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Tag Archives: graffiti

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.

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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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Hosier Lane 2018

Hosier Lane has changed and will continue to change, it has also stayed the same. The homeless are still in Hosier Lane, seeking shelter around the corner in Rutledge Lane. There are still people doing graffiti in the lane, residents who live in buildings and the workers in the businesses but mostly there are the tourists, local, interstate and international tourists. Hosier Lane is an established part of the Melbourne tourist experience.

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From the instigator, Andy Mac moving out of his laneway apartment to draconian anti-graffiti legislation and the threat of installation of CCTV there have been many predictions that the lane would cease to be a successful street art zone. However no-one predicted that the lane would be killed by its own success. What did you expect from street art and graffiti’s aim for mass appeal?

Now many street artists and graffiti writers are complaining that the lane is being destroyed by tourists. There were always tourists who visited the lane but now there are more tour groups and individual tourists than ever before. Tourist attraction are the Kali Yuga, the fourth stage of the world.

There always was developments and building in the lane but now the Culture Kings shop is ripping a hole in the middle. At least we spared it overshadowed by a massive tower, yet another of its predicted demises; Keep Hosier Real.

It has long been an established photo location for bridal, fashion, advertising and selfies but now it is difficult to even walk up it because of the number of cameras pointed across the narrow lane. Every metre there is someone posing for a selfie next to its walls thick with aerosol paint.

Melbourne’s great graffiti location has become crowded with tourists, tour groups all day, every day. There always were tourist in Hosier Lane, often they were on ‘spraycations’, visiting graffiti writers and street artists from around the world had long contributed some of the graffiti in the lane. However, now there is tagging on pieces by people whose handwriting demonstrates that they have no idea of graffiti or its etiquette (do not tag on a piece).

It long ago ceased to be the best place in the city to see street art and graffiti but the tourists don’t care. They are too busy taking photographs of each other in front of its walls. It doesn’t matter that the quality of the painted walls because the focus of their cameras is on the tourist and not the walls. Although it once was sufficient to see Hosier Lane to understand the vibrant scene; seeing or painting in Hosier is no longer necessary for the survival Melbourne’s street art and graffiti.

One obvious benefit that Hosier Lane still provides is that it is an example to every local council and business as to what a success that a graffiti and street art zone can have in the centre of the city. One of the more surprising recent changes is that along with the tourists there is more protest art in the lane, for more on that see my Political Graffiti in 2018. I have been watching and reporting on the development of Hosier Lane for over a decade and I intend to keep on.

protest art in Hosier Lane 2018

Protest art in Hosier Lane 2018


Buff After Reading – the art of buffing

To ‘buff’ is to paint a wall to remove the graffiti or to prepare it for another piece of graffiti. But sometimes the results of buffing can be strange.

Buffing comes in several styles: colour field, hard edge abstract and more abstract expressionist. Colour fields require the complete buffing of a wall to a single colour. Hard edge abstract art is created by the repeated buffing of parts of a wall in different shades paint. The more abstract expressionist style follows the graffiti covering but not eliminating the form.

Buffing is not the natural enemy of graffiti and is often an ally of street art. People will buff around the stencils and paste-ups to preserve them in Melbourne. People like Baby Gorilla or Be Free enough to avoid destroying them. Then there was the Christian buffing around a crucifix in Coburg. I love it when an artist alters buffing to make something of it.

Altered buffing

Altered buffing, unknown artist, Brunswick, 2011

There were a couple of strange buffing incidents in 2016. Australian artist Scott Marsh was paid to paint over his six-metre-tall mural of Kanye West kissing Kanye West. Reportedly it was Kanye’s management that paid Marsh $100,000 to buff it. Also in 2016, but kind-of the opposite to Marsh’s pay to buff,  when Bologna street artist, Blu buffed everything he ever did to prevent the mayor of Bologna from exploiting it.

Meanwhile, an a fence in Coburg someone fights back against graffiti with paint. As effective a strategy as any but this has now been overgrown with vegetation; if you really want to prevent graffiti vegetation and not buffing is the solution.

bad green buffing


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