His wildly fanciful creatures and landscapes have graced the laneways of Melbourne, the walls of homes and galleries worldwide and the printed pages of countless zines. Many know him as Ghostpatrol, but today, we talk to David Booth: the very humble, well-travelled artist behind what have become iconic drawings.
David grew up in Tasmania, Australia—amongst the mountains, alongside the river. This environment may very well account for his ongoing fascination with landscapes and enthusiasm for turning to nature for inspiration. After some time drifting between Australian and European cities, David made Melbourne his base in 2005. With his roots in street art, David’s otherwordly drawings now transcend mediums. His vivid imagination is paired with precision and patience to create his own chimerical places that feel as though they’re from another universe. The influence of place and culture is vivid. Intrepid characters, wild landscapes, a style reflective of Manga and references to pop culture are pieced together to create new worlds that comment on existing ones.
In anticipation for our launch party—where David will be speaking about his time in Iceland—we sat down with him to discuss the influence of “place” creatively, what it felt like being in the studio of Sigur Rós and the magic of Iceland’s twenty-four hour light.
“Mosfellsbær and Beyond,” pencil on paper, 2017. Drawing by David Booth (Ghostpatrol) for Lindsay.
“Being an artist is like being a professional observer, so I make sure I visit places that will inspire me and incite a desire for further observation and investigation.”
You’ve spent quite a bit of time in various parts of the world—Japan, Berlin, Iceland, Arnhem Land… How important do you feel “place” is for your practice? And what role does it play in your work?
I feel really lucky to have travelled so much and spent time in such diverse places. Being an artist is like being a professional observer, so I make sure I visit places that will inspire me and incite a desire for further observation and investigation. Most of my projects and bodies of work are a direct reaction to spending time in these places and I’m lucky to be able to return to some of them regularly. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve been to Japan. I’ve also been lucky to establish second families both in Arnhem Land and Tokyo.
Can you tell me about those new families? How did they develop and what do they mean for you?
In 2014, I travelled with Gotye to Yirrkala in Arnhem Land to meet Djalu Gurruwiwi as part of a documentary film I was invited to work on—West Wind. Wally (Gotye) and I spent time with the family—learning, listening and visiting some really special parts of Djalu’s homeland. Djalu is the driving force behind the whole film project. We were adopted into the family as a way of starting a strong ongoing connection. It’s a huge honour and I feel so lucky to be welcomed into a really important Australian family and spend so much time with them. West Wind will premier at the Melbourne International Film Festival this year.
In the same year I also official joined the Tokyo-based collective “81 Bastards.” After knowing a few of the members for a while, we realised we were all born in 1981. We’ve painted together many times on projects and recently, we collaborated with Puma on a limited edition 81 Bastards trainer. I spend quite a bit of time in Japan and I feel really humbled to be part of a group of talented artists. When we are all together, it really feels like a big family.
David Booth (Ghostpatrol), Iceland, 2015. Photo by Hjörleifur Jónsson.
Siglufjörður harbour, Siglufjörður, Iceland, 2016. Photo by Hjörleifur Jónsson.
You’ve been to Iceland twice now. How did that relationship begin?
I became friends with a guy named Hjolli after drawing a tattoo for him while he was studying in Australia. When he dropped into my studio to collect it we struck up a long conversation about Iceland and music. We got on really well. It was a few years before I had the opportunity to take him up on his invitation to stay with him in Iceland. It’s such a humbling feeling to be invited into a stranger’s house—drifting between being one of his kids and new best friends. I’m not that interested in touristy things, so I really appreciate dropping in and floating around a different type of access point.
“The journey from the airport to Reykjavik is like travelling on the surface of another planet. The scale of nature is epic.”
What was it like when you were there? As someone who’s never been there, describe it to me…
I think the first time I arrived it was 2am, but the sky was still lit up. I’ve been there twice during summer and I love the twenty-four hour light—it’s magical. The journey from the airport to Reykjavik is like travelling on the surface of another planet. The scale of nature is epic. The landscape feels alive and because of my long fascination with the history and culture of Iceland, I can feel the landscape talking back to me.
Late night drone test, Mosfellsbær, Iceland, 2016. Photo by David Booth.
