After moving to Sydney, already with a passionate interest in visual art, Phibs – loaded with ambition and a drive to paint – jumped right into the street art scene, and went on to spend a few years “getting up to no good and indulging my rebellious streak” before his career exploded and he became one of the most renowned Australian street artists around today.
Remembering his early days painting with the “kids from the wrong side of the block”, Phibs recalls getting laced up in his favorite pair of Nikes. “I was always keeping them box fresh. When we'd go do a wall and paint, it looked really stupid, but we'd put plastic bags on our feet to keep from getting overspray on them.”
Adequately suited and booted, Phibs would head out for what he calls ‘traditional graffing’ (“tagging and that sort of stuff”) he says he still loves doing that kind of work these days; only now he’s upgraded his kicks. The bold SF AF-1 High, which mirrors Phibs’ combination of tradition and innovation, seems a perfect choice.
“Traditional graffiti is the pieces and the tags you see around Melbourne a lot,” Phibs explains. “It’s mostly about communicating with other graffiti artists so the general public tend not to relate to that kind of work as much because it’s mostly stylised and hard to read,” Phibs says. But there’s still a growing appreciation of street art, and it’s highly indebted to figures like Phibs and his contemporaries.
In 2001, he moved from Sydney to Melbourne and became a part of the southern city’s notorious Everfresh crew, seeing his other work fall to the side as his mural output increased tenfold. Entire suburbs were soon associated with his colourful murals – particularly the streets throughout Fitzroy or ‘Phibzroy’, as it has been dubbed in the past.
Making two cities his own and putting in over three decades of painting – all the while refining his now-unmistakeable style – Phibs is now a respected innovator and trailblazer of modern Australian graff. As his colourful painted walls can now be seen on buildings across Australia’s east coast and now in cities across the world, Phibs has no doubt about what got him this far.
“Loving what you do is the key to getting fulfilment from hard work,” he says. “Before I started painting full time I was trying other careers until I realised it’s more important to be content and happy with the work you're doing than trying to make lots of money doing something that’s unfulfilling.”
At the time of our interview, Phibs is at work in the heat of the Northern Territory. He’s operating three-story machinery in the process of creating a giant mural as part of a collaboration with Indigenous artist Shaun Lee of the Larrakia people–or ‘Half Leg’ as he is known on the street–for the newly established Darwin Street Art Festival. They are combining artistic forces to get up a huge wall painting that will honor both their styles but challenge their typical ways of working to create something incredible.
Phibs acknowledges the meshing of two unique styles hasn’t been a simple process, but it’s challenges like this that he relishes.
“What drives me is the diversity of the work; there are always different obstacles and hurdles to jump even just at the design stage. Plus, the temperature is very hot up here in Darwin at the moment – it’s about 35 degrees and very humid – so we are at work all day in the boiling hot sun. It’s a challenge mentally as well as physically.”
The gruelling nature of the work creating murals outdoors takes Phibs back to his days playing both rugby codes throughout his youth. It’s not the physical demands he remembers but the fond memories of socialising and succeeding. “You've just gotta bare it,” he says of the tough conditions in Darwin. “I just drank a huge amount of water. I was exhausted by the end of the day but the mural was a success, so it was worth it.”
Phibs’ transition from renegade bomber to in-demand visual artist is a testament to his love for creating beautiful artwork. The evolution wouldn’t have come about without Phibs’ desire to innovate and his courage to persist. While you’ll regularly catch Phibs working in a durable pair of AF-1s, the artist never forgets that in a less literal sense, he has his feet planted firmly in the Krylon-splattered traditions of classic graffiti.
“I really love the activity and the action of painting. It’s very rewarding to sweat it out and spend four or five days creating a huge piece of work and being able to take a step back and say, ‘look at what I just painted’. The aim is to bring the culture to new places and educate people about the importance of the movement. The art is purely there to be contemplated and enjoyed—it adds a bit of colour to these big grey cities that we all live in.”
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