Category Archives: Coburg

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.


Maunder about street art and graffiti

I used to write blog posts about my wandering around the city. I still wander around but generally I try to keep my posts more focused than my meandering feet and mind. Now, even if I see a couple of exhibitions I will choose one to write about, or focus on one aspect of street art, or a single public sculpture. However, for this post I will make an exception and maunder about street art and graffiti.

Exploring my local area, Coburg, graffiti and street art continues to expand north along the Upfield train line corridor. I am amazed that there are so many bluestone back laneways in Coburg that I haven’t walked along in the decades that I have lived in the suburb. It is an area that is about to change because of the new elevated railway line.

There are pieces by the talented graffiti writers, Virus and Saem, in the area. But also Luna who works between street art paste-ups and old school graffiti. Calypso, the friendly tagger who often has a smily face at the end of the tag. Tags by God© makes an appearance. Along with stickers by local artist and extreme printer, Joel Gailer that show the cross-over between street and gallery art.

So I continue my travels around greater Melbourne; photographing street art in Footscray, Brunswick and in ‘Lovelands’, a series of alleyways off Queen St, near the corner of Franklin St. which often has some of the best street art in Melbourne. And, around the corner from Lovelands, in Blender Lane, where Blender Studios used to be — no other art studio in Melbourne has had such an impact on its geography.

Keeping my eye on Hosier Lane, where the most significant work are no longer spray painted, they are political. Support for Hong Kong with a ‘Lennon wall’ of post-it notes.

Looking at actual graffiti, the scribbled messages on the street rather than the calligraphic art of the kamikaze paint sprayers.

At guerrilla gardeners along the Upfield bike path who will use anything and everything to plant things in.

I have been writing about and photographing these kind of things for over a decade. So often now it feels like I have seen it all before but even in the antarctic winds of Melbourne’s winter there are some things that catch my eye; photograph and post on this blog.


Ash Keating and the Fire-Extinguisher

More powerful than a spray-can. Graffiti writers have long used fire extinguishers filled with paint to spray paint often used to write a very large tag high on a wall. But one Melbourne artist has made the paint filled fire extinguisher his own – Ash Keating.

Ash Keating’s Hume Response Paintings

Fire-extinguishers filled with paint have long been part of a graffiti tradition of improvisation. Using fire-extinguishers to spray paint peaked in Melbourne in 2012.

Ash Keating has been painting massive walls (long before other Melbourne-based street artists got into the mural business) as performances. Painting massive surfaces of concrete walls with a controlled chaos of colour. Action painting at an industrial scale, without an aisle, without drawings. It is also painting with the hand of the artist mixed in with chance. Earlier this year he painted a painted a warehouse of concrete pumping company on the edge of the city A Love Letter to a Very Rocky Creek (Hume Response). (For more on the Hume Response.)

I visited his studio on Saturday afternoon on the 20 July, it was more of a pop-up weekend gallery than an open studio. The Hume Response Paintings are in the same primary colours as A Love Letter to a Very Rocky Creek (Hume Response). The “domestically scaled canvases” are for the domestic market and “invert the whole project” as Keating described it.

Keating has recently moved studios. Ironic, given the surfaces that he paints, Keating’s studio is a brand new tilt-slab warehouse in Bakers Business Park in North Coburg. An added irony is that the only fire-extinguisher in the room is brand new and not full of paint. The pristine beauty of the grey concrete slabs without any drips, layers of paint splatters, misty layers of a thin paint or thick chunky lumps of paint (something that you don’t get with spray-cans) hung with a few paintings.


A long and narrow road

The words following the white line on Upfield bike path. The reflective white line dividing the bike path becomes the page, the site for the text. The path of words runs between the throughly domesticated work or architects and building engineers and the wild feral art that grows like weeds along the railway line.

It was part of More Art 2018, is A Narrow Road to the Deep North by Illimine. Illimine is an international collective of multimedia artists, performers and academics who have been doing site-specific art since 2013 that has a several Melbourne based members.

The text goes on for some kilometres, about 10 km making it amongst the longest works of urban art or poetry. (Not that I want to get into an urban art measuring contest, so you can put your hand down now Sigmund. We all know what you are going to say.) It is a durational writing performance the work.

If it is literature, it is the kind that nobody reads completely and just dip into a bit, so that they can say they have. It is even harder to read because although the text goes left to right, as the writer proceeds along the left hand side of the path north, the blocks of text go from right to left.

Now the mainstream news is reporting on it. This is an indicator of how slack I have been in reporting on what is going on in my neighbourhood; in my defence, it is poetry and there is no hurry to read it. As the text doesn’t compete for space with either the developers or the graffiti writers it will survive until the lines on the bike path are repainted.


