Category Archives: Street Art

A look back at Flash Forward

If Melbourne was to be represented with a big thing, it would be a big spray can. So I applaud the big spray can by Ling in Wills Street because it acknowledges the graffiti in the city. It fits the location; its spray painted surface is vandalism resistant, and the west of the city needs more public art. It fits in with the street tree and the benches and really makes the location. And Ling has been spraying walls in Melbourne for longer than I’ve been writing this blog.

Ling’s big spray can is part of Flash Forward, a COVID safe cultural public art in central Melbourne’s lanes. Forty visual artists teamed with musicians in some inexplicable combination. And how could I resist a walk to see some artworks responding to the laneway?

There isn’t a path to follow for Flash Forward and I ran into other trails. Lanes that have long been a fixture in Melbourne’s graffiti and street art scene. So I was somewhat confused to run into Ling’s work again at Finlay Alley, given that there is no shortage of graffiti writers who also do murals in Melbourne.

Finlay Alley is an established location for graffiti. So established that there is one of the old “City of Melbourne street art permit stencils” at the entrance. And there are plenty of pieces by Sofles and others in the dark of the covered alleyway.

For years, if not decades, I have complained that public art events in Melbourne ignore the street art and graffiti that is all around them. Ignoring paintings the size of an elephant while promoting the work of some contemporary art-school trained artist. Pretending that they aren’t competing with the street art and graffiti.

Now when Flash Forward integrates them, I will be critical of its efforts because that is what I do. I appreciate Ling’s piece in Finlay Alley with its interlocked letter style and subtle fade from candy pink to purple. The problem with the big spray can and his mural is that it is obvious and bland. It is giant fantasy art.

Walking on. I’m only going to see a very small portion of Flash Forward.

At the end of Platypus Alley, high up on a building, an LED display counts forward, Yandell Walton’s End Passage. This is not the first time this very short alley has been activated with art. Sunfigo had his No Face exhibition in Platypus Alley in 2008.

Walton’s clock is kind of sterile compared to the dialogue that Sunfigo’s stencil of a digital watch reading “NOW has provoked. As I look at the lanes after Platypus Alley, Warburton and Rankins Lane, where street art by Night Krawler, Mandy Lane and others abound.

There are other outdoor exhibitions in Melbourne besides Flash Forward and the unauthorised street art and graffiti exhibitions. MONA’s corner has a photograph, James Capper’s “Prototypes of Speculative Engineering, Hydra Step” 2014. It is somewhere between art and advertising, the distinction is porous, and art percolates through the border. And in the inner city suburbs, there has been a noticeable increase in shop window art galleries Even The Age’s art critic Robert Nelson is looking beyond the four walls of a gallery, but only as far as gardens or their online presence.


Street 2021

We are getting to the bitter end of the sour 2021, so I thought I’d look back at the street art and graffiti I saw around Melbourne. It has been a year of lockdowns and vaccines, which Melbourne’s street artist’s Cell Out and Phoenix had to comment on.

Melbourne’s street artists commented on the other current issues; the end of the Trump era and the continuing failure of Australian governments to deal with the climate crisis.

A couple of smooth pieces by Sleek stretching letterforms caught my eye.

As did the old school hip hop style of Mickey xxi in Croft Alley.

But what really made my eyes pop were these pieces in Brunswick, taking graffiti letter form to a new level of calligraphic complexity.

Street artist Manda Lane takes things in a different direction, applying foliage to the city’s walls.

You mYou might be surprised at the amount of ceramics in street art because you would think that there was none. If you had forgotten Space Invader’s unauthorised mosaics. This year I have seen ceramic street art by Discarded and Far4washere. For more on Discarded, see my post. For more on Far4washere, search Instagram or on the streets.

Melbourne’s street art was once world famous for its stencils. And there are still a few stencil artists spraying its walls. Much of it is anonymous like these beautiful and well placed trees; I am enjoying the images of local gum trees combined with the worn wabi-sabi elements of the wall. Some stencil artists are known like this piece by Xuf, a Melbourne-based self-proclaimed “wall beautician” from Indonesia.

I’ll be signing off shortly, in the mean time here are a couple of sign offs that I’ve seen this year. Cheers, Black Mark

P.S. Search the streets if you want to see more of Melbourne’s street art.


And they call them vandals

Walking around Melbourne, looking at street art and graffiti and thinking about the value of art, distinguishing between cultural, monetary and aesthetic values. Thinking about the street art being destroyed in the building boom. While ancient petroglyphs on Burrup Peninsula (Murujuga) are being destroyed in an act of industrial iconoclasm. The rock art gallery in the world means nothing to Woodside Petroleum or the WA Labor government (read the ABC news story). Nor does destroying the climate. 

