Category Archives: Street Art

Post-lockdown Melbourne

On arrival, I had to sign in to the gallery to assist contact tracing. No Vacancy lived up to its name and was the one art gallery that was open in the city. I didn’t know who was exhibiting as they were still typing up the room sheet (subsequently I have learnt that it was Lineaments by Lana Erneste, Sophie Sun, and Mollie Wilson).

Installation view of Lineaments at No Vacancy

All the galleries on Flinders Lane were all closed. Anna Schwartz had an exhibition of John Nixon, but it wasn’t open to the public. The public, institutional art galleries like the NGV and RMIT are still closed.

The best work that I saw was the #thelittlelibarian, and it wasn’t in an art gallery but in Hosier Lane. It looked like the work of Tinky because of the combination of HO scale miniatures with antiques. “If I was Snow White you’d never be able to poison me with an apple; you’d have to use an eclair.”

This is Hosier Lane like you have never seen it before. Almost empty of people except for a few homeless people meeting up after the long lockdown and relaxing in the sunny weather. There was the smell of aerosol paint in the air, but it wasn’t an artist spraying walls just the manager of Bar Tini painting the bases for small tables.

I wanted to see if much street art and graffiti had occurred during or immediately after the lockdown. Although there were some of the usual graffiti and street art in Hosier Lane, there were also some strange works, outside of the standard, conventional street art and graffiti techniques. Evidence of a greater variety of people participating in street art. And the political agenda was loud and proud: issues of homelessness, “black lives matter”, “horse racing kills” and hero worship of Premier Andrews.

Chinatown

Elsewhere in the city, it looked like Ash Keating, or someone else had taken a paint-filled fire extinguisher to that wall in Chinatown. Below a park is being built on the empty site, instead of using it as a parking lot.

I think that I was a bit too eager; that Thursday, one day after Melbourne’s long lockdown lifted to allow businesses to open. It was too soon for most commercial art galleries. However, after months of lockdown, I was keen to get out of Coburg and return to my pre-lockdown Thursday routine of going to have a look at art in the city and writing this kind of blog post.


Lockdown Psychogeography in Coburg

Reports of various psychogeographical walks around my neighbourhood in Coburg. I don’t know how many times I’ve been around these streets during this lockdown or even what day it is. Of course, I saw some fresh street art, some other stuff and cogitated on the conundrums of Coburg’s street design. I don’t know if it is valid psychogeographical if you aren’t drunk or stoned, but I could write a book about what I don’t know.

The streets of Coburg, laid out in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, are a grab bag of experiments in suburban road design. Wide nature-strips, no nature strips, broad central road division with a park area dividing a street. There is a single road with the backs of houses on one side and the fronts of houses on another. There is no uniformity to even the width of the streets, one even suddenly narrowing by about half a metre at one point.

Spotted the first COVID-19 street art, a sticker, a virus grenade, I’ve seen. And more of the work of the UBM Crew; the UBM crew includes Luna who alternates between graffiti and street art. (I should write a blog post about the artists who do both street art and graffiti because there are a few; Stanley is another example. I like artists who change style because it shows that they are developing.)

In case anyone was wondering graffiti artists do paint their own fences when they can.  One aspect that is worth mentioning about street art is that it is incredibly satisfying for the amateur part-time participants. Unlike other art forms where amateurs and professionals have different venues, audiences and public awareness, they meet on the street like masked pedestrians. There are many successful, amateur, part-time artists in street art; no doubt more than any other area of visual arts. Perhaps a subject for another post.

I could write a blog post about all ideas I’ve had to write blog posts. You will know that I am getting desperate when I write one about the murals of Coburg. There is this terrible painting of Marilyn Monroe, with her skirt blowing up of course, on the side of some restaurant that I never want to see again.

Aside from street art and graffiti, what else have I seen on the suburban streets of Coburg? A few pleasant front gardens, a strange sculpture and a lot of tasteless, late-capitalist stuff. (Who was that masked man?)


Dvate’s two faces

Melbourne street artist Dvate works in two styles: one is good and the other tasteless. I prefer Dvate’s dynamic graffiti to his tame aerosol paintings of native fauna that have gone up around Moreland.

