Tag Archives: Tom Civil

Stencil Festival to Sweet Streets

This is the insides story of the Melbourne Stencil Festival, at least the part that I know and I was involved 2008, 2009 and 2010 aka Sweet Streets. The history of the Stencil Festival is longer than my involvement; it goes back to 2004 when the first stencil art festival in the world is held in Melbourne.

Melbourne Stencil Festival 09 exhibition

Melbourne Stencil Festival 09 exhibition

Even now this story needs to be told to dispel any idea that it was being run by paid administers in an office with lots of sponsorship dollars. Melbourne might be a festival city with all kinds of spectacles completing of attention but this makes potential sponsors festival fatigued. Festivals are not recipes for economic success and we struggled to attracted sufficient corporate or government sponsorship.

Every year the stencil festival would gets an angry email about how the festival does not ‘represent’ the ‘real’ street art community. The real is a symbolic category; the festival never claimed to represent street art. The festival was never about being the poster child of street art, nor about owning the concept, the brand name of ‘real’ street art. It was about creating a bridge between the mainstream and the street art community, providing a forum and a festival for the art. Each year there has been workshops, employing artists to teach their stencil skills to children and adults. Art is an exclusive affair but the paradox of street art is that it is open to everyone on the street and is not the exclusive privilege for insiders.

I initially became involved in Melbourne Stencil Festival in 2008 as the volunteer coordinator and award judge (along with four others including Chor Boogie). I became involved because I thought that it might be a good opportunity to show some practical support and make some contacts in the street art scene. I took a Gonzo journalist approaches to reporting the MSF – a participant observer, in Malososki’s opinion is the best kind of anthropologist, and what is the difference between an art critic and anthropologist anyway?

2008 was an ambitiously international festival with Chor Boogie, A1, John Kolaczar, Pete Wollinger and other artists from around the world. I was not involved in the politics of the 2008 festival but I could see that JD Mitmann had a major conflict of interest with the festival as he also ran the gallery Famous When Dead where he showed and sold many of the artists. I doubt that JD Mitmann actually profited from this relationship but this was also a matter of perception; you could look at the relationship as symbiotic. The 2008 AGM was a very interesting affair; there was a mea culpa from the previous committee and, except for Adi, the newly elected committee was completely new.

I was then parachuted into an emergency committee in 2009 after Satta van Daal’s resignations. I didn’t see anything of Adi; the committee was no longer functioning. I became the festival’s secretary; being the secretary is not the most glamorous of jobs – lots of emails, typing minutes of meetings, finding meeting venues and other mundane or bureaucratic matters.

I quickly found that I’m not the only one that has been parachuted in to run the festival; there was also Phil Hall, Tessa Yea and Anna Briers. Phil Hall is an energetic, enthusiastic and experienced public arts worker who had work in Collingwood before. Tessa Yea and Anna Briers were then adventurous curatorial students from Melbourne University doing an internship at the festival.

I have yet to mention Coops, Paul Cooper of Arttruck was keeping the whole transition between 2008 and 2009 going. His advertising and design business had office space and computers that we could use along with chocolate cake and biscuits because photographing food produces some great left-overs. This was over when the relationships with Coops and the rest of the festival organisers cooled over poster design.

We found more volunteers, lots of them, all competent and eager to get the festival happening. Somehow it all came together. The new volunteers were all excellent, many of them were students doing work in curatorial studies and marketing, others were just random people like me interested in street art. MSF 09 was thrown together in three months mostly by email with only support from the City of Yarra and in-kind support from sponsors.

Boo & Tom Civil, Sweet Streets 2010

Boo & Tom Civil, Sweet Streets 2010

After managing to put together the festival in 2009 the team was ambitious to run another festival. There was an obvious need to re-brand and redefine the festival to include more than just stencil art. The initial focus on stencil art came at a time in Melbourne when stencil art was very popular and there were a lot of stencil art on the street. Since then street art in Melbourne has expanded, new techniques and ideas have come along (yarn bombing and street sculpture).

So the Melbourne Stencil Festival became “Sweet Streets – urban and street art festival.” The use of the term “urban and street art” was used to sidestep the debate about street art in the gallery.

