Category Archives: Street Art

My Top 10 Melbourne Stencils

I’ve been photographing Melbourne’s stencils for almost a decade, I’ve been looking at them for longer. Looking back at all my photos of Melbourne stencils here is my top 10.

HaHa Nicky Wynmar

  1. HaHa, Nicky Winmar, The master of multi layered stencils HaHa’s interest in fame and celebrities is at its best with his stencil of St.Kilda footballer, Nicky Winmar’s iconic reaction to racist taunts. What could be more Melbourne than a footballer?Civil - penny farthing - Irene Warehouse
  2. Civil, The Revolution Will Not Be Motorized. Irene Warehouse. This is my nostalgia moment because it was Civil’s stencils that first got me interested in Melbourne’s stencil scene. Civil’s peaceful and entirely civilised anarchic politics is perfectly expressed in this stencil.Kerpy - Flinders St. Station
  3. Kirpy, Flinders Street Station, On the wall of 696, then an urban node for quality work, curated by the Toby and Melieka who ran the gallery/gift shop. A great multi layered stencil of an iconic Melbourne scene.ELK Chimp Jesus
  4. E.L.K. Ecce Homo (observe the man). In this piece E.L.K. is taking the old English tradition of baboonery from the pages of illuminated manuscripts to the street. E.L.K was Canberra based at the time this was done I’m not being picky about where an artist is based in this list. Cocker Alley Banksy Tributes
  5. Sunfigo, Little Diver Redux, In the same location and referencing Banksy’s Little Diver along with many other Melbourne based street artists. This is the ultimate piece of self referencing street art. (In photo, Sunfigo above, Phoenix tribute below.)DSC09008
  6. Calm, Blue Gnu, At All Your Wall in Hosier Lane 2013 before it was covered in tags but then it anticipated all of that.Toys will be Toys
  7. 23rd Key, Toys Will Be Toys, A good stencil and a great reference to both the graffiti insult and Toy Story. Located in the Land of Sunshine, Brunswick.Hanging-boots
  8. Unknown, Hanging Boots, A simple and well-placed elegant still life in Sparks Lane, Melbourne.The Kid Peek-a-boo
  9. Unknown, Peek-A-Boo, Another simple but highly effective stencil because of its placement.This is Shit
  10. Unknown, This is Shit. Sometimes it just has to be said.

Art Vs Reality Fail

Art Vs Reality is a six part YouTube series of videos. “The aim of the series is really to save art from the curse of luxury imposed by a corporatised artworld,” says Peter Drew, the presenter in the series. The words “save” and “curse” is an indication of the kind of magico-religious thinking about art behind this series.

Peter Drew posing as an art critic

Peter Drew posing as an art critic

There is plenty of this kind of fuzzy thinking in the series. In Episode 3 Peter Drew appears to claim that artists who sell art lack integrity and are basically guilty of simony for selling the sacred. This obsession with money is a popular take on the institutional theory of art and money features prominently in Art Vs Reality right in the graphics at the start of each episode.

The fixation of money is perhaps due because Peter Drew is a street artist from Adelaide and street art is the most commercial of art movements since the Surrealism. From Futura, Kaws and Os Gêmeos marketing Hennessy cognac, to the entrepreneurial street artists selling street fashion, to quasi religious idealists, like Drew, there has always been a focus on money in graffiti and street art. Not that there is anything wrong with that; I don’t begrudge any artist a single dollar that they make, or don’t make, but you might regard it differently if you have a fantasy about simony.

It is the word ‘reality’ in the title that is symbolic of the its simplistic fantasy of art; it continues to measure art on its Procrustean bed. A fantasy based on a rather simple understanding of a largely French focused version of European art history, ignoring art before the 19th century and most other cultures and countries. The ‘reality’ that Art Vs Reality is referring to is an imaginary popular idealised ‘reality’ that frequently has a tenuous relation to the facts.

Facts, like what happened in the creation of Duchamp’s Fountain that Drew blames for the starting conceptualism. Drew is unaware that the New York Independent Show that Fountain was excluded from had no jury (nor as Drew claims judges to “dismiss it out of hand”). How then was Fountain excluded from the exhibition and where the is the first edition of Fountain is far more complex than Drew’s ‘reality’.

Ironically it is the conceptual art of the Duchamp that Art Vs Reality, in Episode 2, blames for what it see as what is wrong with art. With a more complete reading of art history Drew might have been aware that the initial attacks on art institutions and the idea of great artists first launched by the Dadaists, followed by the conceptual artists in the 1960s, weren’t concerned about the influence of money but on the ideological support that the galleries gave to the state/war criminals.

