Graffiti artist Scott Marsh uses a quintessentially Australian trait to connect people to his political and often controversial works: larrikinism, the state of being disorderly and mischievous.
“Once you make people laugh, you’ve got them. They engage,” he tells the BBC.
Recent works have satirized Prime Minister Scott Morrison holidaying in Hawaii at the height of Australia’s bushfire crisis, or mocked up as Captain Cook, a commentary on the mood among some Australians to change the date of Australia Day to something less celebratory of colonial invasion.
“Part of the Australian character for me anyway is being able to take the piss out of yourself first,” Marsh says. That gives him permission, he says, to lampoon others – “either my mates or politicians like the prime minister”.
But it was Marsh’s depiction of Kanye West and George Michael that garnered him attention beyond Australia’s shores.
It was reported in 2016 that American rapper Kanye West’s management offered Marsh $100,000 (£53,000) to paint over the mural, Kanye loves Kanye, which – based on a meme – depicted the singer passionately kissing himself. Marsh will not comment on those reports but says the work catapulted him into the international limelight.
“It went mega-viral,” he says, adding that Australian ex-pats sent him news clips in the Honduras Daily and a newspaper distributed on the Budapest metro.
“It was super weird,” he says.
The mural depicting Kanye West kissing himself was later painted over
The Saint George mural, painted later and depicting British singer George Michael as a religious figure in a rainbow scarf with drugs, was defaced by Christian Lives Matter, a group that protests at activities they deem blasphemous.
Undeterred, Marsh gave the singer a “second coming” titled The Rise of Saint George, which inspired a theatre show.
These murals were a result of happenstance: one a request by a fellow street artist, another by a couple for their house. But their success gave the artist something he was under-prepared for a platform.
He decided to use it to “actually say something,” beginning with Casino Mike, a mural that satirized Sydney’s lockout laws, which didn’t apply to the city’s juggernaut casino.
“They basically shut down much of the city’s nightlife in the name of safety,” he says. “Lots of my mates lost their bar jobs.”
The controversial laws inspired other street artists to mock what they perceived as Sydney’s nanny-statism.
During Australia’s 2017 vote on legalizing same-sex marriage, Marsh created provocative murals of former Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Cardinal George Pell, who were both vocal opponents to reform. One – Tony loves Tony – featured the conservative politician marrying himself.
It was, Marsh says, an encouragement for Australians to vote yes: “That whole [vote] was painful. The gay community has always been so inclusive – you could have two heads, they didn’t care, they’d welcome you. So I wanted to support them.”