The festival 2010 was bigger and better than all previous years – a real arts festival with a program of events, multiple exhibitions in several locations, but not the budget that went with that. On top of being secretary I was running the film night. The ancient Geeks had a word for it – ‘hubris’.

In the end the committee was exhausted and without a succession plan. This is the problem of running an annual festival, at the point where everyone on the committee was exhausted you should have been preparing for next year’s festival and finding sponsors. It was hard to keep volunteers motivated for a whole year preparing for the festival. I could go on about all the problems and forget the success of a street art festival running in Melbourne for seven years.

Does it still exist? Rumours that it will be revived occur from time to time over the years. Unfortunately attempts to revive the festival proved futile.

Read my reports from the front line as an embedded blogger:

MSF 2008

Opening Night 

Conversations with John Koleszar and Russel Hosze

Melbourne & Graffiti (reflections on talks given at MSF 2008)

MSF 2009

Opening Night

Underground 

Sweet Streets 2010

Sweet Streets 

Award Exhibition

Urban Intervention @ YSG

Street Art Politics Forum

Week 1    

Week 2 

Black Mark at Sweet Streets auction.

Black Mark at Sweet Streets auction.


Love & Flowers on the Streets

For Valentine’s Day I’m posting love messages seen on the streets of Melbourne; the romantic gestures, the love poems written across the city wall. It is not that all of these images have been created for Valentine’s Day this year; there are love and flowers in the streets of Melbourne all year, if you look.

Heart Centre Place

There is a marvellous love story about the Sacred Heart of Centre Place that was told by Melbourne walking tour guides (See Demet Divaroren’s Blog for the legend). My photo is from 2009; the box is barely visible now – covered in multiple layers of paint. I don’t believe the legend, maybe I’m too cynical and I’ve looked carefully at the construction of the box, the lock can’t unlock anything.

DSC08931

throw-up flower, Coburg 2011

There are plenty of painted flowers growing on the walls of Melbourne’s lanes. Stencil flowers on the bluestone paving stones of Hosier Lane. There is a free hand aerosol flower on the lane in my street. So many different flowers I don’t think that they are all by the same artist.

Georgina King Prahran

Painting on the walls of Union Lane in Prahran in 2012.

Makatron - Heart skull - Hosier:Rutledge

Makatron – Heart skull – Hosier:Rutledge

These are all pretty and simple but some street artists take hearts to a whole new level. Makatron’s demonic skull heart was in Hosier Lane in 2012 (it has since been painted over many many times) reminding the romantics that there are two aspects to the heart. In 2013, as part of All Your Walls, F1 painted a giant tree holding a huge heart in Rutledge Lane and Civil painted a traditional heart with an arrow entwined in foliage in Hosier Lane.

DSC09031

Civil Heart All Your Walls

Give me a sign of your love written in the street for all to see. Public proclamations of love; people used to carve their signs of love into trees – street art is a massive improvement on that. (See my 2011 post “Messages of Love” or 2012 Bitten By the Travel Bug posted “What Melbourne’s Street Art says about Love”.)

Occupy the Love

Occupy the Love


Private Public

People complain, “Taggers vandalized my fence”.

“Really?!” I think to reply. “They came onto your property and scribble stuff on the inside of your fence, that’s outrageous.”

I’m then informed that the taggers wrote on the outside public side of the fence or wall. Not your side of the wall then? You wouldn’t complain if your neighbour wrote on their side of the wall between your two properties but you want to claim ownership of the public wall. You want to impose your beige or mission brown identity and taste on the public but object when others do it.

Public space in the city is an illusion. As far as the state is concerned it is the public and consequently public spaces organized like private space. In Melbourne public transport infrastructure is fenced off allowing buildings to go derelict rather than to allow any other use of it. Every defined border of public space, the walls and fences, is theoretically either privately owned or under the control of some government authority. Then there are private spaces posing as public space, like the shopping malls and pubs (short for public house). There is petty parochial nature in Melbourne with the proverbial dog in a manger attitude of ‘I was here first’ is matched by the territoriality of some graffiti crews.

