Category Archives: Street Art

Off The Grid

“Off The Grid: Invader and Melbourne Street Art in the early 2000s” is a small exhibition with a lot of depth at the City Gallery in the Melbourne Town Hall. Curator, writer and photographer Lachlan MacDowall discovers ingenious connections between the inventor of computers, Charles Babbage, the surveyor of Melbourne’s streets, William Hoddle, the game Space Invaders and Melbourne street art in the early 2000s.

The salvaged work by Invader in Off The Grid

The hub of these connections is the French artist Invader, who unites computer graphics with Melbourne’s grid of streets. His grid of tiles depicts aliens from the Space Invaders game. In 2002 Invader was in Melbourne, sticking his work around the city; a year before, Banksy visited in 2003. The grid and alien invasion also come together in Melbourne with the imperial occupation of the Kulin nation’s lands.

Invader’s work can still be seen on the streets, and the ceramic tiles have aged well. One of Invader’s pieces has ended up in the collection of the City of Melbourne due to it being salvaged from demolishing the part of the Melbourne Arts Centre next to Princes Bridge. Invader’s work can still be seen on the streets, and the ceramic tiles have aged well. 

MacDowall also refers to local artists Crateman, Sunfigo, GoonHugs, and Andy Uprock, “… combining grids with everyday materials – milk crates, twine, plastic cups and stickers”. Pointing out that these art works “display their source code, inviting the viewer to copy and remake them.” An invitation many people took up, resulting in a diverse, dynamic and inventive street art scene.

This “open source ethic” of street art in the early 2000s has largely been replaced with closed-source proprietary techniques and locations of the muralists who obscure the grids of their enlargements. These do not invite the viewer to copy; the scale and techniques are too intimidating to try. This is intentional, for there are commercial opportunities that weren’t there for street artists in the early 2000s.

Although the exhibition is small, just one Invader piece, half-a-dozen photographs, a couple of documents, a video, and some wall text, the small booklet accompanying it is a little gem. There is an essay by MacDowall taking you deeper into the subject accompanied by more of his dramatic photographs of street art along with a map of Melbourne locations of Invader’s work. Unlike so many exhibition essays MacDowall’s Off The Grid was an engaging read (all the quotes in this post are from that essay).


Look: graffiti reduction

A look at an effective graffiti reduction strategy used around Brunswick Station. I bet you didn’t expect to read a longitudinal study on how to prevent graffiti on this blog.

In the past there were many pieces quality graffiti and street art on the block next to the station. This includes some of the area’s first legal walls, which is still in use, although the fishing tackle shop wall has now faded. I remember Banksy stencil of a chimp and Reka a purple monster on the station (or was that was at Jewell) — both removed to the disappointment of travellers young and old. The AWOL crew regularly painted several of the walls, Slicer, Adnate, etc., developing their mature styles from old-school graffiti (read my AWOL Evolution).  

It wasn’t the graffiti was terrible; it was the area that was ugly. The street artists and graffiti writers were trying their best to improve the aesthetics of a neglected section of land behind factories – dirt, rocks and fly tipping. The barren area was a no-mans land between the petty fiefdoms of the local council and the railway. So another anarchic community group, Upfield Urban Forest moved in and started to plant trees and cultivate a garden — fine community-minded people with as much planning permission as a graffiti writer. (Read more about Upfield Urban Forest in Brunswick Voice.) Now that the trees have grown, the walls are no longer visible, making them no longer desirable for graffiti writers and street artists.

Tips on preventing graffiti are often vacuous recommendations written by local councils providing less than helpful advice. Regular removal, anti-graffiti coatings, improved lighting, and uneven surfaces are expensive and environmentally unsound options. Painting walls dark colours to discourage graffiti; black is a favourite colour of graffiti writers to buff/undercoat a wall with because it makes colours pop. Another recommended simply growing creepers on the wall, forgetting that creepers like ivy with do more damage to the wall than a coat of acrylic paint.

Graffiti can appear overnight, a mural or legal wall can take a little longer, and a substantial improvement will not happen overnight. It takes years to grow a tree. It took about a decade of work around Brunswick Station and Premier Daniel Andrews “sky-rail” project will destroy it.

All of the artists mentioned in this post have gone on to paint bigger and better walls.

Brunswick Station 2022

Presgrave Place

A place where the art is glued to the wall.

The picture frames glued to the brick wall were the first elements to appear. These had cheap prints of European art in them at first. The prints have long since decayed, but the frames are still on the wall and used by other artists. Over the years, more frames and more original art has been added. Frames now cover much of the wall. It is a story of accumulation because Presgrave Place has never been buffed, unlike the aerosol-covered laneways.

