Tag Archives: AWOL

The Commons Graffiti

The Commons is a Brunswick residential complex design by Breathe Architecture’s Jeremy McLeod that received the 2014 Victorian Architecture Award for Sustainable Architecture as the year’s ‘‘exemplar of apartment living.’’ Read more about the architecture award in The Age but I want to examine the way that it integrates with the locale in particular the graffiti in the area.DSCF0137

It is not an inspiring locale, at the end of a dead end street on a block between train tracks and a panel beaters. It was previously the site of a single story factory/warehouse stood surrounded by a chain link fence. In its favour it is close to Sydney Road and very close to Anstey Station train station. Anstey has the standard utilitarian construction of a Melbourne railway station from the 1970s, the chain link fence, only the signage has been updated.

I have watched the developments progress as I passed by on my regular ride along the Upfield bike path or when traveling by train in and out of the city.

Now plants are growing up the chain balcony rails, of this multi-story building with an attractive facade facing the railway. On the ground floor there is the coffee shop, Steam Junkies and two large rainwater tanks sit out the back. It contributes and improves its locale rather than exploit it. The Commons is the only building with an entrance to the Upfield bicycle path.

There plenty of graffiti along the bicycle path but the brick walls beneath the second decorative story facade of The Commons had only been tagged a couple of time since its construction. The tags were not removed. It was unlikely that the walls were going to stay that way as they were along the graffiti covered Upfield bike path and it appears that it was never the intention.

Then this week came the Sinch tribute, a massive legal piece that covered The Commons lower walls and water tanks. An awesome group effort featuring parts of the AWOL and Id crews along a few others. See Land of Sunshine for more photos. There aren’t that many graffiti tributes in Melbourne (see my post Rest In Peace).  Sinch (1988 – 2014) died in June; Benjamin Millar “Tributes for street artist electrocuted while train surfing” in The Age.

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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.


PaintUp!

For the last two days Adnate, from Melbourne’s AWOL crew has been up in the heavens painting on the rear wall of McDonald House that faces in Hosier Lane. Adnate will be up there painting for a few more days to come.

McDonald House (no relation to fat food empire) is a seven story building built in the Chicagoesque style. It was originally built in 1921 as warehouse but has since been converted to offices. The wall overlooking the lane has not been painted before because it has been too high and inaccessible.

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The current painting was made possible because the cement rendering on the wall of the building was being repaired and the scaffold had to be installed. Adnate’s giant piece was commissioned by local community association Hosier Inc. and funded by the City of Melbourne’s annual arts grant program. Hosier Inc. say that is the first instalment in a series of major artworks for the lane.

Ink & Clag in Hosier Lane

Ink & Clog in Hosier Lane

Down below in the lane the tourists come, take photos and go. At the Flinders Street corner a notice that the Ink & Clog, a crew from Singapore has been painting. (I’ve had a long interest in Singapore Graffiti). Near the Flinders Lane end two guys, both named Dave, are sitting on stacks of milk crates watching Adnate paint. One of the Dave’s is better known as Phoenix, whose paste-ups can be seen in Flinders Lane and other places around Melbourne. The other Dave is David Russell who is photographs Melbourne’s street art scene and whose photographs are regularly seen on Invurt. The location was a difficult one to photograph and David Russell was preparing to go up on top of various buildings around the lane to get photographs of Adnate’s progress.

Melbourne is now following the example of many European and South American street art of very large legal murals to bring art and colour to a giant run-down and drab wall. I can’t tell how Adnate’s mural will look when it is finished, hopefully it will be as good as the face that he did in an earlier piece with the rest of the AWOL crew in Fitzroy.

AWOL Gertrude Street

Adnate with the AWOL crew, Gertrude Street


Street Art Renaissance

I keep on seeing all these similarities between street art/graffiti and the Renaissance most obviously because both are painting on walls. Walking around the graffiti covered walls of Brunswick factories in the late 1990s I discovered my own Scrovegni Chapel of wall-to-wall painting divided into separate panels.

Adnate of the AWOL crew on wall in Rose St. Fitzroy

Adnate of the AWOL crew on wall in Rose St. Fitzroy (photo by Hasan Niyazi)

People have painted on walls since we lived in caves but what made the Renaissance especially similar to the street art/graffiti of today is the potential change in social status that being an artist brought with it. Unlike their ancient counterparts the Renaissance and graffiti artists can become famous across the city and intercity and to freely enjoy the change in status that this fame brings.

Collingwood graffiti 2009

Collingwood graffiti 2009

There are many ways that the practice of street art is similar to the Renaissance with people up ladders painting a wall. Only the media has changed from fresco to aerosol. Fresco was the fast art medium of the Renaissance, the plaster could only be painted on when it was still wet. The works are designed in cartoons and then enlarged on the wall. Often he patron who bought the paint and commissioned the work is represented in the piece off to one side, as in a Renaissance altarpiece. Although all of the surviving Renaissance frescos are inside but exterior walls were also painted (an elephant remains on a portico wall at Castello Sforzesco in Milan) along with other ephemeral artwork. Renaissance painters worked in the summer when the plaster could dry, in the winter they would work on their designs, like the graffers drawing in their black books.

