This summer, Volcom asked the incredibly talented Illustrator-Typographer-Artist-whatever-the-hell-else-she-wants-to-be, Gemma O’Brien, to paint a mural in their Costa Mesa headquarters. I turned up, saw an empty beer bottle in the corner, a pink cup with paint in it and a bunch of thin pencil outlines on the wall. I thought to myself, ‘I don’t know if this is going to turn out so great.’ An hour into watching her bring a bunch of pencil scribbles to life, filling in blocks with the sickest detail, all whilst holding a riveting conversation, I thought to myself, ‘what am I doing with my life?’
You were up till 2.30am doing this Volcom Art Loft Piece. What music were you listening to?
It depends what time in the night it is.
Do you always work in the night?
Yep, always. I tend to think less. It’s more fluid. It’s easier, because during the day there’s always emails, people asking questions. At night I can just go into auto-pilot mode. And then when it gets to about 4am, I put on this playlist called These Days. It’s kind of sad music.
Is that what you listened to last night?
No, because it didn’t get to 4am. It has to be after a certain time. Last night it was a playlist called New York.
How did the Volcom mural come about?
When I came to visit in April, I’d just done a mural for the True to This premiere in Sydney and they’d all seen it in LA, and so they said “you should do this wall!”
Did you know what you’d draw as soon as you saw the wall?
It was kind of like I knew the space, but it was probably more like a culmination of stuff that I’d been experimenting with and drawing over the last few months. Then it had to be in-line with the Volcom creative they have around, so I wanted it to fit in with that, too.
Have you always been an artist?
When I finished high school I studied law. And then I was like, ‘fuck this!’ I lasted a year. Then I moved to Sydney and went to Art School.
How did your family feel about you leaving Law for Art? That’s like the cliche family crisis.
I didn’t feel pressure from them at all. I felt pressure from my school more than anything, because they were like, ‘”If you get good marks, you should do something smart.”
What was the story with those spew bags you did last year?
Basically, every single time I flew for the last two years I would draw on the sick bag, and it would be a puke pun – ‘Bile High Club’, ‘Pukes of Hazard,’ etc. Then I’d leave it in the seat and put it on Instagram, and it started to get a pretty big following. So I started the hashtag #spewbagchallenge and told everyone when they are flying to do the same thing. There’s like 400 of them on Instagram now. And then Qantas contacted me to do a collaboration with them. Then I had an exhibition with all the bags, but no alcohol company would sponsor it because no one legally could be associated with vomit or getting sick from drinking too much. That’s life, hey?
Finished mural photo by James Finger