Category Archives: Street Art

Street art notes July 2021

On the eve of Melbourne’s fifth lockdown, I decided that I had better look at some of the best of Melbourne’s street art and graffiti while I still had the chance. So I mask-up, jump on a tram and walk around the city on Thursday afternoon. Now, as I write this I am confined to my house and can only travel 5km around it for exercise, shopping … you know the drill.

A wall in Lovelands

Although I regularly reflect on what has been put up in Hosier Lane, AC/DC Lane, Croft Alley and Presgrave Place, there are many lanes that I haven’t seen in years. It was not just a lockdown that was limiting my chances, whole laneways full of art on the cusp of being demolished, art disappearing into construction projects.

I was photographing work down a familiar lane off Franklin Street, near the Queen Victoria Market and the Mercat. I have fond memories of both meals and gigs at the Mercat, which closed in January 2017. Now a massive multi-storey construction looms over it all.

A builder wearing fluro noticed my interest: “There is even better stuff further down,” he informs me. I knew that there was. The building site hadn’t swallowed up the network of lanes known as Lovelands, but it looked like it soon would.

Blender Alley is now one of the entrances to the massive construction site. Although Blender Studios have moved to a new location there is still some historic stencil art from HaHa and Psalm and quality new work on its walls. 

People always wondered how long street art and graffiti was all going to last. I remember Ghost Patrol saying that it was over in 2008. They should have been concerned not that it was a fad or how long the pigments in the paint will last but how fast the walls in the city are rebuilt. Melbourne’s street art fame has as much to do with the design of the city and these service lanes as the artistic talent.

I will pause for some lunch before examining some of the deeply held assumptions about art and the influence of the philosopher and historian David Hume. Hume came up with the idea of fads and fashions when he started to record English social history after the English Civil War. Now I’m more inclined to believe in structural influences, even the built environment, rather than the whim of a population.

However, walking around the city on Thursday afternoon I just feel negligent that I haven’t seen these years. I walk these laneways in search of the latest instantiation of the zeitgeist. There are hundreds of these service lanes, and the latest, freshest work could be hiding up any one of them. Jazzy capping Ash Keating in Chinatown, Sunfigo keeping social media real, more black and white stencil pieces by Night Krawler, paste-ups by Suki, Phoenix, and collaborative pieces by Manda Lane and Viki Murray (read my earlier post on Murray’s skateboard riders).


Under the elevated rail construction

For 16 months plus I have been without my closest bicycle path that runs along the Upfield railway. Parks and numerous trees along it destroyed. All to construct an elevated stretch of rail-line so that cars wouldn’t have to stop for the trains, trains that only run every twenty minutes at the best of times.

There is no public art for either of the two new stations at Moreland and Coburg, whose cavernous entry halls are empty, bare, and boring. Nor any for the area under the railway line. Monochrome painting of pillars, ordinary park benches, paving and lighting do not qualify. During construction, there was a pathetic attempt at art washing with images by local primary school children displayed on the fence around the wreckage of Gandolfo Gardens.

I have had the construction noise in my ears and the grit blowing in my eyes for the past year. Every day as I walk around the fenced off-site, I thank Daniel Andrews, Jacinta Allen, and the Level Crossing Removal Project in my own special way for the inconvenience. And for imposing their bland aesthetic on the area, not in small patches as the graffiti writers have been doing in a collaborative effort for decades, but blocks.

However fences and construction site security, don’t stop outlaw artists; there are always creative solutions. Gies was the first to apply aerosol paint to the north end of the new construction, at the Bell Street with a massive ‘bomb’ in three colours. And Sped was the first to tag the southern end of the tracks. The destruction of their work doesn’t remove those achievements.

Only one feature of the architecturally incoherent new stations is appealing. The platforms of the two new stations have excellent blue-black dust-covered surfaces set at 45 degrees. Perfect for writing your tag or drawing pictures in the dust, you don’t need a pen; the dust is that thick. For graffiti is the traditional visual culture of the area going back for over twenty years when Psalm and others painted the back fence at Coburg Station. So it was good to see the work of some locals, including, while I’m mentioning veteran street artists, Braddock! 

Braddock “Blue seems sus”

I dream that I can once again bicycle on a path to Brunswick. And that someone will take a fire extinguisher filled with paint and spray the underside of the rail-line. I hope that soon colourful art will cover the concrete: pillars yarn-bombed, the chainlink fencing covered in radical cross-stitch. The area needs to be reclaimed by the public, as some of it once when locals created Gandolfo Gardens in an act of guerrilla gardening.


Burn your money

This week Doosie Morris wrote about NFT and Melbourne’s most boring urban artists GT Sewell, Rone and Lushsux, in The Guardian. Morris implied that NFT is in the same league as Yves Klein. Without mentioning that Klein’s immaterial art, like the K Foundation burning a million pounds as an art, are acts where the artist/s removed monetary value from the system. So this might be a subtle suggestion that you could invest in NTF or just burn your money.

According to Morris’s article NFT is Sewell, Rone and Lushsux current business ventures. Sewell has been spruiking cryptocurrency for years on social media, and Lushsux has been positing similar stuff, including income tax avoidance on NFT sales. 

These are boring artists because they are focused on money; there is no other objective to their art. For them, even popularity is just another revenue source. Remember that Rone received $1.86 million from the Federal Government’s Restart Investment to Sustain and Expand (RISE) for a project that won’t be seen until 2022. Rone does decor for a coffee shop at Melbourne Airport, decorating walls on construction sites, modelling clothes for a high street clothes shop, that kind of thing.

But aside from the dodgy economics, the environmental impact of blockchain technology, two problems aren’t being discussed with NFT; provenance and digital art preservation.

Anonymous churn is even more a problem for provenance than it is for trust in the market. No institutional art gallery will buy or even accept gifts of art with a secret origin because of stolen art, fraud, and forgery. After the artist’s death, how would you prove that it was their work?

Digital art preservation is an even more complex issue because substantial parts of the technology will eventually change. For example, the online links may become broken. And in 30 years, when you can’t see the art on an LED screen because that technology is now redundant, the art will not look the same. So now your expensive work is the equivalent of a photograph of a Monet oil painting or just unreadable code.

Bubble art to rival Millais. NFT art, along with most of the art market, is divorced from any significant culture but still living on alimony and hasn’t changed its name back. And if you don’t want to burn your money but want to give it to artists there are plenty of more better hands to put it in.


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.


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