Interview by Madeleine Dore
Photography by Bri Hammond
Street artist Rone is refreshingly content with his lot. Spending his days working in his Everfresh Studio alongside key players of the Melbourne street art scene, or flying anywhere from Milan to Miami, Canberra to Robina to paint large scale commissions, it’s a life infused with travel and doing what he loves.
Known for his captivating, closely-cropped portraits of female faces, for over a decade thirty-something Rone has become a fixture on the international street art scene with his yearly travel equating to roughly two trips around the globe. Despite the steady stream of frequent flyer points, Rone doesn’t possess an impenetrable high-flyer attitude – he is humble in how he holds his success.
His days are composed of the simple things – spending time with his wife Alice, visits to the pub, and dinner with friends who live across the road. It’s a neighbourly lifestyle, and a far departure from the clichéd perception of street artists rustling through the night. ‘I think downtime is about spending time with people, that is really important.’
It’s about keeping good, honest company, the kind that can make you and your work better. ‘I will discuss a lot of things with Alice, she is a great critic of mine. You need someone who you really trust, but also won't blow smoke up your ass and isn’t afraid to say you can do better.’
Such constructive criticism must be difficult to conjure up for someone whose work is as sought after as Rone’s. Starting out in the early 2000s while still working as a graphic designer, his Jane Doe portrait is known as one of the definitive images of the stencil art movement in Melbourne. The colossal mural L’inconnue de la rue (unknown girl in the street) peers over Melbourne’s CBD. His work has been presented across the globe from the National Gallery of Victoria to Art Basel in Miami.
Rone credits his success to a mix of luck and hard work, and wouldn’t change it for anything. ‘I’m really comfortable, I’m painting things I enjoy, I’ve got a great studio and I am able to travel. I think I’ve really struck it lucky and I’m not wishing for anything else.’
From his trusted morning coffee at 7-Eleven and getting through a daily onslaught of emails, to how his routine changes when he is working overseas, Rone takes us through the unexpected ins and outs of life as a street artist.
PART 1: DAILY ROUTINE
I'm usually awake at seven, but don't get out of bed till eight. My wife Alice will be up before me, so I’ll wake up to the light of her phone instead of the morning sun. Then we both sit in bed scrolling... [Laughs]
I’m addicted to Instagram – it’s great to see what people are up to and the random people linking and reposting your work, that's a nice thing to wake up to. I’ll also check emails but I won't respond to any unless it is super important. I deal with a lot of people internationally and it is kind of nice that I can send an email at night and there will be a reply waiting for me in the morning.
Breakfast doesn’t always happen. I might have some cereal but usually I just run out the door. I should have it more often.
I’ve got a routine where if Alice is at work, I am at the studio. So I will catch a lift with her in the morning. Even though it is a two-minute walk to the studio, it forces me to leave the house. If I stay at home, I’ll just think I should tidy this up or do this thing quickly and then it’s suddenly eleven o’clock and I haven’t left.
Some of the guys at Everfresh are in the studio till two in the morning and then sleep till two in the afternoon and it really fluctuates, but I like spending time with my wife, so as soon as she finishes work she will often give me a call and pick me up.
I’ve started to indulge in the cheap, shitty coffee from 7-Eleven. I got sick of waiting at the cool café – it was becoming a ten-minute wait in the morning and they charge you $4.50. It’s nice coffee but I don’t really give a shit, and at 7-Eleven you just press the button and it’s half the price but it’s not half as bad. I’m not going to take someone out for a morning coffee there, but it is just getting my fix.
There’s also more diversity in the people getting their coffee at 7-Eleven – the 17-sugars-in-a-coffee person, just great interesting characters you don’t get at the café.
I’ll open up my computer and start going through emails and responding to the ones I’ve seen when I first wake up.
I reckon emails are my biggest distraction, so I’ve learned to try and only look at them once a day and do the flush out in the morning.
Sometimes emails will take a couple of hours to respond to because of trying to schedule dates and coordinate things. I’ve now got my friend Hannah to help with some administration and email, so she will strip everything out of most emails so I can respond with a yes or no answer to most things and she can investigate further.
A lot of my morning is spent on accounts management, invoicing and chasing up bills. Hannah also helps me say no because she has a way of explaining things delicately. It might be a great project I would love to be involved in, but the money that I have to ask for it is beyond their budget. I don’t want to be a jerk to say that, but if I do a job for a charity amount, it means that I am losing money by not being free to do another job.
I will then try to start painting. I’ll put on a podcast and spend some time solidly painting or working on a canvas. Because I am half Spanish I have been trying to learn the language and it could really help when I go back to Cuba in December.
Because I skip breakfast, I always have to have lunch really early. I'm really spoilt for choice in Collingwood and I might go to the Japanese pantry Hinoki or go to a Vietnamese bakery.
