Graffiti artist Scott Marsh uses a quintessentially Australian trait to connect people to his political and often controversial works: larrikinism, the state of being messy and mischievous.
“Once you make people laugh, you have them. They engage,” he told the BBC.
Recent work has satirized Prime Minister Scott Morrison vacationing in Hawaii at the height of Australia’s bushfire crisis, or mocked Captain Cook, a comment on the mood of some Australians to change the date of Australia Day into something less celebrating the colonial invasion.
“Part of being Australian for me is being able to fuck your ass first,” Marsh says. This gives him permission, he says, to make fun of others – “either my friends or politicians like the Prime Minister.”
But it was Marsh’s portrayal of Kanye West and George Michael that gained attention beyond the Australian coast.
It was reported in 2016 that the management of American rapper Kanye West offered Marsh $ 100,000 (£ 53,000) to paint on the mural, Kanye loves Kanye, which – based on a meme – featured the singer kissing. passionately.
Marsh won’t comment on those reports, but says the work has catapulted him into the international spotlight.
“It’s gotten mega viral,” he says, adding that Australian expats sent him news clips in the Honduras Daily and a newspaper distributed in the Budapest metro.
“It was super weird,” he says.
The mural of Saint George, later painted and depicting British singer George Michael as a religious figure in a rainbow scarf with drugs, has been disfigured by Christian Lives Matter, a group which protests against the activities that they consider it blasphemous.
Undeterred, Marsh gifted the singer with a “second coming” titled The Rise of Saint George, which inspired a theatrical performance.
These murals are the result of chance: a request from a fellow street artist, another from a couple for their house. But their success gave the artist something he wasn’t prepared for: a platform.
He decided to use it to “really say something,” starting with Casino Mike, a mural that satirized Sydney’s foreclosure laws, which did not apply to the city’s juggernaut casino.
“They’ve basically shut down a lot of the city’s nightlife in the name of security,” he says. “A lot of my friends have lost their jobs in a bar.”
The controversial laws have inspired other street performers to poke fun at what they perceive to be Sydney’s nanny-statism.
In Australia’s 2017 vote to legalize same-sex marriage, Marsh created provocative murals of former Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Cardinal George Pell, both of whom were vocal opponents of reform. The one – Tony loves Tony – showed the Tory politician getting married.
It was, Marsh said, an encouragement for Australians to vote yes: [vote] was painful. The gay community has always been so inclusive – you could have two heads, they didn’t care, they would welcome you. So I wanted to support them. “
His most recent murals confusing conservative politics, however, have been disfigured by some on the left.
“[It’s] because I’m white and straight, basically – in their words. So I don’t have the right to paint on subjects that don’t involve me because I have privileges, ”he says, adding that he finds this reflection“ loop ”.
Such experiences made the artist already timid of the media even more cautious; he received death threats during the plebiscite. He attends balaclava awards ceremonies for this reason.
“I feel like a goose, but it’s necessary,” he says.
Skewering climate policy
These days, Marsh applies for permission for the spaces he paints on, but he started his graffiti days illegally tagging trains as a teenager.
We are a long way from today when he is mandated by large professional charities.
As the bushfires in Australia burned, Greenpeace commissioned Marsh for a mural on climate change.
“The deal was that we will provide your materials and you will have full creative control. I realized: there is no shortage of inspiration in Australia for climate change murals,” he says.
The result, The Ivory Tower, portrays those who, to varying degrees, have resisted action on climate change, including Rupert Murdoch, billionaire mining tycoon Gina Rinehart, Mr Morrison and Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce. . Under their ivory tower, a huge blaze incinerates koalas and kangaroos.
Marsh wanted to aim for Australia’s climate record, which the government says is adequate but is frequently criticized globally.
“It’s horrible,” he said. “Our government is captured by the coal lobby and the minerals lobby. So the government just does whatever it wants and gets its message out.”
“It is unique”
The founder of Australia’s leading street art network says Marsh is passionate about the subjects of his works.
“Unlike young artists who gentrify graffiti, Scottie does not dilute his work to appease [those who fund him]”said Shaun Hossack of Juddy Roller.
Mr. Hossack describes Marsh as “an outlier”.
“In fact, there aren’t many contemporaries in this country. I would like more people to take a stand and create works that shock because that’s the function of art,” he says.
“People who do not wish to enter rigid white galleries can see art democratically: on the street,” he says. “It’s about reclaiming public space.
Not everyone is happy that he reclaims this space. Earlier this year, New South Wales officials repeatedly called for Marsh’s Black Lives Matter-themed mural of a burning police vehicle to be removed, despite a legal expert saying it didn’t ‘did not violate criminal law because Marsh had obtained permission from the owner of the property.
Police pressured Sydney City Council to withdraw it because they said it was “offensive” and “anti-policing”.
By exploring the border between [legal] Street art and illegal graffiti art, Marsh’s work is frequently and inevitably compared to another famous street artist.
When asked if he’s consistently referred to as an Australian Banksy, he’s typically nonchalant.
“It’s just a media stunt,” he said, shrugging his shoulders.