Conversation With: Mulga the Artist
Joel “Mulga” Moore and his art are everywhere in Sydney, Australia.
Truly one-of-a-kind – a description that doubles nicely for his woolly beard – Joel has positioned his Mulga brand beyond the brick and mortar of Sydney’s downtown core. His idiosyncratic creations now adorn prints, totes, and t-shirts of all sizes.
We sit down with Joel at his pop-up shop in Miranda, a Sydney suburb, discussing how Mulga has effectively become more than a hobby. It’s become his life.
Where does the name Mulga come from?
Mulga: There was an Australian poet named Banjo Paterson from decades ago. He wrote heaps of poems. In particular, there’s one called “Mulga Bill’s Bicycle.”
(begins to recite poem)
‘Twas Mulga Bill, from Eaglehawk, that caught the cycling craze. Turned in his the good ol’ horse that served him many days. Dressed himself in cycling clothes, resplendent to be seen. Hurried off to town to buy a shining new machine. As he wheeled it through the door, with air of lordly pride, the grinning shop assistant said, “Cuse me, can you ride?!” “Listen here, young lad,” said Mulga Bill, “From Walgett to the sea, from Conroy’s Gap to Castlereagh, there’s none can ride like me…”
And so on.
You memorized all that?
Mulga: I started reciting it in front of my class when I was 11. After that, my mates started calling me Mulga. It just stuck. Funny, but I don’t know why I took to that poem so much.
How do you describe yourself?
Mulga: I’m an image-maker, a muralist, and storyteller. I basically draw pictures that are colourful and fun. Bearded characters and animals, too. Living off my art. It’s a great way to make an income.
When did art become your passion?
Mulga: I didn’t go from zero to one hundred. I had an office job in finance for 12 years. That’s until I got to a point where I felt I was wasting my life, which I was. Throughout all this, though, I still had my sketchbooks. Always sketching on the train to work. It was an addictive kind of thing.
Is it safe to say that sketching trumped the routine of your office career?
Mulga: Don’t get me wrong, I did my job well. Yet, I had a notebook and it was always filled with doodles. I actually had a little mirror installed on my computer so I could see if people were coming. See the boss creeping up. I was always doodling when I shouldn’t have been.
Between your career and your creative drive, how hard was it to give up your day job?
Mulga: Things started to change when I began putting my images on t-shirts. I was doing markets on the weekend, selling my work, supporting my wife and kids. Then I’d turn around a do five days a week in the office. It was tough.
Now we’re here today, in your own pop-up shop.
Mulga: Ya, I caught a break. Some people saw my work and recommended me to a little gallery. That was a couple years ago now. From there, I painted a piece called Dolphin Beard Donnie at Bondi Beach. That’s when things really started rolling. Since then I’ve worked with Phoenix Organic Drinks from New Zealand and more recently Coca-Cola.
What sets Mulga apart from other Sydney artists?
Mulga: The characters, sunglasses, poetry, gorillas, and beards. A quirkiness, if you will.
Tell me, what’s your obsession with beards?
Mulga: I think they’re magical. If you can have a beard it increases your power, your masculinity. See, all through history dudes with beards have achieved great things. Abolished slavery, Jesus, all kinds of dudes.
It certainly seems to be a recurring theme throughout your work.
Mulga: I just like drawing beards. Drawing chins is too hard. You draw a beard, it just comes out. It’s more interesting. More opportunity for cool patterns. Cool ideas like things coming out of the beard.
Colourful is one way to describe your aesthetic. Detailed is another. What’s your process?
Mulga: I’ve always liked drawing lines and patterns. It’s just appealing and interesting to look at. What really helped me establish my style were posca paint markers. I use them a lot. They’re a Japanese company that put out these bold acrylic colours. Funny, but when I tell people that I use posca, they’re like, “Oh ya, I used to tag back in the day with them!” Goes to show that street artists think alike.
How do you begin a work?
Mulga: I start off in pencil. For me, the hardest part of beginning any art is the sketch. I don’t consider myself an excellent drawer. I didn’t go to art school. I still have a lot to learn.
Your creations are all over Sydney. How do you view the success of it?
Mulga: I hate to admit it but I am a sell-out. From the start, I wanted to make money from doing something that I love. To do that you have to paint stuff that people want to see.
I call myself Mulga the artist, but it’s something larger than myself. I want to make art that’s fresh. I want people to use it. It’s cool. It’s relevant. People will engage with it more.
What about the stress in all of this? How do you find balance?
Mulga: Being productive is very important. I love the fact that you can start off with a bit of white paper and end up with something weird and wonderful. It’s creating something out of nothing, and it’s there forever. I like doing what I want to do without having someone telling me, “You got to do this. Here are the rules, this is how you do it.”
Tell me, what do you know for sure?
Mulga: Art brightens up the world. If there wasn’t art, everything would be white and black and beige. On top of that, I’m making a living from it. Supporting my family. It’s working for me. Got food to eat. I have a roof over my head. Living the dream. I’m really living the dream.