I LOVE street art! I’ve had an interest in it ever since we studied it as a controversial “issue” in Art at High School. It’s so exciting to see Adelaide coming alive with new murals all the time. There's something great about street art being in the public and temporal. Once it is on the wall, it really is up to the individual how they interpret it. It belongs to the public and it is theirs to create the meaning.
When street art began it was so under-appreciated, illegal and considered vandalism. It was started by young people tagging trains, a way for them to express their opinions and have a voice. The transformation from when it began, to now, is unbelievable. It went from being removed by councils, to now being commissioned by the very same organisations! It’s developed and the stigma has changed.
The consequence of this has been a change of subject matter. When the work is commissioned, the artist is sticking to a brief and upholding the beliefs and values of the community. So naturally, the result is very different to a piece that is illegal and meant to challenge, provoke or offend. You don’t see things like swear words or provocative images on a large scale, legal mural. Not – that I’m saying I want more of those things, I just miss the nature of its authenticity.
On the flip side, a huge positive to these changes is that artists are actually given opportunities to develop and refine their skills. Instead of quickly painting a piece at night, they are given the chance to paint over an extended period, in daylight and with the required safety equipment like scissor lifts. So, as much as the subject matter has changed, the quality has also improved.
With all this in mind, I want to share with you the process and meaning behind my “Happiness Is” mural on Tatham Street, Adelaide. When I painted this piece, my husband and I were starting to think about having a baby. I found an ad in a Women’s Weekly from 1970s that had a lady in her full body underwear – there was a tight corset with a zip pulling in her tummy and hips into this firm figure. She was holding a sign that said ‘Happiness is a flat tummy’.
I kept thinking back to that crazy statement, it stayed with me through to the next day, when I realised that I needed to do something with this image. The ad resinated with me for so many reasons. My initial thoughts were related to body image, self-esteem and what the media feeds females. I know we have come a long way, but the message in fashion is still to be thin.
As I was planning this piece I began thinking about pregnancy and fertility struggles. My sister is a nurse working in fertility and she’s told me a lot about process for IVF. She has the wonderful role of seeing success stories but also the difficult job of calling to let someone know they are yet again, not pregnant. That heartbreaking, emotional turmoil is such a personal struggle. One that a lot of couples would carry on their own, for them the statement in this ad could not be more further from the truth.
This mural was commissioned by Adelaide Fringe for Street Art Explosion in 2016. The project was amazing to be part of because the brief was so open! They literally said that I could paint what ever I want. This made me want to paint something that was a bit controversial. Something that required the audience to think a little deeper and maybe even offend someone if they interpreted it differently.
Since painting this mural lots of people have shared with me their own meaning. Someone wrote to me saying, "happiness is yogo" and another "happiness is a full tummy". I love hearing your interpretations.
How would you like to finish it? Happiness is...
Watch the making of this mural here.