I read Makatron’s book, if “read” is the right word for book that is primarily photographs, over a pub lunch and two pints of cider. It is a good over-view of his work in Melbourne and around the world.
I have been looking at Makatron’s work in Melbourne’s walls for the last decade and it is easy to see why his work is popular. He mostly paints animals but there is more to his work that just reproducing a photograph in aerosol paint. Makatron’s animals are often distorted surreal creatures, giant animals with buildings on their backs, decomposing fish or stranger creations. The book doesn’t show all his work but it is a fair representation and not just a greatest hits; there are tags, straight letters and photographs of works in progress.
The text is not indulgent or boasting, fun, modest and reasonably informative although limited and containing way too many puns.
How to present the man behind the paint is a problem given that we are not going to get a photographs of Makatron’s face for legal reasons, although there are a few masked versions. There is a bit of autobiography at the end of the book. A born risk-taker Makatron was working as bicycle courier in NYC on 9/11; something that gets a random page of photographs in the middle of the book and is mentioned again at the end.
Although the structure of the book is not irritating or terrible it could be better than the almost random approach. An editor’s view could have made this book so much better than chaotic travels in time and space.
As a photo-books, street art and graffiti don’t make for great photographs; a wall square on in good lighting is the standard format, photographing street art is often more documentation than photography. John Tsialos is credited as the principle photographer but there are others including David Russell (see my post on his street art photography that brings the streetscape into focus).
I borrowed this book from Moreland Library. Like me, Makatron will have received his library lending rights money for this month for all the times that his book has been borrowed this year. Yes, authors do get paid when their book is borrowed. So go and borrow Makatron’s book (and my book Sculptures of Melbourne) from your local library.
Here are some of my photographs of Makatron’s work in Melbourne.
Bursting through the bricks of the wall is a giant rock god with shoulder length curly hair singing into a microphone. To make the figure more identifiable he is wearing, unlikely for Bon Scott, an AC/DC belt buckle. This new sculpture was unveiled on Tuesday 6 March. It was widely reported around the world due to the popularity of Bon Scott’s band AC/DC; one of the best reports can be found in Stack.
Makatron, Bon Scott
Why is a twice life-size, Bon Scott should be breaking out of brick wall? Why has he got cracks in him? Why Bon Scott? when there are two aerosol tributes on the opposite wall to AC/DC’s recently deceased guitarist, Malcolm Young. We may never know the answers because I don’t think that anyone has thought beyond ‘cool idea’.
Makatron’s base relief sculpture of Bon Scott in AC/DC Lane is the Melbourne’s first commissioned public sculpture from a street artist. It might be Makatron’s first public sculpture too, as he is more famous for his 2D aerosol murals than 3D work. It is not the first sculpture of Bon Scott; there is one by Greg James standing on an amp shaped plinth at the Fremantle Fishing Boat Harbour in WA, and another holding bagpipes in Scott’s hometown of Kirriemuir in Scotland. None of these sculptures are particularly tasteful, none are nuanced nor deep but then, neither was Bon Scott.
There is plenty of good, even tasteful, intelligent and nuanced street art to see in AC/DC Lane and more was being added when I visited. Makatron is not the first street artist to install a sculptor in Melbourne; there are plenty of un-commissioned examples some can be seen my series on street art sculptures.
Lush, Malcolm Young tribute (not to be implied that I am endorsing Lush’s work as tasteful)
There is another Melbourne laneway tribute to a rock singer with Amphlett Lane off Little Bourke St, near Spring Street. The school uniform hanging up is a tasteful tribute to Chrissy Amphlett of the Divinyls; the stack of road-case using the door from the buildings sprinkler-booster box. Amphlett’s stage costume of a girl’s school uniform was inspired by Angus Young’s stage costume of a boy’s school uniform.
Hosier Lane continues to subtly change, even though the major development has been stopped by the new government, and the smell of aerosol paint still lingers in the air. Hosier Lane was once part of Melbourne’s garment district and Melbourne’s Communist Party Headquarters was at 3 Hosier Lane from 1936 to 1939. Old school graffiti writers and old lefties, like Jeff Sparrow bemoan the changes but I enjoy the vitality of the lane.
Now the sound of a busker is now common in the lane, not surprising given the amount of foot traffic in the area.
You can get a take-away coffee in the lane from Good to Go, a social enterprise cafe providing barista experience to long term unemployed, definitely a good improvement.
Guerrilla gardening has started in the lane; the sticker suggests that it is a project by Signal.
Looking at the art in lane is now like seeing an exhibition opening. It is hard to see the art for all the people, mostly taking photographs.
Hosier Lane must now be the most photographed place in Melbourne, there are so many people with all kinds of cameras taking photographs every day. You can hardly move without stepping in front of someone’s shot. Wedding photographs, selfies, tourist snap shots, videos, creating a hyperreal digital version of the lane for Facebook, Instagram and other social media. Street art is now influence on commercial photography.