Manda Lane and Kasper in Hosier Lane

I know that so much of the art world is a massive art wash, tax dodge, looted, exploitation move by the rich and powerful, as it’s been for centuries. I am still interested in art, and art-like activities, because they are, more or less, the best contiguous record of human and pre-human existence. Unauthorised street art and graffiti can be seen as an alternative to this plutocratic view. Like traditional art, it is a practice that doesn’t require wealthy patrons to pay, validate and promote the art.

Melbourne’s street art and graffiti boom occurred when the city was dying and decaying in the centre. Street art flourished because there were plenty of walls, lanes where old buildings were still standing, not because they were worth anything but because nobody had an economic reason to tear them down. The marvellous city, which had boomed in the gold rush, continued to offer ever-expanding suburbs, resulting in fewer demolitions at its core.

Melbourne is changing, new buildings changing the local geography, sometimes I no longer recognise the location anymore. The skyline on the west side that I see coming into Southern Cross Station is full of new glass towers.

“At what point do we say no?” writes Cara Waters in The Age. Now that it is being built over, people (Adrian Doyle) talk about its historical value Of course, everybody wants to rewrite history. It is a nice bit of rhetoric, but it will probably be flooded in twenty years, given the rising sea levels and Australia’s response to climate change. We all knew that it was going to be, more or less, ephemeral. Ars langa, vita brevis (art is long, life is short) – Hippocrates

Like art collecting, art destroying is largely the preserve of governments, mining companies and other plutocrats. And they call street artists and graffiti writers vandals?


Hosier Lane’s two sides

Looking at that famous Melbourne laneway of street art and graffiti now is like a portrait of the city post-lockdown. It has two sides.

On one side of Hosier Lane is Culture Kings, purveyors of designer streetwear and their wall painted by some hired gun aerosol painter. Further down that side of the lane are pieces by artists with @Instagram names painting anything they think will make them popular. Another set of wings to pose in front of for a selfie to bore your friends by El Rolo (aka Carlos Mejia, a graphic designer specialising in “illustration, packaging and commercial art”). El Rolo has been painting more than his fair share of walls in Hosier Lane for over a year, and I try to ignore it. His art is slightly less shallow when he collaborates with another South American artist also based in Melbourne Oskr who does calligraphic work — or what he calls “calligraffiti”.

Oskr & El Rolo

On the other side of Hosier Lane is The Living Room providing aid for the homeless and the homeless in their genuine streetwear. The walls on this side are painted in a mixture of styles and techniques. On this side of the lane, the art is wild and free. On the wall opposite Culture Kings, there is a painted protest with placards calling for “free weed,” “dry socks,” and simply “change”. This seated man is a reference to Melbourne stencil artist Meek’s Begging for change 2004, an image of a seated man with a placard that reads “keep your coins, I want change.” Further down, another artist has preserved a paste-up by Barak, bringing it into the literally hand-painted and hand-printed landscape. 

Trying to decipher this gestalt graphic of the two sides of this laneway, illustrating the contrast between those that see the city as a place, like home, and those who see it as a commercial opportunity. In several places a stencil of “IF” in large Times Roman font has been sprayed.

Meanwhile, AC/DC Lane, just a few lanes up from Hosier, remains the place for quality street art.


The same

In Melbourne, he is called Junky Projects. In Montreal, he is called Junko. Different people, different cities, same street art. The same spirit of the times inspires these artists to make art from junk found on the street and return it to the street.

I saw some of Junko’s work in Toronto in 2016. His work is slightly different to Junky Projects. Junko does animal forms, and Junky Projects does human faces. I’m not sure who the earlier of the two is. Junky Projects work is currently rusting on power poles, fences posts and other supports all over Melbourne.

This is not a case of influence or copying; this is convergent evolution resulting from similar environmental/social/psychological factors. In the natural world, the body plan of dolphins and ichthyosaurs, both adapted for ocean swimming, has many similarities without any close relation between the two.

Self portrait John McCarthy
Fintan Magee, detail of Two Figures Behind Mottled Glass

Another example from the art world of convergent evolution are paintings showing people through thick bevelled textured glass. Both Fintan Magee in Australia and the British artist John McCarthy (not the American abstract expressionist artist John McCarthy) paint very similar images. The resemblance between the two is striking because there is nothing but the optical idea of the image distorted by the glass. Without any other content or meaning to the paintings by either artist, the only variation is the choice of models. There are probably more artists who have painted this same effect that I haven’t seen. 

This time, out of the two artists, I know who was doing the seen through bevelled glass paintings first. I saw an exhibition of McCarthy work at the Eleanor Ettinger Gallery in NY in 2013. And Magee has only been doing paintings in this style since 2020.

