The Rockpool Files

Meet El Camino Cantina’s Aussie punk music and surf art icon


Australian artist Ben Brown conjured up the lurid, half human-half skull and skeleton murals that encompass the El Camino Cantina brand. Here, he talks about his crazy, punk-rock-inspired artwork, and how he’s incorporating the music, surfing and motor-cycle cultures that he grew up with into the art pieces that define these colourful and eclectic Tex-Mex diners.

Photographer: Tim Ferguson

Describe your style of work?
Lo-brow punk rock-inspired frantic scratching. My style of work reflects the various punk rock, surfing and skating cultures I grew up in.

When did you start collaborating with El Camino Cantina; how did the relationship come about?
We started working together around May 2016 to fit out El Camino Cantina in The Rocks, Sydney. Rockpool Dining Group approached my agency, The Drawing Arm, which in turn recommended me, as my work it the brief. And it has proven to be a good fit!

Photographer: Cybele Malinowski

What was the original brief?
For El Camino Cantina in The Rocks we merged live action photographs of the desert, girls and cars with my drawings of skeletons and skulls, using a retro comic book style. For this more recent work for El Camino Manly I designed and painted a large-scale mural based around the iconic ‘Endless Summer’ surf movie poster – and, as the location was Manly Beach, we included local references. It is basically a couple of hipster, log-riding skeletons coming in from a surf at the Queenscliff end of Manly Beach.

Being from the Northern Beaches yourself, did you draw on any local knowledge/inspiration for that venue?
Yes – the headland at Queenscliff has had a large ‘QBC’ hand-painted on the rocks for the past 30 years. It is lovingly touched up every year by the members of Queenscliff Boardriders Club and represents their love of that part of the beach. I included that in the mural as it is so iconic. Although it is ironic for me as I am a life member of North Steyne Boardriders (NSB), the other strong, local boardriders club. But it is all good – we love QBC and they love NSB!

How the brief change for the Brisbane venue and how did your artwork morph accordingly?
The Brisbane venue is dealing more with grease monkey culture – cool cars and motor cycles – which I also love, so it had to be Evel Knievel as the mural hero! I was a kid growing up when this maniac American daredevil was in his heyday, so rendering him as a stars and stripes / crazed-looking skeleton was lots of fun. He is a reckless hero for the ages.

Other than your own artwork, is there a design element that you really like in the venues?
I love the classic Dia De Los Muertos / Day of the Dead design elements throughout the venues. It is a fantastic part of Mexican culture and fits the vibe of the venues perfectly.

Photographer: Cybele Malinowski

What do you like most about the El Camino Cantina brand?
The food of course! The soft tacos are probably my favourite.

Anything else you want to add?
I am happy that the design includes lots of my framed rock posters and fine art prints, which I have created over the years. They fit in beautifully and complement the main artworks.

Artist Ben Brown