Tag Archives: Banksy

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.)


Seven Years With Banksy

This post is about the curious case of Banksy allowing people around him to exploit their relationship with him. For example Mr. Brainwash and his part in the film Exit Through the Gift Shop or Robert Clarke’s book Seven Years With Banksy (Michael O’Mara, 2012). I suppose that Banksy has no choice given that he wants to keep his identity anonymous but to tolerate these exploitations rather than face exploitative exposures. Being an anonymous artist clearly has it drawbacks.

Robert Clarke’s Seven Years With Banksy is a terrible read, even with low expectations. Like Mr. Brainwash and Exit Through the Gift Shop there is more of Clarke in the book than Banksy. Clarke spends two or three chapters just meeting Banksy. He actually has very little and sporadic contact with Robin/Banksy. If Clarke were honest the book’s title would be Seven Years of occasionally meeting Banksy.

I stopped reading the book the first time when Clarke started to recount his dreams about Banksy; it was too self-indulgent. In the words of Wm. Burroughs: “Such dreams radiate a special disinterest. They are as boring and commonplace as the average dreamer.” (Burroughs, My Education: a book of dreams, 1995 p.2)

I put the Seven Years With Banksy aside and read a couple of other books but when I came to the end of Daniel Farson’s Gilbert and George – a portrait (Harper Collins, 1999) the author wandered into a dream he had about Gilbert and George. I started both at the same time and enjoyed reading G&G more – G&G are so charming. And Farson’s occasional meanderings were forgivable because they showed his systematic commitment to the project. There is real content in the book about G&G, the people that they worked with and the people who bought their art.

I thought that maybe I was being too harsh on Clarke, so I went back to Seven Years With Banksy but I think that I should stopped reading the first time as it didn’t get any better. My opinion, don’t bother reading it in the first place. I’ve read it so you don’t have to.


Jet Set Street Art

Where in the world is HaHa? Dabs and Mylar have returned to Melbourne after several years abroad. Melbourne street artists are travelling the world. Street art is the most extensively travelled art movement of all times. It is one of the necessities of working on the streets means finding news cities and places to exhibit.

Many street artists from other countries have visited and left their mark on Melbourne’s streets. Looking through my collection of photos of Melbourne street art I have many examples of these international artists. I have listed the visiting along with their country of origin and year/s that they visited Melbourne. Most visited in conjunction with an exhibitions as and I have noted if they also participated in major festivals or events.

A1one - Gertrude St. Fitzroy

A1one – Gertrude St. Fitzroy

A1one (Iran, 2008, Melbourne Stencil Festival)

Aerosol Arabic, Thirst for Change, Sparks Lane, Melbourne

Aerosol Arabic, Thirst for Change, Sparks Lane, Melbourne

Aerosol Arabic (Britain, 2008, Melbourne Festival)

Above, Melbourne

Above, Melbourne

Above (USA, 2011 & 2012)

Now destroyed Banksy's  "Little Diver"

Now destroyed Banksy’s “Little Diver”

Banksy (Britain, 2003, a covert visit, see my post)

Blek le Rat under perspex Parhran

Blek le Rat under perspex Parhran

Blek Le Rat (France, multiple visits)

Choq, Fitzroy

Choq, Fitzroy

Choq (France, 2012-13)

Celso Gitahy, Brunswick

Celso Gitahy, Brunswick

Celso Gitahy (Brazil, 2008 & 2009, see my post)

Keith Haring, Collingwood

Keith Haring, Collingwood

Keith Haring (USA 1984, see my post)

Nash, Sparta Place, Brunswick

Nash, Sparta Place, Brunswick

Nash (Netherlands, 2012, Project Melbourne Underground see my post)

Snyder, Rocket Pop Boy, Hosier Lane

Snyder, Rocket Pop Boy, Hosier Lane

Sydner (USA, 2012, private initiative see my post)

Peat Wollaeger, Keith Haring Stencil and tribute at Collingwood Technical College

Peat Wollaeger, Keith Haring Stencil and tribute at Collingwood Technical College

Peat Wollaeger (USA, 2008, Melbourne Stencil Festival).

This is not at all a complete list of artists who have visited Melbourne. Nor does it include foreign street artist who have made Melbourne their home.

I am not writing about these international artists out of a cultural cringe away from local artists. Australian culture has long had a belief in a superior foreign culture – be it French, British or American. I am writing about these artists to demonstrate that street art is a global style. Images of street art are so easily transmitted around the world by the internet and travel is also easy. So many notable street artists have become international nomads. And it is one of the strengths of the art.

