Visit Victoria sits down and chats street art with the famed Heesco. Born in Mongolia, he's made Melbourne's laneways the home of his creations.
Where are you from and how did you get started in street art?
I was born and raised in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. I never really had a plan to become a 'street artist' really, it was more like being at the right place at the right time I guess. Growing up in the 80s and 90s Mongolia, we didn’t have much exposure to graffiti and street art culture in general, but we did have these pretty big Communist propaganda murals all over the city, which I’m pretty sure had a certain impact on me ending up painting murals, in a way. I’ve always been into drawing and painting since young age, and during high school I made up my mind to become an artist. After graduating I came to Australia and studied fine arts at Sydney College of the Arts (SCA). After university it took me a few years to figure out what I wanted to do with my art career and practice, and when we moved to Melbourne in 2010, that’s when I got into painting walls properly and haven’t looked back since.
What kind of influence(s), if at all, does your culture have on your art?
Mongolian imagery started to feature in my work a fair bit more recently, pretty much since I had kids of my own really. Becoming a parent changed me a lot as a person and as an artist. I think your worldview and outlook on life changes dramatically when you have kids. I started to get more concerned about topics like cultural heritage and language, as I realised I need to educate and teach my own kids about their Mongolian heritage. With this came up questions like 'How do you balance old culture and traditions with modernity and technological development?' — which is pretty much a universal question that applies to any culture in any nation. And this kind of questioning started to seep into my work eventually, and I started painting characters dressed in old Mongolian traditional clothes wearing modern fashion accessories, and using smartphones etc. The results are quite interesting — they’re like a visual oxymoron, a paradox that contradicts itself, which makes for a visually very attractive imagery, which, in turn, is always a good thing when it comes to visual art in public spaces. But I hope these works will make people think and question, at least a tiny bit, about the questions being raised behind the pretty exterior of the murals.
How did you initially establish yourself in the Victorian street art scene?
When I first moved to Melbourne, I didn’t really know anyone, but I was quite surprised how open and welcoming and supportive the art scene in Melbourne is. I love painting, and especially painting with spray paints. I’m not too sure how exactly I’ve managed to establish myself here, it was a gradual thing that took years, but I guess you could say I did it by simply painting non-stop. Of course, I’ve painted my share of embarrassing very public mistakes. Haha. But Melbourne is a city if you’ve got the energy and the drive to create, and have the right attitude, it can provide you with plenty of opportunities, and nurture you to develop and push yourself to become a better artist. I owe a fair bit to the guys at Blender Studios for providing me with a studio space for the first 6 years, which were some of the most progressive and productive years of my career so far. And to all the good friends I’ve made here along the way, without their friendship and support I don’t think I would’ve been able to do what I do today. And of course, meeting and becoming good mates with Ben Shewry was a big thing for me. He has been super supportive since the day we met and continues to inspire and drive me to become better at what I do.
What is your favourite piece of work that you have completed in Victoria?
I’ve got to say my mural at the Victoria University building in Footscray stands out as a favourite. Mainly because it was the first time I got to paint my own concept art on such a big scale. Titled Miss Citizen of the World it was painted as part of the Footscray Art Prize, and the winner in the street art category. Another personal favourite is the Year of the Wolf mural at Dandenong Markets I did earlier this year.
Who are some of your favourite street artists in Victoria and what are some of the best pieces of art that people can see around Melbourne and the rest of the state?
Some of my favourites, in no particular order, are Makatron, Dvate, Sirum, Putos, Duke, Ling, Goodie, Awes, Silk, and the Banana Peel dude.
What was it like painting the portraits for World’s 50 Best?
It was quite nerve-wrecking, to be honest. I had four days to paint the five portraits, and the chefs themselves were going to come check it out, not to mention all the press and media attention it was going to get, so I had to get it right, otherwise it would’ve backfired big time, haha. But I find that I work quite well under pressure, something kicks in in me, and makes me block out everything else and concentrate on the task ahead and often the work comes out better than expected. It’s also about being able to spot and fix your mistakes too.
And it was such a surreal and awesome experience to see myself on the huge LED screen at the event’s after party, I had a grin ear to ear literally throughout that whole night!
What are you working on now? Any upcoming exhibitions or projects that you are excited about?
I’ve just come back from a trip in Yirrkala in Arnhem Land, where we painted a memorial mural dedicated to Dr. Raymattja Marika. She was an amazing person who contributed so much towards understanding and reconciliation between Aboriginal and Western cultures. The mural was part of the I ❤️Yirrkala festival, and to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Dr. Marika’s passing.
I’m off to Mongolia next week for a family holiday, but it’ll be a working holiday, most likely. I’m set to paint a couple of big walls there, and do some live painting at a music festival, so should be good fun.
And I’m in talks about a few projects once I come back, but I can’t really reveal too much at this stage.
I’m also planning a solo show later in the year at the VS Gallery, I’ll be posting details once it’s all confirmed through my instagram (@heesco).
Do you have any words of advice for aspiring artists?
From my own personal experience, one advice I would’ve given myself much earlier, would’ve been 'Don’t think and stress too much, just paint anything and everything', because painting is as much a physical activity as it is a mental practice. Through painting I discovered myself, it helped me overcome hardships and learned to express myself honestly and freely. Painting is quite like a meditation in that sense. After you’ve spent a long-time painting, I find that things start to click in and start making sense, the arm and hand muscle memory gets set to paint better, the mind learns to work at the painting pace, the colour choices and mixing becomes more intuitive and organic. And overall, once your whole body gets in tune, painting becomes much more fluid and effortless. And there are no rules.