Category Archives: Street Art

Create Dangerously

Trying to walk down unfamiliar streets and lanes rather than using the same path. This post might be just an excuse to show a few photographs. On the other hand, I’m reading Albert Camus Create Dangerously and thinking about anarchy.

I was in Brunswick when I met a person involved in Melbourne’s street art and graffiti scene. They mentioned how few signs of any radical politics they were seeing on the street. I differed as I had just seen a set of recent anarchist paste-ups, only a couple of blocks north.

Drafted a blog post about anarchist posters but delayed because, as a bit of research on the images showed, they were not created locally. However, I admire their dedication to distribution, along with the neat and often colour co-ordinated placement.

That draft was then rewritten when a friend started posting images of some of the same anarchist posters in Reservoir. So my potted history of anarchists activity in Brunswick that noted Barricade Books and the annual Anarchist Book Fair at the Brunswick Town Hall was irrelevant.

Are these analogue agitprop paste-ups a Luddite throw-back? Wouldn’t it be more efficient to work online than on the streets? Being on the street is different from an online armchair activist as it occupies, uses, and appropriates actual space and not virtually nothing. Being on the street is propaganda by deed, a fact testified by every protest march, by those occupying the street, by every political slogan written on a wall…

Create Dangerously is a speech that Camus gave in 1957, a few days after receiving the Noble Prize in Literature. In it, he examines the tension between popularism and formalism or art for art’s sake. In Melbourne, there is Lush, who will paint anything that will generate the most likes, and the graffiti writers, who are only painting for themselves and their mates. Camus provokes and challenges artists to find another way to engage with the world.


COVID-19, street art and graffiti

Melbourne street art and graffiti riffs on topical themes, and, currently, the COVID-19 pandemic is the most topical. And there has been a mix of politics and personal responses in street art and graffiti.

This is not a collection trawled from the internet, to attract page views without knowledge or information on the background, but a limited selection that I have gathered on my walks in Melbourne, Brunswick and Coburg. Some of these images have appeared in previous blog posts, but there is also some new work. Cell Out paste-up in Hosier Lane refers to the AstraZeneca vaccine’s problems.

In a surprising practical move, the City of Melbourne stuck social distancing markers in Hosier Lane. It is one of Melbourne’s tourist hotspot, but without international tourists, there are now far fewer people in the lane.

I saw a couple of visual references to the virus combined with other images. The grenade is obviously explosive. The tennis ball is a reference to the 2021 Australian Open spreading the virus, remembering that the state government favoured sporting events over culture consistently during Melbourne’s several lockdowns.

Stickers were the most political media on the street during the pandemic. They focused on state politics. Although State Premier Daniel Andrews gained many fanatical supporters during the pandemic, he was also hated by others. (I have the opposite view to Daniel Andrews on many things. He supports the police and cutting down trees, whereas I support cutting down the police and not trees.)

Given Victoria Police’s history of racism and connection to extreme right-wing politics, combined with the Black Lives Matter movement, I was surprised that I didn’t see more graffiti and street art about the use of police to enforce the lockdown.

Other pieces were more personal and representing the change of image from wearing masks. Given that graf writers tend to mask up anyway it wasn’t much of a change.


Four works of public art

Considering four works of public art with differences in funding, permanence, and relationship to place, as well as techniques and materials. All of them are associated with the complex of hospitals in the inner Melbourne suburb of Parkville.

There is some recent yarn bombing by Yarn Corner on the trees in front of Royal Melbourne Hospital on Royal Parade and outside the Royal Women’s Hospital on Flemington Road. A thank-you to the hospital staff during the pandemic. This collective, co-operative community work, includes one of the best pieces of yarn bombing that I have ever seen. This was not mindless, meditative knitting but a work planned from the start with a vision of how it would look on a tree in Parkville. It is a temporary installation that interacts with the built and natural environment and, in that respect, is specific to the location.

Micheal Meszaros, Irreparable Loss of Potential, 2015

Micheal Meszaros, Irreparable Loss of Potential, 2015 is a permanent sculpture commissioned by the Dyson Bequest to commemorate the anniversary of Gordon Clunes MacKay’s death Mathison, a doctor and talented medical researcher, from wounds in WW1. It is another in his series of sculptures at the front of the Royal Women’s Hospital and Medical Building at the University of Melbourne. The series emphasises the collaborative, team effort that is at the core of medical science. The sculpture is not site-specific. It is now in its second location near the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute entrance.

