Who was the most controversial artist of 2016? Kanye West would point the finger at Scott Marsh

Scott Marsh is a graffiti and canvas artist based in Sydney, Australia. Marsh’s work investigates the intersection of graffiti and high art, pop-culture and the cult of celebrity.

Marsh’s work recently amassed international acclaim when his mural depicting Kanye West kissing Kanye West garnered a global audience, including the rapper himself. Shortly afterward, Marsh found himself in the spotlight again after the overnight popularity of his Casino Mike piece, which depicts former New South Wales Premiere Mike Baird.

We caught up with Scott to talk us through some of his most notable experiences as an artist, what the journey’s brought so far, and where to next.

Casino Mike, 2016
Casino Mike, 2016

Through the political rollercoaster of 2016, few local artists have been as contentious or as prominent as Scott Marsh.

HAPPY: Could you tell us a bit about how you got started as an artist?

SCOTT: I was always engaged creatively as a kid. I loved drawing and painting all through school, and in my teens I discovered graffiti. It pretty much consumed my life from that point on, and kept me painting and drawing through until my early twenties, where I studied a bachelor of fine arts at COFA in Sydney. It was really just something to keep my parents off my back while I put all my energy into illegal graffiti, but I eventually graduated, and from painting the occasional mural commission it grew into what it is today.

HAPPY: What’s inspired you or influenced your style the most?

SCOTT: My influences are super varied. Anything from a graffiti piece on a subway car, to a Honore Daumier lithograph from the 1830s. A lot of my studio work looks to combine these graffiti, street art and high art elements, and I think that’s an extension of my eclectic taste.

HAPPY: When did you realise you wanted to take your art from something private to public?

SCOTT: I was writing graffiti since age 12, so painting outside has always felt completely normal to me. I think the realisation was actually in reverse, it has taken me many years to develop a studio practice that I feel confident in, and that’s a point I’m reaching now; it’s something I’m very proud of as it’s taken a lot of work. These days I enjoy being in the studio more than outside painting murals, I try to only paint murals when I have something to say and an idea that I believe will connect with wide audience. In other words, the murals are for the public, the paintings are for me.

HAPPY: What’s your studio set-up and working process like?

SCOTT: The usual mod cons. I have two big white walls I paint my canvases on — I typically have two very similar or the same paintings on the go on each wall at a time. I find I always reach forks in the road in terms of decision making with creating artworks, whether that be composition wise, colour, or the mood you’re trying to create. Painting two of the same work allows me to take both paths at these forks, and learn from each decision. So, most of my works have a sister painting rolled up in my studio somewhere.

HAPPY: You had quite a large reception to your pieces this year. How did it feel to see so much of a response?

SCOTT: It was really something special for me, and it made me realise that if I’m painting outdoors I want the people who walk past that work to love it, not to just paint a pretty picture, but something they can connect with. Every artist hopes that their works are enjoyed by as many people as possible, so in that sense it was what I hoped. The Casino Mike piece is something I’m pretty proud of. It has really become something of a banner for Sydney-siders to ride under against the suffocating lock-out laws, and in it’s own little way helped keep media attention on the issue, and that was always the intent.

Kanye Loves Kanye, 2016
Kanye Loves Kanye, 2016

HAPPY: Who are some big names you’re looking forward to depicting on wall or canvas sometime soon? Could we expect to see some Trump?

SCOTT: If I get an idea it’s generally on a wall pretty quickly, although I have wanted to paint a Pauline Hanson mural for some months, so maybe that’s next. At least a few times a week I get DMs asking me to painting some Trump related mural; nothing of value has popped into my head so far, but who knows in the future?

HAPPY: I saw that you were contacted by Kyle Sandilands and Jackie-O requesting a re-paint of your Kanye Loves Kanye mural, but with Kyle in his place, only to end up having them turn down the price of admission and going with someone cheaper. How do you feel about artists undervaluing themselves?

SCOTT: My understanding from speaking to the guy who painted it is [that] they paid him nothing, just a promise of great “exposure”, something that artists cringe over. If they can afford to give Kyle Sandilands a $30 million contract, they can afford to pay artists to for their work. What would your plumber say if you asked him to fix your toilet for great exposure? He would probably tell you to get fucked, and he would be right in doing so.

