Di­ary of a Trav­el­ling Street Artist

Pro­lific mu­ral­ist Fin­tan Magee has cre­ated large-scale paint­ings that have ap­peared on the walls, al­ley­ways and build­ings of ur­ban land­scapes from Copen­hagen to Moscow.

Virgin Australia Voyeur - - DECEMBER - As told to JES­SICA MUD­DITT

Fol­low mu­ral­ist Fin­tan Magee as he helps beau­tify the walls and build­ings of six global cities.

FIN­TAN MAGEE STARTED OUT as a graf­fiti artist in his home­town of Bris­bane in 1999, at the age of 13. Af­ter a few brushes with the law, he de­cided to move into pub­lic art so he could con­tinue his love of paint­ing with­out get­ting into trou­ble for it. He started cre­at­ing his ac­claimed city-ap­proved murals in Atlanta in 2011 and, these days, has 105,000 In­sta­gram fol­low­ers with whom he shares his fre­quent trav­els across the globe. Magee re­cently re­turned from a three-month, six city pub­lic art tour around the world. As well as paint­ing one of his epic murals on the side of a 12-storey build­ing in Be­larus and par­tic­i­pat­ing in the world’s long­est-run­ning street art fes­ti­val in Ger­many, his other high­lights in­cluded sam­pling frog legs in a French sea­side town and day-trip­ping through Nor­way’s stun­ning fjords. Here, he takes us through his trip.

DES­TI­NA­TION: LOS AN­GE­LES, USA

I had a solo show at Thinkspace Gallery, where I show­cased 14 paint­ings pri­mar­ily about the drought in Aus­tralia. Cal­i­for­nia has also ex­pe­ri­enced se­vere dry spells, so it was in­ter­est­ing to see the par­al­lels. I’ve lived in Queens­land in pe­ri­ods of drought and, at one point, there were Stage 7 water re­stric­tions — the high­est pos­si­ble. Every­one was af­fected, even if it was just be­ing made aware there wasn’t much water left. This was a com­mer­cial show, so the goal was to sell art — that’s why some of my paint­ings were smaller than usual.

I like that there’s a real sense of open space in LA, with wide roads and a phys­i­cal empti­ness rare for such a large city. It feels like a spread-out me­trop­o­lis. The food is also a draw­card — In-N-Out Burger is al­ways a high­light. Although it’s a fast food chain, it only ex­ists on the West Coast, so its burg­ers are unique to the re­gion. They make re­ally good, sim­ple, Amer­i­can burg­ers.

DES­TI­NA­TION: NAPA VAL­LEY, USA

The vine­yards, to­gether with the Span­ish ar­chi­tec­ture of Napa, were strik­ing. There are classic white­washed vil­las all around the place, which re­minds you that Cal­i­for­nia has a long Span­ish his­tory. In ad­di­tion to the strik­ing land­scape, Napa’s culi­nary of­fer­ings are im­pres­sive to say the least. I had some re­ally good meals there, but the high­light was the four-course meal on the Napa Val­ley Wine Train that winds its way through the area and where you’ll see a lot of my murals — from down­town Napa to St He­lena and back. It was a sim­ple meal of tomato soup, chicken, salad and tiramisu, but it was just done re­ally well and matched with eight dif­fer­ent wines.

I de­cided to com­plete a mu­ral about Cal­i­for­nian fire­fight­ers in an area that was af­fected by the 2017 wild­fires. It will be part of a new art trail that runs along the train line in the Rail Arts District. The work is de­signed so each por­trait acts as an an­i­ma­tion cell. As the viewer passes the wall on the train, the work an­i­mates, giv­ing the por­trait life and move­ment. The build­ing owner knew the lo­cal fire­fighter who was the sub­ject of my art­work as he’d helped save his home. The build­ing was only one storey high, but it was 20 me­tres long, so it ac­tu­ally con­sisted of seven murals.

It took me 10 days and I be­gan with a photo mock-up I turned into a dig­i­tal an­i­ma­tion. I’d do hours of sketch­ing ev­ery morn­ing. I started sketch­ing it on the wall by hand us­ing a grid, I didn’t project it on the wall — that can be more trou­ble than it’s worth, as it has to be done at night and street­lights can make that dif­fi­cult. Although pro­ject­ing can be quicker be­cause you don’t have to draw a grid, it’s dif­fi­cult to get things right work­ing on such a big scale.

