As I entered Paynes Place I could hear women’s voices and the familiar sound of an aerosol spray-can being shaken. Paynes Place off Little Bourke Street in Chinatown is opposite an empty lot with a massive mural. You turn a corner and at the end Paynes Place is Croft Alley. The laneway off is an attractive and discreet location, covered in graffiti and street art with a bar at the far end.
Around the corner in Paynes Place there were about five young Moslem women sitting around on the ground smoking cigarettes (one was lucky enough to have a milk crate to sit on).
Around the next corner, into Croft Alley, there was a thirty-something Asian guy with half a dozen cans of quality aerosol paint sitting beside his backpack. He had just started spraying a couple of lines of an outline for his piece. (I am commenting on people’s age, ethnicity and religion because I want to emphasise the diversity.)
“Keep on painting.” I said as I passed him in the narrow lane.
I looked around at the work in the lane, looking at the mix of old and new work. The area was comprehensively painted in the Croft Alley Project in 2009. (See my original post.) High up on the walls there is a layer of old work from 2009 but the rest is all fresh and new. There are more paste-ups by Mr Dimples, recently I’ve been seeing his cute monster paste-ups in many places around the city.
As I was making my way back past the graff writer with the can. A red and blond haired “working family” (as Kevin Rudd use to endlessly repeat) from the outer suburbs came around the corner into the lane. Cool parents to know about Croft Alley and show their kids some quality graffiti.
I write about the graffiti and street art because it is remarkable to have a mass visual art movement. It is a cultural shift for so many people to be involved in a locally produced cultural activity, that doesn’t involve gambling and that isn’t advertised. It is a cultural shift for kids to be interested in an adult visual culture that (unlike cinema and tv) is local, progressive and they can participate in.
It is the way that it creates a place that people want to visit out of a service lane; “placemaking” as the architects and urban planners call it. And the anarchic, egotistic altruism of this unauthorised placemaking; the individual empowerment to make their mark on the urban environment, both in collaboration and in competition with others.
It is this cultural vibrancy that interests me far more than the popularity of any of its artists and writers, how much some rich fool might pay for the work of some popular artist, or even, the aesthetics or meaning of any of the work in the lane.
“I like this guy!” One of the three blonde girls declared pointing at a piece by Facter. All of the girls were wearing tiny denim shorts and overall less cloth than next two people in Hosier Lane but I won’t discount their opinion for lack of clothing. I was more amazed that they liked Facter.
Facter is an old hand in Melbourne’s street art scene and amongst the most important people in the scene. He grew up with the tiny Perth graffiti scene in the 1980s (when you couldn’t spellcheck your tags). He is a nice guy and more of a writer than a graff writer; he is the editor in chief of Invurt. He is more significant as an advocate, curator and organiser, then for his painting on the street.
Facter’s pieces are robotic segmented creatures that exist somewhere between street art and aerosol graffiti; the letter form of graffiti replaced by the outline of the creature but most of the traditional aerosol elements of a piece are still there. There is a childish joy in the bright colours in his pieces and shapes. Facter also makes designer toys in this style.
That day I was exploring the Melbourne grid and although I have been doing that for years there are still parts that I haven’t seen. Hoping that just down this lane will find something beautiful or surprising. Sometimes I do but more often it will be more construction, workers smoking out or a van being unloaded. I didn’t find anything that day; last week I found Baptist Place and the work of the Night Krawler but I can’t expect to do that every time so I went back to some of the major street art locations.
That day I had already seen a couple of pieces by Facter; there were two in Croft Alley in Chinatown. Croft Alley still has plenty of fresh graffiti pieces in it, only it is so narrow that there are only a couple of walls that are easily photographed.
In Hosier Lane there was more political pieces reflecting the current political issues: the students strike against climate change inaction and the conviction of Cardinal George Pell. It is so political that Van Rudd has a prominent section of wall for his brush painted mural. I’ve forgotten who said that street art had lost its political edge.
There were many reasons to go into the city on Sunday: the Melbourne Open House 2011, yarn bombing in the Bourke St. mall, yum cha, shopping and the first sunny day in many weeks. I didn’t get to see all the 75 buildings open in the city. Some, like the Block Arcade, were booked out; others, like the Royal Melbourne Hospital Tunnels, had an hour wait until the next tour. I did see Origin’s Balcony Garden, the Athenaeum, the Plaza Ballroom and Melbourne Town Hall.
Origin’s Balcony Garden on Level 7, 271 Collins Street, is a contemporary roof top garden for the staff with a BBQ area as one of the main features. Designed by Jamie Durie and completed in 2009 it is elegant and informal with a lot of artificial turf over not only the balcony but also seats and the circular seating “cocoon”.
The Athenaeum Theatre and Library is an old cultural institution from the era of marvelous Melbourne. It was a time when people would know that Athena was the goddess of wisdom and civilization. The first feature film and the first ‘talkie’ in Melbourne were shown in the Athenaeum Theatre. In its long history has also been used as an art gallery mostly between 1943 and 1962. I remember it from the Melbourne Theatre Company’s productions in both the main theatre and studio space on the top floor. Between the theatre spaces there is private subscription library – in my imagination this had always been antique relic preserved from the 1900s but actually the library has kept up to date and full of popular titles and has 4 computers with internet access for the patrons.
Plaza Ballroom with visitors on Melbourne's Open House
Across the road from the Athenaeum, the Plaza Ballroom built by Frank Thring Snr. (father of Frank Thring, the actor). It is a rococo extravaganza of faux medieval with a tiled fountain and fake balconies. Overhead there is a huge hand-painted coffered reinforced concrete ceiling. It reminded me of the décor of the Forum Theatre and an old cinema in Brisbane but on a far larger scale.
After the theatrical aesthetic of the ballroom the classical styling and eclectic collection of the Melbourne Town Hall appeared more dubious. It has all the qualities of a wedding reception centre which it is used for. The council chambers are also used for the Melbourne comedy festival. Amongst the collection of portraits of former mayors and official gifts from other cities there is a Rick Amor painting of Melbourne laneways complete with graffiti and paste-ups (odd considering the City Council’s antipathy towards street art).
Twilight Taggers in the Bourke St. Mall
A visit to Melbourne’s CBD would not be complete without looking at some street art. There was a yarn-bombing project by Bali (see her blog the Twilight Taggers) and Yarn Corner going on in the Bourke St. Mall. A long colorful knitted and crocheted cover for a rail and its supports adorned with crocheted flowers. Yarn bombing is turning into a community art form, the family-friendly, council-friendly aspect of street art. And while in Chinatown for yum cha I walked up Croft Alley to see the current aerosol street art on its walls. Croft Alley was repainted in February 2011. (See my post about the earlier Croft Alley Project.)
Due to Sunday’s fine weather and the Melbourne Open House there were hundreds (maybe thousands) of people of all ages (kids getting their open house maps stamped at various locations) exploring the rarely seen Melbourne, the old Melbourne and the present Melbourne.