Drew’s light-hearted approach lacks any subtly, depth or understanding of art or social history. He doesn’t take the audience to anything new or offer any new insights. Given the subject matter that he wants to deal with it is a shame that Drew does not appear to have read John Berger’s Ways of Seeing or, even the arch and sardonic Tom Wolfe’s The Painted Word (as Wolfe was at least informed about modern art history when he wrote it). For a much more detailed analysis of the contemporary art market I would recommend reading Judith Benhamou-Huet’s The Worth of Art – Pricing the Priceless (Assouline, 2001).

Unfortunately Art vs Reality is just another jeremiad, posing as a comedic commentary, a general complaint about how art has lost its way, declined and become decadent.


Sculptures in the Moat

In March 2014, a homeless man Gary Makin went snorkelling in the NGV’s moat collecting the coins. He was arrested – he should gone equipped with a buskers licence and told the police that he was a living sculpture. He would have been the most artistic thing that has been in the NGV’s moat for years.

That was until a few days ago when street sculptor, Will Coles placed some of his concrete giant soya sauce fish into it.

The moat of the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) is now mostly empty, except for the prosaic coins and fountains. Once there were sculptures standing in its waters. Geoffrey Bartlett’s Messenger 1983 stood in the moat before being moved to the sculpture garden in the back of the NGV. Four years later Deborah Halpern’s Angel (1987-89) stood in the NGV’s before being moved to Birrarung Marr in 2006.

Deborah Halpern, Angel, 1987-89

Deborah Halpern, Angel, 1987-89

As a psychogeographer I am fascinated by the moats around Australian cultural institutions. There is something curiously medieval about moats. There are moats at Melbourne Zoo around some of the enclosures; there is also a moat around La Trobe University’s Bundoora campus. A moat, even an ornamental one, creates a clear separation between one area and another.

At the time of their design, La Trobe Uni opened 1967 and the NGV in 1968, their architects were clearly expressed with these moats the cultural divisions in Australia between the cultured and the barbarian hordes. The moat around the bastion of culture that is the NGV on St. Kilda Road symbolically removes it from the rest of the world, creating a fortress or a sacred island to protect the art inside.

Now there are no sculptures in the NGV’s moat; Will Coles sculptures have been removed. Now there only a few fountains including the curved steel fountain at the city end of the moat, Nautilus dedicated to the architect of the NGV, Roy Grounds.

Then there is the famous water wall entrance of the NGV that still delights small children. Originally the NGV had more courtyards and fountains, regularly spitting out jets of water amidst rocks. I find fountains in art galleries quaint, but there are a surprising number of water features in art galleries including MOMA.

Recently a friend asked me if I would move on to writing about fountains now that I had completed writing my book on public sculpture (Melbourne’s Sculptures – from the colonial to the ephemeral, due to be published by Melbourne Books later this year). I feel a kind of dread and can already smell the chlorine.


Then & Now

“Like seeing gnomes out of the corners of your eyes, stencils appear and disappear in surprising and crafty urban nooks and shadows. Replicating like most good ideas tend to do, Ha-Ha, SYNC and DLUX took their obsessed stencil messages off the streets and into a gallery in 2003. Outing the mythical icons and images in Melbourne advanced the opening of the gates across the world. Ten years later and the shadows part once more into a painted world of imagination, humor, and collaboration.” – Russell Howze (San Francisco), stencilarchive.org & author of Stencil Nation

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“HaHa is an authentic street artist and poet of the city . We have worked together during my trip in Australia in 2009 and it was really great to have meet HaHa and his beautiful stencils. ” – Blek Le Rat

“This site doesn’t normally do announcements about upcoming shows, as you will know if you have visited it before. But sometimes I like to put up information about a show that promises great things or is by artists who are really significant in the scene.” – Alison Young, Images to Live By

“Now & Then” at Second Story Studios in Collingwood has to be the most overhyped exhibition of Melbourne’s stencil art; so many people are praising this exhibition as a landmark before it has even opened.

The best part of the exhibition were the collaborative works that brought the three artists and some of their original stencils, along with some new ones, back together again. These works were nostalgic for those who remember Melbourne’s streets a decade ago. They are a condensed version of what happens on the street. The accretion of stencils rather than a single stencil, the mixing of style that is an essential feature of hip-hop, is what makes these works outstanding – I wish there was more of it on the streets.

It is well over a decade since this Melbourne street art scene started to happen. Late in 2002 Ha-Ha, Sync and DLux first met at the old Blender Studios. In 2003 they had a group exhibition, “Cut It Out” at Hush Hush Gallery in Hosier Lane. No-one was keeping track of exactly what they were doing to begin with because to begin with it was just a bit of fun. Back when the street art started Ha-Ha, Sync and DLux were spraying their stencils everywhere and writing their name up large with rollers on the walls of the abandoned factories around Macauly Station.