Again this is not to suggest that one artist is copying or plagiarising the other, but that originality is not possible, especially when you have very simple ideas. Maybe Adrian Doyle is right: “You are all the same.” Sometimes I reply to his slogan pointing out that I am not all the same and that my feet are very different from my head. However, perhaps in a broader sense, he is correct and that our idea of unique individualism is false, as demonstrated by the similarity amongst artists.


The Unofficial Sculpture Park

About a dozen contemporary, non-figurative site-specific assemblages, created from locally found material. Rusted metal springs blossom like a bouquet on top of another pile. A truck tire is supported by a log. A mobile of rusted metal hangs from the branch of a tree.

The unauthorised public sculpture park just off the Capital City Trail in Royal Park. The sculptures are large enough to see them from the train between Royal Park and Flemington Bridge on the Upfield Line. I’m not sure how many years, probably before the last two years of COVID lockdowns. A wide dirt path goes past the sculptures, people walking their dogs and enjoying the  spring sunshine.

Except for the path, the site is overgrown, strewn with building rubble, concrete, and granite ‘bluestone.’ Why is it here? Is it the location of the demolished building from who knows when? I look back 30 years in old Melways and can’t find anything marked. It is strange that this waste-ground is so close to the centre of Melbourne, DCM’s Melbourne Gateway “the cheese-stick” can be seen poking above the trees.

Two blue male superb fairy-wrens flit around. Something moves in the long grass. I wonder if I am in danger of stepping on a snake. I stamp my feet to send warning vibrations. Google maps notes that it is a “white skink habitat”; maybe all the rubble is their home.

It looks like it is all the work of one anonymous artist, someone with a background in contemporary art. Much effort has gone into these sculptures, both psychic and physical, as there is evidence of planning and heavy lifting. Notice that each of the three blocks piled into a column has been turned 45 degrees to the previous one. Carefully positioned blocks keep a rusted lid hanging on a concrete pillar.

Is this a revival of the 1960s Italian art movement Arte Povera? There is the use of unprocessed “unartistic” materials and rejecting the usual sculpture techniques, aestheticising and commercialisation. The anonymous creator of this sculpture garden is doing all of that. However, unlike Arte Povera, there is no social criticism evident in the work.

Perhaps if these sculptures were in a garden or even an official sculpture park, I would critique them differently. Question their heroic architectural intentions or zombie formalism. I have some sympathy towards unauthorised public sculpture.


Go Crazy

It is always a mystery about the identity of graffiti writers and street artists. I walked around a street corner in Coburg; there was Anime Flower at work with pastel crayons. Anime Flower has been writing things like “be kind” around the neighbourhood in colourfully decorated block letters. All I should say is that the writer was not from the usual demographic of taggers, graff writers and other artistic miscreants found on the streets. I didn’t want them to feel intimidated by my presence, so I didn’t stop. I just said, “Hello,” all friendly-like behind my mask and sunglasses and kept walking.

The great rock critics Lester Bangs and Nick Kent were proponents of the proposition that rock’n’roll was for losers. That it was a great failure gesture. At its best, rock’n’roll was a bunch of losers who managed to create great art and, at its worst, was commercial sabotage of all that is human and decent. Likewise, street art and graffiti are for losers. Like playing in a band, doing some street art will probably be amongst the best things that they do for themselves.

During the lockdowns, I have become more familiar with the work of many local graff writers, including the local UBM/WWW crew. I love the WWW crew, the self-proclaimed World’s Worst Writers – who will take that jester’s crown away from them? Calypso is so friendly, with a smiley face along with the tag.

Bootleg Comics and Cale Jay Labbe collaborating on some intensely crazy black and white paste-ups. Bootleg Comics is a Melbourne visual artist known for using pop culture iconography. Savage reflections of images and tropes: horoscopes making as much sense as an anti-vaxer but with way more insight.

“You know there ain’t no devil, just god when he’s drunk”, crones Tom Waits. God© may be drunk. I’ve seen a lot of God©’s work around Coburg. There is plenty of bad craziness (like anti-vax slogans, Lush mural upskirting Marilyn Munroe, any mural by Lush… fuck him) along with good craziness evident on the streets. Bad craziness and good craziness, like bad taste and good taste; do I want to be Polonius and distinguish between different kinds of madmen? Here Lester Bangs distinguishes between the alternatives of: “working to enlighten others as to their own possibilities rather than merely sprawling in the muck yodelling about what a drag everything is.” (Bangs “The Clash” Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung, 1987, p226) So I’m glad that Anime Flower, the WWW and God© are out there on the streets of Coburg. And to quote Prince’s eulogy “for this thing called life. Let’s go crazy!”


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