Coffee with Kafei - Memphis Black.

Foreword: With Koko Mag coming to an end I wanted to preserve some of the better parts of the project and push them out a little further. So all of the interviews conducted as part of Koko Mag will serve as blog entries, featuring the original published article (with some nice extra bits thrown in) and the tear sheets from Koko Mag.

This entry features Memphis Black, a model, hair stylist, and artist from Melbourne, who at the time was exploring creative costume and headpieces, we sat down to discuss her work in February 2015.

With me today is the multitalented Memphis Black. As an artist of many skills, surely you were always a creative type?

In different ways, yes. I started drawing when I was 4 or 5,
so I’ve always been into graphics and art since early on. In high school I was
focussed on sculpture. Initially I wanted to leave high school, and go onto do
sculpture and glasswork - but I didn’t get into the uni that I wanted! I didn’t
do much for a few years, then more recently got into hair dressing.

How’d you come about

There was a salon down the road to me, I’ve been a local to
Williamstown for years, and Tate hairdressing - my friend Kim is in there
getting a haircut, and Peter Tate who owns the business, he was there and I told
him I was really interested in working for him. There was this thing called
pre-apprenticeship , where you do 3 months study and it takes 6 months off your
apprenticeship, so I did that, and then I got signed. Worked for him for a
couple years, started getting my hair cut by other people, who weren’t in the
salon, he didn’t like that, then I started getting heaps of facial piercings,
and coloured my hair - You’re too alt
 - Exactly! So he’s like, ah i think you should go work somewhere else.
So i went down Brunswick St, somewhere very cool, definitely hip down there,
gave it up for 5 years. Went back and finished it in 12 weeks, then qualified. So I work from home now, have my own clientele….

I’ve always been a drawer though, that’s always been my strong
point, I’ve always been into tattoos and ink, so i do heaps of stuff before I
went overseas to NZ,  went over there and
checked out all the maori tattoos, and their designs are amazing.

You’re well known for
being a tattooed, alternative model. So when did you get your first tattoo?

When I was 18 - actually I’d been thinking about getting it
covered up recently - it’s on my stomach, and it’s a Tibetan Om, which means
peace and harmony, in purple (my favourite colour of the time).  Then I had a break from tattooing for a
while, and only really in the last 5 years I’ve gone a bit nuts. It’s just
another art form in itself, which is what I love. I’m very lucky, most of mine
are by the same artist, Amy’s been amazing.

Tell us about your
introduction into the modelling world.

It was purely by accident, believe it or not. My dad used to
always have a camera, or a video camera. I hated being in front of the camera,
and now it’s like, it’s okay - which is good! Long and short of it, my
girlfriend Helen McLean, who’s a pinup photographer, had wanted to photograph
me for a while, and I was like ‘No way’. I couldn’t think of anything worse!
Anyway, we were over at her place on a Friday or Saturday night, had a couple
of champagnes, she did my hair and makeup, and by the end of it I was just like
‘Yeah okay!’. Then when I got the shots back - in high school, being bullied
and everything, I had low self esteem - so when I got the shots back, I was a
bit shocked and amazed, it kind of gives you a bit of confidence! But for me
now, modelling is just creating art. It’s a very vain industry, but it’s just
nice to…. Express yourself creatively?
… Exactly, it’s another outlet for me.

So was that the
beginning of your modelling? Did you begin pushing it after that?

That was in 2009, so no, not seriously. It was probably 2011
that I took it seriously. I began investing a lot of money, did my research,
and began modelling with some bigger name people in the industry, people like
Dante. Basically I spent a lot of time investing in it. For me in photography,
I can see where there’s quality work, and the photographer has to have a
certain amount of quality, as well as something different and out of the norm.
There’s quite a few photographers out there, but then they need to have created
their own thing a bit more. It takes a lot for me to approach photographers and
say ‘hey, do you want to work together?’

And you’re a more
creative model, there’s lots of these sorts of fine art ideas flowing through
your designs and shoots.

I’m really lucky as of late, that a lot of people are
willing to work with me because of that! I feel like, I guess I’m moulding my
own way, but I also want other photographers who can bring their own to it.

So this featured editorial, the one with Marik, tell us
about that one.

