Monthly Archives: February 2020

Conservation of Street Art

The desire to preserve the Keith Haring mural in Collingwood was a combination of community concerns and heritage values. Horizon scanning it is clear that the conservation of street art will be an increasing issue. Although some street art is ephemeral other murals are considered permanent and people would grieve their loss.

Haring mural in Collingwood

“Conservation of Wall Paintings, Murals and Street Art – an international perspective” was presented by Australian ICOMOS (International Council on Monuments and Sites) at the University of Melbourne on 18 February 2020. It consisted of two talks by Will Shank and Antonio Rava; the two conservators who worked on the Keith Haring mural in Collingwood.

Antonio Rava presented “Comparative Studies of Outdoor Contemporary Mural Conservation”. And Will Shank, “The Conservation of Contemporary Murals: How is it different?” Both spoke about the ethics and techniques of conservation of murals and street art and their work on the Keith Haring mural.

Conservation is about saving the life of a work of art. The scientific application of techniques to preserve, arrest and reverse deterioration.

Murals need protection from the sun, rain and, even the airborne pollutants of the city. There can be problems with plaster delaminating from the surface of the building or suffusing through the layer of paint. Rain washes out the soluble material and acrylic spray paints contain water soluble material. Black lines get hotter in the summer and cracking the surface of the paint. So do not have murals, in southern hemisphere, on north facing walls because the damage to the paint by the sun.

The ethics of art conservation are based on not doing anything that the artist does not approve or would not have approved. There are also, in some cases of street art, the moral rights of architects not to have their work altered, in which case Antonio Rava advocates “let it fade”.

Between 2010-2012 there was a debate about how best to treat Haring’s Collingwood wall. Public sculpture is considered to have a renewable surface, holes in them are patched and repainted regularly, but to what extent is the surface of public murals renewable? Could it simply be repainted?

Rava outlined problems with repainting Haring murals loosing the quality of Haring’s hand movement. For it is the line that is the most important part of Haring’s work. And on the mural Haring’s red lines were particularly faded; a transparent glaze over them meant that you can still see the original brush strokes.

The conservators also faced the problem of how to clean a large rough surface. In the end artist’s gum pencil erasers were used to remove a material on the wall that had built up over the paint.

What is being done to preserve the community murals of Melbourne from the 1970s and 80s? Will Shank, who had worked on walls from the community murals movement of San Francisco, reminded the audience that are no community murals in Chicago from the 1960s.

I am unaware of any other murals in Melbourne that are being conserved like the Haring nor of any plans. Most of Melbourne’s murals, street art and graffiti are only being preserved in digital photographs. What Melbourne’s street art murals would you mourn if they disappeared? And what plans should be made to conserve them?


Can’t Do Tomorrow Festival

Can’t Do Tomorrow is a 10 day long urban and street art festival in Melbourne.

Well, it is somewhere between an art fair and a festival, but called a festival because the words ‘art fairs’ is becoming unpopular. And Can’t Do Tomorrow would not want be unpopular. Like an art fair there are entry tickets, booths with art for sale and even a print store with on-demand printing. Like a festival there are exhibitions, a talks program, murals, sculptures, and installations, a line-up of live music acts and DJs. I’ve seen worse art fairs and a single venue festival seems limited even if it is a very large multi-level warehouse; The Facility, in Kensington.

Wall after wall in the former wool warehouse has been painted with mural after mural along with large 3D constructions. There has been good detailing with collections of stickers and little pieces by Junkie Projects, Gigi and Tinky in odd locations.

Tinky

There is a mix of local and international artists.

Badiuca

There was another version of this piece about the writer Liu Xiaobo in Hosier Lane in 2018. The paste-up became a shrine for people to leave flowers and photos. It is the work of Chinese-Australian political artist and cartoonist Badiuca. This slick neon version was intended to match the neon lights of Hong Kong.

Can’t Do Tomorrow states that it is the ‘inaugural festival’ and plans to return. There is no doubt that Melbourne needs a street art festival, a regular annual event for both the artists and the public. Since the Stencil Festival/Sweet Streets folded there have been some attempts to fill that gap, like the international event, the Meeting of Styles. Whether an indoor festival/art fair can do that remains to be seen. How it effects Melbourne’s street art scene also remains to be seen.

Will Can’t Do Tomorrow simply be an indoor urban art experience, a commercial and marketing opportunity or will there be something greater?


A paint war in Coburg

War is not pretty. War is ugly. Even a very small territorial war between a Melbourne street artist, 33rd Key and various graffiti writers over a wall gets ugly. The wall is part of some units beside the railway on Reynard Street. It is a large wall that is visible from the road, bike path and the railway line.

