IT'S a typically grey and bleak winter day in Melbourne's CBD.
The constant drizzle has all but cleared Collins Street of pedestrian traffic, albeit a handful of rugged-up office workers clutching umbrellas as they make their coffee run.
Amid the gloom the eye catches something red and blue. It's an early '90s Newcastle Knights "Henny Penny" jersey hanging in a shop window.
It feels almost like an alien sighting in AFL heartland, as does the photograph next to it, depicting Daniel Johns in a colourful fake fur coat.
As we walk further down Collins Street we're stopped again by a colourful floor-to-ceiling portrait of a teenage Johns.
We've arrived at the Past, Present & FutureNever Exhibition, the latest project from arguably Australia's most enigmatic and intriguing musical artist, Daniel Johns.
There's perhaps never been a better time to be a fan of Johns and his band Silverchair, in the 11 years since the three-piece of Johns, drummer Ben Gillies and bassist Chris Joannou announced their "indefinite hibernation".
Last year the most ARIA-awarded artist of all time ended years of public inactivity to release an enthralling podcast Who Is Daniel Johns?
It was followed by an ARIA No.1 album FutureNever, released on his 43rd birthday in April, a YouTube documentary series Inside the Mind of Daniel Johns, and later this year the film What If The Future Never Happened? will be released.
In between, Johns was found guilty of high-range drink driving after he crashed into another car on the Pacific Highway near North Arm Cove in March. He was given a 10-month intensive corrections order, disqualified from driving for seven months and subsequently spent three months in rehabilitation.
Johns has had a somewhat complicated relationship with Silverchair, so is this flurry of creative activity about reclaiming his legacy?
"I have many, many memories of those times [in Silverchair] that I hold dear," Johns says.
"We did some incredible things together as a band and I'm proud that three kids from working-class Newcastle were able to do the things that we did and manage to make five albums that did pretty well here and overseas. I'm proud of what we achieved as a band.
"With my first solo album Talk, I was so preoccupied with proving myself as a solo artist outside of Silverchair that I neglected to acknowledge that I'd already proven myself as a singular songwriter, a producer, a composer inside of Silverchair.
"We were absolutely a band, and a band that had what I think was one of the best and tightest rhythm sections in music at the time.
"We were though, for the most part, playing original compositions that I wrote particularly from Neon Ballroom onwards. Once that penny dropped I felt infinitely more comfortable in re-exploring my own song-writing concepts on FutureNever."
Johns is known to be reclusive, and the Past, Present & FutureNever Exhibition is akin to climbing through his bedroom window and riffling through his personal possessions.
In some ways, that's literally the exhibition in a nutshell. A vast majority of the collection - displayed across five rooms on the ground floor of the Rialto building - features keepsakes that have been stored for up to 30 years in Johns' parents' home in Merewether.
Everything from high school report cards to Silverchair's many platinum records and right up to Johns' outrageous costumes worn during his 2018 Dreams collaboration with Empire Of The Sun's Luke Steele.
Radio Velvet, who specialise in pop culture, were chosen for the project after Johns visited their Masters Of The Universe exhibition. Johns is a life-long fan of the '80s He-Man cartoon and toy range.
For the past six months curator and Radio Velvet creative director, Eddie Zammit, has been tasked with collaborating with Johns on the project.
That included trips to Newcastle to visit Johns' childhood bedroom.
"It was really unique, in that I was walking into his bedroom and seeing what it was kind of like when he was 15 years old and really starting the whole Silverchair journey," Zammit says, while providing a tour of the exhibition.
For most musicians or celebrities the inclusion of school-aged memorabilia would hold little interest beyond the super fan.
However, Silverchair's meteoric rise from obscurity to playing Madison Square Garden with the Red Hot Chili Peppers while still at high school rates as arguably the greatest story in Australian rock'n'roll history.
The exhibition illustrates the sheer madness of that time by showcasing Johns' high school report card for year 10 music, where he finished 11th in the class with a score of 62.
