Master Stroke

STM, Sunday Times

4th November 2018.

After sloshing paint through Perth suburbs and beyond, Anya Brock is part of an artistic effort to bring central Freo back to life.

Even if you don’t realise it, you know Anya Brock.

She’s the woman behind the giraffes stretching their long necks in Maylands, the pair of giant zebras in South Fremantle, and bright birds of flight in Claremont. And her striking model girls with their cat-like eyes and high cheekbones can be found everywhere from Northbridge and Bunbury to Sydney’s Bondi and Balmain. She’s even sloshed her colourful paint to create a giant fish mural at Culver City Elementary School in Los Angeles.

In a relatively short time the artist has painted our city — and others — into more creative places, each work popping with vibrancy. Despite having only painted since 2006, and only publicly since 2010, the former fashion designer from Alfred Cove has made quite a mark. And she’s far from done.

On November 18, Brock will lead a “paint-in”, where more than 320 artists will express what Fremantle means to them at 160 large-scale easels, using 108 litres of paint. The free event is an unconventional public party being thrown by FOMO, the big retail development that’s reimagining the former Myer and Queensgate buildings and carpark.

As construction continues on the $220 million urban renewal project at the heart of Fremantle, people will be streaming into nearby Fremantle Oval to see if their brushwork will be among the five selected by Brock and fellow artist, David Spencer, to be used by the FOMO project in years to come.

The sportsground will be painted with colourful zebra crossings and giant dots on the pavement — a transformation that will last just one day.

The ephemeral nature of the event is in stark contrast with the game-changing development, which has been under construction for 15 months and is set for completion in early 2020.

As the biggest investment in Fremantle for 30 years, it’s hoped quirky FOMO will swing the port city’s fortunes back to the fun-loving, cash-splashing days of the America’s Cup, reinvigorating its stalled retail sector.

Billing itself as unlike anything Perth has seen, the “borderless retail, food and dining destination” at Kings Square promises to be “by the community, for the community”, reflecting Fremantle’s eclectic, creative residents in everything from the building materials used to the unusual construction that will be formed in the shape of its name.

While FOMO conjures up the modern acronym for fear of missing out, the architects behind the development say it’s also representative of everyone’s individual experience of Fremantle, termed as Fremantle on my own.

“That is ultimately what FOMO Freo is all about,” says Matthew McNeilly, the Perth-based managing director of Sirona Capital, which is driving the project.

“We are bringing the heart of Freo back to life by creating unexpected spaces and retail experiences that are more about the people who visit than anything else.”

The new precinct includes a hawker-style market, lanes, craft-led spaces, an amphitheatre and a pocket park, housed in a framework of perforated concrete, metal rods, bottles, circular tubes and galvanised pipes wrapped in the mesh of tennis court fences.

It’s a deliberate contrast to the Perth city centre’s shiny glass and aluminium structures, and will retain the iconic Myer building, its recognizable surfaces visible throughout the multi-zone design.

For locals, there are equal parts hope and nervous jitters that the project will deliver the outcomes it promises and fit in with the organic character of Fremantle.

Brock is very much the proud local. She lives in South Fremantle with her husband, Ross Macpherson, and Harry, their 23-month-old son, who in February will be joined by a little sister. Brock even looks the part, with blue paint marking her hands and permanent, henna-look tattoos up her arms.

“I’ve always gravitated to Fremantle,” she says. “I remember being on buses at 14, coming in to Freo to buy CDs from Mills and go op shopping. After I moved (back from) London, I came and lived here. We have a great community of friends who live so close by. There’s just something about it.”

Brock’s path to art, and Fremantle, has a few twists and turns. As a 19-year-old studying at TAFE, she launched her own fashion label, which found its way into local boutiques. Then, after applying for internships in London, she began working for fashion house Christopher Kane, before moving to Richard Nicoll.

“I was a sample machinist,” she says. “I worked at the Brit Awards, I made outfits for Lily Allen’s dances and Leona Lewis’s dances, and I made clothes for runway shows.”

While at Richard Nicoll, she began painting, turning her tiny apartment into a studio.

