When Broadsheet arrives at Dylan Mooney’s house in Thorneside, Brisbane, he’s wearing a Wah-Wah jumper with pop culture iconography by artist Kaylene Whiskey. He’s also sporting a cap that reads “I’m not an artist”. “Kaylene Whiskey is one of my favourite Indigenous artists, so when I saw that she had a jumper, I had to get it,” he says.

Mooney’s street-facing studio is small and practical. Half the room is occupied by a grey filing cabinet, and the other half his desk. On our visit, the in-demand artist is pulling out charcoal drawings for his upcoming solo exhibition, The Story of My People, at N Smith Gallery in Sydney in July. The drawings are based on archival photographs of Indigenous peoples from the Mackay region, where Mooney grew up.

“You have to ask for permission to use the photos because of copyright. But then, from a cultural perspective, I have to ask permission from my elders to re-create them and show them in the exhibition,” Mooney says. “It’s about that duality of being Indigenous and living in Western society.”

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The 28-year-old Yuwi, Meriam Mir and South Sea Islander man won the Brisbane Portrait Prize in 2023 for his digital illustration that depicts the artist and his friend Sam embracing. The portrait, Still Thriving, was turned into a large-scale mural in Sydney’s Darlinghurst as part of World Pride in 2023. It reflects Mooney’s personal experience as a proud queer Indigenous man.

“My studies really helped me with my identity and my sexuality, building confidence within myself and finding out more about myself,” he says. “I didn't know how my family or friends would take it. But everyone was very supportive of me so that was amazing.

“It was actually Tony [Albert] who messaged me. He said he wished he had work like this when he was growing up.”

In 2023, the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) purchased 14 works by Mooney. In 2024, his mural of Malcom Cole – the Indigenous dancer who dressed in drag as Captain Cook for the 1988 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade – hung in a prominent position at White Bay Power Station for the Biennale of Sydney. Mooney also walked the runway show as a model for fashion designer Jordan Gogos.

Mooney didn’t plan on becoming an artist. He was studying at Tafe when his cultural arts teacher encouraged him to apply for the art college across the road. He wasn’t even aware there was an art college. Since graduating from the Queensland College of Art and Design in 2022, he’s been researching, experimenting and self-teaching. His practice has included drawing and printmaking, but also digital illustration.

“I have terrible eyesight so the computer really helps relieve that stress from my eyesight. I’m legally blind,” Mooney says. He uses his thumb and index finger to zoom into the drawing so close you can see each pixel.

“It is very streamlined as well. We will always find new techniques to tell our stories,” he adds. “As Indigenous people, we’ve always adapted and adopted new styles and new techniques to get our stories across.”

His digital series Blak Superheroes (2021) references comic book characters, TV shows and film, including the Alien franchise. “It’s looking at colonisation and the impacts that were brought with it. You’ve got foreign plants that were brought over that are destroying native plants … With the Alien franchise, they have a queen, they have a hive. It’s like the British monarchy.”

Dylan Mooney’s Malcolm Cole – larger than life, 2024 is showing at the Biennale of Sydney until June 10. The Story of My People is on at N Smith Gallery in Sydney from July 9 to August 3.

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Read more in our Studio Visit series.