After a hiatus of two years, the past few months have seen Mike Eleven return to the street art scene with gusto and his Tuff Gurls series that references the young women he’s surrounded by.
They are tuff on the outside but soft on the inside – “tuff angels”.
He was getting really discouraged with his subject matter i.e. burgers and ugly guys as he felt they had a childish look to them. So the Tuff Gurl series has become a change of direction.
He wanted to paint differently to others, who paint female as super-sexual, fantasised and fetishised images.
Mike is still working out his approach but he’s enjoying the challenge of painting something that has both a street aesthetic and is still super cool.
“People say my girls have melancholy expressions but I say that’s just attitude! They have unapologetic attitudes especially about feelings but are still vulnerable. All, of course, with a sense of Melbourne style,” he said.
The “Eleven” part of his street name came about with he first started writing graffiti. He “nerded out” on the New York scene where everyone used to write their street numbers after their tags. This he emulated, eventually dropping the tag but keeping the Eleven.
When his rock-star and dancing career didn’t work out, Mike took up graphic design. And, for a while there, he felt he could only be one thing. If you were a designer then you couldn’t be a painter. But the change to a less demanding job has seen this turn around for him.
Although Mike has been offered an exhibition, at this stage in his development he can’t see how his work would translate into one.
“It would be too illustrative and I’m just not ready to jump into a show. Some of the ‘old masters’ didn’t hit their prime until they were well into their senior years. So what’s the rush?” he said.
He’s still finding his feet and is critical of fellow artists who are rushing into exhibitions.
“They need to give themselves a level of patience. Because, in this Instagram world, people are showing their work everyday,” he said.
“And, without a break in these postings, it’s hard to notice and contrast any improvement. This instantness can also make people feel pressured by constantly outputting. There’s no rush to make it in art and if you’re just doing it for the money, then you’re fueling more commercialism. Whereas, a piece put up on the street is not done with a value in mind– it’s just the best you can do at the time.”
Mike went on to lament the changes in the local street art scene. He feels that a lot of the spirit has gone from places, especially Hosier Lane.
“It’s become very sterilised and the scene has lost a lot of its drive. The mid-2000s was a huge time for the movement but now it seems that it’s just a trend, a fad, that people jump into and jump out of.”
He reminisces about the Everfresh crew, who painted passionately everyday and for the love of it.
“We don’t see this anymore. We just have ‘superstars’ who get all the work and newcomers trying to emulate them.
It’s almost as though there’s no experimental stage and everyone’s just regurgitating what’s already been done.
There isn’t the feeling of community that there used to be, everyone is out for themselves!”
Mike feels that people are cashing-in on street art because of its popularity and it’s become easy to market as something commercial for monetary gain.
The scene is not as artist-driven as it used to be. He would like to see more fostering of young people such as the projects initiated by Signal, a City of Melbourne creative art studio for young people, where they are mentored and given the opportunity to work with professional artists.
“However, at the end of the day, it’s cool that people can jump into street art without having to go through the tough initiation stages of graffiti,” he said.
As for Mike Eleven’s future? Along with graphic design, painting on the street, and photography, he is currently experimenting with stand-up comedy.
Clearly he’s “one with the lot”. But he stresses that, at the end of the day, he just wants a creative outlet, whatever that may be.