Tag Archives: aerosol art

Party @ Blender

They came together on a hot, humid November evening in Melbourne. There were young emerging artist – “aren’t that one of those twins that was on the ABC doco?”  There restless drunks clutching brown paper bags of take-away alcohol or sharing the silver plastic bag guts of a cask of wine; the beer had run out before I got there and the only thing that the very short barman was serving glasses of wine with every $2 donation to the gallery. They were no longer celebrating an exhibition opening but surviving another year in Melbourne’s art world.

There was an exhibition opening earlier in the night at Michael Koro Gallery: “Surface”, an exhibition about the painted surface. Only a few people were still in the gallery and most of those were queuing at the bar. Stephen Giblett was showing two paintings exploring the transition where the representational becomes abstract, as in his painting of paint on a painter’s overalls. He said that he was trying to be less tightly controlled with his brushwork with these paintings. Dan Sibley’s paintings of burning cars are very controlled; using a technique that appeared like Aboriginal dot painting or pointillism. Melbourne street artist, Frederick Fowler (aka NUROC) was exhibiting paintings of spontaneous aerosol single line drawings that filled the surface in his personal style. And, outside in the street, there were cowboys moving on the “Melbourne Propaganda Window”, two digital projectors on the papered upstairs windows of Michael Koro Gallery.

There were lots of exhibition openings on last Friday night in Melbourne. Outside the Yarra Sculpture Gallery there were lots of guys with mohawks and I could see another opening going on through the window of Per Square Metre as I passed by. I couldn’t go to them as I had other business to attend to; earlier in the evening I was at the Melbourne Stencil Festival AGM. I was elected secretary and the rest of the team that ran this years festival were all formally elected to run next year’s festival. I won’t bore you with any details of the meeting; we were trying not to bore ourselves and got through everything in under an hour.

When I arrive people’s attention had shifted to the studios and the alley that runs alongside Michael Koro Gallery and Blender Studios. Most of the studios had a few works on exhibition for the night. HaHa was sitting around in his studio upstairs with conspiracy theory videos running on the TV but no one was watching. A post-graduate social-anthropology student was trying to get 500 responses to a survey about attitudes to graffiti. A very quite techno music duo was playing with a singer wearing a showgirl style black costume with tassels made of garbage bag plastic. I asked Drew Funk what he was going to do now that he has painted the walls of so many bars, cafes and alleys in Melbourne. He told me is moving to Sydney.

It was yet another time that I had left my camera at home – every time I do I miss photo opportunities. The truth is that I still haven’t adjusted to the demand that a blogger is also a photojournalist. Not that I even had my notebook on this occasion, just a backpack full of stencil festival files. So this cannot be taken as an accurate record, it is just my distorted memory.


Stencil Festival Underground

Part of the Melbourne Stencil Festival 2009 took place in a disused underground carpark in the middle of the Collingwood Housing Commission flats. It was a real urban environment and perfect for street art, apart from the ventilation and the cold.

Melbourne Stencil Festival Underground exhibition

Melbourne Stencil Festival Underground exhibition

Junky Projects robot

Junky Projects robot

Junky Projects robot at the end of the festival

Junky Projects robot at the end of the festival

stencils in the underground

stencils in the underground

It was a car park so a van was brought in and painted.

Van painted during the Stencil Festival

Van painted during the Stencil Festival

I have kept this entry short  and full of photos because I am the secretary of the Melbourne Stencil Festival so I have a biased opinion. The festival may be over but I still have things to do.

HaHa stencil in Underground

HaHa stencil in Underground


Croft Alley Project

Don't Ban the CanThe Don’t Ban the Can street art awareness Croft Alley Project on Saturday, September 12th was massive. I was there, being the responsible citizen journalist blogger covering the event. Using my eyes and ears to get a first hand report. The Don’t Ban the Can organizers recognized that I was a member of the media and handed me a blue “Official Media” pass. The pass got me through the queue at the start of Croft Alley. There was a queue because of the limit to the number of people that they were letting in to the alley for fire safety.

