Very little grows in the laneways of Melbourne. The sun refuses to shine there, and the granite, concrete, and brick offer little room for plants. Yet paint and paper foliage climbs the walls from flower pots or springs forth full of life — the creations of Melbourne street artist Manda Lane.
Full disclosure (words few art critics write) I commissioned Manda Lane to do a piece in my backyard. The professionalism that Manda Lane brought to the commission rivalled the architects. Showing the client what the finished work will look like is a winner.
Her work looks great against the black Weathertex panels of a new minimalist construction by DiMase Architects. The new garden has yet to be planted. It is on the east wall, so it will be out of the sun and partially sheltered from the rain. So it is expected to last for years. Having watched many a paste-up slowly decay on laneway walls in Melbourne, I am looking forward to the effects of time on it.
Paste-ups are meant to be quick to install. Produced in the artist’s studio, they are then glued to a wall. However, Manda Lane’s intricate hand-cut work took hours to glue to the wall. Usually, this is faster because she can work from the top down and have gravity assist the process, but it is still time-consuming. Paste-up paper cuts are like the reverse of cutting out a stencil, and Manda Lane is not the first of Melbourne’s street artists to do them; Miso was doing them years ago.
Manda Lane also paints her foliage designs with a brush on walls, another slow process she has used on a wall in Hosier Lane and the Temple of Boom at the NGV. (See my earlier post.)
Manda Lane is one of the Ninjas of Street Art. Some of them might appear as suburbanites or hipsters by day, but then they transform into street artists. Rumours they foiled a far-right terror plot using stealth, subterfuge and artistry are, unfortunately, unconfirmed; the Ninjas are just a group of artists who get together to socialise and put up street art. They are currently responsible for much of the street art in Presgrave Place and other lanes in Melbourne.
Where does psychogeography diverge from long term urban observation? When there is no urban exploration and no wandering from the predetermined path. I regularly look at the same areas, keeping record of observations of select parts of the city. I have walked along many of the lanes so often that I can’t remember my first visit. How many hundreds of times have I walked the aerosol covered Hosier Lane in the last decade? The accrual of memories of a place, of the unauthorised, anarchic street art and graffiti.
And within this area, there is always something new to see. Melbourne City Council has filled otherwise empty shops with artistic concepts to activate Melbourne’s centre. I visited “This is not a toy store” and looked at the art toys, some are parodies of all the Star Wars toys, others are just collectable toys and still others are too strange to classify. (See my post for more on Melbourne’s art toy scene.)
There is some overlap between the art toy scene and street art with both artists and subject matter. Facter’s new dragon on their back door, a rare piece of freehand aerosol work amongst the street art of Presgrave Place. Presgrave Place is another location that I’ve been looking at for decades. And amongst the frames, paste-ups and stickers are some large numbered paste-ups by another veteran, M.P. Fikaris (aka Braddock). Fikaris’s paste-ups of his iconic robot man are part of Fast Forward, another of the city councils’ activation programs.
Sunfigo’s work continues to surprise, not just because of the prolific output. In Platypus Alley off Lt. Bourke Street, Sunfigo has introduced a meta-element with a paste-up of a photograph of the same wall. The photo records the missing pieces that people have ripped off. All that is left of these pieces on the wall is their outline in liquid nails.
Other areas are not doing so well. The refitting of Centre Way marks the continued bland decline of an area that used to be an excellent location for graffiti and street art. Still, it lost that status years ago. There have been too many unsympathetic alterations, first to Centre Place and now to the mall. Now only the fire extinguisher reel and pipe record the many stickers slapped around here.
And then, just when I think that I’ve been along every lane in the city, I come across a stub lane with a hodonym that doesn’t fit with the familiar nomenclature of Melbourne street names. “CL 0034,” off Hardware Lane, the letters and numbers could be from another city but for the City of Melbourne sign and the familiar street artists. I search for it without success on Google maps or old copies of Melways. Just when I thought that I was no longer doing urban exploring.
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.