In Centre Place there are a couple of relics of an earlier era of Melbourne’s street art. Both the City Lights and Heart Lock are now covered in layers of paint and stickers. Centre Place was once a prime location for graffiti and street art, now after a new building it is now too small for more than one or two pieces.
The heart lock is still there but has lost its heart and I think that it has been moved from its original location. I guess that Melbourne walking tour guides no longer tell the love story about Paula Birch’s Sacred Heart of Centre Place (See Demet Divaroren’s Blog for the legend). Andy Mac’s City Lights Project were photo light boxes; you can still see the now redundant cables for the power. There were two sets installed in Centre Place and Hosier Lane back in the 1996. (For more see my blog post from 2009.)
Appearing to go further back in time; I spotted these initials carved into the bluestones along the bank of the Yarra. At first I thought that they might have been stonemason’s marks. However, if they were stonemason’s marks I would have expected them more widespread amongst the stone embankment rather than concentrated in one place. If they were stonemasons would also expect greater quality in the carving of the initial. So I suspect that they are mid-century modern tags but they could be earlier.
I photographed some more stencils around the city; not surprised that this time they are in the laneway leading to the new location for Blender Studios. Melbourne’s street art and graffiti appears to have entered a holding pattern. Instead of any developments or new directions there is an almost steady state where we can expect more repetition. No new developments, just new walls with the same kind of stuff on them. There are so few innovators currently on the scene that I’m not even aware of any disruptors, like Lush. In another old street art location, Presgrave Place, there are new works by Tinky, Phoenix and Calm.
Considering the use of the so-called ‘elemental forces’ of water, fire, earth and air in public art; with examples from Melbourne’s public and street art.
Although it is the space between, air is the most under used element in public art. Aside from making flags and banners flutter it is used in a couple of sculptures. The 15-metre-high wind-powered sculpture by Duncan Stemler, Blowhole in the Docklands. Elsewhere in the world there are musical sculptures that are played automatically, like Aeolian harps and the common wind chime. On a more subtle level there is scent of gardens, of incense and the burnt eucalyptus leaves of smoking ceremonies carried in the air.
Water was the first one to be used for public art with public drinking fountains and other water features from artificial lakes and waterfalls. There are many fountains and drinking fountains in Melbourne there are also mist sprays on the rocks in Footscray, Wominjeka Tarnuk Yooroom by Maree Clarke and Vicky Couzins. Street artist have also used water, one summer blocks of coloured ice were left to melt in Hosier Lane, the coloured liquid running between the bluestone cobbles. The street artist, CDH used hypochromatic ink for stencil works where the piece that only became visible when wet. Finally there is the unofficial colouring of fountains and moats often in conjunction with protests.
From the eternal flame at the Shrine of Remembrance, candle light vigils, to Indigenous smoke ceremonies fire is used in a variety of public art. Camp fire with Aboriginal story teller at Federation Square. It is not all sacred; there are profane gas flares at the casino and temporary public art events like, fireworks displays. Fortunately there is little use of fire in street art, aside from a rare CDH pyrotechnic painting.
Earth art is the principle form of public art. From its landscaped gardens, the city is an artificial constructed landscape, complete with kitsch floral clocks. The metal and stone used in sculpture is also from the earth but that might be labouring the point. Street art also use earth and plants in guerrilla gardening.
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.
“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 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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.