Category Archives: Street Art

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. 


Feminist Street Art

I was glad to have seen Hosier Lane on Thursday. Not for the crowd of high school students milling in the famous blue stone lane. Not for the vacuous schmaltz and wastes of aerosols that the greedy el Rolo or Culture Kings spray on the walls. Not even for the aerosol paint but for the little pieces, the stickers (there is now a dedicated section of wall in Rutledge Lane), the paste-ups and the small ceramic pieces (glued to the wall with liquid nails or superglue).

Many of these little pieces espoused feminism — a doilly cross-stitch embroidery of a quote from an advocate for survivors of sexual assault Grace Tame. Street art in Melbourne is at its best when it is raising issues that are both political and aesthetic. As one of the ceramic pieces stated: “Feminism is for everyone”

“Spastic Society opposes women. Lesley Hall St. Kilda 1981. Disability is a feminist issue.” 1981 was the United Nations International Year of Disabled Persons; it was also the year that Hall went on stage at the Miss Australia Quest with that sign: “Spastic Society opposes women”. The image is from the 1981 Miss Australia Quest, where Hall’s protest pointed out the contradiction of the beauty pageant raising money to support children with cerebral palsy. The Miss Australia Quests’ idea of beauty excluded people with disabilities. For more, read Hall’s article on “Beauty Quests: A Double Disservice Beguiled, Beseeched And Bombarded – Challenging The Concept Of Beauty”

It also reminds me that street art is a very ableist activity. 

It was good to see all these pieces, to know that more women are doing quality work as street art should not be just for the boys. I went on to Presgrave Place, where I saw more pieces by women street artists. Stencils by artist and jeweller Edie Black, cutouts by Manda Lane and more stencil paste-ups by Vikie Murray.


Burn City

Looking down on an entire laneway painted blue from the pavement to the third storey. Pieces in Melbourne’s Hosier Lane don’t last very long before they are tagged or painted over. Getting photographs of fresh street art is an art in itself, requiring dedication and a commitment to following social media.

Lou Chamberlin Burn City – Melbourne’s Painted Streets (Hardie Grant Travel, 2017)

Books of photographs are an established part of the street art scene, and publishing about street art is a crowded scene. And Melbourne based writer and photographer Chamberlin has created several books on street art: Urban Scrawl: Street Art Text in the City (Hardie Grant 2019), Street art international (Explore Australia Publishing 2016), Street Art: Australia (Explore Australia Publishing 2015), Street Art: Melbourne (Explore Australia Publishing 2013), Street art: Rio (Blurb Creative Publishing, 2012), and Street art: Melbourne (Blurb Creative Publishing, 2012). She provides more text than Land of Sunshine but less than most books; chapter introductions and then a paragraph here and there with a bit more information about one or two of the artist.

Burn City is organised into chapters by content: face, fauna, abstraction (and there is a surprising amount of abstract work, an antidote to all the aerosol realism). Then there is the artist’s intention to create an illustrative storytelling style. Or to raise social and political issues (politicians are as proud of their representations in street art as they are of political cartoons). And finally, two chapters on the structure of the street art in the streetscape, one with images of painting whole buildings and pavements, bins, and traffic signal boxes. And the other looks at the same wall with new paint; this final chapter emphasises the ephemeral aspect of street art, justifying the photographic record of what once was.

It is worth pointing out that this is a travel photo book about an attractive aspect of a place at the intersection of art and travel. The spectacle of urban murals as a tourist attraction, a destination to visit, something to see and photograph. And although the foreword is written by David Hurlston, the Senior Curator of Australian Art at the NGV, he does write about the geographic spread of Melbourne’s street art and how it reaches walls and silos in regional Victoria.


Visiting old lanes

I’m checking out the craft market in part of one of the sheds of Victoria Market, looking for a few gifts. So I have to go and see the graffiti in Lovelands. Loveland’s was a mass of lanes off Franklin Street, and it was one of the best places in the city for street art and graffiti. I last saw its aerosol covered walls back in July 2021, just before Melbourne went into its long final lockdown, and there was construction going on. 

There has been a lot of construction in the area, and so much has changed. Memories from the late 90s of having lunch with Stephan Schutt, Juan Ford and the Looksmart editorial team at the Mercat. 

After the crowds of the market, it is almost empty. A trio of women take photographs of each other at the entrance to the little parking lot.

Recent street signs designated that it has become Kulinbulok Lane and Kulinbulok Place. New places created in the ever-expanding apartment building boom in Melbourne.

Melbourne doesn’t have many squares because its original designers believed that they would promote democracy. Now there is this odd little square at Kulinbulok Place. It was empty, but it looked like a discreet place to drink. But what are they expected to them to do with the empties? What it needs is a bottle recycling bin. Aside from bike racks and seats, there are no other amenities. 

It doesn’t look like there has been any fresh graffiti or street art since I was last here.