It is this view from the trains that make it a valuable asset to the area’s graffiti writers. While these days, few trains are sprayed in Melbourne trains are still connected to graffiti as they are one of the prime ways of viewing graffiti. Consequently walls along railway lines are valuable territory.

There are always new pieces being sprayed along the Upfield bike path. If the developers thought that by having the wall painted by a street artists would be enough to stave off graffiti. They were wrong.

The battle started just after the units had been built in 2017 when Melbourne street artist, 23rd Key was commissioned to paint a mural on the wall. 23rd key’s wall of botanical stencils were bland and boring, even compared to their other work. It might have satisfied the developers but it certainly did not impress the graffiti writers. It was not covered in a clear layer of graffiti resistant paint. And 23rd Key has not responded in paint as a graffiti writer would; they have no further interest in the wall after they have been paid for the original painting.

I don’t know what the motives or casus belli ; I’m not sure if motives are the right thing to examine in a war. Had there been a violation of the graffiti writer’s code of conduct? Had some graff writer had already staked their claim to the wall before 23rd Key sprayed paint?

There was another buff and an attempt to get the wall repainted however, once the war started, all kinds of things happened in the free fire paint zone. Each layer of paint is another skirmish. Someone even took to it with a paint filled fire extinguisher. The graffiti writers have won by their persistent bombing campaign but at what a cost. It is now one of the least attractive walls along the whole train-line.

The wall in early 2020, looking worse from construction barriers for SkyRail.

Legal walls that graff writers paint are rarely subject to tagging or bombing. It is not that it doesn’t happen but when it does it is quickly dealt with. Legal walls, that graffiti writers have permission to paint, are well maintained and even repainted when the colours fade. (See my post about same walls or about how the AWOL crew responded to the vandalism of one of their walls for examples.)

The most interesting aspect of this battle is that part of the wall painted by the naive artist with a brush has been left alone in this spray-can contest. This shows that graff writers do not consider that they have the right to paint all walls along the train-line and that they are painting by a code of conduct.


Counihan Gallery Expansion

Twenty years ago the Counihan Gallery was established by Moreland City Council in 1999. In the following decades it has become a cultural hub for Brunswick. The regular exhibition openings bringing people together in a physical space. Now it has expanded and is once again open after renovations.

There has been a small change to the large foyer with the addition of two vitrines both hung with prints by Noel Counihan from the gallery’s collection. It always seemed a shame that there wasn’t any of his art on exhibition in a gallery named after him.

Inside the gallery there is a dramatic change; it is now over a third larger. The new space merges seamlessly with the rest of the gallery. The same flooring, the same curved marine-ply ceiling panels hang in the new space. And, most of important of all, at the end of the new gallery space, there is a large window facing onto Sydney Road bringing natural light into the gallery. Curious people passing by look in, some of them now aware that there is something going on in the building.

There was a launch of this new space and the first exhibitions for a new year on Saturday 8 February with a “Welcome to Country” by a Wurundjeri Elder, a couple of speeches and a performance by Djirri Djirri, Wurundjeri Women’s Dance Group. I was there enjoying a glass of wine, a pumpkin kibbe (shout out to Zaatar’s, a great local cafe, this is a personal endorsement with no quid pro quo received or expected), meeting new people and catching up with acquaintances.

Tyler Payne, KIMSPO and #doitfortheafterselfie

The three current exhibitions:

At first I didn’t really get Histrionic by Marion Abraham, Saffron Newey and Tyler Payne. There were plenty of attractive and engaging works to look at from Payne’s installation with iPads to Newey’s large painting of a great, green, sea monster. Then Abraham’s art historical references in her two large paintings lured me in to deeper thoughts about contemporary life.

Chris Bowes, Monitor

Screen Time is an interactive installation by Chris Bowes with lots of messy black cables contrasting with the clean colour digital images. It looks like the output of high modernism: the cubist break down of the image onto seperate screens, the dots of colour of the pointillists, and the readymade an-aesthetic of the physical installation.

Nusra Latif Qureshi, Balancing Act II

And in the new space there is  f_OCUS; a selection of works by women from the galleries permanent collection. Twenty artists whose names or works should be familiar to anyone interested in Melbourne’s art; Hoda Afshar, Wendy Black, Megan Cope, Destiny Deacon, Emily Floyd, Fiona Foley, Marlene Gilson, Helga Groves, Gracia Haby & Louise Jennison, Joy Hester, Deanna Hitti, Regina Karadada, Carmel Louise, Mandy Nicholson, Rose Nolan, Jill Orr, Carol Porter, Nusra Latif Qureshi and Judy Watson. I remembered first seeing Nusra Latif Qureshi’s post-modern take on traditional miniature painting at the Counihan Gallery’s Women’s Salon.


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