Interview by Dave Court & Photos by Eddy Hamra/ Che Chorley
Henry Jock Walker is a surfer and artist who uses his art practice to mess around with the crossover between the two areas. I first met Jock in mid 2014 through the award winning arts initiative Mr IST. As a part of the exhibition we were putting together, he created a sealed booth from sheets of plastic and 90s denim ads and blasted paint all over everything inside using an array of tools and machines he had fashioned. Soon after this he won the Advertiser Business SA Contemporary Art Prize for SALA 2014, had a little story on Sunrise and a solo show in the CACSA project space, as well as a bunch of other ongoing projects, so he’s keeping busy. On top of all this, he’s a good dude who can grow a good beard.
Dave: So let’s start off with Henry’s mobile studio, what’s all that about?
Henry: Art, travel, surfing, collaboration, meeting new people, places and experimenting with ideas and making in new contexts. I started off buying my van and wanted to extend my art practice, from what I started at art school.
You did Visual Arts UniSA undergrad right?
Yeah undergrad at UniSA, I figured out there that I’m not very medium or technique specific, more interested in following ideas where they’re leading and kinda creating many different processes. Using the colours orange, blue and white have been a big part of that, kind of gluing together these different processes into the same concept.
And how did you choose art school? Did you go straight out of high school and knew what you wanted? Or what did you do?
I took a year off, I went to Indo for a while, and then I came back and did this one course for design and wasn’t very into it. Then I took another year off and went overseas to Europe and then I came back and went nah I wanna make art, not design. I suppose I started off at art school thinking I’d just make surf art, I had no idea about art, I just liked making it and I wanted to make stuff to do with surfing, I kind of have in a way.
So surfing was always your number one thing?
I mean it’s just been a passion that’s always been on the parallel and managed to find its way in, always infiltrating what I’ve been doing.
Did you always surf since you were a kid? Like grow up surfing or grew up just at the beach?
Grew up in the country then moved near the beach when I started high school. Mid-way through high school I really got into surfing, a lot of my mates were already good at surfing by the time I got into it… but yeah, I did honours at VCA in Melbourne, my pitch for project was about surfing, about researching the surfing community and researching surf and art history and thinking about combinations and making connections and thinking about contemporary surf art pretty much.
After studying that for a couple of years and a couple years of shows I was like, what next? And that led me to think about how to expand and that was using surfing and art to learn about other stuff while I travelled. I mean, travelling’s a pretty big part of surfing as well; you travel to go searching for waves.
So is that the next step? A global Henry’s Mobile Studio?
Well yeah, I’m pitching at the moment to do a residency in Indonesia soon, so that’d be a research project to do a full proper HMS in Indo and Asia.
And that’ll be you driving around surfing and painting and stuff?
Yeah do a whole bunch of projects over there interacting with the local communities, I suppose it’s started out as something I wanted to do solo but it ended up being a lot more collaborative than I had imagined. Through doing this next wave festival I got heaps into pushing what collaborations could be in the project and the process of these organic and growing relationships and what comes out of them. Then that even made me think about my individual practice and how I nearly enjoy more the collaboration than the individual practice, or a combination of both. I’ve become more and more interested in team work processes.
What did you do in Europe when you were over there?
Just travelling as a grommet with my girlfriend at the time, working in Ireland I was coaching surfing and working in a little bar and we’d like hitchhike to go to work every day, hitchhiking like half an hour. Hitchhiking every day, that must have been risky? Nah like never, we’d leave like half an hour early every day and we’d get picked up every day, sometimes in like hell sports cars and stuff, it was pretty funny, because it was the two of us we’d get rides every day. Because there were no buses and we didn’t have a car there was no option, its pretty common over there.
What was surfing like in Ireland?
Heaps of great fun waves over there, it was really cold but because it was in summer it wasn’t too bad.
Is there much of a scene there? Obviously if there’s good waves.
Yeah up in Bundoran there’s a massive scene, I suppose it’s like 10 years ago I was there so it’d probably be huge now. When I was there, they were kind of like a lot less developed than we are here in Australia, so it was funny, I was like a kook when I was here but when I was over there they thought I was a professional cos I’d be doing a little air or something and they’d be like, whooah! I can’t believe you just did that!
Let’s talk a bit about our project, I think that represents your practice well, we’ve got the van with the travelling, the spin top with the painting and the surf board with the surfing.
Yeah I suppose and that’s three pretty serious tangents in my work, the painting machines I’ve been using a lot in the workshops as I was going round Australia, I’ve been creating a lot of live gallery performances with painting machines, like loose backyard jobs.
What’s some of the other machines you’ve had? Cos you had the leaf blower at mr IST, and the fan…
Yeah the leaf blowers definitely a favourite, some other ones, made of bikes that make big circles. I’ve got a motor that spins around and I just attach things to spin around, what else have I got… the fan I just tip paint into and that makes some nice marks blasting paint onto the wall, just using all those things in an ongoing performance in my studio as well is pretty fun, to make that kind of chaos.