In 2007, the lane and its frames appeared in ABC’s Not Quite Art presented by Marcus Westbury, when Melbourne’s street art scene had been around for about a decade. In 2008 there was also Melbourne’s smallest art gallery, Trink Tank, a small glass vitrine outside Bar Americano. (My 2008 blog post on Presgrave Place.)  

Presgrave Place is a remnant of the service lanes of Melbourne, an open-air dead end trapped between several small shopping malls. A few businesses still store their bins around the corner, but it is not an unpleasant place. It is not the easiest place to find as it is off Howey Place, which is off Little Collins Street (opposite David Jones).

At the entrance to the lane, high up on the wall, there is a cast concrete sign, a geometric panel with a sign announcing the Capital Theatre and emulating the crystalline ceiling of the theatre. According to eMelbourne, the Capitol Theatre’s workshop was in Presgrave Place in 1961. Walter Burley Griffin and his wife Marion Mahony designed this piece of mid-century modernism. 

Kranky’s art and energy revived the location in 2016. (See my post Presgrave Place Renaissance.) Now, the continued presence of work by the Ninja of Street Art and many other artists keeps it active.

Presgrave Place ranks number 18 in Stephen’s 24 Best Laneways in Melbourne. I would include it in my top 10 street art locations in Melbourne’s CBD. It is the smaller, lesser-known, long-running location for Melbourne Street art, but Presgrave Place rarely disappoints. Few things change in Presgrave Place, not even the street art. The art will be left on the wall until it rots away, adapted into another work, like the original frames glued to its walls.

I have written about many artists in other blog posts: SunfigoPhoenixCalmVKM (Vikki Murray), Mr Dimples, and Facter. Other artists whose work that you might see include Manda Lane, who created all the foliage, pot plants and the wonderful paper-cut cats at the end of the lane. Crisp is the thinking person’s sci-fi fan; if anyone needs a stencil spray-painted Star Wars meme, then Crisp can supply them with added political content. Stencils of birds by Edie Black. Paste-up women by Suki. Jayeff with the smiling eye. Kambeeno’s red, white and black paste-ups… G.T. Sewell, Michael Fikaris, Vinks, Happy … it would would take hours to list them all.

If you have been breathing those aerosol fumes or straining your neck looking at those giant murals for too long, then Presgrave Place is the place to go. It is distinctly different from the aerosol paint and fame of Hosier Lane.


Gertrude Street Cool

What do I think about Time Out naming Gertrude Street as “the second coolest street in the world”? Time Out’s opinion was based on the combination of food, fun, culture and community. I will focus on one of them — the culture.  

The magnolias were blooming as I examined the street’s current cool state. It is pleasant to walk along, although the car sewer in the middle makes crossing dangerous. However, it is absurd to say, as Time Out Melbourne editor Eliza Campbell suggests, that it hasn’t been “gentrified” like Brunswick and Smith Streets. Don’t tell me that the street hasn’t been gentrified. All those boutiques and fancy cafes are gentrification defined. The Foodworks supermarket is still there, the one ordinary shop left on the street. A new apartment block has been built where the paint and hardware shop once stood. The barbershop has closed… How when barbershops open all over Melbourne?

If you like street art and graffiti, then the lanes off Gertrude Street are well worth looking at. That hasn’t changed; it has, if anything, improved in both quality and quantity. My first blog post on this blog (back in 2008) was about Debs, Phibs and others painting one wall. 

I’ve been up and down this street many times in my life. Amongst the first was going to an opening at Max Joffe’s gallery, Melbourne Contemporary Arts Gallery (MCA), in the mid-80s. Later Joffe would be jailed for stealing paintings from Albert Tucker. It was next recommended as the best place to avoid the uncool 1988 bicentennial of the continent’s colonisation. The old post office, then the Aboriginal Health Centre, was painted with the Aboriginal flag’s red, black and yellow. In the 1990s, it was the centre of Melbourne’s heroin dealing.

Oigåll Projects

Once seven art galleries were on Gertrude Street, there are now four: Art & Collectors, Australian Printer Workshop, Oigåll Projects, and This Is No Fantasy + Dianne Tanzer Gallery.

Art & Collectors is a recently opened art dealer in upstairs rooms. Whereas the Australian Printer Workshop was established in 1981. It was showing the works by the 2020-2022 APW George Collie Memorial Award exhibition for contributions to the field of Australian Printmaking recipients Barbara Hanrahan, Deborah Klein, Hertha Kluge-Pott, and Ann Newmarch.

Oigåll Projects has a photography exhibition by Annika Kafcaloudis, “Family History”, that spilled onto the street with a large paste-up. Oigåll Projects describes itself as a “gallery and conceptual testing ground”, as well as “a love letter to her (Gertrude Street)”.

