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Upfront: Ian Strange

Ahead of his new exhibition Ian Strange discusses the idea of 'home'

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Ian Strange is an artist not limited by any particular discipline; he seems to have conquered them all. From the spray can back in his Kid Zoom graffiti days, to film and photography, he has a unique talent for seamlessly marrying mediums and creating artwork that speaks volumes. His extensive work on the subject of the concept of ‘home’ has taken Strange across the world but for now he’s back on home turf.

Exhibiting in Sydney, his exhibition Shadow examines the standard redbrick suburban home. 5 large photographic works and a single channel film work will be exhibited from Strange’s exploration. Happily coinciding with the exhibition is the ABC “Art Bites: Home: The Art of Ian Strange” documentary mini series available to stream on iView which shows the development of Ian’s work on ‘Home’ from its inception. Whether you’re in Sydney for the exhibition or not, you can still immerse yourself in the mind of the great creative that is Ian Strange.

Your exhibition, Shadow, opens in Sydney on March 2. Can you give us the low down?

Shadow is a continuation of a body of work I’ve been making for nearly eight years now. It’s been looking at the home and suburbia in my art practice. That’s taken the form of everything from rebuilding my childhood home on Cockatoo island to spending two years traveling around America painting directly on suburban homes and photographing and filming and documenting them. That was through Ohio, Detroit, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York and it showed at the NGV in 2013 and showed in Europe in 2016. Working in Christchurch, New Zealand working with homes there after the earthquake, so it’s really been this long exploration of suburbia and working directly with homes in my art practice. Shadow is a continuation of that, and the first time I’ve come back to Australia to work directly on Australian suburban homes.

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How does your creative process differ when you’re working in Australia compared to say New York or Ohio?

Each project poses its challenges and I work with really great teams of people and collaborate with communities. Every house is a very different case each time, but generally speaking, communities around the world are similar. People are very curious about what you’re doing in their neighbourhood, going into their suburbs, making artwork in their street. Most people are curious, quite interested in engaging with the project as well.

I’m a suburban born and bred and honestly, I’ve never found it at all mysterious or I suppose glamorous enough to be an artistic focus and I thank you for showing me how interesting it can be.

What drew you to this subject matter?

Early on in my career I became really obsessed with that street art scene and ended up in New York selling canvas’ and painting a lot of walls and having these shows. For me, street art and graffiti has a really urban context, it’s generally something seen on inner city walls. I grew up in the suburbs of Perth and I didn’t really feel that that was something unique to me. Leaving Australia and moving to New York, living in Brooklyn which is really the antithesis of the suburbs, I needed to find something unique to me and that really led me to look back at my own home, my own origins, what made me want to escape the suburbs in the first place.

After investigating that in a couple of projects I started looking at why it is such a universal symbol for everyone, why everyone has a relationship to the home. That just got amplified by going into these communities, going into Ohio and Detroit after the GFC, going to Christchurch after an earthquake, going into Fukushima Japan after the Tsunami disaster there and meeting communities there and realising home is something we all have a connection to.

I suppose even if the suburbs are seen as mundane, it is something we all have a connection to and maybe it isn’t questioned. Maybe it’s something so close that we can’t even question it.

Has your view of ‘home’ changed in your 8 years of exploration?

Yeah absolutely, and I think the big irony is I travel so much, I have an apartment in New York but I’m lucky if I’m there six months a year. So going around, making work about home, I haven’t really had a stable home for at least eight years. For me, it really is something that everyone connects to and has a relationship to and I think it’s the idea of it being a universal symbol. I think people think it’s this really stable object in their lives but I can tell you through traveling through, Detroit, Ohio and natural disaster zones that it’s not this stable object—it’s vulnerable to the elements. I think people place a lot of emotional stability onto it and load it up as this large emotional object and that’s something I’d really like to question.

Graffiti embodies the angst of urban living, are you showing the suburban chaos that lies beneath?

I think particularly this Shadow body of work that I’m exhibiting, I painted all of the houses black, 5 houses, and then photographed and filmed, but by painting them black I wanted to erase them from the landscape. It’s this idea of imagining them not there, imagining them not in the landscape. I like the idea of questioning its belonging or this idea of the shadow, that things that are hidden in plain sight, in the harsh Australian sun. I like questioning the darker stories that sit in the Australian suburbs. Particularly, the place of the home, the symbol of the home symbol of the home is a particularly loaded symbol in Australia because there is such an obsession with home ownership.

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What is the most important thing you’ve taken away from your suburban exploration?

I initially wanted to make work about it because I grew up in Perth and I was almost alienated by the stability of suburbia. I wanted to go out into a bigger world and I felt that Perth wasn’t somewhere that I wanted to be growing up in the late 90s, early 2000s, I wanted something bigger. I ended up in New York and now I’ve travelled around and seen people in really dire situations, and they’re actually being alienated by the instability of home. I guess from the stability of my adolescence I’ve now come to understand the privilege of it. Realising that alienation comes from the other side as well, that was the big growth for me, the work is far less autobiographical now and much more about the people in those communities.

What inspires you to create such massive projects?

I still draw, I still paint, I still really enjoy spending time in the studio making those types of projects, but that’s just me alone in the studio and it’s quite a solitary act, drawing or painting but I have complete control over it. I can sit down with a paintbrush or can or pencil or charcoal and I can make something in a day or a couple of weeks that is absolutely perfect. For me, sometimes if that’s all an idea needs that’s what I will do. But sometimes there are ideas that need a bigger exploration or need a more elaborate way of making them or I want to do them in a bigger way—that’s when they become these large scale projects.

It’s what you don’t get in the studio that you get out in the community with big teams. There’s interaction and feedback and you have to improvise. Things don’t always go perfectly. I think that makes you want to check the veracity of your ideas. Perfect ideas in the studio aren’t always achievable in the real world; sometimes you have to fight for it and I like that challenge.

Now that your Shadow project is near complete do you know what’s next?

Oh I definitely know what’s next, I have a new exhibition opening in LA in May and then that’s going to tour Australia in July. I have some collaborative projects I’m not allow not announce yet, one with a dance company, one with a fashion label, I’ve got a book coming out, and I’m also working on a really big film project which will hopefully start happening later in the year.

That will be my next major work which unfortunately because I’m putting financing together I can’t talk about. These projects take so long to put together that you need to be starting them all in sequence so by the time I’m finishing one, the next one is actually ready to start up and has actually got the backers there to make it happen.

What should people know before going to your new exhibition?

I have my reasons for making my work but I also think there is no right or wrong answer to this work. I think everyone has a relationship to the home and that’s what I like about it. There’s a universal understanding of it, there’s no definitive answer for what the works about and if you have your relationship with home you can bring that to this work.

13-15 Levey St, Chippendale NSW 2008, Australia

Thursday 2 March

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