Reko Rennie’s works offer novel ways of seeing Country. Sampling signs, surfaces and signatures from inner-city Melbourne for Initiation, Rennie becomes our tracker, our native guide, orientating our vision and deciphering clues. Initiation is a road map; tracking through the familiar, connecting the past, mapping the present and politicising the future.
Informed by 1980s American culture, Rennie started his practice as a teenage graffiti artist, finding his voice on the surfaces of Melbourne city’s buildings, trains and laneways. The epic Initiation recalls the urban landscape where Rennie was born and grew up, the working-class suburb of Footscray, evoked through retro symbols aggregated to create a sense of home.
Icons of Rennie’s suburbia – his first bike, a Mongoose BMX, a mix tape and a Holden Commodore – are dealt out between the Aboriginal political mantras ‘Always was, always will be’, and ‘DEADLY’. Capital letters loom large, like towers against the skyline. Embedded within this assemblage is Rennie’s hallmark – the radiating equal-sided diamond; an unmistakable Kamilaroi design citing the dendroglyphs (carved trees) that once signposted Rennie’s traditional Country in northern New South Wales. The artist also includes his own personal tag of a crown, a diamond and the Aboriginal flag; each repeated religiously and left dripping. While the strength and ubiquity of these symbols speak to Aboriginal sovereignty, their application in Rennie’s hand quotes the aesthetic of fellow street artist Jean-Michel Basquiat.
The fluorescent pinks, greens and blues jar with the white of the gallery to remind us of Rennie’s brash beginnings, while collectively the colours and imagery tell an intimate story of place. In this way, Rennie has retained the ideology of street art, which seeks to personalise the public.