Category Archives: Street Art

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.


Schoolhouse Studios Coburg

Tom Civil has painted many murals around Melbourne, but this was the first time he had a party thrown for one. On Saturday, 2nd April, there was a band, a DJ and a couple of hundred people at the new Civil mural in Coburg. It was like a scene in one of his paintings with people and bicycles, only it wasn’t set in a garden but in a car park.

Schoolhouse Studios occupies the old Coles supermarket near the Coburg Station is now artists’ studios. A not-for-profit creative space located in the ugly heart of Coburg, a desolate area of car parks and utilitarian concrete blocks supermarkets. Carparks, empty tarmac or full of cars don’t make any aesthetic difference to the wasteland. It is an intersection between the inner and outer suburban north, where walkable meets automotive sewer at Bell Street.

Inside, the vast space of the former supermarket has been partitioned into small frames of little houses with clear corrugated roofs. There is also a performance space and an exhibition space. Outside, the south wall has been painted by Melbourne street art veteran Civil.

I walked past on Wednesday 9th March when Civil was about to start. The whole wall had been painted emerald green. He had only made a couple of chalk marks, trying to come to grips with how his plan will work on the actual wall. Realising that the south-facing wall is always in shadow, the colours look different in the shade but will last longer.

It took ten days working with an assistant and a scissor lift to paint the wall. First, a few trees started to appear, then, along with the outlines on the trees, some of Civil’s “stick folk”. Finally, tufts of grass and dots of rocks were added to fill out the design.

From March 22 – 31, another eight days of work for three people to paint the car park tarmac. Another local street art veteran, Michael Fikaris, helped paint the car park section.

Now the car park has become a park. And it blooms, not just with the mural but also with seats and planter boxes by Urban Commons. (For more about parklets and urban design, see my previous post.) 

Amani Haydar

In the exhibition space at the front of Schoolhouse Studios was a series of paintings and a tapestry by Sydney-based writer Amani Haydar. Her paintings of women depict images from domestic to symbolic. And her use of patterns in the background and in representing clothes is effective.

Since it opened at the start of the year, I have seen a couple of other exhibitions at Schoolhouse Studios, including “It’s in our Nature,” a group exhibition by the Lucy Goosey Feminist Art Collective about environmental and feminist issues. And I’m glad that there is another art gallery close to my home; it is the kind of exhibition space the neighbourhood needs.


Street Art Sculpture 12

This is my annual post about street art sculpture, a topic that I’ve been focused on for decades because it crosses over into my interest in public sculpture. It is the most difficult of all unauthorised art for street art sculpture often requires more materials, planning and choice of location than other forms of street art and graffiti. Even creating a small piece of black glazed ceramic with the raised letters “Black Lives Matter” on it and gluing it to a power pole takes infinitely more effort than writing it with a marker.

The ABC reported about a googly eye prankster operating in Adelaide, but all I’ve seen in Melbourne is this pink rock attached to a power pole in Brunswick. That pink rock rocks. 

Prof Alison Young pointed out a series of tiny blue creatures inhabiting caves in some ill-formed concrete at the VCA. They were probably made a few years ago, given how many have been damaged, but they are still recognisable.

The year’s highlight was a series of unauthorised sculptures with a contemporary Arte Povera attitude installed in a field in Royal Park is, something very formal, physical and site-specific. 

If you are make something that will survive outdoors in Melbourne, then it will last. I love how this old Will Coles cast concret sculpture in Hosier Lane survives under multiple layers of aerosol paint.

I keep finding tiny doors all over the city; I have no idea how long they have been there or what is behind them.

Street artists will sometimes create three-dimensional versions of their art. The art toy scene is another step further in this practice.

For more about unauthorised public sculptures, see my earlier posts:


Coburg graffiti and street art

Street-level art criticism and being aware of what is happening in my neighbourhood. Coburg graffiti and street art continue to work their way northwards piece by piece and to use the piers along the new elevated railway. And I’m still walking (and riding my bike) around these streets, lanes and paths, photographing it.

There is a good collection of graffiti pieces around Batman Station. (When will that station get a name change from that of a genocidal killer?) Playing with letterforms like a signwriting class on acid; Digs playing with different styles in the one piece.

Further back from the railway, walls that would have sported advertising a century ago are now decorated with street art. Commissioned murals legal walls, along with random stencils and tags.

However, as usual, my eye is drawn to the smaller stuff. Many fun stickers, including some espousing anti-fascism, are always good to see. Slap-up stickers may be a small platform, but it does show that you are not alone in holding those views. I spotted a tag (and some stickers) by Psalm, reminding me that he has been painting it across Melbourne since the 1990s or maybe longer.