A bit over decade later Melbourne’s street art scene has blossomed and become internationally famous. Digital cameras and photo sharing are now ubiquitous and the audacious, punchy appeal of street artists still captivated a still growing audience. New forms have developed, there are more artists, a larger audience, more collectors and more recognition. Ha-Ha is listed in the top fifty street artists in the world.

The artists have also changed in the decade, what was fun has become their life.

DLux has started to paint freehand combining “sunset palette” with “toilet block graffiti” scrawled across it unfortunately his painting technique doesn’t always match these ambitions. Sync has also abandoned stencils to create ordinary and passé abstract paintings; his recreations of his old stencils on scraps of reclaimed wood were selling well at the exhibition.

Only Ha-Ha has kept working and developing his multi-layer stencil technique. He has added to this with the mixing of different faces and now adding “subliminal text” to his images; the words “magic” and “sex” appear in the hair of Ha-Ha’s Marilyn Monroe.

Then and now and the differences are enormous.

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Keep Hosier Real

Approximately 2000 people visit Hosier Lane every weekend, even on a cold, rainy Sunday in May. On this particular cold, rainy Sunday there were more than the usual number of people in Hosier Lane. People had to squeeze through the crowd that had gathered to rally in protest at a proposed multi-story hotel development in the aerosol paint covered lane.

Bride keeping Hosier Real

If you think that the lesson of the story about the goose that laid the golden egg couldn’t be more obvious, then you are seriously under-estimate the capacity of humans to be both greedy and stupid. The current proposed redevelopment of the old MTC/Chinese theatre site on Russell Street, that backs onto Hosier Lane into a multi-story hotel is not just an inappropriate development, it is a greedy and stupid.

Inner city Melbourne’s rejuvenation, the result of decades of planning, creating an event and spectacle based city brings people into the city. This in turn created a market for restaurants, shops and hotels – hotels, that would include the proposed multi story development.

Now a reasonable person would think that it would be in the interest of a development next to one of Melbourne’s major tourist attractions to be designed appropriately for its location but this would, again, under-estimate the capacity of humans to be both stupid and greedy.

I am not against development; I am not like Jeff Sparrow in Radical Melbourne moaning that the Melbourne’s Communist Party Headquarters, at 3 Hosier Lane from 1936 to 1939, is now occupied by a restaurant. What is needed is development that is appropriate to the location, that doesn’t simply occupy the space, that doesn’t simply take things away from the place without giving something back to the area.

Professor Roz Hansen, chairperson of the Ministerial Advisory Committee for the Melbourne Metropolitan Strategy points that the development doesn’t just threaten the tourist value the street art and graffiti in Hosier Lane it also threatens to overshadow the ‘Winter Garden’ in Federation Square.

This new development will also impact on the Babylonian-revival style Forum Theatre – the proposal admits it has no plans regarding the known vibrations from this live music venue. No doubt after it is constructed they will make a complaint and attempt to shut down the venue?

This is not to forget that Hosier Lane is distinctly different to the designed attraction of Federation Square or even the heritage listing of the Forum Theatre. The development also threatens services to the homeless that are provided by the Livingroom and Youth Projects in Hosier Lane. As well as, the pedestrian zone that the lane way has become.

Adam Bandt Keep Hosier Real

Describing these developers as “the real vandals” as Adam Bandt, Federal Member for Melbourne, did at the rally today is being too poetic and too kind. Perhaps I am being too kind in simply describing them as stupid and greedy.

There is an online petition and it is interesting to see that people are signing it from Brazil, Croatia, India, Italy and the USA, indicating that this is not simply a local issue.


Mainstream & Alternative

On Gertrude Street the passing tram displays an advertisement on its side; the image of the street artist, Rone modelling for the fashion label Uniqlo. Now lets talk about mainstream and alternative culture or, at least, read Paul Harrison’s article “We are all sheep: what Uniqlo and H&M tell us about Australian retail”.

Rone advert for Uniqlo

I can’t remember the last time that I wandered around Fitzroy and Collingwood looking at the streets, the street art and the art galleries. It has been over a year since I last reviewed a gallery in Fitzroy.

I used to regard the area around Gertrude Street and Brunswick Street the alternative cultural centre of Melbourne and although never a resident I used to be a frequent visitor. It has definitely been awhile, things have definitely changed but fortunately other things remain reassuringly familiar. I always pass a street artist up a ladder painting a wall on perambulations of Fitzroy or Collingwood.

