Category Archives: Street Art

Of cats, tourists and graffiti

Cats are a popular theme for Melbourne graffiti artists to agree on, especially when a Coburg cat boarding place gives permission to paint their wall, but cats are a popular theme. (I think the wall is by Slor and Danks, but forgive an old guy trying to read wildstyle.) Cats are a constant internet meme but it is also a graffiti meme, given all the cartoon cats: Felix, Tom, Scratchy… There was a huge wall in Collingwood full of cats in 2009 (also on the wall of a cat boarding place) and one in Prahran (not associated with cat boarding).

Coburg cats - Slor and a bit of Danks

Coburg cats – Slor and a bit of Danks

I’m only posting this because found a few new reasons to wander the streets of Melbourne looking for some new graffiti in the past two months. My LA bro and his family were in Melbourne, so I had to show them Hosier Lane when I showed them around the city. They loved it, lots of selfies taken; my brother said that it was the first time that my niece had got her actual camera out for the whole trip (not counting the camera in her phone).

I’ve never seen Hosier Lane so crowded; there were three tour groups in the lane, plus a lot of other people. I wasn’t surprised at all the tourists in Hosier Lane but I was surprised to spot a group of well dressed people with cameras photographing pieces along the train line at Macauly Station. There are some great pieces but the area is so drek.

Liberty Skull - Footscray

Liberty Skull – Footscray

Footscray wall with another cat

Footscray wall with another cat

I also had a couple of reason to go out to Footscray and there are a lot of good stuff around the train station and shopping strip. Yes, some skulls and more cats. On the subject of the popularity of cats in Melbourne’s graffiti world – there is Lush.

Lush, Brunswick

Lush, Brunswick


Welcome Refugees

On the 7 December 2013 in a co-ordinated effort the Refugee Action Collective (Vic) are attempting a mass action “to shower the streets of Melbourne with messages of welcome.”

Refugee Action Collective (Vic) rally at State Library.

Refugee Action Collective (Vic) rally at State Library.

Leaving your country is never easy and even people facing persecution do not take the move lightly. Refugees need to be welcomed, protected and helped; this is the basic standard of a civilised person. Any civilised, rational or moral human would welcome and protect a person fleeing persecution or death, it is an ancient tradition now codified in international law. Australia’s treatment of refugees is a crime against humanity perpetrated by a rogue state backed by a racist mob. Amnesty International reports that: “The United Nations Human Rights Committee has found Australia to be in breach of its obligations under international law, committing 143 human rights violations by indefinitely detaining 46 refugees for four years, on the basis of ASIO’s ‘adverse security assessments’.”

Not that I think that any propaganda campaign of posters, fridge magnets and rallies can change the minds of the amoral psychopaths that dictate Australia’s crimes against refugees. I doubt that it will be any more effective than my rhetoric.

The Refugee Action Collective (Vic) was mildly calling for civil disobedience in encouraging people to “sticker, chalk your neighbourhood”. For yes, even writing in chalk is technically illegal in Melbourne; not that I’ve ever heard of anyone being arrested for it, not that the three police at the demonstration were making any attempt to stop people writing in chalk in front of the State Library. Not that many people were writing in chalk on Saturday morning.

Christmas Island Just Visiting

Dignity 4 asylum Seekers

Melbourne’s street artists have been putting out the welcome refugees and showering the streets with more witty about Australia’s treatment messages for years. Of particular note, is Phoenix who has made the map of Australia into a welcome mat in a long running series of paste-ups. Phoenix sums up the both major parties position on refugees with the phrase: “We scare because we care”, a phrase that started with his paste-ups about the ‘War on Terror’. Phoenix is not directly involved with the Refugee Action Collective but his has donated some of his art to their fundraising auction. He is not a single-issue street artist and has been sticking his political art to Melbourne’s walls for years.

Phoenix welcome mat sticker with Ghostpatrol tag.

Phoenix welcome mat sticker with Ghostpatrol tag.

This sustained campaigns of illegal posters and stencils creates signs that the federal government and the opposition does not represent all Australians on this issue and is not in complete control of the territory it claims. Even though it was buffed with in 24 hours I’m sure that my local member, Kelvin Thomson got the message when the external wall of his office in Coburg was recently covered in anarchist graffiti.


