JACK Irvine has come a long way from Video Ezy colouring-in competitions.
With his vivid colours and idiosyncratic psychedelic style, the 27-year-old artist leads the next generation of a distinctive and particularly Aussie art lineage that runs right from Ken Done to Mambo’s Reg Mombassa, illustrator Ben Brown to pro-surfer Ozzie Wright.
Known simply as Irvine, his work is mostly synonymous with the Australian rock band Skegss, who have given his work a global platform that the stuffy art circuit never could. But it all started with those colouring-in competitions at his local video store.
“I was just obsessed with trying to win those comps,” says Irvine from his new home in Stanwell Park, NSW. “It kinda just gradually grew and I started to love art class in high school.”
IRVINE grew up in Miranda in The Shire, a coastal suburb of Sydney made infamous by a reality show of the same name and, unfortunately, the Cronulla riots.
Like most kids from The Shire, he grew up surfing, but when he shifted his focus to art there were limited opportunities to showcase his unique style.
It was against this backdrop that he launched Space 44 with friend Aaron Girgis (now Skegss’ manager). He was just 18 at the time.
“The idea behind the gallery was to bring like-minded people together,” he explains. “To give young creative people a place to showcase their talents without having to have a background of massive achievements and awards…
“I’m proud that we were able to give something productive to the culture of Cronulla and the Sutherland Shire,” he continues, “especially after the darkness of the Cronulla riots.”
But Space 44 wasn’t just conceived as a traditional gallery space. The pair – who had been running “secret” parties in the bush – began using the room for events, parties, and inevitably rock shows.
On a fateful night in 2014, a band with a weird name from the Byron region completely packed out the place. Irvine designed the poster for that show – a wizard with his eyes popping out of his head – kickstarting a creative partnership with Skegss that continues to this day.
He’s since created a revolving cast of characters that adorn the band’s cover art and merch – from the beer drinking guy to the big-headed guy and his personal favourite, the guy with the bald head.
He created the “fish eye” cover art for their debut album
“We’ve obviously become really good friends with him and just collaborate almost on everything we do,” says Skegss bassist Toby Cregan. “There’s a collaboration between the art that he’s keen to make and the music. When he was making the zine – there’s a magazine that comes with the album – he would just listen to the songs and then draw whatever the fuck he wanted … So they both compliment each other: his art and the music.”
“It’s fun to have a comical version of the songs when you can,” adds singer Ben Reed, “and Jack does a good job of it.”
IRVINE has since moved from Cronulla to Stanwell Park, midway between Sydney and the burgeoning coastal arts community of Wollongong.
He’s been living here for five months now in a sprawling house with its own private fountain.
“The beach is a couple minutes down the road, the shops are up the road, pub is up the road – it’s pretty much got everything you need,” he says.
“You’re not surrounded by a million people so that’s what I’m loving about it. We’ve got such a big property here as well. It’s crazy. I feel like I’m so far away, but still kind of close which is awesome.”
What made you move out to Stanwell from Cronulla?
I actually didn’t think I’d be able to move in a away. I thought I needed to live in Cronulla, but then this place came up and it’s psycho. My mate, who I was living with before, showed it to me. She was like, “Do you guys wanna do it? It’s a little bit out from Sydney.” And I was like, “I work from home so, I can live anywhere really so this sounds perfect.” So we just went for it and I’m loving it. Real good.
How did you first get into art?
I started doing Video Ezy colouring competitions. I was just obsessed with colouring in and trying to win those comps and from then it kinda just gradually grew and I started to love art class in high school. When I was about 15, or something, I bought my dad a book and some colouring pencils for his birthday and he kind of laughed at it like I was calling him a little kid … But somehow from that day he started using it and then we started trading this book.
He would give me the book and finish off something I’d done, and vice versa. I’d give it back to him and he’d smash it out. That’s how I learned a real kind of unique style, because he was such a unique character. He lived a crazy life with drugs and a lot of psychedelics and things. I think that’s where my psychedelic style comes from.
What inspires you?
For a long time it’s been my mates. Going to gigs, hanging out with my mates, doing weird and interesting stuff to have a laugh [and] have heaps so fun. It’s those crazy points that wanna make me document, in a way, what I’ve been feeling, what I’ve been doing. It’s those energies that push me to do that, I think.
Are you influenced by guys like Reg Mombassa and Ben Brown?
Definitely influenced by Reg and Ben Brown and Ozzie Wright. Those guys have made more than just art. I feel like they made this [world] where you feel like you can get involved in a way. It’s like a unique story. They’re not just drawing pictures they’re doing crazy things that are so interesting and so different from what everyone else has been doing. They’re unique characters and that’s what I’ve always looked up to and tried to do myself in a way.
How much has surfing and surf culture influenced your work?
It’s hard to say. I don’t consciously think it influences me, but it’s hard to say that it doesn’t influence me … I was obsessed with surfing and I still surf all the time. I feel like it creeps in there somehow, but I don’t look at surf culture and take from that. But then saying that I kind of do sometimes. Like the ’90s, all that crazy SMP gear. There’s been some crazy cool moments that you can’t not take in really. It’s actually a cool culture in some parts.
How would you describe your aesthetic?
I would struggle to describe it. I always struggle. Anyone that’s creative I don’t know how they explain what they do. It’s so hard. It’s the same as music, guys trying to explain what genre they are. You don’t think you’re in a genre, or you don’t wanna be claiming that you’re in a genre. What I tell people is it’s colourful, bold, lighthearted, fun, and positive. That’s how I’d describe it.
How did you meet Skegss and do you recall that first meeting?