It is not surprising, the lane is spectacular and centrally located and other municipalities in Melbourne are starting to realise the potential for street art as a tourist attraction. This week the City of Yarra is calling for street art tours of the area. The City of Yarra has had this potential for years, I went on a short tour given by Makatron a couple of years ago and back in 2007 the Melbourne Stencil Festival was running booked out tours of Collingwood and Fitzroy.
All of this is what could be called an organic development; it has not been directed or controlled, it has even and continues to be resisted on some levels. Back in 2008 I would hear street art insiders saying that the scene had peaked years before; what ever they meant by ‘peaked’ maybe just when they and their mates did their best stuff. Melbourne’s street art and graffiti scene continues to change and evolve (I don’t want to write for the better or worse) to take advantage of new walls, spaces, ideas and opportunities.
For Valentine’s Day I’m posting love messages seen on the streets of Melbourne; the romantic gestures, the love poems written across the city wall. It is not that all of these images have been created for Valentine’s Day this year; there are love and flowers in the streets of Melbourne all year, if you look.
There is a marvellous love story about the Sacred Heart of Centre Place that was told by Melbourne walking tour guides (See Demet Divaroren’s Blog for the legend). My photo is from 2009; the box is barely visible now – covered in multiple layers of paint. I don’t believe the legend, maybe I’m too cynical and I’ve looked carefully at the construction of the box, the lock can’t unlock anything.
There are plenty of painted flowers growing on the walls of Melbourne’s lanes. Stencil flowers on the bluestone paving stones of Hosier Lane. There is a free hand aerosol flower on the lane in my street. So many different flowers I don’t think that they are all by the same artist.
Painting on the walls of Union Lane in Prahran in 2012.
Makatron – Heart skull – Hosier:Rutledge
These are all pretty and simple but some street artists take hearts to a whole new level. Makatron’s demonic skull heart was in Hosier Lane in 2012 (it has since been painted over many many times) reminding the romantics that there are two aspects to the heart. In 2013, as part of All Your Walls, F1 painted a giant tree holding a huge heart in Rutledge Lane and Civil painted a traditional heart with an arrow entwined in foliage in Hosier Lane.
Give me a sign of your love written in the street for all to see. Public proclamations of love; people used to carve their signs of love into trees – street art is a massive improvement on that. (See my 2011 post “Messages of Love” or 2012 Bitten By the Travel Bug posted “What Melbourne’s Street Art says about Love”.)
On Tuesday the 23rd of October I went to Off The Wall – Graffiti Management Forum at Fitzroy Town Hall. The City of Yarra employed Capire Consulting Group to review their graffiti management. Most of the people at the forum were from various city councils around Melbourne but there also were a few other interested people, including street artists, CDH and Makatron.
The review was focused on prevention and removal of graffiti. There was no idea about what the implementation of a graffiti management policy would actually look like on the street. The review did not have a cost benefit analysis; the cost of the current graffiti management policy compared to the financial benefits to City of Yarra in terms of visitor numbers or businesses that are based on graffiti scene.
The review appeared to be based on a naïve belief held by many people in local government that a distinction can be made between good and bad graffiti, between street art and tagging. This distinction is a faith-based policy that ignored so many facts: tagging has been around for millennia, there is no way to stop tagging, even if you have a police state equivalent to Nazi occupied Europe (see my post on WWII Graffiti) as the chances of being caught are so remote that a tagger would have to be persistent, pervasive or simply unlucky to be caught tagging. Tagging is a kind of visual urban noise, complaining about it in the inner city is like complaining about the noise of the traffic or light pollution. It is not a serious issue, there are no health and safety issues regarding tagging, unlike other urban problems like feral pigeons and fly tipping. (See my post on Coooburg)
Apart from studied ignorance (faith) there is no basis for the distinction between street art and tagging – I have asked Capire Consulting for the bibliography of their review but I have not had any response yet. Co-incidentally the following day I was sent a copy of The Bureau Magazine (thanks to its editor, Matt Derody) I will now quote from the start of the very first article that I read (even a non-systematic approach to the literature quickly quashes the distinction).
“There is no doubt that Australian society suffers a peculiar form of bipolar disorder when it comes to graffiti and street art. Rabidly opposed on the one hand and warmly encouraged on the other. It’s easy and comfortable to deploy timeworn distinctions that allow us to interpret the paradox and get on with our revulsion/appreciation agendas. The most popular is an aesthetic assessment of the art/vandalism in question. An ‘artistic piece of street art is fine (legal or illegal), a tag is ugly and blight on society. However, graffers think that tags, throw ups, burners, pieces and murals as parts of a whole – you can’t have one without the other.” (Andrew Imrie, “Graff vs Street Art…Neither or Both?” The Bureau Magazine Sept. 2012)
After the presentation CDH asked how the government can make a positive contribution to street art and reiterated points that he made in his Trojan Petition about neglected walls indicating tacit consent to being painted.