Then there is the aerosol activity of the local WWW crew (aka World’s Worst Writers, also known as the UBM crew of Dsel, Mudl, Smelly, Achy, Luna and Calypso). How bad are they? Enquiring minds will want to know and will be disappointed that they aren’t worse. The worst is as hard to find as the best. People with talent spend years working at being the best in their field while most of us, like the WWW crew, will settle for ordinary and unexceptional most of the time. There are many shout-outs (lots of names around the pieces) on their pieces, reminding me of the social aspect of graffiti writing.

Near Coburg Station, a series of large paste-ups appeared on the piers of the elevated railway with either single words (space, air, time) on them or arty photos. They didn’t last the long Labour Day weekend before most of them were torn down.

A yarn bomber on a fence along the train line proclaims: “I love Coburg”.


How long does graffiti last?

How long does graffiti and street art last if not deliberately removed, buffed with a fresh coat of paint? Minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years, decades, even centuries. A medieval peasant cutting into the painted plaster on the church walls (for more about Medieval Graffiti). An ancient Roman scratching images of gladiators into the stones of the Colosseum.

Short answer: It depends on the medium used and the location.

Spray paint fades over time, especially in the full sun, but it does last for years, decades even. However, the same graffiti writer will paint over their own pieces to keep the paint fresh. Often it is only when a wall becomes inaccessible will they cease updating their piece.

Unlike graffiti, street art is not updated or replaced by the same artist. So the permanence of the media that a street artist uses. Paper and paste are surprisingly durable but will eventually deteriorate in Melbourne’s much-discussed weather. In the harsh and unforgiving outdoor conditions, there are casualties. Parts rust away and fall of pieces of rubbish nailed together by Junky Projects, making them meaningless.

Other media, like stone-carving, concrete casting, like Will Coles or Sandor Matos, or ceramics, lasts longer. You might be surprised at the number of unauthorised mosaics because you would think that there was almost none. Ceramics have been used as a medium for street art for decades, from the tiles mosaics of Space Invader to the work of Far4washere, a Melbourne based mixed media artist. The durability of ceramics to weathering on the street means that they have been used for authorised street mosaics (see my post about mosaics in public art in Melbourne).

The idea that graffiti was a fad contributed to a sense that it was ephemeral. The fact is that graffiti and street art are often on walls that nobody cares about; even legal projects used to bandage over an aesthetic sore spot. The building may be abandoned or scheduled for demolition. For this reason, development and other building work (a plumber putting a pipe through a Banksy) make graffiti and street art ephemeral. In Melbourne, Blender Lane, Centre Place and Lovelands are three street art/graffiti locations that have been significantly affected by developments.


Art in the age of digital reproduction

Most of the art I consumes, music, movies, text, and images, comes in a digital format. A virtually unlimited digital feast for the mind and senses. And with this, the aura of exclusive access to the original that once gave cultic status to art has disappeared.

Recently I’ve been re-reading Walter Benjamin The Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. This short book by an eclectic Berlin philosopher written in 1935 continues to resonate. Benjamin examines how the aura of originality is devalued with photographic reproduction. Some his arguments still work even as we debate his conclusions.

At the start of Section V, Benjamin distinguishes between polarities of the “cultic”, the unseen value of an image and its “display”, value to the perceiver. Having a precious item in a vault is cultic value, part of a cult of exchange value. This is very different from “display value”, which is simply what you most enjoy looking at? These are a different set of values to what art costs to buy or to make: “display value” is the aesthetic separated from the economic.

Benjamin didn’t live long enough to witness the results of digital reproduction on the arts. Where the repetition becomes meaningless and, even torturous, producing overdose reactions (for example, a Barry Manilow song on repeat).

With repeat viewing, everyone can become an expert and a critic.

When there is no original, as the digital is the original, there can only be variations: the director’s cut, the extended version, the remix, the extended dance mix, the unofficial release… the t-shirt, the movie, the game … Market segmentation to sell more. Benjamin expected an increase in commodification. However, in the long term, the only ones who have made massive profits from the arts in the age of digital reproduction have been the warehouse owners and distributors.

As the aura of originality becomes more nebulous in the digital age. The record collections of Baby Boomers gather dust, and their libraries of books are given away. Now creating unique works of art is a political statement; the intention is for them to remain private, or at least constricted and restricted, drawcard attractions for blockbuster exhibitions.

Now the aura of cultic value is an area for grifters to exploit as once priests preyed on their flocks offering unseen values. NFT sellers offer ownership of digital properties, like buying seating in heaven. Will the fetichism of owning something unique become just another kink of appreciation?

Ownership is irrelevant to Owels piece, display value is everything

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