In graffiti slang a “piece, referring to a large complete aerosol work, is short for a ‘masterpiece’. It indicates a degree of a writer’s proficiency, as in the final work of a journeyman apprentice doing throw-ups. There is less of the master and apprentice in graffing for today the organization of society is much less formal, but there is more of a culture of master and apprentice in graffiti, where skills are learnt from assisting or watching masters rather than the formal education of modern artists. Collaborations between painters are common in both graffiti and the Renaissance.

The following is an email about painting a legal wall in Richmond. I want to point out that this email it is the street art equivalent to a commission for a Renaissance fresco.

On 09/03/2013, at 10:53 PM, CDH wrote:

We’ll be painting on Monday.

Location is 53-55 Burnley st Richmond. We’re painting behind the bike shop.

Meeting at midday.

Theme is yellow. Colour palette is black, white, grey and yellow.

As always, anyone and everyone is welcome. Hit me up if you’re

interested. Should be a good day for it: 34 deg.

Cheers,

Chris.

CDH

www.CDH-Art.com

Unlike the open invitation in CDH’s email a Renaissance commission was a longer legal document specifying a particular artist and a payment. Like CDH’s email it might specify the colour palette but this generally concerned with the weight of blue lapis lazuli and other expensive pigments.

There are, of course, many differences. The monetary value of the art produced is the biggest difference. Capping in the Renaissance was out of the question because fresco belonged to someone who was rich and powerful; the Medici would not have tolerated anyone damaging their property. But the insult of choice for both Renaissance painters and street artists are homophobic; the street artists will call the work of others “gay” whereas the Renaissance painter will denounce others as “sodomites”.

AWOL in Fitzroy 2012

AWOL in Fitzroy 2012

Various crews have replaced the painters’ guilds, but even the most hardcore crew can’t compare to the murderous Cabal of Naples who controlled their territory with brutality and fear and no one else was allowed to paint in Naples. The Cabal of Naples are early Baroque rather than Renaissance painters, but they are a classy example. Melbourne’s graffers and street artists, in comparison are a passive lot and we live in a much less violent time.

(I want to thank Brain Ward of Fitzroyalty and especially Hasan Niyazi of Three Pipe Problem for their thoughts on the subject that has greatly improved this tenuous idea.)


Gertrude St. Culture

There are many art galleries (a few years ago there were 7, hence the name of Seventh Gallery), art supplies, bookshops, boutiques, cafes, restaurants and antique shops spreading along the street. Rose Chong Costume Hire has extravagant window displays and Arcadia Café has exhibitions on their walls. Most of the activity is concentrated in a few blocks north between Smith St. and Brunswick St. is a microenvironment of greater cultural significance than its size.

Seventh Gallery, Gertrude Street

At the corner of Brunswick St. the housing commission flats start, part of a slum reclamation by the state government, at Gertrude St. The high-rise housing commission flats have not been as successful as the gentrification that the arts brought to the area. Here, as elsewhere in Fitzroy, there is a slow gentrification going on.

Life, like the numerous pubs along Gertrude St. ranges from down-and-out to up-market. The two sides of the street are distinguished by housing commission flats on one side and on the other, rows of 19th and early 20thcentury shops, post office and pubs. Preserving the turn of the 19th century buildings with their eclectic style architecture are a mix of charities and boutiques continues west. The gentrified area is slowly spreading – initially from the Collingwood end – oddly creating a quiet area closer to the city. It started from Australian Print Workshop established in 1981 and a cluster of galleries around the corner on Smith Street that moved the focus to this end of the street. Darren Knight Gallery, now located in Sydney, was originally just around the corner on Smith St. along with Australia Galleries. Back in the 1980s the sculptors Geoffrey Bartlett, Augustine Dall’Ava and Anthony Pryor shared a studio on Gertrude Street.

Australian Print Workshop, Gertrude Street

Gertrude St. is the one place in Melbourne where there is a strong Koori presence. The old Post Office building on Gertrude St. that was once painted the yellow, red and black of the Aborigine flag has been painted white and turned into a restaurant. On the corner of Gertrude and George Streets three thin bronze figures with aboriginal motifs on their torso stand. They are  “Delkuk Spirits”, 2002, by Kelly Koumalatsos, a Wergaia/Wamba Wamba woman from the northwest of Victoria and a graduate of RMIT.

Kelly Koumalatsos, Delkuk Spirits, 2002, bronze

On Lt. Napier Street, the laneway next to the old post office, there was some Koori street art by the Bellamah Tribe in 2006: the use of ochre colours, images of goannas, lines and track marks set this wall apart. There were great sprays of paint, black brush marks and tags. It has since been covered up with other pieces since. The Bellamah Tribe wall was an impressive and distinctive and I hoped to see more of the Koori street art but apart from Reko Rennie, that has yet to come. In 2012 the AWOL crew did do a tribute the original owners of this land, who were never asked permission to construct Fitzroy and Collingwood.

