The shocking news has been announced that the Ballarat artist Josh Muir, a Gunditjmara, Yorta Yorta and Barkindji man, who has died aged only 30.
Muir’s vibrant graffiti-based prints and large-scale projections have adorned Melbourne’s trams, the National Gallery of Victoria’s exterior, as well as the Richmond Football Club’s 2017 Indigenous guernsey.
Born and raised in Ballarat, he won numerous awards including the Telstra National Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander Art Youth Award in 2015.
At the time I wrote, “Telstra Youth Award winner, Josh Muir from Ballarat certainly identifies. Just 23 now, his teens went awry with drink and drugs, and an art based on graffiti gave him new direction. Art is a way of decorating space, he announces boldly in front of a digital print on aluminium which is as complex in its story-telling as any desert canvas or Arnhem bark. Details poured from his eager tongue involving the Gold Rush, the introduction of Western clothing, graziers’ flocks stealing the Myrnong yam from his ancestors, the Post Office versus the scar tree, and the corrupting payment of Aborigines in alcohol and tobacco”.
According to the ABC report, Muir died of natural causes, leaving a partner, Shanaya Sheridan, who said he was extremely proud of his art. “Outside of his art he was a loving family man, his family meant the world to him,” Ms Sheridan said.
Ms Sheridan added that Muir had aspirations to take their two children, Jamari, 3, and Jyla, 11 months, travelling and sightseeing — something he loved to do. She said his biggest accomplishments were his children, but he was also an advocate for mental health and suicide prevention and a proud Gunditjmara, Yorta Yorta and Barkindji man.
On the strength of his 2015 NATSIAA win, Muir was invited to create a projection for the NGV’s massive walls on St Kilda Road for the city’s White Night event – a daunting prospect. But the result, ‘Still Here’ was hailed for its colourist kaleidoscope. His animated street art aesthetic told the story of Aboriginal Victorians, before and after white settlement, depicting the struggles of his people, but also Muir’s personal history.
“I’ve been through a bit myself, so the words ‘Still Here’ are almost a reflection of my journey too,” he said.
In 2018, Muir had an extensive solo show at the Koori Heritage Trust in Melbourne. And in 2019, he was offered the inaugural ‘Going Solo: First Nations’ exhibition at the Bendigo Art Gallery. It was called ‘What’s on your mind?’ and was an eight piece installation by Muir in collaboration with digital animator Isobel Knowles and experiential design consultancy Art Processors. The exhibition took the viewer on an augmented reality journey through the artist’s mind combining elements of Muir’s proud Indigenous heritage with a contemporary visual language, his fun and playful aesthetic drawing reference to images from pop culture and street art.
‘What’s on your mind?’ was, says the Gallery, “a very personal and intimate exploration into the artist’s journey of self-discovery, shedding light on the complexities of navigating between two very different worlds – that of his Indigenous heritage and the broader colonial landscape”.