You can usually find Aldous Massie on an Oxford Street stoop during a weeknight with a longneck in one hand and a skateboard under the other. He is also one of Sydney’s most talented young artists, even though his modest persona would have him cringe at such a title. He’s had his work shown at venerated spaces like China Heights and Palmer Projects, and he was just part of a group exhibition at the Absolut Stairwell gallery. (When we caught up with him at the event, he seemed more excited about the complimentary canapés than the fact that his art was being shown amongst the likes of Andy Harwood, Sarah Larnach, Jacob Ring, Anwen Keeling, James Jirat Patradoon, Ted O'Donnell, Luis Martinez, Seamus Heidenreich and Robbie Whitehead.) He was also recently commissioned to design the shopfront for Melbourne’s Hermes boutique. So how did a kid who didn’t quite get around to finishing his fine arts degree manage to get hooked up with one of the most famous international fashion houses?
Before being assigned to the Hermes project, Aldous had “never heard of the label.” It was his environmental design teacher back from when he was studying at COFA (UNSW’s College of Fine Arts) in 2007 that passed on his details to the contractor. “Basically, illustrations were needed for the Collins Street laneway windows of the Melbourne Hermes store,” Aldous explains. “They were required to be somewhat bright and energetic to counter the overall dimness of the alleyway.”
Basing his conceptualisation on reference pictures he was given last September, Aldous’ sketches incorporated a white rhino with a golden horn, which he says he “later realised was somewhat iconic.” The client approved of his initial work and suggested using different animals for the four windows. After endless nights drawing wildlife, Aldous came up with horses, rhinos, elephants and a kangaroo. “In the end, the kangaroo was replaced by a seahorse, and the elephants were dropped entirely. The client said they looked a little too ‘Thailand’,” he laughs. “When I started drawing the animals, I had a vision in my mind that they would look similar to concept sketches – very quick, loose and full of energy.” Aldous achieved his idea by using calligraphy pens and Indian ink “to achieve a looser sketch that was closer to a traditional Japanese art style.”
Aldous says that he “learnt a lot of valuable skills” while undertaking the project, from “learning how to use calligraphy pens in one night” to time-management and attacking his work with realistic expectations. “The experience, as a whole, was very similar to a lot of jobs I've had, where the task is a lot bigger than originally anticipated,” he says. The illustrations were installed a few weeks ago and will be displayed for a year. “In a few months time another element is being added – which I'll keep a surprise for the moment,” Aldous adds teasingly.
“When I was younger I played soccer. We used to train on Wednesday nights, sometimes in the rain,” Aldous answers when asked about his training, revealing his blithe attitude about his creative successes so far. “Regarding the art stuff, I don’t really have any training. My design course at COFA familiarised me with the Adobe Creative Suite, Photoshop, Illustrator and all that.”
Currently, he is working as a graphic designer/illustrator for Make Believe, a company based in Surry Hills and one that he feels lucky to be a part of. The agency works with decidedly non-commercial clients, focusing on not-for-profit organisations. “The dream is to utilise my ability – whatever that may be – to benefit certain groups and people that will work to better the world. So… I guess I’m living the dream,” he reflects, earnestly. “The studio space at my day job is pretty much an ideal environment. There are four other people that all have a pretty similar music taste to me, there’s beer in the fridge and sun shining in through the window.”
In a pretty broad statement, Aldous says that he is inspired by “everything”. He goes on to explain that for him, art is “ a process of absorbing everything in my daily life, and attempting to communicate this in some tangible form… Seeing what other people are doing helps.” One of the people that he looks to is his favourite artist, Mitchel Spider, whose practice transgresses as many different artistic terrains as his own. “I don’t really favour certain materials over others. It depends on what I’m trying to do. I go through quick phases of focusing on very specific materials. My girlfriend recently brought home an easel so I’ve been using a lot of gouache and acrylics lately. Last week I was doing a lot of calligraphy; it changes a lot,” he says, in what is a testament to his artistic versatility.
“I tend to fool myself into thinking that there’s a clear idea from the start,” Aldous explains, reflecting on what goes through his mind when he’s first putting pen to paper or brush to canvas. “But the end product is usually something very different.” Even though he may veer away from his original intentions, “it’s not as if I’m missing the mark or anything. I like to adopt the optimistic perspective that I’m actually progressing past it.”
Even though Aldous predicts that we can expect “robots” in the future, he is also currently working on potential iPhone icons for Hermes, illustrations for the Greens Party national campaign, a branding style-guide for the Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria as well as personal projects. “It’s a little busy,” he says… but at least the sun is shining, music is playing and there’s beer in the fridge.
words: Ingrid Kesa