AWOL Gertrude Street

I always see something interesting on my walks along Gertrude Street; what was the most interesting thing that you saw there last?


AWOL Evolution

A year or so ago the AWOL crew were just another notable crew and then their pieces moved up to a whole new level of art and beauty. That is the AWOL crew in Melbourne, Australia, not the one in Boston, Massachusetts, nor the one in Lebanon. I first notice the work of the AWOL crew back in 2008. I’d appreciate the work of the AWOL crew around Brunswick but I don’t think that it was anything special. They were always over shadowed, even in the NGV studio space in early 2011 by the earlier and more popular Everfresh crew. But even then they were showing elements that would soon burst onto Melbourne’s walls. I admire the growth and resilience of the AWOL crew; growth is something that I expect from all artists but resilience is a special quality and this is a crew that keeps on coming back stronger than ever. In 2010 I wrote about how they came back after a piece of theirs was vandalized at Brunswick Station.

I appreciate the cooperative and collaborative work of graffiti crews often more for the politics than the results. Sometimes it is just amazing that the aesthetic mish-mash of styles and images holds together at all; often only an agreed colour scheme is all that holds them together.

The AWOL crew are: Adnate, Slicer, Deams, Lucy Lucy, Itch and Li-Hill. Taken individually the members of the AWOL crew are not fantastic artists. They are competent, good, and occasionally brilliant certainly but nothing special; there are lots of people who do that sort of stuff. But working in combination lately the AWOL crew have been fantastic. Each member of the crew is pursuing their own style, following their own creative path, and yet it all beautifully comes together. Slicer does his best work in the crew, his dynamic sharp lines, very thin, controlled freestyle that ties the compositions together, like an electric guitar solo frozen in synesthesic paint.

It is an almost impossible combination of styles like a mix of free jazz, classical, and trance techno. But then mixing and aerosol graffiti are two of the four elements of hip-hop. The compositions are like film posters featuring a dynamic montage of image, typography and a large face, except that instead of the face of a star it is an unfamiliar face.

Is it the combination of Adnate and Slicer? Or is that Adnate moved away from letterform graffiti to painting faces. Is it a new approach to composition of whole walls? Is it exhibiting at Rist and other galleries? I don’t know, attempts to discuss this with the crew came to nothing, maybe they don’t know themselves; what ever it is the AWOL has evolved and taken Melbourne street art to a new level of beauty, style and composition.


There’s More @ Cocoa Jackson Studios

How do you describe the scene at Cocoa Jackson Studios? “… There’s More!”

“There’s More!” was four huge days and nights of open house street art, music, indie films, live painting, paste-ups, stickers and there’s more. I got along to see it on Saturday afternoon. On Friday night I had tried the watching the live streamed video but I couldn’t see more than a DJ and a few people and the stream kept stopping so it wasn’t worth listening to.

There were plenty of legal walls to paint in the lanes around Cocoa Jackson Studio and a few grey areas. And it wasn’t just around Cocoa Jackson Studios for a few blocks up Lygon St. there were more artists painting with more walls in lanes around Ann Street thanks to Dean Sunshine. There were plenty of artists, to many to count. There were artists from around the world, travelling artists from as far away as Barcelona painting walls.

Even though Melbourne’s weather was threatening rain there were lots of people watching and photographing the event. Watching people paint can be both fascinating and as dull as watching paint dry. But I did get distracted watching Slicer and Deams paint (I made a short movie of Slicer painting). I was reminding myself that it could be like watching Jackson Pollock painting. And I ended up missing Bandos Earthling’s first gig at Cocoa Jackson but there was so much happening.

Fletch painting

So many people to catch up with – Civil, Junky Projects, Fletch, Phoenix, Bandos Earthling, art collector Andrew King was wandering around offering people beers and I’m forgetting some others – I’m sorry to anyone I’ve forgotten to mention.

So much aerosol paint that the weeds are covered in paint. Down the laneway Civil was spraying the belladonna leaves autumnal colours.

The main space of Cocoa Jackson Studios was filled with a large group exhibition along with panels of stickers for sale by silent auction. There was plenty of new work by Junky Projects along with many other artists that I recognize for Melbourne’s streets.

It was great to have an event like this close to home rather than in distant suburbs. On my way home I passed more artists painting another wall on the other side of Brunswick, so every graff artist in Melbourne wasn’t painting in the lanes around Cocoa Jackson Studios and the Land of Sunshine.

For readers wondering about the unusual laneway name: Cocoa Jackson Lane is named after heavy weight boxer Peter Jackson. The exact reason why there is a lane in Melbourne named after him remains a mystery although Peter Jackson did have several fights in Melbourne in 1930 – 1931.


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