Like fresh paint swirls and dances across John Mezzini’s canvases, his muses glide across the stage; their movement providing endless inspiration for the artist’s oil paintings.
The last time we caught up with the Adelaide-based artist, he has just completed a series of oil paintings inspired by (and in collaboration with) award-winning Australian pole athlete - Miss Filly. Most recently, John has collaborated with current Australian Pole Champion and Aerial Artist, Bethany Finlay, in a series of paintings that John hopes “opens our minds to what the human form can inspire.”
Penthouse caught up with both the artist and the muse to chat about the collaboration.
In John Mezzini's words
How have you coped as an artist during the pandemic? Has it been beneficial for you?
I don’t think I’ve put my paintbrushes down. The consistent lockdowns provided me plenty of time to sharpen my axe. I don’t like to waste time, as you get older you realise there is only so much of it.
Of all the artistic mediums, why oil painting?
Oil is the hardest medium to work with. It teaches you patience and perseverance. With acrylic, if you don’t like it, you can paint straight over the top - no loss. I like to be reminded that whatever I do is permanent, the choices that you make are final. It makes you that little bit more responsible for your painting. Even though you kill many of them in the process.
What keeps you passionate about painting?
Mostly the actual “doing” part, painting meeting people and then seeing what they translate into when I get them on my canvas. Art is a poison chalice, it’s not something that in most cases you can make a living from, so you have to be really in love with it to get any real reward or you are just enjoying making pictures. Which is great, but I want something more, I want to be an artist, which has a lot more complexity, in a way, I define myself by what I make, not who I am.
How did your collaboration with Bethany came about?
I had seen Beth pole dancing before, so contacted her through our mutual friend and tattooist, La Dean Tattoos, when I was looking for subjects for my “Aliorum” exhibition at POME. She came to my opening and afterwards we had a little chat I thought “wow, I got to make some more paintings of her”. She was just such an engaging lady, both visually and personally. Within a few moments my art brain was spinning up ways of what to make and how to make it.
What was your process for completing this painting?
Usually I try to use what is already in Instagram, unless the subjects have tones of reference photos or are willing to work with me to come up with something new. In the case of these, Beth has tonnes of Instagram feed, so considering I was painting at warp speed at the time, I just worked straight from my phone. I get a general “sense” of what kind of visual idea or concept from what I see and step past that into the imaginary. During our chat I pretty much had formulated what I was going to do way in advance. Most of the time if I meet someone interesting, my brain is subconsciously drumming up ideas on how I could make them into a painting. It happens if I want it to, or not.
From your point of view, how was the experience working together?
Pretty cool actually, I respond to lots of things when working with someone, but certainly compliments and never hearing “I don’t like it” are the big ones. Beth is a great subject, she looks unique, she is a huge amount of visual information for anyone to take in and she knows how to become living art. I just had to assimilate her huge persona and gentle personality into something 2D, which Beth was happy to let me run with, I certainly hope I got it right. There is a big trust component to asking someone if you can make a painting of them, it’s very personal to take the actual image of a human and filter it though a paintbrush, most of the time people assume it’s going to be awful I think.
What do you hope this set of paintings unveil about dancers?
This is a really great question. I believe the thrust of my work with performance artist is that they are making live art and it should open our minds to what the human form can inspire. I think so much is taken from the image of someone who is a living breathing work of art when they are seen live. There is also much admiration for the discipline these people have. I hope some of that rubs off onto others (including myself). There is certainly a lot of effort put in to what they do, I take that and add my own effort. Artists should support other Artists.
Previously you have collaborated on a painting with award-winning competitive Australian pole artist, Miss Filly. What inspires you to paint dancers?
I really enjoy painting Miss Filly, I have painted her more times than anything ever she just cuts such good lines. Pole dancers are a never-ending source of inspiration as they are constantly focused on the shapes their bodies make in the space. They are also comfortable with the skin they live in, as in, it’s not the kind of sport where the body conscious flourish. As an artist who paints the shape of humans, I enjoy never getting a “sad” painting from a pole dancer. They always come out happy and beautiful, sometime joyous. I certainly get enough of the mundane in regular life, I certainly don’t want to paint that. I think it’s going to make a great exhibition one day, just pole dancers. I’d definitely go and see that.
Which dancer or dancers you would like to work with in the future?
It seems every year when I get to a certain point, I feel the need to paint one of my favourite pole dancers. I hope to continue this for the future to one day make an exhibition of them solely I have discussed this at length with one of my favourite galleries. I have met quite a few in person as my wife is involved with the sport. I always hoped I could get to paint Mischa, Chilli Rox and of course Maddie Sparkle. Hopefully one will come into my orbit one day. It’s not something I do solely but I certainly enjoy it.
Where can we see more of your work?
This month I’m showing “Monumentum” a major exhibition, the biggest I have ever done at Fortyfivedownstairs gallery in Melbourne from 25 January to 5 February. This comprises of 25 large scale pieces of performance athletes from all over the world, including the Atherton Twins and Miss Filly. Come along and support the arts!
Follow John Mezzini on Instagram
In Bethany’s words:
When did you first start dancing, and what is it that keeps you passionate about it?
I started pole about 12 years ago. I used to be an elite gymnast and I found that pole was so similar to gym I fell in love with it straight away. The possibilities on the pole are endless. Everyday I am trying new things and that's what keeps me passionate about it. It's also so much fun and I've made friends all over the world through pole. Like John!
How did your collaboration with John Mezzini come about?
John contacted me through Instagram asking if I'd be okay with him using one of my images. Of course I said yes. I went to see his work at his exhibition in Melbourne. It was amazing to see the painting in real life and this was also the first time I'd met John in person. We got to talking and decided to work together on something bigger.
What did the collaboration process look like?
John kept in touch with me and sent me updates on the paintings daily. Each time he sent me an update, you could see the paintings changing dramatically. Each time he sent me an update I was blown away with how it was coming together. To be involved in the process was really amazing.
From your point of view, how was the experience working together?
It was super easy working with John. He is so good at what he does. I just sat back and watched him create!
How did it feel to see yourself depicted in John’s artworks?
I think the paintings John has created of myself are phenomenal. The first one he did I was amazed. Then he did these new paintings and I was even more impressed. I'm lucky he chose to work with me. It's been an honour!
Follow Bethany Finlay on Instagram