Proper Creative

Making Art The Proper Way

Proper Creative is a partnership between locals David Collins and Jesse Bell. Both artists have a strong background in the rich history of graffiti and street art in Darwin and the Northern Territory. Proper Creative also run the Darwin Street Art Festival which has been growing strong since it began in 2017, transforming the streets of Darwin into a spectacular outdoor art gallery that attracts thousands of visitors each year.

Becoming ArtistsDavid & Jesse Proper Creative

Jesse:  I was always into drawing as a kid and then it developed further and has been a pursued interest my whole life. I wanted to get better on my own and I did a lot of practice in school. Then I started to find an interest in graffiti styles through seeing paintings on the train tracks in Auckland, including the lettering. I started to try and draw like that, then began working with spray paint. I was born in Darwin, lived in New Zealand and returned here after high school.

David:  I just enjoyed drawing. I wasn’t super sporty when I was a kid but I liked skateboarding. I read comics like Mad magazines, saw cartoons and watched 80’s break dance videos with graffiti in the background. I figured out where that was all happening in Darwin. I met older artists, they shared their knowledge with me and their paint. I learnt a lot from them. It was a real friendly street art scene where everyone helped each other. I think that was the difference in Darwin, everyone was supportive of each other. And those books Subway Art and Spray Nation (by American photographer Martha Cooper) they were the first books you’d see with graffiti art in the library. They were hard to get.

Local influences on Arts Practise

Jesse: Well the weather can be challenging … what do you think?

David: I agree, the weather is a big one. I guess because Darwin is my home, it's where I grew up and where I want my kids to grow up, this shapes the kind of art I make, how I do it and how I began here as an artist. I remember we only used to paint initially in Austin Lane (in Darwin City) and I think being so isolated from ‘down south’ in the 90’s and early 2000’s we weren’t exposed to other street culture. We made our own. And now I watch the big mural scene explode here… I knew it would come here and I really wanted to a part of it.

I wanted to make sure it was locally run and that it would benefit the arts communityDavid & Jesse Proper Creative here. That’s the (Darwin) Street Art Festival. It was important for us to get that going here.

Other things (that shape the art made here) is the huge and rich history of Indigenous cultures in the Northern Territory. The transience of visiting artists from overseas and interstate and what they bring. South East Asia… and this trickles down of course into the overall culture here, including the food, music, and the way we live.  And back to what Jesse was saying before… the weather is a big part of how we do things. There’re a few months of the year when it’s too oppressively hot to work.

Jesse: Yeah, we’ve got to gauge the sun, and when the walls are in the shade, and when they are in full sun which affects the hours we have to paint. That’s a challenge.

David: And the local themes and content. Jesse has done a bunch of the works like the big one of Gurrumul and the Vincent Lingiari story and other things like top end animals.

The beginning of Proper CreativeProper Creative

Jesse: We painted together socially at first and I used to get paint off David when I was a teenager. He looked after me. It got more serious when we did the music shop I think (a mural at Top End Sounds).

David: Our first big project was along McMillian's road painting the bus stops, we did 10 of them. We got a small grant to do it. That was a big learning curve, we learnt a lot. We got thrown in the deep end when we realised what was involved like all the right gear, needing permits and traffic plans. Yeah then we did the music shop.

Jesse: From there it started to snowball, the word got around and we kept getting ongoing work. We probably started 6 years ago, but we began as two separate entities – two sole traders that went in on jobs together.  I was a signwriter and had my own business and David went under the name Proper Creative. Then we thought, well we’ve got consistent work here, we can turn it into a business, so why don’t we just go in together? I closed my business. Then we became Proper Creative.

Jesse Bell Proper Creative Darwin Street Art FestivalDavid: We’ve got regular casual employees some who have come through Council projects too, like a young artist Caleb Dude. And we’ve got a great Project Coordinator, Jo Shearn. Before we moved to our workshop here about a year ago (in Stuart Park), we operated out of a shipping container at the back of Mayfair (gallery space). And before that from my living room. 

We work with other organisations. We’ve done lots of work with Katherine Regional Arts. And with a restorative justice program with Anglicare NT called U-Turn which supports young people at risk who may be involved in the detention system. City of Darwin has helped support one of these projects too recently, that mural at the Nakara oval amenities block (earlier in 2022), and we’ve done other work with the Council. Also, with Red Hot Arts in Alice Springs, Barkly Arts in Tennant Creek and out in Papunya too.

Jesse: And in the Daly and out in Jabiru.

David: We need a website (laughs). It’s not just the big stuff, we do anything from large scale water towers, through to feature walls in a private backyard. Everything from youth engagement and disability services, that’s my work background. It’s just an easy and good way to engage with young people, just grab some spray cans and have a paint. And it’s gotten bigger and bigger, and now I’m linked with someone here that can actually paint (laughs). 

Jesse:  Yeah after doing my signwriting apprenticeship I worked for about 5 years with a local company here in NT. I did graffiti art and wall murals on the side as a hobby. And now it’s my work. It's quality work, we do it safely with all the right equipment needed. And it's consistent now.

Best things about living in Darwin

Jesse: It’s embraced, the work we are doing.

David: I like the hustle of the dry season and then I like the down time in the wet season. And the lifestyle, I like the multicultural side of Darwin and there are lots of work opportunities.

David & Jesse Proper Creative

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Proper Creative