The Don’t Ban the Can street art awareness Croft Alley Project on Saturday, September 12th was massive. I was there, being the responsible citizen journalist blogger covering the event. Using my eyes and ears to get a first hand report. The Don’t Ban the Can organizers recognized that I was a member of the media and handed me a blue “Official Media” pass. The pass got me through the queue at the start of Croft Alley. There was a queue because of the limit to the number of people that they were letting in to the alley for fire safety.
Croft Alley off Little Bourke St. in Chinatown is narrow, hemmed in by the concrete walls of the buildings on either side. I slowly work my way down the narrow alleyway around the corner. Past dozen’s of artists at work, the smell of aerosol paint in the air. At the far end of Croft Alley there is the Croft Institute, another one of Melbourne’s laneway bars. The Lab bar, in the Croft Institute has a laboratory décor, with a large lab flask of blue coloured water bubbling on the “Electrothermal”. Upstairs there is a bar decorated like an old gym with old “Acromat” sports equipment and a bar made of old lockers. I make my way to the bar like Hunter S. Thompson and buy a beer, to drink and think.
Why I am writing about this? Why do I think that street art is important? “…when there burst forth from one mansion a song of youth and originality, even though harsh and discordant, it should be received not with howls of fury but with reasonable attention and criticism.” Max Rothschild wrote defending the Italian Futurists in 1912. And a century on this is still sage advice in respect to the Futurists, rock music, punks or street art.
The Croft Alley Project was like a futurist wet dream, the artists painting the city a riot of dynamic colors surrounded by adoring crowds. There were many notable Melbourne street artists spraying in Croft Alley. I recognize Braddock from his images even though he is wearing an improvised bandana to protect himself from the fumes (most of the other artists had proper masks to protect them from the paint fumes). Beside him Tom Civil was unpacking his latest stencils.
I can’t comment on the individual pieces as many were still being painted – I will have to go back for another look. It was hard to see any of the pieces given the number of people in the alley. But there were plenty of people photographing and videoing the event with everything from mobile phones to large video cameras with boom microphones. One cameraman was climbing the walls to get a better shot. These are kind of crowds that you only see at blockbuster exhibitions. One reason for the crowd was the excellent weather, warm with high winds that sucked most of the aerosol fumes out of the urban canyon. Is this really great art or just a passing popular fancy? In the 19th Century Londoners queued around city blocks to see the work of ‘Mad’ John Martin, whose extravagant paintings are now largely forgotten having almost no influence on subsequent painters.
As I was watching Drew Funk paint, moving and spraying to the drum and bass rhythms of the DJ Kodiak Kid, pausing to clear the nozzle of his spray can. I thought: this is “action painting” like old old New York skool, 10th St. School, commonly known as “abstract expressionist”. It is action painting, it even has an audience, just not as Harold Rosenberg knew it. Further along the alley a woman in short and high heels balances on a milk crate spraying a voluptuous female character onto the wall. She has an audience watching her stretch to spray paint. It was Debs, who is well known for her spray painted sexy female characters, and it gave a new angle to her popularity.
This is Melbourne’s street art’s response to the anti-graffiti laws and lobby – a well-organized, legal, well-attended, fun event of propaganda by deed. According to the organizers over 2,000 people visited Croft Alley on Saturday and over 40 artists from around Australia were involved. I will have to go back to Croft Alley to have a look at the art left behind.