Well, I’ve been really inspired by Yellow Bubbles
Photography, from the US. Really looking at trying to create images that are
both beautiful, and authentic. Mirek usually does a lot of headshots, so he was
really keen to do something a bit creative and fun, so it was good for us both.
The whole headdress aspect though, headdresses are quite big in photography, and
I saw it in Yellow Bubble’s and thought, ‘I’ll give it a go!’

Was this one of your
first headpieces?

I made this one off an older one, reworking and reusing some
of the old materials into this new one. Yellow Bubble had a couple of spiked
headdresses, so I wanted to try that, creating a darkish theme. The trick is to
make it sturdy and secure, as well as neat.

There’s always that
risk when shooting on location  - too
windy, too rainy.

Exactly, I had that problem with a deer antler headpiece I
made, where they kept falling off. I began looking at how designers secure
their pieces together, so I went about glueing and supporting everything with
felt, using bits and pieces from other shoots. I sprayed the flowers black,
because they were a little too pink, and I like black! My plan is to sell off
and auction some of my costumes, with the proceeds going to charity. I’m
thinking Suicide Prevention and the Peter McKellen Cancer Centre.

When choosing the location, I thought Black Rock would be
dramatic - it was freezing, and overcast, and wet when we shot there. But that
was good, it worked out quite well. We used natural lighting, just wanting to
create a regal, almost fairytale like set of images. Black Rock has lots of
contrast, so we were looking the contrast in the dress, and the location.

The weirdest thing is, when I create some of these outfits,
I have these creative ideas before I go to bed, then I’ll dream about creating
them. It gives me an incentive to create them. With this one Bjork themed shoot
I did - it featured an orange plastic dress - I couldn’t figure out how to
piece it all together, then I dreamed that I made it by putting it together
with wire, I happened to have a whole heap of wire, so I’ve woken up thinking
‘Awesome!!’ That’s happened a couple of times.

Obviously you’ve just
mentioned Bjork as an inspiration, but what else would you say are your biggest

I did a lot of travelling while I was younger, when I was 15
I travelled the world for 12 months, and obviously saw a lot of art. My
favourite was seeing Jackson Pollock’s ‘Lavender Mists’ at MOMA, in NYC. I was
obviously a lot younger, but his works are of such grandeur scales, so I just
sat there immersed in them, found myself in the Lavender mists. It was very
inspiring, that art could do that. I could get totally lost. H R Giger,
definitely another favourite.

You’ve got a lot of
painting influences, and you also paint yourself. Tell us about your paintings.

I paint lots of dark themed stuff, mostly characters from
movies that resonated with me. So Clockwork Orange, Predator… I exhibited for
a while at Chameleon Row, which was like an alternative gallery which is
unfortunately no longer open. It’s sort of a different field from your
mainstream art, lots of darker themed stuff in there, I fit in there. To meet
me though, I’m a very bright, very happy person.

So you’re a

Haha I suppose! I just paint really dark themes. It’s like
I’ve got this crazy, twisted element. But that’s all been challenging because
I’ve never ever been a painter. I work with acrylics now, but I used to use
sharpies, but it’s more painting now than drawing.

There’s obviously an
obligatory favourite artist question. Starting with Album or Band.

Too many of them….. Nine Inch Nails. When I’m working I just have them cranking, it
totally puts me in the zone. And when I paint, music in general, and Karnivool!
If I’m listening to Karnivool, Things Falling Apart, puts me in the zone.

What about movie or TV show? 

Movie - Alien, again, something dark. I’ve just started with
American Horror Story, but I’m not a huge fan just yet. I’m a massive David
Lynch fan, adore Dune. Fucking love Lost Highway.

Mirek, the photographer, he’s into similar sort of music and
movies, he’s coming up with some of my favourite movies ever made, like oh my
god I LOVE BRAZIL… Edward Scissorhands, all the classics. So Stanley

Before we end, what
would your advice be to budding artists, if you could give them one hint in

Keep at it. Set yourself goals, and just keep practicing. I
always thought drawing was my strength, and obviously now I’ve got all these
other things. You never know where it might lead you, you can branch off into
all these other creative areas too. Pace yourself, and don’t be too critical.
You might look at someone else’s work, that will either challenge you to better
yourself, or limit you. So sometimes on your path, you’ve gotta not think about
what everyone else is doing, and really focus on what you need to do. And find
something that’s unique to you.

Which you definitely have! Where can we see more of you?


‘Memphis Black’ editorial shot by Chris Mirek Freeman.

Using Format