Many may be familiar with the iconic work of Melbourne based artist Ghostpatrol with its whimsical and innocent cartoon-like figures and animals that invite exploration into imaginative realms. Originally a username for early online forums, the name Ghostpatrol stuck. Today it has become synonymous with an ever developing artistic oeuvre that first emerged from early doodles as a child waiting for the school day to end. Also known as David, Ghostpatrol grew up in the southern Australian capital city of Hobart in Tasmania and enjoyed a life surrounded by forest and water. Somewhat isolated from the outside world in a pre-Internet era, after completing school he undertook studies in IT but quickly changed direction to avoid “a life of boredom.”
Draw, draw, draw. David has remained in tune with this impulse throughout his life. Art has become an all-consuming preoccupation. Days spent locked in the studio with pencils and fineliners constitute a good time for him. In the early stages of his career street art laid the foundations for his creative endeavors seeing him collaborate with fellow artists – including his partner Miso – and making a name for himself on the walls of Melbourne’s laneways. Despite not feeling fully comfortable with the title of ‘artist’, his dedication to his work has achieved considerable recognition. It seems that things have fallen into place. Now somewhat in demand, his works are included in museum exhibitions, he travels overseas for three months every year and receives commissions for large scale outdoor works. In his studio we find out about his path as a self-taught artist, his favorite cartoon characters growing up and why he will always continue to daydream and depict an alternate reality.
Where exactly did you grow up in Tasmania? What do you remember fondly about this time in your life?
I grew up in Hobart, looking at a mountain that shadows a large river. I feel very lucky to have spent my formative years in such a beautiful clean place. My family grew all our own vegetables and fruit at our house in the suburbs.
Did you have any favorite characters in books and cartoons as a kid?
Ulysses 31 and Atlas from Astroboy have both had a large influence on me.
When did you realize that your time spent daydreaming, drawing, making posters, zines and tape covers was actually art and that you were an artist?
I’m still not sure what an artist is or does. I’m not really into titles. As all humans do, I played a lot and made lots of things. I’d like to think that it’s very natural to just continue that throughout my life. For me creativity is like breathing – it doesn’t help me to separate creative deeds from other parts of life.
Do you have creative people in your family, or figures in your life who encouraged your creative pursuits?
Not really, but yes my family are great and supportive. I’ve also been really lucky to have had some great friends and contemporaries pass on some wisdom that has greatly influenced me.
You have mentioned that you never really enjoyed school. Do you think you fell into art for this reason, as an escape?
No, school was just a little dull and slow. But I loved maths. Drawing was just something I did after finishing my work and waiting for the school day to end.
When did you relocate to Melbourne and what were you hoping to find on the mainland?
I didn’t really make a big break or have a big leaving moment. I was already moving around between Sydney, Melbourne and Hobart. I was finishing off my degree. I’d travelled to Europe in 2004 and by 2005 I’d drifted to Manchester. It wasn’t until the end of 2005 that I returned to Australia and Melbourne seemed like the right place. The decision was also made so that I could be closer to my family who had already relocated there five years earlier. I had no grand plans of living in Melbourne long term, but it’s a great place to live and a great base for traveling.
What is it about working with other artists on projects that interests you?
Every project is different. It’s a great way to double or triple your brain processing power and learn new skills. I like throwing out an idea and having someone else complete the thought, or build upon other people’s ideas. Most of all it’s just fun. When you can find a way to work with your friends in the sun making large paintings for days or weeks on end and get paid it feels pretty good.
Although you do not identify with this movement anymore, you were involved in the street art scene. Do you think this is around the time you developed your own visual language and personal aesthetic that is so recognizable today?
Being involved in ‘Street Art’ definitely motivated me to extend my practice and offered me a big outlet for trialling ideas and learning through producing artwork.
What artists do you admire or inspire you?
David Byrne, Yucihi Yokohama, Simon Hanselman and Misaki Kawai.
It seems everything has fallen into place for you. You have often referred your choices in pursuing art fulltime as an indulgence. Were you ever made to feel like this path was the wrong one to take?
No, I’m not sure what else I would do. I’m very lucky to have more than enough work, great opportunities, a great partner and friends. I am super privileged and this is the drive to become better and find more ways of sharing and giving back to the universe.
Do you feel comfortable with the title of ‘artist’?
I’m not sure what else to write on customs forms however, it is the best word that describes to other people what I do.
Today you travel quite a lot for your work and were recently in Germany. What were you working on?
I spend roughly three months a year outside of Australia. Sometimes I travel to specific places to paint but most of the time I’m just breaking my studio cycle, finding new ways to work, spending lots of time exploring and heaps of time reading and thinking. I also travel to meet with old and new friends to learn from them. It’s the best way to replenish ideas and feel re-energized when I return to my studio.
When you enter your studio do have any rules or habits to avoid distractions when you work?
I don’t really need any rules. I love sitting down for long stretches just drawing or painting, so every other habit or action serves to provide me with more drawing time. I organize my food supplies so it doesn’t break my concentration. I listen to lots of talks and lectures and I don’t have an Internet connection in my studio!
What type of lectures do you listen to? Is there anything you wish you could have studied?
Astrophysics and biology.
Your pencil of choice?
I use mechanical pencils – having a reason to keep a good supply of stationery is one of the perks of my work.
Where is your studio in Melbourne?
It is in the central business district in an old building and it is nice and quiet for working. It is close enough to home and has good access to the city when I need to go out and meet with people.
Best advice given to you?
When making artwork, don’t look for inspiration in the art world.
Where can we find you when you are out of the studio?
Actually I don’t really go outside very much when I’m in Melbourne. If I’m not at the studio I’m at a friends studio or going on adventures with dogs. If I have spare time I leave the city to stay with friends in the countryside and work from there.
David many thanks for taking time out from making work to show us around your studio. To find out more about David’s work visit his website here.
Photography: Historia Films
Interview & Text: Rachael Watts