Tag Archives: anti-graffiti

Capping & Toy

There is vandalism, criticism, jealousy and insults within the street art scene. What do you expect? Peace, love and mung beans baby? It is the street and there is no control about what happens to the work on the streets. Accusations that another artist’s work is “toy” are a common insult in Melbourne. Happy made fun of this insult in a series of paste-ups of toys calling other toys “toy”.

Happy, Toys, Melbourne

Capping, that is tagging or painting on top of a work of street art. The question of damaged egos of street arts due to capping was raised at the artist’s talk at the Melbourne Stencil Festival 2009 (27/9/09). Capping and or other signs of disrespect tend to disturb the friends and fanes of the artist more than the artists. At the artist talk HaHa said he particularly enjoyed seeing one his robot stencils altered with his signature ‘HaHa’ painted over and the street number painted in. “I go with whatever.” He said with a big smile. Any attention after being noticed is just more attention for the artist.

Originally those who don’t think that they represent the core of street art will dismiss a writer as an amateur “toy”. At other times on the streets of Melbourne this insult is used by those jealous of the artist’s success. There is always someone who will attack an artist showing any sign of success.

Then there is the dumb vandalism of street art, where pieces crossed out or an aerosol line in an obnoxious colour wiggles across it. There are vandalism crews that use tags to obliterate graffiti. “More worrying is the ‘CTCV’ (or Cops That Catch Vandals’ vigilante campaign designed as a smear to Graffiti artworks and excellent pieces to dismay public interest in the artform. The rail operators and Victoria Police deny involvement; but the fact remain they are the perpetrators of such an insidious campaign. Somewhat like the person that went around tagging ‘Steve Beardon’; funny -but immature at best.” Rock the Boat commented on my entry Anti-Graffiti. Rock the Boat is not the first person to link the CTCV to employees of the suburban transport system or the police taking vigilante action where they couldn’t legally stop graffiti along Melbourne’s train lines. There are other common capping tags, but I don’t want to give them any fame for their vandalism. Is senseless destruction better or worse than destruction based on jealousy?


Anti-graffiti

A white car with “Graffiti Management” on its door driving in the dirt beside McCauly Station with a wall of solid graffiti behind it. The derelict switchbox near Coburg Station where the graffiti is assiduously painted over but the building has been allowed to stand derelict for decades. Managing graffiti and allowing a hundred-year old brick buildings to slowly crumble is like the proverbial dog in a manger. Melbourne’s railways are being covered in anti-graffiti grey paint. The preference for grey graffiti proof paint over the multi-colour calligraphy of graffiti is a strange preference. The grey monotone symbolizes control that is considered good and therefore aesthetically preferable to graffiti, even if in an industrial wasteland like McCauly Station. On the other hand graffiti is a symbol of loss of control that is considered bad and therefore ugly, despite being superficially appealing to the uninformed.

Know your enemy.  And the hardcore extreme enemy of graffiti everywhere is Steve Beardon, Councillor for the City of Casey (2003, 2005 – present) and the president of a community group called “Residents Against Graffiti Everywhere”. Cr Steve Beardon associates graffiti with gang membership and chroming without citing any evidence. His rhetoric is full of phrases like “blight, “wage war” and “zero tolerance”. He believes that he can speak for the community, as if ‘the community’ was a genuinely coherent group. I presume that I am not part of Beardon’s community and nor are the little children who enjoy the cartoon character graffiti that they see from the train.

“Residents Against Graffiti Everywhere” is an extreme position and they are either potential vandals themselves or not really against graffiti everywhere. For if they advocate the removal of Roman graffiti or other graffiti of historic value then they would be potential vandals. I asked Steve Beardon some questions via email and within a day he had responded with five lengthy emails, from which I have found the answers to my questions amidst his electronic diarrhoea. It is clear these emails that Beardon is both obsessed and extreme in his anti-graffiti views.

I asked about the ‘tolerance zones’ established by Melbourne City Council? Beardon replied: “Its my belief that Melbourne council is wasting money and denying all of us a clean city free of graffiti. Tolerance zones send a mixed message that graffiti is acceptable and clearly has failed to stop the blight.”

I asked about the use of aerosol art for decoration of shop fronts etc. or, galleries that specialize in aerosol art? Beardon replied: “I advocate street art not be the standard used for murals. It needs to be remembered that the majority of graffiti is perfected illegally on residents front fences, walls etc.” And Beardon sent me an email with images of the kind of kitsch; tromp l’oeil and historicized murals that he advocates.

