Callum Preston - Life After Loss
Words - Bree Stewart of Breezus Lives Images- courtesy of Breezus Lives
About Bree Stewart and Breezus Lives
Bree Stewart is a 20-something mental illness advocate who lives in Melbourne's inner west. Bree strives to break stigmas challenging mental health in Australia through her website breezus lives. "I've experienced more stigma about my mental illness than I have about my same sex relationship," Bree says. Bree has an art background, previously a graphic artist and musician she is now currently training in acting. Here, she talks with fellow artist Callum Preston.
Callum Preston - Life After Loss
A breath of stale Colgate followed me as I walked the streets of the world’s culture capital, New York City, pondering what the dick I am doing with my life. Transitioning between art forms has been a constant for me. One day a graphic designer, the next a musician and now dabbling in the world of acting I feel daunted by how little I have achieved as a creative.
Next minute - Callum Preston. The perfect insight to return home to; a man who reminds me there are no specific regulations within the art world. Put plainly, you can do whatever the fuck you want as a creative being, so stop worrying about the external.
Preston hails from Melbourne’s Everfresh Studio, nestled towards inner Collingwood. Recently CP has caught the attention of art lovers for his DIY exhibition Bootleg to the Future. Prior to the home made DeLorean, Callum has been known to work with bands such as The Amity Affliction and Parkway Drive as well as a recent tribute mural to the great Keith Haring on the day of his birthday.
Callum talks to Breezus about how the loss of his childhood hero to suicide has had a huge impact on the work ethic he upholds today.
Callum, give the people a run down of who you are and what you’re all about.
Hello, well I consider myself a freelance creative, I work on a number of projects at once, in a variety of mediums to a pretty broad array of clients. In any one week, or even any one day, I may work on some graphic design, a mural, sign painting, interior design, construction, sculpture, videography, illustration, I never know what may be coming up, but I love it.
Whilst you’re the ultimate creative, for me your album and touring poster artwork is most outstanding, from Parkway to Paul Dempsey and beyond there’s a clear passion within the visual medium of the music industry; is music a remedy for you personally?
When I was a kid, my biggest artistic influence was album artwork and skateboard graphics, and now, I get to do both on a regular basis. Working on art for the music industry is really rewarding, I've played and toured in bands a whole bunch, but that time in my life seems to have passed; the element of that which remains is designing artwork for tours, albums, merch, logos etc, this was something that I simply fell into as a by-product of playing music since age 13. I would do flyers for our gigs and make shirt designs and meet people, then I kind of just became that guy. As I met more people, work expanded, some of those people went on to be in some of the biggest bands going, so my work was seen by more and more people, and my reputation grew.
For me music is an awesome remedy in all its forms, but you gotta be careful, it is powerful, when you're angry or frustrated its can be a release, when you're sad though, the wrong song can feel oh too familiar and actually bring you down even more. It's an amazing thing. I don't think I realised just how much music had an influence on me until I first met my wife. The classic old "love songs seemed to make more sense" was totally true, I started to assess why I liked certain songs, some reminded me of my youth, of freedom and new experiences; first road trips, skating with friends, finding my identity as a young teen, and believing in my own tastes rather than going with what everyone around me thought was cool. Music can transport me to lots of old fond memories, thats my favourite part of it.
Which musicians are you tuning into at the moment?
I am excited for Paul Dempsey's new solo album, have seen a bunch of the songs live and they are brilliant as always. The current playlist has a few randoms on shuffle: Danzig, Morrissey, Credence, Action Bronson, Rancid, Violent Soho, Cold Chisel, Australian Crawl, Mindsnare, Pup and others. To be honest, right now, I'm listening to way more podcasts than I am music, music's really good for when I'm drafting e-mails.
You appear to have a deep love of what you do - when did you become aware of your devotion to art?
I am totally aware and thankful for how lucky I am to be able to do what I love as a job as well as to mix it up with what I'm working on. I totally love it. It really has become part of who I am. When it comes to jobs sometimes that's a bad thing, but I am constantly putting tiny parts of myself out into the world in the form of my artwork. As a result I'm always honoured when people enjoy what I do.
I really didn't have a moment where doing art seemed like the only option, but I knew that no matter what, I would always dabble. I haven't had an employer since 2012, it's been full-time freelance since about 2005. I also spent a few years travelling/touring/free of responsibilities, then worked overseas for a few years to be with my now Wife. Finding a partner who is as driven as me (perhaps even more so) really pushed me to the next level and gave me the confidence to pursue full-time creative work. Her support has been priceless in furthering my career, and has allowed me to work right alongside her and be a part of launching huge projects both locally and internationally.
I bloody love that you don’t conform to one role as an artist, not simply “designer” or “videographer” but instead an all round creative. Do you feel better off not confining yourself to one style of artistic expression?
