Interview With Eddie Botha

We recently caught up with Melbourne based artist Eddie Botha, whose work tackles political and social narratives with a quirky twist.

Could you share a little about your background? How did you first come to make art?
I started drawing with my left hand when I was about three.  My Dad was artistic and my parents were always very supportive of us kids expressing ourselves in theatre, music and visual arts. Then at six, I did some drawings for the school newspaper and people refused to believe that I’d done them. At seven, I was forced to use my right hand, and have done ever since, but it left me ambidextrous, which I’ve found helpful in art and general life.

When I finished school my father didn’t want me to study art but to become an engineer or pursue a highly paid profession. I studied Landscape Architecture and worked as that very successfully for almost two decades. More recently though I’ve switched over to art full time.

I’m grateful for the process I went through as it made my art unconventional. Of course, I do sometimes wonder what would have happened if I studied art formally. Ultimately I think it’s better to look forward.  I had a very interesting journey and managed to travel the whole world with my Landscaping profession.

What drew you to the materials you use and why?
I draw with markers on mixed media board or canvas. I developed quite a graphic drawing style while studying Architecture. The clean, crisp lines are very decisive and unforgiving…I like the thrill of it. The board gets prepared with acrylic paint, and I experiment a lot with this. Media imprints get in there as well. This is because media plays an important role in most people’s lives. The base represents the chaos of life, the urban environment, compartments, sectors, and groups. All the elements work together to symbolize everyday life with human interaction always being the main topic.

What is your workspace like?
I have two areas; an outside ‘dirty’ area where I prepare the boards, splash paint, cut and experiment and an inside space once this process is done. I only work in natural light with occasional aid from artificial light. There is always calming electronic music playing.

Your works often feature a frenetic energy and all over patterning – referencing the idea of a moving object captured in sequence.  How did you develop this style?
The idea first came to me from studying Fauvism. I take what I like from different styles and artists and incorporate it into my philosophy. I think I always wanted an artwork to show more than just a glimpse, to tell a greater story. Something you can look at for a while and interpret to your own circumstances. I also love video art so it was translating something of that to a static canvas.

It also has to do with when you look at people in the street - you see figures, but you know that they all have a magnitude of things going on. When you put 100 such people together on a board, the story that you are actually looking at is immense. I try to capture this, or at least make the viewer aware that there is more to it than meets the eye.                                                                                                        

You’ve cited Japanese manga comics have a large influence of your work. How did you discover Manga, and do you have a favorite comic or Manga artist?
I had a girlfriend introduce me to it when I was at University in Pretoria, South Africa. She is an artist. All my friends were artists really. I just loved that fact that Manga is so very dramatic. You look at an image and you just know there is so much more narrative to it.

On top of your mixed media works, you are also a photographer. Do you feel these disciplines influence or intersect one another?
I love photography, but I see it as being in support of my drawings – I mostly draw from photographs. I have a dream that perhaps some day my photos can be exhibited, but it’s extremely competitive!

Capturing of a group of people in the street is very much what my works encompass. It’s a bunch of people, who will probably never interact, yet they are together for a brief moment, walking together on the same path. I find interaction between strangers is getting more obscured by the day due to growing social problems and growing anti-socialism.

What role does social activism or social commentary play in your works? As an extension, what are some particular issues that concern you?
The media is a big evil. We all know bad news sells, but I think it’s gone too far where people are being filled with fear and rumors of war and terror when in reality it doesn’t exist. Of course if you propagate an idea for long enough, it will probably exist and people will respond accordingly. I find this very sad; it creates a society where people become anti-social out of fear. I try to counter this in my work, but sadly most people are so addicted to watching sensationalized and fabricated news rather than critically thinking for themselves.

Social media is another interesting concern. In some respects, it’s preventing people from interacting but there are also plenty of positive aspects it brings into society.

What role does the artist have in society?
We must speak on behalf of the people; above politics, religion and the media. We are to steer society in a moral and ethical way. Our vision needs to incorporate all aspects of society but not be sucked in by it, remaining objective and critical. I get upset with artists who purely try to be weird or controversial, who doesn’t actually have anything to contribute other than blowing their little trumpets or those who just draw pretty pictures. Art is meant to be a little uncomfortable at times, but being aesthetically pleasing should remain part of it. We interpret information and the world in a way that people can make new connections and be amused by it.

A political narrative is only one side of the story - you’ve also said you intend your works to make people smile. How do you go about injecting that humour?
Perhaps I’m naturally a quirky person. Dealing with those awkward moments in life is always a challenge. I studied the theory behind humor. It’s basically taking a serious issue and pushing it into an absurd situation where people will know that it can’t be real because it’s absurd. In a subtle way, that is what I do. Another technique is by contrasting objects, such as a man and a pig, or a fish kissing a dog, or a nude lady looking into the barrel of a gun.  People try to make sense of it, and sometimes it is serious, but sometimes it that seriousness that people see absurdness in. Humor is very important to counter all the seriousness and negativity going around.

Do you produce any public works or street art?
I actually did my first mural in Fitzroy just last weekend. I am about to do some work for my local council after winning an art prize with them. I really want to, but I’m very sentimental about my work, and with the abundant of senseless tagging going on, I am reluctant. My work is more suitable for paste-ups due to the timely fashion of the drawings.  It is my dream for more people to enjoy my art so public spaces would be ideal.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
I used to do markets, and was trying to figure out what style/s to pursue. At that stage my work was still very experimental. Trevor Dickenson, a Newcastle artist friend said; ‘The ones that sell are the ones that people like, and that should give you a good idea of what to pursue’.  Sounds simple, but until someone puts it so bluntly to you, you might not realize it.

Would you like to share any upcoming plans or projects?
I’m exited about the public art to be done in my council area. I’m actually quite keen to get my work up on a large scale and exposed. I have some people in the clothing industry interested in printing some of my work on textiles.  I’m planning to do more video works and collaborate with an animator who I’ve produced work with before. I’m also planning 4 or 5 shows for next year and have a 3 month residency during winter. Basically I go full out, apply for 50 or more things and probably around 4 or 5 of them will realize. Ultimately my goal is to be world famous and very rich, but that’s in God’s hands, not mine. I just want to draw and make people happy, so whatever comes along with it, I will have to take.

See more of Eddie's work

Words: Lauren Castino