Last Saturday I went into the city to see the latest work by Melbourne-based sculptor Lisa Roet. The nine-metre-tall inflated sculpture of David Greybeard had been deflated and wrapped up in anticipation of the high winds later that day. I had long to wanted to write about Roet’s work and had hoped that this temporary sculpture would provide a photograph and other inspiration for a blog post. Instead, I was left with a reminder that public art has to be prepared for harsh weather conditions.
With my plans deflated I navigated the construction site blocking Fed Square to the new pedestrian crossing to Hosier Lane. Words cannot express the joy my body feels at having this new crossing and not having to cross two streets to get from the square to the lane.
Doyle was also waiting at the crossing and eager to tell me that there was a painting event happening in Hosier Lane. Melbourne City Council had brought Doyle in to organise the re-painting. What appears to be a free-for-all paint is actually a combination of curated work and the chaos of the city.
On Saturday about forty twenty local street artists were going to be re-painting the lane. Artists who hadn’t seen each other since the lockdown were arriving with music, ladders and crates of paint. The reader should not assume that these artists were all young males; Melbourne street artists are a diverse group that includes middle-aged women.
The famous laneway did need yet another layer of paint. It was not up to it usual standard when I had seen it just after lockdown, although there are a few things that I’d like to survive longer. Remembering that before the first lockdown, it had been thoroughly sprayed.
The great Hosier spray of February 8, 2020, was one of the top five art events to have happened in Hosier Lane (along with Empty Nursery Blue, All Your Walls, Andy Mac’s original light-boxes and something else that someone will have to remind me of). It was performance art, a paint happening, action painting at its best, a collaboration by a crew of anonymous, masked artists. Any art that gets Melbourne talking and writing for a week, there has to be a remarkable quality; for the quality of art is directly proportional to the quality of the conversations that it generates.
Now it was being painted yet again, but I didn’t hang around to watch the paint dry.
Fling-ups – shoes or other objects hung on overhead wires by flinging them up. (not to be confused with throw-ups) I have to say that I’ve seen some good one’s recently.
Paste-ups – paper printed or drawn pasted up on a wall. Known in North America as wheat-pasting due to the glue used.
Throw-ups – A rough outline of a piece in one or two colours, areas not filled in or only filled in roughly. Lush does a lot of throw-ups.
Lush Throw-ups, Brunswick
Up-Cycling – the downwardly mobile cousin of recycling, up-cycling is decorating discarded objects on the street, like drawing on a discarded lounge chair or mattress.
Kaff-eine up-cycling, Coburg
I could go on in the usual slag dictionary fashion but there is more to this than just new terms; there is an up side to mashing a patois dictionary.
“The words we call expressions of aesthetic judgment play a very complicated role, but a very definite role, in what we call a culture of a period. To describe their use or to describe what you mean by a cultured taste, you have to describe a culture. What we now call a cultured taste perhaps didn’t exist in the Middle Ages. An entirely different game is played in different ages.”
Wittgenstein #25 Lectures and Conversations on Aesthetics, Psychology & Religious Belief (Basil Blackwell, 1966,Oxford) (Alternative from James Taylor: “To describe a set of aesthetic rules fully means really to describe the culture of a period.”)
The word ‘up’ used in these expressions is revealing about graffiti and street art culture. Things are “up” in the street, even pin-up girls, for one-upmanship is its core. The aim of graffiti and street art is to be on the up and up amongst the graffiti and street art community; to be more prolific, to cover more walls, to be more notorious, to get more Facebook ‘Likes’, to do bigger pieces, higher up in the heavens.
There are all these women in Melbourne’s streets doing amazing paste-ups. I’m only commenting on their gender because for years males have dominated Melbourne’s street art scene. What few women street artists there were in Melbourne were often notable not for their art but for being female. Now there are so many note worthy women doing street art in Melbourne and their talent is obvious to anyone, although their sex might not so obvious. (I had no idea that Kaffine was a woman – not that it is an issue anyway – I was wondering why broos, goat headed people, a common RuneQuest monster were appearing on the streets of Melbourne albeit with a stag’s skull head – even more frightening). Most of these women concentrate on paste-ups (wheat pasting).
