Video credit: Apparition Media
How many people say they genuinely love their job and that even when they retire, they still want it to be a part of their everyday life? Former signwriter Alby Semmens is one of the rare few.
The 82 year old South Australian spent more than 30 years in the art department at Coca-Cola, painstakingly painting everything from shop fronts, windows and illuminated signs to vehicles, banners, and a Coca-Cola warehouse wall. He even painted a Channel 7 helicopter.
“I started out as a signwriter on the road, going around to different shops and painted just about anything you could imagine,” Alby said.
“Most of the time the designs were mine. They'd tell me where they wanted it and an idea of what they wanted, but the individual styles were left up to me,” he said.
From shop signs to urban murals
This year Coca-Cola celebrated 80 years of being made and shared in Australia, and invited Alby to dust off his brushes and come out of retirement.
The assignment? A collaborative mural in Knox Lane, Melbourne. Artist Julian De Lio and his team at Apparition Media worked with Alby and other artists to bring the mural to life.
“It was great being part of the creation as an artist because not only is Coca-Cola ingrained in Australian culture, it’s also fun to play with. It was a test of my skill and draftsmanship. That’s the great thing about being an artist, no two days are ever the same. The worst day in art is better than the best day in any other job you might have,” Julian said.
“It was really interesting to work with Alby, and talk to someone who spent a lot of his time working for Coca Cola doing similar work to what we do. It's cool to spend time with someone from that traditional school who has gone through the different waves of signwriting,” he said.
Beyond work: a lifetime of collecting
Alby’s signwriting career was eventually overtaken by another Coca-Cola related project: his hobby of collecting Coca-Cola memorabilia. Over the years he’s gathered thousands of collectibles from miniature cars to bowling balls and fridges.
His collection is displayed at home, and what doesn’t fit in the house lives in two backyard sheds.
“It’s like living in a museum but we're used to it. It's just our life,” said Pauline Semmens, who married Alby in 1963.
Having a collection of his own meant that when Alby retired in 1998, he didn’t have to say goodbye completely. Before he retired he became a member of the Coca-Cola collector’s club, where he continues to practice his signwriting craft.
For Alby, participating in creating the Melbourne mural meant he got to see how the craft of signwriting has changed since his time. According to Alby, creating artwork again for the brand he’d worked on for years was a thrill.
“It was great to go down and see how things work and to be involved. I’ve had such a fantastic life with Coca-Cola. I started with them in September 1967 and that was the best choice of my life, really,” Alby said.