Reko Rennie: Geometric Vibrancy

Reko Rennie’s vibrant geometric paintings have developed from a background in street art and his own heritage. fluoro spoke to Rennie about how his art allows him to explore his Aboriginal identity within an urban context.

Embedding Indigenous Kamilaroi symbolism within his work has allowed Rennie to combine urban culture with the rich heritage of indigenous culture. Rennie’s style is bold and encompass a variety of mediums including painting and neon lights. The influence of street art is evident. “I’ve always enjoyed the colour and intensity of neon… I love the graphic nature of neon and it’s another medium that flows well with text and symbols,” he says.

(f) How did your work progress from graffiti to structured artworks?

After starting out in graffiti, I then moved on to experimenting with different mediums. I tried using stencils, pasteups, painting, and looked at what mediums worked well to create works both on and off the street that resonated politically.

I then started looking at the techniques I had acquired from the street, looking critically at my own experiences and family history and making work that reflected an urban perspective on my identity.

Things naturally evolved from the street to canvas through trial and error. I discovered that there are many works I want to create using diverse mediums. It just depends on what I want to create and where I can do it. There are many beautiful mediums to work in and at this point in time, I’m not going to limit myself.

(f) How has art helped you to explore your Aboriginal identity?

I think art has really helped me both explore and share my identity. I’m sharing a personal story, a critical thought, an idea or an opinion through my art. These ideas, thoughts and opinions are informed from my personal experiences, both negative and positive.

(f) How do the geometric patterns in your work relate to Kamilaroi symbolism?

The geometric iconography I use in my work represents my connection to the Kamilaroi people of north-Western New South Wales. Traditionally there were four male symbols and four female symbols to represent a kinship system; communities and families. These symbols were also used in relation to ceremony, burial and ritual as well as maps.

In a Western sense, the diamond pattern is a bit like a family crest, this is my family crest, so I use it in my work to express my connection to family, culture and community.

(f) Tell us more about the merge of Aboriginal motifs and urban culture seen in ʻInitiationʼ?

‘Initiation’ is a 41-panel work that plays with the traditional notion of ‘initiation’ from an urban perspective. This work is particularly graphic; I drew a lot of the images featured on the panels.

Some panels relate to growing up in the city, getting into trouble, and other adolescent experiences while other panels feature my signature diamond patterns and repetitive symbols of the hand-drawn crown, diamond and Aboriginal flag.

The symbols with ‘Initiation’ are presented as an emblematic statement about the original royalty of Australia. The crown symbol is both in homage to my graffiti roots and also pays due respect to Jean-Michel Basquiat, but most importantly symbolises sovereign status. The crown reminds us that Aboriginal people are the original sovereigns of this country. The diamond symbol is emblematic of my connection to the Kamilaroi people. This diamond symbol is similar to a family crest; it is a part of me. 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.

Rennie’s work is on display at the National Gallery of Victoria as part of major exhibition, ‘Melbourne Now’ until Sunday 23 March 2014. His work will also be exhibited in a solo show at Chalkhorse Gallery in Sydney with blackartprojects in early 2014 and an installation at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Rennie will also undertake some community projects and travel.

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