Interview with Robert MUNDAY

the ephemera interviews

In this series of interviews artists directly involved in ARIs and artist-run culture 1980- 2000 speak about the social context for their art making and provide insights into the ephemera they produced or collaborated on during this period. Artist ephemera includes artworks, photocopies, photographs, videos, films, audio, mail art, posters, exhibition invites, flyers, buttons and badges, exhibition catalogues, didactics, room sheets, artist publications, analogue to digital resources and artist files.

Robert Munday

BIO

Rob Munday currently lives in Auckland, New Zealand.

 

Born in UK in 1961, Rob works across a wide range of visual arts in mixed media with an emphasis on design and social comment. After many years as founding member and president of Cairns’ Tropical Artists Guild (TAG), he followed a career in advertising, where he continues to work as a Creative Director.

 

During the 1970’s – 80’s Rob was heavily influenced by the emerging socio political scenes in England, where he bounced between the alternative and squatting scenes in Somerset and London. He attended Somerset Art College for 4 years, during which time the alternative counter culture shifted from the ‘hippy hangover’ to a more socially provocative punk scene, driven by expressive music and a new social awareness. He became politically active during the Thatcher years, helping associates produce anti-tory literature and produced his own socio-political artworks ranging from photocopy art to one-off T-shirts.

He arrived in Cairns in the early 80’s and worked briefly with Cairns CYSS (community youth support scheme) to facilitate a creative and commercial screen-printing offer. Rob had a leading role in establishing the Tropical Artists Guild, a community arts facility and movement, which he represented as president. His personal work remained political and poignant, using screen prints, statements and photocopy art as his lead mediums. He wrote and co-produced community radio shows as a music curator and later co-developed a format for TAG’s own broadcast ‘Glad Rap’. He led the group to produce the ‘ Son of TAG’ magazine, which enjoyed 7 issues. As president of TAG, Rob networked locally and statewide.

 

Numerous group shows including:

 

TAG
Crackerbox Palace
Raintrees Arts Centre

 

Over the past decade (to 2016), Rob continues to network with Australian and New Zealand Artists and creative minds.


 

PA: 

1980’s Qld-Brisbane Social History: By way of a detailed personal snapshot, the milieu you experienced during the early to mid 1980s as a young artist living, working, collaborating in Cairns, what sort of world was this Queensland for you?

 


 

RM:

Cairns was actually really cool, lots of like-minded individuals and creatives, pretty much living in paradise. There were many professional artists practicing and living in the area including Garry Andrews, Viv Spooner, Vaughan Rees, Ray Crooke and probably a thousand others….and everyone was ‘accessible’ nobody stayed out of reach, you could engage with any of them on a platform of mutual understanding. It was cool. And hey, you could eat stuff from the trees. Bonus.


 

PA: 

The Bjelke Petersen Regime, “The Police State” political Backdrop how did it impact upon you?

 


 

RM:

I’d just spent 2 years or more getting out of Thatchers Britain, I’d heard about Joh and Queensland before I got there, but honestly I had no idea just how brutal and nasty it could be. The police state definitely caused me to ‘migrate’ my left wing, socio political mindset once I realised that we were not ‘living in paradise’ but living on the edge. My ‘statement-style’ photocopy artworks seemed to have a new relevance here, it was intentionally confrontational, but I was never sure if buyers ‘got it’….everything seemed so innocent.


 

PA: 

How did this political climate directly impact on your friends and peers?

 


 

RM:

You’d have to ask them that really. I think everyone was affected in some way. There were individuals who definitely understood the political climate and were actively challenging authority…I won’t name names.


 

PA: 

And on the type of art work you were making at this time? What type of technology were you using and why so?

 


 

RM:

Hah..I would use what I could afford. We were all pretty broke, so photocopies, felt pens, light boxes and silk-screen were my weapons of choice.


 

PA: 

Kinship: By way of a brief biography, tell me about of your immediate family background, your cultural background / family immigration story and one or two vivid recollections of your childhood?

 


 

RM:

UK born, Airforce brat, expelled from UK public school.

