Tucked away within one of Western Australia’s most socially and culturally vibrant centres, Graeme Miles Richards is working on a unique vision. The Fremantle-based artist is a hard man to reach, leaping steadily from one project to the next, but Lost managed to pin him down for a brief foray into his imaginative psyche.
Chatting over the phone, the artist seemed as relaxed as anyone would be on a lazy, hot Friday afternoon. Chuckling along with every question and comment, Richards seemed pleasantly surprised with the interest in, and acknowledgement of, his life and career.
Richards is originally from Nelson, New Zealand. Born into a family of artists, he started painting at seven and pursued his art throughout school and university along with his siblings (all employed in varying artistic career paths). The 53-year-old artist moved from the Land of the Silver Fern to the scorched landscapes of Perth over thirty years ago.
Starting out with freelance graphic design and illustration jobs whilst developing ideas for a workspace, he eventually set up his business Art Fresco Design. Richards suggests small business and art thrive today compared to the gallery’s humble beginnings.
“It wasn’t as busy then as it is now, I don’t think. Because of things like street art its a lot more numb and there’s obviously more business and more consciousness of that kind of art,” Richards says.
“Although, there was a period where that was quite popular. I started off doing murals in restaurants and things like that. It’s changed a bit now, it’s quite varied who I work for so there’s quite a lot of different avenues in the murals with councils, businesses that sort of thing”.
Having studied an extensive range of artistic methods throughout his career, Richards specialises in some of contemporary art’s most complex and awe-inspiring creations. One of his many specialties includes Trompe L’oeil. French for ‘trick of the eye’, this method creates the illusion of depth and multiple dimensions by blending existing spaces together. Richards’ murals can be seen across multiple residences and businesses across Western Australia.
Richards’ style revolves around a vigorous step-by-step process for each assignment.
“Once the concept is finalised, I then just map it out and draw it up. Usually in charcoal. I tend to do charcoal drawings on the canvas or on panels or whatever fairly loosely,” he says.
“I scale it up so it’s the right size and then start painting backgrounds and then large areas first and then getting more detailed as it finishes, towards the end of the mural.
“It’s about trying to create some sort of depth in the wall so that’s usually what people want me for. It’s just about trying to create some sort of illusion so that the wall disappears. You don’t to see the wall surface, you just want to carry it away somewhere”, he laughs.
Richards has also gained international recognition as a painter and has been commissioned in multiple countries including Singapore and Indonesia.
“Working in Indonesia was really quite interesting, it was really hot! There was no air conditioning on these building sites, and you would be right up the top because quite often these domes were two stories high. I always had a big fan up there and drank lots of water [laughs]. That was quite sort of hard and very tiring,” he says.
“It was quite interesting though, it’s funny to look back on it because sometimes the workers there have limited resources. When you’re up on the scaffolding and got everything all set up, you might come back the next day and find the extension chord’s been cut because they stole a section of the chord [laughs].”
He frequently depicts scenes such as rainforests, scenic vistas, intricate interior décor settings, and concepts drawing on Asian, European and Middle-Eastern cultures. The colour schemes and imagery of his designs feature everything from flying dogs and cats to Ancient Egyptian dreamscapes to Alice in Wonderland-esque worlds. Richards is known to tackle any surface including courtyard and garden wall spaces, ceilings, domes, restaurants, and homes.
“With anything I do, I believe in an aesthetic look that’s quite pleasing to the eye that’s also functional, in regards to creating depth and what draws people in. It should enhance the environment whether it be an interior where you often have to take care of colours of people’s lounges, and reflect things that are in their house, or if they have courtyard and a garden you reflect the garden in the mural so the work carries through the garden and into the mural,” he says.
Since 2013, he and his niece Monique Richards have been at the centre of multiple design projects for the City of Fremantle Council, including murals on bus stops/shelters in the area to improve the city’s aesthetic and deter graffiti and tagging. One artwork on Marmion Street in East Fremantle, titled “At Your Granny’s”, resembles a bright, cosy cottage.
“I think I like just producing something that’s really good for different parts of the environment, where it may be. I quite enjoyed doing the council bus stops because they are pretty instrumental and functional. I really liked those because they create a little environment for people to sit in. I wouldn’t mind doing more of those, actually,” he says.
“Fremantle is quite a unique place, it’s got a Italian-style look and it’s a very ‘free’ kind of place. People tend to do what they like, a little bit more. There are a lot of cultures melded in there. I think it’s kind of exotic in it’s own way, Fremantle, and I want to reflect that a little bit in the murals.”
One of Richards’ latest projects is a 78-metre long corrugated iron warehouse frontage area at its warehouse in South Terrace at East West Designs, a furniture and homewares outlet.
“I first went and saw Kim (Russo), the owner, and he had a pretty fair idea of what he wanted…so I just went away and did drawings and he really liked it,” he says.
“Then after that, it was about just starting to see how, because I hadn’t really worked before on a big scale, really, we started off to see how long it would take and so on.
His use of light and shadow gives the mural an African flavour with an overflowing array of furniture and antiques part of its market shop front aesthetic. The mural has received positive feedback from the public as well as the store operators.
Richards believes in continually learning new techniques to build upon his reputation and array of talents, and hopes to try his hand at digital art in the future.
“I don’t really do much else. I mean, I like swimming and socialising, nothing really out of the ordinary. I hang around with some artists friends, see exhibitions now and then. I’m starting to do some things on the computer that I am interested in, just graphics and things. Interested in a bit of digital stuff, really – something to do when I’m older, which I am”, he laughs.
To find out more about Graeme Richards’ work, check out his website here.