This Is No Fantasy + Dianne Tanzer had Michael Cook’s new series, “Enculturation”, a parody reversal of the stolen generation. This Is No Fantasy shows how much commercial gallery practice has changed over the decades it has been on the street, exemplified by its name and the table with chairs in its front window.

There have been many art galleries on Gertrude Street. Still, amongst all of them, 200 Gertrude Street (later Gertrude Contemporary) stood out. It was Melbourne’s first contemporary art space. Gertrude Contemporary has moved to Preston South, and Gertrude Glasshouse is a project space of Gertrude Contemporary in Collingwood; both retain the connection to the street in their name.

Maybe it is the coolest street in Melbourne (but not the coolest lane).


Where walls are wild

Alchemical calligraphy that turns walls to gold. Pieces that slant, inter-connect, curve and bubble, with eye-popping colours (how did they get brown to look fabulous?). Along with some great supporting characters (who remembers Alf?).

One hot spot for graffiti in Brunswick is an area bounded by Sydney Road, Moreland Road, Albion Street and the railroad tracks. It has a network of laneways in the light industrial area around the Brunswick tram depot. There are other locations for seeing quality graffiti in Brunswick – like the land of Sunshine

This is not an example of Melbourne’s laneway culture, with cafes and bars. Although that is developing with Red Betty’s, a bar run by artist and extreme printmaker Joel Gailer, hidden in Houdini Lane. Mostly it is repurposed car infrastructure surrounded by brick and concrete walls. Some of the bluestone paved lanes are the more disgusting rubbish-filled lanes I’ve seen. Someone needs to get a recycling bin for all the aerosol cans and beer bottles (graffiti is sign-writing partying).

The car park, off Sydney Road, has long been a location for great graffiti. For about a decade, a mural of a train with old-school graffiti on carriages ran along the opposite wall, the colours slowly washing out with the weather. Now Paris and Peril have returned to paint the other wall (covering up the work of a prolific and irritating street artist). Paris and Peril are veterans of Melbourne’s graffiti. Love the way that they have shaded around some of the actual bricks bringing the whole wall into their piece.

Ilham Lane has a bit of quality street art, including a large mural by Civil and some small pieces by Phoenix; however, most of the work in the area is graffiti. 

Graffiti thrives in liminal zones like this area in transition, where multi-storey apartments are replacing factories and the light industry. Not all light industrial buildings in the area are currently being used for industrial purposes. There are artists’ studios scattered amongst them, or in clusters like at Tinning Street, and a commercial art gallery, Neon Parc. Where walls are wild.


Sime Thornton

I’m sorry to learn that Sime Thornton died earlier this year. A funny guy with humour that didn’t put people down but gave them joy. His cartoons entertained many who saw them on the streets.

He listed his skills on Linkedin as “Taking a pen for a wander. Smashing ideas together like lumps of play-doh. Smashing ideas together like lumps of play-doh. Making innocent bystanders smile. Enlistment officer for Royal Melbourne Flying Monkey Corps.”

I did not have the pleasure of Thornton’s acquaintance, but I was familiar with his insightful and humorous cartoons. A clear and concise line often commented on the street artists around him. Drawn in ink and stuck them up in many of Melbourne’s prime street art locations. Often they are on canvas or wood for greater durability (they will last even longer online). BYST


Melbourne Street Art notes

Some notes about Melbourne’s street art:

Should Melbourne’s street art-covered lanes receive heritage protection? There has been no action yet, but the calls for protection are getting louder. However, how do you protect ephemeral art that thrived on neglected urban walls from change and redevelopment? 

There is a fun collection of images of cats at the far end of Presgrave Place. There is washing hanging on the lines of electric lights above the lane and with some of the best stencils and sculptural street art

What is a lost form?  

A Series of sculptures, including unauthorised interventions

B Stack of three cubes with a globe one quarter sunk into a top corner

C Just some more Melbourne street art

D All of the above

Yes, they have been around for a while, and I love the sticker “Your form?” reply to them on the wall of Rutledge (off Hosier Lane).

Dan Worth, Mask Emoji

I saw a carving of a mask emoji in Hosier Lane that reminded me of the work of Dan Worth in his Social Hieroglyphics exhibition. Worth informed me that his carved stone mask emoji was “installed it on the 15th of march 2020 and coincidentally later that day we got a state of emergency announcement about going into lockdown.”  

Shout out to Phoenix, VKM and Kasper. Thanks to all the street artists for keeping Melbourne weird, even the silly people following that South Australian trend for sticking googly eyes. 


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