It is always a mystery about the identity of graffiti writers and street artists. I walked around a street corner in Coburg; there was Anime Flower at work with pastel crayons. Anime Flower has been writing things like “be kind” around the neighbourhood in colourfully decorated block letters. All I should say is that the writer was not from the usual demographic of taggers, graff writers and other artistic miscreants found on the streets. I didn’t want them to feel intimidated by my presence, so I didn’t stop. I just said, “Hello,” all friendly-like behind my mask and sunglasses and kept walking.
The great rock critics Lester Bangs and Nick Kent were proponents of the proposition that rock’n’roll was for losers. That it was a great failure gesture. At its best, rock’n’roll was a bunch of losers who managed to create great art and, at its worst, was commercial sabotage of all that is human and decent. Likewise, street art and graffiti are for losers. Like playing in a band, doing some street art will probably be amongst the best things that they do for themselves.
During the lockdowns, I have become more familiar with the work of many local graff writers, including the local UBM/WWW crew. I love the WWW crew, the self-proclaimed World’s Worst Writers – who will take that jester’s crown away from them? Calypso is so friendly, with a smiley face along with the tag.
Bootleg Comics and Cale Jay Labbe collaborating on some intensely crazy black and white paste-ups. Bootleg Comics is a Melbourne visual artist known for using pop culture iconography. Savage reflections of images and tropes: horoscopes making as much sense as an anti-vaxer but with way more insight.
Mr Dimples is “pretty upset” and “gutted” that his up-coming first exhibition “No More Suckers” at The Stockroom has been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “A years worth of work, ready to hang in two weeks and then boom, postponed.” He told me online. I was intending to review the exhibition so instead decided to write about the postponed show.
Mr Dimples is a street-artist from Bendigo who does these cute robots and aliens. A fan of horror films he started to draw these cute monsters after seeing the Tim Burton exhibition at ACMI. There is something defective and absurd about his monsters: they are sewn up, an X for an eye, or are a robot with a joint in his metal hand.
On the street he works with paste-ups and stencils but in the exhibition there will be 53 paintings on canvas. Painting is place for him to express his feelings about the world. “My canvases are where I put my life and soul and display it to an audience. I feel my paste ups and stencils are more like portraits and don’t tell a story.” And he pours out stories about backstabbing mates, controlling partners and “getting rid of toxic people in your life”.
Mr Dimples came up with his name in five minutes and kicked off his career when the Bendigo Advertiser wrote an article about him.
Four years ago, when I first saw his sweet little monsters stuck to a Bendigo wall, Mr Dimples was about the only street artist in the Central Victorian gold rush city. There is a bit more now and the local council have tentatively begun to commission the odd piece but it is still not a flourishing scene.
To compensate for that he has joined forces with Melbourne’s “the ninjas” to bring his art to the laneways of Melbourne. “Working with the ninjas has allowed me to work with a group and share, grow and enjoy other artists company. It’s like a quirky little family, where we do art, laugh and then eat dumplings.”
We will have to wait an indefinite time before we can see Mr Dimples’s exhibition but in the meantime here are a few more of his images.
I was around McLean Alley in Melbourne’s CBD snapping a few photographs of some paste-ups by some of the usual suspects: Doyle, Sunfigo, Kambeeno, Baby Guerrilla, Junky Projects … and this, as yet unattributed paste-up. Following the trail of outlaw artists is not like trying to track down other outlaws. Sometimes they write their names, or at least their tags, two metres high in block letters using a paint roller. They have an online presence and there are regular locations where you can expect to find signs of their activity. Not that I’m trying to catch-up with anyone as I walk around the city, Brunwick, Collingwood, Fitzroy: I am not trying to identify anyone, collect a debt or anything. I run into some by accident and they will tell me that I must come and see their next exhibition.
At other times I know that the person will remain as mysterious as the work itself. I found this cave of crystals built into the brick walls It was hard to photograph the space in the wall was covered in crystals as far back as I could see.
I’m not sure how to classify the crystal cave brick filling. Maybe it fits into the same urban corny craft as painting a pipe top as a mushroom that I saw in the same lane. Urban corn is the craft work of city folk. It is a kind of homemade decoration that evokes a predictable sentiment between a chuckle and smile and no further thought.
Sorry for not writing about street art and graffiti as often as I once did in this blog. This is partially because of the conservative direction that Melbourne street art has taken. I don’t like murals. I love the smallest pieces.
Unknown in Coburg
I enjoy street art sculpture and I keep finding the odd piece around. The sculptural elements that Kambeeno has been adding with his paste-ups; love bombing can be read so many ways. Kambeeno also represents a new wave of political paste-up artists spreading their message of peace, love and understanding on Melbourne’s streets.
I still see the graffiti pieces flash past my window on the train or on along the freeway noise barriers. It is amazing the speed at which the human mind can take in an image but it is hard to stop to take a photograph. In Chinatown I saw some well placed paste-ups by LA street artist, Pike 169 TCF.
Pike 169 TCF
I have been watching and reporting on the development of Hosier Lane, along the Upfield Line or in Presgrave Place for over a decade and I intend to keep on doing that. Only, apart from Hosier Lane becoming packed with more tourists, there hasn’t been much to report. Some of the same people are still putting up pieces; Phoenix is still active in Presgrave Place. And the new people are putting up some of the same old stuff, including a return to stencils.
