Category Archives: Street Art

Street Art 2014

Standing on the fourth floor balcony of Emerald House in South Melbourne with a cold beer in my hand watching the sun set from the south-side of the city and contemplating the end of 2014. Around me are many of the luminaries of Melbourne’s street art scene: Factor from Invurt, Luke Cornish (aka E.L.K), Toby from Just Another Agency, Luke McManus, Alison Young, Dean Sunshine, David Russell GT, Mini Graff… enough of the name dropping but you get the picture.

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The occasion is the Melbourne premier of a new documentary on street art, Cutback by Rachel Bentley. Cutback was filmed between 2011-2014 in Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, Berlin, NYC and London this documentary concentrates on the pertinent topic of the acceptance of street art by major art prizes, major galleries and collectors. Cutback is not just a documentary but also a digital platform with more interviews and room to expand.

After the documentary there was a tour of the three story carpark at Emerald House that was painted in 2012 (see my post Melbourne Underground). The paintings are still there and more have been added.

Luke Cornish, Dean Sunshine and Factor

Luke Cornish, Dean Sunshine and Factor

The night before almost the same crew was assembled for the launch of Dean Sunshine’s new book, Street Art Now featuring his photographs of Melbourne and elsewhere. The book launch featured a silent charity auction for a set of large panels by notable artists that were made for Melbourne’s Spring Fashion Week.

Dean Sunshine has made good on his pledge to put the profits of his previous book Land of Sunshine back into more publishing (the same pledge applies to the current book). This time it is a hard back book with better photographs and a foreword by David Hurlston, Australian Art Curator at the National Gallery of Victoria. The photographs are accompanied by online references for each artist acknowledging how much of the street art scene is online.

Every year, there is the launch of another book on Melbourne’s graffiti street art, this year there was two:  Alison Young in Street Art, Public City – Law, Crime and the Urban Imagination (Routledge, 2014) and Dean Sunshine Street Art Now.

Every year in Melbourne’s street art scene it appears as if there is another existential threat to the street art of Hosier Lane, from the departure of Andy Mac, to the CCTV cameras and now the construction of a multi-story hotel. It is a reminder of the ephemeral nature of street art. It is also a reminder of corrupt nature of Australian politics with the then Planning Minister Guy giving the approval for the project as a kickbacks for political donations to his party.

In many ways this year was like any other year in Melbourne. So what else has happened in Melbourne street art scene this year? Otherwise for street art in Melbourne the main story is that it has been a year of murals lots of new big murals around Melbourne, most notably from Rone and Adnate, and the finally restored, old Keith Haring mural.

Rone murals, Lt Collins Street

Rone murals, Lt Collins Street

As the summer sun sinks below the Docklands high rise I contemplate the question: does all this mean that Melbourne’s street art has ‘sold out’, that it has become mainstream, that it is no longer real?

None of what I’ve noted in this post should be taken as evidence for that. Looking at the great wall of skyscraper rising along the Yarra giving way to older low rise buildings, a few with bombs and tags high up on them, there is no reason to believe that Melbourne’s street art, although it is more widely appreciated, has lost its way (see my post from last year for more on the future of street art). Street art and graffiti are not endangered species, rare, fragile things; in Melbourne it is strong, enduring and pervasive. Writers keep spraying, taggers keep tagging, stickers keep sticking, artists keep painting, haters keep hating, and everyones still posting on Facebook or Instagram.

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Banksy’s Favourite Criminologist

Going paintspotting with Alison Young around Melbourne suburbs of Brunswick and Parhran is like going for a walk with any other enthusiastic, informed observer of street art and graffiti. Walking around, looking down lanes, camera ready trying to see the splash of aerosol spray paint, the paste-up or, even, street art sculpture.

Except that Alison Young is not just another fan of Melbourne’s street art but the Professor of Criminology at the University of Melbourne and is Banksy’s “favourite criminologist in the world”. (And how many criminologists does Banksy know?)