Laws and other forces can influence the quality and type of graffiti but it is extremely unlikely, given the millennia of graffiti history, that anyone could eliminate it. A realistic response to graffiti problems has to acknowledge that graffiti is an ancient human behaviour. A realist response also has to acknowledge that the current street art style is an attractive and successful graphic style. Beardon and his ignorant, unimaginative, extremist views will not eliminate graffiti, as he is part of the problem and not the solution.

(This blog entry is an edited version of two entries published in my old blog, Culture Critic @ Melbourne. My old blog has since been taken down for reasons beyond my control but I thought that this entry was worth republishing.)


Street Art Media Watch

Street art is still a sexy topic in the media and a good way to sell a product. It can be any product from shoes, to magazines, to books, to cars, to politicians. Victoria’s anti-graffiti laws advertising campaign is now, after the initial public poster campaign, used by politicians and some hardware stores to advertise their toughness and anti-graffiti credentials.

There is now the sub-genre of street-fabric-art. Perri Lewis reports about yarn bombing in the Guardian but ultimately this is simply promotion for a book. In Melbourne there has already been lots of street-fabric-art: the word “Material” made from stuffed fabric letters has been up in Hosier Lane for almost a year now and there is the crochet-covered tree on near the corner of Gertrude and Brunswick St.

Crochet covered tree in Gertrude St.

Crochet covered tree in Gertrude St.

The double page advertisement for the Suzuki Swift (Attitude, #62, 2009) exploits Melbourne street art. The background for the advertisement has been heavily photoshopped but includes a few easily recognizable stencils, paste-ups and aerosol work. For example, Debs phone-car image is visible although her tag has been altered to “Dep”. I hope that someone is taking legal action against Suzuki for this breach of copyright. (Yes, if you paint it on a wall, legally or illegally, you have published it and in Australia it is automatically your copyright.) Do not support corporations that exploit street art – I won’t be buying a Suzuki – a bicycle is better.

Finally, to end on an up beat, A1one is featured in a one-page profile in Juxtapoz (Feb. 2009) magazine. A1one is an Iranian street artist. I met him when he visited Melbourne last year for the Melbourne Stencil Festival; it was his first trip abroad. Like many street artists he is a quiet, intelligent young man with an interest in local history and the community. His work can still be seen on some walls around Melbourne. Juxtapoz may be an American magazine but it has never been isolationist in its view.

A1one - Gertrude St. Fitzroy

A1one - Gertrude St. Fitzroy


Legal Street Art in Brunswick

Aeroskills, Brunswick 

 

Aeroskills, Brunswick

 

There are some great fresh aerosol pieces in Brunswick along the Upfield train line. Both of these works employ a dynamic ribbon design that ties these very long works together. At Brunswick station there is very large legit works, replacing a piece from last year that had been viciously vandalized. Maybe that is why there are some very angry figures in the piece near Brunswick station.

Street art near Brunswick Station

Villain presents AWOL DRS ALPHA near Brunswick Station

Each year I try to do a survey of the graffiti and street art along the Upfield train line. It is of course easier to see it all on bicycle as the bike path runs along the train line and the trains on the Upfield line only run every 20 minutes at their best. Prompted by an article in The Moreland Leader (9/3/09) “Writing’s on the wall” by Brigid O’Connell this year I decided to focus my attention on the legal street art.

In “Writing’s on the wall” by Brigid O’Connell provides a balanced report on the Moreland Council’s policy of promoting businesses to use legal street art as a way of stopping tagging. The opinions of the extreme anti-graffiti faction were reported, along with the experiences of local traders. A photo of a smiling convenience store owner Hamid Jalal next to his beautifully decorated shop wall says it all.

Brigid O’Connell refers to two Brunswick businesses that have employed legal aerosol art to reduce tagging: Lygon Convenience Store, on the corner of Brunswick Rd. and Lygon St. and Ling’s Fish and Chips on Glenlyon Rd. (Ling’s Fish and Chips is by Kinyobidesigns) Both are in areas with medium level graffiti, that is, you can see a few tags and bombs on disused surfaces and in alleyways. Hamid Jalal told me that some of his neighbours didn’t approve of his new street décor but that he was still happy with it.