My business card says "Callum Preston - Professional Person" because I got sick of explaining that I am one thing, but I also do X, Y and Z other things. The way I look at it is people come to me with a creative problem and I provide a creative solution, be that a logo, marketing plan, interior design ideas, whatever. The randomness of what I do certainly makes me feel free, whilst at the same time, it forces me to always be on the hunt for work as well as maintaining relationships. It's very easy to be left out in the cold client wise if you go off the radar, plus there are hundreds, or thousands of people who are brilliantly talented coming up daily.
I am free, but I am kept on my toes by the instability of that freedom.
Have you ever worked in an office?
I have worked in retail, a warehouse, and an office. Of all these jobs, there were positives and negatives. For me, mostly what bugged me was the fact that I was working on someone else's empire, and it impacted on my own side projects, it was really easy to get comfortable in those jobs, collect the pay cheque and let the idea of doing my own work slip down the list.
Office life isn't for me, but that's not to say it's not for everyone, I know lots of people who do great work from the walls of a cubicle, but for me, I need the flexibility and control that I have. If I'm frustrated I have the option to just go for a skate, or step away from my desk and paint something. I don't exist in some fantasy land, I still have times when I am rushing to meet a deadline and stressed as hell, but at other times, I can drop everything, spend time with my wife, friends, go and explore solo and cross stuff off my "to do" list, which feels good!
Do you find art to be a strong outlet within the upkeep of your mental health?
Working with my hands and mind is without a doubt one of the best positive outlets to help my mental health and vibe in general. I get great satisfaction from trying my hand at new mediums and styles, always learning and chasing new experiences. Creating art is equal to exercise for me when it comes to clearing my head, but sometimes the making of art gets me to a point where i need to clear my head...with exercise!
For someone who would like to get into art, but is scared he/she doesn’t have the natural skill to do so - what’s your advice?
My advice is that the best thing about art is, there is no right or wrong answer, if you want to make art, anything you make isart. Remember that! I actually dropped my art subjects in year 12, I never studied graphic design or art. I made my own way and did things the way I wanted to; anyone can do it that way, but it takes dedication and patience for sure.
Tell me about your experience with suicide.
Suicide has actually had a huge effect on where I am at with my career and my work ethic. Since I was a tiny little guy, I looked up to the son of a family friend, his name was Matthew.
I don't actually remember meeting him or his family for the first time, they were just always family friends, he was about 10 years older than me. To me he was soooo cool. I wanted to be just like him. I wanted to look at all his stuff and hear his music collection, watch movies he recommended and so on.
When I was about 7 years old and Matthew was well into his teenage years, he had a halfpipe in his backyard. I had begged my mum to ask them if I could ride it, and after some time I finally was given the all clear - Christmas came early. I was so excited I rocked up first thing in the morning knocking on the door. His Mum told me to come back later, I did so, probably at 9. So his Mum trotted out these two teenage boys, quite probably hungover. They came out barefoot, and sat around in the baking sun, cheering me on from the top of the ramp whilst I paddled around the flat deck. A millisecond in time from over 20 years ago, but I can still feel the glow of how stoked I was to have their attention. It meant so much to me - he was my mentor.
As Matthew and I got older, he fed me culture from the big wide world. Copies of Transworld skateboarding, CD's from Pennywise, Nofx, Helmet, Pearl Jam. Hand me down clothes which became my uniform, he had a pencil case with Rollins band logos drawn on it, a habit I soon picked up. As I got older he grew up and moved out of home, when I went past their house with Mum, I wouldn't see him. He was living his own life at uni, becoming an adult, and I was still a kid.
As the years went on Matthew became a man, he got married and such. There were family holidays we hung out together. I got to see him in a different light. He was kind to me, and funny, and above all was a grown up. I didn't realise at the time; but looking back, it struck me at that point "one day I will be older too, I'll be starting a family" and that was ok. He made growing up seem alright. Matthew had a baby, I would hear about his life from Mum whenever I stopped by, but I fell out of contact with him directly. This was before Facebook, I would hear "Matthew and his wife are building a house" or "Matt had a daughter" I'd query, "does he still have his skateboard? Oh he does!"
Matthew ended up building a house near mine, though I never stopped in. I was starting to find my way in the world, I was making art and graphics, also printing shirts and compiling a collage of all my favourite old school skate graphics, all scanned from the pages of magazines that Matthew had given me over 7 years before. I was so stoked on the design, I ordered some shirts and thought "I wonder if Matt would wear this? I wonder what he looks like now, would he look old? What size shirt would he wear? Would he like my band?" I ordered him a shirt and knowing where he lived I thought I could pop over with one for him, meeting him again as an adult; as equals.