Hosier Now (All Your Walls)

Peril and Adnate were the just finishing their work around 6:15pm on Friday 29th November. Paris’s piece was cutting into Adnate at the other end and now Peril was asking Adnate to do a bit of fill with over-spraying just under his piece. There were lots of collaborations in Hosier Lane its side branch, Rutledge Lane. For weeks 120 artists, 11 crews, of Melbourne’s best graffers and street artists went a painting all the walls. All the walls? Yes, all your walls.

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At 6pm the public had been invited to view the results and this was a Hosier Lane like you have never seen it before – All Your Walls is part of the National Gallery of Victoria’s exhibition Melbourne Now. Two bloggers, Dean Sunshine (Land of Sunshine) and Fletcher Anderson (Invurt) along with Toby (Just Another Agency and who formerly ran 696) organized the event.

Fletch Anderson’s eyes light up when he talks about Melbourne’s street art. He really believes that he is living in the right place at the right time in art history. He really believes that Melbourne’s street art is up there with New York, Sao Paulo, Berlin and Los Angeles. Fletch (aka Factor) is such a believer that he made his dream come true. There were teenagers and old school old hands all painting together. Dean Sunshine told me that there were crews that absolutely hated each other painting at the same time in Hosier Lane.  There were no beefs between the street artists and the graff crews.

“No bullshit, no politics, no problems.” Fletch gives a great quotes when inspired by his vision of an urban paradise of paint.

Hosier Lane was closed off to traffic for the evening. Normally there are a lot of people walking around taking photographs in the lane but this evening capped them all. There were artists, academics, art collectors, hoodie-wearing people, office workers on their way home, residents, street artists showing their kids their work and people who use the social services located in the lane.

The lane got its name because it was originally part of the Melbourne’s garment district. Now the former rag trade warehouses in the area have now been converted to gallery spaces and apartments and the laneway’s walls are Melbourne’s iconic centre for graffiti and street art.

It would have been an urban paradise evening if it weren’t for the freezing cold wind that was ripping through Melbourne. It is hard to be convivial with all these fine people when the cold is rising from the old bluestone cobbles.

In completely repainting the lane they started with an undercoat of black, buffing all previous work in both Hosier and Rutledge. Black… I said something about this colour in my review of Melbourne Now. There is a stencil quote on the laneways from Leonardo da Vinci advocating black as an underpainting.  This was followed by scissor lifts and repeating of the upper levels and finally the lower levels, the areas assigned to various artists marked on the wall.

It is not just aerosol art; there are plenty of paste-ups and installations. Junky Projects has attached an enormous work of junk art to the wall, a Dada/Futurist wet dream. It is one of his largest and most abstract works yet. Lego construction workers by Pop Gun (or “Pop Cap”?) stand on a miniature beam high up on the laneway’s wall. Phoenix has a large cluster of political paste-ups and his Dali butterflies up on the walls.

The walls speak for themselves.DSC09009

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In 2010 people speculated what would happen to Melbourne’s iconic Hosier Lane post-Amac when long time resident and un-official curator of the lane, the cowboy hat wearing, Andy Mac (aka Amac) moved out. They were concerned and had good reasons to be Amac had been there in the 1990s at the start of the graffiti and street art in the lane. He added to the lane with the Citylights Project light-boxes and Until Never gallery. Amac was there to tell writers not to tag significant pieces and he organized the painting other pieces.

Post-Amac there were a few problems in the lane – CCTV, RIP Jill Meagher, and endless angry capping. Some people may even consider Doyle’s Empty Nursery Blue as one of the problems but it really cleared the way for All Your Walls. In his piece, Calm comments on Empty Nursery Blue with a gnu buffing with blue.

Calm, All Your Walls

Calm, All Your Walls

The problems in Hosier Lane have been solved with the good will of the residents, Hosier Inc., the City of Melbourne especially City Engineer, Gordon Harrison, the artists, bloggers, the Alley Chats group of interested parties… lots of people are concerned for this lane and its art.

Now the NGV have joined the party including All Your Walls in it’s Melbourne Now era defining exhibition. There have been major exhibitions of street art in major museums around the world but Hosier Lane offer the opportunity for the exhibition to come out of the gallery, and conveniently Hosier Lane is just across Flinders Street from the NGV at Fed Square.