Then I’ll spend another two or three hours painting if I can. There is a lot of work where it is stretching canvases, painting backgrounds, photographing works or cleaning up the studio.
That’s a typical studio day. When I’m painting on the walls it is a totally different routine. If I’m overseas and not with my partner, I hate sleeping in and will usually be up at the crack of dawn trying to get as many hours in painting as possible before it gets dark. Then you usually just drink for the rest of the night with the other artists and get to bed at two in the morning and then wake up early again.
People always think it’s a holiday when I go overseas painting, but you are wrecked. They are some of the hardest working days I’ve ever done – there is no money in it, you are just doing it for the fun of it and hanging with other artists.
My partner is at work till six most nights, so I will keep working until she gives me a call to say she is on her way home. Sometimes I will go pick up dinner or go to the supermaket.
Occasionally, maybe once a week, I might go for a run but I need to get a lot better at that. Physically my work is really hard and I’m getting older as well, and I can't keep doing this! [Laughs]
We will often go to a friend's house or go to Hannah's house and hang out with her husband and kids. Or we might see our next door neighbours – we almost have a Melrose Place set up with a good community of friends within walking distance. So we will ask someone to come over for a drink or go across the road to the pub.
After dinner and maybe a drink, that’s it. We just sit there and watch TV episodes until midnight and it is total downtime.
PART II: WEEKEND ROUTINE
On the weekend we will sleep in and then maybe have breakfast and just hang out with friends, maybe meet someone at the pub.
Most weekends I will also do a short stint at the studio for three or four hours.
Creating work is very much part of my whole life. We went on holiday to Vanuatu with some friends and it was meant to be total time off, but we still ended up painting. But it made the holiday.
PART III: BEHIND THE SCENES
On success being a combination of luck and hard work…
I’m so lucky that things have gone right for me. It wasn't planned, but also I think I’ve been smart about how I’ve set up a few things such as the Everfresh studio.
I also worked a day job for years and years as a graphic designer before reaching the tipping point as an artist.
When I was still a graphic artist, I travelled with my partner when she went overseas for work, so you could get around for less. I would meet other artists even when I wasn't successful and started to build those networks for future work.
On having a career he wouldn't change …
I personally think I have the best job in the world and I wouldn’t trade places with anyone.
I see a lot of people who are really successful, but it looks really stressful, too.
I’m really comfortable, I’m painting things I enjoy, I’ve got a great studio and I am able to travel. I think I’ve really struck it lucky and I’m not wishing for anything else.
"If I could continue this routine as an 80-year-old, I’m totally fine with that." – Rone
On overcoming the fear of making mistakes…
The fear of making a mistake – a really big, nine-storey mistake in the middle of the city – that is really scary and I can’t deny that mental pressure.
My approach was to start with smaller works, and I would convince myself that if it all goes wrong, I can just paint over it.
Then it got bigger and bigger until I got more confident. Now when I do something that is irreversible, I might be a lot safer in what I paint so I can pull it off.
On pressure as a motivator...
I have bitten off more than I can chew several times, but it often forces me to learn something. You put yourself in a position where you have no choice but to make it work.
I guess the pressure does cripple some people, but I use it as momentum. I won’t sleep and I will totally burn myself out to make it happen. That works for me, but it may not work for someone else.
On how success takes time…
I’m not an overnight success at all. It took me a long time.
People aren’t going to discover you and realise your potential – you have to show them.
No one is going to just give you a big wall to paint, in the beginning you are going to have to fund it yourself. I still fund a lot of my own walls so that I have 100% creative direction.
But my [success] also has a lot to do with starting out in 2001 where the objectives were different. People’s attitudes have changed towards street art – it’s now accepted into galleries and museums and it's changed how people view success. Now people tell me about the first piece of street art that they did just last weekend and how they are now working towards an exhibition.
But when we started we were fortunate that there was no incentive, it was just competition among friends. You could have just as easily been a professional Monopoly player – it was just this thing you enjoyed doing with your friends. It’s incredible that it’s now my career, but in 2001 it wasn't the main goal.
On the unseen side of being a street artist...
The illusion a lot of people have is that street artists get paid for international work, but often we don't. You might get flights and accommodation but there is not money to be made. When you are away you can't have a day off, and you still have to stay on top of emails to be able to line up the next job, and order your paint and make sure it gets delivered.
There are so many logistics. It’s hard work, but it’s what all the time in the studio is for – to afford me the ability to travel.
When travelling you can't really paint a canvas, but the only reason I sell canvases is so I can go and paint these walls across the world, so it is all part of the cycle.
"To live an extraordinary life is about having the option to change it and being open to opportunities." – Rone
The Outsiders (1983)
Old hardware stores