"Failure to complete a composition task has depressed Daniel's result," the teacher writes. "He needs to continue to remain 'on track' where possible, despite his other commitments."
Those other commitments were releasing an ARIA No.1 debut album, Frogstomp, which would sell more than 2 million copies in the US alone.
Parts of the exhibition are a '90s teenage time capsule. There's Johns' Rusty surf-brand school bag, his Gunn & Moore cricket bat, a Nintendo Game Boy, a copy of C.S Lewis' The Silver Chair owned by his mother Julie, a letter of congratulations from then Newcastle lord mayor Greg Heys, and a Pamela Anderson photograph signed "you guys rip".
"Daniel is like everyone else, he went to high school, he studied, he hasn't liked school," Zammit says.
"He was like most teenagers really.
"I guess for me that's important to address because it gives that sense of normality to something that has grown and grown.
"I would say he has a very un-normal life opposed to most people. But I think it's really important to show the beginning of anyone's journey."
Zammit also reproduced hundreds of fan letters written to Johns, pre-internet, on the floor of the exhibition.
Another part of the exhibition is a claustrophobic podcast room with black walls and white words painted throughout. Melbourne artist Steve Leadbeater spent six days listening to Johns' podcast on repeat as he reproduced key phrases on the walls.
There's a pink backstage area filled with Silverchair photos, including Johns' personal favourite depicting him and Joannou with The Clash's Joe Strummer.
Newcastle's Fingers Crossed Creative - run by co-producers Zackari Watt and Ella Heathmore - recreated the laundry from the upcoming film and filled it with Johns' actual teenage T-shirts.
"When he was on tour it was kind of his happy place," Zammit says.
"No one really knew who he was, so washing his clothes became his place."
For pure wow, the white-walled art space is difficult to beat. The room features a wall of amplifiers, each representing 20 singles from Silverchair's five albums.
Zammit says he regards "Daniel as an artist, as opposed to just a musician", so a host of acclaimed young Australian artists were commissioned to produce Johns-inspired works, including Melbourne's Matt Adnate, Byron Bay's Lee McConnell, Wollongong's Claire Foxton and Melbourne's Celeste Mountjoy.
"She [Mountjoy] is a superstar in her own right," he says.
"She was affected by the music when she was 10 years old. I think that's the thing, everyone has their own Daniel Johns story."
That's true of lifelong Newcastle fan Lucas Fatches, 42, who flew down to Melbourne for the day with his 16-year-old daughter Nikeasha to see the exhibition.
Fatches, who first saw Silverchair perform at Civic Park in 1994, estimates he's spent $10,000 on Johns memorabilia, including $700 on eBay for a signed letter to Silverchair's fan club.
"I never lost interest, but it was very exciting to hear from him again," Fatches says.
"I always thought he was a really decent man.
"Growing up in the same town, I saw all the bullshit that he went through."
Johns' music and story also continues to inspire younger generations, particularly his well-publicised battles with mental health.
Melbourne's Emma Wilson, 25, and Ava Peuschel, 16, who both have autism, discovered Johns' music after Silverchair's break-up and wanted to learn more about their favourite artist.
"It means a lot to see someone who's so vulnerable and upfront about their struggles and makes you feel so much better about what you go through, and to do it in such an artistic way is so inspiring," Wilson says.
This recent hive of activity from Johns and re-examination of his Silverchair legacy has led some people to speculate that this is a parting gift before he returns to a permanent place away from the public eye.
Johns told The Project's Carrie Bickmore last week that "the most joyous thing in the universe for me is calm, and music is chaos to me. It is organised chaos. The perfect future for me is being comfortable being creative and to not take it too personally".
Chaotic or not, Zammit predicts Johns will continue to produce thrilling work.
"He's always pushing new ground," he says.
"I think he is a musical genius and some of it is exploring and experimenting.
"If you haven't heard of what Daniel has been doing I can absolutely assure you, with actually knowing him, that he's been trying to create new music."
Daniel Johns' Past, Present & FutureNever Exhibition is on display at Melbourne's Rialto until October 9.
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