Public and private are not natural states they are created by a culture and therefore can change or be in a state of flux. Changes in the public and the private become an issue for a culture to discuss – private or public communications on Facebook, how much of your body you can uncover in public and the contrary how much of your face do you have to show in public.

What exactly the public is an even more complex political issue. Do you mean the sum total of all the individuals, including all the taggers, the psychos and the others that you might want to exclude, or just the mob majority? Or do you mean the mean average, the beige, neutral public, Baudrillard’s silent majorities the great force of inertia? Or a ghostly public that is altogether imaginary, theoretical and ideal, that is a cover for politicians and executives that essentially owns it and treats it as their private space.

Upfield line wall – Brunswick

In part this post is a comment CDH’s article “Street Artists Aren’t Vandals”, that expands on the ideas in his Trojan Petition, because the issues are greater than just permission. A lot of new concrete walls went up along the Upfield train line in Brunswick, these walls haven’t been neglected but they are magnificent public walls for graffing. Street art, squatting and the Occupy Movement challenge and examine the sacred concept of ownership. The ownership on this city that was originally owned by the aboriginal peoples of the area has to be examined in a practical and civic way. Real and substantial damages should be the measure of a crime as opposed to transgressions on the sanctity of ownership.

We all share this city. We see it, hear it, feel it and smell it everyday. Tom Civil has spoken about “how street art and graffiti create community, mark space and act as a human-scaled anarchic form of urban architecture.” A piece of graffiti in a good location where nobody can be bothered buffing or a legal piece on the side of a house can last for ten or more years. It becomes part of the neighbourhood’s identity, in what is often a featureless uniform urban environment.

Street art explores the border of areas of the city, the areas of marginal interest, the laneways and alleys, the littoral zones of the walls that divide the city into sections. It challenges the ideas of public space.


Collingwood Galleries – Civil & Ghostpatrol

It was a beautiful winter day to be exploring Collingwood galleries. The Keith Haring on the Collingwood TAFE wall has been carefully covered up in preparations for renovations. Lots of great street art and Civil was up a ladder spray-painting the wall of House of Bricks. He was up a ladder because the Council had said no to the scissor lift for some reason and because Civil is exhibiting at House of Bricks. Ghostpatrol has an exhibition at Backwoods Gallery.

Civil paints House of Bricks

Looks like Shini Pararajasingham got it right when she opened Off The Kerb on Johnston Street opposite the Tote. Back then I thought she had the wrong area, too far north, shows you how much I know about Collingwood. But then I rarely go to Collingwood and I don’t think I’d been in Collingwood for about a year.

Another shop front galley, Egg Gallery has opened up right next to Off The Kerb and in the small streets behind there are several galleries: House of Bricks and Backwoods Gallery and Lamington Drive. These are all warehouse spaces with studios and workshops attached. Not the greatest of spaces, make do kind of spaces with all those limitations.

So that is 3 or 4 galleries that I can tick off my list of Melbourne galleries – I have a hopeless ambition to visit all of the galleries in Melbourne. I have been to galleries in these Collingwood warehouses before; Backwoods Gallery is in the previous location for Utopian Stumps.

“Reboot” by Sharon McKenzie was the only exhibition of the three exhibitions at Off The Kerb that I enjoyed.  McKenzie’s drawings depict artefacts of modern world as if they were covered in lace doylies. It is a frighteningly beautiful vision destroying the clean modern design of computers, floppy disks, clocks, typewriters, headphones and Dictaphones, with lace decorations.

I suppose that was to be expected as Collingwood galleries have a reputation for showing contemporary illustration and drawing. There are more quality, contemporary, street-influenced illustration next door at Egg Gallery. “Sleep & Wake” is small exhibition of illustrations and a bit of an installation by Hollie M. Kelley and Ryan McGennisken. (See Invurt’s interview with Ryan McGennisken.) It is the current fashion for contemporary illustration exhibitions to combine a bit of an installation into the exhibition space, scatter some old stuff and a few dead leaves. Everyone is doing it, and not just the art galleries even the Collingwood furniture showrooms.

