It's a pretty amazing thing when the work you do connects you with the people that inspire you most. Needless to say at Muralisto, Joe Quilter is one of those people and an absolute legend amongst us! He has been a instrumental figure in the Sydney graffiti movement and continues to do amazing work, empowering vulnerable communities through arts and cultural initiatives at SSI. As if it wasn't quite enough, Joe is also researching a PhD into the ethics of street art and graffiti culture to encourage a deeper understanding of the movements and artistic expressions that shape our identity and give voice to those who need it most.
Joe is humble and matter of fact and intensely interesting! His passion and smarts is evident in the many murals and projects he has brought to life - not least of all, a recent collab with Muralisto - The Mosman Regeneration Project - which combined the talents of artists from refugee and migrant backgrounds with professional public artists to reimagine a run-down WWII bunker through collaborative community art.
We've been lucky enough to work with Joe over these past few months and managed to catch him for a few spare moments to ask him a few questions about life...
What made you become an artist?
I've always been into art since I was a kid in America. I used to draw pictures of cowboys and Indians, and as I got older I became obsessed with comic books and fantasy artists like Boris Vallejo and Frank Frazetta. For the first half of high school I wasn't into art mostly sport, but loved seeing all the graffiti in Auckland. My school got a bunch of murals commissioned and when I moved to Australia I met some really good graffiti artists and was hooked. I then studied fine art at university and it's been basically full steam ahead since then.
How would you describe your work?
My work is graffiti, calligraphy, stylized realism and abstract. It is also an ever evolving unhinged beast in an infinite war between fate and destiny.
What has been your favourite project this year and why?
My favourite project so far this year has been the piece I did on my local auto shop. Mainly because it is the first big mural I have done in my local area since I moved here. I have a bunch more coming up but generally anything that brings people together to have fun being creative is a good time.
What has inspired/ influenced you as an artist?
My primary inspiration as an artist is the desire to understand myself. Art teaches me about myself, but the social function of art is as important, so the fact that art moves people and can inspire them is something that inspires me.
What are your thoughts on ‘artivism’ and the role of art + social change?
Artivism is super important. George Gittoes is a big inspiration to the role of artivism in ethics and art, and organisations like Muralisto are right up there with him. Art speaks to the human soul, and public art especially is a great way to use the voice of creativity to inspire change, educate and represent those values that rise to universal heights with the potential to transform the world into a better, and way more colorful place.
What is your favourite public art initiative worldwide?
My favourite public art initiative worldwide is graffiti. All graffiti. Mainly because true, gritty, street-based graffiti writing is the least self-conscious Marxist aesthetic there is, in my view, most graffiti writers I doubt even realise the gravitas of what they do, how much it has changed and brought about in the 60 odd years it has existed in its modern form, and continues to in defiance of great adversity. Graffiti started in poor neighbourhoods and has taken the world. At its best, graffiti continues to represent a voice that disrupts and challenges the harsh realities of a class system within which the rich keep getting richer and the poor keep getting poorer.
Tell us about your work at SSI - Has it changed your perspective on the role of art and the artist?
My work with vulnerable communities has always been super important to me. I've worked in art programs with refugees, the disabled and disadvantaged young persons. My Father was a professional moral philosopher and my Mum an ordained Anglican Priest and Feminist Theologian, so right v wrong, good v evil, all the druthers of ethics and morality have been hammered into me since I opened my eyes. This has also meant that I have always thought critically and deeply about these things. So working with vulnerable communities has been omnipresent since I helped out in the soup kitchen as a kid. Some of my friends back then that hung around the church were ex-cons and homeless folks, they were always kind good people and often the first to be as generous as they could. This knowledge has perpetuated my life and professional experience to date and continues to do so.