Tag Archives: graffiti

Banksy’s Favourite Criminologist

Going paintspotting with Alison Young around Melbourne suburbs of Brunswick and Parhran is like going for a walk with any other enthusiastic, informed observer of street art and graffiti. Walking around, looking down lanes, camera ready trying to see the splash of aerosol spray paint, the paste-up or, even, street art sculpture.

Except that Alison Young is not just another fan of Melbourne’s street art but the Professor of Criminology at the University of Melbourne and is Banksy’s “favourite criminologist in the world”. (And how many criminologists does Banksy know?)

Alison Young book

Alison Young’s Street Art, Public City – Law, Crime and the Urban Imagination is an academic book, full of citations and an extensive bibliography but don’t panic. The academic nature of this should not put off interested readers, as it is well written and does not require a background in criminology or sociology to understand. The book comfortable ranges in styles from the personal narrative to post-modern philosophy.

Street Art, Public City is not solely focused on the laws that prohibit street art and graffiti or the way that they are enforced. Although there is some old-school criminology in Chapter 5 where Young examines aspects of law enforcement: the appellate process on sentences for graffiti, the lack of distinction in the law between vandalism and graffiti and the political use of James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling’s much referred to “broken window” hypothesis. Young avoids technical language using “the legislated city” instead of ‘nomosphere’ to describe the intersection of law and urban space, while including such technical language in the footnotes.

Street Art, Public City presents a broad view of street art and the city, examining the way that we imagine the city, the issue of public and private space, the multiple uses and versions the city. This is informed by Young’s own exploration of street art in Melbourne, New York, Berlin, London and other cities and her many conversations with street artists. Previously Young, in collaboration with the artists, Ghostpatrol and Miso, wrote Street Studio – the place of street art in Melbourne (Thames & Hudson, 2010) that features interviews with Neils Oeltjen (aka Nails), Tom Civil, Tai Snaith, Ghostpatrol, Ash Keating, Al Stark, Miso, Twoone, Mic Porter, and the Everfresh Crew.

Street Art, Public City is focused on the situation that the art is presented, the affect on both the artist and the viewer. The focus on the situational aspect makes Young’s approach, including her explorations of cities, almost Situationalist especially considering her conclusion of learning to live with the paradoxes that street art generates. The actual street art is not really discussed in the same depth. That said the influence of the art galleries and the art market are examined in some detail.

After so many books on street art that are basically eye candy, picture books with more photographs than words it is a relief to actually read a book about street art. There are fifteen colour photos at the front and a few more black and white photos scattered in the book’s six chapters. Photographs of street art only tell part of the story as there are aspects of street art that cannot be captured in a photograph. Photographs cannot show the duration, very important with ephemeral street art, nor the motivation of the artist and the reaction of the public. Photographs do not explanation the situation and it is the public situation where street art is created and displayed. Street Art, Public City gives the reader more to consider about street art and the city than simply more images.

Alison Young, Street Art, Public City – Law, Crime and the Urban Imagination (Routledge, 2014)


Street Up

First a few terms:

Fling-ups – shoes or other objects hung on overhead wires by flinging them up. (not to be confused with throw-ups) I have to say that I’ve seen some good one’s recently.

Fling-ups, Windsor

Fling-ups, Windsor

Fling-ups, Collingwood

Fling-ups, Collingwood

Paste-ups – paper printed or drawn pasted up on a wall. Known in North America as wheat-pasting due to the glue used.

Paste-up, Fitzroy

Paste-up, Fitzroy

Throw-ups – A rough outline of a piece in one or two colours, areas not filled in or only filled in roughly. Lush does a lot of throw-ups.

Lush Throw-ups, Brunswick

Lush Throw-ups, Brunswick

Up-Cycling – the downwardly mobile cousin of recycling, up-cycling is decorating discarded objects on the street, like drawing on a discarded lounge chair or mattress.

Kaff-eine up-cycling, Coburg

Kaff-eine up-cycling, Coburg

I could go on in the usual slag dictionary fashion but there is more to this than just new terms; there is an up side to mashing a patois dictionary.

“The words we call expressions of aesthetic judgment play a very complicated role, but a very definite role, in what we call a culture of a period. To describe their use or to describe what you mean by a cultured taste, you have to describe a culture. What we now call a cultured taste perhaps didn’t exist in the Middle Ages. An entirely different game is played in different ages.”

Wittgenstein #25 Lectures and Conversations on Aesthetics, Psychology & Religious Belief (Basil Blackwell, 1966,Oxford) (Alternative from James Taylor: “To describe a set of aesthetic rules fully means really to describe the culture of a period.”)

The word ‘up’ used in these expressions is revealing about graffiti and street art culture. Things are “up” in the street, even pin-up girls, for one-upmanship is its core. The aim of graffiti and street art is to be on the up and up amongst the graffiti and street art community; to be more prolific, to cover more walls, to be more notorious, to get more Facebook ‘Likes’, to do bigger pieces, higher up in the heavens.

Up on a train

Up on a train


Artistic Laneways

Walking around the city on a Saturday gallery crawl I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to walk down a couple of Melbourne’s more artistic laneways: Union Lane and Pesgrave Place.

Union Lane

A group of guys spray painting along the length of Union Lane, as usual there was also someone documenting it with photographs but one of the artists was videoing himself with a small camera strapped to his head. An artist eye view of painting a piece, Picasso would have loved that technology.