Which, if any, visiting artist do you think has been the most influential on Melbourne’s street art?


Street art salvage

CDH is seeking to connect with street art collectors, advocates and artists to salvage culturally important street art from demolition sites.

In my capacity facilitating street art, I see the birth of a lot of art. But I also bear witness to the end of art; works lost in a cloud of dust when a derelict building is demolished. Sometimes amongst the rubble and industrial detritus, I find street art salvage: works painted on a roller door, a wooden hoarding or a sheet metal fence. Although assigned to a pile of garbage, many of these works may have value as cultural artefacts. Without the perspective of historical hindsight, it’s often difficult to recognise the difference. In a sense, this derelict street art might be more valuable than its gallery counterpart because this is authentic street art. So the question becomes, should we try to save these works?

Adnate work in Richmond at a building scheduled to be redeveloped into apartments

Adnate work in Richmond at a building scheduled to be redeveloped into apartments

Unlike the controversial ‘Out of Context’ Banksy exhibition at Miami Art Basal, these works haven’t been pillaged from their original spatial context to be exhibited in a gallery. These works are already on their way to the tip. So the choice isn’t between the gallery vs the original environmental context intended by the artist. It’s a choice between a gallery and gone forever. So on first inspection it seems obvious that we should save the works. Ultimately I believe it is worth salvaging this street art, and I am seeking to connect with collectors, advocates and other artists to this end. But it is worth recognising that the issue is considerably more complex than it may appear upon superficial consideration.

'Out of Context' Banksy exhibition at Miami Art Basel

‘Out of Context’ Banksy exhibition at Miami Art Basel

Most importantly, salvaged street art can’t resurface in the secondary art market. There is the obvious practical issue that it would mean gallery exhibiting street artists would effectively be competing with themselves; it would discourage artists from painting on the street. But there’s another moral issue; the works on the street belong to the community. The wall the art is painted on might belong to a private building owner but the thin layer of paint that makes up the artwork is the property of the public. Taking a salvaged work and selling it for profit is akin to selling stolen goods. It’s more appropriate to regard people who hold salvaged street art as the custodians of a cultural artefact, until it can be re-exhibited for the general public.

It’s often argued that a key point of demarcation between street art and gallery art is ephemerality. Gallery art is perceived to have attained an immutable status through perpetual restoration, while street art is at the mercy of the environment, council cleaners and the community. The knowledge that street art is in perpetual jeopardy shapes our appreciation of it. Many people reading this article will have felt the pang of seeing a beloved street artwork suddenly gone one day. The legions of street art photographers are in part motivated by a shared angst that the works are transient and without record will be lost forever. Creating a system to preserve some of these works immediately changes this context. Yes, an artwork may still suddenly disappear tomorrow, but it may also be absorbed into a preservation collection. This changes the lenses through which we view and experience the art, by changing a key contextual element. This perpetually shifting contextual landscape has been synonymous with street art since its inception. What began as an outsider subcultural movement has been progressively recuperated into the mainstream. The politically conservative Lord Mayor of Melbourne has shifted from a zero tolerance stance on graffiti (as opposition leader of the state) to describing himself as ‘delighted’ with the city’s street art. Many street artists have moved into the commercial art system where possible. So it seems the outsider status of street art is even more fleeting than the art itself. Preserving works is part of this natural evolution, so it’s not incongruent with the direction of the movement.

Photographers in Hosier Lane

Photographers in Hosier Lane

Salvaging street art may contravene the wishes of the artist. Some street artists reluctantly accept ephemerality as a reality of the medium but some artists intend for their work to be transient. Ultimately many artists may prefer for their work to go to the tip, rather than see it preserved in a warehouse or a gallery. Although an artist’s consent is desirable, should it be a necessary prerequisite for preserving an artwork? On his death bed, Franz Kafka asked his friend Max Brod to destroy all his unpublished manuscripts. Brod ignored this request and published many of Kafka’s most important works posthumously. The writing was important and so the interests of broader society outweighed the preference of the artist. During the construction of the Aswan Dam in the 1960s in Egypt, 22 ancient monuments risked being flooded. The monuments were relocated, although as religious sites it’s unlikely the original builders would have consented; imagine if the temple on the mount needed to be moved. The monuments were historically significant to us, so we acted in society’s benefit regardless. Ultimately street art is for everyone, not just the artist or the building owner. It belongs to the community so the primary directives are those in the interest of the community; the preferences of the artist are secondary, although they’re contextually important to record.