Bruce Armstrong The Next Day 1990

Next to Meszaros’ sculpture at the entrance of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute is Bruce Armstrong The Next Day 1990. It is was purchased as a complete statue from Armstrong with funds donated by Dame Elizabeth Murdoch. A seated figure, solid and substantial, head bowed, reflecting inward; its archetypal form would speak to many people. Carved in a subtractive process from logs of red gum. The massive pieces of wood used are found material that Armstrong has salvaged. Other Armstrong sculptures around Melbourne include the well known Eagle on Wurundjeri Way. Armstrong is one of Melbourne’s public art giants. For more on his sculpture, see my blog post.

Holly O’Brien, Hope

Just across Royal Parade on the University of Melbourne’s grounds is one of the Me and UooUoo sculpture trail. It is connected to my hospital sculpture theme because it is “the Royal Children’s Hospital Anniversary Art Trail”. Me and UooUoo are temporarily plonked down and don’t interact with the built or natural environment. Painted by local artists on the same round Uoo Uoo form, these sculptures form a trail, but you couldn’t walk it as it goes all the way to Geelong. This attractively painted one is Hope by Holly O’Brien, a final year student at Templestowe College. Among the many artists involved in this project, several street artists were involved, including Manda Lane, Mike Makatron, Be Free, and Ghostpatrol. And the corporate sponsorship, the art wash, is prominently displayed along the base.


Stuck on Stickers II

Kids love stickers. Bumper stickers and other self-adhesive messages have been around since 1935 when Stan ‘the Sticker Man’ Avery invented a machine to manufacture them. With street art stickers underwent a change in identity and context from promotional to person and from the bumper to the street.

Walk along any street, Melbourne, New York, Paris, Seoul or Singapore, you will see stickers. They may be on the backs of signs, on utility boxes, or elsewhere as local custom demands, but you will find them somewhere. And often in clusters.

There is a mystery to stickers because there is no way to determine what they mean until you look closely at them. Is it a kind of tag, street art or political, or is it advertising? Is it advertising or the logo manipulations, politics and puns of culture jamming? Maybe several, thinking about the politics around the “Sticker Lady” (aka Sam Lo) in Singapore. For these sets are not exclusive, and there is considerable overlap.

“Hello, my name is” one of the common kinds of stickers. An extension of tagging, slapping down an old conference name-tag sticker with the tag written on it, rather than risking writing the tag on the street. The linear progress along a route mapped by the placement of the same sticker.

Once identity became the stickers’ objective, like tags, a place with one sticker leads to more. The accretion of stickers in a location is like a dog pissing on a post to show other dogs that it was there. Sticker collects at way-posts. The collective greeting that stickers represent, gathering places around the city slowed down to the speed of sticker accretion. The Cherry Bar’s disused windows in AC/DC lane, the old elevator doors in the Degraves Street underpass, the backs of so many street signs, the supports for power poles…

I recognise many of the stickers in Melbourne, it is broader than just street artists and graffiti writers. There are stickers from people who are not street artists but are on the edge of street art: street art collectors, street art photographers and dog walkers. Contemporary artists join in condensing their philosophy down to an aphoristic slogan: “The truth is a copy” from Joel Gailer.

For more on stickers, there is my post from 2009 Stuck on Stickers.


Street Art Sculpture 11

This has been a big year for unauthorised public sculptural artwork; both for little and larger works, veterans and novices.

The Little Librarian up-cycles old books into new art using books for the support for the tiny installations. Unlike Tinky, The Little Librarian doesn’t use puns. The old books used would have been thrown out but have been made into something before being placed on walls. They don’t last long outside, due to the weather and, I assume, being ripped off by a passer-by. Tinky has continued to install miniature scenes on the street. Still, she is not the only street artist in Melbourne using HO scale figures.

There is a golden young woman’s head on a slender concrete plinth on the island inhabited by ibis in Coburg’s Lake Reserve. Last year a similar golden head of a man appeared atop a similar concrete plinth in Northcote’s All Nations Park (The Age reports).

The new sculpture’s placement on the island must have been strategically tricky as there is no bridge. This location avoids the Northcote bust’s problems whose plinth was knocked over shortly after it was installed. The Darebin Council restored it, deciding that it would remain in place for a year and then be auctioned with the proceeds donated to homelessness services. 

