ARTIST Matt Adnate is “amazed” by the level of community support for his Wickham mural of an Aboriginal boy, which will be demolished and then replicated on high-rise apartments to be built on the site.
Adnate painted the mural, arguably the most recognisable public artwork in the city, as part of the Hit The Bricks event in November 2013 and said it was only ever intended to be temporary.
“I grew up as a graffiti artist, I was used to my work being painted over and gotten rid of,” Adnate said.
“But the community, they've taken an amazing sense of ownership over this, which is really powerful and really incredible.
“There’s some pieces I’ve done around the world, like this one, where the community has such a strong attachment to it, a massive attachment to it, where they get more attached to it than I ever am.
“It’s something I never envisaged would happen.
“At the time I was doing it I wanted it to be a strong piece that represented Indigenous Australia but there was still a lot of spontaneity that went with it, so to see it be such a pivotal piece and strong piece for the community, I never expected it.
“It’s about creating awareness and understanding and a sense of pride for Indigenous people.”
The mural is on the McNamara Adams building, which will be demolished to make way for Thirdi Group and BaseBuild’s new apartment complex Stella on Hannell, comprising 149 apartments across two 14 storey towers on the corner of Bishopsgate and Hannell Streets.
It’s the third of four pieces in their WestEnd precinct puzzle.
Thirdi director of sales and marketing Luke Berry said the value of the mural could be compared to that of a heritage building, given its beauty and significance to the area.
“Like many residents and visitors to Newcastle, we see this artwork as part of the WestEnd’s and Newcastle’s cultural DNA, something totally unique and something to be celebrated,” Mr Berry said.
“From the time we purchased the site it was in our plans to reinstate it.”
Architect Luke Mahaffey of LJM Architecture said fences would go up around the site in coming weeks and demolition was expected to start the week before Christmas.
He said the bulk would be demolished in January and construction would start soon afterwards and be complete by mid 2020.
Mr Mahaffey said he expected Adnate to join the project in early 2020 and spend a few months painting the new mural, which he said would be at least double its current size and most likely on the exterior facing Dangar Street, which will be a pedestrian thoroughfare.
“This is not a tokenistic gesture,” Mr Mahaffey said.
“Accommodating a mural with this symbolism and size has always been integral to the design of the building.
“It’s also been a thought out process to maintain the character of the area. Having the original artist is worth its weight in gold. This is a chance to get something long lasting, similar to Melbourne.”
Mr Mahaffey said the mural may “wrap around” two sides of Stella.
“The building has vertical faces and there may be bits and pieces on that as well,” he said.
“We’re not confining him to one section of the building, we want to see how it evolves. It’s a blank canvas to work with – there’s endless possibilities.”
Adnate said he was aiming to paint a “replica” about three or four stories higher than the current mural.
“This is one of my most prized works, definitely,” he said.
“Back when I started I’d use 25 different colours to create my portraits, now I use double that, so I might be tempted to incorporate some more tones of colour into it.
“But at the same time I want to pay tribute to the original work, so it’s about finding that little bit of balance.”
Adnate arrived in Newcastle, “my home away from home” on Friday and will spend the next fortnight working on another mural on the corner of Hunter Street and Stewart Avenue.
Revitalising Newcastle has commissioned him to create a new piece of artwork on a 25 metre long, 6.5 metre high wind wall that forms part of the ongoing Newcastle Bus and Coach Interchange development.
Revitalising Newcastle program director Michael Cassel said roughly 30,000 vehicles passed the location each day and the artwork would be a new landmark for the west end.
Adnate said he had been speaking with the Awabakal community and would paint an aunty elder, her great niece and an eagle to represent “the knowledge that gets passed down from generation to generation”.
He said he welcomed observers.
“If I had to get up and do a speech in front of them I’d be really nervous, but doing a painting it doesn’t faze me.
“I’ll definitely turn around and give them a hello.”
Related: Guido Van Helton mural painted over