You enter a lobby and are immediately drawn to a neon fireplace with a bright orange smoke flue. There is a towering six-ton concrete reception desk, much like a futuristic airport check-in. An expansive internal skylight, the largest in the country, is complemented by retro patterned wallpaper and furniture and shiny chrome accents. And then there is art.
This is the scene at the entrance to Ovolo South Yarra, Melbourne’s newest boutique hotel. A collaboration with Melbourne-based interior design legends Luchetti Krelle which opened in April 2021, it features a retro-futuristic aesthetic that draws heavily on pop art, disco glamor, arcade games and gods. rock from the 60s and 70s.
The hotel lobby and restaurant, Lona Misa, is splashed with over 60 works by nine grand artists, including Johnny Romeo, Punk Me Tender, Jean-Baptise Lana (aka ‘Jisbar’) and Ben Tankard. It’s not uncommon for “art hotels” to showcase art as part of a stay – but how do things like this get there?
Speaking from his studio in the Blue Mountains, Tankard says the hotel asked him to create the Pop series in oil on canvas, based on his love of pop art pillars such as Jasper Johns, whose painting Flag (1955) is an emblematic subversion of American patriotism.
“He painted the American flag, but really bulky and dripping, and multi-layered,” says Tankard de Johns. “I like to take existing images and transform them with texture, accidents and processes, turning them into really interesting works of art. Aesthetically, I like the balance between clean lines and solid areas of color, then blurring them to give them energy. There is a dynamic between chaos and design.
The result is paintings imbued with nostalgia and humor, which distort images already well anchored in our psyche. Emphasis is also placed on the cultural offerings that generation after generation of adolescents crave to consume.
Tankard began to develop his post-modernist appropriation style in 2015, unveiling his Unpopular Penguin series, which dismantles the instantly recognizable design of the Popular Penguin paperback series. Some of his warped book covers hang at Ovolo South Yarra: A clockwork orange, The catcher in the rye, Fear and loathing in Las Vegas and The Kool Aid Electric Acid Test.
“These Penguin books have been around since 1935,” Tankard explains. “Every few decades they change the design, but then they go back to the original because you can’t beat it and people love them.”
His works for the hotel also include a cover of Life magazine featuring John Wayne in an electric orange scarf, and immediately recognizable childhood remnants: the UNO cards, a section of the Monopoly board.
Above the elevators are his photo-realistic album covers and portraits of Debbie Harry, James Brown and David Bowie. “They are suitable because the hotel has record players in the rooms and all the furniture and fixtures are designed in a sort of modern 70s look,” he says.
They might be on the walls, but – as any smart art hotel knows – if you can’t make a reservation yet, you’ll see them soon enough on your Instagram feeds.
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Hotels in Ovolo.