Exclusive: Zachary Bennett-Brook Blends Indigenous Art With The Waves Of The Ocean

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Art is life, it is bliss, it is nature, it is everything in around us. It is culture and life itself. Which is why artist Zachary Bennett-Brook's art is quite magical and unique. The 24-year-old who was born in Torres Strait Islander and raised on Wollongong, Dharawal country, on the South Coast of NSW, Australia, combines his passion for surfing and his ocean infused Indigenous heritage. Bennett-Brook's artworks are created from recycled surfboards and fins, adding a modern twist and a unique touch from traditional Indigenous Australian art on the surfboards, as well as on canvases.

HYPEFRESH’s Erin Simon (@erinasimon) talks with Bennett-Brook about his art, the inspiration behind it and the process for making his artwork. 

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Erin Simon: How did you start doing this style of art?

Zachary Bennett-BrookI got into art sort of by accident. Growing up I would always draw little things and loved graffiti and street art. During my High School years, I did a unit on Indigenous Australian art, being Indigenous, it was an art form, which I had been brought up with and knew very well. I remember deciding I would give it a try and when I showed people what I created, their responses were really positive. From their, I started painting more and more, giving my artworks to friends and family who were really impressed. One day I was approached from a local school to do a painting for them, while I was painting and waiting for sections to dry, I was becoming a little impatient. Being a surfer, my garage has always had a number of surfboards scattered throughout it. And I thought it would be sweet to combine my surf and Indigenous culture together by painting on a surfboard, and that’s how it took off.

ES: What was the inspiration behind it?

ZBB: My main inspiration when I first started was to create really bold and eye catching artworks, which people wouldn't have seen before. In Australia, Indigenous art is something almost everyone has seen at some stage. I wanted to change the perception of Indigenous art and showcase it in a new and modern light. Painting my works on things that resonated with me and things that I used in everyday life like surfboard and skateboards was another way to show my work and attract a different audience.

ES: What is a typical day like and what's the process for painting a board?

ZBB: For me when I’m creating, my day starts with coffee, music and a surf check. I find it helps to get the creative juices flowing and gets me in a good mood and ready to work. When I’m painting a board I normally will have spent 1 or 2 days prior prepping the board, getting the surface smooth and spraying it with a black base coat. After I've had my first coffee, I will put my headphones on and get to work, I will normally select 3 colors and white to paint my work and start dotting. I will work until around 12ish when it's time for coffee 2 or 3 depending on how the morning is going. Over lunch I will do some emails and jump onto Facebook and Instagram to see what is happening in the world of social media. After lunch I will keep painting or I might start on another work to break it up a little so I don’t get too bored working on the same thing all day. Depending on what the weather is like I might go for an afternoon surf or skate to relax a little and clear my head from painting all day long.

ES: What was your favorite board to work on?

ZBB: I love working on any shape or size surfboard, depending on the shape and size it can alter and influence the design and artwork. Being able to infuse my surf culture with my Indigenous culture in such a way is great. I’m really keen to paint a few more big Malibu surfboards or Stand Up Paddleboards. When I was in Hawaii, I had a sweet time on the SUPs and being so big it would make the perfect canvases to paint on.

ES: What is the story or meaning behind the traditional Indigenous Australian dot art? Is there some significance and reason why you use that art specifically?

ZBB: Dot art is one of a few different forms of traditional Indigenous Australian Art, I use this style as it allows me to best paint my designs and patterns while connecting to my traditional roots. Traditionally sticks and other objects stuck as roots and rocks were used for dotting to paint, my work still keeps with these traditional elements as I often use varying sized sticks to gain my different sized dots. Symbols are often used through out Indigenous art to represent different things and my work constantly embeds these traditional symbols to tell stories and give meaning to my work.

ES: Have you created any artwork for anyone? Surfers and etc?

ZBB: I’m constantly working on commissioned artworks such as surfboards and canvases to skateboards and fins for varying clients. I recently painted up a range of football boots for players, which gained the interest of numerous players and NFL Seattle Seahawks Indigenous player Jesse Williams. After chatting with Jesse, I ended up painting him a custom Seahawks cap with my artwork on the brim. Also, I just recently finished painting a custom vinyl record for Australian rapper Briggs, which turned out great. I have collaborated on a few different projects with brands and companies to develop sweet and unique Indigenous art work ranges, which I’m stoked about.

ES: What is your background/culture?

ZBB: So my Indigenous background is Torres Strait Islander. My great grandfather on my mom's side of the family was of Torres Strait Islander background. I’m born and raised in Australia and am from a placed called Wollongong, which has the Indigenous name Dharawal country. It is located right between the mountains and the ocean.

ES: Do you have any interesting experiences that have occurred during your art career?

ZBB: I was recently on a panel, which was held for Creative Arts University students, the panel was made up of people who are in the art industry. I found it really interesting as I was the only person who had no formal art training and had not studied any type of art. They were all blown away that I’m self taught and didn’t have a degree in fine arts. I have been lucky enough to travel a lot growing up and it’s always sweet to take work away and complete it in a different country and see how the locals respond to my unique work. I was recently featured in an international in-flight magazine, it was funny opening the booklet on the plane and seeing my face and artwork spread across the pages.

ES: Why do you love doing what you do?

ZBB: I love doing what I do for a few different reasons. Firstly being able to showcase Indigenous Australian art to people who may not normally get exposure to the art style is rad, as it also allows me to connect to my culture and keep it alive in a positive way. The ability to intertwine my surf culture with Indigenous culture is another reason why I absolutely love painting. The freedom, which comes with it is also great, if the surf is gold, I can put the paints down catch a few waves and come back to where I left my paints.

ES: What are your influences and inspirations?

ZBB: I gain inspiration and get influenced by stacks of varying things and people. My family and culture definitely influence my art in the way that I paint and how I tell stories through my artwork. The ocean plays a large role in my life and is a definite source of constant inspiration, which can be seen through the blue color tones that I often use to the smooth flowing circular lines in my work. Other creative and artistic people who are pushing the envelope in their own selected fields are always great to watch and make me want to strive for more.

ES: What makes your art different and unique?

ZBB: My art style is a combination of traditional Indigenous Australian dot-art infused with contemporary bold and bright colors. It has a good splash of surf culture added to it and a few table spoons of fine detail. All of this is mixed together with an array of smooth flowing lines and circular designs which results in my unique Saltwater Dreamtime artworks.