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.
WTF in 24-carat gold leaf on a marble tombstone sits on an artificial lawn in front of a wallpaper sky. Local artist, Daniel Worth’s small exhibition, Social Hieroglyphics, ticks so many boxes: contemporary yet reflecting on the ancient history of sculpture, complete with interactive, site-specific, performance elements and a sense of humour.
Carving hieroglyphics has been done since the ancient Egyptians, but Worth has updated them carving the emojis and abbreviations that we regularly use today into stone. This isn’t a cheap stunt of contemporary references there is depth to these works. The ancient Egyptian were communicating information by carving hieroglyphics, whereas Worth is quoting; removing the poo emoji from its original context. The difference between an ancient Egyptian carving hieroglyphics and what Worth is doing is art. That short word; ‘art’ is a significant difference, referring to millennia of history while finding new and contemporary expression.
Worth clearly enjoys the beautiful and luxurious materials that he is using. Yet, 90% of the stone in the exhibition has been found or reclaimed. Some of the stone came from stonemason’s off-cut bins and from an 1840s drainage system at York’s first railway station. Only the Carrara marble for the big Stone Phone, the centre-piece of the exhibition, was bought.
I asked Worth about the ethics of sourcing stone. “I feel it important to use stone that is being discarded because it gives it a second life, it also works with my frugal and resourceful nature. Sometimes that chance encounter with a found stone mixes with an idea that transforms it into something new.”
Some of his carvings only exist in a stone rubbing in crayon and 24-carat gold leaf on paper as the carved stones have been installed in undisclosed locations. One a small brick of marble found along Thames foreshore was carved with LOL, and the Worth threw it back into the river. If future mudlarks along the Thames resemble the present ones, they will research these letters and laugh.
There is an interactive aspect to the rubbing carvings. Wax crayons allow visitors to make their own laughing tears emoji rubbing from one of Worth’s carved stones. Visitors are encouraged to use the back-half of the room-sheet to add a rubbing. So you get your own souvenir piece to take home from the exhibition.
There is so much potential in this solid exhibition. Worth’s art is infinitely scalable; scalable is what every internet business is looking for. Worth could do more with the ideas in this exhibition, more art, exhibitions, even giant works of public art.
This was the first exhibition that I have seen since the COVID-19 lockdown. I had to make an appointment to see it at Noir Darkroom Gallery, and when I did, I was the only visitor to the shopfront gallery on Moreland Road.
During the lockdown I was walking different paths to the popular locations for street art and graffiti. There are walls in Coburg that are well worth a second glance, to admire the elegant form and clean technique of the writer. Many of these lanes are so narrow that it hard to get a good photo of the billboard sized pieces.
I will write it again because it bares repeating. What I admire about graffiti is that young men are talking about calligraphy and colours rather than, what I all too often had to listen to in my youth — football, cars, and Hitler. This is why I think that painting walls is a good thing and if someone does an inferno of a piece; so much the better for everyone.
When I did return to look at Hosier Lane and AC/DC Lane the street art and graffiti were still there. But they were so empty. The only reason why there was anyone besides myself in Hosier Lane was that meals for the homeless were being distributed. Still, there was some evidence that artists had been active in the area. Osno is a French artist from Dunkirk who has become stranded in Australia during the pandemic lockdown. Mr Dimples and others have sprayed some stencils (see my post on Mr Dimples). Yes, the street artist are returning to Melbourne’s lanes (not that they ever really left) but not the tourists.
Did the lockdown inspire people to create much street art? (Aside from children drawing in chalk on the sidewalks.) Some feared that there would an explosion of yarn bombing from people knitting during the lockdown but I’ve yet to see any indication of that. I came across an unfinished piece by an obviously trained artist, it had a grid of pencil lines for scaling up the image.
During my walks in Coburg I’ve photographed many street signs that have witty messages written in grease pencil on them. I’ve been informed that they are across the northern inner suburbs and from comparing the handwriting it appears to be the same person.
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.)
Changes to place in Brunswick and Coburg due to Sky Rail replacing the Upfield train line. Along with the changes to the infrastructure there has been destruction of public gardens and Sky Rail will effect the street art, graffiti, free libraries, guerrilla gardens, and other anarchic guerrilla place-makers along the line. MoreArts, the annual Moreland City Council outdoor art exhibition, which uses spaces along this transportation corridor has been suspended.
The destruction of parks in Coburg including the chopping down 100+ of mature trees enjoyed by native birds and possums during a climate emergency. The destruction of these parks is the destruction of places. You can’t instantly make a place, it requires people with memories of the place and that takes time, like a tree, to grow; it will take decades to make an impact.
Jacinta Allan, the minister responsible for this destruction is doing it to save some car drivers a few seconds off their commute. It is doing nothing for rail commuters and bicycle riders. Sky Rail construction is destroying many places with nothing better than optical community consultation (something that has the optics of a community consultation).
