6 March 2024

Dylan is drawing on his country for a spectacular live Enlighten experience

| Genevieve Jacobs
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Dylan Mooney at work

Dylan Mooney at work: “Any surface is a way for me to make certain marks, whether it’s paper, my own skin, or a computer.” Photo: NPG.

As Dylan Mooney fans his hands on the table, it’s impossible to miss an intricate web of tattoos.

On his wrist, the Yuwi, Torres Strait Islander and South Sea man bears a traditional tribal shield design. His fingers are covered with delicate, small drawings of native plants – grevilleas, bottlebrushes, wattle, gum nuts – the sun and moon and other traditional designs from his country.

“Any surface is a way for me to make certain marks, whether it’s paper, my own skin, or a computer,” says the artist whose work is currently evolving nightly on the National Portrait Gallery’s huge expanse of wall facing Constitution Place.

Dylan graduated from Queensland College of the Arts seven years ago and has been a working artist ever since, represented by the N. Smith Gallery in Sydney.

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A career that began with works on paper has branched into printmaking and lithography before he began exploring street art, armed with a spray can, followed by digital work.

“I’m still using the same concepts I’ve always used, but with new technology,” he tells Region.

“Culture is constantly evolving. We’ve adapted to so many things, whether paper, glass, other surfaces, or now the digital space, but our stories stay the same. The tools we use will change, and we’ll adapt, but the stories will continue to be passed on.

“That’s very powerful for Indigenous people”.

light show on building

Dylan Mooney’s work on a grand scale. Photo: NPG.

Dylan says storytelling and yarning from his FNQ home are central to his work, exploring Indigenous and queer culture and identity.

“Without those foundations, there’s no sincerity to the work, and that’s very important to me as well: continuing these stories of our cultural knowledge, materials, landscapes, and waterways that surround us up in Far North Queensland.”

Landscapes and dreamscapes make up the work: every night, a backdrop is projected against the building Dylan fills in live, with a cast of First Nations characters and endangered or threatened plants.

He’s inspired by everything from anime and sci-fi to the waterholes and backcountry where he grew up fishing and camping.

“I’m talking about conservation, preservation, and where do we go from here. It’s not just survival but thriving for the next generation”, he says.

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Like passersby in Canberra, his FNQ family is amazed by how he can get work at this scale from a small screen onto a huge building in real-time.

The process is, in fact, relatively simple but magical to watch. A cable plugs into an iPad, and the live stream for drawing feeds onto the wall projection against a pre-existing backdrop.

Dylan Money using a iPad

Dylan Mooney says storytelling and yarning from his FNQ home are central to his work. Photo: NPG.

Every time Dylan draws, different characters emerge on the huge wall as people watch the process unfolding.

“It’s been a great experience,” he says of what’s usually a contemplative solo process rather than a piece of crowd performance. Eventually, the images will become prints and possibly a children’s book.

“I haven’t had the time to sit down and draw new work each day, so I’ve been loving the process of letting people see how I work. And there are plenty of questions!”

Dylan will be drawing throughout Enlighten at the National Portrait Gallery.

A free Shuttle Bus will run on a 30-minute Enlighten loop every day until 11 March, stopping at Constitution Ave opposite the Convention Centre, London Circuit (Legislative Assembly/Theatre), East Row/Mort Street (Interchange), Ainslie Ave (Canberra Centre main entrance), Parkes Place East/ King Edward Terrace (Enlighten Entry) and return.

The first service departs at 5 pm from Constitution Avenue opposite the Convention Centre, and the last departs at Parkes Place East and King Edward Terrace Stop at 11:20 pm, terminating at Constitution Avenue opposite the Convention Centre at 11:25 pm.

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