Backwoods Gallery

Ghostpatrol vs Civil, it is a battle of almost comic book proportions and a salutary lesson style and content. Civil and Ghostpatrol are legendary names from Melbourne’s streets. There is plenty of their work on the streets; more Civil now than Ghostpatrol, there are lots of new Civil pieces and I haven’t seen that many new Ghostpatrol pieces (maybe I just haven’t been in the right areas). Both Civil and Ghostpatrol have an appealing graphic style that translates well into a number of a media.

The problem for Ghostpatrol is that his pictures have nothing but a fading hint of magic. It was this nostalgia for a fading childish magic that gave Ghostpatrol’s work its charm. But this kind of charm is fleeting like childhood, and seems to limit Ghostpatrol’s growth as an artist. Childhood themes are so common; Ryan McGennisken was showing drawing with childhood themes too. Civil is working on firmer ground with people, politics and now nature as his themes. These things are timeless. And Civil has grown in both his themes and the range of media.

Ghostpatrol’s exhibition was over blown – the canvas’s were too big and there was nothing to them other than the scale and arrangement of his iconic images. There were only 5 large paintings and the installation in the middle looked like a post-minimalist sculpture from Ikea. The tiny addition in one piece of timber of a carved pond with a tiny kappa riding a carp could not take-away from this big ugly object.

In contrast Civil’s exhibition was understated and there were too many compromises with the warehouse space to allow it to really shine. Still there were plenty of small woodcuts and other pieces with an expanding repertoire of images and themes. The exhibition had the aesthetics of a shed and dead leaves, pinecones and other old things were scattered around. This was referred to in the old beer bottles that Civil had etched and the old wooden tabletops that he had carved.

It appears Ghostpatrol is stuck in the past magic whereas Civil has made preparations for the future. I’m sure others will have their own opinion on these exhibitions – what are your thoughts?


There’s More @ Cocoa Jackson Studios

How do you describe the scene at Cocoa Jackson Studios? “… There’s More!”

“There’s More!” was four huge days and nights of open house street art, music, indie films, live painting, paste-ups, stickers and there’s more. I got along to see it on Saturday afternoon. On Friday night I had tried the watching the live streamed video but I couldn’t see more than a DJ and a few people and the stream kept stopping so it wasn’t worth listening to.

There were plenty of legal walls to paint in the lanes around Cocoa Jackson Studio and a few grey areas. And it wasn’t just around Cocoa Jackson Studios for a few blocks up Lygon St. there were more artists painting with more walls in lanes around Ann Street thanks to Dean Sunshine. There were plenty of artists, to many to count. There were artists from around the world, travelling artists from as far away as Barcelona painting walls.

Even though Melbourne’s weather was threatening rain there were lots of people watching and photographing the event. Watching people paint can be both fascinating and as dull as watching paint dry. But I did get distracted watching Slicer and Deams paint (I made a short movie of Slicer painting). I was reminding myself that it could be like watching Jackson Pollock painting. And I ended up missing Bandos Earthling’s first gig at Cocoa Jackson but there was so much happening.

Fletch painting

So many people to catch up with – Civil, Junky Projects, Fletch, Phoenix, Bandos Earthling, art collector Andrew King was wandering around offering people beers and I’m forgetting some others – I’m sorry to anyone I’ve forgotten to mention.

So much aerosol paint that the weeds are covered in paint. Down the laneway Civil was spraying the belladonna leaves autumnal colours.

The main space of Cocoa Jackson Studios was filled with a large group exhibition along with panels of stickers for sale by silent auction. There was plenty of new work by Junky Projects along with many other artists that I recognize for Melbourne’s streets.

It was great to have an event like this close to home rather than in distant suburbs. On my way home I passed more artists painting another wall on the other side of Brunswick, so every graff artist in Melbourne wasn’t painting in the lanes around Cocoa Jackson Studios and the Land of Sunshine.

For readers wondering about the unusual laneway name: Cocoa Jackson Lane is named after heavy weight boxer Peter Jackson. The exact reason why there is a lane in Melbourne named after him remains a mystery although Peter Jackson did have several fights in Melbourne in 1930 – 1931.