Uncle Dickey’s Library Install

The very hungry caterpillar crawls along the fence line. Three little pigs, Winnie the Pooh, Paddington Bear and other characters from children’s literature adore more of the fence and poles.

Near the train line crossing on Reynard Street in Coburg is Uncle Dickey’s Library, a little free library. It is just a small, red wooden cupboard full of free books and a red garden bench by the railway fence. Uncle Dickey’s library was the first of Coburg’s free libraries starting in 2014 a little further along the line before moving to its present location after a fire.

It is now decorated with an installation by Yarn Corner. The theme of children’s literature makes it one of the most elaborate and relevant yarn bombing installations that I have seen.

What a yarn bomber with the tag of “Fifty Shades of Grey”? Yes, yarn bombers tag their work with laminated tags.

Most of what we do in public is still exclusive, rarely do we walk or talk with strangers. Yarn bombing and free libraries, on the other hand, are inclusive street activities inviting strangers to join in. If you do want to do some yarn bombing just get in touch with Yarn Corner on Facebook.

This kind of open individual initiated anarchic activities, yarn bombing and free libraries, raise the larger question of what kind of society do we want to create?

Where is Wally?

Yarn corner

Yarn Corner Uncle Dickey’s Library Install


The Coburg Plan

The Coburg Plan is a paperback book of photographs, essays, stories, a poem, even some comments from Scott’s Instagram feed focused on the architecture of Coburg. Jessie Scott is described at the “principle artist” and it is an affordable, accessible kind of artist’s book.

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I have lived in this inner northern suburb for decades, I helped crowdfund the book and was at its launch on Saturday at the Post Office Hotel. At the launch there were speeches, a reading of the poem by Timmah Ball and the kind of gastropub food that the PO Hotel is now well known for. I can remember when the Post Office Hotel had a different reputation; it was further down the pecking order than the Moreland Hotel with its strippers and pokies. It was the kind of place where some guy would come around to your table asking for a cigarette. Now, it has changed.

The Coburg Plan is neither a celebration nor a condemnation of the changes; it is a neutral look at the often anaesthetic nature of suburbia. It is an elegantly designed book with type set in Brunswick Grotesque, an easy to read san-serif font and a near perfect choice of hyper-local typeface donated by its designer, Dennis Grauel.

Kyle Weise’s essay is a good introduction to Scott’s photographs. Weise examines the history of banal suburbia in architecture and in photography; from Robert Venturi Learning from Las Vegas to David Wadleton’s photographs of Melbourne’s milk bars. It is the antithesis of the modernist architectural vision that Robin Boyd writes about in his The Australian Ugliness, but it is a feature of ordinary, banal reality.

Scott records the mundane details of suburbia in her photographs. The old houses and closed corner shops, the empty lots, a ghostsign revealed during demolition, and the construction of new units. There is the street sign dealing with the fact that there are two streets in the suburb with almost the same name Hutchinson Place and Street; Australia street names makes up in repetition what they lack in originality.

It is a Coburg ‘plan’; ‘plan’, not as in an advance arrangement, but as in a representation or artist’s impression.


Peak Books, Free Libraries and Art

We live at a time of peak stuff and consequently it is also the time of peak books. What once was rare and valued is now a glut. Collecting printed matter used to be a virtue and now it is the vice of a hoarder. Perhaps, we can only understand everything about books when there is an excess of books.

Nicolas Jones, Holman Hunt book

My own book shelves are overflowing, packed two deep with books. More books are stacked in various strategic positions. Are they simply trophies of previous reads? How many of them will I ever read again or repeatedly consult?

Now, e-books might be an alternative to having physical books. I have read only one e-book, Medieval Graffiti, but I no longer have a dictionary or thesaurus or an encyclopaedia taking up space on my shelves. I no longer keep newspaper clipping or photocopy of articles as they are available online or in PDF files.

Peak books is a disturbing concept to bibliophiles and bookshop workers especially second-hand bookshops because peak books means more free libraries. I have been taking some of my excess books to the free libraries. There are free libraries at Coburg and Moreland stations, more around the streets and even one at Barkley Square shopping centre. I first noticed a free library in my neighbourhood in 2014 but the recent growth in them is a sure indicator of peak books.

Peak books means that there will be art made from the excess books, as art is made from excesses in a society. Art from books has been happening since before I started this blog and is on the increase. There are Melbourne based artists who used books as their primary media, for example Nicolas Jones. In Collected Odysseys, 2018, by Malcolm Angelucci, Chris Caines and Majella Thomas, a two metre cairn of books blackened with ink in the middle of the Counihan Gallery in Brunswick.


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