I was passing through Melbourne Central when I encountered part of the ‘Two Block’ Festival. It was a couple of temporary exhibition walls in the clock-tower foyer and a platform decorated with aerosol art. The freezing wind blowing into Melbourne Central was destroying some of the illustrations on paper but the other works were secured with cable ties. There were some stencil art piece by Floh, Megan Dell, Nicole Tattersall and others. I was particularly impressed with the collage of signs by Laser Fist; it was rugged and gritty but had formal beauty. There are many street art and street inspired exhibition on in Melbourne and I have only been able to sample some of them in the last month.
A Mugs Life by Scale at 696 combined street aerosol and illustration techniques to create paintings of arthropods (insects and spiders). This combination of techniques creates some beautiful results including the use of stencils to create a fly’s compound eye. The two paintings of dragonflies with their weathered wood supports were the best in this small exhibition. In other paintings Scale’s inventiveness has over stepped taste with the expanding foam maggots with the squash blowfly. Or has become corny, like the spider and fly or the person with raised hand reflected in the mosquito’s eyes.
Intergalactic Alchemy by Adi at Famous When Dead are paintings from the abstract end of street art influences. Painted in oil and acrylic on canvas, Adi uses aerosol spray creating blends and chaotic splatters and drips. Tom Wolfe asked: “Can a spaceship penetrate a Kline?” (The Painted Word, 1976, p.79); if a spaceship tried to penetrate an Adi, it would get entangled in the web of dynamic black graphic line work. The mystical is never far away from the abstract; in this exhibition Adi has a “Zodiac Series” of 12 small paintings and a triptych forming the Illuminati pyramid. But it is in the larger paintings that Adi captures ethereal beauty.
Guessing the gender of the artist from looking is a fun game to play, especially when, Tesura, the nom de rue (nom de rue = street tag) gives no clues. Looking at the whimsical and delicately detailed illustrations of Tesura I was sure that this was the work of a woman. This time I was wrong; Tesura is a big man from Canberra and this is his first solo exhibition. Famous When Dead Gallery Director, JD Mittman had first seen his work in the Melbourne Stencil Festival 2008. Along with a series of drawings on paper there were a four mixed media works on found supports; a common strategy for street influenced artists. I talked with Tesura at the opening about his illustrations and the theme of people in animal costumes. He told me that it represented the secret, alternative night-life; a life where he worked in IT by day and was an artist at night.
It is not easy to define what makes a street art influence, as this brief survey of recent exhibitions demonstrates. It is not simply techniques and materials like stencils, aerosol spray-cans, or found supports. What all of these street influenced artists have in common is a strong graphic style.