Gustav Metzger 'Acid Action Painting' 1961

Gustav Metzger ‘Acid Action Painting’ 1961

The exception is when the ephemerality is integral to the meaning of the work (not just the artist’s preference). Gustav Metzger’s Auto Destructive Art requires self-destruction to realise the meaning written into the work. To attempt to preserve ‘acid action painting, 1961’ midway through the corrosion of the work would ironically be the destruction of the art; it would become meaningless. But street art is typically quite different from the auto destructive art of Metzger. Metzger built the self-destruction of the work innately into the art. Street art is about relinquishing control of the art and handing it over to the cultural chaos of urban space. This usually causes the destruction of the art because society has diverse agendas; although 99 people might leave a work untouched, it only takes one to cap it. But if an artist relinquishes art to external forces, with a loose expectation that this will cause erasure of the work, they have to equally accept that external agents may preserve it. Unless the work requires ephemerality as an artistic imperative, it’s difficult to argue that an artists’ preference for transience should be honoured above society’s enrichment through sharing the art. As an artist, on a personal level it galls me that collectors could salvage my works from the street without my consent but from reasoned principles, I find it difficult to argue against.

Immolating portrait of Yukio Mishima by CDH

Immolating portrait of Yukio Mishima by CDH

So I seek to build a network of artists, advocates and collectors to salvage street artworks, with these ideas in mind. But what do you think? Is it right to salvage works imminently destined for destruction and if so, what principles should guide our actions?

If you’re interested in offering tips on works available for salvage or if you want tips on works available for salvage, please contact me at cdh.street.art@gmail.com and join our network.


The Future of Street Art

Will in the future street art have that church fete moment? When the artist discovers their own work amongst some tatty lamps and ornaments. All the magic has been sucked out, the art reduced to an outdated fashion object for sale at a discount price. This is also the point when collectors start rummage through garage sales looking for treasures from the past.

Will street art become just another viral meme on the Internet? The image of day – something that you look at for a few seconds, “like” or “share” on Facebook and then forgot. Instant classics like instant coffee are lacking so many qualities. This is also the point where street art becomes democratic and the institutions of the art curators, collectors and academic critics are overturned.

Will street art become another step in the career path of artists on their way to major galleries or corporate sponsorship? Major art galleries around the world competed to show the first, major street art exhibitions. In the future Melbourne could have a street art gallery where the crowds exit through the gift shop to buy the t-shirt, posters and other souvenirs. This is also the point that street art becomes an art movement recognized in books on the history of art.

Adnate & Slicer "Nothing Lasts Forever" Brunswick Station

Adnate & Slicer “Nothing Lasts Forever” Brunswick Station

Or will street art remain a kind of design/craft? Street art has always been so close to a craft as design, illustration and craft are major features of street art. Street art is the folk art of the 21st Century. Folk aren’t making corn dollies anymore or whittling wood – we are urban folk now and we use of modern technology: spray cans, Photoshop colour separation, modern printing technology for and modern materials for vinyl stickers and photocopy enlargements.

Design/craft are both a strength and weakness for street art. Often there isn’t much more to street art than craft and daring. Take that away and you are left with things like Ghostpatrol illustrations on limited edition ceramic plates. Sure there are exhibitions of basket weaving and patchwork quilts at major art galleries and I’m not disputing the quality and craftsmanship of William Morris wallpaper, nor the relevance of exhibiting a sample of his wallpaper in an art gallery but it is great design/craft and not great art.

Popular culture theories applied to street art shows the usual trends. There is the conservative theory of mass society where moral and aesthetic degradation accompanies a loss of authority. There is the left wing/structural theory of culture industry where the culture industry adopts and capitalizing on street art in the same way those other groups, the punks and the hippies were adopted. And there is the whiggish theory of progressive evolution leading to more democratic participation and more authentic opportunities for personal expression. All of these theories can be supported with some choice examples from street art – the question is which of these theories street artists are going to apply to their own work.

These popular culture theories are could be portrayed as class based. The institutional elites are conservative because it protects their control of culture. The institutional theory appears Marxist in considering the culture industries as just another way of making a living by manufacturing widgets – art/design/craft makes no difference. And the whiggish, internet-idealist progressive theory can quickly degenerate into a Facebook ‘Like’. The issue of street artists “selling out” and making money only applies in the progressive theory.

