Our good friend Steve Tierney will be returning to his hometown for ‘HABITUAL’ – a solo exhibition of new works at The Tate. We caught up with Teagues at his temporary home in Oaxaca, Mexico before he heads back to Sydney next week to setup the exhibition. For those of you that don’t know Teagues, this interview will give you an insight into his life, his artwork and his contribution to the Australian skateboarding community.
TOH: For those who don’t know you, tell us about your upbringing?
ST: Well I grew up south of Sydney in what was a fairly typical Aussie family. Lots of camping, lots of BBQ’s and definitely pretty sports focused, but also very supportive of creative pursuits. I played footy when I was real young, but never really got into it. I’m a very passive person, so I always had a lot of trouble with the whole tackling idea and the aggressive side of the sport. I definitely had more interest in art and music. Then when I got into high school I discovered skateboards and from that point on was always heavily involved in that world.
TOH: How much influence has skateboarding had on your life?
ST: That’s been the biggest one for sure. It’s still a huge part of my life now. Since I was 13 years old I don’t think a week has gone by that I either didn’t at least think about skateboarding or was actually out skateboarding. I’m 37 now, so yeah, it’s been a pretty big influence. As an artist and designer it’s been an influence in my life in other ways too, cause I’ve not only been riding skateboards for 25 years, I’ve also been creating graphics for various companies since around 1994.
TOH: When did you first get into making art?
ST: I’ve always been drawing and making art, even as a young kid. For as long as I remember I’ve been making images and drawing cartoons or whatever. In high school I studied and majored in art and then went on to study graphic design and illustration and I’ve consistently been making art in various forms since then.
TOH: You have made a strong contribution to the Australian skateboarding scene through your graphic design and illustration work. Tell us about some of these contributions and have you been working with any skate brands lately?
ST: I figured out the other day after talking to Andrew Currie from HOON skateboards that we’ve been working together for about 20 years, making him my longest consistent client. I first started making graphics for skate brands in high school when I designed the logo for Omni boards, which I hand drew cause I didn’t know how to use computer programs and didn’t own a computer. I later designed and illustrated all of my own pro graphics for Omni throughout the early 90’s. While I was studying graphic design I was also art director for TIME Skateboards and Draft Wheels. That was pretty huge for me having not actually graduated yet, but already working fairly regularly. I was basically learning how to use programs to create the graphics I needed at the same time that I was creating them. In the late 90’s I started my own skateboard company and did all the graphics for that, then in the mid 2000’s began working for HOON when it was just a wheel company. I still do most of the design for that brand now that they do boards and other products, and as well as that I do some graphics for Amnesia Skateboards. I’m now living in Mexico and since arriving here I’ve managed to tap into the scene pretty easily. I recently just did a series of graphics for a brand here in Oaxaca as well. I’ve also been skateboarding a lot more than I have for years. The scene here is pretty big and there’s a lot of good spots.
TOH: Your artwork definitely has a design influence, can you tell us about how your graphic design background has crossed over into your art making?
ST: That’s something I just can’t really help from happening, it’s not a conscious thing. I’ve worked in lots of different mediums over the years and every time I create an image it has a strong design influence. Even when I sketch and paint, the final image becomes very stylised and designed. My obsession with cigarette packaging definitely comes from a design aesthetic. I’ve never been a smoker but the physical packaging and the designs of the branding appeals to me for some reason. I’m interested in other aspects of the irony behind smoking itself, some of my previous work has covered those themes. But I’m not really anti smoking, I just have a lot of interest in how stupid humans are.
TOH: You haven’t had a solo exhibition in a while, when was the last time you exhibited your work in Sydney? Has there been a reason for the long break in showing your work?
ST: My last real solo show was in 2007, but I’ve consistently been showing my work since then in group shows and smaller solo gigs. This will be the biggest thing I’ve done for a few years though. I’ve always worked with mixed media styles of art making, but I’ve crossed over into various other styles over the years, and I felt like I wasn’t spending enough time on one particular art form. When I went to Cambodia I made a conscious decision to work on developing a stronger style and identity with my image making. So for a while I wasn’t ready to exhibit anything, and really I just wanted to experiment with a few new ideas and work hard on finding a style I was happier with and could identify with more. I think now that I have that with my work I’ll start to introduce more solid themes. For my exhibition this month in Sydney, I really just wanted to create some beautiful pieces that explored the idea of working with found material and cut up images from old magazines and just see what happened. I was hugely inspired in design school by one of my teachers and Australian artist, Peter Powditch. His son James is probably better known these days for a few of his recent entries in the Archibald Prize. But Peter definitely helped form the way I think about my art making now in terms of thinking laterally and not forcing my image making. There’s always a thought process to each image that I make, but I also like the idea of working fast and letting accidents happen.
TOH: You have been living in Mexico for the last 6 months or so, can you tell us about what you are doing there and why you chose to head over there?
