While vacationing in a desert wasteland just south of theValley of Grins, I found myself deliriously walking toward a cloud of pentapi.These multi-tentacled creatures evolved from the discarded heads of used dolls,a fact evidenced not only by their button eyes, but also by their aggressivelyvengeful attitude toward humans. Had I not been suffering from seven days’worth of dehydration at the time, I would have known better than to joyfullyembrace one. But as the pentapus wrapped its red, velvety arm around my leg,fully intending to tear it from my feeble body, I heard a man shouting from thesky. I looked up, and who should I see but Australian painter Shane Devries,floating overhead in his magical hot air balloon? Before long, he hadparachuted to the ground and warded off every last threatening pentapus withhis massive brush, which saved at least 30% of my limbs from being tornasunder.
“I may need a doctor,” I said to him. “But hey, while I’vegot you here, would you care to talk about your magical painting abilities?”
He nodded. The 26-year-old Devries has only been painting for three years, but has already created an impressive collection of art that transports viewers to vibrant locations with eccentric creatures. We talked about his upcoming exhibition, his work on the show Figaro Pho, and more.
Yourwork is full of vividly colored, bizarre, cartoon-like creatures whoserelatively minimalist forms are contrasted atop heavily detailed backgrounds.What influences that combination of elements?
I really enjoy experimenting witheach painting and try and make each new piece more challenging for myself as Igo along – mostly so I don’t get bored, really, and so that I learn new thingsand move on from ideas that I feel I’ve explored enough. I think the stuff I’mworking on recently is a lot more interesting and complex than the earlierstuff. I deeply admire realism and representational art, so the contrastbetween the simple characters and the more detailed and realistic surroundingsare my way of creating flippant versions of traditional or representational artfrom my own world. It’s really fun because I get the thrill of learning fromage old oil painting techniques, but I get to inhabit it all with bizarremind-wandering ideas.
Whetherit’s small toys or massive, button-eyed birds in teacups, there is frequentlysomething floating in your paintings. Can you tell me about what inspires youto pump your creations full of helium?
The floating idea was more of adiscipline really. Last year I was putting together a group of paintings andmade a decision early on that every one would have a floating element to it. Ifind it helps with creativity to set some boundaries so that I get to exploredifferent ideas rather than faff around with heaps of different ones. Moreoften they are better this way too. I think there is something about floatingand flying that’s appealing to everyone. I mean, I really wish I could fly,and I always have flying or falling dreams as most people I know do. So I thinkfor those pieces the floating is almost like an emotion we can identify withsomehow.
Alongwith the weightlessness of your characters, they are often found innear-complete isolation, hovering over beautiful but barren landscapes. It’salmost as though we’re getting to take a peek at a very rare creature, or a hotair balloon adventure gone awry. What draws you to create these lonesomeadventurers?
(laughs) Yeah, I like to think thatthey are rare sightings. I think the landscapes are places I’d love to viewfrom that perspective myself and they are inspired from everywhere – my family’sholiday pictures, places I’ve been, etcetera. The lonely creatures are juststragglers and oddballs that have been left behind. I like to imagine thatthere were once huge migrations of these weirdoes and these are just the onesthat couldn’t keep up and wander about on their own.
Manyof your paintings look like they’ve pulled straight out of the middle of astory. Do you ever invent back-stories for any of your characters?
Yeah, I like starting stories, but Itry never to explain too much. I think it’s fun to let people add their ownexplanations and interpretations. For a recent exhibition I wrote a poem aboutmost of the pieces and published them in a book. They never expound too much,but add a few questions and add to the fun of the art. I have my own stories,but I like to keep them to myself and let the viewer’s imagination kick in. Forsome of the characters I like to imagine that they sat with me for a formalportrait. I can’t think of anything more fun than getting to have a line-up ofstrange individuals to do formal portraits of.
I’venoticed you’ve gotten to do some artwork for the Australian show, Figaro Pho. Can you tell us about yourinvolvement in that project and how it differs from your usual work?
