wall of our building. At the time we weren’t aware of the talented Mr Snootle, but after instagramming his efforts, his identity was soon revealed.
Since then, we’ve been following Liam’s work from afar. We’ve been mesmerised by his distinctive geometric forms and meticulous linework. With a background in street art, Liam’s practice has more recently developed to include works on canvas, which he has exhibited both here and internationally – we even spotted a few of his striking abstract paintings in one of our recent Melbourne home shoots.
Today we learn a little more about the enigmatic Liam Snootle. We were quietly thrilled to learn he moonlights as a Maths teacher (ummm, coolest Maths teacher EVER!). Lisa was also rather excited to find out Liam has a passion for Sonic Youth, and names many of his paintings after their songs!
The best story, though, is Liam’s explanation for the origin of his pseudonym, ‘Snootle’ –
‘Many years ago, there was an awesome time called the Nineties. Everyone was in a band and wished they lived in Seattle, I was no different. My band was called ‘Sy Snootles’ (named after the singer in Jabba’s palace in Return of the Jedi). The band broke up but my stage name just stuck with me and became my ‘Art’ name. I do have a real surname but regular me is not as cool as artist me’.
We LOVE Liam’s responses to our interview questions below! We only wish he would share his secret CBD parking spot with us.
Tell us a little about your background – what path led you to becoming a fine artist, and to doing what you’re doing now?
For as long as I can remember I’ve been a visual thinker. Shapes, along with their colour, help me plan and interpret things – whether it’s routine tasks for the day, songs I’m listening to or stories that I read or hear. In recent years I recognised that not everyone processes things in this way and that these shapes that have been in my head actually might be considered beautiful by others.
I’ve always had a strong interest in graffiti and tagging and it was a natural step that my first foray into having these shapes seen by people was through street art. The fact that this medium was so temporary led me to painting them on canvas, more for posterity than for anything else.
For many years I’ve been a Maths teacher which might account for an appreciation of precision, but getting paint onto canvas involved a different part of my brain. Learning the skills has been an exciting but sometimes excruciating experience. Most of my recent paintings are interpretations of songs, particularly East Coast American alternative music of the ’80s and ’90s.
How would you describe your work?
To most viewers, I am sure the paintings would be categorised as Geometric Abstraction and I’m always keen to hear people’s personal interpretation of them. Personally, I am able to recall the emotion associated with them. I am interested in the combination of colour and shape and how these are able to trigger an emotional response in the viewer. The mathematical precision is important in portraying the right emotion and I enjoy the interplay of mathematics and art in my pieces, creating a balance in left brain and right brain thinking.
I am always fascinated to see parallels with my work and that of previous generations. I would like to think that my work is a progression of the Suprematist and Precisionism movements of the early Twentieth Century. My interest in these forms has allowed me to push my boundaries as well as create links with like-minded artists from all over the globe, which has been incredibly rewarding.
Can you give us a little insight into your process? What materials do you use? Is each work pre-planned or created very intuitively? Do you work on multiple canvases at one time?
My paintings are predominantly acrylic and aerosol paint on canvas. Using canvas can be difficult as achieving the ‘hard edge’ precision I require can be much tougher than painting on board. I find a real human element in the texture of canvas, however, and see this as a nod to historic practice.
The shapes are sketched first as linear pieces, often requiring adjustments in angles until the right feeling is achieved. The colours tends to be intuitive. However, with recent pieces I’ve attempted to remove all colour from them to see if they still are able to convey emotion. I try not to work on any more than two or three pieces at any one time as I find it difficult to maintain an intimate relationship with the piece, which sounds weird I guess, but is important to me.
I’ve been very busy of late, with shows coming up quite regularly. I find it important that for my own growth as an artist I push myself in different directions and try to create distinctly different bodies of work for each show. I’ve worked with perspex sculptures recently which has been exciting and I am keen to explore working with neon later in the year.
What does a typical day at work involve for you?
