Tag Archives: Phoenix

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


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


Welcome Refugees

On the 7 December 2013 in a co-ordinated effort the Refugee Action Collective (Vic) are attempting a mass action “to shower the streets of Melbourne with messages of welcome.”

Refugee Action Collective (Vic) rally at State Library.

Refugee Action Collective (Vic) rally at State Library.

Leaving your country is never easy and even people facing persecution do not take the move lightly. Refugees need to be welcomed, protected and helped; this is the basic standard of a civilised person. Any civilised, rational or moral human would welcome and protect a person fleeing persecution or death, it is an ancient tradition now codified in international law. Australia’s treatment of refugees is a crime against humanity perpetrated by a rogue state backed by a racist mob. Amnesty International reports that: “The United Nations Human Rights Committee has found Australia to be in breach of its obligations under international law, committing 143 human rights violations by indefinitely detaining 46 refugees for four years, on the basis of ASIO’s ‘adverse security assessments’.”

Not that I think that any propaganda campaign of posters, fridge magnets and rallies can change the minds of the amoral psychopaths that dictate Australia’s crimes against refugees. I doubt that it will be any more effective than my rhetoric.

The Refugee Action Collective (Vic) was mildly calling for civil disobedience in encouraging people to “sticker, chalk your neighbourhood”. For yes, even writing in chalk is technically illegal in Melbourne; not that I’ve ever heard of anyone being arrested for it, not that the three police at the demonstration were making any attempt to stop people writing in chalk in front of the State Library. Not that many people were writing in chalk on Saturday morning.

Christmas Island Just Visiting

Dignity 4 asylum Seekers

Melbourne’s street artists have been putting out the welcome refugees and showering the streets with more witty about Australia’s treatment messages for years. Of particular note, is Phoenix who has made the map of Australia into a welcome mat in a long running series of paste-ups. Phoenix sums up the both major parties position on refugees with the phrase: “We scare because we care”, a phrase that started with his paste-ups about the ‘War on Terror’. Phoenix is not directly involved with the Refugee Action Collective but his has donated some of his art to their fundraising auction. He is not a single-issue street artist and has been sticking his political art to Melbourne’s walls for years.

Phoenix welcome mat sticker with Ghostpatrol tag.

Phoenix welcome mat sticker with Ghostpatrol tag.

This sustained campaigns of illegal posters and stencils creates signs that the federal government and the opposition does not represent all Australians on this issue and is not in complete control of the territory it claims. Even though it was buffed with in 24 hours I’m sure that my local member, Kelvin Thomson got the message when the external wall of his office in Coburg was recently covered in anarchist graffiti.


Ashes to Ashes

One of the most clearly political street artists in Melbourne is Phoenix. His paste-ups are the visual equivalent of a play by Bercht; they always has a message but you to think for yourself. In the case of Phoenix you have to look at the play of words and images in his paste-ups.

Although I write about the politics and street art I haven’t mentioned Phoenix’s work that much because the message is always so clear. But if Phoenix’s work were only political messages there wouldn’t be much art to them. The collage overlay method that he uses to create his images throws up many surreal combinations. The shapes and use of primary colours only make his work instantly recognizable even though there is no tag or other signature.

Phoenix’s paste-ups have a wooden backing and are coated polyurethane that makes them both weather resistant and difficult to remove. There is another reason why his paste-ups are seldom removed, even when the rest of the wall is buffed, and that is the obvious quality and workmanship in every piece

The same artist? Melbourne

Phoenix, t-shirt face, 2010

I first noticed Phoenix’s paste-ups when he was using t-shapes and then I met up with him when he volunteered at Sweet Streets. Phoenix is a thoughtful guy; he is not the art student type, and older than the typical street artist, more of a cheerful eccentric. His art reflects his thoughtful approach to life and street art.

Phoenix, spraycan hand, 2012

Looking back on the war on terror: I was alert to the anti-war stencils and street art but not alarmed. It was a war with many different sides fighting a propaganda war and Melbourne’s street artists were mocking the official line. Mockery the one thing that really works – laughing at the enemy. The propaganda war continues on the street with street art and stencils.

Phoenix, Osma Scare, 2011

Pheonix, statue of liberty, 2010

Phoenix’s art roses from the ashes of a studio fire and now disintegrates on the streets in a loop of creation.

Phoenix, Less Ephemeral More Ephemeral, Melbourne


The Assault on Culture

On re-reading Stewart Homes The Assault on Culture (Aporia Press & Unpopular Books, 1988, London).

