Tag Archives: stencils

Then & Now

“Like seeing gnomes out of the corners of your eyes, stencils appear and disappear in surprising and crafty urban nooks and shadows. Replicating like most good ideas tend to do, Ha-Ha, SYNC and DLUX took their obsessed stencil messages off the streets and into a gallery in 2003. Outing the mythical icons and images in Melbourne advanced the opening of the gates across the world. Ten years later and the shadows part once more into a painted world of imagination, humor, and collaboration.” – Russell Howze (San Francisco), stencilarchive.org & author of Stencil Nation

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“HaHa is an authentic street artist and poet of the city . We have worked together during my trip in Australia in 2009 and it was really great to have meet HaHa and his beautiful stencils. ” – Blek Le Rat

“This site doesn’t normally do announcements about upcoming shows, as you will know if you have visited it before. But sometimes I like to put up information about a show that promises great things or is by artists who are really significant in the scene.” – Alison Young, Images to Live By

“Now & Then” at Second Story Studios in Collingwood has to be the most overhyped exhibition of Melbourne’s stencil art; so many people are praising this exhibition as a landmark before it has even opened.

The best part of the exhibition were the collaborative works that brought the three artists and some of their original stencils, along with some new ones, back together again. These works were nostalgic for those who remember Melbourne’s streets a decade ago. They are a condensed version of what happens on the street. The accretion of stencils rather than a single stencil, the mixing of style that is an essential feature of hip-hop, is what makes these works outstanding – I wish there was more of it on the streets.

It is well over a decade since this Melbourne street art scene started to happen. Late in 2002 Ha-Ha, Sync and DLux first met at the old Blender Studios. In 2003 they had a group exhibition, “Cut It Out” at Hush Hush Gallery in Hosier Lane. No-one was keeping track of exactly what they were doing to begin with because to begin with it was just a bit of fun. Back when the street art started Ha-Ha, Sync and DLux were spraying their stencils everywhere and writing their name up large with rollers on the walls of the abandoned factories around Macauly Station.

A bit over decade later Melbourne’s street art scene has blossomed and become internationally famous. Digital cameras and photo sharing are now ubiquitous and the audacious, punchy appeal of street artists still captivated a still growing audience. New forms have developed, there are more artists, a larger audience, more collectors and more recognition. Ha-Ha is listed in the top fifty street artists in the world.

The artists have also changed in the decade, what was fun has become their life.

DLux has started to paint freehand combining “sunset palette” with “toilet block graffiti” scrawled across it unfortunately his painting technique doesn’t always match these ambitions. Sync has also abandoned stencils to create ordinary and passé abstract paintings; his recreations of his old stencils on scraps of reclaimed wood were selling well at the exhibition.

Only Ha-Ha has kept working and developing his multi-layer stencil technique. He has added to this with the mixing of different faces and now adding “subliminal text” to his images; the words “magic” and “sex” appear in the hair of Ha-Ha’s Marilyn Monroe.

Then and now and the differences are enormous.

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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


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


Footprints of history

Here is 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 began in Melbourne. Stencilled advertisements were probably used prior to 1920 but before 1870s when it would have been pointless as the sidewalks of Melbourne were in too poor a condition.

Maybe if this trail in the 1920 had been proto-street art, the work of art students rather than advertising then the City of Melbourne’s council might have taken a different view of the activity. However, there was no street art in the 1920s and advertising not graffiti was seen as blighting the image of the city. Along with stencilled advertisements there were numerous advertisements pasted around Melbourne along with people ringing bells to advertise sales. And so the City of Melbourne passed the first laws specifically prohibiting stencilling, wheat-pasting and the other techniques of street art

Advertising has long had a deleterious effect on Melbourne’s culture and on its street art in particular. Except that without the techniques and technologies of advertising, like stencils, there wouldn’t be street art. (See my post for more on the nexus of  Art & Advertising). The footprint of advertising is still on us.


Melbourne Skull

I’ve been out headhunting and over the years I’ve brought back lots of skulls from Melbourne’s streets. Pirates, danger, old master paintings reminding the viewer that they are also mortal – you aren’t a real artist until you have painted a skull. Andy Warhol did skulls, Damien Hirst did skulls, and Vincent Van Gogh painted a skull with a smoking cigarette held in its teeth.

Rone, Fitzroy, c.2009

If you want to see Melbourne’s the largest collection of undead street art then go to Zombie Dance Lane in Brunswick (somewhere near Victoria and Lygon streets) . The zombie dance party paste-up have gone you but there still are enough undead art to keep the visitor amused and the street sign is still there (a bit of guerrilla geography).


Famous Faces

Aung San Suu Kyi stencil

You haven’t really made it unless your face has been celebrated with an aerosol stencil on the streets of Melbourne. (See my blog post on Portraits of Julian Assange now with even more portraits.)

Famous heroes but not celebrities - Firemen and fire truck by HaHa

Various Face Blender Lane

Rolf Harris - trust spray paints ... sure can

Dame Edna (Barry Humphries)

It helps if you look good in high contrast black and white. Who is this guy?

You know that you are really famous when HaHa does a stencil of you – then it looks like full colour because he uses so many layers of stencils and different densities of spray.

Kurt Cobain & Michael Jackson by HaHa

Various people by HaHa in Stevenson Lane

Chopper Reed by HaHa


Street Art meets Graffiti in Coburg

Coburg is on the edge of the donut ring of Melbourne’s inner city suburbs and the outer suburbs. For street art it is the high tide mark, the final piece on a midnight mission, the liminal zone where beautiful street art meets ugly graffiti. Coburg is different from it’s more inner neighbour, Brunswick where the aerosol is thick and fast. Coburg is where the inner city pieces run out and only bombing, tagging continues. It is not in the mainstream of Melbourne’s street art or graffiti scene but the occasional piece still pops up. Braddock, Psalm, Lench and others have all decorated the walls of Coburg.

Suki Art, paste-up, Coburg, 2010

There are street artists who do the occasional odd piece, leaving messages along the bike trail, Shark’s paste-ups of birds and Forever’s great Cooo-burg pigeon paste-up, the odd stencil here and there.

I have been looking at Coburg’s graffiti for decades. I remember a long gone, old Psalm blockbuster piece on the fence by Coburg railway station from back in the 1990s when there was very little graffiti on the Upfield line. I also remember an early stencil and paste-ups by Peter Bourke who went on to a great fake newspaper headline paste-up campaign, “The Pedestrian Times”.

Lench, aerosol, Coburg, 2010

The aerosol pieces along the Upfield train line run and bike path out a little way into Coburg past Moreland Station, partially due to a lack of available walls. Build a brick wall by the railway tracks in Coburg and it will be painted, as Lench did with this new wall. And beyond Coburg Railway Station the there is a lot of crap graffiti. There are few pieces due to local strange attractors, like the walls opposite Batman Station. There aren’t that many laneways in Coburg, the city council had a policy of selling them off. There are the occasional sticker and paste-up runs up Sydney Road that reach Coburg’s shopping centre. And furious political debate and simple graffiti cover the giant back walls of the supermarkets.

Coburg political graffiti 2011

This is Shit, stencil, Coburg, 2008

buffing, Coburg 2011

There is also a lot of serious buffing in Coburg creating walls that look like abstract paintings. This buffing discourages anyone to go beyond tags, throw-ups and slogans; although the occasional one can take even that to a new level. There are some really creative throw-ups in Coburg.

yarn bombing, Coburg 2011

throw-up flower, Coburg 2011

stencil, Coburg 2011

throw-up, Coburg 2011


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