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Hyper Colour Obsessions

Rosie Deacon is a Sydney based artist working in sculpture and installation. Rosie’s work engages with the spectacle of obsession, Australiana and hyper colour absurd animal scenes. She has exhibited extensively in Australia, with shows at Firstdraft, Gaffa Gallery, Casula Powerhouse, Underbelly Arts Festival and Sydney Contemporary. Her work is an explosion of colour, combining aspects of design, kitsch, craft and folk-art practices in an assortment of materials. We visited her Redfern studio to learn more about her practice.

Interview by Daryl Prondoso
Photography by Phillip Smith

Can you tell us a little about you and your background?

I grew up in Nyngan, Central West NSW and grew up with a lot of animals. My mum has a lot of everything; dogs, cats, birds and rabbits. It seemed like quite a big influence in the idea of collecting and all of the colours of baby rabbits; gotta catch ‘em all! I went to university in Wagga Wagga where I did 6 months in set design for theatre and TV, but all the sets kept on turning into giant catlands even though there were no cats in the play. I thought maybe I should do my own work, so I went to Sydney and studied at COFA. I finished my honours in 09 and have been here in Redfern, doing this ever since.

How did you end up working in the visual arts?

I never really thought that you could be an artist. It looked really fun but you couldn’t live your life like that. I always loved just making things. I made a lot of craft growing up; Christmas decorations, gifts for grandma
and all that kinda stuff. I made a lot of jewellery in high school and afterwards, and I just thought; how could I turn this love of making into a job? [Art and design] kept on crossing over. You know, just the pressure on myself to develop some kind of business or have something in the future to survive on.

So you made the decision to pursue art?

Certainly in the last year or two. I began receiving a lot of opportunities, with people wanting me to be involved in their projects. I still go and make objects and jewellery, but in the last few years I’m less interested in working around the restrictions of making something presentable for a shop. What’s interesting is how you combine those skills and straddle both the design and art worlds. I feel like it wasn’t really my choice. It seemed like my products were perhaps not slick enough. I’ve received most of my opportunities through the art community. It’s been going well for the last two years. I’ve also been getting work from running workshops. It has evolved fairly organically.

What does a day at the studio look like?

It very much depends on my mood and energy levels. Sometimes I’ll have a plan – I’ll need to fill up 126 koalas with fluff and sand and stitch them all up, very much like a production line, and just work without really thinking much. Listening to music and being very strict with not stopping. Other times I’ll just come in and explore materials, playing around with making one off sculptures. A lot of the time it’s very repetitive, even if I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t often sit down with a plan or do sketches or think about a concept. It’s therapeutic, offsetting the anxiety that comes from the need to be doing something.










What would you say are the main influences and themes in your work?

I’ve always had a big interest in tourism – tacky trashy tourism. Just the cuteness injected into it with koalas, kangaroos. It’s quite grotesque. It was always quite exciting for me growing up in the country and being around pet kangaroos – then we’d come down to Sydney once a year and stay in Manly near all those postcard and souvenir shops. It was this exciting holiday trip but then really weird with all those ugly souvenirs. I just found that really appealing. The multiples, seeing everything all lined up and in my mind. I think that’s why I explore that theme to the max. Making it over the top and ridiculous.

Colour plays a large part in your practice. What does your colour palette mean to you and how do you work with it?

I guess I don’t just sit there and do a blue painting. That doesn’t appeal to me. I think a lot of the time, the brighter, the better. Sometimes I have to work with the colours available in the craft packs. I think the really bright, loud colours enhance what I’m trying to say in my work. I like how your work doesn’t take itself too seriously. It taps into ‘Australian’ humour without being overly ‘Australian’. I don’t really see my work as purposefully ‘funny’. It’s just really fun, and you’re allowed to do that. Sometimes people like it, sometimes they hate it. Growing up my parents are both quite funny. My dad is very quite theatrical and sings a lot of songs; joking around, collecting a lot of strange Australiana memorabilia.

Your work isn’t just sculptural, you also do large installation pieces and performance – what is it that you like about mixing pieces together?

I enjoy doing large scale installations and building an environment. I like to use the entire spaces to create a really different experience for people, rather than presenting just a sculpture on a plinth – that isn’t very exciting for me. In terms of the notion of ‘performance’: I don’t really feel like my work is a performance but some works involve developing sets, themes and costumes. The first performative work I produced was Cat Land in 2007 where the entire installation was built around cats and I wore a big cat suit too. I’ve been interested in gifts and their exchange and have integrated this into my performances – concocting these big weird crazy Santa kangaroo things that hand out hundreds of gifts.

At fellow artist Tom Polo’s MCA Artbar in 2015 you were in the corner dressed as a big pass the parcel, being unwrapped by guests.

I had 278 gifts in my costume, including all sorts of fridge magnets, jewellery and quick fun craft things I had made. I guess there’s something quite theatrical that excites me about this scenario. I like making people excited about art – you don’t have to know anything about art to engage with it.

Your work brings so much joy – I’ve seen people interact with your work and the smiles on their faces are incredible. Seeing the unwrapping, or seeing people with the putt putt installations – Is that an important part for you? Is that your gift?

Maybe… But sometimes I feel uncomfortable with it. I guess I don’t want to be in the spot light at all. For example being in a huge human size pass the parcel – that’s pretty stressful! So I’ll build all this stuff up to create the biggest, most exciting party in the world – It’s like your 21st birthday and you get there and it’s like, alright everyone, party’s over! But it is really exciting when people do enjoy it. A lot of the time I stand back and think ‘what have you done?’ And I’m a bit shocked at myself.

Creators always have that moment of self doubt…

Definitely – and also being in a fine arts area where I do move between craft, jewellery and visual art practice. It’s not that I’ve had negative comments or anything, I just project my own doubts. Perhaps it doesn’t feel like it sits calmly within what people expect within a gallery setting.

That was a big part of the Sydney Contemporary exhibition – I made a big bargain basement candy store, selling $5 items. A lot of people reacted strongly to it, being like ‘WTF’. I could tell that a lot of people were thinking ‘I’m just gonna pretend that’s not happening’.

But shouldn’t the most interesting kinds of art do that?

There’s always that element of WTF.

Is it a conscious thing, to try and achieve that WTF moment?

Maybe a little bit…




Are you working on anything at the moment?

I’m working on a show at Hazelhurst in June. It’s an exhibition for kids, called ‘Wonder’ with a few other artists including Tully Arnott, David Capra. They’re having it all at height for kids aged 5-12 years old with small plinths. It’s really sweet. I’m not sure yet but I’m thinking of making some type of rainbow rainforest – you know, Daintree, green tree frogs. This is why I’m building up an army of fabric koalas. I read somewhere that you thought the koala was your spirit animal. Can you expand on that? I don’t really like koalas anymore. Koalas are actually a bit gross. I only really learnt that after making a lot of them – I realised they’re not that cute! Maybe a kangaroo – you can put lots of snacks in your pouch and you can jump really high. ■