“I realised I felt happiest when I was painting, which was a real contrast from working in the fashion industry, when I didn’t feel very comfortable in myself,” she says.

On returning home, efforts to restart her own label proved a struggle.

“At the same time, I was painting and it was taking off,” she says. “I had always thought, ‘I can’t paint and make that a career’.”

Slowly, she cut down the hours she was working as a TAFE lecturer and became a full-time artist in 2012.

It was also after her London return that she reconnected with Macpherson, a Mandurah boy who she credits with much of her commercial success.

“My business took off when we hooked up,” she laughs. “He mentored me a bit and gave me business advice on how to make creative work bring in an income and make it a legitimate business, for the long term. As an artist I can be quite expansive, so I need someone to point out what the objective needs to be.”

Macpherson — the son of a horse breaker, who chased the rodeo circuit, and a Nedlands school teacher — spent his early 20s as the woolly-haired lead singer of a band, but found himself drawn to band promotion.

“I’ve always thrown myself headfirst into everything,” he says. “In the band, I learned how to use a Photoshop-type program to make band posters. Then, other bands would ask me to make theirs. Rather than waiting for managers to call, I’d just call.”

Deciding his organisational skills were stronger than his musical talents, he switched to artist management, scoring his first client by 29. The role gave him a good grounding in running a business. “Before you can afford to have staff, you’re doing everything yourself, from tour logistics to marketing tours or albums, to negotiating publishing and licensing deals, to organising merchandise and selling it,” he says.

He moved to Melbourne, then Sydney, chasing management deals and went on to co-found Macro Music, where he manages Xavier Rudd, Dead Letter Circus and Seth Sentry, some of whom release music through his independent label, Ten To Two Records.

Somewhere along the way he found time to co-found men’s clothing label, Knucklehead Shipping Company. Its flagship store in Sydney’s Paddington ended up being a handy hub for music industry shindigs.

Brock, who’d moved to Sydney to be closer to Macpherson, opened a gallery directly across the road. She’d also opened a gallery space in Fremantle, in the empty space left by the closure of the 40-year-old Myer building.

Macpherson then decided to invest in what’s now called The Local Hotel on South Terrace and home beckoned. The pair shifted to Fremantle, became engaged, and got married in 2015.

Their wedding speaks volumes about the couple’s go-getter style. “On the day we got engaged, we made the decision to do it in Palm Springs,” says Brock, who is inspired by 1950s abstract expressionists and architecture.

“Roscoe booked everything within 24 hours. Within a week we were on a plane.”

On their return, they threw a reception-style party on the rooftop of the Myer building. “We dressed it up like a mini Palm Springs wedding, with pink flamingos, fake grass and bamboo fencing,” Brock says.

“It was a great night.”

Brock fell pregnant soon after and they bought and renovated a house around the corner from the pub. In the years since, Brock’s artwork has moved away from her colour-pop murals to more abstract work, most often contained on canvas.

“I’ve painted so many animals and girls, how many more can I paint?” she jokes.

“I love large-scale, but now I’m going through a quieter, humbler practice in my studio.”

It reflects the change she has gone through in becoming a mother, resulting in an enforced slowdown that she says has been as good for her artistic calling as it has for her soul.

“Abstract is far more challenging than figuration,” she says. “It’s something about not having any source material to reference. It’s calling on the gut, the inner experience and the whole emotional body. I needed to get quieter to take this on.”

A newer, abstract work based on the sail-like shapes of Fremantle’s Maritime Museum is being used by FOMO to promote the upcoming arrival of its retail precinct. The developer has also engaged Brock to provide informal tutorials to those attending the November paint-in, part of its “community for the community” ethos.

It’s a spirit that resonates with Brock and Macpherson, who say it is the first time they’ve ever known their neighbours.

“There’s just something about it,” Brock says. “You walk outside the door and there are coffee shops, bars and the beach, but it’s not too busy. That way of life just makes sense. The ability to walk outside with the pram and see five people you know in a day keeps you up. You feel supported in the community.”

Fomo Freo Colour will be held on Sunday, November 18 from 10am-2pm at Fremantle Oval. To register for an easel between 10am and noon, visit fomofreocolour.com.au