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Pig Farming To Fine Art With Kyle Torney

St Arnaud based artist, Kyle Torney, is a muralist and oil painter who has been building a name for himself in the street art scene, painting his Renaissance-inspired works on walls around town, telling local stories with intricate detail.

Kyle is a fascinating artist to speak to. He comes from a farming background and today owns a MMA and boxing gym, which gives him the time to pursue his art without too much concern for fortune and fame.

For someone who has a significant fan base, and works currently being displayed at the New York Art Gallery, Kyle has his feet firmly placed on the ground and still doesn’t seem to realise just how big a deal he is to those who adore his work. It’s evident why fellow artist, Jack Fran, had Kyle on his list of favourite Aussie artists.

On the latest Street Art Unearthed podcast episode, Kyle joined us to chat about how he managed to go from pig farming, to industrial design studies, to mixed martial arts teacher and gym owner, to then adding professional artist to the repertoire.

Kyle chats about his early morning routine, his process for painting massive walls and his appreciation for telling stories through visual art.

Listen to the latest podcast with Kyle Torney here, or read on for excerpts from the chat.

https://streetartunearthed.libsyn.com/17-pig-farming-to-fine-art-with-kyle-torney

Pig Farming Days

A couple of years ago, I was still working on a pig farm. I did that full-time. I worked with what’s known as the grower pigs, which is large pigs. We load them out before they go to become food — what’s known as pig husbandry.

Just looking after the pigs, taking care of them, making sure they’re all staying well and healthy. I just check them all day long and make sure they got food and water and that type of thing. It’s pretty large scale.

I think there’s a bit of a misconception… A lot of people have a misconception that it’s awful, but if I showed you images of our pigs, they actually live quite a… They’re very happy. They live in big strawed sheds outdoors. What are known as eco outdoor sheds. They got a pretty good life.

Industrial Design to Mixed Martial Arts

Out of school, I actually moved straight from home to Melbourne. Oh, well, I had a gap year before that. On my gap year, I worked on a horse farm. Then I moved to Melbourne, and initially, my idea was to study. I wasn’t very good at the study. I got into MIT out of school, in Industrial Design actually, which is probably… Well, it is where I picked up pen sketching, which is why I like to draw in pen because we always drew in pen.

Virtually anything you can think of: toasters, machines, cars. I wanted that study to lead into car design eventually, but yeah, it wasn’t meant to be. I’m not very good at the study aspect. I probably did more training, martial arts training, than studying and the study didn’t work out for me, so I just got a full-time job working at the Melbourne Martial Arts Academy on Flinders Street, and I did apprenticeship there.

It’s virtually like doing an apprenticeship in building or something. Obviously, I was training at the time and competing and yeah. I just got my certificates and signed off and had to do a theory component as well, which gave me the qualifications to open my own gym.

Smoko Sketches to Professional Artist

Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve always been drawing, say for example, when I was working on a pig farm, every smoko or lunch, I would draw. The pen drawings and that you see are just sketches during my lunch breaks and that type of thing.

In terms of taking it seriously, I suppose the only reason that came about is because I had the freedom of time that was acquired with running my own business. Without the gym, I wouldn’t have the ability to take the art so seriously.

I’ve done a lot of practice. I’m not really sure how to put it into words, but probably more than anything I’ve just always been drawing. Always superheroes. I’m a big Batman fan so lots of Batman and lots of superheroes. Which is probably where my… Well, my main interest is obviously figurative stuff, so just people really, that’s probably why I gravitate toward that.

I like to produce artworks to actually tell a bit of a story. I have a bit of a narrative behind them, a visual narrative. It’s like storytelling with a picture. Generally, there’s got to be a bit of a backstory, or I’m trying to tell a story — certainly all my paintings.

Painting For the Love of Painting

To be brutally honest I haven’t really sold a lot or made a lot from art, particularly my murals. A lot of that I do for free. It’s just because I enjoy it. I obviously live in St Arnaud, and I’ve done quite a few, probably six murals where I’ve just donated my time. Other people pay for the materials.

The oil paintings and that type of thing, yeah, I’ve sold a few of those. I had a solo exhibition that went really well. I was happy with that. I actually ran that here… There’s a local hotel. Actually, a lot of the people that attended were of my old friends from Melbourne. It was really nice. The local hotel’s owned by a lovely lady named Denise, who’s also from Melbourne herself, and she’s an art collector.

I was pretty happy with how it went. I didn’t actually expect to sell anything, and I sold pretty much everything out all, around 80 artworks in there, so. Yeah. No. Yeah. I was pretty happy with it.

That segues back into what you were saying about Instagram. The other way that I have been found or contacted to do artwork is through Instagram as a platform, by just posting. Say for example, when I was just posting sketches on my lunch breaks at the piggery, at the pig farm. I started to have a few inquiries on there, and a few more people follow and like and that type of thing. That led to, yeah, say, for example, having work exhibited over there [New York Art Gallery].

