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Featuring the powerful artwork of Van Rudd
Whether projected on to a Chicago building or adorning the pages of a children's picture book, there is no doubt that Van Rudd's artwork commands attention. Van is known for being one of Australia's most politically engaged artists. His murals, sculpture and conceptual art demonstrate the power of creativity to unify the voices of protest and draw attention to social justice causes.
In a new exhibition at Off the Kerb Gallery Van's #trumptank paintings will be shown for the first time. In this interview, Van reflects upon the path he took to political and social activism, the inspiration for his art and the message he hopes people will take away from this exhibition.
Van Rudd's #trumptank paintings will be shown for the first time
Growing up in south-east Queensland Van knew from a very young age that he wanted to be an artist. He recalls, "I realised I wanted to be a visual artist when I was 5 years old walking with my mum down a street in Nambour, Queensland. I saw an artist with an easel on the street painting a landscape. I was mesmerised. I felt like visual art was in my blood from that time on."
In addition to art, he had many other interests such as playing music, surfing, break dancing and theatre. But It was actually his interest in music, playing in an indie rock band, that brought him to Melbourne in the mid-nineties where he has been based ever since.
Van's art takes many forms - from collage, street murals, sculpture, painting, illustration, conceptual art and gallery installations. The materials he uses vary but will often include scrap materials, canvases and paint. Central to all of his work is an interest in politics and social activism. Describing his artwork as laden with politics, Van says, "I have a radical left-wing compass and I infuse the struggles of the working class and oppressed into my work and try to add a sense of positivity in terms of our ability to disable the forces of capitalism and help bring about a new society free from social and environmental destruction."
Van's interest in politics and social justice causes grew gradually
However it wasn't always this way, his interest in politics and social justice causes came about gradually. His career as an artist started more traditionally, painting landscapes and figure studies in a studio in Melbourne. Yet occasionally he found himself creating a more socially conscious piece. Reflecting on how his interest in social issues developed Van says, "It may have been because my parents met during the Vietnam War (my father, a soldier in the Australian Army met my Vietnamese mother in Vietnam) so I had many questions around U.S Imperialism and 3rd world liberation movements. I became more interested in social justice issues and wanted to share this with audiences outside of the art world, and began exhibiting my large paintings in public by walking around with them".
Aesthetically speaking Van is inspired by contemporary pop culture as well as the great movements of art that are associated with revolutionary periods in history. For the content of his works, he finds inspiration, "from the creativity and power of people when they unite around social justice causes, such as workers' rights, Indigenous rights, refugee rights and the environment. They may be small or large movements, but they do have an impact on arts and culture."
Van finds inspiration in social justice causes such as refugee rights
Many of his street murals are inspired by social justice causes such as the 2018 "Let Them Stay" mural in Carlton which was dedicated to the fight to free the Tamil refugee family, taken from Biloela in Queensland to be deported to Sri Lanka. While a 2019 mural in Hosier Lane took aim at Scott Morrison's support of the coal industry and his criticism of students striking against climate change.
Van has also forayed into the world of illustrating children's picture books, collaborating with author Maxine Beneba Clarke on The Patchwork Bike which was published in Australia in 2016 and in the United States and Canada in 2018.
When asked about the process of illustrating his first children's book Van recalls, "At first I was a bit hesitant about creating images for a picture book because I thought I wouldn't be able to contribute much to the genre. I was about to give up on it until I researched some of EVOL's street art and pieces on cardboard. It broke me out of my rut. From there I felt so much more energised and couldn't wait to introduce some heavy politics into the artwork."
The award winning picture book The Patchwork Bike was illustrated by Van (Image Credit: Candlewick Press)
Van's concerns were entirely unfounded and the book has gone on to receive rave reviews for both the poetic storyline and for the distinctive illustrations which depict scenes painted on to scrap cardboard packing boxes, mirroring the themes of the book and creating a unique aesthetic. The picture book won the Children's Book Council of Australia (CBCA) Crichton Award for Debut Illustrator in 2017 and this year won the prestigious Boston Globe-Horn Book Picture Book Award. Van says, "It was great to win the Boston Globe prize because I targeted most of my images to a U.S audience. I couldn't help it because so much of what I'd been involved in politically was coming out of the USA such as Black Lives Matter and the Occupy Movement."
The influence of these movements is also evident in his #trumptank paintings. Explaining the inspiration for #trumptank series of works Van says, "I started these paintings a few years ago based on seeing some awesome digital science fiction paintings. I thought I could do the same and mix political figures with machinery and scenes of war and revolution. I've always liked impressionist painting too so I mix that into it."
One of the #trumptank images was featured as a projection on the 11th floor of a building across from Trump Tower in Chicago in 2017, not long after Donald Trump became the U.S President. It was part of a protest against racism and fascism in the USA. Van recalls, "It was great to contribute this way towards the great unease that people have felt since a billionaire white supremacist became leader of the most powerful country in the world."
Van hopes people will take away from this exhibition the sense of being enriched by the power of creativity when it is associated with political issues. He explains further, "I remember in 2010 when mentioning positively the words 'revolution' or 'socialism' you'd pretty much get scolded, but now, since the Arab Spring (2011), Occupy (2011), the Sanders election campaign in the USA (2016) and now Extinction Rebellion, you can engage in more interesting debates and conversations with people young and old around these topics. I'd like my art to give off that vibe too. I'd also like people to simply dig my style of painting and get a grasp of my influences and pictorial inspirations."
The #trumptank Exhibition will commence at Off the Kerb Gallery on 19th September and will run until 3rd October 2019. It will be shown in the Back Gallery.
Opening night is on Friday 20th September from 6pm - 9pm.
While you are there, you can also check out the following exhibitions:
Be Free by Be Free in the Front Gallery
Artificial Sweetner by Oniism in the Side Gallery
Hybrid Spaces by Ysabelle Ruddle in the Upstairs Gallery