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Tag Archives: AWOL

Looking back at street art in 2009

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.

Part of a large wall by AWOL crew 2009

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.

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Ten years of Melbourne’s street art and graffiti

Ten years in the history of Melbourne’s street art and graffiti told with a series of artists, crews and events. Rather than another listical of notable street artists this is an attempt at a kind of chronology that points out peaks rather than beginnings and endings. In it there are artists who opened new directions, who could not be ignored, who reinvented themselves or the techniques and the idea of street art and graffiti. There are artists who have persisted along with artists who for a short time made a big impact. It is a list based on my observation of Melbourne’s street art and writing them in this blog.

 

2008: Drew Funk and HaHa

Drew Funk and HaHa are two affable guys, studio mates and friends on the two sides of the aerosol paint use. Drew Funk’s aerosol art and HaHa’s stencil work were once ubiquitous with the Melbourne street art scene.

2009: Ghostpatrol and Miso

The power couple of the emerging illustrative street art scene. Ghostpatrol’s whimsical character illustrations and Miso’s paper cuts were fresh styles and techniques. Neither does any street art now both quickly moving into the fine art and legal murals.

2010: Yarn Wrap and Junky Projects

Both these artists expanded media of street art. Before Bali Portman and Yarn Corner crew there was Yarn Wrap guerrilla knitting. I was sceptical when I first heard about yarn bombing but I was wrong and the technique quickly became a favourite of city councils. Meanwhile, Junky Projects collecting rubbish from the street and transforming it in the most coherent and long term up-cycling project ever.

2011: The Everfresh and the AWOL Crews

The Everfresh crew of Phibs, Rone, Reka, Meggs, Sync, Makatron, Wonderlust, Prizm and the Tooth have been the most significant crew in Melbourne. The AWOL crew of Adnate, Deams, Itch, Li-Hill, Lucy Lucy, Slicer were not far behind and by changing their styles they sprayed their way to more fame.

2012: CDH and Baby Guerrilla

Two ambitious artists who made a big impact but are no longer actively making art on the streets. CDH was the mad scientist of the street art scene; trying out new techniques using fire, hydroactivated paint and creating conundrums for the NGV with his Trojan Petition. At the same time, Baby Guerrilla was reaching for the heavens, trying to fill the largest and highest walls with her floating paste-up figures.

2013: All Your Walls & Empty Nursery Blue

Both projects buffed the walls of Melbourne’s graffiti central to good effect. Adrian Doyle painted the whole of Rutledge Lane blue. And, as a curated part of the NGV’s “Melbourne Now” exhibition, the whole of Hosier Lane was repainted by some of Melbourne’s best graffiti and street artists in All Your Walls.

2014: Rone and Adnate

In 2014 year both artists painted very large legal murals of big faces on big walls. Everfresh crew member Rone painted women’s faces and AWOL crew member Adnate painted Indigenous people.

2015: Kranky and Tinky

Kranky was a crazy explosion of assemblages, then it stopped; maybe the supply of plastic toys ran out. Tinky used even smaller toys to make her little scenes Along with other artists Kranky and Tinky revived the street art in Presgrave Place.

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Lush’s work in Richmond

2016: Lush and Nost

The most irritating assholes in Melbourne’s street art/graffiti scene where there are plenty of irritating assholes. These two guys have made it a speciality. Lush does have a trollish sense of humour but he highlights a problem that is essentially for so much street art, especially murals, they are just click bait. Nost is a tagger, an aerosol bomber who hates street art.

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2017: Astral Nadir

The art Astral Nadir encouraged me to look down at the sidewalk and not up on the walls. With so many walls already painted and the backs of signs covered in stickers Astral Nadir artistically exploring a relatively unused area in Melbourne.


Same Walls

Moreland Station

house-moreland-station

Fear of a Graff Planet - Moreland

Moreland Station Wall

The end wall of the terrace house opposite Moreland Station has been painted for as long as I can remember. It was one of the earliest walls in Coburg painted by OG23 and Askem. It was repainted in 2012  and then again this year. Thanks Arty Graffarti for the attributions.

Brunswick Station

Adnate & Slicer Brunsick Station

AWOL Brunswick Station

There are a couple of walls here that have been painted multiple times. Adnate and Slicer “Nothing Lasts Forever” in 2012 and then Adnate again along with the Dutch writer, Does in 2013. This wall became hotly contested territory and was splashed, bombed and capped into oblivion subsequently streets have been planted in front of it making the wall less visible.

Cyclist and Graffiti

Brunswick Station House

The end wall of the small row house was one of the first legal walls that sported a big piece. Unfortunately I don’t have a photo of the first time it was painted depicting Alice’s encounter with the caterpillar. The first photo is from 2009 by Grace (‘gerd’) and Rags. The second from 2012 times by Lapse and Gers/d. Again, thanks to Arty Graffarti and dannym for all the attribution, they made me aware of how much ‘ownership’ and maintenance of these walls exists by the particular writers.


