When Melbourne artist Rone packs his bags for a holiday, he always saves space for his brushes. So when the opportunity to paint presented itself while on holiday in the Pacific island of Vanuatu, he did not give it a second thought.
“We were just driving round the island [Efate] as tourists and we saw this village that had this big grey building and there were a couple of people who seemed approachable and that was it, we just went and asked,” he said.
With permission granted by the Mele Maat community leaders, Rone, together with friend and collaborator Callum Preston, took a quick trip to the local hardware store to buy some house paint for the job.
Over the course of the day – with a three-hour break for snorkelling – the pair turned the drab community hall into a vibrant focal point of the village. Rone has painted walls everywhere, from Hollywood to Penang, but said painting in the Pacific was a career highlight.
“I think what makes it such a great experience for me is people appreciate it so much more,” he said.
“I’d just been in Miami and every second wall in certain areas is painted.
“People walk past and they won’t even look at you … you’re just another entertainer for them. But here [in Vanuatu] we’re really doing something for the community.”
Rone, 34, is one of Australia’s best known street artists. His work has been acquired by the National Gallery of Australia and currently features as part of the National Gallery of Victoria’s exhibition, the Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk.
He has become known for his striking large-scale portraits of women’s faces. For his piece in Vanuatu, he chose to paint a local girl named Joanna. She was among a group of women who community leaders suggested might make good subjects.
“Joanna was definitely a standout, just really beautiful eyes and that was really captured in the photo I took,” he said.
“If you have a good photo to work from it all falls together.”
Rone’s diary for 2015 is filling up fast, with various commissioned works and an appearance at the South By South West Festival in Austin, Texas in March. Despite the busy schedule Rone is determined to find time to do more pieces like the work he produced in Vanuatu.
“I’m really hoping to get to South America and Africa. They’re just two places I haven’t touched at all,” he said.
“Maybe a bit of Russia as well.”