Ephemeral & Street Art

On Gertrude St. sidewalk, in an ironic reference to Arthur Stace, the “Eternity” man, someone had stencilled in yellow chalk powder, in a copperplate font, “Optimism”. Chalk was Stace’s medium and it will be washed away with the next rain. An irony that Stace seemed to miss – his eternity was only temporary.

Optimism on Gertrude St.

Optimism on Gertrude St.

Across the road in Dianne Tanzer Gallery there are two exhibitions with a close relation to street art. Dianne Tanzer Gallery is an established commercial gallery, so this is clear evidence of how street art techniques have influenced the contemporary art. Matthew Hunt’s “Pure Gut Feeling”, in Dianne Tanzer’s ‘Project Space’, has a punk street art feel. Statements like “Odd Ball” and “Solid Gold Turd” are statements drawn in crude blockbuster style on paper. Hunt is recreating the aesthetics of adolescent art, the kind of drawings that are done on the cover of a school notebook, a feeling close to many young street artists.

In the main gallery there is Hannah Bertram “Now They Are Gone”. The main gallery looks empty but on the polished concrete floor are 2 very large stencils in water and ash. Bertram specializes in transfiguration of the commonplace materials into art. The stencils are neo-barque roundels with a variety of floral motifs from carpets or wallpaper. Or are they mandalas, like the Tibetan Buddhist sand mandalas that are destroyed after completion to symbolize the transitory nature of life. Using ashes as the medium is also symbolic of all that is left after death and destruction. When I visited the gallery a few footprints had damaged the edge of one of these ephemeral works. At the end of the exhibition they will be gone, washed away.

Art was once believed to be for eternity, for the future; it seems a strange belief now. Street art is full of deliberate ephemeral words and deeds. The point is to say something with style. To write something to relieve the boredom, to state that ‘I was here’ even though, ironically, I have already moved on. The ephemeral nature of street art aspires brief attention, “instant fame” as Happy says in his paste-ups, and not eternity. Street art is not forever – it is for now.


About Mark Holsworth

Writer and artist Mark Holsworth is the author of two books, The Picasso Ransom and Sculptures of Melbourne. View all posts by Mark Holsworth

6 responses to “Ephemeral & Street Art

  • Fitzroyalty

    The ‘optimism’ is an ad for a play currently running at the Malthouse. Has guerilla advertising gone overboard?

  • Amelia Miguelos

    A most astonishing statement “An irony that Stace seemed to miss – his eternity was only temporary.” How on earth did you come up with that? I have come across more ludicrous statements but you are tonight’s winner.

  • amiriche

    Street art may not be forever, forever is a long time, but as ironic as Stace writing ‘Eternity’ in chalk, which yes does washes away is, something must be said for the longevity of the memory it created in the minds of the ordinary Sydney people that saw it scrawled on the footpath for over 35 years.
    Stace died in ’67 and STILL he’s washed away street art is spoken about. But I guess when you get up “several mornings a week… around 5am.. and chalk the word Eternity on footpaths, train station entrances… 500,000 times over 35 years.” You would may want to be remembered; if that is all its about “instant fame”.

  • Simon

    Aha I thought the optimism thing was an ad. Those chalkers almost are these days. Anyone seen the new one for wearing condoms?!

  • talkathive

    I love this photo!
    I am trying to get Newcastle City Council to allow temp chalk stencils – can I please use this image in my petition?
    It is great!

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