Balancing Gym and Art Life

I think on a personal note, I need the balance between the physical and the artistic stuff. I still train every morning. I’d get up at 4:30 every day and head over to the gym. Do my bag work and that type of thing.

For me, I need a good balance between physical and mental acrobatics, and that means art. Yeah. It works out perfect for me because I absolutely love both, but I see the gym and the martial arts as my job, and I see the art as something that I do because I love it, which is why I actually turned down a lot of work.

In the last 12 months, I would have probably turned down 20 or more mural-type jobs because lots of people have asked me, particularly close to home, for landscape-type stuff. I don’t enjoy that. I give them a contact to someone that would do a better job than me because it’s not something that I would enjoy and they’ll be able to tell. I’m very privileged to be able to do that.

Designing St Arnaud Silos

We started off with a design process. I ran four different design concepts through the local paper, and they were voted on. I posted a different design in our local paper each week for four weeks. They were voted on, and the design which was most popular was a tribute to St Arnaud’s gold mining history because we’re a gold mining town founded on the goldfields.

We had a lot of interest. The gold mining won hands down. It was long-awaited. I actually thought it would have been one of the other concepts because sport’s a big part of small communities, particularly in our town it is anyhow. Particularly football. It’s huge for the community here. Football and netball and hockey. I thought that one may get the nod, but no, the gold mining was the most popular.

That was the theme we went with. From there, I just came up with a bit of a narrative that I think depicts St Arnaud’s history.

It was actually. That’s the biggest painting I’ve ever done. It’s pretty big.

Learning as He Goes

I’ve got a pretty regimented process that I go through, but it was still a bit of a learning curve that I improved on as I went along. Probably the main difficulty I faced was the curve, initially. I paid less attention to it as I went along. Funnily enough and it seemed to work out all right.

I got much faster as I went along to the second silo, which has a lot more information in it in terms of detail and what’s going on in the first silo. It took less time, and I had two figures, more detail. The actual focal point of the entire image, which the two come together to make one image, is in the second silo.

I think it… Well, the way I thought of it as I went along with it is the same as when I oil paint. Sometimes I’m too fiddly, and I use two smaller brushes, and it seems to make you focus on things that shouldn’t be in focus.

Well, actually Jack’s the man here. Jack Fran. He showed me the grid method that you’re talking about. Previous to that I used to… Because I hadn’t done any murals, obviously this scale, I would just start with the face, like I do on my drawings and paintings. Work the loose proportions out and then get down off the ladder, go back and keep checking, but obviously, you simply can’t do that on such a big scale.

I think a lot of the success comes from planning. If you don’t plan, then you’re in trouble.

Kyle’s Silo Art Process

I paint on my own. The entire process from sketching to when I complete it, and it was somewhere in the range of 800 hours.

I collated. That includes all the designs I did for the local papers and then the planning that I do each morning. My regimented process is I get up about 4:00 in the morning. I go and do some bag work and some training, have a stretch, come home. The kids and my wife are still asleep at that stage. Then I plan what I’m going to do for the day, like for the silo. I work out what I’ve done wrong, where I need to take it, that type of thing. Corrections I need to make on proportions and yeah, go from there.

I use paint… paintbrushes, and an airless spray gun. Exterior house paint. Initially, the first few murals I did, that was cans. I think it’s probably for me easier with the airless spray gun, just because you can adjust the jet size to make it larger to cover the surface area.

I think brushes certainly have their own particular look, but I see some incredible stuff that people do with cans that I’d love to know how they do when they do.

New Art in the Works

I’m working on painting right now at the moment. Yesterday and today I’ll work on it. I think it’ll probably take me, say, three or four days this one. It’s not huge, huge. It’s just a big sidewall of a shed. This is actually directly opposite the silos that are recently done of a man that used to own a trucking business in town.

Without these types of things outside of the town, no one would ever know about them or hear their stories. That’s what I like about it. There are big stories to be told in little towns, I think.

I’ve got another mural after this one coming up of a shearer, which I’ve got to do the designs for obviously, but the concept is, it just has to be a shearer. That’ll be fun to play with. I think that’ll all be airless spray gun.

Aside from that now, I’ve just got a lot of stuff I’ve got to do back in the studio, small scale oil paintings that I’ve got to get back to. I’ve got a couple that are incomplete for myself, but I’ve also got a couple of commissions that I had pre-COVID that I’ve never completed. I’ve got to get back to those and get them finished.

Who’s Inspiring Kyle Torney?

I probably draw my inspiration from classical art. I read a lot about, particularly, Renaissance artists. All my favourite artists are from that period. My all-time favourite artist is John Singer Sargent. Next in line would be Caravaggio.

I would say in the street art game, it’s my main man Jack Fran because he helps me out every time I got questions. I’d be still probably using little paintbrushes and $2.50 spray cans if it wasn’t for him. Jack’s a huge help to me.

Written with excerpts from the latest Street Art Unearthed podcast with Kyle Torney.

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