Advertisements

Category Archives: Street Art

Walls and supports

I want to write about the aesthetics of walls; the supports for the advertising, graffiti, street art, decay and accidental marks in the city. Something about the dirty mix of dividers, partitions and supports that we see all the time, that defines the city but we don’t usually focus on.

What brought the city’s walls into focus for me was a copy of a wall on a wall in the CBD. On a brick wall in the city someone had added cast a section of bricks; I guess it was done by an art student who had read some Baudrillard. It had then been reattached to the matched section of the wall. This simulation was an elegant minimal celebration of a plain brick wall for what it is.

Consider some other walls and surfaces, not just for their suitability as a surface for applying aerosol paint, or glue. In Union Lane some paint had come off a wall in a big acrylic sheet about the size of my hand. It revealed the layers of different coloured aerosol paint was almost half a centimetre thick. Some Melbourne walking tour guides will tear off a bit of peeling paint to show visitors the archeology of Melbourne’s graffiti.

Like the accretion of staples, nails and screws on wooden power-poles, all that remains of posters for lost cats, garage sales and other signs.

The advertising posters at Flinders Street Station, torn off because their contracted time is up, compared to the “décollage” of Raymond Hains and Jacques de la Mahé Villeglé in France in 1949. The duo exhibited layers of torn advertising posters that they had ripped from the streets as works of art.

The contested values of  buffing and art appreciation where selected street art pieces are painted around. Or where graffiti writers leave space to preserve ghost-signs, the old hand-painted advertisements by professional sign-writers.

They make you wonder what forces are operating on the wall. Are they intentional? Or accidental? Or the inevitable entropy of a plumber putting a pipe through a Banksy rat on a wall in Prahran.

Advertisements

Current Melbourne street art and Facter

“I like this guy!” One of the three blonde girls declared pointing at a piece by Facter. All of  the girls were wearing tiny denim shorts and overall less cloth than next two people in Hosier Lane but I won’t discount their opinion for lack of clothing. I was more amazed that they liked Facter.

Facter, Hosier Lane

Facter is an old hand in Melbourne’s street art scene and amongst the most important people in the scene. He grew up with the tiny Perth graffiti scene in the 1980s (when you couldn’t spellcheck your tags). He is a nice guy and more of a writer than a graff writer; he is the editor in chief of Invurt. He is more significant as an advocate, curator and organiser, then for his painting on the street.

Facter’s pieces are robotic segmented creatures that exist somewhere between street art and aerosol graffiti; the letter form of graffiti replaced by the outline of the creature but most of the traditional aerosol elements of a piece are still there. There is a childish joy in the bright colours in his pieces and shapes. Facter also makes designer toys in this style.

That day I was exploring the Melbourne grid and although I have been doing that for years there are still parts that I haven’t seen. Hoping that just down this lane will find something beautiful or surprising. Sometimes I do but more often it will be more construction, workers smoking out or a van being unloaded. I didn’t find anything that day; last week I found Baptist Place and the work of the Night Krawler but I can’t expect to do that every time so I went back to some of the major street art locations.

That day I had already seen a couple of pieces by Facter; there were two in Croft Alley in Chinatown. Croft Alley still has plenty of fresh graffiti pieces in it, only it is so narrow that there are only a couple of walls that are easily photographed. 

Fresh wildstyle piece in Croft Alley

In Hosier Lane there was more political pieces reflecting the current political issues: the students strike against climate change inaction and the conviction of Cardinal George Pell. It is so political that Van Rudd has a prominent section of wall for his brush painted mural. I’ve forgotten who said that street art had lost its political edge.


Current Stencil Street Art

It did require a conscious decision on my part not to change my habits and walk a different way through the city. It required minimal effort but surprising results because it led me to Baptist Place and the stencils of the Night Krawler.

Night Krawler Contra toda autoridad excepto mi mama

I can’t believe that I haven’t been to Baptist Place before but it seems I haven’t. Baptist Place runs off Little Collins Street.

There are little lanes that I’ve never been in, right in the centre of Melbourne. I am almost three years behind the times, so don’t look to me for recent information. I can date this because I have only learnt about the Night Krawler, a stencil artist who has been working around the inner city since late 2016. At least according to the knowledgable Toby of ‘all those shapes’.  (Cheers, Matthew W for your help.)

