Back to the Drawing Board
Words Kayley Langdon
Illustrations Bjenny Montero
Bjenny Montero’s artwork can be easily recognised by the cartoon style, common colour palette and recurring characters: froggy, dog and big-headed bird. His cartoons range from funny pick-me-ups based on love and friendship, to the fears one faces when out in a crowd or alone in bed. He’s also well-known for his visual artwork on album covers and gig posters for the likes of Kurt Vile, Pond, Courtney Barnett, Mac DeMarco and his own band Montero. In February of this year Montero released his second album, Performer, and will return to Australia in December to play Meredith Music Festival and side shows at Howler. Bjenny continues to be ever-present in the Melbourne creative scene despite his physical absence.
You’re currently based in Athens and, if I remember correctly, you’ve previously been based in the UK and New York. When did you leave Melbourne? I’ve been here [in Athens] around four years, and a year before that I was just backpacking around different places.
I’ve heard that Athens has seen a growing art and creative community since the Greek financial crisis. What has it been like living in Athens during this time? Are you part of an artistic community? The cliché is that it’s the new Berlin, but I’m not in the middle of anything. I’m never part of an artistic community wherever I am, and I don’t really go to openings and groovy stuff like that; I’m a bit of a homebody. I would recommend it to anyone who is young and arty and wants to party, though. Can be pretty wild.
Is there a certain style or theme within the art and music scene in Athens at the moment? It probably has big heavy themes about the current state of Europe or something. But what do I know? I like The Beach Boys and The Simpsons.
Where do you fit into this? I don’t think I fit into any of it at all! The same way I didn’t fit into any Australiana themes and styles.
What are people in Athens finding in your work that is unique to them? People in Athens don’t really follow what I do, and the few that are aware seem more bemused by all the happy colours.
Does your art reflect the place you live in at the time? Not directly. Maybe how I’m feeling about being in a certain place at the time. Anything I do mainly reflects my own inside world and emotions.
How did you first get involved in art over here? Were you a musician or visual artist first? I was drawing from the day I could hold a pencil. I started creating my own imaginary bands and writing songs around 14. My parents did make me go to piano lessons, though. From time to time, I’ve been ‘involved’ in things, but I’ve always just ploughed along in my own little world regardless of what’s happening.
How has your art evolved? It’s just a continuation of what I was drawing when I was four. In the last couple years I’ve stopped wanting to try and show how clever I am. Because I realised I’m not so clever.
Oftentimes an internal dialogue is portrayed in a single cartoon, whether it be feelings of isolation, self-consciousness, love or happiness. Which character do you relate to most? There’s a little Montero in each.
How often do you eat pizza? What’s your ideal topping combo? I try not to eat so much pizza nowadays, but I really love anchovies so much.
What or who else inspires your characters, dialogue and style? I have crippling attacks of nostalgia and difficulty managing some overwhelming emotions.
I feel like every day I see something by you that I’ve never seen before. How often are you drawing? How often do you finish a piece? I draw all the time. Every day. If I stop drawing, then it’s finished enough.
You have a rich history of musical endeavours, from Treetops, The Brutals, Geoffrey O’Connor’s band and now Montero. For you, do music and art go hand in hand? They’re the only things I can do. They have to take turns at being a priority, though.
When you’re doing an album cover or gig poster, do you work with the musician to come up with a concept, or do you have the freedom to make it up as you go? I don’t do so many anymore. I like to just draw what I want to draw because I’m a terrible designer and collaborator.
A friend once commissioned you to do a piece of artwork for me. He approached you with the request that one of the characters say, ‘I’m just waiting for a train.’ Do you get commissioned work like this often? Ha – I remember that! I get lots of people asking for stuff and sometimes I do them if the mood strikes. But being single, I get sick of requests for mushy romantic drawings for couples.
You were involved in the laneway mural for Found Sound in Carlton. You’re obviously still very visible in the Melbourne art scene. Do you still feel as though you’re a part of this community despite the distance? I’m proud of coming from Melbourne and all my family live there. I feel like getting away from Australia has probably improved my visibility there and the appreciation for what I do.
Before leaving Melbourne did you have any connections with the Triple R community? I grew up listening to RRR. My parents were subscribers and it was the only station we listened to. When I was little, it was the only place you could hear any hip hop on radio, too.
Any plans to move back to Australia? Yeah, maybe in a year or so. I have two cats now and it’s really hard to get pets into Australia, but I’m gonna try.
This story first appeared in the December 2018 issue of The Trip, Triple R's susbcriber magazine. Kayley Langdon volunteers at Triple R, helping out with our digital music library. She also writes for a newsletter in Hawthorn and works on a small hobby farm. You can treat your eyeballs to more of Montero’s artworks over here.