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Interview: Niels Oeltjen wanted to be a marine biologist before getting sucked into the exquisite vortex of art

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Hi Niels! It was a pleasure meeting you and your wife in Melbourne for the Poketo show. You guys are so warm, like long time friends, even though we had just met. Must be fate.

Likewise.

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Looking at your work and you life, you have a very free spirit, a very spontaneous and natural vibe to your work. I love the idea of the Vagabond Project you did. Can you tell us a little about that and what you did.

Well I essentially exhibited some paintings from a suitcase in the street. The suitcase was on legs and there was a soundtrack playing through the back of it. I got the idea when I was traveling with Carly, in Portugal we spotted some guys selling counterfeit goods from suitcases, the idea was they could make a quick getaway if their lookout spotted the copperoonies. I realised that this form of presentation could work for art, as a way to bring the art to the people as an extension of my street-art. The personal setting means there can be some interaction myself and my audience, which you don’t get with gallery shows. It was quite fun in many ways coz I got to meet some really interesting people. I want to take this project overseas and see how it works in other cities, just gotta rustle up some cash :-)

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You traveled all over Eastern Europe ya? What were some of your favorite countries? Any good stories you’d like to share?

My favourite would have to be Bulgaria. Sofia is an amazing place, full of life, art and a dash of history-mystery! We had an amazing time at a place called Koprivshtiza. It’s a mountain village where every five years they hold a folk music festival, and people come from all over Bulgaria and surrounding countries to show their talents. They all rock up in traditional costume, and dance and sing themselves silly – if you have ever heard Bulgarian folk music you’ll know what I mean. We spent a few days there and it was great fun, lots of dancing. In the last days of the festival we got hit by a torrential downpour.

We were on the way home one night after hanging out with some of the musicians, and as we were walking back the water level in the creek alongside the main street kept rising. It wasn’t long and were up to our knees in water, and by the time we got back to the accommodation it was halfway up my thigh, and I’m a tall guy! It was pretty scary, the whole region was flooded and roads were destroyed, and half of Bulgaria had no running water. We ended up getting very sick, we couldn’t shower for days, and we had to drink soda pop for rehydration coz all the supermarkets had run out of water.

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That’s crazy Niels, lucky you guys are okay. You grew up in Tasmania, a sort of wild, solitary island in my mind. Tell me a little about growing up there. What got you out to Melbourne?

It can be wild and solitary for sure! Growing up was amazing for me though, I grew up in various places around the state, but always near the sea and the farming life. My parents are very creative and clever people and I learnt a lot from them about fishing, building, animals, and so on. They instilled in me the curiosity that drives my life forward. But at some point anyone creative has to get out of Tassie. It’s a dead end for many people as it is a very small state, with a small economy, and burdened with small-town thinking. And so I headed to Melbourne. I love it here, it has a great creative energy, and a really positive and supportive scene.

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Do you see yourself more in the city or in nature?

I love nature, and I love being in it but the energy of the city will always pull me back. You know I wanted to be a marine biologist before getting sucked into the exquisite vortex of art.

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The Poketo wallet you did for us is so different than work on your website. Tell us a little about the inspiration behind that piece.

I wouldn’t say it’s that different, I just like push myself down little sidestreets of my practise every now-and-then. It is actually an adaptation from a painting I did called ‘Shoes’ – kind of the same idea, but I executed it slightly differently. Who knows where my ideas come from. I draw a lot.

You and your wife, Carly do a project called Wilkintie together. Tell us about that project, it looks amazing and a great way to collect beautiful letterpress prints monthly.

We make letterpress prints for kids. We sell them by subscription, and they get a new one in the post every month designed by a different artist and printed by us. The idea behind Wilkintie is that the monthly event of getting a print will help get kids engaged with art, collecting it, and hopefully making some of their own. We have tried to make it as affordable as possible, and the prints aim to be a talking point in the child’s life. We were both very influenced by the art we saw as kids and we wanted to give the kids of today the same kind of positive and interesting influences. Keep an eye on the website, we are about to announce some more amazing artists for the series!

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What do you have on the horizon? Anything you want to share? When are you coming to LA?!

I have very little on the horizon actually outside of a little project of my own I will be launching mid next year. I actually wanted to reduce my commitments and focus on my painting again which is super important to me, and has been sadly neglected. No plans to come to LA at the moment, but if someone wants to pay for a couple of flights I’ll come and paint a mural for their house, or give a lecture/workshop, or mind their kids.

Check out Niels’ Poketo wallet here.
You can vist Niels at Nails.net.au

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