Alison Young book

Alison Young’s Street Art, Public City – Law, Crime and the Urban Imagination is an academic book, full of citations and an extensive bibliography but don’t panic. The academic nature of this should not put off interested readers, as it is well written and does not require a background in criminology or sociology to understand. The book comfortable ranges in styles from the personal narrative to post-modern philosophy.

Street Art, Public City is not solely focused on the laws that prohibit street art and graffiti or the way that they are enforced. Although there is some old-school criminology in Chapter 5 where Young examines aspects of law enforcement: the appellate process on sentences for graffiti, the lack of distinction in the law between vandalism and graffiti and the political use of James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling’s much referred to “broken window” hypothesis. Young avoids technical language using “the legislated city” instead of ‘nomosphere’ to describe the intersection of law and urban space, while including such technical language in the footnotes.

Street Art, Public City presents a broad view of street art and the city, examining the way that we imagine the city, the issue of public and private space, the multiple uses and versions the city. This is informed by Young’s own exploration of street art in Melbourne, New York, Berlin, London and other cities and her many conversations with street artists. Previously Young, in collaboration with the artists, Ghostpatrol and Miso, wrote Street Studio – the place of street art in Melbourne (Thames & Hudson, 2010) that features interviews with Neils Oeltjen (aka Nails), Tom Civil, Tai Snaith, Ghostpatrol, Ash Keating, Al Stark, Miso, Twoone, Mic Porter, and the Everfresh Crew.

Street Art, Public City is focused on the situation that the art is presented, the affect on both the artist and the viewer. The focus on the situational aspect makes Young’s approach, including her explorations of cities, almost Situationalist especially considering her conclusion of learning to live with the paradoxes that street art generates. The actual street art is not really discussed in the same depth. That said the influence of the art galleries and the art market are examined in some detail.

After so many books on street art that are basically eye candy, picture books with more photographs than words it is a relief to actually read a book about street art. There are fifteen colour photos at the front and a few more black and white photos scattered in the book’s six chapters. Photographs of street art only tell part of the story as there are aspects of street art that cannot be captured in a photograph. Photographs cannot show the duration, very important with ephemeral street art, nor the motivation of the artist and the reaction of the public. Photographs do not explanation the situation and it is the public situation where street art is created and displayed. Street Art, Public City gives the reader more to consider about street art and the city than simply more images.

Alison Young, Street Art, Public City – Law, Crime and the Urban Imagination (Routledge, 2014)


On the streets

Eight of my recent photographs along with notes and comments about paste-ups, aerosol pieces, street art sculpture, stencils, stickers and yarn bombing that I’ve seen on the street in the last couple of the months.

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Walking around Coburg I spotted Chromatovore putting up this paste up; he was pushing a baby buggy containing his two kids and paste-up materials. Excellent placement and a cool way for a busy dad to do street art.

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Thanks for the ‘warning’ Whop Taps (also in Coburg). Do people read? Do people think?

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Although these funky sci-fi street art sculptures (there are two of them) are hanging on the railway Ansty Station in Brunswick they have not been removed by the railway staff.

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A great aerosol piece in Brunswick – this skull wears the crown. Along the Upfield bike path just up from Brunswick Station, next to a very old face by Mic.

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Stencils in Hosier Lane by PD027. You don’t see that many stencils around Melbourne anymore.

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Radical cross-stitch and yarn bombing by Yarnonymous. I hope that the Australian government is convicted for their crimes of against humanity.

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Inviting comments on Gertrude Street, Fitzroy: “Before I die I want to…” I assume that the cafe provided the chalk.

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I have to ask is this old piece in Collingwood a portrait of Geoff Newton, the director of Neon Parc gallery, because if it isn’t then we have found his long lost twin.


Shopping Centre Art

What was I doing at a VIP event at Barkly Square shopping centre in Brunswick?

What has happened at Barkly Square is that the service lane that bisected the shopping centre running parallel to Sydney Road has been change from a problem into a feature. The lane has become, according to the media release, “… a new arts and entertainment precinct which will celebrate the artistic and culinary soul of Brunswick.”

