Australian artistAndy Firth has cultivated a reputation for his fascinating dark sculptures, inspired by his primary muse, the human skull, a potent and evocative symbol of mortality, death and life’s fleeting nature. Firth meticulously handcrafts his pieces fusing diverse materials such as clay, acrylic paint, and urethane resin, imbuing his works with a strikingly lifelike and accentuated appearance.
For the past decade, Firth has pursued his artistic endeavours under the pseudonym ‘Jack of The Dust‘. This nom de guerre, harkening back to an 1800s Royal Navy term, embodies Firth’s commitment to breathing life into historical figures, cultures, and the narratives that envelop them.
Skulls represent the intricacies of the human race, our fictional characters and cultures throughout history. I hope to breathe life into the bones that would otherwise be deemed dead and gone.
Jack of The Dust
Imagination and surprise define Firth‘s expression, evident in works such as The Death of Liberty Shadow, reimaging Lady Liberty in matt black with an exposed chrome cranium and a portrait of madness, Firth’s haunting yet captivating portrayal of Pop Art Legend, Andy Warhol, as the spirit of evil, ruler of Hell, and foe of God, with the horns emerging from his head. These works convey a powerful message that speaks to the eternal nature of the human experience, where life, death and aesthetic pleasure are inextricably intertwined.
Over the years, Firth has nurtured Jack of The Dust into a full-fledged enterprise, with a team of fifteen full-time professionals operating from two warehouses spanning 7500 square feet in Burleigh Heads, located on Australia’s Gold Coast. We caught up with Dust to learn more about his practice, process, and what’s next for him as an artist.
Hi, Jack Of The Dust! How are you doing? Thank you for taking the time to speak with us. Can you please introduce yourself to those who do not know you?
Jack Of The Dust: Hi, I’m Andy. Also known as Jack Of The Dust. I’m a self-taught Australian artist from the social generation. My style is surprise-and-delight, often represented in art pieces on my signature canvas, the human skull. To me, skulls represent the intricacies of the human race, our fictional characters and cultures throughout history. I hope to breathe life into the bones that would otherwise be deemed dead and gone.
Can you walk us through your artistic journey? How did you initially become interested in art, and why you decided to pursue a career as an artist?
Jack Of The Dust: It’s actually pretty funny what started this, journey. Back in 2012, m0y roommates at the time bought me a little house-warming present, which was a cheap little $2 shop ceramic skull with a dragon on the top of it. I wasn’t a huge fan of it. It looked terrible, but with my background in boat building bringing ideas to life I did see potential to make it look a little cooler. I cut off the dragon on the top of the skull, went to my local hardware store and bought some matte black and gold paint. I sprayed the skull black and hand painted gold teeth! After this little freshen up, I really, really liked it! So much so that it became my favourite piece of decor in my house.
I enjoyed the process so much that I decided to make an upgraded version of it. I purchased a medical grade human anatomy skull and gave it the same paint job using some slightly higher quality materials. A cornerstone of my personality is progression. So, I couldn’t help but think about what my next skull was going to look like! This little random series of events lead to what you see today with my work! It’s almost been 10 years now, and I’m still so in love with what I do, and dreaming up how my next skull will look.
What led you to choose the name “Jack Of The Dust” for your artistic persona, and what does it represent for you?
Jack of The Dust: Before becoming an artist, I was a boat builder for about 12 years. This background had me searching for names within the maritime field. Through this search, the naval term “Jack Of the Dust” popped up! When I heard it, I instantly knew that it was a perfect fit for what I was doing with skulls. To me the word Jack performed a similar function as John Doe, meant to describe any man. And “of the dust” was a description of where we all end up, (6 feet under). To me, the words Jack Of The Dust perfectly describe my artwork. It sounded like breathing life back into the characters, cultures and people who would otherwise be deemed dead and gone. It was a match made in heaven.
Your dark, Vanitas-theme works and sculptures have garnered significant recognition, distinguished by your use of diverse materials and techniques. Can we delve deeper into your practice, the influences and inspiration and how they come together to inform your creations?
Jack of The Dust: Whenever creativity strikes, I always make sure to write my ideas into a checklist in my iPhone notes, that I can tick off later. Currently, I have about 80 concepts written down. Generally, when I approach a new creation, I pull out this list, scroll through and just see whatever grabs my attention. Once I have my direction, I start building a mood board of colour palettes, inspiration and references displayed on a 60-inch screen behind where I sculpt then it’s all hands-on deck.
Can we speak about your process of creating a piece, from the initial concept to the finished work?
Jack of The Dust: My process is a self-taught variation of what you would see in a Hollywood special FX shop. This process lends itself to extreme realism or absurd fantasy. Once I decide on the skull I’m going to create, I skip the sketching and head straight to the clay. I use water and oil-based clays for the sculpture itself, then move onto a more complex style of mould making called a “matrix mould”. If you’ve ever seen one of my YouTube or Instagram videos of this process, you’ll know it’s extremely complex! Next, I create a durable urethane resin cast that I can then paint with different inks, acrylics and enamels. By layering colours and opacities, I can build my desired level of realism and depth.
What has been the most challenging piece you’ve ever created, and how did you overcome the obstacles you faced during the process?
Jack of The Dust: That would have to be my podium piece, the Octoskull. To make one Octoskull it takes 9 separate molds and each tentacle has to be grafted into the body individually along with its suckers. Then, polished to a seamless finish. Paired with the electric colourway of the Australian Blue-Ringed Octopus, this piece was very challenging. When I’m faced with a challenge that at the time seems to be impossible (and this might sound silly) but I just envision myself as a steamroller and the problems as nothing more than little rocks that I’m going to flatten as I move forward. This way of thinking is a little out of the box, but it has always served me well in the face of friction.
Have you ever experienced any controversies or criticism regarding the macabre nature of your practice? How do you handle and respond to such reactions?
Jack of The Dust: Not really within my demographic BUT it’s always been so funny to see the reactions of the older generation (60’s and up). For the most part, they get so confused and baffled over what I do. Often, they turn their noes up so my style of artwork. <laughs>
The studio is the sacred temple of creativity. What are three things you can’t live without in your studio?
Jack of The Dust:
What’s next for Jack Of The Dust?
Jack of The Dust: My current focus is directed towards making more wall mounted artwork, as most of my work up until now is Moreso table top! This is a new and very exciting direction for me.
Lastly, what does art mean to you, what legacy do you hope to leave behind as an artist, and how do you want your work to be remembered?
Jack of The Dust: My legacy is to inspire hope that achieving a certain level of success as an artist is possible! It’s all too common to be a struggling artist, so, after a decade of hard work, I’m trying to change that premise.