DES­TI­NA­TION: MU­NICH, GER­MANY

Mu­nich’s in­stal­la­tion was ti­tled Do­mes­tic Por­trait with Bro­ken Can­vas and was ex­hib­ited at the Mu­seum of Ur­ban and Con­tem­po­rary Art. It was part of an ex­hi­bi­tion with 37 artists, in­clud­ing names such as Askew One, Ricky Lee Gor­don and Ma­rina Zumi. Most of the art­works were hang­ing in the gallery, but I painted mine di­rectly onto the wall. I didn’t like the idea of some­thing framed off, and the or­gan­is­ers were keen for the show to be ver­sa­tile and dy­namic, so were happy for me to in­stall some­thing. It was a por­trait of a friend with an in­ter­est­ing cul­tural back­ground: she has French and Ira­nian par­ents.

Even by Ger­man stan­dards, Mu­nich is very clean. You get the feel­ing you’re in an ef­fi­cient, well-or­gan­ised place. The pub­lic trans­port works re­ally well and the food is fast but se­ri­ously sat­is­fy­ing. A plate of cur­ry­wurst — pork sausage with curry sauce and bread on the side — can be found on most street corners and is quick and cheap. Per­fect to grab on the run.

DES­TI­NA­TION: MINSK, BE­LARUS

Boy with Sculp­ture re­sides on the side of a 12-storey apart­ment block in the sub­urbs of Minsk. It took me two weeks and I was us­ing a cherry picker to run up and down the build­ing. I had no as­sis­tant and was re­ally un­der the pump. Thank­fully,

there was no rain­fall and the sum­mer tem­per­a­tures were good for dry­ing paint. It usu­ally takes about 10 min­utes for paint to dry, but if it’s rainy or frosty it can take longer. That said, a lot went wrong while I was paint­ing this one: the lift broke, the spray gun and roller broke — ac­tu­ally, ev­ery­thing broke. I’m good at stay­ing calm, but it’s hard not to get frus­trated, es­pe­cially when it starts af­fect­ing the qual­ity of the piece and I’m on a dead­line. I did lose a cou­ple of days, but luck­ily I planned things so that it wouldn’t be a dis­as­ter. It’s the same with weather. If it rains you can lose a day or two, so I try to plan for that. It was such a re­lief I pulled this off on time — just.

Minsk is in­ter­est­ing be­cause most of the apart­ment blocks were built in the Soviet-era and, even though the Soviet Union has dis­solved, all of the build­ings are tech­ni­cally still pub­lic hous­ing: the gov­ern­ment owns the out­side, the res­i­dents own the in­side. This makes it eas­ier to get per­mis­sion to paint large build­ings — in Syd­ney you would need per­mis­sion from the de­vel­oper.

You can see the lay­ers of his­tory in the ur­ban Minsk land­scape. You’ll see a Rus­sian em­pire build­ing next to an early Soviet build­ing, next to a late Soviet build­ing, then a glass sky­scraper. The city feels like a bit of a time warp be­cause Be­larus is still a dic­ta­tor­ship.

My mu­ral is about Be­larus mov­ing to­wards the fu­ture. The coun­try has been in a con­stant state of tran­si­tion for the last 20 years and is still try­ing to find its place in the world. It’s been a buf­fer zone be­tween the Euro­pean Union

and Rus­sia — while never be­ing part of ei­ther one. It has stag­nated eco­nom­i­cally, how­ever re­cently, be­cause it’s cheap to es­tab­lish a busi­ness, there has been an in­flux of tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies that have in­fused life into the area.

DES­TI­NA­TION: BOULOGNE-SUR-MER, FRANCE

In the Napoleonic era, this city was a ma­jor mil­i­tary port; there are a lot of stat­ues of Napoleon around. Now it’s just a sleepy lit­tle fish­ing vil­lage, vast beaches and a stun­ning town cen­tre sur­rounded by the old city walls. There are a bunch of lit­tle bars and some re­ally good restau­rants within these old walls, in­clud­ing one where I ate frog legs for the first time — which was more of a strug­gle than a sat­is­fy­ing meal.

