Artist Profile - Brett Carwardine Words - Karla O'Connor

Photos -  David Freeman


In a Creative Writing class I took at university I was given an assignment: to choose a Salvador Dali painting and write a story as if I had just woken up in it. I chose Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee (1944), which depicts the naked body of a sleeping woman who levitates over a rock floating on the sea. Above her is a pomegranate vomiting out a tiger and an elephant with those long flamingo legs that are found in some of Dali’s other works. Full of symbolism, this work is an exploration of dreams and thus, a very fun starting point for a story. I thought of it not long ago when I took a look at some of the work of Sydney born artist, Brett Carwardine, who contributed to the recent Melbourne Arts Club launch. I thought of it because I think he wakes up in a Dali painting every morning.

Inspired by the Surrealist movement as well as Australian avant-garde artist Brett Whitely, Brett Carwardine is no stranger to producing curiously odd and outlandish work. He recently contributed three illustrations from his ‘Genitalia’ series to MAC’s Launch Exhibition, which is a collection of portraits where certain facial features are replaced with penises and vaginas.


When I sat down with Brett to talk all things art, the obvious first question to ask to ease my way into the interview was “So what’s with all the dicks and fannies?” With a bashful smirk and a role of the eyes, that told me he is not a sex-crazed lunatic with a penchant for a free flying scrotum, he explained to me that it was more about doing something confronting, something that had a bit of shock value, not to mention an element of questioning socially acceptable rules and how we censor ourselves. Would we cover our faces if there were genitals on them the same way we cover our nether regions? Interestingly, the idea originally came about when he was doing a self-portrait and couldn’t quite get the nose right. I mean, why not just cover the mistakes in the nose with a penis?

Brett has always been able to draw. When he was about five or six he would draw pictures with a girl up the street. One day they both drew a cat and through the innocence of childhood it was this day he realised his gift, as he pointed to the little girls drawing and said, “That’s not a cat!” The little girls mum was the only one offended, but really, how does one stay angry with a child who before this day thought everyone could draw like him?


From drawing much better cats than the girl up the street, Brett’s art moved into a more sex-orientated and nudity driven direction in his boyhood and adolescence. Spurred on by a fear of being busted with pornography he began drawing nudes, usually taken from a picture of a woman in a bikini as a starting point. He laughs with me about the fact that at this point in life he hadn’t really seen many naked women in real life so the vaginas are always slightly adrift… ‘The boobs are probably fine, but the nipples might be a little bit in the wrong places.’

It’s pretty clear that Brett likes to push boundaries and challenge norms. Pushing the nudity theme a little bit further, he went through a ‘pregnancy’ stage, as it was an element of sex he hadn’t explored before. He remembers it seeming ‘weird’ to others, for a young man to be painting pregnant women but Brett has always appreciated the natural body and he sees this as a natural part of being human.


Sure, some might say he is a bit of an eccentric for the subjects he has painted and illustrated in the past, but at the heart of it Brett Carwardine just wants to share ideas and get people thinking. This is also what brought him to Melbourne a few years back when he decided to get busy studying Film and Television at Swinburne University.

Since then, Brett’s visual artwork has taken somewhat of a hiatus as he has thrown his creative energy into producing four short films, one of which is being considered to be shown at this years Melbourne International Film Festival. Stay tuned for more news about Rhododendron, a single-shot 35mm film about anger and the silence that follows the din.


Film and Directing is definitely the avenue this multi-skilled creative dynamo is heading down. To him, film seems to be a more effective medium for sharing his ideas and getting people to understand them. He is always searching for something different, something new and he is excited about seeing the change in people that film and the process of filmmaking creates.

“When someone comes to your art exhibition and sees your painting, you haven’t really got much time to see if they’ve changed their mind or if they’ve finished somewhere newer to when they first saw it, but with film everyone you work with is experiencing something quite unique. Working with large numbers and seeing people taking control of their role is something I really like. Seeing people transform, especially actors who may not be 100% on who their character is and what their character does, and transforming them to that person is pretty rewarding. ”


So what should we be expecting from this discerning young man who seams to be pretty adept in anything he attempts? Well, I think we should all wait patiently for him to return from the adventure he is about to embark on, as the next year will see Brett gallivanting through Mongolia (hopefully on a yak), where he will no doubt accumulate a limitless supply of inspiration. He is a man on a quest for more information that will encourage his own evolution, as an artist and as a human being. In fact, the more I get to know Brett Carwardine, the more I realise he doesn’t wake up in a Dali painting at all, he wakes up in his own idiosyncratic world, full of wonder and provocative ideas.