PHOTOS

A wide world of street art beckons Launceston's Kreamart

It was only two years ago that James Cowan was working as a tattoo artist, trying to turn his lifelong passion for art into a career.

But at the back of his mind, he had his sights set on something bigger. He just had no idea how much bigger it was set to become.

When not at work, James was planning and creating street art in Launceston under the name Kreamart. It started as cartoon characters - the Simpsons, Family Guy - then he started experimenting with realism.

And one day - out of blue, while working at the tattoo studio - he received an email from a gym in Shanghai, China.

"I looked at my boss at the time and said, 'I just got asked to go to China'. He said I'd be mad not to do it," James said.

"Next thing I knew, I was flying to Shanghai."

The weight lifted James created on the wall of Love Mirror gym in Shanghai. Picture: Kreamart

The weight lifted James created on the wall of Love Mirror gym in Shanghai. Picture: Kreamart

As it turned out, a Chinese student travelling around Tasmania had seen his street art and passed on his Instagram to her friends opening Love Mirror gym in Shanghai. They were so impressed that they wanted to fly Kreamart over to paint a mural for their grand opening.

"I went over and we talked back and forth over a translation app. It was just a surreal experience. They didn't want anything too crazy, they just wanted something by me," he said.

"I did a big weight lifter for them, and then another little portrait."

His work caught the attention of a Chinese hotel complex which offered James the opportunity to paint any wall he liked - the foyer, hallways, anywhere at all. James chose the biggest wall he could find: at the entrance to the car park.

"I chose that because as soon as anyone drove in, they would see it," he said.

"I did a big kookaburra with a 'g'day mate' and a 'China-Aus'."

TOP-RIGHT: The kookaburra mural James created on the wall of a hotel car park in Shanghai. Pictures: Kreamart/Instagram

TOP-RIGHT: The kookaburra mural James created on the wall of a hotel car park in Shanghai. Pictures: Kreamart/Instagram

So which piece of art was it that first gathered international attention for Kreamart? James is still unsure, but in the preceding few years, his work had grown in popularity locally - particularly after a vivid tiger he painted on Launceston's only legal public street art wall, in Royal Park.

It was his first attempt at realism and it pushed him in an entirely new direction. With his work gathering more attention, and with the support of professional skateboarder Brendon Hill, they launched the Royal Rumble skate, scooter and BMX competition for the city's youth.

James saw it as an opportunity to teach kids the difference between vandalism, graffiti and street art - an important distinction that he sees as vital to the future of his art, and for opening it up to the broader public.

And he practices what he preaches, ensuring his new work is legal and has consent. When he noticed Decorama on Boland Street had been left with crude graffiti for several years, he approached the owner and asked if he could do a mural.

The mural on the side of Decorama in Launceston - a piece that brought Kreamart more attention from businesses wanting murals of their own. Picture: Kreamart

The mural on the side of Decorama in Launceston - a piece that brought Kreamart more attention from businesses wanting murals of their own. Picture: Kreamart

"He said that sounded great, that I could do anything I wanted, as long as it wasn't offensive," James said.

"Once I started doing animals - in this case it was a snake, rabbit and wren - that's where it's taken off for me.

"We'd get photos of animals, or take them ourselves, study the hair line, study different colours and contrasts. I'll get to wall, it'll be completely blank, I'll have 50 spray cans and a ladder, set up my iPad and film the whole time lapse."

Others took notice and soon James was being inundated with businesses wanting a mural. His work adorns the Basin Cafe, El Chapo Mexican food van, the Greenwood Bar, Basin View Retreat and more, and he even has dedicated Pokemon Go stops for his art.

In 2019, his passion had become a full-time job.

A mural in the Basin View Retreat Airbnb in Launceston. Picture: Kreamart

A mural in the Basin View Retreat Airbnb in Launceston. Picture: Kreamart

"The last three or four years it's built up to this. This has been my most successful year, with all the exposure through businesses throughout Launceston and Tasmania," he said.

"Those last few years, it's just been word of mouth, slamming stuff on Facebook, Instagram, building my profile.

"Once upon a time, I thought you wouldn't be able to make something of yourself growing up in Tasmania. But now, with social media taking off, I believe you could be anywhere in the world for someone to notice your work and pick you up."

This proved true once again for Kreamart earlier this year. And again, it came out of the blue. He received an email from the organisers of Mood Indigo, a cultural festival in Mumbai, India, that draws together students from 1600 colleges with claims of being the largest festival of its type in all of Asia.

James Cowan with one of his murals in Royal Park. Picture: Scott Gelston

James Cowan with one of his murals in Royal Park. Picture: Scott Gelston

They wanted Kreamart to join some of the world's most talented street artists and offered him a wall for a creation based on the theme "A Ballad of Ecstasy". He was one of just two Australian artists offered the opportunity.

"Your art has won our hearts and we would like you to reach the young and fervent youth of India. The young enthusiastic crowd that we witness at our festival from all over the country would surely appreciate your exceptional talent," the email read.

James will head off for India on Sunday with big plans for his designated wall.

"I'll be there for a week-and-a-half to paint a 16-foot by 40-foot mural," he said.

"The festival revolves around peace, love and happiness. They want something positive, uplifting.

"I've been wanting to put Tassie on the map for ages. It's just amazing that I'm actually finding a way to do that."

A harpy eagle, created by Kreamart. James sets up a time lapse video for his creations, adding another element for his social media followers. Picture: Kreamart

A harpy eagle, created by Kreamart. James sets up a time lapse video for his creations, adding another element for his social media followers. Picture: Kreamart

It took years of hard work for James to get to this point.

While Hobart has an established street art scene, it was not necessarily the same for Launceston. He had to travel to Hobart to learn much of the trade.

"I grew up following artists in Hobart. There's a bigger scene there for artists who really like to push their work. They take their work a lot more seriously," James said.

"A couple of guys took me on board and showed me everything I needed to know back in the day in Hobart.

"I always got my inspiration from the south, and from Melbourne artists as well."

With Launceston's network of alleyways and countless blank walls, James believes there is potential for so much more.

A mural of rapper Post Malone. James is receiving an increasing number of commissioned work, making his passion a full-time job. Picture: Kreamart

A mural of rapper Post Malone. James is receiving an increasing number of commissioned work, making his passion a full-time job. Picture: Kreamart

"I believe that places like Hobart and the rest of Australia are so far ahead with updating their alleyways constantly with new and improved artwork," he said.

"I look at alleyways like the one behind Birchalls. It's been outdated for years. It doesn't look great for the city.

"They're all about change in the City of Launceston. The council really wants to improve the look of it and that's where I wanted to come in. Next year, when I get back from this trip, I will approach the council with my ideas."

But in the meantime, Kreamart is focused on bringing smiles to the faces of Indian college students.

Launceston can wait, just for now.

Check out Kreamart's work on his Instagram page here or on Facebook here.

This story Wide world of street art beckons the man called Kreamart first appeared on The Examiner.