Civil Civilization

Imagine a lonely person who believes that they are the last person alive on earth walking through a modern city. The place could be anywhere in the world. The architecture is international modernism; glass walls and the Brutalist concrete constructions. The modern forms repeat endlessly down the empty streets. The city grid is all empty and quiet and perfectly undisturbed. It is a sterile environment where not even weeds grow.

The lonely person walks down empty streets desperately searching for signs of other life in the empty buildings. Then the person sees a fresh tag, spray-painted on a wall – a handmade sign. This in itself is a reason not to commit suicide. Then another tag – and following the trail of tags the lonely person comes to a huge painted sign. A clear indication of another living human, like Robinson Crusoe seeing Friday’s footprint on the beach.

The tag is an intentional human sign that says I exist.

Civil suggested this story in his talk at “Vandals or Vanguards?” that was part of the Space Invaders exhibition at RMIT (26/9/2011).

Civil’s early stencils really turned me on to street art. I always remember seeing his early stencils around Richmond but unfortunately I didn’t carry a digital camera in those days so I can’t show you any (I will always regret that). They were very political, a bowler hatted man in a suit with polite, civil slogans encouraging revolt. Then I saw his stick figures – I was slightly disappointed that he had changed style and I realized that I was already a fan. I was not that disappointed because the simple stick figures are like those simple figures of Keith Haring, or Henri Matisse in the Rosaire Chapel. They are perfect and beautiful figures in their pure simplicity. There is still a political message in these mass figures – they are a civil community. The community of figures interact in their individual ways, sitting talking with another figure, walking with their dog, riding their bicycle.

Some of these figures are done with stencils (as can be seen in this photo of Civil working at the first Croft Alley Project) but many are simply ‘throw-ups’ drawn freehand with a spray can. And when you see them you recognize that other humans exist.

Civil is a veteran of Melbourne’s street art scene with a particularly strong sense of community that came with that scene. A graduate of Monash University in Environmental Science rather than design or fine art, which, I think, gives his simple art a political focus. In other parts of his talk at “Vandals or Vanguards?” Civil spoke about the unresolved and still relevant protests of John Howard era against the Iraq war and World Economic Forum 2001. The disproportionate anger towards graffiti compared to the ugly aspects of urban development. And reclaiming public space from advertising; Civil pointed out that Sao Paulo, another city notable for its street art, has banned outdoor advertising.

Here are some more signs of civilization.


Fitzroy to East Melbourne

In my wanderings around the city, searching for art galleries and street art, I walk along familiar and unfamiliar streets. I pass the mural on the wall of Whitlam Place in Fitzroy; it has been there a few years but still looks good. Of course these great public murals on so many buildings in Fitzroy would not be possible without artists working illegally along its back lanes. You cannot have one without the other. And there are so many pieces on the streets.

Anon. Fitzroy stencil

In the back lanes of Fitzroy, along with old stencils by Psalm, Dlux, HaHa, Optic and other veteran street artists, Vandal Spruce has been adding his paste-ups. Vandal Spruce is continuing to paste-up to taunt the Victorian Police with his inverted version of their badge. Vandal Spruce has been doing a great many of these paste-ups; I’ve seen them from Brunswick to Fitzroy.

Vandal Spruce, Fitzroy

Crossing Victoria Parade the municipal boundary between the City of Yarra and the City of Melbourne. Suddenly there is no more street art, legal legit pieces nor any illegal pieces. (Like I said you can’t have one without the other.) The backs of street signs were not covered in stickers, the white cream of all the buildings is fresh and clean. And the streets of East Melbourne are almost empty of people in contrast to the bustle of the streets of Fitzroy.

Tom Civil, 3CR wall, Fitzroy

It is only a couple of hundred meters south from 3CR community radio with its sidewall covered in a two story high painting by Tom Civil, Reko Rennie and others. Tom Civil’s huge section with hundred of figures walking, riding bicycles and sitting around a campfire is a great vision of the idea of community. Victoria Parade clearly demarcates the contrasting patchwork of Melbourne’s inner city and the different policies of its municipal governments. Is this what the City of Melbourne has a dedicated graffiti removal van for? To protect the areas of Melbourne occupied by the Masons, private hospitals, surgeons and the police association headquarters from the dread graffiti.


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