Croft Alley off Little Bourke St. in Chinatown is narrow, hemmed in by the concrete walls of the buildings on either side. I slowly work my way down the narrow alleyway around the corner. Past dozen’s of artists at work, the smell of aerosol paint in the air. At the far end of Croft Alley there is the Croft Institute, another one of Melbourne’s laneway bars. The Lab bar, in the Croft Institute has a laboratory décor, with a large lab flask of blue coloured water bubbling on the “Electrothermal”. Upstairs there is a bar decorated like an old gym with old “Acromat” sports equipment and a bar made of old lockers. I make my way to the bar like Hunter S. Thompson and buy a beer, to drink and think.

The Lab decor

The Lab decor

Why I am writing about this? Why do I think that street art is important? “…when there burst forth from one mansion a song of youth and originality, even though harsh and discordant, it should be received not with howls of fury but with reasonable attention and criticism.” Max Rothschild wrote defending the Italian Futurists in 1912. And a century on this is still sage advice in respect to the Futurists, rock music, punks or street art.

The Croft Alley Project was like a futurist wet dream, the artists painting the city a riot of dynamic colors surrounded by adoring crowds. There were many notable Melbourne street artists spraying in Croft Alley. I recognize Braddock from his images even though he is wearing an improvised bandana to protect himself from the fumes (most of the other artists had proper masks to protect them from the paint fumes). Beside him Tom Civil was unpacking his latest stencils.

I can’t comment on the individual pieces as many were still being painted – I will have to go back for another look. It was hard to see any of the pieces given the number of people in the alley. But there were plenty of people photographing and videoing the event with everything from mobile phones to large video cameras with boom microphones. One cameraman was climbing the walls to get a better shot. These are kind of crowds that you only see at blockbuster exhibitions. One reason for the crowd was the excellent weather, warm with high winds that sucked most of the aerosol fumes out of the urban canyon. Is this really great art or just a passing popular fancy? In the 19th Century Londoners queued around city blocks to see the work of ‘Mad’ John Martin, whose extravagant paintings are now largely forgotten having almost no influence on subsequent painters.

crowds in Croft Alley

crowds in Croft Alley

As I was watching Drew Funk paint, moving and spraying to the drum and bass rhythms of the DJ Kodiak Kid, pausing to clear the nozzle of his spray can. I thought: this is “action painting” like old old New York skool, 10th St. School, commonly known as “abstract expressionist”. It is action painting, it even has an audience, just not as Harold Rosenberg knew it. Further along the alley a woman in short and high heels balances on a milk crate spraying a voluptuous female character onto the wall. She has an audience watching her stretch to spray paint. It was Debs, who is well known for her spray painted sexy female characters, and it gave a new angle to her popularity.

Debs painting in Croft Alley

Debs painting in Croft Alley

This is Melbourne’s street art’s response to the anti-graffiti laws and lobby – a well-organized, legal, well-attended, fun event of propaganda by deed. According to the organizers over 2,000 people visited Croft Alley on Saturday and over 40 artists from around Australia were involved. I will have to go back to Croft Alley to have a look at the art left behind.


More Street Art Exhibitions

I was passing through Melbourne Central when I encountered part of the ‘Two Block’ Festival. It was a couple of temporary exhibition walls in the clock-tower foyer and a platform decorated with aerosol art. The freezing wind blowing into Melbourne Central was destroying some of the illustrations on paper but the other works were secured with cable ties. There were some stencil art piece by Floh, Megan Dell, Nicole Tattersall and others. I was particularly impressed with the collage of signs by Laser Fist; it was rugged and gritty but had formal beauty. There are many street art and street inspired exhibition on in Melbourne and I have only been able to sample some of them in the last month.

A Mugs Life by Scale at 696 combined street aerosol and illustration techniques to create paintings of arthropods (insects and spiders). This combination of techniques creates some beautiful results including the use of stencils to create a fly’s compound eye. The two paintings of dragonflies with their weathered wood supports were the best in this small exhibition. In other paintings Scale’s inventiveness has over stepped taste with the expanding foam maggots with the squash blowfly. Or has become corny, like the spider and fly or the person with raised hand reflected in the mosquito’s eyes.