Tell us how your surfing painting works…
So I make a painting while I’m surfing, like I’ll take a canvas out in my mouth and a little tube of paint in my wet-suit somewhere and stand up on the wave and make the painting while I’m going across the wave. I made a few for this show in Created Range.
So you went around to all the different ARIs (Artist Run Initiative) with the mobile studio? Yeah I had different shows, I did a residency at Albany at the bottom of WA, stayed there for a month and had a show at the end of that, did a bunch of performances everywhere I was, went up to Darwin and hung out at DVAA (Darwin Visual Arts Association) and did performances there with Trevy the Rubbish Warrior out front of the Vinnes Soup Kitchen, tough crowd!
Tell us about Trevy.
Oh my god, Trevy is the most incredible human being, he lives homeless up in Darwin and he’s just an extreme human, against the grain to the next level. He doesn’t drink alcohol or do drugs or anything but he just is so against like social systems, I met him and we did a little jam project for a day and I ended up hangin out with him all day every day pretty much for a week and I kinda saw Darwin, as much as I could have seen, through Trevy’s eyes. He was incredible, he knew so many great humans, he introduced me to all these artists, I was kind of on the outer and wasn’t really meeting anyone in Darwin until I met Trevy and was hanging with him and he just introduced me to so many people and so many kind of underground scenes.
And how did you meet him?
Through the DVAA, he was hanging about doing a project there and the leader there Leanne Waterhouse was like hey you should meet Trevy. But yeah he walks around the streets and just gets rubbish from the side of the road and make sculptures out of it in the middle of the street so he’ll make like hundreds of sculptures a day all over Darwin and he’s been doing that for years so everyone knows who he is and knows about him, he’s had lots of docos on him and all sorts of stuff. He went for mayor one year, he got like 5000 votes, he was only 2 votes off getting mayor of part of Darwin.
He recently spray painted freedom propaganda all over the outside of the court then dressed up as a judge and chanted what he had written to the TV cameras! Then went to jail for a couple of months… he is no virgin to controversy!
It was ‘vote number 1 for homeless bum’ that was his chant. It’s funny I still talk to him on the phone all the time, we have these really long conversations and he’s trying to transform things and it’s like I don’t think he realises it’s like everything he does is already transformed. He’s just doing it, he’s always writing poetry and always making songs, making art, he’s just a creative human and he’s so excited about the basic things of life that he doesn’t need to exist within the system. Although it would be nice for him to get a bit more recognition for his endurance!
What are some crazy travel stories you’ve got from going around the country?
I met these two guys, Bongo and Munga surfing in WA. I surfed with them for a couple days, we got great waves, I ran into Bongo in Broome a month or so later… I better go out, Bongo’s rockin’ up. So I met up with Bongo at the pub and had a few drinks and then he was just talking to this girl most of the night and I was like, this kinda sucks, and I was wrecked ready for bed so I had a few more drinks and said, alright I’m off see you later guys, and she was like, oh do you and your mate want to come out on the boat with us? And I’m like what do you mean? Fuck yeah we’ll come out on a boat with you, and she was like, you guys have got no idea.
Next minute we’re walking down the road with fifteen people and we’re like, what is going to happen? And they took us out to this little dingy and we all got in and they took us out to this massive cruise ship, all these guys were like staff on this massive cruise ship and as we were getting onto the boat the guy driving the dingy was like – guys, eat, drink do whatever you want, just make sure you write it all down so we can replace it for the guests tomorrow. And we got on to this crazy boat party, it was out of control.
There was a guy on the boat called Jock, and he was like your names Jock, my names Jock and he made me have about 6 shots of Patrone in a row like JOCK, JOCK HAVE A SHOT! JOCK yeah JOCK! So pretty much as soon as I got on the boat after those shots I was feeling pretty wobbly legged. It was all sorts of fun, we were jumping off the top of the boat, there was a helicopter, we didn’t get to go in that though. I woke up the next morning and there was like all these people there and it was me and Bongo that wasn’t part of the crew haha.
How did everyone else get off then?
I think they were still crashed out and they must apparently for the room that I was sleeping in it cost like $20,000 per night or something ridiculous, just cruising around and get in the helicopter and fly over the Kimberleys.
So awesome, so how did you get off? How did they not bust you?
Yeah they just took us back when new people were coming out; I just waited for like half an hour on the boat. That’s probably the best story of the trip.
So what’s up next?
I’m doing team work at the moment for Reconciliation with Amanda Radomi, and that’s been a really awesome process, we’re excited about each others’ work so were going to do a whole bunch more paintings together, there might be an outcome for that soon. Doing a work for Felt natural, another teamwork with Steve Langdon and Jungle Phillips, we’re going to be making a painting structure in Rymill Park, that’s in November. I’m applying for a couple of shows in Sydney for the middle of next year and then applying for the research trip to Indonesia so that’ll be my two focuses.
And lots of surfing over the summer?
Yeah lots, going to Tassie and Queensland, I might do a surfing performance painting show in Queensland when I am there over summer.
(Interview originally published in issue 2, Summer 2014)