I had seen Night Krawler’s cat stencils before, but these were different. “Contra toda autoridad excepto mi mama” (against all authority, except for my mum). The headless hoodie kid with his halo of razor wire was almost buffed away, so that only a ghostly image remained under the paint.

Other works were spaced down the walls of Baptist Place with a sense of narrative, like panels in a comic about a Latin-American magical-realism with cats.

Stencils were once a major feature of Melbourne’s street art. They were the talk of the streets for the first decade of this century. Max GPS, Night Krawler, N20, Sunfigo, Drasko and others are keeping the technique going on the streets. The internationally infamous, Max GPS had done a large piece in Union Lane, off the Bourke Street Mall.

It is hard to credit all the stencil artists because they often don’t tag their work. I can understand why Night Krawler deserves credit but who would want to be held responsible for some of these atrocious puns?


Looking back at street art in 2009

I have been reporting on Melbourne’s street art and graffiti in this blog for over a decade. What has changed? And what did I get completely wrong? The largest and most obvious change is that the walls have got larger until they were the size of grain silos.

Part of a large wall by AWOL crew 2009

It has been a decade of adjusting tensions between local city councils and the people who create art on their streets. There are now a lot more legal walls, in 2009 they were not as common as there are now. Businesses were far ahead of local councils in this regard because they didn’t have to negotiate with people with an ideological commitment to be against graffiti they just looked at their triple bottom line.

In  2009 as graffiti and street art grew in popularity anti-graffiti legislation was a draconian punitive response; instead of fines, jail terms. Consequently many graffiti and street art events, like the Croft Alley Project, had a specific political agenda.

Melbourne still doesn’t have a street art centre and specialist street art galleries have not survived. I was completely wrong about this, While some people imagined a centre at Docklands, many people objected to having any institution, even a festival like the Melbourne Stencil Festival in 2009. In other cities street art centres have been created without the dire consequences that the nay sayer predicted.

Street art was always welcome by art galleries and a mainstream art career was always a clear path a decade ago as it is now. I don’t know why I thought that a parallel gallery system might emerge.

A decade ago there was more of a need to place street art within a historic context (or was that just me?) to prove that it was connected with art history and a continuing tradition of graffiti. As it turned out this was irrelevant.

Although no-one is talking about doing street art with living moss anymore much has stayed the same. Many of the same artists are still putting work up in the street. In 2009 I saw my one of the first Junky Projects on a side street in Fitzroy.


Exploiting Hosier

I still have a look at Hosier Lane when I am in the city. After a decade of watching this dynamic laneway I am still confident that I will see something worth photographing and often something worth thinking about.

Unknown, skull moth, Hosier Lane

In the last decade Hosier Lane has changed a great from a notable location for street art in Melbourne to an international tourist attraction. A decade ago you might find that the laneway that you were the only person in the lane; now with both increases in tourism and homelessness that will never happen.

One thing that hasn’t changed is that people are still exploiting Hosier Lane. The concept of exploitation is little/very well understood in Australia because the basis of the Australia’s economy is exploiting minerals and land for mining and agricultural economy. It is almost a swear word in a country where a billionaire heiress believes that the description “heiress” is a “negative slur”. So let’s be clear: ‘exploitation’ is when you get something for nothing or at very little cost and you make a lot of money from it.

Hosier Lane earlier this week

Some of the photographers are exploiting the street art and graffiti for their own profit. Most are not, the amateurs, the tourists taking selfies and the students are not but when you have lighting and a model, it does looks very professional. The wedding photographers that use the location for free are certainly exploiting it.

Last year there was the issue of KIL Productions was exploiting the walls of Hosier to make money from brides and grooms who think it is romantic to have their message of love on the walls. KIL productions has been painting in Hosier Lane for many years and I have nothing against him for any of those pieces.

One of KIL’s non-exploitive pieces from 2017

Many urban artists have an entrepreneurial spirit, making money from their art where they can. However there is a vast difference between selling art (or conducting street art tours) and making money exploiting world famous walls that cost you nothing to use. Nobody would be complaining about a wall behind one of the bridal boutiques along Sydney Road in Brunswick; I might even be writing a post about wall and graffiti chic instead of this post. This is not a question of censorship people’s art but about inappropriate in a particular location.