Lygon Convenience Store

Lygon Convenience Store

Ling’s Fish and Chips

Ling’s Fish and Chips

Many businesses and private houses in Moreland commission street artists to paint walls with street facing; I looked at dozens on my bicycle ride. Many of these works have lasted for years, even decades: Jamit’s coffee cup, the first two colour stencils I ever saw, is still on the wall of a house along the Upfield train line a decade later. The piece with the anarchist robot on the side of a terrace house near Moreland station has been up for many years. The owners of the terrace house have had the advertising billboard removed preferring street art to advertising.

House, Moreland Station

House, Moreland Station

It is difficult to determine if legal aerosol art reduces unwanted graffiti in the area. Only in areas of very intense graffiti was there any damage to legal pieces and in areas of moderate graffiti there was no damage at all to legal pieces. It is obvious that in the Moreland area legal street art reduces unwanted graffiti on the area covered by the legit art. It is impossible to asses the fallacious argument of Scott Hilditch from Graffiti Hurts Australia that legal aerosol art attracts unwanted graffiti any more than because that is a post hoc ergo hoc (y came after x therefore y was caused by x).

Safeways and Connex and are the two corporations most intolerant of graffiti and street art in the Moreland area. Neither corporation has done anything to improve the aesthetic quality of their area, sometimes at great expense, like Safeway’s chain-link fence topped with barbed wire.

Safeways, Brunswick

Safeways, Brunswick

If you want to support beautiful street art then shop at businesses that give local artists opportunities.


Melbourne & Graffiti

At the Melbourne Stencil Festival on Sunday 10th August, Fiona Scott Norman, of The Age and ABC 774, hosted the panel discussion “Cans Up – you’re arrested – the impact of the Graffiti Prevention Act (2007)”. The talks by Snr Constable Linda Hancock of Victoria Police about the enforcement of Graffiti Prevention Act, and Hala Atwa, a lawyer from Youthlaw were focused to an audience of young street artists. I had previously heard Alison Young, a lecturer in criminology from the University of Melbourne, talk about graffiti before.

The talk by Dr Lachlan MacDowall has made reconsider the aesthetics of Melbourne in relation to graffiti. Dr Lachlan MacDowall is a lecturer in graffiti studies from the Victorian college of the Arts and former street artist.

Firstly, in dealing with the ownership issue MacDowall recognized the original aboriginal owners of the land. This is an important point in understanding graffiti issues as nobody asked their permission before vandalizing their homes and sacred sites.

MacDowall talked about the “overlaying culture” and the architecture of the city.

MacDowall explained a “donut view of Melbourne”. There are two cities: the inner city European style city in the core surrounded by a ring of an American style outer-suburbs. And the graffiti is different in these two types of cities – the laneways and alleyways of the old inner city compared to the suburban streets.

The urban landscape is made from an accretion of architectural forms as new buildings are added like the layers of posters built up on into thick masses. Melbourne’s architecture ranges from the colonial to the contemporary. The landscape of the city is not cyclical as in nature but one of accretion, as outlying towns and rural populations are pulled into the mass of the modern city.

The city of Melbourne’s almost 100-foot wide streets were designed by Robert Hoddle, Melbourne’s original surveyor to accommodate bullock carts. Trams were later added to some of these streets and between these large blocks a network of small lanes and alleys. All of the little service lanes in Melbourne’s inner suburbs, the old back alleys paved with large bluestone cobbles, were used for the ‘night-soil’ carts to take away the sewerage. When they were constructed they were purely utilitarian and so they remained until street artists found another use for them, out of sight of the main street.

The radial nature of Melbourne’s trams lines created long inner suburban shopping strips radiating out from the CBD: Sydney Road, Chapel Street, Brunswick Street, Smith St. etc. Currently there is fierce competition amongst Melbourne’s inner suburbs to be the trendiest and this includes which suburb has the best street art. The street art in these areas are somewhat integrated into architectures and is used by some businesses for advertising or simply decoration. MacDowall believes that street art responds to (and in a way documents, consider all the urban landscapes on exhibition at the MSF) the changing cityscape. Melbourne is changing from an industrial to a post-industrial city with gentrification of the Docklands and other former industrial areas.

Away from all of the inner city are the post-war American-style, dormitory outer-suburbs are an attempt to escape from the intense urban landscape with a regular planned construction that occupies the entire areas. Here graffiti represents urban degradation and the graffiti is all hip-hop style aerosol art. It is located mostly along the railway lines and in isolated places.