In the early days, I would often just sit down and expect to come up with some masterpiece immediately. This would result in great frustration when nothing would eventuate. I follow hundreds of other artists on Instagram and was always keen to see that so many of them would post their warm up sketches. I take this on board now and find that it’ll take a few hours of sketching before I have a shape that resonates with me. This must drive the neighbour’s nuts as I usually listen to the exact same song hundreds of times in a row.
The backgrounds on my canvases are rolled acrylic paint so I try to do a few of these at a time. The laying down of the spray paint layers requires precision, and the wait in between layers drying means I have plenty of time to prepare some street art pieces.
Which other Australian designers, artists or creative people are you loving at the moment?
1. My favourite Australian artist is Anthony Lister. His work can be so beautiful yet so dangerous. I liken it to that first time you heard Punk music and told yourself you’re not cool enough to be allowed to listen to this.
2. Dion Horstmans is producing some amazing welded sculptures, I’m keen to get an art trade going with him as well as a tutorial session.
3. Michael Bennett is a Berlin-based Australian artist who never ceases to impress me with his minimal paintings.
Can you list for us your top resources across any media that you turn to when you’re in a need of creative inspiration?
1. Most of my recent paintings are my interpretation of Sonic Youth songs. Their records tend to spark up my creativity and open up a wealth of new work.
2. My collection of Monster Children magazines is torn and frayed. I credit this magazine with inspiring me to have the confidence to take on art as a serious profession rather than just a hobby.
3. I pride myself on my Instagram feed but chances are James ‘SheOne’ Choules, the Spanish based, British artist has just taken a photo that trumps mine. This guy is the true Punk artist.
4. I’ve been very fortunate to have a few trips to the US in the last few years and have discovered the pure joy and excitement of the Ace Hotel. My bucket list requires me to stay at all of them. I’ve done New York, Portland, Seattle and Palm Springs. Los Angeles is booked for November, so just London and Panama to go! A Google image search for ‘Ace Hotel Interiors’ gets my juices flowing!
5. I usually spend far too many hours on the internet, www.arrestedmotion.com and www.graffuturism.com tend to be high on my most visited list. They have great stories on the contemporary art I appreciate the most.
What is your proudest career achievement to date?
I’ve been incredibly fortunate to gain recognition from artists, galleries and curators both in Australia and overseas. Just this last weekend I was one of 14 international artists to show work at 886 Geary Gallery in San Francisco. I’m humbled to think that my work is considered important enough to be exposed to such a large audience and in reputable galleries.
What would be your dream creative project?
I’d love the opportunity to curate an immersive visual and aural installation of two spaces, one that allowed visual art to be generated from sound and one creating sound from visual stimuli. I think I’m a few years off from getting this done though. It’s funny, I‘m pretty traditional with my art practice but I’m sure that embracing developments in technology would enhance my work a lot. 3D printing for example is just screaming out to be used.
What are you looking forward to?
If we’re talking art then I’m extremely excited about a two man show I’m doing this November at Gauntlet Gallery in San Francisco with British artist Carl Cashman, but if we’re talking honestly, Star Wars Episode VII in December. Oh my God!
Your favourite Melbourne neighbourhood and why?
Collingwood, hands down. For as long as I can remember Collingwood has been the creative hub of Melbourne and this seems to keep being the case. I consider myself so lucky to live here. I wrote a song about it once, but we shall say no more on this!
What and where was the best meal you recently had in Melbourne?
My wife and I shared the BBQ banquet at The Gem last weekend, it was sensational! Pulled Pork, Brisket, Mac and Cheese, the works. I’m really hoping this USA BBQ obsession we have here doesn’t go out of fashion too soon.
Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?
After Jack, our recently adopted poodle, gets his run around Victoria Park, chances are Margaret and I will be eating Dukkah Eggs at Bluebird, they’ve never messed up an egg yet and the side of chorizo helps with the probable hangover I’m likely experiencing.
Melbourne’s best kept secret?
For those increasingly rare moments where I leave the ‘hood’ and venture into the city, I have managed to have discover the most perfect weekend CBD car space that is free and always available. I’d be sure to tell you where it is but then it wouldn’t be a secret anymore!