Baby Guerilla – has been pasting up her drawings of women, men and birds floating for years. How she gets her paste-up up so high must be how she has got her name, climbing like a baby gorilla. (See Invurt’s interview with Baby Guerilla.)
Klara – I thought Klara was a one-image artist just doing faces until I saw her self-referential paste-up at Dean Sunshine’s warehouse.
Urban Cake Lady – the woman stripped tights, the red cloak and the animal familiars are the legend of the Urban Cake Lady.
Urban Cake Lady
Suki – clearly inspired by Miso, Melbourne’s first woman of paste, not that that’s a bad thing, although people, including myself, have misattributed Suki’s work to Miso. (Miso hasn’t been doing any paste-ups on the streets for over a year now.) Suki’s women are beautiful water bearers with long hair. (See Invurt’s interview with Suki.)
Bubbles Unknown – text based and hand written pages with small illustrations.
“I & The Others” – also inspired by Miso, “I & The Others” produce some fine paper cutting.
“I & The Others”
Kaff-eine – paste-ups figures of children and a stag skull headed figure, along with working in aerosol paint, marker pen, up-cycling and other street art activities.
Precious Little – first came to notice for her poetry on laneway walls printed with an old fashion Dymo label maker but has since moved into using aerosol paint. (For more on Kaff-eine and Precious Little see my blog post about their exhibition, Urban Scrawl, at the City Library earlier this year.)
From Jenny Holtzer to Miso and Swoon and this current generation of paste-up artists: why are paste-ups attractive to female street artists?
At the City Library (air conditioned refuge in the January heat) there is “Urban Scrawl” by Kaff-eine, Precious Little, Tigtab and Blacklodge. They are street artists who are not working with aerosol. There are collaborations between all of the artists in various combinations giving the exhibition a real group feel. (Arty Graffarti has a review of the exhibition and lots of photos – I didn’t bring my camera.)
Kaff-eine up-cycling in Coburg
I’d first encounter Kaff-eine’s work up-cycling (decorating discarded objects on the street) on a mattress during the annual Moreland hard rubbish collection. I first thought of Kaff-eine as yet another Ghostpatrol wannabe with drawings of children. But after seeing this exhibition I’m more impressed; Kaff-eine’s images are stronger than Ghostpatrol with more illustrative technique.
I didn’t know Kaff-eine was a woman until I read about it in the exhibition information pages. I’d assumed that Kaff-eine was man because most street artists are. The gender of the artist can make a difference to the art – imagine if you discovered that Debs was really a man. Then curvy female characters that Debs sprays would have a completely different meaning. (See my post about the panel discussion on Gender & Street Art at the Melbourne Stencil Festival 09.)
Precious Little has her poetry printed with an old fashion Dymo label maker, photographs, wall paste-ups and two framed drawings. Some of her poems interact with Kaff-eine’s illustrations. I have seen her work in Hosier Lane and elsewhere but the variety of her other work is impressive.
Tigtab and Blacklodge’s fantastic light painting photography are shot with a very slow shutter and moving lights. In the experienced hands of Tigtab and Blacklodge it proves to be a great dynamic way of photographing graffiti; although Tibtab’s light stencils of cranes, dragonflies, turtles and butterflies verge on kitsch. (I think that I saw their work before and some of the toys that they use to create these photographs in “Urban Intervention” in Sweet Streets 2010.)
On the subject of streets and photography I saw “Around Winston Street” at No Vacancy Gallery in the Atrium at Federation Square. “Around Winston Street” is street photography capturing the life on the streets in Shepparton by Serana Hunt. Hunt lives around there and this means that her photographs have a familiar view of the people of Shepparton. Her best photographs are of local characters on the streets. The photographs are mostly in black and white (old school street photography, keeping it real). The exhibition was funded through Pozible Crowdfunding Creativity.