Hosier Lane is no longer the best location to see the latest or best street art or graffiti, for years now it has become its own thing, exploiting its own reputation into the future.

To see the freshest street art and graffiti your best bet would be to go for a walk, or bike ride, in the inner city suburbs. This is the first multi-panel, narrative, aerosol mural that I have seen; I don’t know who did it but kudos to them for painting in black and white.


Post-Art

What is the difference between artists and poets? What does the nuances, the trace elements, of these two different words mean for the way that culture workers understand their work? I’m not sure and I have lived in shared houses with both. I have called myself an artist and a philosopher but I draw the line at being called a ‘poet’.

Will Coles, Pussy Riot mask, Hosier Lane

A century ago I would have still been talking about poetry with the Dadaists in Berlin but by 1919 Hugo Ball had already distance himself from Dada.

“Conclusion: that the political action in Switzerland no longer makes sense, and that it is childish to insist on morality in the face of these activities. I am thoroughly cured of politics too, having already given up aestheticism. It is necessary to have a closer and more exclusive recourse on the individual basis: to live only on one’s own integrity, and to renounce completely every corporate activity.” Hugo Ball 24/5/1919

Avant-garde art, poetry, political action or social practice; the emptiness of Dadaist nihilism is such that each interpreter’s transfers their own desires and expectations on to it. From Johannes Baader, the Berlin Dadaist who in 1919 showered the inauguration of the first German Republic with his home-printed leaflets, Das grün Pferd (The Green Horse), to Pussy Riot’s ‘Punk prayer’ performance in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in 2012, many people have taken a creative approach to politics.

However, I have growing doubts about this whole art thing. Why would anyone want to be an artist? I admire the people who quite art: Marcel Duchamp and that minor Renaissance painter, I forget his name, who tired of all the talk about perspective gave up art to become an innkeeper. (I’d like to drink to him.)

Why should artist be regarded as some kind of panicle of human achievement? The romantic middle class self-indulgent masturbation fantasy believing that they are expressing some vital essence for the good of humanity.

Art, the great appropriator comes into the room, and tells you that your stuff is part of its grandiose definition. It is the kind of blatant theft that it would make Jeff Koons and Richard Price blush with shame that they had been so modest. It is so colonial; items of cultural and religious significance are appropriated. From prehistoric cave paintings to religious material; every artefact becomes art. Anything that fits the current idea of art becomes the property of the Republic of Art; for “Art” like “God” is eternal, universal and vaguely defined. At the very least the word ‘art’ is over extended and is a poor model for culture workers.


Sunshine Lane

A visit to the Sunshine Lane (Ann St, Brunswick) is always worthwhile to see quality street art and graffiti. There are other great locations for street art in Brunswick hidden away in the backstreets. Few laneways in Melbourne get a 5 star review on Google but this is one; Google describes it as an art gallery and in a way it is. Sunshine Lane is one of the locations in Brunswick where street art graffiti thrive because it is semi-curated by Dean Sunshine, whose family owns several of the warehouse in the area. There are some permanent works, like this one by Slicer that I videoed when he was spraying it six years ago.

In the video I wanted to convey the action painting aspects of painting with a spray can (as in the action painting of the Abstract Expressionist 10th Street School). Aspects that Slicer embodied well, but it is his footwork, the dance that is also common to all artists spray painting large walls that I was also watching. The person dances along the wall with their spray can, steps back, pause, steps to the left, or to the right, and then steps back up to the wall to once again paint across its surface.

A couple of stencils by Drasko and others around the area reminded me that a decade ago the main focus on Melbourne’s street art was stencils. It is not that stencils are making a come back, they never went away, it is just that the street art scene is so much larger that stencils no longer dominate.

No-one would have predicted what is still happening with street art; what was underground and wild is now mainstream. A decade ago I was told so often that Melbourne’s street art had peaked that I took it too mean that the person in question was getting out of the scene. However, for every person who left the scene to pursue other goals it seemed that five took their place.

Rapid urbanisation has been the fuel in this expansion in many ways. The growth of the city, not just spread, but vertically has created many more walls filled by many more people who want to paint them. The walls get larger, whole sides of multi-storey buildings and more and more get painted. There are now building sites around Sunshine Lane, small laneways have vanish or are now cut off by construction works.


%d bloggers like this: