The Beast Within: Beastman
by Gili Karev | Photos courtesy of Swire’s Island East and Beastman; Special thanks to Swire’s Island East (www.islandeast.com.hk)

Australian street artist Brad Eastman, most commonly known as Beastman, is one of a handful to have made an impact with the general public beyond the boundaries of a wall mural. His colourful symmetrically-shaped characters are as playful as they are profound.


Over the past few years, Australia has emerged as one of the world’s top urban canvases for wildly diverse and prolific street art. Of her most active, admired and recognised artists is Beastman, whose quirky creatures and bold, geometric patterns have donned the façades of many a city’s buildings worldwide.


Imagine you are walking down a familiar street. Unspectacular in your memory, you mechanically walk towards the same wall you have passed countless times before. But rather than the familiar humdrum of urban landscape, you are confronted by something different. The wall has been transformed into dancing patterns of shapes and colours, twisting through disturbingly beautiful configurations. Your mind has little time to adapt itself to this new and surprising panorama. You are enlivened with a moment of altered perception. Even if your reaction is momentary and fleeting, it existed. It awakened a part of your perception that was, for the moment, dormant. Such is the visceral visual philosophy of street art. It catches us unarmed. And even if all it elicits is a fleeting glance, its sheer magnitude and solidarity demands we take a second look, think a second thought, and attach ourselves just a little bit more to the inexhaustible passion that surrounds us at all times. Beastman, a portmanteau pseudonym comprised of his name Brad Eastman, has created a name for himself by employing what I see as one of the most important attributes of urban art: familiarity. Using repetitive geometric patterns, vibrant contrasting colours and a slew of captivating deities, Beastman’s work is loveable and unmistakable worldwide. His characters, whimsical monsters, are open to interpretation and identification, committing neither to happiness nor sadness, complexity nor simplicity. His fantastical creations of creatures and patterns are bizarrely humanlike, exposing just enough of the disturbing nature of the artist’s imagination to be intriguing for the casual viewer. “My works are inspired by all aspects of nature – patterns, symmetry, growth, life forms, colours. My works also take inspiration from the idea of creating something new that no-one has seen before; always moving forward with the work and building up a unique style.”


This unique style that Beastman, albeit nonchalantly, mentions, is undoubtedly one of the more important elements of street art in particular. While thousands of taggers, graffiti and street artists have been filling up the city’s landscape and gradually spilling into the international scene, relatively few have penetrated into global social consciousness. Beastman’s meticulously detailed and symmetrical patterns wafting in and around distinctive creatures have come to life on the city walls of Australia, New York, Berlin, London, Tel Aviv, New Zealand and Hong Kong. His vast global presence, eight solo exhibitions and 86 group exhibitions have not only won him the title of Best Artist at the Sydney Music, Arts and Culture Awards in 2010, but are also a symbol of the growing awareness, acceptance and celebration of street art in general. While Beastman has made a name for himself also as a graphic designer, photographer and painter, many lesser-known street artists remain in constant flux between expression and legality.


The history of graffiti goes back thousands of years, from cave-paintings in our ancient past to its spectacular popularity today. Modern graffiti has been tackling a bad reputation since its explosion in the urban landscape around the 1960s, but in the past 50 years has transformed rapidly from scribbled names on subway cars to gallery exhibitions to massive commissioned murals by the likes of Beastman and his contemporaries. The influx of smart phone cameras and social media platforms has become a paralleled medium for sharing and expanding subculture initiatives, transforming the illegality and taboo of graffiti and street art into a living, breathing avenue for expression on the international scale. What was once anonymous and ephemeral is now catalogued and enduring, and more and more artists are making a name for themselves based on their underground, nighttime escapades. Not only is street art opening up new portals for artistic, social and political illustrations, it has also gradually made the urban public – a typically indifferent drone – into deliberate perceivers, individuals enjoying personal and collective interactions with the artists they now recognise and identify with. With the planet’s population moving rapidly into the urban landscape, street art is perhaps a serendipitous way to bring the beauty we’ve left behind in the pastors into the busy, crowded, rowdy streets of city life. Muses the artist: “I enjoy placing my large scale artworks in public places. It’s a great way to almost force the general public to interact with my work.”


While the public space has adapted itself to the unstoppable beat of street art – no doubt the result of failed attempts to tame it – the medium’s elusiveness, temporality and anonymity remains mystifyingly attractive to both its creators and consumers. Graffiti and street art are defiant and public by nature. While bringing them into the enclosed spaces of a gallery may legitimise them in the eyes of public convention, it also detracts from the scope to which it has the capacity to speak. Beastman may have the best of both worlds. His striking, commissioned murals have embraced countless city walls and the imaginations of the passersby, while his other works – paintings, drawing, digital illustration, sculptures and videos – have gained recognition and admiration in their own right.


Beastman’s experience with the expansive platform of street art has led him into other creative initiatives as well. Collaborating with Marty Routledge and Numskull, two exceptionally talented Australian artists, the trio’s creative initiative The Hours focuses on presenting art-based projects and ideas to the public through collaborations with brands, galleries and institutions. A strong social media presence has led to worldwide collaborations and contributions from emerging artists. The company’s success stems from a diligent understanding of the importance of artistic cooperation, social interaction and public exposure – a product, no doubt, of their combined experience and kinship to the wonderful communication of street art.