Mulga the artist – murals, not bicycles
By ALEC SMART
Mulga, aka Joel Moore, is a Sydney-based mural artist and illustrator who has undertaken a number of high-profile street paintings as well as collaborations with popular high street brands. Some of his idiosyncratic, vibrantly coloured work appears on walls around the Inner-West, as well as key locations along Sydney’s seafront.
Neighbourhood Media caught up with this colourful character.
* What inspired you to choose your working name 'Mulga'?
It was already my nickname from school and I got it when I was in year 5 and I recited Banjo Patterson’s poem Mulga Bill’s Bicycle in front of my class. I remember one of my snot-nosed classmates who sat next to me saying ‘Hey it’s Mulgaaaa’ and the name stuck; some variations have been Mulga Bill, Mulga Pig, Mulgs.
When it came to using an artist name I googled my real name and there is an American actor dude with the same name as me (even the same middle name which is kinda freaky!). Some movies you might recognise him from are Dodgeball and Avatar.
I think Mulga works well and it ties in nicely with how my art has an Australian larrikin feel and the fact that my nickname comes from a character in a poem, and now I write poems about my own artistic creations, is a nice, full-circle kind of thing.
* You've grown a magnificent beard and bearded characters appear in several of your artworks. But does your beard get in the way of painting and how do you deal with paint flecks caught in the hair?
Why thank you, I think beards are magical and someone who has a beard can often achieve greater things than if they were beardless. For every mural I paint I do end up with paint in my beard, some more than others. I don’t mind and it can actually be quite satisfying pulling the paint out strand by strand.
* Whilst your murals in beach-side suburbs are dominated by marine themes and sea-life, murals in land-locked suburbs + towns often tend to follow jungle themes, many with African wildlife among the foliage. What influenced your creative instincts when you painted murals in Sydney's Inner-West, such as the Enmore, Newtown and Marrickville pieces?
A lot of the time it will come down to a discussion with the client. The orangutan mural idea came about because I was painting it on the back of the Taste Organic shop and they sponsored a save the orangutan’s type organisation so an orangutan themed mural was agreed upon. I actually started painting a few other orangutan themed murals before I was scheduled to paint that one and that became my orangutan phase. Some of my other phases have been the gorilla phase, the unicorn phase, the bearded dudes’ phase, the rat phase, the zombie phase.
* You've undertaken a lot of private commissions in homes and gardens. It must be a nice feeling knowing people are enjoying summer barbecues or entertaining in the company of your brightly painted cockatoos, koalas and flamingos?
It’s a great feeling knowing I can bring joy to someone in the place where they live. It’s win, win really, they get to enjoy some uplifting fun art in their home and I get to make a living doing something I love doing.
* How did you get into mural painting; do you come from a street art background or did you move from canvasses to walls?
I actually got into mural painting as a way to get my art in front of more eyeballs. I don't have a street art background or even a canvas one, more of a drawing on pieces of paper background.
It was 2012 and I’d just launched as an artist after having an art show in a small local gallery and I was hustling pretty hard so I could get out of my finance job and make drawing and painting my full time hustle. I found out that anyone could apply with the council to paint on the promenade at Bondi and I thought that was an awesome way to get my art there.
I was right and I’ve painted there maybe 7 times since and even got commissioned by the council to paint on the wall at the northern pool (it got some good airtime in Bondi Rescue) and at the skatepark.
I actually have a mural up in the same spot where I painted that first mural (which was a gorilla holding an ice cream); the mural up there now is a bearded dude with unicorns popping out of his beard.
* A recurring theme in your work is the thick-framed black 'Buddy Holly' spectacles (or Clark Kent?) - sometimes brightly coloured with silhouettes of palm tree on the lenses. What inspired this motif?
They are actually meant to be sunglasses and not chunky spectacles but I guess your misinterpretation speaks somewhat to my failings as an artist. That being said when I first started drawing sunglasses on characters the frames weren’t as chunky and more like real life sunnies but over time I stopped looking at pics of actual sunnies when sketching and that chunky frame kind of became the way I draw sunnies.
