Tag Archives: Brunswick

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.


Brunswick – March 2021

My rough plan was to start at Jewell Station, walk north to Sparta Place, visit some art galleries, and search for street art or graffiti in Brunswick. I wasn’t sure what I would find; there is only so much research that you can do online before exploring the facts on the ground.

Tāne Te Manu McRoberts, Te Heketanga a Rangi – Heavenly Origins, installation view

Avoiding the busy Sydney Road and navigating all the parallel streets and lanes. The location of all the galleries that I wanted to visit.This is where I thought I had the best chance of seeing some eye-popping graffiti. Much of the area used to light industrial but is now being replaced with multi-storey apartments, so my route included detours around various construction projects. There were knots of rope and green x marking trees spray-painted on the pavement around Jewell Station. Part of community consultation about the redesign of that end of Wilson Avenue.

The first gallery was Blak Dot. Blak Dot has an exhibition by Indigenous people from around the world. Tāne Te Manu McRoberts mixes traditional and contemporary textile art in “Te Heketanga a Rangi – Heavenly Origins”, keeping his culture charged with spectacular feather cloaks and other textile art. A must-see for anyone in Melbourne who is a poi enthusiast.

TCB had two exhibitions that had just opened on Wednesday night; “Medicine Walls” by Fergus Binns and “Cat toys & paperweights” by Brayden van Meurs. Binns five paintings are crazy fun with a fully sick paint technique and references to Dali and William Blake. Van Meurs’ five cat toys & paperweights are sculptures, in other words. Many are titled “lofi cityscape to scratch”, and “scratchable fabric” is included in the long list of materials. Having started the day with a conversation with my cat when I was still trying to sleep, I felt sympathy for van Meurs enterprise. My cat was trying to tell me that she had thrown up on the couch.

TCB on Wilkinson Street is a small, L shaped gallery space in front of the partitions of artist’s studios. This long-running artist-run-gallery that started in 1998 is now in its third location. I remember seeing one of Juan Ford’s first exhibitions at TCB at its first site in Port Phillips Arcade in the city.

I had seen some fresh graffiti pieces north of Jewell, but off the narrowing lane that runs through Bunnings, I saw a wall of graffiti writers of the avant-garde. Modernism, two meters high, as if it was written by graffers and not Greenberg. Pushing letterform  as far as it will go in all directions.

Finally, in Sparta Place, I found the empty former location of Beinart Gallery. Jon is now selling NFT art. Further removing the fantastic art that his gallery stocks from the actual world. At this point, my stomach seized control and directed my legs towards the nearest Lebanese bakery.


Over 2020

At the start of March, I was at a packed exhibition opening at Beinart Art Gallery in Brunswick. At the time COVID-19 was in the news but not in Australia. There were so many people at the exhibition it was like rush hour on a Sydney Road tram. I thought that the crowd was such a potential vector for all kinds of diseases and that this art party would be over.

Unknown local artist, 2020

Along with the weeks of bushfires, and months of lockdown, among the many things that I didn’t expect from the year:

… I didn’t expect that in the whole year I’ve seen about a dozen exhibitions, plus one art fair – Can’t Do Tomorrow. In other years I might see a dozen exhibitions in a single fortnight.

… I didn’t expect to be writing obituaries for Melbourne artists, Janet Beckhouse and Adrian Mauriks. I realised that they needed to be written as the newspapers wouldn’t be covering it.

… I didn’t expect that people would be so interested in public art this year. Part of this was due to people walking more as exercise during lockdowns and consequently seeing more public sculpture. It was also due to a post-colonial interest in public statues became a mainstream political issue this year, and I am so glad that it did. Statues that celebrate colonialists and other racists were removed in Belgium, Canada, NZ, South Africa, UK, US, Martinique, Cameroon, as well as, in other places. No statues or memorials have been removed in Australia. It is one of the many disgraceful and disgusting features of Australia and symptomatic of this conservative country’s many deep-rooted problems. (See my post on the Statue Wars 2020.)

And amongst everything that I didn’t expect, the least surprising events of the year was that the arts and tertiary education in Australia were being abandoned in the COVID-19 crisis. Gambling and Pascal’s wager (religions) are more important, for they were given more support and exemptions during lockdown; a position contrary to all medical evidence. And the state premier, Daniel Andrews cutting down more trees, including one of the Djab Wurrung Trees, in an egregious act of cultural vandalism. Giving less reason for optimism than a Leonard Cohen song. 

