Tag Archives: graffiti

Askem Graffiti

“What’s his name?” Ask ‘em.

Looking at a fresh, old-school, hip-hop style piece on a wall by local graffiti writer, Askem. Breaking it down into its constituent parts. Starting with a utilitarian brick wall in a laneway in a light industrial area of Brunswick. It is rarely used, judging from the weeds growing between the bluestone pavers. The wall has been buffed rose pink with house paint on a roller in preparation. Next, clean lines sprayed with a steady, precise hand. Guerrilla decor with aerosol paint in a laneway that would be poorer without it.

It is almost a bomb in form, but there are many more colours to the piece. The background is minimal; there is barely a cloud and no supporting characters. The letters are larger than the red cloud, but the small red cloud behind the letters makes both the green and blue of the letters pop.

The old-school design of each fat sans serif letter. Solid bubble letters outlined in black and blue projecting out from the cloud. The letters are not kerned with even spaces between them; they are alive, jostling together like buddies in a group photo.

The green fill of colour in the letters goes from an avocado through leaf green to dark olive. It is not really a fade but a mashing of these colours, which bubble and drip together. It is a combination of colours close to the ugly side of look-at-me.

The shines, bubbles and fake drips of green paint in the fill are some of the best parts. The outline of letters echos this with a few bubbles and spurts over the cloud.

Askem includes two shoutouts; to “MrR” in the S and “SDM” in the M. In acknowledging them, Askem shows that he is part of a larger social group reading graffiti. Even though getting his name up is the main thing, it is not the only thing.

This is not the first, best or the most significant piece of graffiti by Askem or Askm that I’ve seen. I’ve seen pieces by him in the area for over a decade, but I’ve never met, spoken to, had drinks with him, and couldn’t pick him out in a lineup. It is not that kind of relationship (an art critic doesn’t need to personally know the artist). Nor have I read any “artist’s statement” from Askem about why he does graffiti, his influences, and what he hopes to say through his art. It is not necessary with graffiti writers; it is all about style over content. Not that I have anything against spending time with graffiti writers (see my post Piecing in Burnside), and I’d be pleased if any local writers contacted me.


How long does graffiti last?

How long does graffiti and street art last if not deliberately removed, buffed with a fresh coat of paint? Minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years, decades, even centuries. A medieval peasant cutting into the painted plaster on the church walls (for more about Medieval Graffiti). An ancient Roman scratching images of gladiators into the stones of the Colosseum.

Short answer: It depends on the medium used and the location.

Spray paint fades over time, especially in the full sun, but it does last for years, decades even. However, the same graffiti writer will paint over their own pieces to keep the paint fresh. Often it is only when a wall becomes inaccessible will they cease updating their piece.

Unlike graffiti, street art is not updated or replaced by the same artist. So the permanence of the media that a street artist uses. Paper and paste are surprisingly durable but will eventually deteriorate in Melbourne’s much-discussed weather. In the harsh and unforgiving outdoor conditions, there are casualties. Parts rust away and fall of pieces of rubbish nailed together by Junky Projects, making them meaningless.

Other media, like stone-carving, concrete casting, like Will Coles or Sandor Matos, or ceramics, lasts longer. You might be surprised at the number of unauthorised mosaics because you would think that there was almost none. Ceramics have been used as a medium for street art for decades, from the tiles mosaics of Space Invader to the work of Far4washere, a Melbourne based mixed media artist. The durability of ceramics to weathering on the street means that they have been used for authorised street mosaics (see my post about mosaics in public art in Melbourne).

The idea that graffiti was a fad contributed to a sense that it was ephemeral. The fact is that graffiti and street art are often on walls that nobody cares about; even legal projects used to bandage over an aesthetic sore spot. The building may be abandoned or scheduled for demolition. For this reason, development and other building work (a plumber putting a pipe through a Banksy) make graffiti and street art ephemeral. In Melbourne, Blender Lane, Centre Place and Lovelands are three street art/graffiti locations that have been significantly affected by developments.


Street 2021

We are getting to the bitter end of the sour 2021, so I thought I’d look back at the street art and graffiti I saw around Melbourne. It has been a year of lockdowns and vaccines, which Melbourne’s street artist’s Cell Out and Phoenix had to comment on.

Melbourne’s street artists commented on the other current issues; the end of the Trump era and the continuing failure of Australian governments to deal with the climate crisis.

A couple of smooth pieces by Sleek stretching letterforms caught my eye.

As did the old school hip hop style of Mickey xxi in Croft Alley.

But what really made my eyes pop were these pieces in Brunswick, taking graffiti letter form to a new level of calligraphic complexity.

Street artist Manda Lane takes things in a different direction, applying foliage to the city’s walls.

You mYou might be surprised at the amount of ceramics in street art because you would think that there was none. If you had forgotten Space Invader’s unauthorised mosaics. This year I have seen ceramic street art by Discarded and Far4washere. For more on Discarded, see my post. For more on Far4washere, search Instagram or on the streets.

Melbourne’s street art was once world famous for its stencils. And there are still a few stencil artists spraying its walls. Much of it is anonymous like these beautiful and well placed trees; I am enjoying the images of local gum trees combined with the worn wabi-sabi elements of the wall. Some stencil artists are known like this piece by Xuf, a Melbourne-based self-proclaimed “wall beautician” from Indonesia.

I’ll be signing off shortly, in the mean time here are a couple of sign offs that I’ve seen this year. Cheers, Black Mark

P.S. Search the streets if you want to see more of Melbourne’s street art.


Under the elevated rail construction

For 16 months plus I have been without my closest bicycle path that runs along the Upfield railway. Parks and numerous trees along it destroyed. All to construct an elevated stretch of rail-line so that cars wouldn’t have to stop for the trains, trains that only run every twenty minutes at the best of times.

