Bruce Munro Tropical Light

Gloria Richards

Gloria Richards is a designer and graphic artist enjoying the blurry area between design and art. She created a temporary 3.9m artwork as part of the City of Darwin’s Neighbour Day Pop-Up Public Art Project, and was recently commissioned to create a visual response for the 25m wall at the redeveloped Parap Pool. Here, Gloria talks about the exuberance and lushness of the wet season, what inspires her and the different layers to her artwork.

What do you love most about living in Darwin?
Without wanting to be totally cliché, I do love the relaxed, friendly nature of Darwin. Friendships here are different too, closer. I suppose you’re more exposed here than down south. 

What is the best thing about the Tropical Summer?
When I first moved here I went away for two weeks to Canberra. It was during the wet season and when I came back everything seemed to have exploded overnight. There’s this massive growth that’s connected to the fecundity of life here that occurs during the wet season. I love it, and of course the rain. You just breathe it in.  

What's something you can only do during the Tropical Summer?
For me, the wet season or Tropical Summer is a time to really chill out. It’s the collective sigh after the build-up. I actually love just being at home in my studio during this time. I recall one wet season overhearing some visitors in a shop complain that it had started raining. We have a different attitude to rain. The rain is so welcome.

How long have you been an artist?
I’ve been a graphic designer for over 20 years now and lately I have been moving into in that weird space between being a designer and an artist. 

How have you developed as an artist?
As a designer nearly everything I did was 2D, then I went and studied architecture for a year and while I knew I didn’t want to be an architect, the course opened my mind to different ways of doing things especially three dimensionally. Following this, lecturing in design has more keenly focused my mind on the creative process and exposed me, again, to more critical thinking and creative problem solving. [Since then] it’s been fantastic and really exciting to think in this space.

What is your project for the Tropical Light Exhibition?
My installation consists of five outdoor sculptures based on my current body of work. Appearing a little like mushrooms or other fungi that have materialised overnight, the sculptures seek to symbolise the exuberant growth, giant vegetation and periods of intense tropical rain that characterise Darwin’s lush and tropical wet season. It’s a site-specific work, titled Tropical Macrofungal, with a quirky, playful and irreverent aesthetic. The sculptures have aimed to capture the idea of relaxed, open-air living and our connection to the outdoors. Situated near the lagoon at Darwin Waterfront, it’s the kind of installation I want people to have a relaxed interactive experience with.

What are the sculptures made of?
Each sculptural element has been constructed from durable, printed, marine grade waterproof fabric with a steel substrate and high-density foam. The sculptures were also upholstered, styled and digitally printed. 

Can you tell us a bit more about the imagery used for the skin of the sculptures?
These artworks have been inspired by the quirky, nature of our community as well as our connection with our unique built environment. If you just walked around the CBD as a visitor there’s a side of Darwin that you wouldn’t see. I wanted to explore this idea with imagery that relates to our unique built environment, our flora and fauna, the human element and objects that are well know to people in our community. [For instance] the need for water towers speaks of our flat landscape. They’re like these alien creatures that have descended and our urban environment has grown up around them. The Paravista Motel in Parap is iconic in how it’s a bit old school. I love the old buildings that we still have here because there aren’t a huge number of them left. The Gun turret references our military past connecting to who we are and the physical effects of war and being the only city in Australia bombed. The crane talks of our building and construction – connecting to the notion of rebuilding after war and cyclones. It’s this stuff, this structural evidence you wouldn’t see if you just walked around the city centre. 

Along with this are alternative objects that are part of Darwin’s local cultural vernacular: a jackfruit, mosquito, longbum, cycad head, the elephant ear wattle and the atlas moth, juxtaposed with human elements. Darwin is really like nowhere else – the people and its built environment are a bit idiosyncratic and curious - and in essence the imagery on these sculptures try to reflect and capture that. It’s about having an understanding that there’s another layer to the city. 

Where do you get some of the inspiration for your work?
I ride around East Point a lot and one day I saw these big mushrooms all together in a big patch and they’d just materialised overnight. While I didn’t consciously think about this as an artwork as such, their form influenced me to create sculptures that take on the appearance of oversized, soft, bulbous spheres.

What advice would you give to aspiring artists?
I’m not really in a position to give advice to aspiring artists to be honest.  I think everyone has their own take on Darwin life. That’s what’s actually really interesting. It’s all the different perspectives and interpretations.