Did you create work while you were over there?
I don’t really do much more than sketching and note-taking when I’m out of the studio. And I take a lot of photos for reference. I try to immerse myself in the space and keep my senses alert. I save my art-making for my return. After falling in love with Iceland I know that I will return again and again, so at some stage I might make a larger work there. I still get my fix of art-making by painting a few murals while I’m there. Last year, I did some tests for an upcoming project using drones, which was heaps of fun. It’s really nice to be able to take time to explore and work towards an outcome without a deadline—there’s no rush.
Drone test with Carla McRae, Mosfellsbær, Iceland, 2016. Photo by Hjörleifur Jónsson.
Iceland has produced a lot of creative talent over the years, especially in the music industry. Are there many artists in Iceland doing similar work to you?
That’s hard to say. Iceland is a small place with a small population—similar to my home state of Tasmania. Most of the people I know in Iceland are more connected to music than visual art. I think that’s definitely what I’m looking for there: diverse experiences and different skill sets to learn from. I do sense a strong presence of music and general passion and connection to music from most people I’ve met there.
“I like touching objects and buildings, so this was a real buzz to soak up the energy from this creative space—especially knowing what was created and captured there.”
On the topic of Iceland’s musical talent…I know that you spent some time in the Sigur Rós studio. What was that like?
My friend Hjolli is a old friend of Jónsi’s and helped build their famous swimming pool studio. It’s in the countryside but walking distance from where I stayed outside of the city. It’s a powerful place; a strong fortress of cosiness and possibilities. The space is carved out of the country’s first indoor swimming pool. The main space is large and open, with a gander piano, beautiful rugs, lots of organs and some small framed drawings from the original artwork for Ágætis byrjun. There are a lot of small side rooms full of hand-made and obscure instruments. And there is an amazing room full of books and objects leading out to a balcony that looks across to a small pond, tall trees and an ashtray with many years of rain-soaked stubbed cigarettes. I like touching objects and buildings, so this was a real buzz to soak up the energy from this creative space—especially knowing what was created and captured there.
Sigur Rós Sundlaugin (swimming pool) studio, Mosfellsbær, Iceland, 2016. Photo by David Booth.
What does the future hold for you and Iceland?
I think the next step is to return during the dark winters. All my friends there say that they love the deep winter, but I’m intimidated by the prospect of it. But I do want to see the many sides of the island and sink deeper into the snow and the land.
In Issue No. 1 we meet Australian fashion icon Jenny Kee, translator from Italian Ann Goldstein and French-Cuban music duo Ibeyi. We learn about Ramadan, the Aboriginal ball game Marngrook, the Kiribati dance, the art of pickling, and the importance of home. And we see what it’s like to dress up in Myanmar, live in Cuernavaca, make ceramics from different soil, and walk the streets of Florence.
In Issue No. 2 we meet Japanese composer Ryuichi Sakamoto, NASA astronaut Stephanie Wilson, and Croatian painter Stipe Nobilo. We discover how the French protect their language, why nostalgia blurs our memory, and the way women around the world have used textiles as their political voice. We learn the steps to prepare a boisterous Korean barbecue, dress up for Feria de Jerez and eat our way around Hong Kong.
In Issue No. 3 we meet Lebanese filmmaker Nadine Labaki, Berlin-based musician Nils Frahm, and Moroccan-British artist Hassan Hajjaj. We descend to the ocean’s floor with Japan’s Ama divers, muse over the Bengali renaissance and applaud the detailing of India’s uniforms. And we try our hand at some treasured Italian recipes, visit one of Hong Kong’s homes up high, master the etiquette of the Japanese onsen and learn about the architecture of Iraq’s mudhifs.
In Issue No. 4 we meet Nigerian-born artist Toyin Ojih Odutola, Indigenous Australian Elders Uncle Bob Smith and Aunty Caroline Bradshaw, and Palestinian-American chef and artist Amanny Ahmad. We peer inside the Parisian ateliers Lesage and Lemarié, muse over the iconic lines of European chair design and celebrate the colourful woodblock prints of Japanese artist Awazu Kiyoshi. And we venture along Morocco’s Honey Highway, get lost in the markets of Oaxaca and discover the favours of Ghana.