After a visit to Fysh Rutherford's Flinders Lane office, my recording of the interview broke under the trial of an iOS update. Fysh patiently agreed to a second interview, conducted back and forth over several emails - more direct than its original materialisation, yet his generous conversation still apparent, as he shares his unusual creative origins.
I wasn't always a creative guy. I actually studied a Diploma of Commerce at Swinburne. There, I spent most of my time hanging out with the Design and Film students. They were far more "interesting" than the Accounting students - they dressed better, looked better and understood my humour. I ended up friends with one of the Design Department guys; Greg McAlpine. (I also married one of the Design Department girls and ended up lifelong friends with a heap of other ones). Greg and I had this idea to do an Australian super hero comic strip. It was the time of the Vietnam War and our culture was being invaded by everything American - films, music, TV, food, clothing styles and comics. To oppose the war in Vietnam, you had to firstly oppose America. After many fun nights of drinking and laughing, Iron Outlaw was born. A good old Aussie boy who worked at the Malvern Council by day but transformed into a golden boomerang-toting superhero after hours. His foe were the twisted political figures of the time - like Sir Henry Bolte, then the Premier of Victoria, became Humpo, the hunchback of St. Pauls. We used local icons and local identities. We celebrated and lampooned everything Australian. And people seemed to love it! The comic strip ran for just over a year. It made me just famous enough to get a job in advertising. That is all I had wanted to do since hanging out in the Art Faculty at Swinburne - to be one of them. My first job was as a Television Producer and then ultimately I became a copywriter. And that's where I've been ever since - although it has been an diverse road.
It's very hard to be part of the now. We tend to live in the past or in search of the future. When I was doing Iron Outlaw I was very much a port of the now culture - riding the crest of the wave. We were all reflecting the world around us as it was happening. It wasn't retrospective or predictive - just the instant. When you look back on that body of work now (both Mimmo's and mine) it is a perfect indicator of the time it was created in. You can see the struggles and the influences that were tugging on the work. I'm very proud to have achieved that. There was change going on and we were the instigators of change - not just observers or experiencers, but a part of the change. We were the change!
I have always searched for the vernacular way of saying things. Tried to localise or ground my communications in the Australian context. I was working in the era of 'Anyhow have a Winfield' and 'Meat pies, kangaroos and Holden cars' - they all came after Mimmo's All Australian Graffiti and Iron Outlaw by the way! Even today, there is merit in being Aussie. This is a special country made up of a unique combination of special people. It doesn't make sense to ignore all of that. In fact, we should celebrate it more!
Being creative is a tough thing these days. Purchase Departments have tried to commoditise the creative process, breaking it down into bits and attempting to put fixed prices on it. How many hours does it take to have a brilliant idea? Five seconds to five days or even five weeks. Who can tell? We also have online offers of fixed priced design. Clients who believe the Indesign program actually designs advertising in much the same way PowerPoint creates a slide show or Word creates a letter. This all leads to the creation of content, only without creative elements that offer context and engagement. Content is a waste of money if it not placed in context. The rise of outgoing call centres has also had a profound effect. There was a time when we would create an ad that would generate an inbound call from a converted potential customer. Then some bright spark had the big idea of saving the money spent on the advertising and simply cold calling people. This has lead to a brand massacre - companies who engage in this lack brand personality and no resulting brand trust. Their brand personality is no bigger than the poor pressured salesman on the end of the phone. Ideas generate engagement. Engagement generates trust. You can't sell a thing to a person who doesn't trust you! It will slowly turn around again and companies will go in search of brand trust. Then we will enter an new creative nirvana - I hope!
Advertising is the spoken word, whether it is writer or verbalised. A headline on a press ad is someone speaking to you. It has a tone and context. Design is purely visual. Advertising is selling something via all mediums other than face to face - that is done in shops. Unfortunately the word 'advertising' has become synonymous with 'an expensive pastime'. The word has also been diluted by specialist communicators talking about online media, social media, telly marketing, event marketing, sponsorship marketing and so on. They are all forms of advertising! In the future we will see a convergence back to a single notion of advertising - communication that builds brands while presenting a sales pitch. A focus on the verbal message and not the medium it is being spoken in.
The Internet is shrinking the world to Marshall McLuhan's predicted 'global village'. Within that village there will be single global messages. Parochial idiosyncrasies will be pushed aside. Maybe individuals around the globe will start doing what Mimmo and I did all those years ago - try and fight off the inevitable globalisation!
Mimmo introduced me to Artback - an artists camp run by Steve and Annie Hendricks out of Wentworth. A group of ex-designers, photographers and genuine artists go on a camp and create together. They also talk a lot as well -lubricated creative theory. It is a very stimulating and inspiring experience. It was through Artback that I became a would-be-artist. But I'll never give up communication. I will always aspire to make that communication engaging. I do assemblage. I'm working on a photographic exhibition. I do the occasional lecture or mentoring gig with the universities. The stationary fish gathers no oxygen. I've got to keep moving!
You can read an in depth interview about Iron Outlaw here.
Photography property of Fysh Rutherford and Double Days.
The referrals began with Leah Jackson who referred Stephanie Downey who referred Chris Hill who referred Jonathan Wallace who referred Dominic Hofstede, who referred Paul Fuog, who referred Ben Edwards and Juliet Moore, who referred Ryan Russel and Byron George, who referred Dianna Snape, who finished the stream with Jessica Brent. We also introduced Matt Hinkley who referred Warren Taylor who referred Yanni Florence, who referred Liv Barrett, who referred Fayen d'Evie, who referred Masato Takasaka, who referred Madeline Kidd, who referred Meredith Turnbull, who referred Nella Themelios.
In May 2012, we began a new Melbourne stream with Oslo Davis. He then referred Alexander Stitt, who referred Mimmo Cozzolino, who referred Fysh Rutherford, who referred Simon and Jenna Hipgrave.
In March 2012, we went to Austin for SXSW, where the daily referrals began with Sonnenzimmer who referred Landland and Hometapes who referred Zorch, who referred Brian Maclaskey, who referred Bobby Dixon, who referred Brian Phillips, who, through some auspicious coincidence, turned the SXSW referral interview project into a perfect circle, by referring us back to Sonnenzimmer. Then there was a giveaway to celebrate.