Oslo Davis is a Brooklyn native. Not Brooklyn, New York, but the one in Tasmania. Propelled by a desire to see – and subsequently sketch – the world, the now prominent illustrator and cartoonist left the small, rural dairy farm of his youth to travel and work, before settling in Melbourne 10 years ago.
“I always wanted to live here”, he says. “After experiencing and living in New Delhi, Hanoi and Tokyo, Tassie didn’t really cut the mustard.”
Since relocating, Davis has cemented himself firmly in the heart of Melbourne’s creative community, collaborating with Readings bookstores as their resident cartoonist, working with Melbourne Bikefest on a road safety campaign and completing a Creative Fellowship with the State Library of Victoria in 2010, alongside projects with the VCA, the NGV and the Melbourne Writers Festival, among countless others. All that when he’s not eavesdropping on often unwittingly hilarious locals for his weekly Overheard cartoon in The Sunday Age.
Davis’s latest project continues what has become a characteristic, often gently sardonic, exploration of his adopted city with a foray into animation. Aptly titled Melbhattan, the piece is a 4-minute short film comprising 61 black and white images of Melbourne drawn by Davis, designed as an ode to the opening of Woody Allen’s 1979 film Manhattan.
Melbhattan was initially driven by a desire to humour the increasingly common Melburnian tendency to contextualise our city as the younger sibling to the cultural capital of the world, complete with New York-style taco trucks, laneways, warehouse parties, extreme weather and inner city hipsters. While parallels abound, according to Davis, the feeling is unrequited.
“I went to New York once and I’ve lived in Tokyo and those guys don’t even think about Melbourne. They’d probably be confused about where it actually is and would never, ever, ever talk about it. The feeling’s not mutual, that’s for sure,” he laughs.
This year’s Melbourne Writers Festival saw the city host a number of The New Yorker’s staff for a program of sell-out events, indicating Melbourne’s voracious appetite for a piece of the Big Apple’s intellectual cache. During her stay, Roz Chast, the publication’s resident cartoonist, likened the city’s art deco arcades to the architecture of Manhattan.
“They’re so beautiful. They’re interesting because they seem to have these big architectural ambitions but they’re built at like 2/3 scale. They remind me of the Rockefeller Center, but small,” she told Independent Australia.
Her comment could be taken as a metaphorical representation of Melbourne’s one-sided love affair. Is Australia’s mini-Manhattan thus doomed for an eternity of lovesick pining, constantly gesturing wildly towards an unattainable love object that doesn’t even know we exist? Whilst a future of futile appropriation sounds bleak, there’s hope for us yet. Or at least the normally unromantic Davis thinks so.
“There seems to be a very strong entrepreneurial spirit here in Melbourne at the moment. Young, creative people feel like they can get anything going, which is really nice,” he muses. “There is a creative energy…people are really doing and creating. There’s a music festival on now which is cool, the arts scene is in pretty good shape, there are exhibition openings almost every night of the week. I think that’s probably different to most other cities.”
Whilst he might not want you to know it, we have a feeling that just like Woody Allen “idolises Manhattan all out of proportion”, Davis is a little bit more idealistic about Melbourne than he lets on. Ultimately, he hopes that Melbhattan is interpreted as both “a mini, cheap piss-take and a glorification of a city that’s…well, not too bad”.
And what does Oslo Davis imagine the perfect Overheard from Saturday night’s world premiere of Melbhattan might be?
“Probably, not as good as the media hype,” he jokes. We doubt it.