There are many young female artists making a name for themselves on the Sydney scene right now, one who stands out from the pack in particular is Bridge Stehli. We’re not entirely sure why? But she just seems to be out there amongst it, keeping hela busy, not giving a fuck, doing her own thing and keeping most of the boys in check. It’s a nice way to be. Nothing’s more disappointing than a writer who doesn’t write, a band that doesn’t jam or an artist who doesn’t paint.
We caught up with Bridge and she shared with us little snap shots of her soul. It was a nice surprise, enjoy.
Where did you grow up?
Though we did quite a bit of moving around, I spent most of my childhood in Sydney’s inner-west, with the longest period of time being in a big rambling Victorian house in Marrickville which I lived in until my 22nd birthday. It had a sprawling backyard with a really rad tree house that my dad built out of a fence.
Did you come from an artistic family or did you pick it up somewhere else?
My parents are and always have been very interested in art, they are both in the rag trade now, as was I for a brief moment. They are amazing people, some of my favourite items of clothing are things my dad made for my mum when he was studying. They always encouraged me to draw, paint and read when I was growing up. They are both running their own businesses now, collecting art and are the coolest parents in the world.
What was the first thing that drew you to making art?
While I can’t be sure, as I would have been very young. I have to assume I would have been influenced to start greatly by the illustrations in picture books and Saturday morning cartoons. I had all these old editions of Grimm’s Fairy tales books with all the original etchings, the pages were all yellowed and the spines were falling off. I would read and re-read and study the illustrations. A little later, along came ‘Ren and Stimpy’. I was never the same again.
Can you recall your favourite childhood memories?
The time I tried to make peanut butter in my dad’s vice, the time I was dressed up as a koala, playing Fifi pig in my primary school musical ‘Starsruck Fairyland’ and then again for its sequel ‘Crime comes to Fairyland’, meeting my dog friend, Tricksy (R.I.P) at the RSPCA, my imaginary friend ‘drongo’, the time I listened to Prince and first realised he actually wasn’t saying ‘You sexy Mother-Father’…
Do you think your childhood had a lot to do with how you turned out artistically as an adult? Why?
Definitely. Everything I draw inspiration from comes from my childhood. I don’t think I ever actually grew up, I’m still a kid. All my influences lie in cartoons I watched as a kid, books I read, places I went. The most prominent theme in my work is childhood and the way we see things differently as we get older. I’m still the same person as I was when I was eight, almost, I have the same interests, the same beliefs and the same haircut.
Tell us about the first time you wanted to be an artist.
I was in year one or something when I first announced I was going to be a cartoonist. I wasn’t far off really. It was my aim for a good long while, until the High school careers advisors steered me in the direction of Graphic design, that led me to become misled into pursuing a career in Fashion Design, whilst all of this was going on I was still painting walls. I finally got back on the right track about three years ago, realising I was not going to be satisfied until I was doing exactly what I wanted, no matter how poor it made me.
How has that journey been so far?
I’d be fibbing if I said I’ve had a dream run, but close. I’ve been lucky to gain the support of people who are in the know. There are people like Ben Frost who have been willing to help every step of the way. I’ve worked incredibly hard, lived in squalor, starved at times, put myself in poor health but it all gets overlooked when you do something you know is good. I think you have to have a great deal of optimism if you want to make it as an artist, without that you’ll give up the first time you get threatened with eviction or someone pulls the piss out of what you do.
Tell us a few things you like to do with your spare time.
I’m pretty much always painting or thinking about painting. I paint walls with friends and I paint on my own. When I’m not painting I’ll be calling my friends relentlessly for long conversations and drinking beer.
You do a lot of work and keep yourself busy, what inspires this creativity?
I’m a workaholic, I can’t help it. I think being around and involved with other people who are like-minded helps. Having people to bounce ideas off who are actually interested in what you have to say is a bonus. One of my favourite go to guys for this is Kid Zoom, our experiences so far have been similar and often in sync. I get him drunk and he listens to my incessant rambling.
What are the positives of being a part of the Sydney art scene?
There are many positives, I’m very proud to be a part of it. It’s actually amazing to see how much talent there is here and how hard we all work for each other. I’d be nowhere without the help of my peers. The idea of attempting this kind of thing without the support of a few amazing people terrifies me!
Of course, being so far away from everything else can be a bit of a negative at times. Air-fares are expensive. And of course Australia is a little behind a large portion of the world in its perception of art. Sydney feels sterile at times, it’s too clean, the council is too diligent with their graffiti removal. That gets boring.