ST: My girlfriend and I have been trying to move here for a while, but we kinda took a detour to Cambodia for a few years first. I ended up coming to Mexico in March this year to work in the local art community in social development projects, as well as to work on my own art much more full time. Oaxaca is a hugely diverse hub of traditional cultures mixed with younger contemporary concepts. The city centre itself is not that big, but the main focus of the local culture is definitely around art, both traditional and contemporary. There’s a lot of large galleries and museums, and also loads of small collectives and workshop spaces all over the city. It’s super inspiring and there’s tons of opportunities to collaborate and work on different projects with people from all over the world. I just previewed some of the pieces which I’ll be showing at The Tate next week in a small collective space here called Espacio Zapata. They’re like a kind of underground revolutionist type art collective. They’re work is very political and they have a strong social conscience in all their imagery. I’ve actually been talking to them about some future projects we could do together here in Oaxaca. As well as that I literally just started a kind of cultural city walk project as something fun to do with my friends here. Last weekend we took about 50 or so people around the centre of the city to some of the more independent art spaces so they could present their projects and tell people what they do. Oaxaca has some big contemporary galleries with amazing art and artists, but there’s a lot of really interesting more independently produced stuff here that people don’t really know about because the spaces aren’t necessarily that accessible or well known. We had the idea to open these spaces to the public more as they tend to be missed, not only on the tourist circuit but even by locals who walk past them daily. So we just did our first one last week and it was pretty cool. Even people who have been living in the city forever said they had no idea what was going on behind the doors of the spaces we took them too.
TOH: For your upcoming ‘Habitual’ solo exhibition at The Tate in Sydney, you have made a large series of works whilst in Mexico. Has your location and surroundings influenced the work much?
ST: I’m sure that it has, but to look at the art pieces you may not see a strong Mexican influence. I use cut up magazines from the 30’s and 40’s right through to 60’s and 70’s as well as other printed objects, and so a lot of the ones I’ve collected here have Spanish text, as well as that the cigarette packets are all Mexican and the warning symbols are in Spanish. I think that living in Oaxaca has influenced my work in another way than just visually though. Being surrounded by such a creative community has really inspired me to work harder and focus on my art making more than anything.
TOH: Do you enjoy being taken out of your comfort zone? Has it been a challenge to adapt to another culture?
ST: Yeah, definitely. I totally thrive on getting out of my comfort zone. I’m constantly trying to test myself and put myself in situations where I wonder how the hell I got there or why the hell I would want to. But I really enjoy seeing what happens and learning from it. Cambodia was really something else and most days living there were a test. It’s a tough place to live for so many reasons, but also an amazingly beautiful place. Mexico is technically still considered a developing country as well, although on the surface and in the major cities you could easily not realise how much poverty and other social issues exist here. I think the real challenge when visiting developing countries, or any country really, is being open to other cultures and other peoples’ ideas and being culturally sensitive or aware when you are there. It’s really important not to force your own ideas onto people you want to work with, but to become a part of a community. Once you do that, then you can help create positive change as a part of that community, rather than as someone coming in to tell people what you think is the right way to do things.
TOH: What techniques and mediums have you been working with for the exhibition? What can we expect to see on the walls?
ST: Well, I’m really looking at a lot of contemporary collage lately, both digital and hand made stuff. Of course, I’ve still been collecting lots of cigarette packets from the streets. Lucky for me smokers in Mexico are just as good at littering as Australian smokers. The best thing obviously is that cigarette packets here are still branded. I haven’t actually been living in Australia since they changed the design of packaging there, but I’m gonna have to really build up my collection before I ever move home I guess. As for the pieces themselves, they are all mixed media collage on wooden board with various ideas and themes. For me each piece is like a small floating world or landscape. I’ve been using this cloud shape which has become a repetitive feature and appears in all of these works. When I look at the pieces I see them more 3 dimensionally than as flat graphics.
TOH: What’s in store for you in 2014? Will you be heading back to Mexico? Or somewhere else? Can we look forward to seeing more art from you?
ST: Well, I’ll be coming back to Mexico in January. I feel like I’m only just getting started here. It takes a while to settle into a place and get involved with the right projects and people, but I feel like right now everything is really positive and happening quickly. I’ve got some ideas for a large collaborative art event here with local artists and we’ll be continuing our city art walk, which is called Trayectivo. But yeah, I definitely plan to exhibit much more frequently, both in Australia and internationally. I think as soon as I come back I will get to work on some new pieces for a show here in early 2014.
TOH: What is your favourite hour of the day?
ST: I’m definitely a morning person. I wake up and get up right away everyday by 7am, even when I’m hung over. The morning light gives me motivation for the day and helps me feel more alive and awake. If I don’t get moving quickly in the morning I feel like I’m wasting the day.
Steve Tierney ‘HABITUAL’ – Opens next Wednesday 18th December at The Tate in Sydney.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org to request an exhibition catalogue.
Also check out Steve’s website for more info and images of his work