All Your Walls is an era defining moment; it is the first time that all the walls of Hosier Lane have been painted before in such a co-ordinated effort with so many major crews, notable writers and artists. It creates Melbourne’s very own graffiti wall of fame. The major names in Melbourne’s street art scene now have work in Melbourne’s iconic Hosier Lane. In the past you would have to go to Brunswick or Fitzroy to see AWOL’s work, now it is up, high up in Hosier. Old school Melbourne aerosol writers, Paris and Peril and the KSA crew have not been forgotten.

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This is going to have implications for the future; such a definitive exhibition promotes ossification. Artists were already talking maintaining their work, about keep their space in the lane as perpetual territory, and their plans to deal with taggers. There is more space between the pieces than there was in the past when the competition was so intense.

When it comes to the future of Melbourne’s street art and Hosier Lane I am not a visionary. I can’t see the future and make it happen but I do know that just as Melbourne Now is a must see exhibition, an era defining moment of Melbourne’s art history, so is All Your Walls.


Melbourne Now

Thirty-three years after that tumultuous turning point in Melbourne’s culture when Ron Robertson-Swann’s Vault (aka “The Yellow Peril”) was installed and then removed from the City Square. Melbourne Now is yellow; the exhibition’s logo is yellow, at the launch of the exhibition the Minister for the Arts, Heidi Victoria was dressed in yellow complete with yellow nail polish. Back in the 1980s Barry Humphries suggested that Melbourne should be called “the big Orange”, in reference to NYC moniker, “the big Apple”, but the orange trams are no longer on Melbourne’s streets. In Peter Tyndall blog post for 21/11/13 (reproduced in Melbourne Now) Tyndall suggests that Melbourne’s colour is black – that appeals to me (ha ha).

Thirty-three years ago it would have been impossible to have an exhibition of the quality and scale of Melbourne Now. There were not enough quality artists or gallery space in Melbourne then. Now Melbourne has become the city that Robertson-Swann’s sculpture anticipated, a city where the arts and design flourish.

Daniel Crooks, A garden of parallel paths, 2012 (still)

Daniel Crooks, A garden of parallel paths, 2012 (still)

Melbourne Now is huge exhibition covering 8000 square meters of gallery space in both of the NGV galleries, and extending out of the galleries into the sculpture garden at the back of the NGV International and onto Melbourne’s streets. It is all free and will occupy most of a day; it took me over three hours to just to get an impression of the exhibition. I’m sure that I must have missed something and I will happily to go back for another look.

The exhibition includes so much – painting, sculpture, drawing, art publications, design, architecture, fashion, music, and dance. I will try to focus on a just couple of aspects.

Parents take your children to this exhibition; later in life they might thank you for it when it is mentioned in Australian art history and there is plenty to keep kids engaged with this exhibition at the present. Children’s activities include making experimental music with The Donkey Tail Jr. on the mezzanine gallery of the NGV (St. Kilda Road) and adding silhouette bird stickers to the sky of Juan Ford’s huge work You, me and the flock. The Dewhurst Family supported both these features of the exhibition. Much of this exhibition is interactive; you can also make your own jewellery, design your own shoes out of cardboard or sketch in the beautiful room of taxidermy work by Julia DeVille (sketching materials: black paper, gold and silver pencils and boards provided).

Street art is a major part of Melbourne’s current art scene and the influence of street art, graffiti and tagging is clear in Melbourne Now. There is Ponch Hawkes photographs of tree tagging, Stieg Persson’s paintings, Reko Rennie’s paintings, Ash Keating’s video and Lush’s installation: Graffiti doesn’t belong in the gallery? It is typical of Lush to get his tag up everywhere. Daniel Crooks’ a great video installation A garden of parallel paths and a Rick Amor painting Mobile Call also present views of Melbourne’s graffiti covered laneways. The walls of Hosier Lane, with All Your Walls, are also part of Melbourne Now. (I will write about All Your Walls in a later blog post when the project is complete on Friday 29th of November.)