Fitzroy is such a mix between the discount and the designer, between the socially vulnerable and affluent and between the mundane and the marvellous. A scruffy guy scuffs twice with his foot at a two dollar coin that some prankster had glued to the pavement and then moves on. How many different Fitzroys are there?

Keith Haring

In Collingwood I was glad to see the Haring mural fully restored and complete with information panels for the public (although the little service hatch door is not the original). It is a major change since I first wrote about it on this blog.

On my walk I managed to see exhibitions. Fitzroy and Collingwood’s art scene of little galleries is another world.

Off the Kerb’s group exhibition of creatures provided enough focus for such a disparate group of artists. This was better than BSG ungainly hanging and mix around their group show, creating a something that was less than the sum of its parts. ‘Body Sex’ was the theme of BSG group show but Off the Kerb’s broader theme of ‘Creature’ made a more unified exhibition. Off the Kerb’s exhibition also had the benefit of Dan Dealy who curated the show. (More taxidermy art at Off the Kerb by Lucia Mocnay and Tul Suwannakit, see my earlier post on Contemporary Art and Taxidermy.)

Next door to Off the Kerb, at Fawn Gallery, ’Analogue Re-Mission’ by Tansy McNally is an exhibition of paintings based on digital television distortions that creates random abstract of the image. The translation of this source material into paint actually did work, like post-impressionism for the digital age.

At Seventh there was Travis John’s FaceSplitter Lauren McCartney’s The Hula Hooping Project and  is described as a “composition, performance and installation existing somewhere between destruction and creation”. It looks like something out of Mythbusters. McCartney had used ppaint filled hula hoops. I’ve seen this idea before executed better by No Mi Che’s Oroborus in 2007 as she could really spin a hula hoop and wasn’t afraid of being covered in paint. McCartney’s paint splattered ‘gallery two’ with the prints and impressions of the artists feet reminded me of the work of Japanese art movement, Gutai because of the expression of primal energy.

 


Melbourne’s Weather

On Thursday, taking advantage of one of the last sunny days of autumn, I bicycled along the Merri Creek to the old Kodak Bridge on Edgar’s Creek. I didn’t expect to find street art in the wilds of North Coburg but the pillars underneath this unused bridge is an excellent location. There above a couple of superb graffiti pieces with gold paint splatter highlights was a whole set of paste-ups by Phoenix.

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The graffiti writers below had carefully buffed their undercoat around Phoenix’s skull.

The remains of a camp fire under the bridge reminded me that although there are still pleasant days like this, the nights are getting colder. I’ve been resisting commenting on this for over a year now. I heard about Elmor Leonard’s rules for writing a novel – never start with the weather. Weather is dull conversation. However, Melbourne’s weather is part of its psychogeography, it influences the way that we move about the city, and it influences the writing of this blog.

Terry, the postman had a story for me about delivering mail in the city. “Looked out the back of the building it was all sunny, looked out the front of the building the city looked all sunny. Went outside and it was raining, directly above. Typical Melbourne weather.” That night we had the strongest winds in thirty years.

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Looking through my notes from January: “Street artists painting in the heat of the day. Too hot for me to attend; there is a heat health alert in the city with a maximum of 36 degrees is predicted. I feel like I have become a vampire living in perpetual twilight – the sun, it burns! It burns!)” This extreme weather does effect the culture, artists living in rural areas have to prepare their art collections for bush fires.

Melbourne’s weather influences when I choose to go out. September and October’s uncertain weather are Melbourne’s choice for arts festivals. You roll the dice, you take your chances, it could be good, it could be fantastic, it could be horrible. Melbourne’s population are tired of the bleak wet and cold winter weather (now for my Canadian cousins when I say cold I’m not talking about freezing, sub-zero Celsius temperatures that you would call cold – Melbourne’s cold is a freezing wind coming off the antartic ocean with or without rain).

Then the are the heat waves of extreme baking heat, days above 40 degrees and nights where the temperature does not get below 30. There is no humidity, the sun bakes the leaves on trees and bushes to a brown crisp. After a sever heat wave lasting for days there is a feeling like jet lag as your body deprived of adequate sleep catches up with the rhythm of the day.

Although Melbourne’s weather is a major topic of conversation there is very little contemporary art about the weather. It is not as if there isn’t modern and contemporary art about the weather; consider Duchamp’s Unhappy Readymade exposed to the Parisian elements or Joseph Beuys’s claim of artistic responsibility for any snowfall in Dussseldorf during February 1970. The artists who do comment on Melbourne’s weather are the paste-up artists, including Phoenix whose street art paste-ups warn about global warming are exposed to the elements.

Phoenix Kyoto t-shirt


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