Beauty & The Street

4 July 2012 | 7:00 am | Paul Ransom

"If I don’t sell anything at the next exhibition I’m probably going back to graphic design."

The city is a space where beauty and grime collide and so it is no surprise that street artists like to reflect the urban mash-up in their work. Melbourne artist Rone does just that with his increasingly famous 'girls'.

For ten years Rone has been evolving his collage-style posters of beautiful women, pasting up under bridges and on textured surfaces around town. It is a style that has catapulted him to international art fame. His girls now reside in the streets of London, Paris and New York and adorn the walls of galleries and private collections.

The juxtapositions in all this are inescapable, starting with the girls themselves. Rone has taken the age-old image of the beautiful girl in art and inserted it into often 'ugly' spaces. “I just kinda fell in love with the idea of beautiful women on posters in the street,” he explains. “Just the way that they all broke down, all got weathered. Y'know, it's the contrast between the ugly walls and deterioration and the beauty of the portrait. It's like beautiful decay.”

Rone's latest solo show, Fall From Grace, takes this clash and transforms it into gallery art. Here again is another of those juxtapositional moments. “It's quite weird,” he says of the refined art world he now finds himself in. Moreover, it represents a shift in practice. “When I was just making my own imagery from stuff I took from magazines I was just putting it on the street and I wasn't making money off it, so it didn't feel like I was stealing,” he recalls. “When I started making money off it I didn't feel comfortable then selling something that wasn't completely mine.”

The transformation from largely unheralded poster paster to collectable artist has also forced changes. “Pretty much right up until 12 months ago I was working as a freelance graphic designer full-time and happy to keep doing that and I was just doing this [art] as a hobby. I never thought I'd be able to live off it,” he admits. “I guess now it's more like a job. It's a job I love and I wouldn't trade for any other job but you've gotta take it seriously. Y'know, you can't sleep in.”

Despite the international clamour and invites to Hawaii's renowned Pow Wow convention for street artists, Rone remains realistic. “You're only as good as your last show, so if I don't sell anything at the next exhibition I'm probably going back to graphic design. Y'know, you can be hot this week and dropped the next.”

For his first solo show of 2012, Rone has filled Collingwood's Backwoods Gallery with a dozen new works, including five on brick. More than a simple compilation, Fall From Grace explores the idea of the modern heroine. “It's not quite femme fatale but more the idea of someone who has changed in a way that can't be reversed,” he says. “It's like a loss of innocence. Y'know, you can't go back to way you were.”

With a style that recalls the work of both Basquiat and, to a lesser extent, Kandinsky, Rone's highly textured, stylised ladies reflect not only his self-taught technique but the cultural crash that brings together street and suite, high and low, classic and contemporary. As Rone himself observes, “I didn't try to make the clash, it just became like that.”

Fall From Grace runs until Sunday 8 July, Backwoods Gallery.