Intergalactic Alchemy by Adi at Famous When Dead are paintings from the abstract end of street art influences. Painted in oil and acrylic on canvas, Adi uses aerosol spray creating blends and chaotic splatters and drips. Tom Wolfe asked: “Can a spaceship penetrate a Kline?” (The Painted Word, 1976, p.79); if a spaceship tried to penetrate an Adi, it would get entangled in the web of dynamic black graphic line work. The mystical is never far away from the abstract; in this exhibition Adi has a “Zodiac Series” of 12 small paintings and a triptych forming the Illuminati pyramid. But it is in the larger paintings that Adi captures ethereal beauty.

Guessing the gender of the artist from looking is a fun game to play, especially when, Tesura, the nom de rue (nom de rue = street tag) gives no clues. Looking at the whimsical and delicately detailed illustrations of Tesura I was sure that this was the work of a woman. This time I was wrong; Tesura is a big man from Canberra and this is his first solo exhibition. Famous When Dead Gallery Director, JD Mittman had first seen his work in the Melbourne Stencil Festival 2008. Along with a series of drawings on paper there were a four mixed media works on found supports; a common strategy for street influenced artists. I talked with Tesura at the opening about his illustrations and the theme of people in animal costumes. He told me that it represented the secret, alternative night-life; a life where he worked in IT by day and was an artist at night.

It is not easy to define what makes a street art influence, as this brief survey of recent exhibitions demonstrates. It is not simply techniques and materials like stencils, aerosol spray-cans, or found supports. What all of these street influenced artists have in common is a strong graphic style.


Slac in Singapore

Street art is an international art movement; it is not limited to a few city centres like New York, Melbourne or São Paulo. It is popular through out SE Asia, from Brunei on the island of Borneo to the streets of Bangkok. “Capitalizing on the popularity of street art in Brunei the Alliance Françoise used the hotel (the Sheraton Utama Hotel) for a one-day show in which the French three-person graffiti collective SOAP created a public art work.” (Art Asia Pacific, Almanac 2009, p.151)

Slac with one of his pieces

Slac with one of his pieces

All the writers, around in the world celebrate the personal expression and instant fame that street art brings. On a visit to Singapore I met up with Slac at the *scape park on Somerset Rd, just behind the busy, internationally famous, shopping centres of Orchard Road. Slac showed me around the *scape park area.

*scape park centre

*scape park centre

The *scape park is a skate board park and small youth arts centre with a two story aerosol piece on its front wall, along with more of Singapore’s ubiquitous gardens.

MRT seats in *scape park

MRT seats in *scape park

Slac, a 19 year old Malay Singaporean writer who has done legal and illegal aerosol art. Slac started off doing graffiti after playing too many computer games with graffiti themes. Now he is one the best street artists in SG. He has been asked to stop entering aerosol art competitions in Singapore and start to judge them.

Slac's dragon

Slac's dragon

Slac told me that the popular preference in Singapore is for images rather than calligraphy in street art. This is strange because calligraphy is valued in both Chinese and Islamic cultures. Slac did show me a piece with 3D wildstyle Arabic letters.

Slac's piece in Haji Lane

Slac's piece in Haji Lane

I had seen some of Slac’s work around Haji Lane earlier in the week. The old small shops with their covered sidewalks used to be common in Singapore still remain here. And Haji Lane has been rejuvenated into a trendy area with a bit of street art and shisha (or hookahs, Turkish tobacco pipes) bubbling along the footpath that leads along the front of these old buildings. Business and rents in the area have subsequently increased.

The area around Haji Lane is called the Arab Quarter because it was the last bit that the East India Company and Stamford Raffles hadn’t swindled the local Malay Sultan out of. There is a goth/cosplay shop, designer street-wear clothes by SUP, traditional cloth merchants, funky cafés and excellent Malay food in the area. The street artists are mostly Malay because the Chinese Singaporeans don’t want to sacrifice their work life.

