Interview with Carley Cornelissen // Brisbane Street Art Festival

by Bradley Chapman

I had the privilege of sitting down with Carley Cornelissen, who is one of the featured muralists of the Brisbane Street Art Festival. We chatted about her role in the festival, her journey as a street artist and the challenges of triumphs of this unique art form. 

BC: Thanks for sitting down with me Carley. Tell me first of all how you got involved with the Brisbane Street Art Festival?

CC: I’d been living in Brisbane for six years and I’ve always attended and seen the works and displays, but I’d never actually applied myself. I kept telling myself to apply but every year I’d miss the dates, or forget about them. But this year I pulled myself together and applied for the first time. The application involved showing some of my previous work and suggesting a concept for the work I would create for the festival. 

BC: It must have been a great concept. What is it that you’re going to create? 

CC: My project is going to be based in the Queen Street Mall. There will be a temporary wall constructed where Albert Street and Queen Street crossover. There will be a number of us artists working there. So the size of my piece is 3.6 by 2.4 metres and it’s going to be about the about native and introduced species and how they have to kind of learn to live together.

BC: Were you given a prompt like that or is this something that you’ve conceived of totally? 

CC: No prompt, we could use whatever kind of focus we wanted and my work is generally about Australian animals and birds and flora and fauna. I do occasionally look at of the introduction of species and the effects it has on the native environment so this is the kind of work I’m really passionate about creating. 

BC: So that previous work you mentioned – has that been street art as well? 

CC: I do murals. I’ve done occasional pieces in public spaces, and I did a piece for Brisbane City Council. But I do a lot of private commissions for people homes, and often shopping centres and spaces like that. This is kind of me wanting to move more into that street art scene. 

BC: How is your approach to work like this different to how you might approach those private commissions? 

CC: A client is normally very specific. I’d say 90% of the time a client has a very clear idea of what they want. Whilst it’s always my style and my idea, they will usually have looked at previous work and examples to decide what they want. So it then I work backward from there and with them try to create something in my style that reflects what they want. But this project is just like: go for it! Whatever I want to do! So that gives me so much more freedom, which is something I don’t get very often in mural work. 

BC: Do you think when people hear the term “street art” they have a certain view of what that entails, that is maybe influenced by bias?

CC: Yes, by those attitudes are changing rapidly. Just a few years ago, I think it would have been seen as on the verge of being legal or not legal. But now there’s murals everywhere. Where street art was once seen as perhaps its own independent genre, there’s now this crossover between fine art and street art. And we see these really talented artists who were in galleries and the like are moving into the street art space. So there’s now a lot more acceptance of street art as a viable and reputable form. 

BC: Why do you think those changes have happened? 

CC: I think the amount of street art, and the quality of it, has pushed its reputation up. Some of the stuff you see is just mind-blowing. I think it’s so amazing for Brisbane in particular. Brisbane is great with their street art and their public space art. People love to see it. And it think most people are like, “the more the better”. As long as it’s not graffiti or vandalism which people hate. But there is a tendency if there is a beautiful piece of work that it’s less likely to be tagged. People really respect that type of work. They see the value in it. 

BC: Do you think street art is a male dominated art form? To someone like me whose experience with street art is quite superficial, the first thing we think of when we hear “street art” is probably Banksy. Once people have an identity to attach to something, is it hard to break through that public consciousness and tell people there is more to it than that?

CC: I think it certainly has been in the past, by the landscape is continuing to evolve. I started painting largescale in about 2017 and I started seeing a few women – some of whom were my peers and other artists I really admired – moving into that space and I did feel that if they could tackle it, then I could tackle it. It certainly seemed intimidating, especially when you’re small like me to be up massive ladders like that! The whole idea was kind of overwhelming. But once you get started it’s actually okay. And now I’d say that majority of street artists that I really respect are female… I feel like it could even be swinging the other way almost. 

I suppose because I’m so like interested in it I know all the smaller names. I can identify when something is a Claire Matthews piece, for example, but certainly there is the domination of those bigger names like Banksy, or Fintan Magee if you’re in Brisbane.

BC: You mentioned your street art journey began in 2017. Was it easy to be taken seriously, or did you feel you had to prove yourself?

CC: I certainly felt the need to prove myself… but not only to the client or whoever I was working for, but to myself. My own point of view was like, “can I do this? can I make this work successful at a larger scale?” and so at that point I was just asking people “can paint your walls?”. I felt like I needed to have enough work to be able to show people and myself that I really could do this. 

BC: Your own worst enemy? 

CC: Definitely. And it’s not easy to adjust to things like using scale and getting used to the surface and anticipating things like weather. But I think more you do it and get used to it the more confident you become. But it was definitely tough at the start.

BC: So I know you also work in a school, where potentially you’re surrounded by up-and-coming artists, some of whom are up-and-coming female artists and even up-and-coming female street artists. What kind of advice would you suggest to them?

CC: Paint everything you can. The more you practise, the more you’re exposed to the different challenges of street art. If you’re just working in the studio you don’t have any of these issues at all. But there are three elements you really can’t get used to until you’ve experienced it:

  • Weather 
  • Scale
  • Surface

These are all things that I never thought of because I’d never painted outside before. Weather, you can’t predict. Climbing up a ladder and then down a ladder and back up again can become a real challenge. And surfaces… different concrete walls or different renders they take paints differently. And they make the image look different. 

I remember one I painted, and I never could have imagined how difficult it was going to be – it was literally pebbles that stuck out of the wall. So it was totally 3D and I had to get the paint in all the little crevasses. It took maybe three or four times as much paint and three or four times as much time and the result wasn’t as good. So that was a steep learning curve.

So the more you can get accustomed to all those different variables, the more confident you can be and the better you will be. Paint everything. 

BC: That seems like very solid advice. The Brisbane Street Art Festival runs from the 6th to the 21st of May. There’s a lot of incredible stuff going on throughout the festival. All the information is available at Carley, thank you so much for chatting to me!

CC: It’s been awesome, thank you. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: