The first thing you see on artist Beci Orpin’s colourful website is the weather report of her hometown, Melbourne. At the time of writing, the page declares it’s 30 degrees with a clear sky, the news underscored by an image of a beaming sun.
The relationship between Orpin’s work and Melbourne is by now symbiotic. Her art can be seen on murals in Richmond and in Preston Markets; on people’s clothes (via collaborations with Gorman); on food trucks for Beatbox Kitchen and Taco Truck; in children’s books; and many other spots.
“I’m pretty passionate about Melbourne,” says Orpin. “There’s a reason I haven’t moved overseas. My current take on inspiration is that it comes from experiences – so not from a specific person or style of art. It comes from travel, eating a good meal, or seeing what my friends are wearing. Sensory in-person experiences.”
Painting a piano
Her latest project takes this idea to another level. It celebrates the new Pixar and Disney movie Soul, which follows a school band teacher who’s life hasn’t gone how he expected, who embarks on a journey of self-discovery, making friends along the way and discovering what little miracles he may have taken for granted.
We asked Orpin to paint something inspired by her own relationship with Pixar movies, and the result is a series of paintings covering an upright piano. Each side of the instrument is dedicated to a different Pixar film, featuring images that showcase their essence. “For Up it’s about adventure, for Toy Story it’s about friendship, for Ratatouille it’s about cooking,” she says. “And for Soul, it’s about passion,” the latter featuring a distinctive New York streetscape and cast of characters from the movie.
Passion and nostalgia play a big role in Orpin’s work. One of her earliest influences, she says, is “that really ’70s style that I grew up with”. Asked why she thinks people are drawn to nostalgia, she highlights a number of reasons, but the biggest is the opportunity to revisit the best parts of being young. “For me, what it’s about is sort of reliving the emotions you get as a child, I think, and the memories.” When it came to putting her own spin on beloved characters, she was conscious of the fine balance between creating a new work while tapping into the viewer’s personal memories.
“Having to do my own versions of Pixar characters was really daunting,” she says. “They’re really iconic, [they] have their own look. At first I didn’t understand how I could put my own interpretations of myself into these already iconic and recognisable characters.”
So, she revisited the films and interrogated what they meant to her when she first watched them, as well as what they mean to her now. She also turned to the work of “amazing” Disney illustrator and designer Mary Blair, whose filmography runs from Fantasia (1940) to Lady and the Tramp (1955), and whose many murals and designs adorn Disney’s theme parks and resorts.
After a lot of sketching and back and forth, “I really just went with the style of my own work,” says Orpin with a laugh. “Which seems obvious, but it wasn’t at all to me. It was just simplifying the forms down to almost [just] shapes – taking away all the facial features and making the forms really quite geometric in a way. And then putting lots of pattern and colour within the forms that isn’t usually there.”
Though Orpin’s been working on the designs since February, when the actual piano itself arrived, she had only a week to get it all assembled. So she called in some help. “I had four people working on it for five, maybe six days,” she says.
The piano is now set to head off on tour around Australia. Did Orpin have a go at playing it? No – as it turns out, her instrument of choice is the flute. But her studio shares space with some hospitality venues and “one of the chefs is in a band – so he played it when it was finished, which was cool”.
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Disney and Pixar. Disney and Pixar’s Soul is streaming Christmas Day on Disney+.