Slac's unfinished dogs

Slac's unfinished dogs

Slac had to stop painting these two dogs because the police had come along and were asking questions. The owner of the building was away in Thailand so couldn’t be contacted. Slac wasn’t arrested this time – he just can’t continue working on the piece.


More Legal Street Art in Brunswick

This is a follow up to my entry on Legal Street Art in Brunswick. This is mostly because some fresh legal street art has been painted since I wrote that entry specifically in the area of Anstey Station on the Upfield line. The area around Anstey is factories, warehouses, shops, a fruit and vegetable market and new multi-story apartments. There are a lot of rubbish, tags and spray painted political slogans on walls and fences in the area but again none on any of the legal street art.

Fishing Tackle Clearance Centre

Fishing Tackle Clearance Centre

The Fishing Tackle Clearance Centre has had legal street art on it for years. Its walls face onto the Anstey station railway platform. Last weekend it was repainted with 6 new pieces with a more nautical theme, more fish, fishermen and an octopus on the roller door. The first legal graffiti work had been there for about a decade and the colours had faded.

696

696

Last weekend a different crew painted the sidewall of 696 (Sirum, Reals, Scale, Kirpy, Happy and Lady). The repainting was part of the celebration their second anniversary. The work combines a few different techniques including brush painting by Aida Sabie and some superb stencils. The whole piece has a strong unified palette of black, grey, white with yellow and orange highlights. Further down the alleyway Pav has stapled a sample of his silk-screened posters to the fence.

Office Cafe

Office Cafe

Across Sydney Road, on the sidewall of 646 Office Café, is large piece by Fly, F1 and THD. It is several years old now but still looking good and undamaged by tags. And further down Florence Street is the piece on the side of a house with Ganesa in it, again undamaged.

Ganesa of Florence St. Brunswick

Ganesa of Florence St. Brunswick

I don’t want to suggest that these paintings are great art, mostly they are colour and design, but they do brighten up and enliven the neighbourhood. And so for that community spirit, the business and individuals who have allowed this to happen aught to be supported and commended. It is much better than advertising posters.

Also in the Anstey area of Brunswick there is an alternative art exhibition space in the window of the Edinburgh Castle Hotel’s display window. This small display window is an excellent exhibition space, with two back mirrors adding the illusion of depth. The back wall is a canvas blind and does not appear to be strong enough to hang anything on. The window it is located near a tram stop on Sydney Rd. so it seen by lots of people. Belinda Wiltshire installation in the window features the paper figures and set for the music video of Lamplight’s song “Ship in a Bottle” (The video can be seen in the background of Lamplight’s live performance but there must be a complete one out there). Wiltshire’s installation works by itself, as a colourful and engaging diorama was perfect for both the space and audience on the street. The second exhibition that I’ve seen in this window is light boxes with negative photographic images by an unnamed artist. Unfortunately these light boxes had been designed to be hung on a wall don’t work in this window.


Street Art in Singapore

Street art in Singapore, government funded stencil art classes for Singaporean high school and junior college students, a skate park with legal graffiti walls, are we talking about the same SE Asian city state with a reputation for law and order? Street art is an international art movement but would it be true to assume that Singapore does not readily embrace it. I was curious and so I started to exchange emails with Kamal Dollah, a Singaporean artist and art educator who writes a teaches graffiti and blogs about it: Kamal Dollah’s Art Journal. Here is a dialogue that I’ve extracted from our emails that we intend to publish on both our blogs.

Kamal: It sounds crazy but I got my government backing to teach kids graffiti. My friends in USA could not belief that I got away with this. When I wrote this graffiti programme for the schools in 2004, I did not expect it to be approved for funding as its never been done before anywhere. My view is, you can bore these kids with Picasso and Rembrandts or you could get their attention and still teach them about colours, shape, form, calligraphy and some soft skills like respect and responsibility. Writers have ethics too and somehow that sinks into their head better than any civic class.