Yes, Figaro Pho is a great invention of Vishus Productions who are basedhere in Adelaide. I had a lot of fun helping out with a few minor bits andpieces last year and working with all the talented and brilliant creatorsthere. I only helped with a few episodes that included a few matte paintings,and some really great family portraits that were used in the hallway ofFigaro’s manor. I love animation, so to help out was a real treat. The of difference working on a production like Figaromeant that I needed to adjust my individual style and work up pieces thatsuited the look and feel of the show, and work using digital [media]. LukeJurevicius and Deane Taylor gave it such a fun and light-hearted look, so itcertainly wasn’t a chore.
You’vealso done some work for a couple of children’s books over the past couple ofyears. What was it like shifting your art to tell someone else’s story?
Kids’ books are a lot of fun, and Ihaven’t done a lot so far. I think it’s nice when you get a story or a projectthat means something to you. I try to take on stuff that I’m excited aboutrather than chasing big paychecks and recognition. (laughs) Sometimes I findmyself seriously questioning myself, but I’ve always found it so much morerewarding to work with people I like and on projects that I think are importantand downright fun. So for books, I think it’s nice to work with publishers andauthors who all want the same outcome and encourage creativity aboveeverything.
Onyour blog, you mention that you’ve spent a good deal of time traveling aroundAfrica getting your head pumped full of new things to draw. How have yourtravels impacted your work?
Yeah, I had an amazing trip toCambodia recently. I thought about art all the time and did a whole lot ofsketches whilst there. I came back with a lot of ideas and enthusiasm, but onlymanaged to get one of my planned paintings finished, mostly because ‘real life’and deadlines kicked in when I got back. But hopefully I’ll get to use some ofmy ideas eventually. I’ve found that I plan a lot of work while I’m away butget terribly sidetracked when I get home. (laughs) I need to disciplinemyself a bit more I think.
Sinceyou began creating art, how has it changed over the years in terms of subjectmatter and the way you make it?
I think it’s changed, and hopefullyit’s noticeable. I haven’t been painting for more than three years so I’m stillexploring my ideas, abilities and loves mostly, which has meant that I work onquite a variety of different projects from time to time. But I enjoy oil paintingso much and keep falling for it big-time because of its freedom and subtleties.My earlier stuff is quite bold, simple and saturated in light with ideas thatare humorous and endearing. But more and more I’m enjoying the challenge ofbringing in a lot more complexity and subtle emotion. As I mentioned before, Ilike the detail and care in representational art, so I think this will be aflavor that will creep more and more into my world.
You’vegot an exhibition coming up this December, and by the look of things on yourblog, you may have abandoned floating robots in favor of furry, tentacle-armedcreatures that will haunt my nightmares forever. First, how did you know thatbearded fish-murderers scare the living hell out of me? And second, what elsecan we look forward to from your future projects?
(laughs) Yeah, he does look a bitsinister doesn’t he? There’s nothing to worry about though because the fish isstill alive and the Mox is a harmless creature – possibly more scared of youthan you are of him. I had so much fun working on it and I wrote a little bitabout the painting.
It’s not very often that you’d happen a glance
But sighting the Mox is always by chance
Enigmatic in presence and keenly aware
You can never look past his ominous stare
It doesn’t give a lot of explanationbut yes, I’m working toward a show, and there will be a couple more ofthese creatures around. All the paintings will give the idea of a rare andextinct species (like the Mox) and that you are viewing them as proud and nobleoutsiders who no longer roam the bizarre world they inhabit. It’s going to be alot of fun! I’m not too sure what the future holds. I tend to workinstinctively and I’m keen to keep evolving and inventing. Next year I’mworking on another book, which I’m very excited about, and will keep paintingfor exhibitions here and interstate.
Thanks for taking the time to tell us about your work. Looking forward to your next exhibition! Now, if you wouldn’t mind putting those limbs of mine in my backpack, I’d like to see about finding that doctor.