The immersive exhibition includes examples from his early stencil works and street art, through to photographs documenting his transformation of abandoned spaces around the globe – including a 3D recreation of one of those spaces commissioned for the exhibition.
“Working in my hometown is special,” he says.
“I had to leave to come back, but Geelong Gallery has given me the recognition to further my career; my first institutional solo exhibition.
“The Geelong Gallery is such a beautiful space and such an important part of Geelong’s history.”
The exhibition launches on Saturday after a long delay in opening due to the pandemic and the artist says it exciting to finally bring RONE in Geelong to life.
He describes it as an ode to abandoned, decaying spaces and an acknowledgement that beauty can be fleeting.
“It’s strange because it still feels like we were rushing right up to the last minute to get it all done but, in reality, we kind of had an extra year,” he says.
“I was like ‘what the hell was I doing?’ but then I remembered ‘oh yeah, I wasn’t actually allowed to go into my studio for four months so I diverted to other things’.
“But it’s really exciting to see it all come together. Hopefully people walk in there and feel transported … I’ve built this space within a space and we’ve changed it so much and it’s kind of cool to see the mirror effect of the room before and after.
“We’ve changed it and worked with pieces from within the gallery’s collection to include them in the installation.”
Rone, who started out creating art on skateboards and making stickers and paste-ups with his teenaged mates, says it has been interesting to reflect on how his style has progressed over the years.
“It’s been a really slow journey and you don’t notice the steps as you are doing them,” he says.
“But you look back and think ‘oh yeah, it was just like one little sticker to begin with and my audience was just the friends and peers I skateboarded with’.”
Of course, that audience has grown exponentially and Rone has since been acquisitioned by the National Gallery of Australia and shown by galleries in London, Berlin and New York.
He considers it a privilege to do what he loves for a living.
“I never even considered it an option to make a living as an artist,” he recalls.
“I chose to do graphic art and graphic design because I knew I could plausibly make a living from that.
“I did a bit of art on the side and there was an actual tipping point in 2011 where I took a couple of months off to have an art show. That was the end of my other career because I had enough commissions to keep me going for a few months and now it is 10 years after that.
“I’m very fortunate to have kept my head above water through all the ups and downs over the years.”
Rone even found a novel way to keep things ticking along during the lockdowns.
“Jigsaws saved me last year,” he says.
“I made a jigsaw puzzle for a friend two Christmases ago and I saw lockdown coming and I thought ‘maybe we can release jigsaw puzzles’. I was so grateful for the support of so many people.”
His most recent achievement is being awarded a $1.68 million grant in the federal government’s COVID rescue package, the Restart Investment to Sustain and Expand (RISE). He says it is too early to discuss the project which is described as a “Melbourne Immersive Experience”.
So where did he inherit his creative streak?
“If you ask either of my parents, they’ll say it is from them individually,” he laughs.
“But to give credit to my dad he was a panel beater and spray painter so there was quite a bit of paint at home in his workshop. I definitely grew up with the smell of paint around.”
RONE in Geelong is at Geelong Gallery from February 27 to May 16, 2021. Monday – Saturday 10am to 7pm and closing at 5pm on Sundays. Ticket sales are via geelonggallery.org.au/RONE