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A collaboration between Ghostpatrol and Bonsai fill two sides of the wall of the lane. Kyle Hughes-Odgers, a Perth based artist, has a wall with a brickworks reference as Brunswick once had a brick making industry. On another wall there is a giant owl by Twoone.

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It is not all street art, Tobias Horrocks, a local artist work with a post-minimalist ideas and cardboard. This was his first permanent installation. The basic cardboard form is repeated blocking and filtering the light from the window above the entrance.

Barkly Square is just a small inner-city shopping centre, a bland location for a few chain shops, near the beginning of the Sydney Road shopping strip. It is not the first shopping centre in Melbourne to feature street artists on its walls; QVC and Southbank both invited street artists in years earlier.

Media maker and festival director, Marcus Westbury has, what he describes a “strange obsession” with “he fate of old suburban shopping arcades.” He explains why on his blog. “I am, as far as I can tell, pretty much alone in believing they’re a rich vein of untapped urban and suburban gold. Or, to put it in language that hipsters, planners and local politicians can reflexively and instinctively respond to they’re kind of like lane-ways.”

In this case the it not so much as trying to artificially reproduce the iconic Melbourne lane but assimilating the rest Brunswick into the shopping centre. The usual mall food court has gone from Barkly Square, now there are cafes with outside seating in The Laneway, as it has been prosaically and practically named. The transformation of the area is the usual mix of work by street arts, planters, bollards, bike racks and funky design elements. It is still a working service lane but now is a mix use urban area.

Shopping centres need to reinvent themselves, in the wake of on-line competition, they need cater for more than just shopping. The holy grail of urban design to create a ‘meeting place’.

Samuel Louwrens, the Operations Manager for Barkly Square Centre Management is feeling inspired at the art and developments on the lane. He is enthusiastic about his new lighting for the art and was waiting for more suggestions from the public about what could be done with the lane. He pointed out that there are still more large blank walls at the far ends of the lane.

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At noon on Wednesday there was a launch of the lane in a temporary VIP area outside a cafe in the lane listening to a guitarist, Grey Milton launching Barkly Square’s busking program. Grey finished his set. There were two short speeches from the corporate investment manager of the property group that owns Barkly Square and then the Mayor of Moreland. Then the Melbourne Ukulele Kollective took over by this time there weren’t just invited guests but a small crowd of people enjoying the spectacle. To have about a hundred people in the lane showed that, at least for the moment, the plan was working.DSCF0329

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Concrete Improvement

I love being proved wrong. Last year I wrote in this blog:

“Although Melbourne has many footpath decorations and a great street art scene writing/tagging in wet cement has not become a street art form. I have never seen anything in sidewalk concrete that could be called art, no matter how broadly you want to apply the term. It is the most basic of text and slogans. Scratching into wet cement is a largely an opportunistic act. (The character of Wanda from the Canadian sit-com Corner Gas is a serial wet concrete graffiti writer, see Season 5, Episode 16 “Coming Distractions”.)”

As I love being proved wrong, I have been keeping my eyes open for art done in wet cement footpaths. The fish scales on the concrete of Ilham Lane in Brunswick were better than average but then on the Fitzroy housing estate, just behind the three giant Matryoshka Dolls, I saw the best incised drawing on wet concrete that I have yet seen.

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It was not by street artists but local aboriginal artists, not old school but ancient traditions. The traditional forms make the work both artistic and relevant in the area. These simple incised drawings shows that traditions can be kept alive in the urban environment and that even concrete paving can be part of street decoration.

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Street Art and the Art Fair

A couple of weeks before the Melbourne Art Fair (MAF) I noticed some street artist complaining on Facebook about a lack of inclusion of street art and graffiti in MAF. Bitching about how can the fair represent Melbourne art without street art. Many of street and graffiti artists are ignorant of what is on at an art fair (Peter Drew of Art vs Reality has in reality never been to an art fair). Of course, there are some artists who have work on the street at the MAF; for example, Lucas Grogan represented by Gallery Smith. As well, there was a forum about art in the street at Museum Victoria on Saturday.