Now that I almost at the end of the year I have no plans to write any more blog posts until the new year. So, finally here are a few photos to sum up the year.


Art exhibitions in lockdown

Even though Melbourne is still in lockdown due COVID-19, there are art exhibitions on in Melbourne, but most are entirely online. Sarinah Masukor gives an excellent overview of some of the online works in Memo along with the experience of viewing them online.

Although I have seen some online exhibitions and works during Melbourne’s lockdown, including some that Masukor reviews, I’m not interested in reviewing the online art world. Scrolling through webpages instead of strolling through gallery doesn’t motivate me to write in the same way that the physical art world does. And video art independent of installation is yet another video online.

Why not? What is wrong with viewing art on a screen or in books? After all, that is how most people see most art.

It is not that I have a preference for the actual over the conceptual or precious about how the art is reproduced on a screen. It is because there is a physical aspect to art and culture, the walking, standing and physicality of experiencing. For there is always a space around the art; a space between the lines of poetry, between the episodes of a tv show and the art in the space. The place where we experience art. The physical setting that frames the art, that juxtapositions it with other art, the ghost memories of previous exhibitions in that or similar spaces. Art, in particular public sculpture, cannot be experienced online; from smelling the fumes of the freshly painted walls of graffiti to attempting to climb a sculpture.

Art plonked on our screens is different from art in the anaesthetic whiteness of the art gallery walls, or the surprising location of the street. After all, I could write about any of the other things that I see on the screen: movies, music, games…

Furthermore, there is also a social aspect to art and culture that no zoom meeting can replace. Regular readers of this blog would know that I like the eavesdrop on what other people are saying about the art. Contemporary art and street art was the biggest party on the planet, and the party is over. Even when there is no-one else in the gallery, there is the implication of a social aspect.

However, I did encounter what claimed to be “Melbourne’s worst and only art show” on a wall of Culture Club, a coffee shop on Sydney Road in Brunswick. Local Moreland artist and musician, Ben Butcher describes himself as “Australia’s worst artist”. His paintings were bad but they failed reach his own shit standard of a rainbow shitting unicorn impaling a dolphin on its horn. How bad the original hanging of the exhibition was cannot be said, as one of the paintings had already been withdrawn, but it didn’t satisfy my desire to see some good art.

Installation view of Butcher’s exhibition

Walls in Brunswick & Coburg

Desperate to see some new art, I have searched the laneways of Brunswick and Coburg for graffiti. These northern inner-city Melbourne suburbs are old enough to have a network of granite paved laneways that make for excellent and discreet locations for painting.

I have this paint-spotting addiction that can’t be satisfied by seeing photos on the internet. I want to do two contradictory things: to get up close to the wall to see the technique and to look around at the whole location.

Often very suburban locations: the sides of garages, parks and garden walls. For, although there still are factories and warehouse in Brunswick and Coburg, they are being demolished to be replaced by high-density housing. I hoped to be able to see more graffiti revealed by demolition. However, I couldn’t many places where I could photograph anything.

There are some fantastic pieces of wildstyle graffiti overflowing with style and energy. A few old-school pieces along with bombs and tags. Love the bomb from Nong, a tag with a nod to old Australian slang for ‘stupid’.

I was intrigued by this wall in suburban Coburg that had a mix of techniques and styles. There was everything from old-school bubble letters to experiments that mix street art techniques, like stencil with aerosol graffiti. It made me think of the new possibilities.


Jewell Station Forecourt

I first saw Fleur Summers’s sculpture, Making sense, from inside the train. Aside from the Fairfield Industrial Dog Object (FIDO), there are few public sculptures at Melbourne railway stations but there is now one at Jewell Station.

Fleur Summers, Making sense

Summers’s sculpture marks the new entrance to the station like bunches of dead flowers. A cluster of biomorphic forms, like metal fungus protrude from the grass in Jewell Station’s new forecourt. Each of the forms crowned with a black lumpy form.

