Murals, skateboards, T-shirts and all types of different bizzare things are the favoured canvas for artist Charlie Nivinson, aka Silly Pear, probably the smallest and most charming dude in the biz.
For most people it’s an ordinary Friday afternoon at work, but Charlie Nivison and I are on our way down the coast to popular surf spot Ulladulla. Charlie (the keenest surfer I’ve ever met) is excited. He’s been calling me since 5am to check if I was all packed and ready (despite not being scheduled to leave for another 11 hours). This time it’s for a good reason – the swell looks perfect as we look out the window. Yes!
It’s no surprise then that it was surf culture that triggered Charlie’s passion for art. He grew up with brands like Mambo and hot tuna, which started a movement back in the early 90s with the satiric art showcased on their tees. For Charlie, Mambo is the ultimate success story.
“Mambo is just an icon. You can’t go passed that. Reg Mombassa is a genius. Hot tuna and Mambo pushed me more towards the cartoons instead of going towards the fine art, thanks to surfing,” he said.
Today, Charlie goes by the nickname Silly Pear, and dedicates his life to painting and designing anything that comes his way. From T-shirts, murals, skateboards, plan pots, skulls… it seems no surfaces is unsuitable, including street walls.
He makes most of his money by painting murals in cafes and bars, and also puts most of his time and hard work in “TC’s“: the T-shirt company he co-founded five years ago.
Just by looking at most of his work, it becomes clear that Charlie’s main inspirations beside surfing, comic books, cartoons, punk music, and a lot of the world’s vices like drugs, alcohol and greed. You can see a glimpse of his youth in his art as it is innocent, however, there is another side to it, the more you look at it the more twisted it becomes. Silly Pear creates a world of colours where the truth is exposed with the details that only colours and his special characters can bring to life. When describing one of his paintings hanging at home (his place in Bronte), he talks about evil mobster dolphins harassing happy looking hotdogs.
“I love to put satire in my paintings and characters, especially innocent cartoonish characters with a bit of a twist. Like a friendly looking meth needle, I find it funny. On first glance you don’t really see it, you have to look closely and you realise how twisted it is,” he said with a proud, grinning face.
It might seem surprising that a kid from the country – Charlie grew up on a farm in Armidale – could be so in touch with such themes, but if you really think about it, there is nothing better than being stuck at home with nothing to do, especially when your parents are both painters. So you read, you watch, you learn, you paint, and create!
“I’ve always been painting, I grew up with it, Dad is an artist and Mum an art teacher. There’s nothing to do on a farm, so you just hang out in the studio, look through all the books and start your own creations. Armidale is five hours north of Sydney,” said Charlie.
“You don’t really hear much about country artists. When I first got to Sydney it was a bit of a struggle as I was out of the exclusive bubble. I’m not going to get on my knees and suck up to people, but sometimes I felts like I had to and I did it a little,” he admits.
Whether he’s part of the bubble or not, Charlie is not the guy who’s going to adhere to the trends, and who can blame him for that? You can either follow the trends and what’s ‘cool’ in the bubble, or you can start one. Now, I’m not saying that he starts trends, but at least he stays true to his own path and it seems to be appreciated by big names in Sydney, which makes his future seem positive.
“I’ve had some moments when other artists who inspire me came to me with only good things to say about my art. As of now, I have a few murals lined up for next year, it’s going to be fun.”
Silly Pear’s art is not the kind you would see everywhere – it is unique as it can be controversial, but remains innocent as you can’t see the twisted vices pictured unless if you take your time and really look at the painting. It is a little bit like the Fables you can either just enjoy the shapes and colours of it, or you can find yourself in a different world where vices and innocence are confronted. Greed meets the ignorant, drugs are luring you with happy colours and smiley faces.
It’s Monday, we’re packing up camp, the surf was amazing, the whole weekend was fun. I would have stayed, but Charlie is already talking about deadlines on a few designs he needs to come up with. He doesn’t seem too stressed about it, but you can already see his pensive face, luring colours and shapes to his brain, he is driving talking about the waves and other funny anecdotes, as if he is trying to get a mental picture before the painting begins. As I recall the whole weekend, I can see the same pensive face and I realise that the painting never stopped, it never stops. – Niuhiti Gerbier
Top Photo of Charlie Nivinson working on his art provided by Alice Nivinson.