In the world of YeahDope, an artist based in Adelaide, Australia, faceless girls morph into skulls, stairs, cities and cigarettes. There are also bootleg Simpsons and Disney characters re-imagined in his characteristic guava pink. “It has taken me a long time to make shitty drawings look good,” YeahDope says, laughing. In high school, he explained, his art teacher failed him, with the admonishment that, “Drawing cartoons won’t get you anywhere in life.” He didn’t draw for two years after that, until he later “fell into” graffiti. “But it was probably some of the best advice I was given because, years later, it drove me to push myself harder,” he says.
But in pushing himself, YeahDope was propelled into the wrong direction. “I spent years trying to be a completely different type of artist, and it took the fun out of it for me for a while,” he explains. “I was trying to be someone I wasn’t, artistically. But I learnt a lot doing that. You kind of have to learn the rules to break them.” Now, as an apprentice at XO L’Avant, a contemporary tattoo studio Adelaide, YeahDope is taking his playful drawings to people’s skin. “I’ve had a few years throughout my life that I haven’t been creative and I think they are the years I wasn’t happy,” he explains in the following interview with The Hundreds. “I need to create to release something in me. I guess it’s the same with some people and sex—I just need it with art instead.”
Where are you from? What was it like growing up there?
I’m from Adelaide, Australia. But I’ve moved around so much over the years that I call a lot of places home. Adelaide is where I’m based at the moment though.
When were you first interested in art?
I always loved cartoons and video games when I was younger, but didn’t really think of that as art when I was a kid. I think what got me into drawing was skateboarding. The graphics on decks and in the magazines really opened my eyes. I had such a ridiculous imagination when I was a kid, and actually still to this day. I think up some weird shit!
Why did you decide to become an artist?
I didn’t really decide, it just happened. I just always had something that made me want to draw. And if I didn’t draw, I’d get frustrated. I’ve had a few years throughout my life that I haven’t been creative and I think they are the years I wasn’t happy. I need to create to release something in me. I guess it’s the same with some people and sex—I just need it with art instead.
So how did you develop your aesthetic? Were you self-taught or did you go to art school?
My art style was completely self-taught. I used to draw loads as a kid but it wasn’t anything special—I wanted to be a comic book artist. The only thing close to art school was in high school doing art classes, but my teacher hated me. She said “drawing cartoons won’t get you anywhere in life” then failed me. I didn’t draw for years after that; I just kind of gave up. Then I sort of fell into graffiti when I was around 21. But it was probably some of the best advice I was given because, years later, it drove me to push myself harder.
When and why did you start making tattoos?
I’ve only been tattooing for around a year. I never really thought anyone would ever want to get my work tattooed on them, but I was always interested in it. I was looking for an apprenticeship for a while but it’s a hard industry to get into. I started trying to draw more tattoo-styled designs but it still looked like my work. Then I met my mentor Jaya Suartika, a tattooer from Adelaide.
I showed him my work and he told me that my drawing looked better when I wasn’t trying to make them look “like tattoos.” He said I should just draw what I want then learn how to adapt them to tattoos. He took me on as an apprentice and I learn more and more every day.
Why do you often re-imagine pop-culture characters in your work?
I just think it’s fun, I only really draw things that I enjoy. I love drawing bootlegged version of cartoons because I like shitty stuff.
What were some of your favorite cartoons to watch growing up? What impact do you think those cartoons had on your style today?
Ren and Stimpy was my all time favorite. I would get up at 4 a.m. when I was young just to watch it on TV. I think that’s why I like gross stuff in my work.
Besides cartoons, what are your other main sources of inspiration?
Everything really. I’ve gotten inspiration from art galleries to the shapes of stains on a bathroom floor.
Why is pink your color of choice?
Well, I love all pastel colors. I’m not sure why but there’s something about them that draws me in. I’ve always worked with pastels, but pink has been one that gets me every time. Baby blue is a very close second.
What has been your greatest artistic challenge?
I think trying to find your own style is the hardest thing you have to overcome as an artist. I spent years of trying to be a completely different type of artist, and it took the fun out of it for me for a while. I was trying to be someone I wasn’t, artistically. But I learnt a lot doing that. You kind of have to learn the rules to break them. It has taken me a long time to make shitty drawings look good.
What’s your best piece of advice?
Don’t try so hard, but don’t stop working hard.
Follow YeahDope on Instagram @yeahdope.