I was there with three other artists (French artist Mantra, Lonac from Croa­tia and Ger­man mu­ral­ist ECB) for the pub­lic Street Art — Art Ur­bain fes­ti­val. My mu­ral, The Heat Wave, was on a four-storey apart­ment block. Af­ter the 12-storey build­ing in Be­larus, this one felt re­lax­ing. It’s a com­ment about young peo­ple’s in­abil­ity to change any­thing, whether cli­mate change or so­cial mo­bil­ity. I was try­ing to cap­ture those anx­i­eties. France isn’t the only coun­try deal­ing with these is­sues: they are global. Cli­mate change is close to my heart, as it’s also a prob­lem Aus­tralia is con­fronting. It’s some­thing I feel very con­nected to.

This was one of my favourite paint­ings from the trip. I like how it turned out aes­thet­i­cally and ev­ery­thing ran smoothly. Some­times it’s hard for me to say why some­thing works or why I liked a piece bet­ter than an­other — I guess you could say it’s an ab­sence of vis­i­ble mis­takes. I used the same tech­nique I did in Be­larus of us­ing a photo mock-up and draw­ing a grid us­ing char­coal, and later paint­ing. Of all the pro­cesses I go through, it’s the paint­ing I love most. I zone out and kind of med­i­tate — I find my­self in a state of flow while paint­ing and I love it.

DES­TI­NA­TION: STAVANGER, NOR­WAY

I was in town to paint a mu­ral called The Lunch Break for the Nuart Fes­ti­val, which runs ev­ery Septem­ber, and is ap­par­ently the long­est-run­ning street art ex­hi­bi­tion in the world. I painted two men who are part of a so­cial in­clu­sion pro­gram which pro­vides em­ploy­ment to peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties. Some are kind of con­sid­ered lo­cal leg­ends. I spent a day with them and took a bunch of pho­tos. The men seemed taken aback when they saw them­selves in the mu­ral. For me, the best re­ac­tion was from the mother of one of the men. She cried when she saw my mu­ral. Par­ents who have chil­dren with dis­abil­i­ties prob­a­bly go through a lot. She seemed re­ally moved, which was sweet.

Stavanger is beau­ti­ful. It’s the third-big­gest city in Nor­way and it’s an old fish­ing town built around a har­bour. It be­came in­cred­i­bly wealthy from the oil boom, but that’s not to say it’s flashy, be­cause Nor­we­gians aren’t flashy peo­ple. Stavanger attracts a lot of tourists be­cause it’s in fjord coun­try. Peo­ple use it as a base to go hik­ing or hang-glid­ing. The land­scape is breath­tak­ing: it’s like some­thing out of The Lord of the Rings. Def­i­nitely make time to do a road trip like I did.

GET­TING THERE VIR­GIN AUS­TRALIA OF­FERS FLIGHTS TO THESE DES­TI­NA­TIONS WITH ITS CODESHARE PART­NERS. TO BOOK, VISIT WWW.VIRGINAUSTRALIA.COM OR CALL 13 67 89 (IN AUS­TRALIA).

CLOCK­WISE FROM TOP Head in the Sand at Thinkspace Gallery in Los An­ge­les; Amer­i­can Fortress at Long Beach Mu­seum of Art; Magee uses a cherry picker to com­plete his larger pieces. OP­PO­SITE PAGE The can­vas for The Heat Wave is a four-storey apart­ment block.

FROM ABOVE LEFT The Stal­in­ist ar­chi­tec­ture of Minsk; The Miner is a com­ment on work­ing-class anx­i­ety in Aus­tralia. OP­PO­SITE PAGE, CLOCK­WISE, FROM TOP LEFT Crowds at the Thinkspace Gallery ex­hi­bi­tion; Boy with Sculp­ture, painted on a 12-storey build­ing in the sub­urbs of Minsk.

CLOCK­WISE FROM LEFT In-progress shot of The Heat Wave; Do­mes­tic Por­trait with Bro­ken Can­vas is a com­ment on the com­mer­cial­i­sa­tion of art; The Lunch Break fea­tures two lo­cals from Stavanger, Nor­way.

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