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Tag Archives: graffiti

Croft Alley Culture

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.

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Maunder about street art and graffiti

I used to write blog posts about my wandering around the city. I still wander around but generally I try to keep my posts more focused than my meandering feet and mind. Now, even if I see a couple of exhibitions I will choose one to write about, or focus on one aspect of street art, or a single public sculpture. However, for this post I will make an exception and maunder about street art and graffiti.

Exploring my local area, Coburg, graffiti and street art continues to expand north along the Upfield train line corridor. I am amazed that there are so many bluestone back laneways in Coburg that I haven’t walked along in the decades that I have lived in the suburb. It is an area that is about to change because of the new elevated railway line.

There are pieces by the talented graffiti writers, Virus and Saem, in the area. But also Luna who works between street art paste-ups and old school graffiti. Calypso, the friendly tagger who often has a smily face at the end of the tag. Tags by God© makes an appearance. Along with stickers by local artist and extreme printer, Joel Gailer that show the cross-over between street and gallery art.

So I continue my travels around greater Melbourne; photographing street art in Footscray, Brunswick and in ‘Lovelands’, a series of alleyways off Queen St, near the corner of Franklin St. which often has some of the best street art in Melbourne. And, around the corner from Lovelands, in Blender Lane, where Blender Studios used to be — no other art studio in Melbourne has had such an impact on its geography.

Keeping my eye on Hosier Lane, where the most significant work are no longer spray painted, they are political. Support for Hong Kong with a ‘Lennon wall’ of post-it notes.

Looking at actual graffiti, the scribbled messages on the street rather than the calligraphic art of the kamikaze paint sprayers.

At guerrilla gardeners along the Upfield bike path who will use anything and everything to plant things in.

I have been writing about and photographing these kind of things for over a decade. So often now it feels like I have seen it all before but even in the antarctic winds of Melbourne’s winter there are some things that catch my eye; photograph and post on this blog.


Graff Notes

– green buff – a new style? – pastels?!

I am trying to promote a new term: ‘green buff’. To ‘green buff’ is to plant in a way that a wall is no longer usable for graffiti. Brunswick Station is a good example of green buffing. It used to be a prime location for graffiti. Adnate and the AWOL crew found their style on the walls around the station. It also used to be surrounded by fly tip of a wasteland. Apart from maintaining the path to the station Moreland Council and the multi railway authorities took no care of the area. Then locals took action and guerrilla gardeners turned it into a garden. Now there is only a couple of walls left around Brunswick Station, the rest of them have been green buffed with trees blocking the view. Green buffing is the best way to prevent graffiti because graffiti is a response to neglected areas, to ugly blank walls.

Graffiti writers, those extreme urban decorators of the urban wasteland are still inventive and looking at the beauty of aesthetics in of letters. I keep seeing a development of fresh material in graffiti and in the last couple of years but I hesitate to call it a new style. Saem and Rashe’s work looks like a fresh take on modern artists, like Léger’s cubism or the Russian Suprematist. It is a contrast to all the painted air, the illusionistic space around the letters, blown by the aerosol, that has been the standard for many years. These works are so flat there is no air in it;  they are super-flat like Takashi Murakami. It was so startling that I had to stop my bike and check it out.

After more than a decade of looking at graffiti and street art it I feel some burnout; a bit like “I have seen this all before, so many times.” CDH asked me when I last got excited by street art or graffiti. I replied: “Astral Nadir.” I forgot that I put the breaks on my bike for Saem and Discarded; willing to lose the momentum had been hard won with muscle power to look at their work.

So what if I’ve become a bit jaded over the years – I’m still thinking, looking, and exploring the city. Part of my routine over the last decade, aside from wearing down a groove in the bluestone blocks of certain laneways, is visiting art galleries, sometimes the two align but I didn’t expect them to at a high-end commercial gallery like, Flinders Lane Gallery.

At Flinders Lane Gallery (now on the first floor of Nicholas Building) Amber-Rose Hulme’s exhibition — “Context” is a series of photorealist pastel drawings of Melbourne’s walls. The photorealist quality is startling. There was a shock of recognition of same familiar laneways, tags and walls. Unlike the photographers who exploit the popularity of graffiti Hulme has her own vision of these location. It is one of a nostalgic urban wabi-sabi, the acceptance of ephemeral and the decay. Drawing the cracked paint, the splatters and drips with a mix of dedication and patience the graffiti is seen in its context of walls and bluestone laneways.


Current Melbourne street art and Facter

“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, Hosier Lane

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. 

Fresh wildstyle piece in Croft Alley

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.


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.


Sunshine Lane

A visit to the Sunshine Lane (Ann St, Brunswick) is always worthwhile to see quality street art and graffiti. There are other great locations for street art in Brunswick hidden away in the backstreets. Few laneways in Melbourne get a 5 star review on Google but this is one; Google describes it as an art gallery and in a way it is. Sunshine Lane is one of the locations in Brunswick where street art graffiti thrive because it is semi-curated by Dean Sunshine, whose family owns several of the warehouse in the area. There are some permanent works, like this one by Slicer that I videoed when he was spraying it six years ago.

In the video I wanted to convey the action painting aspects of painting with a spray can (as in the action painting of the Abstract Expressionist 10th Street School). Aspects that Slicer embodied well, but it is his footwork, the dance that is also common to all artists spray painting large walls that I was also watching. The person dances along the wall with their spray can, steps back, pause, steps to the left, or to the right, and then steps back up to the wall to once again paint across its surface.

A couple of stencils by Drasko and others around the area reminded me that a decade ago the main focus on Melbourne’s street art was stencils. It is not that stencils are making a come back, they never went away, it is just that the street art scene is so much larger that stencils no longer dominate.

No-one would have predicted what is still happening with street art; what was underground and wild is now mainstream. A decade ago I was told so often that Melbourne’s street art had peaked that I took it too mean that the person in question was getting out of the scene. However, for every person who left the scene to pursue other goals it seemed that five took their place.

Rapid urbanisation has been the fuel in this expansion in many ways. The growth of the city, not just spread, but vertically has created many more walls filled by many more people who want to paint them. The walls get larger, whole sides of multi-storey buildings and more and more get painted. There are now building sites around Sunshine Lane, small laneways have vanish or are now cut off by construction works.


Signing Off and Shouting Out

Word up on signing off and shouting out.

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I have been reading and collecting graffiti writer’s sign offs; that is the side comments near the outer edge of a piece of graffiti. If it is a name or a list of names it is called a ‘shout out’; as in when a DJ gives a shout out to a listener, a graff writer gives a shout out to a watcher. (Thanks Harry Nesmoht for clearing up ‘sign off’ and ‘shout out’ for me.) The names in shout-outs are often obscure but the sign offs can be an interesting read.

Written in a relatively clean and easy to read font; sign offs are a trace of pre-hip hop graffiti when words and slogans were all there was.

Often they will tell you where the writers, if they aren’t local, are from. Brunswick and Coburg must have felt like home for the German speaking graffiti writers.

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Or what event, the wall was painted for, this one was for the Meeting of Styles in 2016.

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Interesting taste in music and it is not hip hop; it is a line from The Magnetic Fields “Papa Was A Rodeo” (from 69 Love Songs: Volume 2, 1999).

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Sometimes the writer is leaving a message for a wider public like Bailer explaining his position to a slasher. Ironically there are lots of messages to taggers to leave the wall alone.

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Or adding a political comment about the current state of Hosier Lane.

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That is so cold it is cool. Killing them with style.

Shout out to Rise for his shout out to me. Signing off this post: cheers!

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