Maybe it was seeing Banksy’s film “Exit Through the Gift Shop” and Thierry Guetta’s mass-produced, copyright violations, massively hyped art that put the fear into me. This is the way that street art ends, not with a bang, not with a whimper but with something crass and stupid.

Dface, spray cans, 2011

Dface, spray cans, 2011


Little Diver Remembered

Melbourne’s street artists have been recreating it in tributes ever since Banksy’s “Little Diver” in Cocker Alley was destroyed in 2008.

Cocker Alley Banksy Tributes – Sunfigo above, Phoenix below

The first artist to document create a paste-up tribute images was Phoenix. Phoenix created an identically sized Little Diver figure that was revealed by the dripping paint that destroyed it. Phoenix continues to refer to the Banksy’s Little Diver, this time with a cross over reference to Warhol “Famous for 15 minutes comments.” (See “The Resurrection of Banksy’s Little Diver” by John Raptis.)

Earlier this year Sunfigo remembered Banksy’s “Little Diver” in a work that parodied the Melbourne City Council’s Laneway Commissions. Sunfigo is a good multi-layer stencil maker and knows Melbourne street art and graffiti history including references to HaHa, Hugh Dunit, Sync, Phibs, the notorious CCTV, and others, as well as, Banksy.

Melbourne street art performance artist, Bados Earthling has been creating his own tributes to Banksy with performances and songs. When a Banksy rat was destroyed in Prahan in 2012 Bados held a candlelight vigil in Prahran to mourn the loss. Bados Earthling and his band the Wild Audio Society’s have a Banksy tribute songs: ““Be Like Banksy” with the chorus “Where’s the Banksy?” Bados Earthling says “the most comonally asked question I get from the general public is where are all the banksy’s located… They never asked about any Austrtalian street artist.” (You can enjoy Bandos’s performances on YouTube.)

In 2010 another Banksy rat was destroyed in Hosier Lane, local street artists reproduced it and added other work commenting on it. (See my blog post: Street Art Notes July)  Do all of these tributes to Banksy really contribute anything to Melbourne’s street art? Even though the tributes to Banksy by Phoenix, Sunfigo and Bados are all quality and nuanced works of art but repeating the legend of Banksy is not the subject of significant art. Apart from serving as a reminder of the hypocrisy of Melbourne City Council towards street art – and politicians eat hypocrisy for breakfast. There is an element of the cultural cringe in both the council and Melbourne street artist’s continual celebration of a visiting British artist.

Rather than dwelling on the past maybe these artists should think about the future of street art in Melbourne. Street art is ephemeral and has little room for history – maybe it’s time to forget about Banksy.


Monsters, Divers and More on the Street

Walking around Melbourne on Thursday I saw a variety of art on the streets from street art to public art, along with some art in an art gallery that referred to the street.

In Federation Square Theo Jansen’s “Strandbeest” were walking around delighting young and old. The two walking machines made of PVC pipes held together with cable ties are a combination of art and mechanical engineering. Although the larger one is meant to wind powered, that was in short supply on Thursday and pneumatic power was being used instead.

Another, and in my opinion the best yet, tribute to the destroyed Banksy’s Little Diver has been placed in Cocker Alley where the Banksy once was. This is stencil piece contains many references to Melbourne street art including Ha-Ha’s Ned Kelly, Phib’s hand with an eye, Hugh Dunnit’s Pinocchico, and the infamous CTCV capping.

I spotted a couple more of Steaphan Paton’s Urban Doolagahls prowling around the laneways and drinking coffee. (For more on Steaphan Paton’s “Urban Doolagahl” see my recent post: An aboriginal art walk.)

There were fashion shoots in both Duckboard Place and AC/DC Lane; given the use that Melbourne’s fashion industry (along with the wedding industry) makes of Melbourne’s graffiti covered lanes it makes me wonder if they are doing anything to support the street art scene or if they are just exploiting it. I assume that Melbourne City Council charges for the right to close down the lane for a photo shoot (more exploitation of street art).

Further up Flinders Lane I saw Pamela See’s exhibition “White Wash” at fortyfivedownstairs. “White Wash” refers to buffing in Beijing and Brisbane. Brisbane based artist, Pamela See has made paper cuts and cut stainless steel versions of the white brush marks used to cover up unauthorized material on the street. The paper cuts of the brush marks complete with cut paper drips reminded me of Roy Lichtenstein’s enlarged abstract expressionist brush strokes.


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