Ian Strange isn't hiding any more.
The Australian artist, whose international career kicked-off under his street tag, Kid Zoom, is back home and showing with his legal name. On July 26, Strange's second major exhibition, SUBURBAN, opened at the National Gallery of Victory. For two years, he traveled the United States painting, filming, and photographing abandoned homes. The resulting images, covering seven site-specific interventions, are barely believable. Did he really paint a whole house red? How the hell did he get permission to light a house on fire?
While the street art scene's stars busily travel the world and plaster their work on walls in the festival circuit, Strange works quietly. While some guys impress with 30-foot tall paintings, Strange wows with wild ambition. In 2011, he built a full-scale replica of his childhood home in Sydney's Turbine Hall. The exhibition, appropriately titled HOME, also included videos of Strange blowing up three iconic cars. The man Ron English called "Rembrandt with a spray can," proved he wasn't afraid of contemporary art's grand scale—Paul McCarthy and would no doubt be impressed.
SUBURBAN makes Strange a sort of street art Cristo. He hasn't lost his flourish with the can, but now he's focused on a conceptual idea mores than the thrill of elicit painting. This is a coming out party: Ian Strange is working unmasked, and he's making a statement.
Do you hate the term street art?
Not at all, but I don't think it's a term I would apply to this work.
It seems you are making a point about the potential of exhibiting street art though?
It's not really my intention to make a statement about the exhibition of street art or street art in general. Having said that, my background in street art has definitely shaped my views on the importance of documentation and is a big reason for the focus on high production value documentation in my new work.
How do you feel about the current state of outsider art? It seems the buzz is dying a bit, and the world has moved back into celebrating blue chip artists over everyone else.
I think it's up to individual artists to make their own paths and create the work they want to make regardless of buzz or market. I'd like to think that good artists stand the test of time and prove their worth with consistency and a track record of quality over many years.
Ambitious is an easy way to describe what you do. What inspires the scale of your work?
It's all driven by a core idea and everything is then determined from that. I felt this work needed to be made at this scale to be successful though it's also why it takes so long for me to complete projects and exhibitions.
Do you view this show as a natural continuation of your last show at home? You built your childhood home from memory then.
It's not a conclusion, but it's absolutely the natural progression. The last show HOME was a very personal investigation of my own suburban upbringing. SUBURBAN is expanding on that to look at the suburbs as a whole and the family home as a larger icon.
What was it like spending time in American suburbs? How did it compare to your upbringing in Australia?
It was a great experience. I think there is, at its core, a similar idea of suburbia in both Australia and the USA. We had the same post-war boom in the '50s and '60s. In Australia we also got a lot of American TV (mostly sitcoms), which were so strongly based around family and the suburbs, so the American suburban home is something that is strangely familiar to me.
How did you go about finding the buildings and getting permission to paint them?
Each house was different, and there were varying levels of difficulty to each. Ultimately, I had an incredible team of people working with me on this, and we just kept working on leads.
What about burning a house down. What kind of reaction did you get when you asked to do that?
We actually had built a great friendship with a fire academy in Ohio, who were a really huge help and very supportive of the project. If it wasn't for them it would have never been possible.
How did people respond generally? Your painting must have been a bit of shock to surrounding communities. Tell me about the positive experiences and also the negative.
For the most part the response was overwhelmingly positive, especially after we explained the project. We had a few moments of friction with people, but we always won them over in the end. Because we had to involve neighbors and communities so much, it really started a lot of conversations about homes and housing with neighbors and anyone who was passing by. So for me the most positive thing was seeing people react to these works in their own streets, which in turn really helped me to grow and understand the work as I was making it.
What was the impetus to incorporate film and photography? Is this a documentary project or a performance piece?
It's documentation of work. The final artworks/photos and film won't show any of the making of the work. It will simply be photography of the houses and film of the static homes.
You show your face in the video? What made you want to "come out" now?
My work has become a lot more personal and I think it's important to meet the audience half way and show that I'm being sincere about the work. It's also not really that I'm showing my face; it's more that I've stopped hiding it. It's a similar thing with now working under my real name.
Strange's SUBURBAN is on view through September 15, 2013.