Elsewhere in a city mainly under quarantine lockdown for much of year children created spoonvilles. These settlements of decorated wooden spoons are open contribution sculptural works that invite others to participate. 

Some graffiti writers, like Cheros, expand their techniques, creating three-dimensional tags.

And ceramic works continues to feature as one of the more surprising mediums for street art be it from Discarded or other, unknown artists.

For more about unauthorised public sculptures see my earlier posts:


Making Hosier Lane Safe For Tourists

The new outdoor seating for the Hosier Lane restaurants has taken over Rutledge Lane for COVID safe dinning. (At the moment there is mostly intra-city tourism and the crowds of international tourists are absent.) This included repainting the walls with a rather bland, family-friendly theme of Disney’s Alice in Wonderland.

How delightfully boho is it?

Over a decade ago, these much-misinterpreted words were stencilled on 167 Flinders Lane’s rear wall in Rutledge Lane. I will not explain the legally correct interpretation of those words, but the effect of their misinterpretation. Their misinterpretation created a street art zone in Melbourne’s centre and one of the city’s top tourist attractions.

The words spelt out an application for “a retrospective Street Art Permit”. “The City of Melbourne acknowledges that public spaces provide a gallery and stage for artistic expression and approve permits for street art with the building owners permission. Legal street art contributes to a vibrant urban environment and can change continually on a day to day to basis.” The text finally noted, “The artwork may evolve over time.”

Overtime many layers of both authorised and unauthorised paint have been sprayed over those words and whole laneway. It has been painted Empty Nursery Blue and buffed black, in preparation for Melbourne Now. In places, the enamel paint is half a centimetre thick.

Art performs many functions, even paradoxically one function as to be functionless and excessive. Another is to overturn rules and conventions, the lords of misrule with a child’s eyes. That is where the notorious fire extinguisher filled with paint protest performance of February 2020 has to be looked at again.

“Melbourne’s Hosier Lane street art, graffiti, painted over in weekend ‘vandalism’ attack”, ABC News

Making the lane safe for tourism and families includes increased shopping, eating and photo opportunities for tourists. And these presents risks to others using the lane: the artists, the homeless, the homeless artists…

Is Hosier Lane a libertarian paint zone free to exploit for profit? Or is Hosier Lane an anarchic paint zone where freely given play/work contributions of graffiti and street art are welcome? These questions are at the centre of the debate about Hosier Lane’s function. They leave me contemplating two alternatives futures for the lane’s walls. Will it be bland, apolitical murals, celebrating celebrities and seasonal festivities, or the artistic unknown?

Some recent stencil art in Hosier Lane

Viki Murray’s Skateboard Riders

You wouldn’t imagine that there are many skateboard riders rolling around Lightning Ridge, but Walgett Shire boasts a skatepark. Lightning Ridge, in north-western New South Wales, is better known for opal mining. So I was surprised to find out that Viki Murray, the artists who spray-painted stencil images of board riders surfing the gnarly curves of the aerosol paint on Melbourne walls, lives in Lightning Ridge.

Skateboard culture is like hip-hop’s brother-in-law from the outer suburbs; it is married to graffiti even if it is not related. It is a stable relationship that has lasted decades which Viki Murray’s skateboarders only emphasis.

Murray’s multilayer stencilled or paste-up images are painted in a subdued palette of grey tones. I like their small size and the way that they blend into the graffiti. They don’t fill a wall like so much of current street art. They are not obvious from 100 metres, or even 10 metres away. They’re cool, like the skateboarders, who find an empty space to use.

Street art has often looked at placement but rarely have they rode the dynamic lines of aerosol graffiti. Murray’s riders inhabit the illusionary space of the paint. Cruising the clouds of colour found in these readymade psychedelic landscapes.

Even the random marker writer in a psychotic frenzy of scribomania in Hosier Lane respected Murray’s work adding “King Dude” and a crown. 

It is a long way between Melbourne and Lightning Ridge, days of driving but Viki Murray and her husband John ‘Mort’ Murray, who paints murals and has a gallery in Lightning Ridge, have done it several times. Unless there is someone else who has been adding skateboard riders to graffiti, Murray’s riders have been surfing the graffiti lines in Melbourne for many years. And I hope that their wheels will rumble as their roll on the paint for many more.


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