This is not my work… Recently I was contacted by @kyleandjackieo to repaint my Kanye loves Kanye mural as Australian radio personality #kylesandilands kissing #kylesandilands as a stunt blowing in on the publicity surrounding my Kanye loves Kanye mural. I quoted them for the work and they chose to find another artist to copy my mural in the exact same location for peanuts (for no payment according to the artist). 👎🏻👎🏻👎🏻👎🏻 Very dissapointing and a sour taste after what has been an amazing month. Please feel free to repost this!! Visit there accounts and let your opinions be heard @kiis1065 @kyleandjackieo @internpete #shameonkiis #sydney #sydneycity #supportlocalartists #kanyeloveskanye #chippendalesaysno #chippendale #scottmarsh #kyleandjackieo

A photo posted by Scott Marsh (@scottie.marsh) on

HAPPY: The Treasure Hunt concept across Sydney trains was a smash-hit creative way to put your work in the hands of punters across the city. Can we expect similar projects this year?

SCOTT: That week was a lot of fun, and for me it was the perfect marriage between my graffiti practice and my art practice. There were a number of punters who really went the extra mile, camping out at stations for hours and running through the rain in their PJs to their local station, I tried to hook them up with a print or something for their efforts. I do have three shows planned, none of which will take the form of a traditional white wall gallery show, so you will have to wait and see.

HAPPY: The NSW Labor party were selling your work as part of their fundraiser this year. You dealt with the issue, which lead to them donating proceeds to Alzheimers Australia. What’s your advice for newer artists who’ve had their work appropriated against their will?

SCOTT: Contact the person and pursue it. Most of the time it’s a misunderstanding that can be resolved pretty quickly. It’s important for me, given the political nature of some of my work, that I remain autonomous from political parties — I’m not a tool for their political gain, and I’m in no way associated with any major political party. I have a close family member who has early onset alzheimers, so I felt a sizeable donation was a win-win solution for that mess.

The Artist & The Vandal II, 2016
The Artist & The Vandal II, 2016

HAPPY: What are some other causes you’re passionate about getting the word out on?

SCOTT: It feels nice when you do nice things, so when opportunities pop up and I can help out, then I’m gonna do that. Sydney Children’s Hospital has a great arts program and WEAVE Youth and Community services does a lot of positive work with disadvantaged young people in Redfern and surrounding areas.

HAPPY: How do you think emerging artists can or should gain exposure?

SCOTT: Well, now we have social media, and that is by far the biggest and best tool you have. Endeavor to be creative. Endeavor to be different — and that doesn’t necessarily mean in the artwork you create, but in the way you present it, in the way you deliver it to your audience. Everyone’s seen a painting hanging on a white wall.

HAPPY: What are some of your most memorable collaborations or commissions so far?

SCOTT: My mural at the Lady Hampshire in Sydney definitely stands out, the owners are good mates and their venues always do a lot to foster the local art and music scenes; it was a lot of fun in the planning stages reminiscing on some aussie icons of yesteryear. It was for sure the most challenging mural I have painted to date. From memory it’s close to 30 portraits painted in a week. I was pretty overdue for a cold beer by the end of it.

#andrewjohns @leelinchinofficial and #Bencousins bending at the @ladyhampshire is about as good as #lego 🍻👍🏻

A photo posted by Scott Marsh (@scottie.marsh) on

HAPPY: What’s been your experience in pursuing art without going broke?

SCOTT: I’ve definitely done my time being broke.

HAPPY: What do you want to see more of in local art, or art in Australia?

SCOTT: I would love the see the Australian art establishment look outside their pond. There’s a lot of great Australian artists creating incredible work on a world stage who get no love from the establishment in this country. Seemingly because they have not ticked the usual boxes, and rubbed the right shoulders.

HAPPY: Your 2016 New Years Resolution was to paint more walls. What’s the plan for 2017?

SCOTT: It’s the opposite: get back in the studio! I also want to begin building a stronger international audience for my work.

You can keep up to date with Scott Marsh on Instagram.

While you’re here, check out our piece on Aussie musicians who are also artists.