Look at Dvate’s graffiti pieces: the calligraphy of the letterforms, the super clean lines (no drips), and an eye-popping palette of colours. There is so much more energy and other unique qualities to them than his sentimental representational work. In some graffiti pieces, he uses mortar fillers to build up sections of the wall to lift the parts of his letters off the surface of the walls, for example in this piece in Rutledge Lane that was part of “All Your Walls” in 2013.

His kitsch works of sentimentalism are the contemporary equivalent of chocolate-box paintings, aesthetic garbage sold to a population that hasn’t thought about taste. Dvate has been doing graffiti and tags around Melbourne for decades, but he probably makes more money from his tasteless murals.

According to a Moreland Council tweet, they are: “reducing graffiti in #Moreland by commissioning #murals in areas with high tagging rates. Street artist Dvate has installed these stunning native Australian murals in Coburg, and 3 more murals are due to go up once Covid-19 restrictions ease.”

The strategy of reducing graffiti by commissioning murals is not new. It is the standard strategy and is one of the reasons why I dislike murals (for more reasons read my blog post Anti-Muralism). It assumes that graffiti and tags are less desirable than other images based on popular prejudices rather than any evidence.

If Moreland Council wants public art, then they should commission public art, if they want to reduce tagging, then they should hire cops or some other law enforcement device, and they should not confuse the two.


Walls in Brunswick & Coburg

Desperate to see some new art, I have searched the laneways of Brunswick and Coburg for graffiti. These northern inner-city Melbourne suburbs are old enough to have a network of granite paved laneways that make for excellent and discreet locations for painting.

I have this paint-spotting addiction that can’t be satisfied by seeing photos on the internet. I want to do two contradictory things: to get up close to the wall to see the technique and to look around at the whole location.

Often very suburban locations: the sides of garages, parks and garden walls. For, although there still are factories and warehouse in Brunswick and Coburg, they are being demolished to be replaced by high-density housing. I hoped to be able to see more graffiti revealed by demolition. However, I couldn’t many places where I could photograph anything.

There are some fantastic pieces of wildstyle graffiti overflowing with style and energy. A few old-school pieces along with bombs and tags. Love the bomb from Nong, a tag with a nod to old Australian slang for ‘stupid’.

I was intrigued by this wall in suburban Coburg that had a mix of techniques and styles. There was everything from old-school bubble letters to experiments that mix street art techniques, like stencil with aerosol graffiti. It made me think of the new possibilities.


Street Art Notes June 2020

During the lockdown I was walking different paths to the popular locations for street art and graffiti. There are walls in Coburg that are well worth a second glance, to admire the elegant form and clean technique of the writer. Many of these lanes are so narrow that it hard to get a good photo of the billboard sized pieces.

I will write it again because it bares repeating. What I admire about graffiti is that young men are talking about calligraphy and colours rather than, what I all too often had to listen to in my youth — football, cars, and Hitler. This is why I think that painting walls is a good thing and if someone does an inferno of a piece; so much the better for everyone.

When I did return to look at Hosier Lane and AC/DC Lane the street art and graffiti were still there. But they were so empty. The only reason why there was anyone besides myself in Hosier Lane was that meals for the homeless were being distributed. Still, there was some evidence that artists had been active in the area. Osno is a French artist from Dunkirk who has become stranded in Australia during the pandemic lockdown. Mr Dimples and others have sprayed some stencils (see my post on Mr Dimples). Yes, the street artist are returning to Melbourne’s lanes (not that they ever really left) but not the tourists.

Did the lockdown inspire people to create much street art? (Aside from children drawing in chalk on the sidewalks.) Some feared that there would an explosion of yarn bombing from people knitting during the lockdown but I’ve yet to see any indication of that. I came across an unfinished piece by an obviously trained artist, it had a grid of pencil lines for scaling up the image.

During my walks in Coburg I’ve photographed many street signs that have witty messages written in grease pencil on them. I’ve been informed that they are across the northern inner suburbs and from comparing the handwriting it appears to be the same person.


Prahran Square

In order to avoid the threat of democracy no city in Victoria was designed with a square. Now that democracy is no longer a threat squares are being retrofitted into city plans. I’ve visited two new squares in Melbourne: Prahran Square and the smaller Maddern Square in Footscray. Both are multifunction spaces made from converting carparks.

