People of Newtown - Johnny Romeo
There's a Star Man!
And it's Johnny Romeo, Celebrated Australian Painter, Leading the Neo-Experessionist Pop Movement.
Johnny Romeo is an internationally acclaimed Australian painter and also the artistic genius behind the cover of this issue of 2204.
Considered Australia’s leading Pop artist, Romeo is spearheading the global Neo-Expressionist Pop movement with his electrifying collision of rock’n’roll swagger, comic book aesthetics and street art. Described by GQ Magazine Australia as ‘part punk, part pop’, Romeo’s Kitsch Pop works are explosive sugar rushes of technicolour imagery and urban grittiness that are turning heads worldwide.
Armed with tongue-in-cheek humour and razor-sharp social commentary, Johnny Romeo is today renowned as a world-leading culture jammer. His works explore the influence celebrity icons and brand-name heroes have on our contemporary identity. Romeo approaches his art-making practice like a television, broadcasting colourful Postmodern visions that re-contextualise and seek to make sense of the daily cacophony of images, ads and memes we are bombarded with in our Pop-obsessed culture.
Johnny Romeo took some time out for Neighbourhood Media to answer questions we know you all want to ask.
Johnny, you are considered one of Australia's leading pop painters, how did your interest in this style commence?
I was heavily influenced by graffiti, comics and cartoons as a kid growing up in the inner city. My love for music and skating also gave me a fascinating insight into alternative cultures like punk rock and hip hop. I also discovered artists like Picasso and Warhol in my youth. My life-long interest in pop art grew out of this exciting blend of interests and influences.
When did you know you were an artist?
Probably when I was 7 years old. At the time I was hit by a car while chasing a ball down a busy road. I broke my leg and was bed-ridden for months. As a kid I was very accident-prone because I was so fearless. While I was in bed recovering, I reflected and realized I needed to find less dangerous ways to seek thrills. Art seemed like the safest option.
Did your school teachers recognise your skills at an early age?
Yes, but then again everybody is so talented when they can be creative in a carefree and uninhibited manner and approach the world with a childlike wonder. I guess my teachers recognized something in me but more than anything, they recognized my drive and determination to want to be an artist.
When did you know it was time to take your talent to the next level?
I knew it was time to lift my game and take it to the next level straight out of art school… even though at the time I wasn’t exactly sure what that next level would be. Life as a university student gives you knowledge, but hope feeds the desire and drive to be better. I was fearless and relentless in my pursuit to up the ante and push my artmaking practice to new heights. Hope drove me!
Can you share with us the story behind the piece that we have featured on the cover? (Johnny Romeo, Cosmic Jive, 2020, acrylic and oil on canvas 122cm x 122cm)
As a Pop artist and culture jammer, I’m always on the lookout for interesting ways to fuse together snippets of Pop culture. ‘Cosmic Jive’ was inspired by rock ’n’ roll’s immortal Star Man, David Bowie, visiting Russia in the 1970’s. Visually, I was attracted to the idea of jamming the intergalactic androgyny of Bowie’s ‘Ziggy Stardust’ with the imperial Russian swagger of Tsar Nicholas II to re-envision Bowie as a celestial Tsar. I worked on the painting during the peak of the Corona pandemic when all dancefloors were shut, so I wanted to create a vibrant alternate universe where David Bowie was a benevolent boogie overlord holding court over his cosmic dance floor.
Is social media an important medium for artists in this day and age?
Absolutely, it connects everybody and everything. As an artist if you’re not on social media you’re definitely out of touch. Having your work and practice seen and followed is important now more than ever. Life is so fast-paced and social media allows everybody the opportunity to engage Pop culture at the touch of a button. Most excitingly, social media offers people the ability to be active participants and creators of Pop culture, to create memes or viral content that become part of the very fabric of the Pop consciousness.
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
Everything Pop culture has to offer. From TV shows and comic books to street art and historical curiosities, to viral internet phenomena and music across the spectrum, I am fully immersed in and inspired by the Pop drenched reality in which we all live.
What is your message to viewers about consumerism, celebrity fetish and pop culture?
To put it in a nutshell, Pop Culture becomes us. It engulfs us and to a certain degree dominates our thoughts, our actions and ultimately our lives. We are influenced, controlled, and driven by pop culture and our memories of it. As a painter, exploring Pop culture’s unending impact on us is a constant motivation for me to make art. I’m interested in the dichotomy between consciously accepting and unconsciously denying our obsession with Pop Culture.
What's next for Johnny Romeo?
My next show KINGS OF THE WILD FRONTIER opens at Graphite Gallery in New Orleans, Louisiana USA on the 4th of July weekend. The show runs from 3rd July – 2nd August 2021.
As one of the top names in Pop art today, Romeo’s works are highly sought-after globally, and are held in prominent Australian and international public and private collections. He has collaborated on many illustrious projects with the likes of leading US snowboarding company Gilson Boards, craft beer alchemists Zeroday Brewing Company, world-famous punk band Blink 182 and Lexus Australia.
Neighbourhood Media were especially delighted to have this opportunity to share his art and story with our community on 2204.