Skegss came down to Cronulla. Me and Aaron Girgis, who’s their manager now, had an art gallery there. Aaron invited them to play, so they came down to the space – which was our gallery, Space 44 – and did this crazy show. We went huge, big night. I remember going to the op shop before and we all got crazy, dress-up gear, like cool sunnies. We just went real wild on it. The boys played a sick show.
You could only fit like 50 people in there but there was probably 80 jammed into this place guys crowd surfing. That was the first time we met and then we hung out. They slept at the space and I stayed there as well. We hung out the next day, and went and got breakfast. I think we were talking about who was going to do the artwork, somehow we were talking about that and it just kinda happened.
"You could only fit like 50 people in there but there was probably 80 jammed into this place guys crowd surfing. That was the first time we met and then we hung out."
What’s the story behind Space 44? How did it start?
I was desperate to do an art show in The Shire where I grew up, but there were no suitable galleries for my style of art and for the people that were in my circle of friends. I came across an empty room in a run down house that a mate – local surf legend Terapie – was using as a vintage shop/store room. As soon as I heard about that I told Girgis because we were throwing secret bush parties together and we both were super psyched on doing parties and events.
It ended up going really well. We put on maybe the longest art show ever, I think – everyone was there until 2am and even longer. [Laughs] It was the first space that all these creative people from our generation could come and hang and listen to good music and see art shows and bands in Cronulla. We went on to do that for seven years or something, and it’s what led to us doing [music festival] Sounds Of The Suburbs.
Are you still involved in the space now?
Yeah, I guess. We don’t have the gallery anymore so what i’m kinda doing is art and merch for some of the bands Girgis has been managing under the Space 44 name.
Would you consider yourself the fourth member of Skegss?
[Laughs] Nah, no way. I don’t feel like I’m in the band, I feel part of the band … When they do big shows and shit, my ego does kind of go up because my banner is there and I’m like, “Yeah, I’m pretty much in the band.” But as soon as they go on stage I realise, “Nah, I’m just drawing pictures.” I’m not actually in the band, but I feel a part of it.
Do you think your art informs their music and vice versa?
I don’t think I inform their music at all … [But] I definitely bounce off their music and make things that I relate to through their songs. I think Benny and Tobes and Jonny [drummer Jonny Lani] have such strong characters – they’re kind of just sticking to it and doing what’s coming to them. I’m hearing that and then creating things that I feel are suited to that.
What’s the most memorable night you’ve had with Skegss?
It’s hard to say. I think the most memorable night is the first one. It was so huge and real fun. We were all having such a crazy time, especially because it was at Space 44, which is my gallery that I run with Aaron. I feel like that was such a special moment for Cronulla and for me. In the direction it’s taken me to here. They’re blowing up massively since then. That’s kind of cool. I guess that night was more meaningful.
Do you recall the first bit of art you created for Skegss?
The first bit of art was that poster for the show at Space 44, which was the first show in Cronulla for them and the first time I met them. And it just went on from there, which is so weird. But I got lucky, I guess.
Where do you feel you fit in to the Skegss story?
I fit in, I guess, because I’ve done the art consistently from the start. I feel like that’s where I fit in because I’m the only one really that made their images – the album covers and the t-shirts, so I fit in in that way.
How does it feel to see your art on kids wearing Skegss merch?
It feels good. I love seeing kids wearing t-shirts that I’ve made. It’s so sick, so cool to see the art I’ve made last longer than just a picture that got posted on the internet. They’re wearing them to gigs, and there’s lots of them wearing them to shows. I’m like, “Holy shit! I made that.” A lot of times they don’t know who I am which is funny. Well, not funny – it’s fair enough. But it’s just a really good feeling to see people wearing your artwork.
What’s your favourite bit of Skegss merch?
It’s always the new ones really. The longer we go with Skegss, the more I feel like I’m really just starting to nail what is good and what direction we’re taking things. I always like the big heads or the guys drinking beer … Anything with the bald headed guys are my favourite, I reckon.
Can you talk about the thinking behind the album cover for My Own Mess?
It obviously stemmed from the title. The boys didn’t tell me what to do. They kinda just left it up to me to interpret it … I’d known all the shit that they boys had been through – not all of it, but some of the shit. It was pretty rough at times. My Own Mess is the mess that has been made at points, and there’s been messes in my life so I just related that to the album cover.
A lot of the artwork, it’s just junk. It’s shit. There’s beers and pills and just rubbish, really. Then the circle picture is meant to be a fish eye shot. It’s all balanced out and pretty much we wanted to make it real visible so we did the yellow. Yellow is such a positive colour, I feel, and it sticks out real nice too.
Was the art for ‘Smogged Out’ inspired by a particular night?
Ah, yeah. Who told you that? [Laughs] Especially when I was younger I’d go to Sydney a lot when I went out, and it was so rough. You’d get stuck there and the trains finish at stupid hours. Like 12.30am or 1am was the last train back to the Shire, which is where I was living. And to get an Uber is 100 bucks – it’s a real stitch up. So sometimes you can just be kind of stranded on the street or just copping the taxi [fare], which is fucked. So either way you’re screwed really. Pretty dark times.
What kind of exposure has Skegss brought your work?
Massive exposure. So many kids I’d never be able to reach. That’s the great thing about music. I feel like you’re reaching so many different people, especially with the radio. Art can be fairly hard to get into, it seems to exclude people. It’s almost like they want that to happen. I feel like they [Skegss] have helped me reach more people than I would every be able to, which is awesome.
Where to next?
I guess the next thing is just doing the same thing, nothing crazy, but I’d love to do bigger [art] shows and get better at them obviously. Just have as much fun with it as well.