It was J.D. Mittmann and Amanda King who organised the first legal painting in Union Lane back in 2008 as part of the city’s Graffiti Mentoring Project. Somewhere on its walls under years of aerosol paint there are works by Phibs, Deb, Rhen, Taj, Ha Ha and many other artists. Union Lane is currently managed/curated by Signal as part of its street art mentoring project.

Union Lane is a lot narrower than Hosier Lane, it is now just a gap connecting the Bourke Street Mall to Little Collins Street; it is more about graffiti and less about street art but there were a couple of new Junky Projects, now colourfully spray painted with stencil tags.

Presgrave Place

Presgrave Place is the opposite of Union Lane a location for odd street art rather than graffiti, the op-shop frames glued to the wall are still there but most no longer have their old prints in them. There is an old paste-up by Happy of a dead Pinnochio hung with noose made from his long nose and a new Junky Projects.

Junky Projects Presgrave Place

In Presgrave Place there is also Melbourne’s smallest art gallery, Trink Tank, a small glass vitrine outside Bar Americano. Nicholas Smith was exhibiting “Notes on Live Night Parrot Sightings in North-western Queensland” with a model of the last authenticated sighting, a dead parrot (Pezoporus Occidentalis) found on the side of the road.

Nicholas Smith


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.

DSCF0136

 


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 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


Urban Folk Art

Notes towards a history of graffiti….

Graffiti has been around for millennia; it has been recorded as far back as the Sumerians (1500 and 1800 BC). But in the last few decades of the last century it suddenly changed. One of the reasons for this change was developments in technology but spray paint cans and marker pens doesn’t explain all the changes and rapid growth of graffiti/street art. Lee Newman invented the felt-tipped marking pen in 1910 but it was not until the early 1960s that they were refined or common. Aerosol spray paint was invented in 1949 Edward Seymour in Sycamore, Illinois. Other reasons for the change in graffiti are best explained by a re-examination of folk art in an urban world.

DSC07230

In trying to position street art in art history, it is not useful to understand it as the feral younger brother of pop art, as it is a kind of urban folk art. Folk art is often ignored in art history except when folk traditions and outsider artists influence modern and contemporary art.

Is it realistic for folk art in the urban context have to remain un-influenced by academic or fine art? Is it realistic for all folk art to remain the activity of amateurs? Is it realistic to expect that all folk art will be cosy, apolitical and conservative? Or is more realistic that urban folk art to attempt to actively engage in trying to change their world. Urban folk art is not outsider art; the artists are as well informed about art as they want to be. They have access to the same technology and materials as professionally trained artists. Due to this crossover of fine art ideas, materials and technology, urban folk art can be artistically progressive and even avant-garde.

Consider the single most important development in the visual arts in the last century – collage. Decoupage was a popular activity for upper and middle-class women in the late 19th Century. Commercially produced images for decoupage were available in the late 19th Century and these were cut and pasted on dressing and fire screens. It is a short step from decoupage to collage or photomontage. It should not be surprising that a young woman would make progressive artistic collages. That woman was the Berlin Dadaist artist Hannah Höch (1889 – 1978) whose photomontage and collage art used images from magazines.

Perhaps Dada should be considered, in part, as a radical urban folk art movement. Dada emerged from the home printing press movement of the 1890s (L. Frank Baum, the author of The Wizard of Oz, was an early home printing press enthusiast). Although there were trained artists in the Dadaists there many of Dadaists were neither trained as artists nor went on to a career as a professional artists like Richard Hulsenbeck was a medical student at the time he joined the Zurich Dadaists, he went on to practice psychiatry.

Stencils on back of a truck

Other urban folk art movements followed including Mail Art and punk. Mail Art movement worked with a folk art tradition of decorating envelopes, examples of which can be seen from throughout postal history. To this tradition the Mail Art added an artistic and a utopian intention that the future of art would not be high-end art objects but multiple edition art mailed to insiders. Punk took to the streets with bands using stencils and spray paint for publicity.

There are many folk art/craft elements in street art and graffiti from automotive spray painting to yarn bombing. The interior decorating craze for stencils in the 1990s lead into Melbourne’s street art stencils in 2000, it was a familiar craft technique. Street art and graffiti emerged as an urban folk art movement and due to the internet became the most international and visible urban folk art movement so far.

Yarn bombed bicycle Collingwood


Illustration Bombing

The name of my file for these street art photos is “bomb illustration” – I don’t know what else to call it. They are throw-ups, as in a quick bit of graffiti using one or two colours and it is an illustration. They are about style and imagination. There are artists who do a lot of these like MaxCat and Sims who can fill a whole wall with it. There are artists who do it as a kind of visual tagging, drawing the same thing over and over. And there are unknown artists who draw or paint on walls when the opportunity and the environment presents to them. I enjoy them.

Makn, Brunswick, 2011

Makn, Brunswick, 2011

Robots, Brunswick, 2008

Robots, Brunswick, 2008

Sims, East Richmond Station, 2009

Sims, East Richmond Station, 2009

MaxCat, Brunswick, 2009

MaxCat, Brunswick, 2009

unknown artist, Melbourne, 2009

unknown artist, Melbourne, 2009

unknown artist, Melbourne, 2009

unknown artist, Brunswick, 2009

Altered buffing, unknown artist, Brunswick, 2011

Altered buffing, unknown artist, Brunswick, 2011


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