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Citizens of Shepparton should be quite familiar with Tank Art's eclectic brand of public sculpture - Tanks' brightly painted fibreglass cows, quirky murals and large-scale metal sculptures can be seen scattered around many of the shops, parks, riverside and public spaces of the Greater Shepparton area.
After printing reproductions of his delightfully playful, surreal and thought-provoking oil paintings for almost a decade, we at Image Science know Tank as a painter with a talent for a good visual pun - but this is just one tool in his artist's toolbox. His unique design style is translated over an impressive array of mediums which include graphic design, brand development, furniture construction, sculpture and even hand-painted wallpaper.
After working with Tank for so long, we're thrilled to see how Tank's art practice has thrived over the years.
Read on for an insight into Tank's art process, what inspires him to create and how he's had to adapt his art practice to survive COVID times.
Tell us about your educational background and your journey towards becoming a full-time artist and designer. Were you always drawn to creative work, or was it something you came to later in life?
My mother is a very creative person. I’m not sure if creativeness is nature or nurture but it’s something that’s been in me from a very early age. I left high school early, I tried a couple of different apprenticeships but wasn’t happy until I enrolled at Tafe to get my diploma of Visual Arts. From there I got a job painting life-size art cows for the Mooving Art Project for the city of Shepparton - a project I’ve been working on now for over 20 years.
Your work creates an interesting tension between the playful and the philosophical, employing the use of visual puns and animals as subjects in a surreal landscape setting. What draws you to keep revisiting these themes in your work?
I use animals and objects to represent human emotion, because humans do that already. To be as happy as a dog with two tails or as hard as nails are examples of such idioms.- Andrew Donaldson
I aim to express and evoke emotion and feeling in my work so whatever needs to happen to get a feeling across, happens. I use animals and objects to represent human emotion, because humans do that already. To be as happy as a dog with two tails or as hard as nails are examples of such idioms.
Who or what has been your biggest influence on you as an artist?
I think music and musicians have had a bigger influence on me than visual artists have. Music is a highly emotive art form - if I could capture the feeling of a song in a painting I would die a happy man. It's not quite genre or artist specific, it's more the unique individualism and creativeness of music creators that motivates me to create unique and new artistic experiences. I feel motivation from the artist through their music.
You work across a wide variety of mediums and techniques to produce your work, and can count metalwork, painting, sculpture, graphic design and even furniture construction among your many skills. What are your favourite tools of the trade or mediums to work with?
When creating images I like to use paint with a brush. I’m not a fan of pencils or drawing, I don’t sketch out an artwork with a pencil before I start painting. With sculpture I love working with metal and fibreglass, both have an array of power tools needed to create works. Graphic design and its use of creative software, completes my artistic toolbox.
Talk us through your creative process when creating a new piece. Does the initial concept inform the medium you use, or vice versa?
When painting a new image I usually let ideas evolve on the canvas, without a clear concept or image before I start. Sculpture tends to dictate its medium, large scale sculptures need metal for strength and longevity while fibreglass is great for moulding and intricate work.
You say you like to let the ideas evolve without pre-sketching or much idea of the concept at play. Yet the works often arrive at a philosophical place and sometimes reference idiomatic expressions. Can you elaborate a little more on how you get from the blank canvas to a finished painting?
Using one of my artworks as an example, the Complexity Of Being, I started with the simple concept of a vase of white flowers, they looked like eggs so I turned the flowers into eggs, which works in my mind because 'Fried Egg Flowers' are actually a real flower. After staring at it for a while I amused myself with the thought of a baby chicken staring up at them, which turned into the painting you see today. I usually see a dark humorous twist along the journey of painting and decide to follow it further.
How has the recent COVID-19 pandemic affected the way you make art? How did you pivot your art practice to survive these uncertain times?
I started a crowd funding campaign and raised money for a street art project called ‘Stay The Duck At Home’. It’s a mural depicting old caravans stacked on top of each other with a single duck self-isolating in each one. I’ve also picked up work doing murals and graphic design for businesses doing renovations during the shutdown.
What has been the high point of your artistic career to date?
My Dethridge Flower Sculptures are a favourite. I used recycled water wheels to create a plot of huge metal flowers for a public space in Shepparton.
You’ve been a client of Image Science for almost 10 years. What is it about Image Science that keeps you a loyal customer?
I just like you guys. You provide excellent service and back it up with great advice. You can see you’ve put a lot of thought and time into your website.
Your artistic resume includes a wealth of public sculpture and mural projects, one being artist-in-residence for Mooving Art, an initiative for which you’ve painted over 80 life-sized fibreglass cows. What attracts you to the dynamics of public sculpture and street art?
Public art is a great way to connect to the community, I love the large scale nature of it, it’s always art on steroids. In a business sense it’s a fantastic way for artists to advertise.
What’s next for Tank Art? Are there any exciting projects, commissions or exhibitions in the works for the rest of 2020?
Yes I have a few things on. A big commission of artworks to a resort in June, a huge sculpture of a spitfire plane, a sculpture exhibition planned for Spring and more street art, painting and cows.