Phoenix, Kambeeno and others Presgrave Place
Phoenix and Sunfigo Presgrave Place
Street art continues to address the important issues of our times; currently the number of women murdered by men. I saw this series of stickers in Fitzroy and I fact checked them before sharing them.
Sunfigo’s No Face is an unofficial guerrilla art exhibition. I think that this started when Melbourne based street artist Sunfigo did a portrait of Trump and then crossed it out; more crossed out faces followed, including those of Bill Gates and Betty Windsor. A mirror face, a face obscured by smilie face, along with some older images of heads by Sunfigo. Sunfigo has been doing street art for at least six years now and has established a line in geometric drawing that works for ribbon on chainlink fences, stencils and pieces made of tape.
This is Sunfigo’s second attempt to unofficially join in Melbourne’s White Night. In 2016 Sunfigo tried to put on a guerrilla exhibition as part of White Night but it didn’t last ten minutes. This time he has been more successful with an exhibition held in Platypus Alley off Lt. Bourke Street. Platypus Alley is a short, dead-end, unreformed and unused, even as a service lane. No-one currently uses the one door that exits onto the lane. The one door is blocked with a part of a granite arch that has been abandoned there.
The exhibition was already badly damaged (yes, No Face was defaced) by the time that my friend Vetti saw it on White Night. I’m not sure how much worse it was when I saw it but about half the art had been stolen. Almost every one of the works stuck up with liquid nails was stolen and only the paste-ups remained. According to the street artist Will Coles people don’t normally steal street art in Melbourne. Perhaps White Nights attracted different people to those who normally explore Melbourne’s laneways. I didn’t know that Sunfigo had so many fans but it is a shame that some of them are greedy selfish bastards.
Melbourne Street Art Guide, ed. Din Heagney, Allison Fogarty and Ewan McEoin, (Thames and Hudson, 2016) Instead of writing a review of yet another unremarkable publication about Melbourne street art here are six artists who absent from the guide: Calm, DrewFunk, Ero, Ghostpatrol, Happy and Phoenix. I considered if I should ask them same set of questions that Melbourne Street Art Guide asked all the artists but really, the same set of questions?!
Calm – Murdoch Swine
Calm – Captain Assange
Calm mostly does paste-ups but does work in other media. He was included in the Hosier Lane part of Melbourne Now in 2013 so there is community recognition of his quality. See my blog post about his work.
Drew Funk was painting every legal wall that he could with landscapes and dragons, mixing the oriental, cartoons and aerosol art. He was ahead of the current mural scene by almost a decade.
Ero is a scruffy New Zealand street artist working in the tradition of Keith Haring, painting simple images in blocky colours. He uses ordinary house paint and brushes rather than aerosol paint. He does piss in his paint cans to relieve himself and water down the paint.
Happy, “Get Instant Fame”
Happy – Graffiti Colour My World in Brunswick
Happy was active a few years ago but hasn’t done anything for many years. This is another problem of Melbourne Street Art Guide, it is more of a fashion snapshot than knowledgable critical guide. This is more or less the reason for not including Ghostpatrol even though he done more recent work than Happy. Happy mostly worked with paste-ups that made ironic comments about the street art scene but some of his sidewalk tags in line marking painting can still be seen.
Phoenix has more of a beatnik jazz style than a skater dad look than most street artists affect. A master of the photocopier Phoenix is serious community orientated man; he is one of the fellows who will stand up to be counted. The kind of man who with loan his ladder to a fellow artist before putting up his own piece. See my blog post about his recent solo exhibition.
“Out of the Ordinary” is a solo exhibition by Phoenix in the front gallery of Off the Kerb. Phoenix is not the ordinary Melbourne street artist who works with paste-ups. Unlike other street artists you don’t instantly get the meaning of his images, you have to work at them. You recognise the ordinary object but then you realise that there is more, something out of the ordinary. Often the message is an environmental awareness like All in One Basket.
Phoenix, M.C. (Milk Crate) Escher, Anchor Hand and Jumbo Sushi Fish
Phoenix makes his paste-ups using a very technical combination of drawing, photocopies and collage. He uses a photocopier to produce drawings and has been using photocopiers to make art for longer than he has done street art. He used the photocopier to add colour through different colour ink cartridges or coloured paper and especially to enlarge and reduce. Very accurate, detailed drawings, draftsman drawings that are built up by combining different elements or the same element at different sizes, as in his Show of Hands. Always the image incorporates a double spiral as a logo/tag/signature.
He has been working on the streets for about seven years. He is a generous guy who will loan other artists his ladder at painting events, before he’s put up his own paste-up, or volunteer to help at the Sweet Streets festival, which is where I first met him. He has an amazing trolley studio with a ladder and all he needs for working on the street.
This is the first time that I’ve seen Phoenix exhibit in a gallery but I know that he has had exhibited in Sydney before. The works are the same as they are on the street, except that the gallery editions are mounted on jigsaw cut wood rather just pasted on the wall. With the Night Diver, and other pieces there raised elements, like the bolts and other parts.
The masterpiece of the exhibition is his M.C. (Milk Crate) Escher it is truly out of the ordinary.