MICHAEL RAFTOS - ARTIST
I was born in Surry Hills, Sydney. My family moved to Darwin for a bit and finally we settled in Adelaide where I lived from the age of five.. Adelaide was a pretty good place to grow up; I love how the city lies between the hills and the ocean. We would spend our summers at my grandmother's house on the central coast of NSW. As a kid, those summers were magical among my extended family and the beach. That part of the world is still one of my favourite places. Perhaps those summers felt even more wonderful because of the arduous journey to get there; twenty hours in a tiny airconditioner-less hatchback with our prolifically, farty family dog astride my older sister and I. This is where I learned the meaning of the word ‘patience'.
Like most newly appointed Castlemainians, I did my prerequisite training in Melbourne’s northern suburbs. Preston to be exact. Prior to leaving, I felt a strong urge to either run away and join the circus or run away and live in the woods. Due to my lack of bendiness, I decided on the latter. I used to take my trusty bike on V-Line trips to the countryside in search of nice place to call home. Tallarook on the Seymour line was a close runner up, but Castlemaine’s undulating hills, historic buildings and big-ass trees won my heart in the end.
I went to the North Adelaide School of Art and studied photography. I’m a little bit ashamed that I haven’t picked up a camera since, but that led me to do Multimedia at RMIT (which was like art school with computers). Then I got a job as a digital designer in an evil empire. If you ever got any spam from the yellow pages back in the late 00s that was probably me. Mwahahahaha. Then I repented for my sins by working for a charming little design agency making phone games and apps for education and mental health. During that time I was also freelance graphic designer. I still am, but I am trying to be a full-time artist.
I don’t remember the first drawing I did. I do remember having a particularly rough trot during primary school. My coping mechanism was to draw Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with all their weapons very neatly and fastidiously laid out around them. Not the most dynamic drawings, but what an intuitive use of white space!
There are two pieces of art that stand out from when I was a child. One was a children’s book I loved. I can’t remember the name of it. The story was set in Italy and it was about this street sweeper who used clean the streets at night when no one was around. It had all these creative little pop-up elements that you could interact with. I really liked the gentleness and creativity of it. The other piece of art that moved me was the opposite. Aliens 2 contained everything to send my nine- year-old brain into a state of awe: The scariest looking boogey men to enter the communal consciousness, amazingly creative sets, fantastic spaceships and tough characters wielding the coolest machine guns mixed into an intensely horrifying and gripping story line. I so admired the art direction that I went out and ordered Giger’s Alien, a book of art and design from the film. The book took months to arrive and when I finally got it in my hot little hands, I felt a curious mix of admiration and disgust. It was basically depictions of thinly disguised genitals with teeth, but they were meticulously and skilfully drawn genitals with teeth. I remember being so impressed with the skill that I wanted to be able to draw like that some day (but stray from the subject matter of genitals with teeth).
I think I must have been around five years old when I saw a drawing by my older sister. It impressed me so much. I don’t even really know why, but since then I thought drawing cool pictures was a good way to spend time. I have deviated from the ideals of my youth for most of my life but at 38 I think I might be back on track.
I get inspired by listening to programs about history, psychology, philosophy, geopolitics and spirituality. Questions pop into my head and I try to draw something that depicts or corresponds to those questions.
Favourite artists: The quick answer is MC Escher, James Jean and David Mack. Though not visual artists, I still get a thrill from the talking of Alan Watts, the music of Clint Mansell and the movies of Terry Gilliam, Darren Aronofsky and David Fincher. The truth is I don’t really look much to the art world for inspiration. I do my best to draw according to what comes from my interior world and then I attempt to make it look interesting.
In high school I used to draw with pencils, biros and watercolours. My life has taken me on a very long detour into the digital world of making computer generated graphics. I always had a yearning to go back to the simplicity of the drawings I did long before I went to art school. I don’t think I had the courage or the confidence back then. A few years ago I made a conscious decision to return to that time and start again where I left off. This is the first year I feel I can truly call myself an artist.
You could say I treat drawing like a job. I prefer to see it more like a kind of monastic discipline. In a typical 'good day' I spend the morning drawing and the afternoon attending to art businessy things. I need routine with everything to keep me on the straight and narrow. This year I have experimented with all sorts of configurations to find a way in which I work best. For me, learning to be my own boss has been extraordinary and challenging and it continues to be so. The longest part of preparing for an exhibition is creating the volume of work required. For me, pencil drawing is a slow meticulous process, which can’t really be rushed. A drawing can take around two weeks or more to complete.
I built myself a tiny house in fits and spurts between 2013 and 2015 (an integral part of the plan to join the circus or live in the woods). I wanted to live in something that I built myself and purge my life of all the rubbish that I had accumulated over the years. Funnily enough I found that the biggest distraction wasn’t all the things around me, but it was my own mind. It’s quite an exercise trying to tame it.
When I’m not drawing I like to go to the Botanic Gardens and practice Kung Fu moves. I’m living out a fantasy from watching all those martial art movie montages in my youth. I also think they might come in handy if that zombie apocalypse eventuates. I might also be engaged in a spiritual quest to achieve righteous six-pack abs, but this is very difficult when you have the best pies in the universe down the road at Johnny Baker. I spend my weekends with my delightful lady friend in Melbourne. She’s pretty tops!
My book, Absoloopy consists of drawings from 2016 and 2017. When I started drawing again, I didn’t have any goals in mind. I didn’t have a master plan and I didn’t know I was going to produce a book. I started drawing hoping that if I began doing what I always wanted, then a path to follow would come to me. This seems to be the case so far, although the path has not always been a comfortable one. The response to the book has been good so far. I sold out of my first run and I am halfway through my second printing. I’ve recently approached some retailers who are enthusiastic about it and next year I will be approaching bookstores and other distributors. Why not buy a copy here: https://www.raftos.com/product/absoloopy-illustrated-book/ (wink)
My aspiration is to be skillful enough so that my work is a source of stimulation in times of torpor and a source of comfort in times of stress for myself and for others. If I could accomplish that, then I feel I would have contributed something of value to the world. Action seems to be my biggest struggle. Being paralysed (whether by stress or listlessness) is something that I continually need to attend to. 2017 was a pretty great year for me. I reconnected with old friends, met a lovely lady to spend time with, started my art business, put together a website, held three exhibitions and created a book. I’m looking to build on that in 2018 with exhibitions in Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney. I’m also planning to find some giant gold nuggets in the area so I can purchase a deserted tropical island, naturally rich in all the things to make tom yam soup, and spend my days drawing in a hammock.
Favourite things to do here: Vaughan Springs, Dog Rocks, the Botanic Gardens and Kalimna Forest are lovely places to go for a meandering stroll. I also really like getting a cup of tea and sitting up by the Monument or the Old Gaol and looking out over our pretty little town. Margot Wine Bar is a great place to sit and have a drink. The Theatre Royale is a great place to go to the pictures. The coffee from Republic and Saffs are extra special.
Since moving here I’ve noticed I have developed a funny problem. People are really friendly in Castlemaine and I find I smile and say "Hi" a lot to people as they pass in the street. It's become a bit of a habit that I can’t shake off. Now, when I go to Melbourne I find myself saying "G’day" to people in the street and am met with curious looks and blank faces. This might happen to you if you move here. You have been warned.