Interview: with James Ottaway AKA Earwig

I first found out about James through the Australian Stencil Art Prize 2010 which was exhibiting at the Oh Really Gallery last year. He was one of the finalists with his work ‘Art Defines Us’. It was my favourite piece in the exhibition and I was so impressed when I discovered that he was only 16 years old and living in beautiful Tasmania. I was upset, (for myself, not him of course) that the artwork had already been sold by the time I got to the gallery. But luck was certainly on my side because James read the blog I wrote on the exhibition and about my dissapointment at missing out on buying his work. He contacted me through the “I Love the Inner West” facebook page and I am now the proud owner of an original Earwig stencil! I LOVE IT! I thought I should share this talented artist with everyone.

How old are you?

I am 16, although I will be 17 very soon.

How did you get into stencil art?

I was doing some research behind the meanings of some fictional graffiti, someone mentioned that they looked like Banksy’s work, I looked him up and soon I was sucked right into street art. I got into stencil art above other forms of street art because I appreciate Banksy’s style and I like the layering technique.

Do you study art at school? Are you able to use/develop your stencil art skills at school?

I studied art at school last year and will be doing it next year, although I am not doing it this year. My subject next year ‘Art Production’ will allow me to produce art in any form I please, so I will be doing stencil art and potentially mixing sculptures into the work. My school’s art department is very supportive of me.

How does your family feel about your art?

While I would not describe my family as massive art appreciators, they are still very supportive of my work. My father really enjoys Banky’s book ‘Wall and Piece’ and his film.

Do you get inspiration from other Australian and International street artists? Who? Are there particular works you like?

While it was Banksy that got me into street art, I really appreciate Blek le Rat as it could be said that he invented the use of stencils as street art. I like what Shepard Fairey has done with ‘Obey’ as it is now highly well known and regarded around the world. I’m a fan of street artists that go beyond paint and paste-ups, like ‘Invader‘.

What is the street art scene like in Tasmania?

There are several areas filled with street art, although it does not compare to the tourism attracting streets of Melbourne. I seen many free hand works around my home city of Launceston, however I am not aware of their creators. There are several legal walls in Launceston, so the council isn’t completing shutting us out. I have been told that if you approach the council with an idea they will be willing to allow you to paint in a designated area as-well.

Have you seen the movie “Exit Through the Gift Shop”? What did you think of it?

I have seen Exit Through the Gift Shop, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I appreciate how it shows the street art movement in a positive light and bought my attention to many street artists. However, many people have suggested that the character ‘Mr Brainwash’ is a fake created by Banksy to represent the over commercialisation of art. This message can clearly be seen in Exit Through the Gift Shop, and Banksy is very good at presenting his opinions and ideas. The film itself is wonderful and whether or not Mr Brainwash is real I think that while art is a fantastic thing there are instances of it being over commercialised. Banksy said that you should be an artist because you enjoy doing it and becoming famous and earning money is simply a side affect. I agree with his view, but I understand that artists have to eat and pay the rent too.

How did you find out about the Australian Stencil Art Prize? How did you react when you found out you were a finalist? Will you be entering again this year?

My dad brought home a clipping from a newspaper talking about the 2010 Australian Stencil Art Prize, I read the article and noticed that the deadline was only a few days away. I checked out the website and viewed the 2009 finalists. I decided I stood a chance and entered the competition. It was something where I thought I was good enough yet still never imagined to be chosen at the same time, so when I received the email I was very surprised and honored to have been chosen. I will be entering again this year and I am currently deciding which design to do.

What would you like to do when you leave school?

When people see how creative I am they tend to ask this question assuming that I will head into the art scene. However I apologise that my answer may disappoint you. I actually wish to become a pilot, preferably through the Air force. Despite this I will never give up my artist pursuits just because my career is of a less creative nature.

What’s next for James Ottaway AKA Earwig?

After the 2011 Australian Stencil Art Prize I’m not sure what I will do. Although I know I will be quite busy in 2012 with my Art Production class. I will always continue making art and perhaps I will try to get into a local gallery or some Tasmanian features as so far all the news about me is in fact Sydney based.



Huge thanks to James for giving us an insight into his world of stencil art and I wish him the best of luck with his 2011 entry for the Australian Stencil Art Prize (although based on last year efforts – no luck needed).

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