Melbourne cartoonist David C Mahler's exhibition of travel drawings and sketches opens 6:00pm tonight at Brunswick Art Space. I asked him a few questions about the work he is exhibiting, recent travels, and his current comics work.
Matt Emery: What do you think producing drawings and sketches during travels creates in contrast with taking photographs?
David Mahler: For the artist, travel sketching is about meditation and the preservation of detail and memories. These days for me it’s more about the former, I tend to travel by myself which means I have the luxury of taking my time with sketches. Putting an hour aside to sketch an abandoned Japanese shrine leads to some crazy thoughts and reflection. You get to analyse every detail of a culturally unique piece of history that you’d normally just glance at in passing. You contemplate who placed those stones there, why, how long ago, what does this structure mean to the surrounding people, to this foreign society as a whole, how do I fit in this culture, how do I fit in the world etc.
Back in the day it was more about the detail and memories. When I was a kid traveling with my parents in Europe (growing up in Belgium most of Europe was a car ride away. Definitely the start of my travel addiction) we’d be moving too fast from monument to museum, I’d have to frantically sketch before chasing after everyone else. But this was great practice, and those little details - window sills, dinner tables, train seats - are linked to strong memories.
Photographs evoke memories as well of course, but I think if you’re someone who’s interested in really immersing yourself in a location and taking the time to reflect, then sketching is the way to go.
Emery: Can you tell me about your trip to Japan earlier this year, I recall you mentioning this was for an extended stay and comics motivated?
Mahler: Japan was amazing. It was my tenth time there but my longest stay, a bit under three months. I started with family, traveled with a friend for a fortnight then spent the rest of my stay conducting research at the Kyoto Manga Museum before a two week train trip. I’m very passionate about Japan and Japanese culture, pretty typical for an Aussie boy who watched anime in high school. I’m very grateful to have been able to be a (dare I say) cultural tourist, riding my bike from my share house in Arashiyama (think vibrant green bamboo forest stretching up a mountain side) to work in the centre of Kyoto, swing by the grocery store on the way home before hitting up the local Izakaya (Japanese-style bar). Insider tip, Nagano is the best city.
Emery: Your Exhibition Spaces_Places features drawings created in eighteen countries, what other countries and places do you hope to visit? Do you have further travels planned this year?
Mahler: Unfortunately I don’t have any travel planned for the near future, I’m dead broke after those three months and some film projects. The next trips (next year?) will be New Zealand, South East Asia and eventually back to China to complete a gay rights doco I’ve been producing.
Emery: Can you offer any advice to a budding travel sketcher/drawer?
Mahler: Don’t throw anything away. Don’t be disappointed. Every drawing was a necessary step to the next drawing, and together they all make a body of work. Don’t expect perfection, and learn to see that value in flaws and naivety. Travel drawing really is a lot of fun, it’s an excuse to just sit on the side of the road instead of busing from temple to tourist trap. People come up to see what you’re doing, you make friends, you’re given the opportunity to converse with locals about anything on your mind. And after staring at and precisely rendering a bunch of something’s you’ve never seen in your life you’ll have questions. Use sketching as an opportunity to learn more about the world and grow!
Emery: What are you working on in comics at the moment?
Mahler: That research in Kyoto was for a YA fantasy/art-themed adventure comic I’ve been working on called Alexandre Calame. I honestly haven’t even started penciling, but that should be out one day.
More pressingly I have a collection of early material in the works called Junior Catharsis, as well as a proper follow up to Deep Park called Natural Philosopher which is about a hundred pages away from completion. Very excited about that one. Oh, shameless plug for the Australian comics anthology Flying Fox, we’ve just put out issue 2 and will be printing up a second print run (risograph, woo!) after the first run sold out in a week!