The story behind Paddington’s ambitious new mural: Renegades of Funk

Sydney-based outsider artist Joel Veness has examined the idea of isolation and grown it into the city’s newest large-scale mural, adding a meaningful and provocative piece to the inner-city’s growing collection of street art.

Although Melbourne nears monopoly when it comes to discussions about street art in Australia, works like this are important to spread not only character, but meaning across the country and draw upon it’s rich history to connect to certain themes. Isolation just so happens to be the – very relevant – theme for “Renegades of Funk”.

The recently completed 70 foot mural covers a a large wall in Paddington, where Veness grew up. It displays numerous head figures inspired by the giant sculptures of Easter Island, all facing the same direction except one – the “renegade” – which is intended to mirror Veness, and the mural’s proximity to mainstream art institutions of which the artist is not a part of.

Seeing as the city, which has been through so much recently, has been in desperate need of some new murals, we caught up with Veness for a quick Q&A to bring more insight into the piece and its creation.

How did the idea for this mural and the theme of isolation originate?

Growing up in Sydney one feels isolation. We are so far away from the rest of the world, so growing up I always had that feeling of missing out. Especially if there was an event of exhibition in New York or Paris.

I’ve always felt isolation especially being an artist. When you go to parties, the question of what you do is always asked; replying “I’m an artist” was usually met with a different reaction to say if I was a banker or doctor.

Isolation is obviously quite topical this year. What do you hope people take away from this mural?

I’ve always liked the idea of people travelling to view an artwork. These days we all tend to stay at home on our computers or phones, so I wanted to create a work that people would want to travel to see.

For that to happen, the work had to be large enough and in a great position. The wall on which its located is one of the largest in Paddington; it also has a sense of surprise. The viewer turns a corner on either side and the work is just revealed. I wanted them to be shocked, but I had to work out a composition that had balance. The wall is so large that if it was all filled it would be too much for the viewer, that is why there is white space.

I hope people will walk away from this mural thinking that it was worth getting out of the house to go and see.

How did you decide on Easter Island’s sculptures as the form that would best represent this theme?

I’ve always drawn or painted heads. Even from the age of 4. The theme of artist isolation and the artist as a renegade came from living isolated in my own world. For the last few years I’ve personally felt stagnant, so Easter Island is a perfect metaphor for that.

You have these enormous sculptures left in time. It amazes me that 1,000 head sculptures are scattered on a tiny island, and they are so hard to go and view. The scale of them is breath-taking.

How does the location of this mural play into the concept?

I grew up in Paddington. The mural is situation down the road from my childhood home. I love Paddington so it’s a gift to my home.

Chris Singh

Chris Singh is the Deputy Editor of the AU review and a freelance travel writer. You can reach him on Instagram by following @chrisdsingh.