You’ve definitely seen Eddie Botha around, whether you know it or not. He’s on trams. On street corners. He may even be sitting next to you right now. He’s also one of our favourites and we had the chance to catch up with him this week to learn about his work, his struggles growing up and his international exhibitions coming up this year.
Tell us a little about your exhibition.
The exhibition in the Lower East Side, New York is featuring all electronic artworks. It is called ‘Happy Birthday Eddie Botha Exhibition Cake Eating Party’ as it opens on my birthday on 29 April at Con Artists. I developed something I’m calling Artronica, where I incorporate electronic components into the artworks, getting the viewer to press buttons with sounds and moving parts. My dad used to be an electrician so I always fiddled with electronics when I was young. It’s also a matter of incorporating technology into the artworks since people are gradually developing a fear for robots. My work is always about interaction and this is a further exploration of that. I make them humorous, quirky, and hopefully entertaining. Drawing is always my main focus, but mixed media and collages makes up the base of the drawing, setting the scene for the story to unfold.
How did you first get involved in art – were you one of those little kids who always loved being creative, or is it something that came later?
I did art from the age of 3, always loved drawing. My dad was into the arts, and mom a physiatrist. I have Tourette’s Syndrome and as a kid it affected my speech and social abilities, and I resorted to drawing to express myself, and tennis. Branded as a child art prodigy, I did well in art and had lots of tuition and encouragement. My dad wanted me to have an easier life and did not allow me to study art after I matriculated, and I chose Landscape Architecture. I loved it. And I still drew my designs and perspectives by hand. My style became more graphic in the process and layering and patterns became evident. After we moved to Australia, I found all the council rules for landscaping very frustrating as it dampens creativity big time. I did some oil paintings and sold them easily. It dawned on me that I might be onto something. With my wife, Jennifer’s encouragement, I produced more and over the years it snowballed into a full time career for the past 3 years.
Where do you make your art, and how long is the process for you?
Currently I work from my home studio in Balwyn North. We have a big house and it’s quite an ideal setting with lush gardens and ample space and great sound system. Music is very important to me. I had a few shared studio spaces before, but due to lots of international work happening, I am away for extended periods, making additional studio spaces impractical. I am a prolific artist. Ideas comes up all the time, and I don’t have the time to implement them all. The time an artwork takes depends on the complexity of the detail and size, so anywhere from a couple of hours to 3 weeks.
How does living and working in Melbourne influence your work?
My work is urban inspired. I love street art and just going to 10 or more exhibitions every week to absorb the art. It’s so important to see what other artists are doing and to move with the flow of styles. Not to say you follow, but being influenced is great. I take what I like from what I see and interpret and dissect it and blend it into what I like.
Who or what do you turn to for inspiration on days when creativity just isn’t flowing?
I seldom get dry, but sometimes you just have to give it a day or 2. My work is now much more idea and philosophically driven, still with emotional input. When I was younger, it was all about emotions, and that was an unstable driving force. Going to museums, theatre, art exhibitions, or even just the city, can spark an idea. Talking to friends can help, and my wife is a great encouragement too. Dreams and the subconscious is important to me too and I try to incorporate those aspects into my artistic process.
What is your favorite artwork of yours and why?
I love the new electronic artworks. They are just so much fun and complex, yet simple. I love doing the collages and mixed media backgrounds too, but it’s ultimately the drawing that makes it stand out a bit. I honestly can’t single out any particular artwork. It’s always evolving and at a specific time, an artwork makes sense in terms of style and message, and you have to look at it in that context. I do love my older works just as much as the new ones. They often had an innocence and freedom that I am gradually losing as one becomes more accustom to certain tendencies and materials.
What is your favorite artwork of someone else’s, and why?
I love so many artworks by so many artists. There is so much good art around nowadays, it’s astounding. Again I can’t single anyone out, but some street artists inspire me tremendously. Partly because their reason for doing art is often sacrificial and not calculative. When an artist can have this emotional freedom in their art, then that is really appealing to me. That’s why I love ancient rock art too. It’s so primitive and raw, yet so expressive and free, similar to street art. There are at least 50 artists that I am paying close attention to, most of whom are good friends.
How has your work changed over time?
It changes all the time. It used to change more rapidly earlier in my career. It has settled now, but I do experiment a lot with materials and mediums, so it’s never stagnant. I get bored easily, so that helps me to move along. I make sure that my work is recognizable and my drawing style helps with that. I draw from my surroundings, so traveling makes good sense and forces me to incorporate new topics into my work.
What’s the worst piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Don’t be so sensitive and don’t ride a motorbike
What question do you wish we’d asked you, and what would your answer have been?
Perhaps about what I have been up to in the past year and what’s coming up. I managed to represent Australia in the Asian Art Biennale is Dhaka in Dec, after having a 2 months Art residency in Singapore. Both those went extremely well. The Art Tram has been a huge blessing as well as being part of the 5 walls project in Sydney together with Fintan Magee. I have a few local groups shows in Melbourne as well as in New York and Singapore. There are 5 Bayside council exhibitions I’m doing for 2017 and that is a great honour. I’m trying to secure another 1 or 2 solo shows in Melbourne towards the end of the year. The solo show in New York that I mentioned earlier, is part of a 2 months residency in April and May and I’m working hard on that right now. I listed them on my website. The general momentum in my career has been picking up really well and I feel that I can soar to new heights. Having said that, there is nothing like smaller group shows and community-based work, where you get to know people and things are more personal. Always keen to collaborate and share. It’s all about interaction at the end of the day and sharing the joy and love, making the world a better place.
Words: Julia Howland
Images: Courtesy of the gallery/artist.