It’s funny because when I figure out how to draw a thing a certain way whenever I have cause to draw the same thing I draw it in exactly the same way. If you look at my palm trees they are all the same, with 6 leaves all in the same shape.
But to answer your question, I love summer and surfing and the beach and palm trees are my favourite tree so by drawing sunglasses wearing palm tree reflecting characters it brings those summer good vibes to my art.
* A majority of your public works are animal-themed, with birds and mammals peering out of colourful foliage, or feature the recurring bushy-bearded man. But Oyster Bay Public School's mural is centred upon two ANZAC soldiers, one Indigenous, one Caucasian. How did this commission come about?
The head teacher for the year 6 got in touch and that design was what the student leaders had decided they wanted and the end design was my interpretation of their brief. Originally I painted the sky pink because they wanted a sunset vibe but an annoying old grandpa over the road who could see the mural from his armchair complained about the pink and the school asked me to change it to blue.
* Your artworks lend themselves well to summer, particularly the marine-themed murals, with dolphins, whales and sea creatures frolicking through waves, usually wearing tropical-themed sunglasses. What works have you undertaken on Sydney's northern beaches, and where might we find them?
I love ocean themed murals and summer so painting them is always a pleasure. I’ve got a mural at St Augustine's College in Brookvale and another around the corner in the Colourmaker Industries office (which is actually an underwater mural painted with their flouro paints). I recently painted a ‘Welcome to Dee Why’ mural on the fence at Beach Burrito’s Dee Why restaurant. That was sweet because I ran down to the beach and went surfing at lunch time, I was living the dream. I paint a whale themed mural at Beauty Point Public School, that turned out nice. I remember the kids all started clapping me at one point, classic.
* Budgie smugglers or boardies?
I’ve actually been collabing with the brand Budgy Smuggler for a few years after a fan asked if he could get some of my art on a pair of Budgy Smugglers. So budgie smuggler is my official answer.
* You've undertaken several school playground commissions. How did these come about? Do you recruit kids as assistants during the painting process?
I’ve been fortunate to have painted at maybe 30 to 40 schools around the state and interstate. These came about the same way all my work comes about: someone sends me an email, I get the details of the mural from them and send them a quote and then if they accept my price I go and paint it.
A few years ago someone from the department of education filmed an interview/profile piece on me and I think that may have raised my awareness with a few teachers around the place. I know that a lot of schools and classes study my art or students will select me as their artist when they have an assignment and need to select an artist.
I think the fact that my art is colourful and playful appeals to kids and the fact that I’m not dead, from another century and country and that they can pop into their local 7/11 and buy a Slurpee with my art on the cup may also add to the appeal.
And I do enlist the students to help me paint the murals at schools and even when I’m painting non-school murals I have volunteers come and paint with me. If you’d like to do that drop me a DM on the ‘gram.
* Tell us about some of your commercial collaborations - which have you most enjoyed? Do you submit illustrations or work with your clients' design teams to bring ideas into fruition?
I really love doing cool brand collabs. One of my favs has been with Slurpee, because there are so many 7/11’s around the place and it has been a great way at getting my art out into the community. Because my art has that summer loving vibe to it I’ve collab’ed with a few of those summer companies such as Coca Cola and Havaianas, which have been cool.
I love licensing my art with brands that make useful things that people can use and enjoy, it’s like it gives the art an extra usefulness that it wouldn't otherwise have if it was just sitting on a wall.
Usually I will get a brief from the client and work with them so that they are happy with the final art.
* Anything you wish to add?
Most definitely, give me a follow on the socials on @mulgatheartist to see all the things I get up to or get in touch if you’d like to commission me to do some cool art for you whether it be a mural, a canvas, live art at an event, putting my art on your products etc, anything is possible!
I also sell heaps of art and tees and sweet merch (including a lot of the collabs I do such as Havaianas) on my website. Peace my homies!
Mulga (Joel Moore)