Some of the artists in Melbourne Now

Some of the artists in Melbourne Now

Finally with such a large collection of contemporary artists it is worth doing a bit of statistical examination: 56% of the artists are men, 44% are women and 11% identify as indigenous Australians. Indigenous Australians are well represented in the exhibition given that, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics “Victoria had the lowest proportion of people of indigenous origin at 0.6% of the total state population”. I only counted individually named artists and not groups. Compared to statistical break down of the artists to be included in the 2014 Whitney Biennial with only 32% women and 7.6% artists of African descent (see Hyperallergic “The Depressing Stats of the 2014 Whitney Biennial”) Melbourne Now is very balanced and representative.


Calm Collected

This is a story about a shy suburban guy living the suburban slumber of the sedated lifestyle waking up. He doesn’t go wild and try to stay wide-awake all the time. He just calmly looks around at what is going on in the big picture, tries to find a voice and then uses his voice get involved. What more can be expected in a life?

Calm Toucans

Calm Toucans

Calm found his own voice with first with a mock Neighbourhood Watch poster featuring a Planet of the Apes gorilla and the slogan: “control the human pests”. He has gone on to more paste-ups with his pertinent satire in Melbourne streets.

Calm is a Melbourne street artist who has been working on the street for the last three years. Married with three children, unlike many other street artists he does not have an art school or design background. He is still refining his spray-painted multi-layered stencilled techniques that often does on paper before pasting them up in the street. He has been in a few group exhibitions mostly for charities and was involved with CHD’s Trojan Petition in 2012.

It isn’t often that you hear an artist talk about the work life balance, sometimes you are just amazed that they have a life. It is not that Calm is prolific, he doesn’t do massive runs and paste-up everywhere, but the quality of the work makes it stand out and he is happy with the balance in his life now. There is a balance in his art, it is not all political, there is also his Toucan spray-cans.

Calm - Captain Assange

Calm – Captain Assange

Calm - Wanted Paul Watson

Calm – Wanted Paul Watson

Calm’s pop political posters of current political figures satirize and comment on the media’s current cast of heroes and villains. The simple form and the few colours keep the design clear and concise. Calm’s satire doesn’t preach or rant but has a cool, wry and ironic quality. Often there a few different angles; referring to his Bradley Manning in football uniform, Calm points out that there are a few quarterbacks named Manning in the NFL.

Calm - Bradley Manning

Calm – Bradley Manning All-American

Calm - Murdoch Swine

Calm – Murdoch Swine

When I mentioned that his Murdoch swine was a bit vicious compared to his lighter touch with other work, Calm replied, “Sometimes you’ve got to do it.” It was saying what everyone was thinking of Murdoch after News of the World.

Calm see his street art as a way of breaking the advertising monopoly on public space and the public conversation. Calm’s images are like single panel editorial cartoons on the pages of the city.


The Flâneur’s Surface Archaeology

Public sculptures, old buildings and ghost-signs are the surface archaeology of the city. Surface archaeology is established archaeological practice for providing data on settlements. The urban archaeologist conducts a pedestrian survey of the surface features, digital camera on my belt to collecting samples. By looking and researching the history you can see distinct layers in the psychology of Melbourne through its history.

The Duke & Duchess of York Memorial Drinking Fountain, 1901, corner of Elizabeth and Victoria St.

The Duke & Duchess of York Memorial Drinking Fountain, 1901, corner of Elizabeth and Victoria St.

The city is both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time; there are so many unfamiliar areas and so many changes to familiar routes. There are constant changes, sometime ago I asked Terry the postman, whose route is in the CBD, if there was more building work going on, but he didn’t think so.  So accustomed am I to my various routes that I note the smallest changes.

I take note the ephemera of the city, the layers of posters and graffiti, like a detective gathering evidence on the endless mystery of the human existence that exists, so tightly packed together, in all directions. For this reason I find myself interested in buildings for different reasons other than their architecture; I warm to their history and function. Look at the modifications, alterations and their changing functions. For this reason I like to look at the back of buildings rather than their façade.

This week I’ve continued to wander the city. In my perambulations I saw the Platform exhibitions; I could not resist the opportunity when passing through Flinders Street Station to walk down Degraves Street. Sophie Neate and Sean McKenzie Glass Room was engaging installation about the mystery of the machine made. I particularly enjoyed Chris Rainer’s Topographic Schematic no.24 because of the musical composition. Rainer’s installation suggested the idea of military interception of all communications, symbolized by tape going through the plastic model watchtower and German soldiers.

