Rone has long been a fixture of Melbourne’s street art scene. His most famous image, the Jane Doe portrait, is one of the definitive images of the stencil explosion that happened in Melbourne a decade ago. His work is visceral and raw, closely cropped portraits of female faces that seem to stare right through you. As an artist Rone is in constant motion, always pushing the next series of work or project, and it’s that kind of energy that’s driven his work to such heights in the past few years. We caught up with him as he was putting the finishing touches on his debut solo show L’Inconnue De La Rue (The Unknown Girl of the Street) to talk about his new series and the future of his work.
You’ve said that L’Inconnue De La Rue is inspired by a classic French story of an anonymous girl’s death. How did that influence the work?
Yeah well the girl who drowned in the river is L’Inconnue De La Seine, but I didn’t think it was right to just use The Unknown Girl of the River because it’s not the same. So The Unknown Girl of the Street just seemed more fitting, it made sense with my work.
So this girl drowned and her face was cast as a plaster death mask, is that right?
Yeah, I think it was common to do that kind of thing a hundred years ago. So it became almost a household item. Like the three flying ducks you see in people’s houses now, except a lot more morbid than that. I’m not even sure if the story is true but it’s an amazing story.
So the Jane Doe image that you’re most well known for is ten years old now, will that play a big part in this show?
No actually I’m not using her at all in this show, but there’s definitely references to that style with the portraiture. Everything is directed in that way with the close-cropped face and the gazing looks which is all from that Jane DoeImage, but the original one isn’t part of the show. I’m trying to sail away from it a little bit. It’s almost become my icon, a go-to piece, and I didn’t want to be just known for that. I kind of had something to prove in a way, you don’t want to just be a one hit wonder.
That’s something comes up a lot, especially if you’re not necessarily putting your name to your work. You spend so much time cultivating a style and then if you stray from it people are like ‘Oh, I like your other stuff better’ and if you don’t, people are like ‘Oh, he’s just doing the same shit’.
Yeah exactly, I was putting a Jane Doe poster up a couple of months ago, but I’d hand painted it so it was really loose. I’d still cut the sticker edges in and kind of cropped it so it was like only two thirds and on an angle. We stuck it up on Smith Street and after we were done someone heckled us, like yelled out ‘I like your old stuff better’ and I was like ‘But that . . . oh whatever’. I thought that was good.
This is your first solo show right? What took so long?
I guess I just didn’t feel completely ready to have a whole body of work the way I wanted it. I kind of focused on other things, like the Everfresh book and other things kept popping up that became my focus instead. I’ve just been real busy the past four or five years with graphic design work because as a freelancer I take the work when it’s there, I’ve always got to be working all the time. I’d never had a break where I’ve gone ‘Alright, I’m just not working’ ’til now.
How long have you been working on this body of work?
Well I guess the concept happened last September, which was when we put the book out. Then I did the photo-shoot of the girl in May.
So it’s one girl?
Yeah, it’s all one girl. It wasn’t originally my plan but then as I was talking to people about the story and how I wanted to do it and because it’s based on someone dying or dealing with death, I thought I should base it on the stages of grief. It wouldn’t make sense if it were ten different girls. It makes it a story with just the one.
How are you presenting the works in the gallery?
Basically I’m just building posters on top of posters. Literally on just the poster stock – gluing six or seven together and then framing them. There’s a real ripped-off-the-wall kind of feel, they’re all buckled and nothing is flat. It has that raw look. I like that idea of doing something raw but the canvas stuff I’ve always done has been a clean print or stencil in its purest form before it’s gone to the street.
That’s one thing I’ve noticed, your work often looks like a bill poster even if it is on canvas – having that negative space around the image . . .
It had that poster kind of feel to it? Yeah I guess that’s become a bit of an aesthetic as well. I think that was originally more of a production thing, I could do them faster. I love the idea of being able to do more. To get the image out there as fast as possible. That’s why I like screen printing and stencilling, I could spend days painting something perfectly but I’d rather spend five minutes knocking out as many as I can to get more out there. That’s my graffiti attitude I guess.
Do you feel limited by reproduction at all?
I just love the idea of getting the image out there as much as possible, and it becoming an icon or something like that. Even without my name on it people still recognise my style, which is cool.
What are you going to do with the space?
I don’t know. I don’t think I’ll try to do a big installation. I’ll just try and present my works nicely, rather than having a big installation. I feel like I’ve gone through such an ordeal just to get to this point that I don’t want to distract from the work with something else. I might just cover one room with bill-posters. But I’m working on two giant canvases – which I just finished cutting the stencil out for last night – that will take up one whole wall. It’s massive. It looks very much like the classic Jane Doe but it’s this new girl.
What do you want people to take away from the show, with it being your debut solo show and all?
I wanted to show that I could do it, have a show, because I’ve put it off for so long. But as far as the art itself, I’m just trying to deal with mortality. It’s really daunting, but there’s really something beautiful about is well. That’s the whole contrast of beauty in the street.
L’Inconnue De La Rue opens at Backwoods Gallery on Friday, 17 June from 6pm. Check backwoodsgallery.com for more details.
See more of Rone’s work at r-o-n-e.com.