Interdisciplinary artist Reko Rennie is a Kamilaroi/Gamilaraay/Gummaroi man, born in Melbourne, Australia in 1974 and grew up in Melbourne’s western suburb of Footscray. As a teenager growing up in the mid 1980s, Rennie discovered hip-hop and break dancing. It was around this time that he stole a copy of the book Subway Art by Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant from the local Footscray library. This book became his inspiration to start writing and doing graffiti; expressing himself through spray paint and producing original art on the streets of Melbourne.
In the late 1990s Rennie had, in his words been, in ‘a little bit of trouble’ and needed a break. He began looking at his own identity and family history. It was through his family connection to the Kamilaroi people of New South Wales, that he was able to look at traditional designs related to his family and blend these designs with his urban upbringing and his creative expression in art.
Rennie knew that he could always draw and paint as a kid, but found it very boring painting landscapes. He is proud that he never went to art school. Instead, Rennie studied journalism and in 2009, quit his full-time position with The Age newspaper and became a full time artist.
Rennie’s art has evolved from spray painting, stencils, screen prints, bronze, neon and back again. His work is often characterised by vibrant colours, line work and intricate stencil imagery. Drawing inspiration from his Aboriginal heritage, he recreates traditional images in a contemporary context. His artistic influencers include the works of Howard Arkley, Andy Warhol and pop art, as well as Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat.
[Featured above: Regalia (2013) neon, transparent synthetic polymer resin]. It comprises: three hand drawn symbols: the crown, the diamond and the aboriginal flag presented as an emblematic statement about the original royalty of Australia.
- The crown symbol pays homage to Rennie’s graffiti roots and also pays due respect to Jean-Michel Basquiat, but most importantly symbolises sovereign status.
- The diamond symbol is emblematic of his connection to the Kamilaroi/Gamilaroi people. This symbol is similar to a family crest; it is a part of him.
- The hand-drawn Aboriginal flag in the form of a graffiti tag, pays respect to all Aboriginal people from environments both urban and remote and anywhere in between.
In an article for ArtLink (March 2014) Rennie explains: “I’m very driven to make art, it’s my passion and as I have a lot to say and create, I’ve always been very determined. When someone says I can’t do something, then that just fuels my desire to create even more”… “As a teenager, I was a little disruptive in class and this one particular time always comes back to me, now that I’m making a living as an artist. It was in high school, around 1991 and an art teacher called my artwork “shit” in front of my class. It is something I’ve never forgotten … I wonder what he’s doing now?“… “These days the best feedback is always from my daughter – she will let me know if the work is good or bad!”
- Discover more about Reko Rennie through Artlink’s interview article.
“Is It Art?”