Makatron (in the red hoodie) conducts a tour of Fitzroy graffiti
Finally, after the forum Makatron lead a small tour of Fitzroy’s graffiti scene. Before he started the tour Makatron acknowledge the traditional aboriginal owners of the land –a subtle point about the hypocrisy of Australian governments demanding respect of property rights on stolen land.
In other local council news Melbourne’s Mayor Robert Doyle has made the installation of CCTV cameras in Hosier/Rutledge Lane part of his election platform against the advice of residents, the community and all the evidence. (See my posts CCTV or not CCTV Act 1 and 2.)
South Melbourne Street Fair – Graffiti Exhibition at Emerald House
The beautifully painted mini parked out the front was an excellent announcement of the exhibition on 3 floors of the underground carpark of Emerald House in South Melbourne. I mean almost every wall and pillar in the whole carpark – the ventilation ducts were painted to look like different types of trains. It is huge, “covering more than 800 square meters of space” and claiming to be “Australia’s largest private exhibition of graffiti art”. This is what the Medici’s carpark would have looked like in the Renaissance, if they had a carpark and cars.
This impressive exhibition has work from 90 local and international artists. It features many of Melbourne’s well-known aerosol artists, along with some paste-ups from Urban Cake Lady. The only obvious stencils were by Kirpy, Vexta and Stabs, although a lot, like Duel, were using stencils for background patterns. There was also some brushwork from a few artists.
With so many impressive pieces on show it would take me forever to finish this post if I commented on all of them. There was Makatron’s wall of bees – “for all the bee boys and girls”. And Phibs’s style worked so well on the pillars.
The main problem with this exhibition was how they handled the public – everyone wants to re-invent the wheel. The idea of having artists leading tour groups around might sound good but it meant hanging around the entrance for an artist who had no experience in leading a tour group hoping to wing it with impromptu comments and couldn’t answer my first question about who did a piece. Who is the artist who did this wall and another magnificent piece, also with Monster, at Sparta Place in Brunswick? Answer: Werner “Nash” Zwakhalen.
Nash, Project Melbourne Underground
Nash, Sparta Place, Brunswick
On my way back home I saw the AWOL crew working on the wall at Brunswick Station. At the time they had a few outlines up and were carefully moving a long strip of masking tape from one part of the wall. The AWOL crew have taken their collaborative approach painting a wall to a whole new level. Isn’t this the dream of all painters to completely fill you field of vision?
AWOL crew, Project Melbourne Underground
Slicer & Adnate (AWOL crew), Brunswick
You can see more and better photos of Project Melbourne Underground at Land of Sunshine – part one and part two. Yes, I know, you just want to look at the pictures.
At the NGV Studio in Fed Square the Everfresh crew: Phibs, Rone, Reka, Meggs, Sync, Makatron, Wonderlust, Prizm, The Tooth, and “special guests” are giving a taste of the awesome work that they have been doing on the streets of Melbourne for a decade. The exhibition is worth seeing for anyone at all interested in Melbourne street art; the art presented at NGV Studio is worth seeing and shows the range Everfresh’s art on the streets. And it is always fascinating to see artist’s studios. But there is something wrong with the way the NGV is presenting this exhibition/residency.
Everfresh's studio in the NGV Studio
The most obvious thing was that there is no curatorial information from the NGV on the exhibition or any of the art in the exhibition. The 5 Ws are not covered: who are Everfresh? What the NGV Studio residency is about? Where Everfresh is based? Why they are in the NGV Studio? And how the exhibition work? There aren’t even any labels to identify the artist and work – Everfresh, or the “special guests”? There is information about Phib’s exhibition at Hogan Gallery as if it was all a publicity stunt for that exhibition.
The exhibition runs out around the corner next to the disable toilets – I wanted more. It seems to running out before that as there are 2 display cases still wrapped in plastic standing empty in the space.
It is “a selection of artworks from over the last 10 years, plus a whole heap of other stuff from the studio that kind of makes it what it is.“ (Everfresh website) The exhibition makes it look like Everfresh are already history and their paint splattered shoes, rubber gloves and homemade mops are in a vitrine – and they are at the exhibition. I have seen the archeologically preserved remains of Francis Bacon’s studio in Dublin (see my post about Bacon’s Studio) and Brancusi’s studio in a glass box next to the Pompidou Centre. Both Bacon and Brancusi are dead but I know that the Everfresh guys are still alive and working, they have a lot of other stuff going on right now. There is no music playing, even the video game machine was silent – it was as quiet as the grave or an art gallery when I visited. So there is this feeling hyperreality about the whole exhibition and the “residency” at the NGV studio. Adding to the hyperreality is the Everfresh “Graff Mobile” with a giant fluro marker on the roof rack.
Some of this history aspect to the exhibition is good, like the cartoon design for the massive Fitzroy mural. Or 5yncRone’s cardboard stencil thick with red paint, mounted as a negative. Or the dense display of little photos, postcards, stickers, toys, little drawings and other stuff. Or the old boards thick with tags, paint and other marks. Along with all the items riffing on the Everfresh label.
But I keep asking the question is this exhibition history or is this fresh?