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Off the Street: Ears

Local Sydney artist Ears, or Daniel O’Toole as his mum calls him, has been a mainstay of the street scene for years. His beautiful curling eyes and solemn, funny faces have adorned many a wall throughout the inner west and his work also pops up around a certain café in Paddington. Recently he’s turned to more studio-based pursuits and less late night city sojourns; more painter, less graff. Warm, friendly and scarily talented, we’d like you to get to know him a little more so you too can fall in love with his unique vision and feel the pull of those magnificent eyes. From his work, not his actual eyes. Although….
Right now, Ears is wrapping up an exhibition in San Francisco and heading east across the US. We tracked him down to see what makes this enviable artist tick.

I’m guessing you’ve had some pretty interesting moments late at night in dark alleys. Tell me about your hairiest & scariest?
Falling in a pit in an abandoned building off the side of a highway and nearly killing myself changed my invincibility complex a tad.

What are the secrets that you’ve discovered about yourself, and about Sydney, while working during the dead of night?
I don't love the crime/adrenalin side of it. I like the art-making bit. I get a thrill from being able to share my work with a large audience by putting it on the street, but I don't like feeling like a criminal and dodging cops and all that. It’s just a hassle I’d rather not have to worry about.

For a guy who calls himself Ears, your work has a strong focus on eyes. What’s that all about?
Yeah you’re not the first one to notice that. The name stems from a love of music, and it was chosen as a reminder to myself not to forget about music.
I have played violin and piano for years, and I've also produced hip-hop and been into freestyling for about 9 years. I still produce and make beats in my spare time, and hope to release something eventually. Hah. Um, I studied audio engineering too, and when art started becoming my focus I was worried about letting my skills in the music field go to waste. So 'ears' felt right. It also made me chuckle when I first thought of it. I like strange names that might make people trip out a little.

Oh Really Gallery has been going for a couple of years now. Tell me about the most challenging experience for you personally during that process of getting it off the ground and keeping it going?
Ah, I’m not sure about challenging, I guess the initial set was the most demanding and stressful but those first 12 weeks before we opened shop were also the most fun. I'd actually love to open a new business just to go through the creative process of fitting out a space and creating a business model. Its always lots of fun, but those first 12 weeks were scary because we all spent all our money and then some paying for the renovation and getting the place legally compliant with Energy Australia. The most lessons were learnt at the beginning, and now it’s leveled out. We are still learning new things but it’s not as exciting anymore. We know how it works and what to expect. It’s routine.

Your art, particularly your street art, is iconic to the inner west of Sydney. What ties you to Sydney? Does the bigger scale of Melbourne’s art scene tempt you?
I was tempted by Melbourne for a while... but to be honest the rain would get me down! Sydney is my home and I love sunny Sydney! I'm also sticking around to help fight the good fight. Fighting for culture, and joining forces with other culture makers to improve the quality of life in Sydney for people who don't work a 9-5 to only then hit the clubs every weekend in an effort muffle their pain of existence, i.e., myself.
Sydney needs a cultural explosion. There are more people behind the desire to make it happen so hopefully when Sydney does have its creative orgasm it will last a long time and will set the wheels in motion for a new direction that embraces the potential of creative people to run businesses and events in Sydney. For this to happen we need help from our councils and government.
With this in mind the new liquor licensing laws are a new hope on the horizon for us all. And I feel that for next 5 to 10 years in Sydney is the place to be. For me its exciting to be somewhere that DOESN'T have 100 cool little bars hidden in back streets and lots of galleries that have seen so much 'street art' that they are over it. It’s still all new and fun in Sydney, and we get to pave the way now as the first generation to see small bars opening after a long stint of RSL dominance and pokies galore.

The past 12 months or so you seem to have moved away from the street scene to a much greater focus on canvas. What brought about that transition?
I got bored with my work a while ago, and even though I somehow have been managing to make a living off my art for the last two years (ish).I felt that I had fallen into a very 'street art' minded approach to painting… repetition.
I am realising that repetition is a trap. Re-tracing your steps to make decisions that are safe and already proved to work is a comfort zone that stunts your growth. I also have felt that painting the same sorts of images over and over on the street is a waste of time, and is too much of a bombing mentality for me. So I’ve said to myself when I have developed some new work that is exciting for me, then I will hit the streets again. And that time is near at hand.

You are in the United States at the moment – what are you up to over there?
I had a show at Big Umbrella in San Fran, and had a three week stay there to check out the art scene. I also went up to Portland/Oregon and now I'm over on the east coast. Been roaming NY and looking at all the galleries and big museums.
The Purpose of the trip is to get inspired and open my eyes to new things. I guess I'm also interested in any opportunities I may find to show my work in the US... so a bit of business involved.

What is the most unexpected thing you’ve discovered about the United States?
They have good beer! Amazing selection of microbreweries and local ales to enjoy. Great tattoos and gorgeous women. San Francisco is an amazing city with a great art scene.

What tunes are filling your ears with bliss at the moment? How are they impacting on your work?

Black Keys and Rolling Stones’ 'Let it Bleed' – there’s some gnarly bluegrass fiddle bits in that album. Makes me draw banjos and fiddles… hah!

When can we expect another solo exhibition from you?
Not Sure, I have some new ideas I’d really like to try out as soon as I get back from the US (I miss my studio.) But either way I want my next show to be a collection of large paintings. I'm talking really big, probably too big to actually sell but that’s what I want to do. I hope I can line something up early 2011.

Ears (self portrait)

interview: Kristen Hodges


December 27, 2016 at 5:50 PM assignment writing said...

This style is so extraordinary and modern but I really feel something looking at this pictures.

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