 

British motorbikes, discos, head butts, cheap beer. Lived on an island in Greece for 2 summers, which changed my life. And if I hadn’t gone to art college, I’d probably be eeking out a lowly living in rural somerset somewhere..which isn’t so bad really. I still feel a connection with Somerset, but not enough to go live there. Saw lots of great bands in UK of course, never paid to go to Worthy farm festival either.

 

Crass was a major influence on me too. I couldn’t understand a fucking word or even the incessant whine of their albums…than one day I read the lyrics….and discovered that I could now appreciate and listen to any music…as long as it wasn’t shit.

 

And that philosophy follows me today. I can see any side to the story. As long as it’s not shit.


 

PA: 

Are there other artists in your family, tell me about this in some detail and if they have in turn inspired you or you collaborate with them in some measure?

 


 

RM:

Hmmm…to a large degree, my creative friends are my family bro.


 

PA: 

Is there a vivid memory from your childhood when you knew you wanted to become a professional artist or media producer? Tell me about this in some detail?

 


 

RM:

Art and English were the only things I was ever interested in. As a kid I would sit on the floor in the car, behind the driver’s seat and copy drawings I liked from magazines…Art college saved me I reckon.


 

PA: 

Art Education- Tell me about your early arts training, were you self-taught in some measure?

 


 

RM:

I did 4 years at Art College doing graphic design, got a diploma with credits and flunked my MSIAD due to my poor attitude. I think you follow your own path, so yes, there has to be the element of ‘self-taught’.

 

I think everyone has an artist within, it pisses me off that society-in general-only acknowledges ‘real art’ like being able to reproduce something like a fucking photograph. I see it in my own kids, who do really cool shit, being disappointed because their ‘art teachers’ are always promoting their own form of recognition of ‘art’.

 

I just show them my collection of Garry Andrews abstract expressionist works…and say-hey…this is art mate….do your own thing.


 

PA: 

Higher Education? Tell me about your advanced studies in some detail?

 


 

RM:

As above

I think everyone has an artist within, it pisses me off that society-in general-only acknowledges ‘real art’ like being able to reproduce something like a f***g photograph. I see it in my own kids, who do really cool shit, being disappointed because their ‘art teachers’ are always promoting their own form of recognition of ‘art
Robert Munday

 

PA: 

Tell me about your self-directed education in relation to your art practice?

 


 

RM:

I think life educated me, but I used to indulge myself once a year with the D&AD annuals…just to keep abreast of my professional, moneymaking craft.


 

PA: 

Tell me about your sense of place at the time living in Cairns, what made you feel connected to this place, what made you feel you belonged, if at all?

 


 

RM:

Social acceptance and accessibility. Plus you could eat stuff from trees and rivers…spoilt.


 

PA: 

Education, reprise – Were you particularly inspired by a teacher or visiting artist during your education? Tell me about this in some detail? A memorable quote, event, exhibition or technique for example??

 


 

RM:

Lucky for me, my art college tutors were cool. Jack Gardner was my design tutor and I studied alongside Tony Brook, who is now a legend (spin uk). As a peer, Tony’s work was always that bit different in approach and application. That was inspirational actually.

 

Back to Cairns tho…and to answer the question…I remember spending a bit of time with Garry Andrews in Cairns. I had somehow managed to share an iota of his private life, then I saw the work he produced during that period at a solo exhibition..and finally I understood every painting in the show. That was inspirational.


 

PA: 

And looking back now, has this time in your life left a significant impression or imprint in your consciousness or worldview, one that you still hold dearly today?

 


 

RM:

Yeah, apart from the wonderful years immersed in community arts, I have come to realise that a nasty, fascist, right wing government is shite…but fuck. It kept the underground alive. Where is that now?


 

PA: 

Pop Culture- Tell me about one or two vivid recollections about the popular culture and / or music that mattered to you most at this time?

 


 

RM:

Yeah…there would be a lot for this section-musically: Buying the drumsticks for the Buzzcocks concert in Taunton, cos the roadies were too smashed..understanding Crass…Poison Girls…waking up at worthy farm hearing the Only Ones singing ‘another girl another planet’… I could go on..but it will get self-indulgent….bugger that.


