Tag Archives: guerilla garden

Urban Folk Art in Melbourne

Just as there is rural folk art, there is urban folk art. The urban scarecrows, topiary, handmade grave markers made by relatives, scratches in wet cement… So here is a look at various urban folk arts in the vast metropolis of Melbourne.

Folk art is made by amateurs, not professional artists or even students, and there is no intention to be taken seriously or do anything but satisfy themselves. (In this respect, graffiti is a folk art). It is not intended to be assessed, discussed or traded. It is not an art form that is mediated financially or academically.

However, urban folk art shouldn’t be ignored because it is not professional. It is done for pleasure, not profit or glory. It is part of our visual culture. The aesthetics are simple, a face or other resemblance or a decoration. If there is a message, it is a direct message to a limited audience; there are no references or tributes.

The critic’s role in discussing folk art is not to examine technique, taste or quality but to look at the diversity of decorative items and their relationship to the community. In the urban world, where almost everything is done by professionals with standards, urban folk art stands out, like the homemade grave markers I saw at the Coburg Cemetery. And in this diversity, there will be impressive works because of their scale or technique — for example, the sizeable grotto and mixed media constructions at the Veg Out Garden in St Kilda.

The Moreland Free Library is a miniature version of the original train station. This was constructed during the lockdown when various urban folk arts flourished, along with spoon gardens and chalk sidewalk drawings. The impressive carpentry is the work of one local amateur. There are other miniature buildings as libraries in parts of the US.

Although some folk art is impressive, we should not ignore small juvenile urban art projects like spoon gardens or painted rocks, like the Coburg Primary Painted Rock City. Their painted rocks are the opposite of monumental sculpture, an almost hidden sculpture with multiple creators of small units where each builds the rock community.

Most urban folk art is on private property, particularly in gardens. What is public property is mostly unauthorised but tolerated, like yarn bombing, guerilla gardening, or the painted rock city. (Only graffiti seems to be objected to.) Or, the Gnome Village in Keilor Park, listed on Google Maps, is just off the Calder Freeway. Or, the toy tree in Coburg, where toys that would have been thrown out hang from a tree.

For long before recycling was a word, long before Arthur Danto wrote The Transfiguration of the Commonplace, folk artists have used found materials. Up-cycling has the cornball appeal of a something-for-nothing sales pitch. In a corny part of this urban folk art, there is the use of readymade/fly-tipping as street art.

Ten years ago, I wrote another blog post about Urban Folk Art. In it, I considered whether graffiti is folk art, as well as considering mail art, punk DIY, and Dadaist collage. Rather than examining urban folk art, I was distracted by its influence on art.


Movement of Sunflowers

Shopping carts full of sunflowers, portable gardens ready for adoption and placed near train stations on the Upfield line. Field Works II, The Colonies, 2017 is not the work of guerrilla gardeners but the Melbourne-based artist, Ben Morieson working through the RMIT’s Centre for Art, Society and Transformation.


It is different from a guerrilla gardens due to the hopes for public interaction and scope of the piece. A guerrilla gardener hopes to grow something and doesn’t consider  how the public will interact aside from a hope to be appreciated. Whereas Field Works II wants to map this interaction and wants it to be art. In order to properly map the work it must be noted that it is also part of this years Havana Bienale with more sunflowers at train stations in Cuba. (How much of the Havana Bienale comes from the Melbourne? I don’t know but the see a guest post by Greg Giannis for another work by a Melbourne artist that was in the Havana Bienale.)

Sunflower move to track the sun but in their shopping carts these are very mobile sunflowers.

Field Works II hopes to map the movement of the patches of sunflowers through the city. Th only problems is that I don’t think that any of the shopping carts have moved since they were placed by the artist. I didn’t take the cart full of sunflowers because I don’t feel like adopting any flowers and like the location that the cart closes to me is currently in as it decorates an ugly corner next to the book fridge, free library. Apparently this is a common attitude as narrated by the station attendant and writer, Jane Routley in Station Stories.

Maybe, given some time… and maybe they might all wilt and die from lack of water. This unexpected result would highlighting the lack of water and other basic facilities at some of stations along the Upfield line.

Rather than paint landscapes Morieson paints on the landscape with burnouts or flowers. He has worked with sunflowers before, Field Works I, a whole field of sunflowers planted on a vacant block of land near Macauly Station in 2014 and also 2014/15 Get Sunflowered, at eight assorted sites in Moe, Traralgon and Morwell.

There is a Van Gogh reference in sunflowers, Van Gogh painted his two series of sunflowers with his friend Gauguin in mind, thus doubling the art history references.