Fleur Summers is a local artist and a lecturer in sculpture at the School of Art, RMIT. Her sculpture was selected from four finalists in a competition for a new sculpture. Given the biomorphic forms it is not surprising to find that Summers started her professional life as a microbiologist.

I’m not sure about the scale of the two clusters. They are intended to be at a hight where the metal heads of the stems can be torched and gradually polished by the public. Raising the question does the public connect to sculptures by touch?

In another attempt to establish a connection with the public art students from Brunswick Secondary School helped fabricate the work. I am skeptical of manufacturing connections in this way because even the casting of the local faces failed to establish a connection for another Brunswick art project (see my blog post).

Jewell Station was once an old brick station at the end of road with light industries. The entrance was an ugly mess of tarmac paths with pipe handrails leading to the sidewalk and the carpark with the bike path running through it. Now there are curved concrete forms terracing the entrance with a variety of paving and other surfaces. The new forecourt is not unsympathetic to the late Victorian Gothic station’s architecture without having anything in common aside from location.

The new forecourt has another gesture this time trying to establish a connection with local history. There are a few printed bricks about Brunswick quoting local politician James Jewell (1869-1949) for whom South Brunswick Station was renamed in 1954. Although there are a number of memorials around Brunswick to the free speech movement during the Great Depression when Victoria police wouldn’t allow public speech critical of the government. It is one of the features of Australia’s unique democratic system is that there are no civil or human rights that are protected from arbitrary government encroachment.

How Jewell’s new forecourt’s sculptures and paths work with social distancing or when people return to using public transport in greater numbers remains unknown. Will Summers’s metal flowers shine or will people, like I did, avoid touching them.


Discarded in the street

A creature with wings cast from a dead bird, a drink-can and a cotton reel and ointment tube as peg-legs. These are the ghosts that haunt the urban landscape, hungry ghosts made from what we throw away. When I first saw Discarded’s low relief sculptures on the street I thought of the frottage work by my favourite Surrealist artist, Max Ernst, for like Ernst surreal creatures, Discarded’s creations are at once absurd, etherial and poetic. Urban textures and debris transformed into treasures.

Street art sculpture is uncommon, even in Melbourne there are less than half a dozen people practicing the art at any one time. Like Junky Projects, the Melbourne-based street-artist who assembles street art sculptures from rubbish found in the street, Discarded assembles her figures from discarded items that she picks up in the street. To this Discarded adds another step, casting and making ceramic copies that she glazes and returns to the street. The ceramic replicas are combined into figures and glued on poles, concrete edges and other pieces of urban infrastructure that are unusable to the muralists and graffiti writers.

Discarded is a professional ceramics artist working in Melbourne; not surprising given the  obvious skill her works exhibits in multiple areas of ceramics from casting to painting. Her own street art is inspired by the work of many other streets artists. “They put in their time and money and give it up for other people to see.”

Discarded’s figures don’t have an obvious meaning, they is open to interoperation. Discarded told me: “I’ve had many instances of my work being very misconstrued. The most alarming was a project I did a couple of years ago on telegraph poles which people thought was signals for people to steal their dogs for illegal dogfighting. So I try to make it a playful/serious, comment on our relationship with the earth.”

Discarded explains: “I sort of have a love/hate relationship with the art world, so it often really inspires me to go to see exhibitions and galleries (best ever experience was going to see the Biennale at Arsenale and being in Athens where street art is wall to wall). But I hate the way art is currently situated in our culture, where generally only what makes it to the gallery is valued. I think we have to remember that the current situation of our art culture is not a set thing, it’s constantly evolving and street art plays a big part in changing the way we view art and also how we can imagine it to be.” And I can only applaud this attitude.

Persistence is an important quality of a street artist: how long does their work last in the urban environment and how many years do they persist in putting things up in the street. Discarded’s work persist even under layers of aerosol paint. As an artist she has persisted more than most, five years so far, and although not prolific she keeps on assembling her creations.

Another important quality for any graffiti writer or street artist is exposure, how far across the city their work can be found. In this respect Discarded is limited and I have only seen her work in the city and along the Upfield train line. It is not as easy for a female street artist to work as it is for a male. So, just be glad that Discarded is still installing her art on Melbourne’s walls and keep your eyes open for her latest creations.

(Thanks Discarded for the interview at a distance.)


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