The Commons Graffiti

The Commons is a Brunswick residential complex design by Breathe Architecture’s Jeremy McLeod that received the 2014 Victorian Architecture Award for Sustainable Architecture as the year’s ‘‘exemplar of apartment living.’’ Read more about the architecture award in The Age but I want to examine the way that it integrates with the locale in particular the graffiti in the area.DSCF0137

It is not an inspiring locale, at the end of a dead end street on a block between train tracks and a panel beaters. It was previously the site of a single story factory/warehouse stood surrounded by a chain link fence. In its favour it is close to Sydney Road and very close to Anstey Station train station. Anstey has the standard utilitarian construction of a Melbourne railway station from the 1970s, the chain link fence, only the signage has been updated.

I have watched the developments progress as I passed by on my regular ride along the Upfield bike path or when traveling by train in and out of the city.

Now plants are growing up the chain balcony rails, of this multi-story building with an attractive facade facing the railway. On the ground floor there is the coffee shop, Steam Junkies and two large rainwater tanks sit out the back. It contributes and improves its locale rather than exploit it. The Commons is the only building with an entrance to the Upfield bicycle path.

There plenty of graffiti along the bicycle path but the brick walls beneath the second decorative story facade of The Commons had only been tagged a couple of time since its construction. The tags were not removed. It was unlikely that the walls were going to stay that way as they were along the graffiti covered Upfield bike path and it appears that it was never the intention.

Then this week came the Sinch tribute, a massive legal piece that covered The Commons lower walls and water tanks. An awesome group effort featuring parts of the AWOL and Id crews along a few others. See Land of Sunshine for more photos. There aren’t that many graffiti tributes in Melbourne (see my post Rest In Peace).  Sinch (1988 – 2014) died in June; Benjamin Millar “Tributes for street artist electrocuted while train surfing” in The Age.

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Bigger, Biggest

Rone’s new mural, L’inconnue de la rue (unknown girl in the street) on the wall of the building at 80 Collins Street claims to be the largest mural in Australia. I don’t want to get into a mural measuring competition but I counted nine stories for Rone’s new mural making it larger than Adnate’s new five-story mural in Hosier Lane. (I used to live near a business that claimed to be “the biggest laundromat in the southern hemisphere” over in West Brunswick.)

Rone in Collins Street

Rone in Collins Street

Rone is from the Everfresh crew and Adnate is from the AWOL crew. The Everfresh and AWOL crews have been in open competition since 2011, when they were in a competition for the space in the NGV’s studio. Everfresh won that round and had an exhibition in NGV’s Studio. The next round in this competition are two giant murals by first Adnate and now Rone.

Everfresh are the established masters of Melbourne street art based in Collingwood with heaps of reputation on Melbourne’s streets. AWOL, the new comers from Brunswick, bring both ambition and a willingness to change and develop their style. The only member of the Everfresh crew to really change styles has been Reka, Makatron has developed but after seeing about a hundred Phibs on walls, boards, tattoos etc. his style isn’t that fresh anymore.

Adnate at work in Hosier Lane

Adnate at work in Hosier Lane

It is good that Melbourne’s street artists are now being offered such large walls; they have been crying out for large walls for years. Neither of these huge murals are great works of art, except in their size, as they are both thematically and artistically far to simple. Their style goes back to the hand painted painted advertising billboards of the 1950s and 60s, that many commercial artists used to paint, including James Rosenquist before he turned to Pop art.

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There are a couple of holes with Rone’s new mural; the most obvious is that bit of old wall that has had concrete sprayed on it. Why wasn’t that part painted over? Why is it there to begin with? The other problem is that the image distorts as you look up from the lane way; the perspective of the face only works when viewed from a certain position near Nauru House. Simply scaling up an image to fit a wall this large is not enough.

I’m looking forward to seeing what the next round of this creative competition between these two crews will bring but I just want to point out that the biggest mural in Melbourne was Adrian Doyle’s Empty Nursery Blue in 2013 that covered both sides and the paving of Rutledge Lane.


PaintUp!

For the last two days Adnate, from Melbourne’s AWOL crew has been up in the heavens painting on the rear wall of McDonald House that faces in Hosier Lane. Adnate will be up there painting for a few more days to come.

McDonald House (no relation to fat food empire) is a seven story building built in the Chicagoesque style. It was originally built in 1921 as warehouse but has since been converted to offices. The wall overlooking the lane has not been painted before because it has been too high and inaccessible.

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The current painting was made possible because the cement rendering on the wall of the building was being repaired and the scaffold had to be installed. Adnate’s giant piece was commissioned by local community association Hosier Inc. and funded by the City of Melbourne’s annual arts grant program. Hosier Inc. say that is the first instalment in a series of major artworks for the lane.

