Category Archives: Street Art

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


Ten Great Street Installations

I have love street installations. I write about street art installation in my book on Melbourne’s public sculpture because street installations, although not officially sanctioned, are still seen by the public.

Junky Projects, All Your Walls, 2013 (2)

The new Junky Projects that is part of All Your Walls in Hosier Lane is the largest that I have yet seen on the streets, becoming more abstract in his compositions. It a Dadaists/Futurists.

Pop Cap, All Your Walls, 2013

The Lego men in also All Your Walls by Pop Cap.

Will Coles, Nothingness

Will Coles, Nothingness, does anyone notice if a pigeon dies?

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Photograph that Psalm sent to me, this urban Rainbow is some of some of his fine work. Showing that he can do installations and other street art.

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Another photograph by Psalm of his work, Drain, its an old gag but worth doing well.

GT Sewell, Clown Serpent, 2013 (2 Blender Alley)

A great serpent clown by GT in Blender Lane.

Tea pot CBD

Yarn bombing referring back to the tea-cosy. Is yarn bombing trying to make the city more cosy?

Les Futo's spiral of lighters

A temporary installation; Les Futo’s great spiral of used lighters, presented at the Brunswick Festival in 2008.

Buckets in AC:DC lane

Can fling-up be art? In 2009 these buckets appeared in AC/DC Lane.

B1 Crucified, Brunswick

B1 Crucified in Brunswick in 2013. Is this a reference to cuts to the ABC?


Bigger, Biggest

Rone’s new mural, L’inconnue de la rue (unknown girl in the street) on the wall of the building at 80 Collins Street claims to be the largest mural in Australia. I don’t want to get into a mural measuring competition but I counted nine stories for Rone’s new mural making it larger than Adnate’s new five-story mural in Hosier Lane. (I used to live near a business that claimed to be “the biggest laundromat in the southern hemisphere” over in West Brunswick.)

Rone in Collins Street

Rone in Collins Street

Rone is from the Everfresh crew and Adnate is from the AWOL crew. The Everfresh and AWOL crews have been in open competition since 2011, when they were in a competition for the space in the NGV’s studio. Everfresh won that round and had an exhibition in NGV’s Studio. The next round in this competition are two giant murals by first Adnate and now Rone.

Everfresh are the established masters of Melbourne street art based in Collingwood with heaps of reputation on Melbourne’s streets. AWOL, the new comers from Brunswick, bring both ambition and a willingness to change and develop their style. The only member of the Everfresh crew to really change styles has been Reka, Makatron has developed but after seeing about a hundred Phibs on walls, boards, tattoos etc. his style isn’t that fresh anymore.

Adnate at work in Hosier Lane

Adnate at work in Hosier Lane

It is good that Melbourne’s street artists are now being offered such large walls; they have been crying out for large walls for years. Neither of these huge murals are great works of art, except in their size, as they are both thematically and artistically far to simple. Their style goes back to the hand painted painted advertising billboards of the 1950s and 60s, that many commercial artists used to paint, including James Rosenquist before he turned to Pop art.

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There are a couple of holes with Rone’s new mural; the most obvious is that bit of old wall that has had concrete sprayed on it. Why wasn’t that part painted over? Why is it there to begin with? The other problem is that the image distorts as you look up from the lane way; the perspective of the face only works when viewed from a certain position near Nauru House. Simply scaling up an image to fit a wall this large is not enough.

I’m looking forward to seeing what the next round of this creative competition between these two crews will bring but I just want to point out that the biggest mural in Melbourne was Adrian Doyle’s Empty Nursery Blue in 2013 that covered both sides and the paving of Rutledge Lane.


Adnate, Bigger and Better in Hosier

Tuesday morning 8:30am and half-way up the spray paint encrusted Hosier Lane, amid a cluster of cameras, Mayor Robert Doyle is talking with street artist, Adnate about his almost completed mural. Adnate and Mayor Doyle are obviously enjoying their conversation and I can hear snatches of it amid the sound of the cameras.

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“I love paint, I paint 7 days a week, 365 days a year…” Adnate explains to the Mayor. “You don’t want to become too attached to your work because then you don’t progress… Aerosol spray paint, the background is acrylic…dodgy paint roller… texture…”

It is the media preview of the still unfinished multi-story mural commissioned by Hosier Inc. and paid for through an arts grant from the City of Melbourne. The mural is the face of a a local aboriginal boy from Melbourne’s northern suburbs gazing towards Birrarung Marr.

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Adnate has been up on a scaffold painting for three days and will be working up there again today. (See my post PaintUp!) Five years ago Adnate was just another graffiti painter doing pieces with the AWOL crew along the Upfield line. Then he started painting faces, not the unusual graffiti characters, not stars but the faces of children of indigenous peoples. Adnate is now represented by Metro Gallery.

Five years ago conservative politician and former State Opposition Leader Robert Doyle had just started his first term as Lord Mayor; he was elected on the 30 November 2008. He had come to the position with a conservative attitude to graffiti but Melbourne’s street art started to change his mind.

This is not just a story about a new mural in Melbourne but about people changing their minds and then changing the world around them. Part of it started in 2012 when the Melbourne City Council proposed CCTV cameras in Hosier Lane to reduce crime in the area. This proposal was successfully resisted by the street art community (see my posts To CCTV or Not CCTV 1 and 2). The City of Melbourne has since revised its policy on graffiti management and Hosier Inc. was formed. Hosier Inc is a community organisation of interested people formed not to manage the anarchic lane way but to provide a hub for communication about the lane. It hasn’t been the perfect solution, there are still problems in the lane, but has improved the lane and its street art.

Mayor Doyle and Adnate spoke to the media and the trio of television cameras. Mayor Doyle described the mural as an “important and large work, more permanent, not a forever work, but more permanent than the other art in the lane.” Change is constant in Hosier Lane; it was once part of the garment district, from 1936 to 1939 Melbourne’s Communist Party Headquarters was at 3 Hosier Lane. Now the lane is street art destination and tourist attraction.

Mayor Doyle departs, Adnate poses for a few more photographs and then gets back on the scaffolding to start another day painting.


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