Meet the Designer - Joel Cunningham

Meet the Designer - Joel Cunningham

Inspired by Tribal Art, Cubism and Street Art, Joel creates work which is raw in style but refined in its finish. His sculptures are assemblages of curious shapes which create compositions with personality and depth. Joel’s paintings are an amalgamation of styles. Using a mixed media approach, his work expresses emotion with loose drawing and colour coupled with more considered mark making. 

Joel has been a finalist in several major art prizes within Australia and exhibits his work throughout Australia and internationally. 

Living and working in Sydney, Australia. Joel completed his studies at Sydney College of the Arts where he obtained a Bachelor of Visual Arts with First Class Honours. Prior to that he received a Diploma of Fine Arts at Sydney’s Meadowbank TAFE.

 5 minutes with Joel

1. Can you tell us a little bit about how you got started in design and your design ethos?

I didn’t come from a design background, I came from a Visual Arts background which is what I studied at university. From my early childhood I would love to draw and scribble on everything, I used to make up monsters and draw them, sometimes drawing inspiration from cartoons like “Ren and Stimpy” or “Ahh! Real Monsters” to name a few. In my teenage years I was heavily into graffiti and loved doing pieces that consisted of lettering or characters. As I grew older I started to enjoy comic book artists like Robert Crumb, I always found fascination in the absurd. In my late teenage years and twenties I traveled all over the world and lived in Spain, Canada, Japan and China. In Spain I loved seeing famous Picasso works, cubist paintings and sculptures. Travelling the world, going to different galleries and seeing street art was what excited me and still does today.

My Ethos as an artist is to challenge people, to make people think out of the box. I don’t like my work to be easily understood, I want people to spend time with my art and for their attitude towards it to change and develop. I’d like each person to see something different in it and for it to be a cause of discussion.   

2. What would you say are your main influences when conceiving a piece of work?

I draw influences from whichever artists are exciting me at the time, from artists I follow on Instagram to art exhibitions that I go to. At the moment I really love the work of Australian artist Rhys Lee. I recently saw dutch artist MC Escher's exhibition at the NGV in Melbourne, his play on perspective and the way he creates illusion in his work was really inspiring and something that I’m interested in playing with in my own work.

3. Do you work in a sustainable way? 

Yes I do! All the wood that is used in my sculptures are from pre used and pre loved objects, such as beds, tables and chairs or decorative elements of furniture. Sometimes these materials are found in council pick ups, other times they are given to me by friends and fellow artists. There are the obvious reasons as to why recycling is great,  for me it is also a very important part of the process; finding the right material and imagining how these shapes and textures could be used to form a new artwork. Finding a particular piece that is decorative or with a shape that I love will often really drive the way the work comes together.


4. What part of the process excites you the most?

Making an artwork for me is like putting a puzzle together. So each time I work out where a new piece of the puzzle will go it is like a small win, then seeing the shapes/layers come together until….BOOM...It’s finished. I think that feeling of instinctively realising it is a finished piece of work with a whole new personality is the most exciting part for me.

 But it is also very much the journey that got you there.


5. What would you say are your values and ethics when it comes to designing?

When making an artwork it has to have heart, playfulness and a high level of spontaneity.  

6. Have you faced any problems during your career? in the industry?

No, not really. Generally I’ve had a lot of support and encouragement.

7. What excites you about Australian design right now?

As I come from an art background, I can’t really comment on design. In Australian art,  i’m excited by many things; such as ceramics and the way it has evolved in Australia with artists like Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran and Jenny Orchard. I’m excited by the work being produced by Australian artists Rhys Lee and George Raftopoulos. I’m excited watching artists that I have grown up with develop their style and cross over into various media.

8. What appeals to you about selling your work with a store like

I really enjoyed learning the VELA story and the fact that they are ‘staunchly anti-disposable’ . Their importance placed on durability and timelessness is very much inline with the way I work.

9. What’s next on the horizon? 

In the coming year, I’d like to enter some major art prizes within Australia and internationally. I’d like to present my work at an art fair overseas maybe in Japan, USA or Europe. I also have some new ideas for sculptures using resin, glass and paint - the concept I have would be to create 3D paintings or ‘floating paintings.’

10. Your favorite designers?

I saw that Paul Smith is a designer on the VELA website, I am a big fan of his clothing. Once again i’ll probably need to answer this from an art perspective, my favourite artists are; Os Gemeos, Bast NY, Rhys Lee, Yayoi Kusama, Robert Crumb, Picasso, Alberto Giacometti, Basquiat, Dustin Yellin, George Raftopoulos, Francis Upritchard to name a few.


11. A Mantra?

Make art from the heart


12. What was the best design advice anyone gave you? (or your advice?)

The best advice I ever got as an artist was to loosen up and unlearn tradition.

You can find his art on sale here
Here, an ART selection just for you.

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