Tag Archives: graffiti

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 is 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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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


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.

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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


Not Gangnam Style – Korean Street Art

There isn’t much Korean street art, not that I saw on my recent travels. Most Korean graffiti is traditional, back before old school; people writing on the wall with pens. There is nothing about the small amount of aerosol graffiti or street art that is due to Korean respect for property; Koreans are writing on the walls.

Korea graffiti wall

Writing on the stone of Inwangsan Mountain, Seoul

Writing on the stone of Inwangsan Mountain, Seoul

There is even traditional Korean writing on the rocks of Inwangsan mountain in Seoul.

Isadong wall, Seoul

Isadong wall, Seoul

In Seoul I actually saw more street art than old school aerosol graffiti and I saw more aerosol art in the lanes of Gyeongju that I did in Seoul. I’m told there is some in Seoul but Seoul is a very big place and although I followed up some leads and looked down many streets and lanes, I never saw it. This post comes with my usual caveat about commenting on the graffiti and street art of other cities applies here; I probably didn’t know the best locations to visit, that street art is ephemeral and I was just seeing what happened upon during my travels. Normally I see some graffiti along the railway tracks when I travel by train but there was none in Korea. I saw some in the many laneways of Seoul and Gyeongju.

Gyeongju wall

Gyeongju wall

Paste-up in Bukchon, Seoul

Paste-up in Bukchon, Seoul

I saw a great paste-up (wheatpasting) in the Bukchon district of Seoul. There were also some stencils and other work in this attractive and cultural significant area.

Bukchon wall, Seoul

Bukchon wall, Seoul

Of course there was some tagging and stickers in Seoul – mostly by Zacpot, he is everywhere with stickers and pens.

Zacpot sticker, Seoul

Zacpot sticker, Seoul

There is lots of potential for some truly great street art in Korea, there are a lot of great walls it just needs artists who want to do it (along with better cans and caps).

Merecat stencil, Seoul

Merecat stencil, Seoul


Street Art Notes 5/13

Local Paintspotting -

Coburg piece

Coburg piece

Earlier this year I wrote about Coburg being a transition point between street art and graffiti.  As more legal walls become available in Coburg the quality writers push further north and pieces in Coburg continue to improve. But I’m surprised at both the pace and quality of the work. This great piece instantly evoked for me the unforgettable sound of Grace Slick singing “White Rabbit”… “When the men on the chess board get up and tell you where to go…”

Coburg house

Coburg house

Ghost Signs and Graffiti -

Good to see a legal piece in Brunswick preserving a ghost sign. I sent the photo to my friend and former LookSmart colleague, Stefan Schutt for excellent blog about ghost signs – Finding the Radio Book and he turned it into a post; A generational jostling for space on a Brunswick wall.

King Leonidas yarn bombed (photo courtesy of Lorraine Ellis.)

King Leonidas yarn bombed (photo courtesy of Lorraine Ellis.)

Yarn bombing public sculptures -

Socks for the little girl in Lorretta Quinn’s Within Three Worlds, a red knitted plume for King Leonidas in Sparta Place, a ruff for Dianna’s panther in Paul Juraszek. The Sun & the Moon in Malvern, Melbourne’s yarn bombers have been dressing up sculptures.

The tradition of dressing up public sculptures comes from the dressing up of religious statues. If religious practices can be in bad taste then it is in the worst possible taste. It is the infringement on the moral rights of the artist is annoying in a way that decorating a pole or bench is not. The artist never asked for the contribution of the yarn bomber.

On the other hand these are public sculptures and the public should interact with them provided that this does no damage. Street artists like, CDH and Will Coles both have done good interventions using public sculptures but they are always conscious of the moral and political issues involved in this intervention. This is a subtle difference like that between appropriation art and plagiarism. But I doubt that the yarn bombers thinking of anything other than adding their woollen touch and there is no evidence in what they produce that they are aware.


Melbourne’s Best?

”I doubt it’s something the authorities are particularly proud of, but Melbourne street art leads the world.” – Banksy (The Age, May 29, 2010)

Land of Sunshine, Brunswick

Land of Sunshine, Brunswick

David Hurlston, curator of Australian art at the National Gallery of Victoria, said Melbourne’s street art was “the most distinctly identifiable cultural and contemporary artistic movement to have occurred in Australia over the past 30 years”. (see Stuff Travel)

I’m always suspicious when I hear Australians make the claim “amongst the best in the world” even when they are quoting a foreign visitor like Banksy. But people often ask me where does Melbourne street art and graffiti rate compared to other cities in the world?

I thought that I’d take a different approach and count the references for cities listed in Cedar Lewison Street Art – The Graffiti Revolution (Tate Publishing, London, 2008) Melbourne comes out in at number 5: New York 34, London 15, Sao Paulo 9, Paris 7, Melbourne 5; with 2 each for Madrid, Berlin, Bologna and Bristol; and 1 for Los Angles, Liverpool and San Francisco. More research is still needed; a larger data set of books, but you can see the approach to take.

Perhaps a more interesting topic that rating Melbourne is to look at how various elements contributed to this creativity from the public transport structure to other parts of city design. The radial spoked “intergrated network” of public transport created an accessible centre of activity (in the same way that it has concentrated drunken violence). And this ensured that in the 1980s painted train carriages could be seen on any of the suburban lines, now the trains are mostly graf free but the walls along all these train lines are still painted.

Paintspotting* in various cities around the world (New York, London, Paris, Dublin and Greece) it is clear to me one reason why Melbourne is so highly regarded. The street art is so accessible; you don’t need to explore very far in order to find some great pieces. In the inner city, Hosier Lane is just off Flinders Street and Fitzroy or Collingwood are just short tram rides away.

The centre of Melbourne is a 1.28 square kilometres of shopping, business, residential, entertainment, restaurants and government buildings defined by Hoddle’s grid of streets. Melbourne’s main streets, as originally surveyed by Hoddle are 99 feet wide with the smaller street 33 feet wide. (A geomancer with a numerological bent should be able to do something with those numbers.) Weaving between the streets are the lanes that makes an excellent, if discreet, surfaces for street art. If you think that all of Melbourne’s lanes are full of street art, you haven’t looked down enough there are so many.

Melbourne has a vibrant street culture; I go away for a few weeks and my email box is full of posts from Arty Graffarti. Taking a ride around Brunswick today I saw many fresh pieces and some guys starting some more in Ilham Lane, north of Tinning Street. They had just started on the outlines when I passed buy and more writers were arriving for an afternoon of paint. On a sunny day it doesn’t really matter what your ranking in the world is.DSC08307

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* Paintspotter, noun, definition: like a trainspotter but for people who look for street art and graffiti (a portmanteau word coined by Fletcher “Factor “Anderson of Invurt).


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