Prahran Square

Prahran Square is on the site of the old Cato Street car park in Prahran with the carpark now beneath the site. It is a very large space like a amphitheatre with steep sides. Facing in on itself it ignores the borrowed scenery of the old buildings around it. The central elements of the square are all created by the architects. Taken from the same set generic contemporary elements that architects around the world currently use, including the fountain with jets of water flush with the pavement. The green playground equipment is more central and sculptural than any of the actual sculpture.

Indigenous artist Fiona Foley’s work, murnalong, is literally on the periphery of the square. ‘Murnalong’ means ‘bee’ in the local Boon Wurrung language, a subtle reference to the location. Attractive as these cast aluminum bees are, they fail to identify the place; firstly because they can hardly be seen and secondly because there already is a building in Melbourne with several large gold bees on it – Richard Stringer’s Queen Bee on the Eureka Tower. So that identifying the place in conversation; “You know the place with the bees?” could be confusing.

Jamie North, Ringform 1 and 2, 2019

Not much of the arts budget was spent on Jamie North Ringform 1 and 2. There is minimalism and then there is North’s basic forms; a couple of zeroes scores well for being garden sculpture.

The only public art that is allowed to work in the square are The Pipes 2019, a site-specific visual and audio installation co-designed by light artist Bruce Ramus and sound designer Material Thinking, because they were designed in collaboration with Lyons Architects. The visual and audio can be seen and heard almost everywhere in the square.

When I visited, none of the shops were occupied and there was also two temporary black wooden cubes with street art painted on them; the standard city council move to use street art as an urban social-aesthetic solution.

The Foley’s bees is the only part of the square that refers remotely to the location. Otherwise, it could almost anywhere in the world and I expect to see it or its underground carpark in a movie that is not set in Prahran. There is much about Prahran Square that is forced, contrived and strained; it was controversial and the two year build doing nothing to assist local traders. The arts do not account for a single percent of the $64 million budget.

Maddern Square, Footscray

Contrast this to Maddern Square in Footscray in Melbourne’s west. It is smaller in many ways, less money was spent on the space and the public art is all aerosol. It has a drinking fountain, shady trees, seating and a shipping container being the only facilities that the square needs. The architectural elements in the square are the same set of contemporary elements that are used everywhere but at least you know where you are because it uses the backs of buildings: “Keep Footscray Crazy”.

Thanks to William and Matt for showing me these squares.


Street Art Sculpture 10

Unauthorised sculpture or urban-art installations in public places are the opposite of the monumental official place-making sculptures. These are sculptures that you have to looking for to find. They are small rather than giant, they are discreet rather than obvious. They don’t reflect the official government position like this small version of Greenpeace’s melting tennis ball to remind people that must we are living in a #ClimateCrisis. (A large 1.5 metre version of this was temporarily installed in Federation Square during the Australian Open in 2019.)

The fake brick wall, crystal cave in a brick or the clock on grill is all about placement. The surprise of discovery that something that could only be described as art is part of an old brick wall in the city or has been installed on the grill of a bricked up window.

Up on a wall in Presgrave Place is a cast version of Jayeff’s eye with a smile. It is simply a bit of fun that is close to being a high-end version of a tag. The tiny work of Tinky and Gigi are more likely to be seen in exhibition or at a festival but a couple have been seen on the streets. Presgrave Place is the place to go if you do want to see some street art sculpture.

Will Coles, Discarded and others are still glueing their cast works around the city, Junkie Projects is still nailing them up but it were these cast faces by an anonymous artist in Hosier Lane that were the best street sculpture that I’ve seen in a long time. While other cast objects can survive a layer or ten of aerosol paint the cast faces incorporated that eventuality into their image (see my blog post).

In the city I saw another one of Drasko’s mock classical low relief works that add modern tech.

For more about street art sculptures see my earlier posts:

Street Art Sculpture 9 2018  

Street Art Sculpture 8 2017

Street Art Sculpture 7 2016

Street Art Sculpture 6 2015 

street art sculpture in the Whitechapel Area

Street Art Sculpture 5

10 Great Street Installation 2014

Street Art Sculpture III 2012

More Street Art Sculpture 2010

Street Art Sculpture 2009


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