These differences explain the very different attitude towards street art and graffiti in these two different areas of the city. A difference that is represented in the different approaches that local city councils have to graffiti; with tolerant inner city councils and anti-graffiti campaigners in the outer suburbs.


Don’t Ban the Can II

I missed the opening of the Don’t Ban the Can exhibition at 696 because I was at the launch of ‘I Art Sydney Road’ (the exhibition title with the least grammar this year). 696 is also participating in the ‘I Art Sydney Road’ with two paintings in their window. I won’t be reviewing ‘I Art Sydney Road’ because I am participating in it; exhibiting a still life painting at Mia Moda, 179 Sydney Road.

At that launch of ‘I Art Sydney Road’ Mayor Joe Caputo of Moreland, was talking enthusiastic about graffiti. He was especially after briefly visiting the Don’t Ban the Can party. He told me that there was only one complaint about the party. “There is always one,” he said. This is in contrast to the media and police speculation about trouble before the event. (See my recent entries: Don’t Ban the Can and Chill.)

The Don’t Ban the Can exhibition in the gallery room at 696 features a large number of artists and art at affordable prices. There are some familiar artists in the exhibition, including Pierre Lloga, Maxcat and Phibs. The exhibition has a surprising variety of media and techniques, not just aerosol works and stencils. There are also photographs, drawings and paintings. I was particularly impressed with Kid Zoom’s painted crushed spray can with its crazy forms and impressive detail.

Many of the works feature sculptural elements. Happy created a deep framed painting combined with a sculptural, paint-sniffing spray-can character. The issue of huffing (paint and solvent sniffing) was on the mind of many of the artists in the exhibition. Huffing is a far more serious medical and social problem than petty vandalism and yet it is not being addressed with draconian legislation.

Much of the art in the exhibition included polemical political statements about Victoria’s anti-graffiti legislation. Braddock stated it clearly in his painting a simplified figure with mask and gloves says in a speech balloon: “You can’t ban culture”. Banning a culture is a crime against humanity.

On the way to the exhibition I stopped to talk to four guys busy painting a piece by the railway line in Coburg. I asked if they wanted anything to do a piece: “just permission” was their reply.


Chill

I have been writing and painting walls; writing this blog and painting walls white, not being a street art writer. The boys are still bombing along the Upfield line in broad daylight as I ride my bike to the hardware shop to buy more undercoat. There was a advertisement about the Graffiti Prevention Act’s presumption of guilt for carrying spray cans taped to the hardware shops counter. Spring has definitely arrived in Melbourne but there is still a chill in the air.

Victorian Police Minister, Bob Cameron is quoted in Herald (“Anti-graffiti activists infuriated by pro-spray demonstration” August 20, 2008) saying graffiti was not art, and the laws were introduced to deter vandals who were committing a serious crime. It is hard to see the boys painting on an old corrugated iron fence as committing “a serious crime”; it is easier to understand Bob Cameron as wildly exaggerating to defend draconian laws that remove the presumption of innocence. And nobody needs more Police Ministers making ignorant comments about what isn’t art after the Bill Henson fiasco.

At the Melbourne Stencil Festival panel discussion “Cans Up – you’re arrested – the impact of the Graffiti Prevention Act (2007)” last month. The talks by Senior Constable Linda Hancock of Victoria Police about the enforcement of Graffiti Prevention Act made the humanity of the police main defense of the role that the police in enforcing the draconian Graffiti Prevention Act. This defense is also one of the many criticism the Graffiti Prevention Act that the police are human and therefore possibly arbitrary and prejudiced in who they choose to search and charge.

There were other criticisms of the Graffiti Prevention Act raised at the panel discussion. The Graffiti Prevention Act ignores the rights of children to be diverted to education and rehabilitation. It will also be a net-widening exercise increasing the number of criminals, as if there were enough already.

Leader Community Newspapers (September 9) is using headlines like “Graffiti party fear” and “Moreland police prepared for graffiti party” to create a conflict leading up to “Don’t Ban the Can” protest, street party and street art exhibition even if the stories don’t justify the headlines. It is a bad strategy by poor sub-editors to exaggerate the drama of the story. (“Don’t Ban the Can” is from 12pm onwards, 20 Sept., Wilson Ave, Brunswick.)

The chill in the air is not just the weather it is political.


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