Tag Archives: Melbourne

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.


Jinks @ the Hellenic Museum

The shock and awe of encountering the goddess Iris, apparently in the flesh. Not that the woman with golden wings is delivering a message, her usual role. Installed in a darkened room in front of a large pool reflecting like a mirror. Why is Iris pouring a jug? Nectar for the gods to drink or water from the River Styx to swear by? Or simply watering the clouds for rain?

Sam Jinks, Iris

Imagine if you were an ancient Greek and encountered Sam Jinks life-sized statue of Iris in a temple. Jinks is a Melbourne-based, super-realist sculptor. The ancient use of polychromatic paints on statues, ivory eyes, gold leaf, and other elements that have been largely destroyed by time. There are even reports of animatronic sculptures in temples in ancient Greece. We have been taught to forget all the colour looking at the white marble remains. And the unpainted white marble has become a racist symbol of ‘civilisation’.

However, there were no temples to Iris, a minor divine figure, a servant of the Olympian gods, sent to deliver a handful of messages, to collect water, and pour drinks. Some say that she the mother of Eros, others that Iris carried the young Nemean lion in her girdle from the sea to the mountains. Her appearance on the Parthenon is her most glorious moment; a running woman, her light linen chiton rippling with the movement.

Why show a messenger in a contemplative and static pose? Was it just an excuse to make a winged woman? These questions beat like the wings of Iris, rattling like wings of pigeons, around the quiet galleries of the Hellenic Museum. Why? Was it just an excuse?

The Hellenic Museum in Melbourne is an odd mix between art, antiquities, history and cultural exhibitions. It describes itself as “inspiring a passion for Greek history, art and culture”. It is also located in Melbourne’s old mint, which, apart from its Neo-classical facade, has nothing to do with Hellenic culture. The old mint is an attractive nineteenth-century building with an impressive walk-in vault, as you might expect to find in a mint.

Jinks is not the only artist with an exhibition at the Hellenic Museum. In front of the building, there is Renegades, a street-art/graffiti-inspired installation out the front of the building by a Spanish urban artist, PichiAvo. Inside, along with Iris, there is a photography installation by Bill Henson, Oneiroi, in an attractive dark nineteenth-century room. However, the photographs of Greek landscapes and backs of women’s heads were bland and uninspiring. As well as a room of contemporary icon paintings. There was also a room of contemporary icon paintings.

Most of the Hellenic Museum is not art but exhibitions of archaic Greek and ancient Greek antiquities: pottery, jewellery, statues, marble carving, helmets and weapons. There are even some Roman marble carving and enough red-figure vases to satisfy most people’s interest. The rest of the exhibitions are about modern Greek history and culture, much of it donated by the local community members. These are focused on establishing the modern Greek nation with folk costumes, jewellery, pistols and other antiques.

One curious feature of the Hellenic Museum was that there no signs in Greek. After visiting many antiquities museums in Greece that had signs in English, it felt odd. They would be of no use to me, but as Melbourne has one of the largest Greek-speaking population of any city in the world, they would be helpful to some people. For all the talk of multi-cultural Australia, there is almost no public paid signs anywhere in languages other than English.


Stuck on Stickers II

Kids love stickers. Bumper stickers and other self-adhesive messages have been around since 1935 when Stan ‘the Sticker Man’ Avery invented a machine to manufacture them. With street art stickers underwent a change in identity and context from promotional to person and from the bumper to the street.

Walk along any street, Melbourne, New York, Paris, Seoul or Singapore, you will see stickers. They may be on the backs of signs, on utility boxes, or elsewhere as local custom demands, but you will find them somewhere. And often in clusters.

There is a mystery to stickers because there is no way to determine what they mean until you look closely at them. Is it a kind of tag, street art or political, or is it advertising? Is it advertising or the logo manipulations, politics and puns of culture jamming? Maybe several, thinking about the politics around the “Sticker Lady” (aka Sam Lo) in Singapore. For these sets are not exclusive, and there is considerable overlap.

“Hello, my name is” one of the common kinds of stickers. An extension of tagging, slapping down an old conference name-tag sticker with the tag written on it, rather than risking writing the tag on the street. The linear progress along a route mapped by the placement of the same sticker.

Once identity became the stickers’ objective, like tags, a place with one sticker leads to more. The accretion of stickers in a location is like a dog pissing on a post to show other dogs that it was there. Sticker collects at way-posts. The collective greeting that stickers represent, gathering places around the city slowed down to the speed of sticker accretion. The Cherry Bar’s disused windows in AC/DC lane, the old elevator doors in the Degraves Street underpass, the backs of so many street signs, the supports for power poles…

I recognise many of the stickers in Melbourne, it is broader than just street artists and graffiti writers. There are stickers from people who are not street artists but are on the edge of street art: street art collectors, street art photographers and dog walkers. Contemporary artists join in condensing their philosophy down to an aphoristic slogan: “The truth is a copy” from Joel Gailer.

For more on stickers, there is my post from 2009 Stuck on Stickers.


After another lockdown

After yet another lockdown, after the other two lockdowns, not going out for what felt like half a year, after a heatwave, I am standing in the light rain on the steps of Parliament. Police and some protest march are approaching.

What am I doing?

Kerrie Poliness Parliament Steps Walking Drawing

I am photographing and looking at the public art project by Kerrie Poliness. Parliament Steps Walking Drawing is part of ACCA’s current exhibition. A large-scale participatory, geometric chalk drawing by Poliness and volunteers done at the start of the month is now being washed away in the rain.

I’m putting in the leg work. So much has changed; what was once familiar streets are strange. I’m trying to find something to write a blog post. But now, with the demonstration approaching Parliament, it is time to take some photographs.

