Launching ourselves into the new year we have invited Wellington-based artist Bhanuka ‘Barney' Rathnayaka to create our February artwork. A self-taught illustrator and artist, Barney grew up in Sri Lanka until he was seven years old before relocating to New Zealand.
Known for his vibrant combinations of cartoons, characters and pop-culture icons, Barney freelances from the capital working across commissions for the likes of 121, Boombox Eulogy and Otago University. Last year he had his first solo exhibition at Olly titled 'Cream Soda Dreams’, which was based on the period of his childhood when growing up in Sri Lanka.
We were drawn to your work as it’s far from any designer we have had so far. How would you describe your art in one sentence?
I’d probably describe it as pop art with a heavy influence from Saturday morning cartoons.
Your stickers for us were created digitally however, I know you work a lot with pencils, markers and paint. Have you always worked across both digital and analogue tools for your art?
I actually only began working digitally in 2017, when I got an art tablet with the money I’ve earnt doing commissions. I personally prefer working traditionally because I enjoy holding a physical copy of my finished work, but in saying that I’m going to put some effort into improving my work digitally this year.
Mixing character, cartoons and pop culture icons is a big part of your work. When did this love for bold colour, cartoons and characters begin?
Since I taught myself how to draw from a young age, the main sources of reference or inspiration for me, came from cartoons and comics. I really didn’t like drawing anything realistic because I used art as more of a window out of reality than anything when I was growing up. So naturally, when I started taking art seriously my goal was to make art which removed the viewer from reality. I don’t know if I would say I love using bold colours or characters. I would say it’s more telling of the way I subconsciously want to portray things.
What is your first significant memory of art?
My first significant memory is probably when I used to do everyone’s art homework in year 9 for two dollars a piece. We were supposed to make etches of animals with patterns in them as a stamp making project and everyone just came to me about it. I decided to make a few extra dollars to buy more food at the canteen. I was little chubby dude in year 9 haha.
What would be your all time favourite characters and why?
Ooh that’s hard. I have a few. Vegeta, from DragonBall Z. He was the polar opposite of me personality wise but I loved that he was the underdog. Spongebob because that dude has the most positive outlook on life ever. Oh and Buzz Lightyear, I don’t really have a good reason for him.
You are currently living in Wellington, how are you finding that?
I love it. Wellington just has a culture of its own. I feel like it’s tailored to the more creatively inclined. Everybody is so comfortable in their own skin and just has a warm and positive outlook towards people who are different to themselves, I can’t praise it enough as a community. The city itself is so small that you run into other creatives you may have only associated via the internet ( shout out to Dexter Murray, Nic Little and Ella Stanford to name a few people I’ve met purely due to being in the same city). The city itself has its own personality. It’s full of art wherever you go, the suburbs are built on hills with winding roads and amazing views. I love it.
Great things are coming out of Wellington at the moment, such as Olly opening Club 121. Who else and what else do you think is on the come up down there?
I’ve had the pleasure of doing a bit of work for Olly, he’s an impressive dude for all the work he’s put in. The music scene is getting a lot of attention in general, dudes like Young Tapz, KVKA, Name UL, Beachboy, Mermaidens and Pillow T have all released some great work recently. I feel the younger generation overall in Wellington is really pumping out great creative content, whether it be music, art, photography or any other medium of creativity. I think I’d give the city a lot of credit overall for being so accepting of diversity and encouraging of self-expression, something I’d love to see more of from the rest of New Zealand.
Locally and internationally, what artists, designers and creatives do you admire?
Internationally my favourite creatives are Nuri Durr (@actionhankbeard) , Jake Parker, Kanye West, ASAP ROCKY , Jeremy Scott, Hayao Miyazaki, Akira Toriyama, Travis Scott, Oliver Francis, Night Lovell and Yohji Yamamoto, to name a few off the top of my head. All of these people have influenced my aesthetic one way or another.
Locally I look up to a lot of my friends or people I've run into whilst working as an artist such as Dexter Murray, Che Ebrahim, Yesterday’s Tomorrow, Mohamed Muse, the Boombox Eulogy and Bryan Anderson.
What projects do you have coming up for 2018?
My biggest goal in 2018 is to release this comic I’m working on. It about the journey of a bear named Clyde and his friends. I’m going to use the comic as a platform to voice my opinion and to tackle issues I’ve come across as a young adult whilst giving you guys a story worth reading with characters you can really connect to. I’ll be posting about my journey from start to finish of the comic on my Instagram and Facebook. My second goal is to have another exhibition and continue to grow as an artist overall.
Pixar studios, Kanye or A$AP Rocky.
Best thing you have seen on the internet this week?
The apple animoji ad featuring the Migos, or the Devilman: Cry Baby series on Netflix.
Top five tracks to paint/draw to?
Three artists you would give anything to see perform live?
Jimi Hendrix, Whitney Houston and Kanye West.