Locals defended Gandolfo Gardens. They worked through all the processes, attended meetings, wrote letters, signed petitions to no avail and were eventually dragged away by the police. The garden at Moreland Station was created by locals a hundred years ago. A place full of trees and memories. It had a memorial to an ancient scar tree that had previously been removed from the site.
The sad fact is that just across the road from Gandolfo Gardens was one of the most neglected blocks that could have been used instead. Nothing more than a parking lot and abandoned silos.
Now that the walls are no longer in eyesight of the commuters in the train their value to graffiti writers will decline. Access to most of the walls, along with the bike path, has been sealed in February.
I have written many blog posts about the street art and graffiti along this path. Here are a couple about things that have already or will soon be effected by the construction. Although neither was intended to be permanent the art and place-making along the line is a loss for all who enjoyed it.
The little red free library contacted Yarn Corner about moving their installation to the libraries new location at Robinson Reserve in advance of the construction. Great to see world’s best practice in public art being carried out by guerrilla place-makers.
War is not pretty. War is ugly. Even a very small territorial war between a Melbourne street artist, 33rd Key and various graffiti writers over a wall gets ugly. The wall is part of some units beside the railway on Reynard Street. It is a large wall that is visible from the road, bike path and the railway line.
It is this view from the trains that make it a valuable asset to the area’s graffiti writers. While these days, few trains are sprayed in Melbourne trains are still connected to graffiti as they are one of the prime ways of viewing graffiti. Consequently walls along railway lines are valuable territory.
There are always new pieces being sprayed along the Upfield bike path. If the developers thought that by having the wall painted by a street artists would be enough to stave off graffiti. They were wrong.
The battle started just after the units had been built in 2017 when Melbourne street artist, 23rd Key was commissioned to paint a mural on the wall. 23rd key’s wall of botanical stencils were bland and boring, even compared to their other work. It might have satisfied the developers but it certainly did not impress the graffiti writers. It was not covered in a clear layer of graffiti resistant paint. And 23rd Key has not responded in paint as a graffiti writer would; they have no further interest in the wall after they have been paid for the original painting.
I don’t know what the motives or casus belli ; I’m not sure if motives are the right thing to examine in a war. Had there been a violation of the graffiti writer’s code of conduct? Had some graff writer had already staked their claim to the wall before 23rd Key sprayed paint?
There was another buff and an attempt to get the wall repainted however, once the war started, all kinds of things happened in the free fire paint zone. Each layer of paint is another skirmish. Someone even took to it with a paint filled fire extinguisher. The graffiti writers have won by their persistent bombing campaign but at what a cost. It is now one of the least attractive walls along the whole train-line.
Legal walls that graff writers paint are rarely subject to tagging or bombing. It is not that it doesn’t happen but when it does it is quickly dealt with. Legal walls, that graffiti writers have permission to paint, are well maintained and even repainted when the colours fade. (See my post about same walls or about how the AWOL crew responded to the vandalism of one of their walls for examples.)
The most interesting aspect of this battle is that part of the wall painted by the naive artist with a brush has been left alone in this spray-can contest. This shows that graff writers do not consider that they have the right to paint all walls along the train-line and that they are painting by a code of conduct.
Walking around my neighbourhood, Coburg, one of Melbourne’s inner northern suburbs, I am seeing all these augmented street signs. I’ve seen the NO STANDING “but squatting…” text in several places around Coburg and Brunswick. Is this a trend or is it the same prolific person?
Thinking that street art was much the same this year as previous years; same artists, same locations, same styles. Although a well executed graffiti piece or a good stencil will still interest me I am not enough of a fan boy to want to rush to photograph a fresh wall.
I certainly haven’t written as many blog posts about street art this year. This is because what I want is something new to write about, a new style, a new technique; but that’s just what I want, what people want from Stormie Mills or Adnate is more of the same. I did get to see some new styles this year. The super-flat work of Seam and Rashe and the Indigenous inspired graff of LSDesigns.
What will still make me turn my head on the street is a collection of stickers; even though you can’t tell from many stickers if it is a street artist, graffiti artist (although the handwritten tag on the “hello my name is” sticker is one sign), a band (post-punk group Pinch Points have a very interesting choice of sticker location around Coburg) or advertising a dog walking business. Maybe this variety of purposes is one reason that I keep looking.
I am interested in more than wall; the street is the paradigm of communication and variety. Street art of all sizes from the murals the size of a five story wall to the smallest sticker. The stuff scratched on the concrete footpaths to the aerosol art.
Walking around my neighbourhood I am pleased to see a couple of pieces by Discarded amongst some guerrilla gardening. Discarded makes figures assembled from ceramic casts of discarded rubbish. I don’t know if these are new or if they have been there for years and I have just found them. Perhaps it is the process of discovery that interests me more than the art itself? Perhaps it is the walk rather than the destination.