Mark: I know that Singapore is serious about vandalism and I didn’t see any graffiti last time I was there. So I thought if there is legal work going on then Singapore is proof that the extreme anti-graffiti lobby are wrong when they say that legal aerosol work encourages tagging and other illegal graffiti. Is this true?

Kamal: Well the anti-graffiti lobby may be right. The situation is different here because this is a high maintenance place. Graffiti get removed very fast. I believe you are familiar with the ‘broken-window theory’. There will always be un-established writers, punks and anti-establishments that will do illegal work.

Mark: Where is the legal street art mostly seen by the public in Singapore?

Kamal: Legal walls are provided by a government agency that oversees youth activity. You can spray anywhere in the skate park located in Orchard Road.

Mark: Do you mean that the skate park on Orchard Road is open to anyone to spray, go down and add your stencil when you finish it, or is there an application process? Has it ended up a mess or has a code of conduct emerged?

Kamal: The skate park in Orchard Road and the Youth *scape park is open to anyone to tag or bomb. No permit or application necessary. They also hold exhibitions and concerts for youth. Street artist hang out there mostly and learn from each other.   Visiting writers from abroad has also done their pieces there.
Believe it, these walls are not messed up with vulgarities but beautiful pieces. This happens when artists are serious enough to own their space.

Mark: In Australia and America, there are little shops selling street style clothing, t-shirts, stickers, skateboards, magazines etc. with poster racks of street artist prints, paintings hanging above the cloths racks or a tiny gallery out the back. Does Singapore does have any of this commercial side of street art?

Kamal: There is a concentration of boutique shops specialising in street wear and that area is bombed pretty bad. Its called Haji Lane. It’s a small lane with small shops with reasonable rent. These businesses come and go. I suppose its the same in every city as we are a connected global village. Yes there are young entrepreneurs here that have tried to commercialise the craft. There is always someone pushing idea for a new magazine, crew, label etc.

Mark: Have any art galleries started to regularly show street art? The only two Singapore galleries that I’ve visited are Plastic Kinetic Worms and the Singapore Art Museum.

Kamal: Plastic Kinetic Worms just closed last year I think. They were pushing the envelopes of contemporary art when they existed but it is not right to say they promoted street art, I doubt they even noticed what happened on the street. Graffiti was not on the radar of high art even though occasional block busters like Keith Haring and Basquiat emerged on the streets in the 80s, recently Banksy and most recently Shepard Fairey (Obey). Art institutions rarely could see the diamond from the rocks. There are occasional exceptions like when the Singapore Art Museum invited eleven writers to bomb their wall in 2006 in conjunction with an exhibition on street art but that wall only lasted two weeks as some conservatives wanted it cleaned prior to the IMF and World bank meeting in town. We also have a supportive National Arts Council. They do recognise that youth like street art and fund some of these artists as long as they prove artistic merit. We do have a healthy exposure to the arts here. I hope that clears any assumption that we are oppressed citizens of a police state. Maybe not you, but that’s what most foreigners (even some locals) like to think.

Mark: In Australia the contradictions between the illegality graffiti and its image of cool urban youth are confusing. It would be good not to have to deal with the confusion and contradiction and just be able to enjoy the images.

Kamal: In Singapore there is no contradiction between graffiti and graffiti graphics as like I said, the city is clean and people generally are not victimised by it. The concept of graffiti is not frowned upon here because it is not so much viewed as vandalism as the public don’t suffer from it and graffiti is associated with youthful trend and art. That makes graffiti appear cool and established artist get engaged for gigs at promotions and public events. Most of the event are organised by government agencies to attract youth. Most writers know of the harsh penalty for vandalism under the Singapore law and how efficient law enforcement is, so it is really pointless to ‘get-real’ when there are legal alternatives. My observation, Singapore is different from other SE Asian countries as we are a small city. The graffiti impact here is very well contained.

Kamal Dollahs banner

Banner at the Skatepark near Sommerset MRT in Orchard Road, Singapore          – by the National Youth Council.


<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: