From his cult Sunday Age column Overheard, to illustrations adorning thousands of tote bags for Readings book stores or his annual visual identity for Golden Plains festival, Oslo’s imagery is an intrinsic element of an array of wonderful things that are intrinsically Melbourne. Fittingly, Oslo iillustrated and directed Melbhattan, a romantic ode and a knowing nod to Melbourne’s continual fascination and fettishisation with New York City.
His latest drawings can be found in Sir Antony A. Butt’s The Wisdom of Prince Philip, a compendium of the awful, outdated, bigoted and ultimately hilarious utterings of the 93 year-old royal and Australian knighthood nominee.
Oslo downs pencils momentarily to step up to the Twelve Questions spot. Ladies and gentleman, Oslo Davis.
Illustration at Golden Plains, 2015
What is a current influence?
Technique-wise it’s Barry Blitt, New Yorker cover cartoonist. Jokes-wise it’s always the Mighty Boosh, Ricky Gervais and Shaun Micallef. Ideas-wise it’s Saul Stienberg.
And a past or childhood influence? What lured you to cartooning and illustration?
Michael Leunig’s early, filthy drawings. The ones featuring sleazy men and women, perverts with fox tails, corrupt cops, chefs shitting into cooking pots, men who see fish in the curvy hips of women. I wish he still did those.
When you meet somebody you don’t know at a party, how do you answer the question “What do you do?”
I do drawings.
What is a typical work day like? Is there one?
Most of my day involves pain. The pain of coming up with an idea, the pain of drawing it, the pain of second-guessing it a million times and then the pain of emailing it in. Later the pain will be of seeing it in a newspaper, billboard or whatever.
You’ve just completed a series of illustrations for a book Prince Phillip quotes – what were one or two of the best (worst)?
Philip is a gift to comedians because he creates 90% of the joke. I was given almost 100 of his most impertinent, racist, repugnant and offensive quotes said over his life time. In 1965, on being shown “primitive” Ethiopian art Philip said that “It looks like the kind of thing my daughter would bring back from her school art lessons”. At an Aboriginal Cultural Park in Queensland in 2002 Philip asked Aboriginal leader William Brin if his people “still throw spears at each other?” And of his daughter, Princess Anne , he said “If it doesn’t fart or eat hay, she isn’t interested.
‘The Wisdom of Prince Philip’ by Antony A. Butt, illustrations by Olso Davis. Hardie Grant books, 2015.
Was Abbott right? Does the man deserve a knighthood?
If you think a knighthood is something worth getting, then no, obviously.
What was the latest book, film or album that grabbed you?
Normally I am quite hard to grab, but I really liked the movie Frank starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and Michael Fassbender who both contribute songs to the also excellent soundtrack.
Because they can do things that no other art form can do.
If you weren’t doing what you do, what field could you see yourself in?
Retail. Nah seriously, probably writing. Looks easy enough.
The sense of both pride and pastiche Melbhattan invokes is fantastic. Does the city still provide a strong source of inspiration?
Sure. I wish I had more time to draw downtown in the city. And by ‘the city’ I mean the people using the city. The stupid trends, the way people talk to each other, the stuff people do for entertainment. What people do in art galleries, parks, cafes, cars – all that is interesting.
A still from Oslo Davis’ Melbhattan, 2012
You once said you would change almost every single drawing you’ve ever done if you had the chance. Do you still feel that way?
Yeah, if I could be bothered. Well, there are a few that I wouldn’t touch, but only about six of seven. I once drew a nice redwood tree.
Is your style or technique evolving?
Hope so! If right now it was as good as it’s ever going to get then I’d give up today. The only reason I do drawings is to get better at it. I have resigned myself to the fact that my drawing life is one long work in progress, one with a few high notes, lots of lows, which will end unfinished when I’m dead.
by Matt Hurst