Around the corner is another fading location for street art. Blender Lane used to house Blender Studios (now located in West Melbourne). There is still a construction site down the end, and it, too, is looking a bit old, and GT Sewell’s dragon/clown has been damaged. It is empty, apart from a couple of construction workers leaving the site. Memories of it packed with people after an exhibition opening or a far better craft market than was offered at Victoria Market.

Like Lovelands, very little has changed in the lane in the last year, but someone had added some surreal framed works like they do in Presgrave Lane. “I believe”, “I wonder”, and lots of eyes. But if my eyes want to see any fresh work, I will have to go elsewhere.

What is the future for these two lanes? I don’t have crystal balls, so I don’t know. Presgrave Place became disused for a couple of years only to start again, largely due to the efforts of Kranky. Reviving them would only take a couple of artists.


Melbourne Street Art May 2022

Notes on Melbourne’s street art. School groups are returning to Hosier Lane, Melbourne’s most famous street art location. There must have been sixty or seventy school kids and four teachers in the lane as I walked down its bluestones to Flinders Lane. There are still two sides to the lane (see my post) — a facile commercial and a sensitive community side. Lots of new paste-ups, people are really going to town with them. There was also some recent work by local street art veterans, including Phoenix, Facter and Manda Lane. 

Although everyone in Melbourne has heard of Hosier Lane, few will know of Baptist Place. Basically, it is a long alleyway between some buildings with a bit of an open node around an entranceway in the middle that had not been buffed in a decade (I could date it from the art). Baptist Place has a street sign, but I’m having problems with it on my photo program’s maps.

There was work by Manda Lane at the entrance to the lane.

Manda Lane is one of those street artists you don’t need to know but probably should. Her paste-up drawings of plants bring foliage to the city’s lanes. These are location critical, giving an impression of black and white plants. I had just seen a painting of local botany by her in Hosier Lane. She is one of Melbourne’s Ninjas of Street Art; others of that middle-class street art crew had left their presence in the Baptist Place. 

Some of the walls of Baptist Place have been recently buffed with a mustard yellow paint making more room for new work. Painted out, buffed pieces by Night Krawler still visible under the single layer of paint made way for new black and white stencil works. These are Night Krawler’s black and white stencils of retro-occult scenes. Stencil images that exist as multiples, so the loss is no loss. In other lanes, I see more pieces by Manda Lane, Night Krawler, paste-ups and stencils by Sunfigo, a freehand painting by CDH, and paste-ups by Mr Dimples and others.

Stencil art started my interest in Melbourne’s street art and involved me in running the Melbourne Stencil Festival/Sweet Streets. There used to be so many people doing stencil art. Still there is always someone doing aerosol spray paint in Melbourne’s street art scene. And generally, they are pretty good at it, with multi-layer stencils, politically conscious with a sense of humour.


Askem Graffiti

“What’s his name?” Ask ‘em.

Looking at a fresh, old-school, hip-hop style piece on a wall by local graffiti writer, Askem. Breaking it down into its constituent parts. Starting with a utilitarian brick wall in a laneway in a light industrial area of Brunswick. It is rarely used, judging from the weeds growing between the bluestone pavers. The wall has been buffed rose pink with house paint on a roller in preparation. Next, clean lines sprayed with a steady, precise hand. Guerrilla decor with aerosol paint in a laneway that would be poorer without it.

It is almost a bomb in form, but there are many more colours to the piece. The background is minimal; there is barely a cloud and no supporting characters. The letters are larger than the red cloud, but the small red cloud behind the letters makes both the green and blue of the letters pop.

The old-school design of each fat sans serif letter. Solid bubble letters outlined in black and blue projecting out from the cloud. The letters are not kerned with even spaces between them; they are alive, jostling together like buddies in a group photo.

The green fill of colour in the letters goes from an avocado through leaf green to dark olive. It is not really a fade but a mashing of these colours, which bubble and drip together. It is a combination of colours close to the ugly side of look-at-me.

The shines, bubbles and fake drips of green paint in the fill are some of the best parts. The outline of letters echos this with a few bubbles and spurts over the cloud.

Askem includes two shoutouts; to “MrR” in the S and “SDM” in the M. In acknowledging them, Askem shows that he is part of a larger social group reading graffiti. Even though getting his name up is the main thing, it is not the only thing.

This is not the first, best or the most significant piece of graffiti by Askem or Askm that I’ve seen. I’ve seen pieces by him in the area for over a decade, but I’ve never met, spoken to, had drinks with him, and couldn’t pick him out in a lineup. It is not that kind of relationship (an art critic doesn’t need to personally know the artist). Nor have I read any “artist’s statement” from Askem about why he does graffiti, his influences, and what he hopes to say through his art. It is not necessary with graffiti writers; it is all about style over content. Not that I have anything against spending time with graffiti writers (see my post Piecing in Burnside), and I’d be pleased if any local writers contacted me.


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