There is no public art for either of the two new stations at Moreland and Coburg, whose cavernous entry halls are empty, bare, and boring. Nor any for the area under the railway line. Monochrome painting of pillars, ordinary park benches, paving and lighting do not qualify. During construction, there was a pathetic attempt at art washing with images by local primary school children displayed on the fence around the wreckage of Gandolfo Gardens.

I have had the construction noise in my ears and the grit blowing in my eyes for the past year. Every day as I walk around the fenced off-site, I thank Daniel Andrews, Jacinta Allen, and the Level Crossing Removal Project in my own special way for the inconvenience. And for imposing their bland aesthetic on the area, not in small patches as the graffiti writers have been doing in a collaborative effort for decades, but blocks.

However fences and construction site security, don’t stop outlaw artists; there are always creative solutions. Gies was the first to apply aerosol paint to the north end of the new construction, at the Bell Street with a massive ‘bomb’ in three colours. And Sped was the first to tag the southern end of the tracks. The destruction of their work doesn’t remove those achievements.

Only one feature of the architecturally incoherent new stations is appealing. The platforms of the two new stations have excellent blue-black dust-covered surfaces set at 45 degrees. Perfect for writing your tag or drawing pictures in the dust, you don’t need a pen; the dust is that thick. For graffiti is the traditional visual culture of the area going back for over twenty years when Psalm and others painted the back fence at Coburg Station. So it was good to see the work of some locals, including, while I’m mentioning veteran street artists, Braddock! 

Braddock “Blue seems sus”

I dream that I can once again bicycle on a path to Brunswick. And that someone will take a fire extinguisher filled with paint and spray the underside of the rail-line. I hope that soon colourful art will cover the concrete: pillars yarn-bombed, the chainlink fencing covered in radical cross-stitch. The area needs to be reclaimed by the public, as some of it once when locals created Gandolfo Gardens in an act of guerrilla gardening.


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.


Making Hosier Lane Safe For Tourists

The new outdoor seating for the Hosier Lane restaurants has taken over Rutledge Lane for COVID safe dinning. (At the moment there is mostly intra-city tourism and the crowds of international tourists are absent.) This included repainting the walls with a rather bland, family-friendly theme of Disney’s Alice in Wonderland.

How delightfully boho is it?

Over a decade ago, these much-misinterpreted words were stencilled on 167 Flinders Lane’s rear wall in Rutledge Lane. I will not explain the legally correct interpretation of those words, but the effect of their misinterpretation. Their misinterpretation created a street art zone in Melbourne’s centre and one of the city’s top tourist attractions.

The words spelt out an application for “a retrospective Street Art Permit”. “The City of Melbourne acknowledges that public spaces provide a gallery and stage for artistic expression and approve permits for street art with the building owners permission. Legal street art contributes to a vibrant urban environment and can change continually on a day to day to basis.” The text finally noted, “The artwork may evolve over time.”

Overtime many layers of both authorised and unauthorised paint have been sprayed over those words and whole laneway. It has been painted Empty Nursery Blue and buffed black, in preparation for Melbourne Now. In places, the enamel paint is half a centimetre thick.

Art performs many functions, even paradoxically one function as to be functionless and excessive. Another is to overturn rules and conventions, the lords of misrule with a child’s eyes. That is where the notorious fire extinguisher filled with paint protest performance of February 2020 has to be looked at again.

“Melbourne’s Hosier Lane street art, graffiti, painted over in weekend ‘vandalism’ attack”, ABC News

Making the lane safe for tourism and families includes increased shopping, eating and photo opportunities for tourists. And these presents risks to others using the lane: the artists, the homeless, the homeless artists…

Is Hosier Lane a libertarian paint zone free to exploit for profit? Or is Hosier Lane an anarchic paint zone where freely given play/work contributions of graffiti and street art are welcome? These questions are at the centre of the debate about Hosier Lane’s function. They leave me contemplating two alternatives futures for the lane’s walls. Will it be bland, apolitical murals, celebrating celebrities and seasonal festivities, or the artistic unknown?

Some recent stencil art in Hosier Lane

Viki Murray’s Skateboard Riders

You wouldn’t imagine that there are many skateboard riders rolling around Lightning Ridge, but Walgett Shire boasts a skatepark. Lightning Ridge, in north-western New South Wales, is better known for opal mining. So I was surprised to find out that Viki Murray, the artists who spray-painted stencil images of board riders surfing the gnarly curves of the aerosol paint on Melbourne walls, lives in Lightning Ridge.

Skateboard culture is like hip-hop’s brother-in-law from the outer suburbs; it is married to graffiti even if it is not related. It is a stable relationship that has lasted decades which Viki Murray’s skateboarders only emphasis.

Murray’s multilayer stencilled or paste-up images are painted in a subdued palette of grey tones. I like their small size and the way that they blend into the graffiti. They don’t fill a wall like so much of current street art. They are not obvious from 100 metres, or even 10 metres away. They’re cool, like the skateboarders, who find an empty space to use.

Street art has often looked at placement but rarely have they rode the dynamic lines of aerosol graffiti. Murray’s riders inhabit the illusionary space of the paint. Cruising the clouds of colour found in these readymade psychedelic landscapes.

Even the random marker writer in a psychotic frenzy of scribomania in Hosier Lane respected Murray’s work adding “King Dude” and a crown. 

It is a long way between Melbourne and Lightning Ridge, days of driving but Viki Murray and her husband John ‘Mort’ Murray, who paints murals and has a gallery in Lightning Ridge, have done it several times. Unless there is someone else who has been adding skateboard riders to graffiti, Murray’s riders have been surfing the graffiti lines in Melbourne for many years. And I hope that their wheels will rumble as their roll on the paint for many more.


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