It’s not every day a billboard-sized work by one of the country's most acclaimed fine artists pops up on the side of a building. Let alone in a place that can be seen up close, even touched.
And yet here I am at Di Stasio Città, Rinaldo Di Stasio’s extraordinary new Italian diner, as Visible Invisible, an astonishing new mural by acclaimed Australian artist Reko Rennie, makes its way onto the brutalist building’s concrete frontage.
The appropriately named piece is made up of Rennie’s ancestral Kamilaroi family patterns and his signature “camouflage”, though it’s not used to hide or conceal. The work is a sea of neon pink and green, blue and black, designed to stimulate and amplify, to make us take notice. It’s the final piece in the puzzle for Città’s striking fit-out, which seamlessly blends fine art and fine dining.
Rennie’s camouflage paintings are meant to pop and to be seen, and his work represents a freedom of expression in handling heavy subjects – such as invasion, genocide and dispossession of culture and identity, ones most Australians have never had to deal with – in joyful colours and exuberant patterns. The artist’s Aboriginal roots and family history motivate him to draw attention to our nation’s injustices and wrongdoings, and so he creates works that have mass appeal, that we can enjoy on any level and still probe more deeply.
Rennie's work is for the most part autobiographical. His video piece OA_RR, showing inside Città, has a direct link to his grandmother, who was forcibly taken from her family when she was eight years old. Across three screens Rennie drives a Rolls Royce decked out in his signature camouflage in a return to country, to his people's Kamilaroi land in New South Wales. Many of them worked on pastoral lands whose owners drove similar vehicles. It's a powerful piece, but still carries Rennie’s signature cool.
Outside, the massive new mural is constructed of several interlocking panels prepared by an automotive-paint specialist. High gloss like nothing else; a perfect finish such as this can only be achieved by treating the surface as you would a car in preparation for a show, a concours d’elegance.
Poor workmanship has already been responsible for the piece being scrapped once before. Orange-peel finishes and dust and dirt under the paint set the installation back five weeks, but the patience and dedication of a new contractor, working very carefully and very slowly, produced this version. As the final panel slides into place, Città becomes complete, the restaurant’s deep connection to art and artists now made visible inside and out.
“Made in Melbourne,” Di Stasio says with a smile.
“They support artists like us to be better, to be bigger and do better things,” Rennie says of Di Stasio and long-time restaurant manager Mallory Wall. “I don’t consider them patrons, they’re dear friends. Supporters and friends.”
Visible Invisible is on permanent display at Di Stasio Citta. You shouldn’t have any trouble finding it.