Ink & Clag in Hosier Lane

Ink & Clog in Hosier Lane

Down below in the lane the tourists come, take photos and go. At the Flinders Street corner a notice that the Ink & Clog, a crew from Singapore has been painting. (I’ve had a long interest in Singapore Graffiti). Near the Flinders Lane end two guys, both named Dave, are sitting on stacks of milk crates watching Adnate paint. One of the Dave’s is better known as Phoenix, whose paste-ups can be seen in Flinders Lane and other places around Melbourne. The other Dave is David Russell who is photographs Melbourne’s street art scene and whose photographs are regularly seen on Invurt. The location was a difficult one to photograph and David Russell was preparing to go up on top of various buildings around the lane to get photographs of Adnate’s progress.

Melbourne is now following the example of many European and South American street art of very large legal murals to bring art and colour to a giant run-down and drab wall. I can’t tell how Adnate’s mural will look when it is finished, hopefully it will be as good as the face that he did in an earlier piece with the rest of the AWOL crew in Fitzroy.

AWOL Gertrude Street

Adnate with the AWOL crew, Gertrude Street


Street Art Renaissance

I keep on seeing all these similarities between street art/graffiti and the Renaissance most obviously because both are painting on walls. Walking around the graffiti covered walls of Brunswick factories in the late 1990s I discovered my own Scrovegni Chapel of wall-to-wall painting divided into separate panels.

Adnate of the AWOL crew on wall in Rose St. Fitzroy

Adnate of the AWOL crew on wall in Rose St. Fitzroy (photo by Hasan Niyazi)

People have painted on walls since we lived in caves but what made the Renaissance especially similar to the street art/graffiti of today is the potential change in social status that being an artist brought with it. Unlike their ancient counterparts the Renaissance and graffiti artists can become famous across the city and intercity and to freely enjoy the change in status that this fame brings.

Collingwood graffiti 2009

Collingwood graffiti 2009

There are many ways that the practice of street art is similar to the Renaissance with people up ladders painting a wall. Only the media has changed from fresco to aerosol. Fresco was the fast art medium of the Renaissance, the plaster could only be painted on when it was still wet. The works are designed in cartoons and then enlarged on the wall. Often he patron who bought the paint and commissioned the work is represented in the piece off to one side, as in a Renaissance altarpiece. Although all of the surviving Renaissance frescos are inside but exterior walls were also painted (an elephant remains on a portico wall at Castello Sforzesco in Milan) along with other ephemeral artwork. Renaissance painters worked in the summer when the plaster could dry, in the winter they would work on their designs, like the graffers drawing in their black books.

In graffiti slang a “piece, referring to a large complete aerosol work, is short for a ‘masterpiece’. It indicates a degree of a writer’s proficiency, as in the final work of a journeyman apprentice doing throw-ups. There is less of the master and apprentice in graffing for today the organization of society is much less formal, but there is more of a culture of master and apprentice in graffiti, where skills are learnt from assisting or watching masters rather than the formal education of modern artists. Collaborations between painters are common in both graffiti and the Renaissance.

The following is an email about painting a legal wall in Richmond. I want to point out that this email it is the street art equivalent to a commission for a Renaissance fresco.

On 09/03/2013, at 10:53 PM, CDH wrote:

We’ll be painting on Monday.

Location is 53-55 Burnley st Richmond. We’re painting behind the bike shop.

Meeting at midday.

Theme is yellow. Colour palette is black, white, grey and yellow.

As always, anyone and everyone is welcome. Hit me up if you’re

interested. Should be a good day for it: 34 deg.

Cheers,

Chris.

CDH

www.CDH-Art.com

Unlike the open invitation in CDH’s email a Renaissance commission was a longer legal document specifying a particular artist and a payment. Like CDH’s email it might specify the colour palette but this generally concerned with the weight of blue lapis lazuli and other expensive pigments.

There are, of course, many differences. The monetary value of the art produced is the biggest difference. Capping in the Renaissance was out of the question because fresco belonged to someone who was rich and powerful; the Medici would not have tolerated anyone damaging their property. But the insult of choice for both Renaissance painters and street artists are homophobic; the street artists will call the work of others “gay” whereas the Renaissance painter will denounce others as “sodomites”.

AWOL in Fitzroy 2012

AWOL in Fitzroy 2012

Various crews have replaced the painters’ guilds, but even the most hardcore crew can’t compare to the murderous Cabal of Naples who controlled their territory with brutality and fear and no one else was allowed to paint in Naples. The Cabal of Naples are early Baroque rather than Renaissance painters, but they are a classy example. Melbourne’s graffers and street artists, in comparison are a passive lot and we live in a much less violent time.

(I want to thank Brain Ward of Fitzroyalty and especially Hasan Niyazi of Three Pipe Problem for their thoughts on the subject that has greatly improved this tenuous idea.)


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