P.S. 17/1/18 Morieson informs me that 24 of the 70 trolleys have so far been adopted and moved so far.

Upfield Bike Path Graffiti

The Upfield bike path goes through Brunswick and Coburg before running out at the northern end of Fawkner Crematorium and Memorial Park. There has been graffiti along the bike path for decades. It is interesting to observe the urban real politics of competing uses of this stretch of land that is maintained by Moreland City Council.


The city council built the bicycle track on land that is bounded between the train line controlled by VicTrack and the backs of private property.

Private property owners with walls backing on the bike path have been upgrading their property; the old corrugated iron sheds are being replaced with walls of concrete. This has created more and better walls for the graffiti writers extending further north. (See my post on The Commons Graffiti.)

The areas around the tracks controlled by VicTrack are the most neglected. This is not entirely due to utilitarian considerations and derelict railway buildings are allowed to decay without allowing them to be used as surfaces for graffiti.

The graffiti writers were there first, making use of the walls beside the train tracks. Their work has been slowly accumulating until it covers about six kilometres of walls on both sides of the tracks. Sometimes the same graffers will paint the same walls years later.

Then came the bike path and the cyclists and in the last couple of years the guerrilla gardeners.

If you want a way to prevent graffiti, the solution is to plant trees and vegetation in front of the wall. This has worked at Brunswick Station where all the graffiti is more than two years old now due to extensive planting by the “Friends of the Upfield Linear Park”, who have more extensive ideas for the whole area on their website.

Further north along the bike path the graffiti and the guerrilla gardening create a beautiful combination, growing simultaneously along the Upfield bicycle track just north of Moreland Station. Here a back laneway has blossomed, the colour of flowers mixing with the paints. Further enhancing this area is the solar powered lighting built into the fence separating the bike track from the railway. At this point there appears to be a balance between the competing interests but the situation is dynamic.

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Melbourne’s Diverse Street Art

Walking around Melbourne exploring its many lanes, sometimes in the company of a notable, some would say notorious, street artist who would prefer to remain anonymous and keep his comments off the record. Thanks for the company. What follows are my photos, my comments and my opinions. The selection of photos is not my pick of the best street art that I’ve recently seen but to the diversity, both geographic, technique and materials, of Melbourne’s street art.

Deb, Uniacke Court, Melbourne

Deb, Uniacke Court, Melbourne

None of these photos are from the old locations, Hosier Lane, Centre Place, they are no longer the best place to see street art in the city. The locations for good street art have shifted in the eight years that I have been writing this blog, slowly moving north and west. In the west of the city where the street art is scare I found a whole lane, Uniacke Court, with several pieces by Deb and no-one else.

Sunfigo stickers

Sunfigo stickers

All over the city I keep on seeing more and more of the work of Sunfigo, simple and effective stickers and paste-ups but nothing to compare to Sunfigo’s Little Diver Tribute.

Anonymoose, Blender Alley

Anonymoose, Blender Alley

If you love stencils the best place to see them is Blender Alley. The reason is that the main door to Blender Studios, its roller doors were open when I was there, faces the alley and the artist’s in the studio, especially its director, Doyle, basically curate the alley.



I keep seeing more street art sculpture and, not just Will Coles and Junky Projects, more people are doing it. Mutant and Discarded are doing similar work casting bones and other found objects. So far I have only seen Discarded’s work online but I know that it is out there.

LaPok, Guerilla Garden Melbourne

LaPok, Guerilla Garden Melbourne

Unknown, Ilham Lane

Unknown, Ilham Lane

I’ve seen a few more artistic works of guerrilla gardening in the city and Ilham Lane in Brunswick. Also in Ilham Lane there is a piece of guerrilla geography, naming the small side bunch from Ilham Lane, Chook Lane.

Chook Lane, Brunswick

And there is still basic graffiti out there.


Melbourne Flâneurs

“If someone had one day in Melbourne they should wander the streets.” – Wonderlust

(Everfresh: Blackbook – The Studio & Streets: 2004-2010, The Miegunyah Press, 2010 p.36)

I am one of the wanders, the flâneurs, the urban explorers, the ghost-sign hunters, the psycho-geographical explorers of Melbourne walk its streets. I love to explore Melbourne. The city is an endless mystery, a muse that inspires me, a great cybernetic organism that reorganising, regenerating, growing and dying and constantly moving.

We who are also constantly moving no longer desire a walk in park, we don’t want designer urban environments with organized space. What we want is the disorganisation, the contrasts, the contradictions of the city and humanity. We want the sense of discovery. The designer environments shopping malls of Docklands or Southbank are too sterile compared to the culture along the long shopping strips of Sydney Road, Chapel Street or Brunswick Street or the network of lanes through the inner city.

