Josh Muir’s star is on the rise.
The Ballarat artist has come through depression and drug addiction to a renewed and vibrant expression in his latest works.
Looking to the future, he has been engaging and embracing the stories of his family and culture, reinterpreting and retelling them in the bright colours reminiscent of the street art and illustration he is inspired by.
His latest works include digital prints layered onto aluminium sheeting, recording what he imagines might have been the prosperity of the Indigenous people of the region, had not European settlers taken their gold from them.
He spoke to The Courier on the first of Ballarat’s cooler nights this autumn, at the Biennale of Australian Art offices in Lydiard Street.
What is it about art that grabbed you? What made you think, ‘THIS is what I want to do?’
I just like to create artwork, to express myself and my voice. For such a long time I was so shy. I had low self-esteem and my confidence was down. When I discovered art, I was able to share something of myself.. It’s a powerful tool to encourage positive messages.
I've come to learn about my culture and my family.. Things that have been handed down to me over the years. It’s a good outlet.
You’re a Yorta Yorta – Gunditjmara man. Has art led you back to culture?
Yes. I’ve discovered more about my history. Originally my family is from Barkindji country. They migrated down to Yorta Yorta country, moved to Ballarat. My mother’s side is Gunditjmara, and my parents had me here on Wathaurong country. It’s my adopted home.
Art had led me back and given me connections with my culture and people. It’s something a lot of people embrace. I’m happy knowing I had support from both sides of my family.
Your culture is strong in your work, isn't it, because the work is very vibrant, very alive. It’s constant and it leaps out.
Over the years my dedication and commitment to what I do has proven to people in the community I can be trusted with certain respectable knowledge, and I can use it in my art work.
The more I progress the more I’m learning, the more I’m absorbing.
I’m thankful for my people allowing me to absorb my (cultural) knowledge and present it in a contemporary setting.
What work are you looking at, at the moment? Whose work are you finding interesting?
Do you mean influences? I’m huge on pop art.
Music has always been an influence. When I listen to certain sounds, it signals through my brain, sends waves. I discover new ways of thinking. I’m always striving for the new music, new sounds.
When it comes to my art work and what I’m focussing on at the moment, I take what people are saying, what they are talking about, and I put my twist on it.
At the moment I’m doing a lot of commission projects and works based around my family history. My personal journey has been told many times; I’m more interested now in capturing my environment.
It’s a reflection of the space around me and how I interpret the positive energy that I’m witnessing, and hopefully I can give people some kind of direction and light and comfort.
Tell me about the music you’re listening to. Is it popular music, classical music?
I like all types of music. With what I do, the music I listen to – mainly contemporary music, say hip hop – is big for me. What these artists are doing is sampling music from generations ago. To have that feeding into my brain, hearing music from all genres and all eras – it does transform my thinking. It gets me to new levels, new places.
Do you get excited every time you come to the board or the canvas? This is something new, this is something that is going to go somewhere different?
Always. It’s always new. It’s almost as if when I do an artwork I forget how I came to art in the first place. It’s almost like I’m starting over.
I’m always feeling like I’m experiencing new things. I’m amazed sometimes what I can discover and utilise.
It’s always a challenge. I enjoy challenging myself.
Is it a journey every time?
Absolutely. At first when you are given an opportunity it’s like you go into a panic mode. You try and think of ways you can reinvent the wheel. But you always get through it, I’ve discovered. It’s increments.
It’s one step at a time. The first stages are daunting, but in the end it always turns out to be more than I expected.
You were commissioned to to a piece for White Night in Melbourne, a big piece. It’s put you on the map. Does that put pressure on you? Do you feel like ‘I’m in the game’ now?
Not at all. If anything, it’s the pressure I put on myself. I’ve always set high expectations on myself, and when I don’t meet them I start to freak out. It’s not pressure from anybody else. It’s my choice to continue at the level I’m at.
The only way it’s going to settle down is if I control it more. I feel at the moment that I’m in a good headspace. It’s working fine.
Josh Muir’s latest works include sculpture, painting and digital prints transferred to aluminium sheeting. An award-winning artist, he is represented by Mars Gallery in in Melbourne. You can see selections of his work at the Art Gallery of Ballarat.