You have a strong animal theme happening within your work, can you explain your curiosity with animals?
I’m not really sure I know the answer as to why I’ve always loved them, it’s something to do with their honesty. They aren’t self-conscious or guilty or manipulative like people. They have been kind of forced into their positions as the under-dogs, placed at our disposal and then we add insult to injury by dressing them up in ridiculous outfits and using them to push products. I poke fun at that, but it’s actually really messed up. That aside, who could help being fascinated by them? I say anyone who isn’t is weird.
What’s your favourite medium?
Large scale, I like aerosols, big tins of white and black buff paint, friends and beer. Small scale, I like Acrylic paint, tiny brushes, hammer, nails, sandpaper, timber, wood stain, Hall and Oates and beer.
In Sydney there is a lot of art happening everywhere, on the streets and in galleries. Do you have any ideas of how things can improve for Sydney artists?
There are a million ways it could improve. For starters, the council could stop buffing out all the murals that go up, that’s really annoying. We definitely need more legal spaces to paint and for kids to practice on. There are plenty of spots that look like shit and could do with a bit of sprucing up. I actually pull beers for a lady who works for railcorp, removing graffiti. Even she has admitted to agreeing with me, she even said it makes her SAD to have to remove it.
Do you have any advice for someone starting out as an artist?
Be prepared to work really freaking hard. Have a thick skin (I’m still working on mine). Never half-ass anything. Don’t do corporate gigs unless they are forking out big dollar bill. Get acquainted with your peers. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Be nice to people. Acknowledge those that go out of their way to help you. Return favours. Help others when you are in a position to. Don’t be a wanker, works for some, epic fail for most.
Who are your influences? Which people inspire you?
The list of artists that inspire me is lengthy, but to name a few, John K, Robert Williams, Todd schorr, Ed ‘Big Daddy’ Roth, Ben Frost, Kid zoom, Beastman, Daek, Max Berry, Ron English, Deb, Anthony Lister, David Attenborough.
Do your influences get referenced in your work, or do you reference them in other ways?
Naturally they do. My current body of work actually focuses on that as a theme. It’s about the things which encouraged me to do this in the first place and pays homage to the old masters of cartoons, the references are very deliberate and easily recognisable.
What other creative things do you do?
I wish I could say I was additionally front woman of a moderately successful band. Alas, this is not the case, in reality, painting and drawing are the only things I do well. I do, however, run a project titled ‘Graffiti on Graffers’. So far I’m up to issue #4 and just about to release issue #5. For each new issue I choose a graffiti artist and paint something on to their skin. So far I’ve featured, Masto, Dboe, Amuse, Water and recently Onshow. I’ve been trying to team up with a new photographer for each shoot as well which adds to the collaborative nature of the project. Those that are familiar with the Graffiti on Girls phenomena will understand the reference.
Graffiti on graffers can be viewed at http://www.bridgestehli.blogspot.com
Are there any new creative projects in the Pipeline?
There are many new projects in the pipeline, most of which I don’t want to talk about for fear of jinxing them. I’m very pleased to say that I’ll be taking myself and Graffiti on Graffers to Last Chance Studios in Perth, I’m actually writing this from the plane. I’m looking forward to a change of scenery, meeting and collaborating with some new artists and hanging out with the amazing crew at Last Chance.
So what would you like to see happen in the future, are you making any plans?
SO MANY PLANS! But scheduled for the very near future is an exciting solo show and plenty of travel.
Are you a movie buff or a book head?
I’m definitely a book-worm, though I have been known to watch films if they are animated or have talking animals in them.
Any recent life changing moments?
I went to New York late last year to be a part of a show titled ‘Nimbus Vapour’, whilst I know it’s cliché because everyone says this, It really changed the way I see things. More recently though, I’m nearing the end of my third month living out of a suit case. It’s nice to know I’m capable of such things, it’s also nice to know that there are people who like me enough to have me crash their couch for weeks on end.
Cremation or Burial?
I wouldn’t want to be cremated for environmental reasons and I wouldn’t want to be buried in a cemetery in a box either. If I had to make a decision, I’d like to be buried coffin-less under a tree somewhere in the woods in North America. 6 feet though, otherwise the wolves may dig me up.
Any last words of wisdom?
Should I be concerned? I’ve just been asked how I want to be disposed of and now am being asked to say my last words. Alright then, Ladies: don’t say ‘genital mutilation’ to males whom you are courting. Seriously.
*Illustration of Bridge Stehli by ARTIST UNION