Blue Elephants on the curb of Rutledge Lane

Blue Elephants on the curb of Rutledge Lane

Equally I could not resist the opportunity when in the city to walk down Hosier Lane. I could get all excited about the Banksy that got painted over last week but I’ve seen it all before, these things happen every couple of years and nobody expected them to last forever. (see the report in The Age).  I’m just taking more photographs of the city before it disappears. My photographs of the city become like a stamp collection and I enjoy looking at the collections of other of Melbourne’s flâneurs. Do utility boxes have to look utilitarian? (See ones painted by notable Melbourne Street artists at Land of Sunshine.)


Flame, Remember My Name

I was going to comment that this year in street art had a bit dull… the same old same old stuff on the streets, no innovations or developments like yarn bombing or street sculpture. But then along came Doyle with his Empty Nursery Blue in Rutledge Lane. And the division between the technical and the conceptual elements in street art was brought into even sharper contrast with CDH’s article “The Commodification of Street Art” in the September issue of Art Monthly Australia and E.L.K.’s reply “The mouse that sunk the boat” on Invurt

Mask sticker, 2009

Mask sticker, 2009

I am used the word “technical” in the last paragraph to describe the work of artists with the technical skill of stencil cutting, aerosol spray skills, etc. in contrast to the conceptual, thinking of and executing an idea. I am using ‘conceptual’ in the way that Galenson uses it, to refer to conceptual break through from collage to video art, and not to exclusively refer to works of conceptual art; David W. Galenson contrasts modern and contemporary conceptual and experimental artists in his book Conceptual Revolutions in Twentieth-Century Art (Cambridge University Press, 2009, New York). I’ve used the word ‘technical’, rather than ‘experimental’ because there aren’t that many experimental artists, in Galenson’s terms, on Melbourne’s streets, most are content to become technically proficient, although Slicer, Reka, Conrad Bizjak and others might count as experimental.

Aside from the conceptual versus the technical there is a contrast in the ideological purity of CDH’s position opposed to the pragmatic concerns of E.L.K. The utopian ambitions of the politics of conceptual artists have often caused them to cry: “sell out” (in various ways, like all the “expulsions” from the official Surrealist movement). This usually been countered with accusations of lack of talent or technique but this doesn’t address the real differences between the two radically different approaches to art. The conceptual artist is not interested in the technique but the politics or philosophy of artistic progress and likewise the technical artist pragmatic has little time or interest in philosophy or politics.

Specifically in reply to CDH’s article I would argue that street art back is not held back or corrupted by its commodification because that was happening since the beginning of street art; Fab 5 Freddy was exhibiting in galleries in 1979, it is part of the street art system. Nor is being distorted when graffiti goes mainstream that was also happening since the beginning, appearing in pop music videos like Blondie’s “Rapture” (1981) and the 1983 PBS documentary, Style Wars, for example.

In Glenn Adamson and Jane Pavitt’s introductory essay “Postmodernism: Style and Subversion” the authors examine Alvin Toffler’s mainstream absorption model where “the potential disruptive energies of the subculture are controlled, and the hegemony of mass culture is continually reasserted” and provide a counter example, hip hop, where “the process of mediation and commoditization were factored in all along”. (Postmodernism: Style and Subversion, ed. Glenn Adamson and Jane Pavitt, V&A Publisher, 2011, p.53) To put it bluntly not all subcultures have the same relationship to mass culture as hippies or punks.

Finally, I have no aesthetic or political opinion on the matter for without conceptual artists there will be little or no innovations or developments in street art but without the technical artists there wouldn’t be as large an audience or the interest. What I think is holding Melbourne’s street art back is the conservative traditionalists in street art and graffiti that believe that they can enforce their various definitions; in this respect they have a similar attitude to their traditional opponents, the police, railway security and city councillors.

Adnate & Slicer "Nothing Lasts Forever" Brunswick Station, 2012

Adnate & Slicer “Nothing Lasts Forever” Brunswick Station, 2012


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