Emily Devers, Visual artist, Frank + Mimi

There's always room for the little guys who are doin' it right ...

We may be surrounded by short cuts and shifting trends, but it takes a real artist to stay true to the traditions of their practice in the face of the modern age. Next time you’re gliding through Brisbane’s streets, yank your peepers from your iPhone and look up. See the elegant curves on those beautifully weathered signs? The bold lettering stamped across our historic buildings? They’re an important part of the city’s culture and something that should be treasured – not simply shrugged off or painted over. But as the world hunts for faster and easier, and digital processes replace work crafted by hand, the noble profession of sign writing is at risk of disappearing. One Brisbane duo, however, is determined to keep the paintbrush firmly in hand, creating exquisitely illustrated pieces that celebrate both the flaws and successes of the ‘human-made’. After leaving their mark on some of Brisbane’s most beloved venues, visual artist Emily Devers and sign writer Rick Hayward – otherwise known as Frank + Mimi – have packed their belongings into a 1980s troop carrier and headed south to explore the breathtaking beauty of Tasmania. The Weekend Edition pulled Emily from the visual delights of MONA this week to talk painting, pooches and pawpaws.

If you were a typeface, which would you be?
The classic sign writer’s ‘Casual’ – free ‘n’ easy!

What do you love about taking the traditional approach?
As our world becomes infinitely more complex by the day, people are yearning for human interaction and genuine experiences in an effort to reconnect with the earth, their loved ones and themselves.The beauty that is reflected in both the errors and triumphs of our hands allows people to connect with our work (and our clients) on a human level. The result of going against the proverbial digital grain means we’re able to form valuable relationships with local businesses and be a part of their journey to reach out to people with that ‘human-ness’.

Where do you see the art of sign writing heading in the future?
Sign writing is at a very interesting point in history. We see more and more designers pushing the aesthetic of sign writing as a trend, but taking the digital short-cut. It’s great that people’s awareness of the craft is growing, but unfortunate as the magic tends to dissipate in the mass produced … This being said, I do believe there’s always room for the little guys who are doin’ it right – and thankfully there’s a dedicated community of folk who are. For now, we’re just stoked to be doing what we’re doing, so we’ll see where it takes us!

You’ve produced some special works for bars, cafes and galleries around Brisbane, which piece are you most proud of?
Many thanks! We approach each job with the intention of trying something different and expanding our skill set, so it’s hard to pick a favourite. The Welcome to Paradise mural at The Box has a sentimental sweet spot in our hearts though, as they’re such a great crew and they won’t be there for much longer!

What’s been the most challenging project so far?
Late last year, we spent seven consecutive days in a 2 sqm cherrypicker in 35°C heat, scaling up a 9 m x 3 m artwork by hand for Newstead Brewing Co. It ‘tested the friendship’ as they say, but we were rewarded with locally brewed nectar – a worthy payoff!

As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Since I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be an artist – though the definition of what that is has changed drastically over the years … and will probably continue to!

Can you tell us a bit about your background as a fine artist?
The last six years have been spent earning a Diploma of Fine Art and a Bachelor of Fine Art (Visual Arts), as well as establishing myself as an independent emerging visual artist, curator, arts mentor, workshop facilitator and small business owner. As well as what I do with Rick, my personal practice shares a strong focus on the handmade, and constantly evolves as I love working with illustration, painting and printmaking, audio-visual and site-specific works.

How did the partnership with Rick come about?
Years ago I worked at a health food shop and I spotted Rick sheepishly from behind the counter carrying a pawpaw in his hat. I said out loud that I was determined to get to know him – and here we are four years later!

What’s the story behind the name Frank + Mimi?
We’ve been working together as Frank + Mimi since late 2011. Rick’s first independent sign-writing venture was as Frank Creates (frank, as in honest) and I’ve been signing my work as Mimi since I could hold a brush. When we started painting together, it made sense that our work embodied both our personal and collective creative capabilities, so Frank + Mimi just kind of stuck!

How do your skills in illustration complement Rick’s wonderful way with lettering?
The periods of sign writing and billboard advertising that we tend to reference will generally possess both type and imagery. As we both have our clear strengths, it means we can work on compositions together and have a pretty balanced workload. The beauty of working together on everything is that our individual skill spectrum is ever expanding, and with each project we gain more confidence to take on new things!

Which other local creatives have caught your eye?
Holloway Eyewear has been doing kick-ass sustainable things from the moment of its conception, Jugglers Art Space is extending its reach with some innovative new projects and I’m always impressed with the Brisbane beat makers at Dub Temple Records. Brisbane’s brimming with talent – all you have to do is walk around and soak it up!

What influences and inspires your work?
Anything creative done with thoughtfulness and consideration.

What are the best and worst things about your job?
The best thing about my job is getting to spend my ‘work’ days drawing, painting and hanging out with my best friend. There is no flipside!

You’ve recently packed up your home in Brisbane and headed off on a jaunt to Tasmania – what are your plans while you’re there?
At the end of 2013 we decided to unlatch from our comfort zone, so we willingly gave up our house in West End, with an insatiable drive to simplify our existence. We built in to a late 1980s troop carrier and for over a month it’s been our free-wheelin’ vagabond-mobile. As well as a few jobs that are lined up, we’re filling our days with local markets, bush walking, mountain biking, sun soaking and general hessian living.

What have you missed most about Brisbane while you’ve been away?
The river! Just about every day I rode along the river, and I’ve always appreciated the clarity of mind it offers to those willing to absorb it. Oh, and Davies Park Markets!

How do you like to unwind?
The third part of our family trifecta is our lil’ pooch Pete. Having lived without internet or television for so long, we find ourselves watching ‘Pete TV’!

What is success to you?
While it’s important to motivate oneself with goals and work towards some self accomplishment, I try not to forget the present moment. Every day can be broken down into a series of successes, so I like to just run with that. Looking to the future, if I can be living in a conscious and self-sufficient way, surround myself with a beautiful family and work with incredible people, then I’d consider myself successful.

Perk up … West End Coffee House. Smiles, good shots and good records, with no unwelcome coffee snobbery. And you run in to just about everyone in West End there! At the moment though, we’re sessioning Pollen Tea Room in Hobart.
Relax … Orleigh Park bathed in afternoon light with friends and beers.
Dine … At home! That’s where all the good vibes are and everything’s made just the way you like it.
Indulge … Depo’s movie night. It’s like watching a movie at home, but in someone’s far more lavish and tastefully furnished lounge room. During the film, Eric and Alex make you feel right at home with their perfect, locally sourced grub.
Shop … Anywhere with a conscience.
Catch-up … Davies Park Markets in West End, under the big tree.
Be inspired … GOMA at South Bank. Brisbane is so lucky to have such an internationally significant contemporary art palace right in its backyard!


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