 

PA: 

Was the TV show Max Headroom and later MTV important for you at this time? How so, why so?

 


 

RM:

Well, it was different…in a sea of pretty boring shit. I was in UK at the beginning of the 80’s..we would huddle round the black and white TV, hoping the licence fee vans wouldn’t nab us for not having a TV licence! Channel four had launched in UK and started out showing really cool anarchist movies..but that changed pretty quickly as commercial reality set in. So…it was just John Peel, Revolver, OGWT and Max….


 

PA: 

Where else did you hang out for arts and culture, with who, when and why and how did this make you feel at the time, did it feel that the Cairns/Brisbane/Queensland art scene was growing and /or changing?

 


 

RM:

People would basically revolve around different homes and groups, lots of stimulation from a really diverse bunch of characters in Cairns, I’d have to write a book to name everyone…Crackerbox palace, TAG, Milliways restaurant (upstairs at TAG) and good old Rusty’s Bazaar, Kuranda markets etc. were some of the focal points.

 

It didn’t feel like the scene was growing, it felt like more people were coming out of the woodwork. Raintrees had an arts centre, which looking back, would have been an ideal evolution, but in those days-Raintrees seemed like it was out in the backwoods and was catering for some awesome professional artists…which we were not…but they did have a bar.


 

PA: 

Was Punk sub culture ( New Wave/ Post Punk etc.) meaningful for you at this time? Why so how so where so and when?

 


 

RM:

I Think I’ve covered that..yes it was meaningful. A new post-hippy awareness driven by socio political music and minds.


 

PA: 

Tell me about what you observed about your artist musician friends, peers and collaborators who were women – and/or who were indigenous, gay, lesbian, trans or different in any way, what was this socio-political climate like for them, the challenges, the contents and discontents, the zeitgeist of social change afoot?

 


 

RM:

Myra. This one’s for you!


 

PA: 

Where did the developing ARI scene at this time fit into this broader infrastructural scenario- what did you experience in the ARI sector by way of support, patronage and development?

 


 

RM:

My own introduction to the ARI definitely came from Brisbane, via Dale chapman, John Douglas (somehow?), Robert Hughes (then coordinator for community arts QLD) and THAT contemporary art space. I remember walking into THAT and thinking..’shit, these guys have got it together’ but I also then realised That TAG was absolutely pumping and it was going to be the tyranny of distance which would affected TAG, funding and Cairns at the time. ..Brizzy seemed like another planet…and there were still punks. I think we had one punk in Cairns…’cos it was just too hot for leather jackets eh Dean Raybould?

 

Rob Hughes did come up to Cairns to lay it on the table and we even went to see the mayor-Ron Davis….after which Rob basically told us we didn’t have a chance in hell of any local support. He outlined the most likely state funding channels with us and helped lay a plan to keep TAG alive while it evolved.


 

PA: 

Tell me about your three or four of your most memorable share house experiences during this time – where, when with whom – and how they may have introduced you to the Artist-run space scene and in what year? Pre internet the question many ask is how did you network, share and comingle?

 


 

RM:

I think people would just turn up, maybe a day or two word of mouth ‘warning’ or some kind of notification by phone via a friend…..TAG came from a shared house, but I found a small place on my own where I could print and do my own thing. I remember Dale Chapman, Brian Chi and others…dropping by, staying and we probably raved and drank a fair bit….while the snakes kept vigil in the unkempt back ‘lawn’.


 

PA: 

Why do you feel there was such a proliferation of ARI activity during the 1979-1990 period in Queensland?

 


 

RM:

I think the ‘state’ drove everybody underground, you pretty much knew where you stood and everyone who knew the score would just get together socially on the grapevine…and do stuff and organise things….with much of it being provocative and critical of the state…


 

PA: 

Qld during the last decade of the Bjelke Peterson regime- It was a unique socio-political setting compared to other state? Your thoughts and observations?

 


 

RM:

I never spent much time in other states, so pretty hard to compare. I do remember the ‘first’ brazen storefront smash and grab happening in Cairns just after Wayne Goss got elected tho…That wouldn’t happen in Joh’s state…well..not in Cairns so much. The expectation was that cops would kick the shit out of you!

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