Melbourne has long had a street life worthy of exploration. George Sala, the special correspondent for the Daily Telegraphy in 1880s, the man who coined the term “Marvelous Melbourne” imagined Parisians flâneurs would feel at home on Bourke Street.

The antique hand painted signs saying  “Post No Bills” are all over Melbourne. The signs in the laneways of Melbourne’s Chinatown reads: “Commit No Nuisance”. Fly posting, fly tipping, littering, expectorating, urinating, pigeons, stray dogs, stray goats, stray pigs, bell ringing, loitering, the hoists over the laneways – of all the problems that Melbourne’s streets have faced graffiti appears to be the least of the problems.

Graffiti and street art becomes an excuse to explore the city, to go for long walks with a camera. It guides the flâneur through the seldom-used paths. You can tell when you are walking with a street art fans by the way they look down each alley and lane to see if there is anything on its walls. There are ghost signs haunting buildings, the fading images of old advertising from the days of hand-painted signs suggesting previous lives and times. There are new things to see everyday.

Underneath these streets the Cave Clan have been exploring Melbourne’s system of storm water drains for decades. The Cave Clan also has created stickers and zines. Incidentally, all of these storm water drains empty into the bay instead of being treated, purified and re-used in a city with a water shortage.

I’m looking for street art, for guerrilla gardening, art galleries, vertical gardens, unusual signs, urban wildlife and just the city. I enjoy walking; it is a healthy exercise for both the body and mind. What do you look for when you are walking Melbourne’s streets?

La Pok – guerilla garden Somerset Lane

Guerilla Gardens in Melbourne

Guerilla gardens, turning disused space city into a garden, it sounds exciting. Gardens can make all kinds of political statements from the gardens at Versailles that demonstrated Louis 14th control of the nature to guerilla gardens questioning property rights and greening the city. And everyone wants to recreate that lost wonder of the ancient world, the hanging gardens of Babylon.

La Pok’s guerilla gardening is in Flanigan Lane

Guerrilla gardening and “seed bombing” was started by Liz Christy 1973 with a community garden in Manhattan. The Liz Christy Garden is still there. I didn’t see the Channel 10 program Guerrilla Gardeners but I did see guerilla gardening covered in Around the World in 80 Gardens. (Monty Don Around the World in 80 Gardens, 2008, p.281) Like me, other people are aware of guerrilla gardening in Melbourne but I haven’t seen much evidence of it. It has been in the hard years of drought for any kind of gardening in Melbourne so I’m not surprised.

There is a lot of disused land in the vast metropolitan sprawl of Melbourne and there is probably a lot of guerilla gardening that I’m not noticing. The lone rubber plant by the Coburg railway station has now grown into a small tree. Some guerrilla gardening is surreptitious, growing vegetables in disused land or marijuana in the thick undergrowth along the Merri Creek. But I’m haven’t seen any of these secret gardens – I am more interested in the guerilla gardens that are visible and part of the street art culture, the botanical urban interventions. The miniature gardens created in the most unlikely places in Melbourne. I am interested in the reclamation and aesthetic improvement of disused and neglected urban space.

I’ve been told about a guerilla garden tree in St. Kilda with the pots nailed to the top. In Centre Place I saw that someone was trying to grow some grass/bamboo in plastic bottles on top of a box. Elsewhere in the city I’ve seen failed attempts to create hanging gardens in suspended piles of newspaper. With all the recent rain I would have thought that guerrilla gardens would be growing but in both cases the plants died.

More of La Pok’s garden

Melbourne’s most successful piece of guerilla gardening is in Flanigan Lane. There is an installation of plants in a ghettoblaster and a series of pots gaffa taped to a pipe by La Pok. La Pok has studied landscape architecture and this planning has allowed this micro garden to succeed where others have failed. Over a year later it is the only one; most of the other little guerrilla gardens that I have seen in the city are dead or dying. (See my post Street Art Notes July 2010 for my original report on the two garden installations) Gardens require maintenance (tell me about it, I have a blister on my hand from pulling up weeds). Guerilla gardens sounds like a great idea but there are all kinds of problems with guerilla gardening: neglect, inappropriate plants and inappropriate placement.

Guerilla gardening with paste-up, Collingwood, 2012

Sustainable Gardening Australia has a good article about Guerrilla Gardening.


La Pok - guerilla garden Somerset Lane, 2012

La Pok – guerilla garden Somerset Lane, 2012

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