Lucas Grogan in Hosier Lane

Lucas Grogan in Hosier Lane

I already knew this when I stood up at the media preview and put the question to the director of art fair, Barry Keldoulis. He had already mentioned ‘break-out event’ and talked about the fair engaging with the rest of Melbourne’s art in his introductory speech.

Keldoulis responded that you can’t avoid street art in Melbourne. Visitors to the MAF were encouraged with talks and events to move beyond the confines of the Exhibition Building and would inevitably encounter street art. He questioned if street art should be brought into gallery space while noting that there were artists transitioning the two venues with prints and murals. He was certainly not excluded street artists and graffiti but that the transition from the street to galleries and the art fair is up to the individual artists.

After Keldoulis had replied Anna Papas, Chair of the Melbourne Art Foundation (the Melbourne Art Fair is presented by the Melbourne Art Foundation) approached me. She was interested in how to include street artists and wanted to know how the MAF could include more of their work in the future.

Chromatavour in Coburg

Chromatavour in Coburg

It is not that art galleries have been rejecting this art or have been anything like the worst enemies of street art and graffiti, but artists working on the street have so many enemies (police, transport officers, buffers) that almost everyone outside of their cohorts are added to the list. What graffiti and street artists really had to fear was not the galleries making them inauthentic but photographers, graphic designers, etc. exploiting their work on the streets.

I’ve been watching the interaction between street art and art galleries since I started this blog in 2008. Of, course this interaction has been going on for decades longer than that. The art world has been searching for outsider artists for well over half a century. The genuine outsider artist is now a rare individual as there are so many people, from social workers to art collectors, waiting to discover them and expose their work to the wider world.

In recent years in Melbourne art spaces have been springing up to cater for street artists, particularly in Collingwood. A kind of parallel gallery system has emerged but these are not the kind of art spaces who will be representing artists at an art fair.

Sunfigo in Melbourne

Sunfigo in Melbourne


Urban Murals & Brussels

Often public murals can look naff, too politically correct or otherwise too preaching they look like a school guidance councillor has designed them. Part of the grand socialist tradition of public murals promoted by the Mexican mural painters. Or simply decorative. But the comic book murals in Brussels escape these hazards because they are not propaganda for products nor ideas; they are just having fun with established comic book images. So the impact of these comic book murals is different from other public murals; there is no didactic function to them, they are simply fun.

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Belgium invented the comic book, along with French fries, shopping malls, art nouveau and a lot of other things that have made the modern world. Belgians are particularly proud of their comic books as demonstrated by the city’s many comic book shops, it’s statues of comic book characters and public murals of enlarge comic book panels around Brussels inner city.

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The justification for these murals on the basis of Belgium nationalism is thin; the population and visitors to Brussels enjoy the comic books. The Brussels Comic Strip Route was created by the comic strip museum by Michel Van Roye, Brussels Councillor for Urban Development and the Environment, in 1991.  It is an on going project and new murals are being added, form posts on a “comic strip route” around Brussels.

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The murals are encountered as surprising, engaging and entertaining aspects of Brussels. One reason for the success of the murals is that the murals are not placed on urban eye-soars in an attempt to ameliorate their ugliness; rather they are placed on suitable walls around the city where they compliment the urban scene. Comic book images frequently depict the urban environment and comic book design works with the architecture of the city. Frequently the murals employ tromp l’oeil elements integrates the image with the building.

Brussels wall 3 Tintin

Public art tributes to Belgium comic books do not stop at these murals; there is a comic book museum, the Belgium Comic Strip Centre, in a fantastic art nouveau building designed by grand master of Art Nouveau, Victor Horta in 1906. There is also a very large sculpture of a duo of comic book characters making a colourful and light-hearted splash in the business district of Brussels.

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