Maybe I should have been reading Grail Marcus Lipstick Traces instead as it is better written and covers the same trajectory as Homes does in The Assault on Culture. Homes follows the history of the various post-war utopian art movements: Cobra, Lettriste, College du Pataphysics, Nuclear Art, the International Movement for the Imaginist Bauhaus, Situationists, Fluxus, Auto-Destructiove Art, Dutch Provos, Kommune 1, Motherfuckers, Yippies, White Panthers, Mail Art, Punk, Neoism, up to Class War in 1985.

Situationalist slogan stenciled in Melbourne, 2010

Homes published his shorter book a year before Marcus – it is shorter and physically lighter than Marcus’s tome. There are other physical differences between the two books – there are no illustrations in Homes, no soundtrack CD – just a densely written history.

Homes declares in the preface that he is writing for the insiders first and others second – Marcus is clearly writing for the others. Also in the preface Homes scorns Andre Breton’s interest in mysticism and magic whereas Marcus brings magic, heretics and, even, God into his preface. Although Homes can’t ignore the historical connections with Lollards and Anabaptists, he didn’t have to worry, the tradition can be traced further back to the completely non-mystical Cynics of Ancient Greece – Diogenes pissing and throwing plucked chickens like the punks – so we don’t have bring religion or magic into it.

Homes might be able to ignore the mysticism but he couldn’t ignore the music and it is the music that provided a focus for Marcus. The music of the Sex Pistols is the beginning and the end for Marcus. So Marcus leaves out Neoism, Mail Art, Fluxus and other groups.

This history could be continued with groups like Negativeland, Survival Research Labs and the Church of the SubGenius and the street art movement. Home’s careful distinction between groups and movements becomes clearer with these examples; Negativeland is clearly a group with a few members whereas street art is a movement with thousands of participating artists.

Paris, Melbourne

Why include street art with these utopian political art practices? It is a hard case to prove, as there are thousands of disparate artists involved with no leaders writing street art manifesto to quote but the trace elements (to use Marcus’s metaphor) are there. From the Letterist International street art has the love of letters and the continuation of an urban exploration and reinvention. The linage between political stencils and street art stencils is clear from Crass and other punk bands. And some street art is an opposition to the contemporary gallery art.

“Down with the abstract, long live the ephemeral” – a Situationalist slogan from 1968 that could be the slogan of street art.

Phoenix, Less Ephemeral More Ephemeral, Melbourne


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.


Maps & Trails

There are various paths and walking trails around the city, some are works of art, official trails with their focus on history or unofficial street art trails. One of the forms of graffiti is that of a trail – in the last year some of Melbourne’s street artist made this form part of their art.

Many people date contemporary graffiti to when Taki 183 started to leave a trail of his tags along NYC rail system. As this linear trail was different to the graffiti on sites, like toilets, school desks or prison cells. Using stencil trails are not new – a bit of history for Melbourne’s street artists.

“Stencilled advertisements were a popular form of footpath advertising particularly in the more frequented stretches of Bourke Street. Little action was taken against offenders unless damage to property was incurred, though the practice was seen by the MCC as being contrary to the spirit of the advertising regulations. In 1920 some men who had stencilled the footprints of a dog in whitewash on the footpath from Flinders Street to the Majestic Theatre could not be prosecuted under clause 32 of By-Law No. 134, as no obstruction or annoyance could be proven. This lead to the creation of a new By-Law No156 in 1920 ‘for regulating or prohibiting the writing, painting, printing, stencilling, placing or affixing any letter, figure, device, poster, sign or advertisement upon any footpath, street or road within the said City, or upon any building, fence, or other property vested in the Municipality of the City of Melbourne’.”

(Andrew Brown-May, Melbourne Street Life, Australian Scholarly, 1998, Kew, p.50 Brown-May does not have any information on when stencilled advertising on pavements began. Stencilled advertisements were probably used prior to 1920 and before 1870s it would have been pointless as the sidewalks of Melbourne were in too poor a condition to stencil on.)

Now some of Melbourne’s street artists have taken this to a new level, leaving a trail of paste-ups that are intended to be followed. Urban exploration art like CDH’s mapping games in the inner city (See my post about his first puzzle map, the “Chazov-Dmytryk-Harkov logic test”), Phoenix’s “Mornington Whale Tail Trail” or visiting US artist Snyder’s “Banana Splat hunt” create an urban, interactive kind of land art. These trails are like Richard Long’s walks only the viewer is also a participant.

CDH Pacman street art map


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