Is this an anti-lockdown protest? There aren’t many people and they are all wearing white. It turns out to be Zero Suicide Victoria, people who want the government to pay more attention to the issue. I listen to them for a bit. The first speaker wants a Minister for Men because suicide is mostly a mens’ problem in Australia.

I think that if we want to bring the suicide rate down we need to make deeper changes to the way we live and think. We are in many ways a suicidal culture destroying the planet, poisoning ourselves, and driving our speices to extinction in a new four wheel drive.

An exhibition of John Kelly’s paintings at Smith & Singer on Collins Street is unlikely to help. More pictures of fake cows for the very wealthy who like their art based around a single anecdote. Maybe writing a review of Madrid-based Colectivo Ayllu’s lithographs on exhibition at the Australian Print Workshop would be better. Their collage aesthetic has an anti-colonial discourse about the savagery of the Spanish exploitation of the Americas.

Maybe I should write about how we now visit galleries. Everyone is wearing masks inside and most people are wearing them outside. The maximum capacity notices at the door. We are checking in with a QR code on our phones or with pre-booked free tickets. QR codes everywhere, some galleries are even using them instead of room sheets to give the titles.

Or maybe I should write more about public art and outdoor exhibitions, like the International Festival of Photography Photo 2021 that I encounter in various locations around the city. Sarah Oscar’s Most Wanted series pasted-up like posters in Hosier Lane juxtaposed with a street artist’s paste-up of standover man, Chopper Read. Other works in the exhibition are five storeys tall, on the side of a building, and more on a billboard in Collingwood. Although sometimes it is hard to work out what is part of the exhibition because there is so much photography in the city.

What will happen to all of this? Washed away like chalk drawings in the rain.


Street Art Sculpture 11

This has been a big year for unauthorised public sculptural artwork; both for little and larger works, veterans and novices.

The Little Librarian up-cycles old books into new art using books for the support for the tiny installations. Unlike Tinky, The Little Librarian doesn’t use puns. The old books used would have been thrown out but have been made into something before being placed on walls. They don’t last long outside, due to the weather and, I assume, being ripped off by a passer-by. Tinky has continued to install miniature scenes on the street. Still, she is not the only street artist in Melbourne using HO scale figures.

There is a golden young woman’s head on a slender concrete plinth on the island inhabited by ibis in Coburg’s Lake Reserve. Last year a similar golden head of a man appeared atop a similar concrete plinth in Northcote’s All Nations Park (The Age reports).

The new sculpture’s placement on the island must have been strategically tricky as there is no bridge. This location avoids the Northcote bust’s problems whose plinth was knocked over shortly after it was installed. The Darebin Council restored it, deciding that it would remain in place for a year and then be auctioned with the proceeds donated to homelessness services. 

Elsewhere in a city mainly under quarantine lockdown for much of year children created spoonvilles. These settlements of decorated wooden spoons are open contribution sculptural works that invite others to participate. 

Some graffiti writers, like Cheros, expand their techniques, creating three-dimensional tags.

And ceramic works continues to feature as one of the more surprising mediums for street art be it from Discarded or other, unknown artists.

For more about unauthorised public sculptures see my earlier posts:


The Anna Schwartz Gallery book

Present Tense is a big beige book thick as a house brick but not as heavy. The subtitle, Anna Schwartz Gallery and thirty-five years of contemporary art describe the contents, text and photographs, accurately. Anna Schwartz Gallery is amongst Melbourne’s most influential commercial art galleries. Since 1986 it has represented some of Melbourne’s best contemporary artists, including Mike Parr, Emily Floyd, Callum Morton and Shaun Gladwell, and visiting international artists. The author, Doug Hall, is the former director of Queensland Art Gallery and now a Melbourne resident.

The beige cover suggests the excitement level of the long, rambling story that the author has bleached of colour. Even some theory and art-speak would be a welcome relief from the narrative, but Hall avoids both. It seems like Hall had almost a deliberate strategy to hide anything that might attract your interest in the middle of chapters. I could not get into it; the writing was that dull. All it got from me was skim reading, dipping into it, reading for research and not pleasure.

At first, I was hoping to find details that I could use in blog posts about some of the artists that Anna Schwartz Gallery represents. Unfortunately, I found nothing in it worth citing. Even the chapter on public sculpture was remarkably unedifying. Apart from a single photograph of Emily Floyd’s Public Art Strategy, the reader is told nothing about the artists that Anna Schwartz represents doing public art. Instead of information, the reader is treated to Hall’s opinions on why it is better not to be involved in public art commissions.

This is not the first time that I’ve read a rambling book about an Australian art dealer. Adrian Newstead’s The Dealer is the Devil – an insider’s history of the Aboriginal Art trade, (Brandl and Schlesinger, 2014) is almost as long and nearly as dull. Still, at least, Newstead can tell stories.

As I persevered through its pages, I wondered if this book was ever intended to be read and I considered the other reason to have a book. Books have a symbolic value both as objects on shelves and as unread ideas, documented in various lists. Many books are not intended to be read all the way through coffee table books, books as art objects, along with phone books and other reference books.

There is an art to being influential. The symbolic value of this big book, almost regardless of its contents, cannot be under-estimated. For its existence is a kind of proof of the influential reputation of Anna Schwartz Gallery. A book about Anna Schwartz Gallery deserves to be written. It is just the writer and editor that were unfortunate choices.

Doug Hall Present Tense – Anna Schwartz Gallery and thirty-five years of contemporary art (Black Inc.,2019) 


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

%d bloggers like this: