BOXING CLEVER: Artist Sean Rafferty.
BOXING CLEVER: Artist Sean Rafferty. DAVID L KELLY

Farming has got artist thinking outside the box

"ANYTHING will provide you with enough information if you look closely enough.”

Artist Sean Rafferty has turned the simple fruit carton into a work of art - and has uncovered stories of farmers across Australia in the process.

And from the Cross Family Farm's Grumpy Gourmet Tomatoes to the cheeky imp clutching a Brillante capsicum, to the Prichard Farms crow gazing over the fields and the bold branding and deep magenta of Bundaberg Gold, Bundaberg is one of the heartlands for quirky box designs.

Rafferty's fascination began when he worked at Harris Farm fruit markets in Sydney and this week, four years after he began collecting the colourful logos, he is putting hundreds on display in an exhibition at the Museum of Brisbane.

"A lot of people wouldn't consider (the logos themselves) fine art,” he said.

"But it is artwork - a vernacular type of artwork.”

He has now collected nearly 800 and chatted to many farmers along the way, and found the cartons revealed a lot about personalities as well as geography.

At first it was the landscapes on the boxes he was handling that piqued his curiosity about where the produce was from.

"A lot of cartons in Shepparton are more like coats of arms or insignias,” he said.

"You talk to the farmers - they don't talk much about the landscape because it's flat and brown,” while up in the carton art "mecca” of Far North Queensland, the lush land is the star.

Over time the collector became more enamoured with the "sense of humour” of each unique brand.

"The characters, the puns, the jokes.

"It's always a discovery of... how the personality of the farmer comes through in the artwork.

"It's no surprise there are plenty of characters out there.”

Rafferty was drawn to the idea of telling the stories of the farmers after discovering the tales his late grandfather had to tell of his time as a cattle farmer.

"Some people are curious or befuddled that you're collecting your fruit carton but ultimately, they recognise I'm trying to celebrate their cartons and shine a light on what they do,” he said.

Trevor Cross, of Cross Family Farms at Welcome Creek, is known for the clever monikers on his produce - beginning 10 years ago with Grumpy Gourmet Tomatoes and branching out to about 15 more including Cranky Capsicums and Grouchy Grape, Cheeky Cherries and Angry Egg tomatoes.

"Everyone comments when they see the stuff at the markets or in boxes on the street, or take their groceries home in them,” Mr Cross said.

"It stands out more than just the standard writing.”

Mr Cross said the Cartonography project was "really good, because the industry needs someone to stand up and do something and show people where it all starts”.

"A lot of the boxes and our labels don't go into supermarkets - a lot of people just see the Coles and Woolies labelling.”

Rafferty has exhibited in Shepparton and plans to exhibit in Cairns later in the year, and Bundaberg is in his sights.

"I'm always looking for opportunities to get to agricultural regions,” he said.

"It would be great to get to Bundy.”

The Cartonography exhibition opens at the Museum of Brisbane on Friday and Sean Rafferty will give an artist talk on Saturday. It will run until November 12.



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