A week later whilst waiting on the shirts to get printed, I came downstairs and my Mother was crying having just gotten off the phone. I had never seen her cry. When I asked what was wrong she said "Matthew's dead, he's hung himself". I felt the floor whip from under me like a magician pulls a table cloth without losing all the glasses, leaving them standing there rocking from the impact wondering how they didn't get flung across the room. I stood there, staring at my Mum, mouth open, no tears, no sound, just blankness and confusion. I know it was a day or so later when I was laying in bed and it hit me. I felt like crying, but nothing would come out, I really wanted it to happen, but it never did; it was the first time I really just felt so incredibly sad.
How could he? Why would he? What made him? What about his Wife and Daughter? A million questions, and no singular answer, I am still looking for the answers now, as a man, near his age of death. I feel a lot of things when I think of Matt - empathy, anger, but for a long time the one I couldn't shake was fear. Fear that the man I looked up to, a man who seemed a good template and benchmark for my own life had thrown it all away. If I looked up to this guy my whole life, had I been looking in the wrong place?
I read a lot about suicide, I talked to some friends, read books on loss. I started to hear stories about suicide more and more, then I would feel guilty. Was I being that person who dives into a tragedy and doesn't really deserve it? I mean, I hadn't seen him in years. But slowly it dawned on me that my feelings of losing him hurt so bad because I saw myself in him. The day he died I wrote down my feelings about him in a letter to his wife. I didn't know why exactly, it all just came out. She has since told me that she plans on letting her daughter read it when she is old enough.
Matthew lost a battle. It was him against his own brain. It had never occurred to me that there was a battle to be had against yourself. I was sheltered from these things, I had never seen depression, or anxiety or mental illness, but now it had a place in my mind.
In the years since Matthew died, I have worked harder, furthering myself and questioning who I am in the world. I have opened my eyes to what I am passionate about and made it my priority. I have done my best to be an ear to those in need, to try and be something that he might have needed; working to make myself proud and meet personal standards. I still see myself in him and I want him to be proud of me. I have used the day he died as a turning point to remind myself that this life isn't a warm up round. Our existence is crazy and amazing and shitty and unfair and wonderful all at the same time. I am still that little kid getting 5 minutes of skate time on my hero's ramp. Now, I treat the world as my ramp. I am proud of who he was, how Matt died will not define how I remember him as a man.
So with Matt's struggle in mind, moving forward how can we break the shitty stigma around mental illness?
It's all about reading the play. Serious discussions about mental health are important, however humour and real life examples are just as important. It's a way for people to keep themselves a little bit protected as they reveal themselves, 'cause that shit is not easy, to declare that you need help can be very hard. I believe that everyone is out here trying to keep their own shit together, so if you feel like someone doesn't care about your stuff, remember, they are trying to keep their ship afloat as well.
On keeping the ship afloat.. When you’re at a low point, is there a process in which you follow to pull yourself out of the darkness?
I am very lucky, I have a wonderful wife who is not only supportive of all that I do, but is an inspiration to me with all that she does. She makes me want to be the best me possible, as well as some great friends and family. Though as we know, you can have the most perfect life in the world; rich beyond all needs or whatever, but nobody is immune to feeling down. I tend to find if I am feeling down it has usually snuck up on me, I can shake off most bad things in the moment but occasionally I get low, then my motivation drops and I feel overwhelmed... There is no set ritual to break the sequence for me, to be honest often the answer is some quality time with those that I love, reconnecting with friends who I don't see enough of, sometimes even the answer lies in doing more work. Something fresh, fun and creative just for the hell of it, that is a great mood builder for me.
Around 5 of the 7 Aussies taking their lives each day are male, as a young Australian man, why do you think this is?
Men don't talk enough. It is a fact that has been researched - we are terrible at it. It's not totally our fault, my father's generation were brought up to shun affection and emotion. Most men of that era had a very basic relationship with their fathers, whereby being told "I love you" was not really the done thing. Fast forward to our generation, well I like to think that most people are doing their very best to raise the next generation of men to be better. For me as a 31 year old male, maintaining friendships with men can be difficult, you have to watch out for your mates, they can drop off. Being present and attentive to our friends is a part of our duty as human beings, also the mentality of disrespecting the women in our friends lives as breaking up "the boys" is dumb, outdated and a cowardly excuse for not being present enough to say "hey mate, how are you going, is everything ok with you?. I also think that it is so important to be friends with women. You need to be able to to respect women and have rewarding non sexual relationships with them. We are humans, we have varied perspectives on the world, men need to be good friends to women and receive that in return without their idiot brains going "ahhhh she likes me". I learnt so much from my fantastic mates who are women, including how to be a better man.
My hope is that as the world shifts collectively, if we can understand the world better we can better understand ourselves. I truly believe that if we can raise a generation of men who understand feminism and deny the disrespect and marginalising of women across the board, then that generation of men will have a much better chance of processing their own emotions freely, a barrier we have built for ourselves under the guise of "boys don't cry". The human brain is complex and self destructive enough as it is, it doesn't need us to push stereotypes of machismo in the mix.
Talk to your friends, girls, guys, older, younger, family, whoever. Every set of ears is a different perspective.