I was glad to have seen Hosier Lane on Thursday. Not for the crowd of high school students milling in the famous blue stone lane. Not for the vacuous schmaltz and wastes of aerosols that the greedy el Rolo or Culture Kings spray on the walls. Not even for the aerosol paint but for the little pieces, the stickers (there is now a dedicated section of wall in Rutledge Lane), the paste-ups and the small ceramic pieces (glued to the wall with liquid nails or superglue).
Many of these little pieces espoused feminism — a doilly cross-stitch embroidery of a quote from an advocate for survivors of sexual assault Grace Tame. Street art in Melbourne is at its best when it is raising issues that are both political and aesthetic. As one of the ceramic pieces stated: “Feminism is for everyone”
“Spastic Society opposes women. Lesley Hall St. Kilda 1981. Disability is a feminist issue.” 1981 was the United Nations International Year of Disabled Persons; it was also the year that Hall went on stage at the Miss Australia Quest with that sign: “Spastic Society opposes women”. The image is from the 1981 Miss Australia Quest, where Hall’s protest pointed out the contradiction of the beauty pageant raising money to support children with cerebral palsy. The Miss Australia Quests’ idea of beauty excluded people with disabilities. For more, read Hall’s article on “Beauty Quests: A Double Disservice Beguiled, Beseeched And Bombarded – Challenging The Concept Of Beauty”.
It also reminds me that street art is a very ableist activity.
It was good to see all these pieces, to know that more women are doing quality work as street art should not be just for the boys. I went on to Presgrave Place, where I saw more pieces by women street artists. Stencils by artist and jeweller Edie Black, cutouts by Manda Lane and more stencil paste-ups by Vikie Murray.
“I can draw anything you like. 10 min $15 draw” His sign said. In Hosier Lane yesterday there were two people occupying two of the alcoves selling their drawings. The next step will be for a caricature artist set up a stall to sell portraits to the tourists in the lane.
I am not going to be hysterical and apocalyptic and declare that this is end of Hosier Lane when there are so many more clear indications of doom in the world (the climate catastrophe). There has always been a commercial aspect to the paint in Hosier Lane; graffiti writers and street artists have all these commercial projects — t-shirts, leading walking tours, exhibitions and commissions. And a few metres up the lane, the shop Culture Kings has made a massive hole in the lanes famous walls to provide access for buyers of their shit.
That said, an attractive piece of commercial art was being painted opposite the entrance to Hosier Lane on Flinders Lane. George Rose was just finishing an attractive mural commission celebrating the Lunar New Year.
Although the lane was, as usual for a weekday, full of tourists, the walls were not looking their best. There was a lot of text in marker pen written across many of the pieces by someone who thought that they had unique insight (it happens). There is a lot of bland work about current events. Many of pieces with an @Instagram rather than a tag showing that their creators are focused on getting ‘likes’ above everything else. A couple of relevant political pieces struggled to find space on the walls. The tourists didn’t care as they were focused on taking selfies of themselves in front of the paint covered walls.
I was pleased to see what I took for the work of an Indigenous street artist in the lane as I don’t see enough of this. Reclaiming their country and culture by painting walls. Dot painting with dots of aerosol paint.
If you want to see more whoring for Instagram ‘likes’ there are Lush’s work in Higson Lane a few corners further up Flinders Lane. About half a dozen huge celebrity faces randomly exploiting the popularity of anyone from Baby Yoda to Julian Assange.
Working in a different direction is the increasing street art in Presgrave Place. This started in 2007 when was a couple of picture frames with art prints still in them glued onto the wall of this circuitous lane. The picture frames are still glued to the wall but the quantity of art keeps growing focused on the creativity of art rather than aerosol of popularity.
Walking around the city on a Saturday gallery crawl I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to walk down a couple of Melbourne’s more artistic laneways: Union Lane and Pesgrave Place.
A group of guys spray painting along the length of Union Lane, as usual there was also someone documenting it with photographs but one of the artists was videoing himself with a small camera strapped to his head. An artist eye view of painting a piece, Picasso would have loved that technology.
It was J.D. Mittmann and Amanda King who organised the first legal painting in Union Lane back in 2008 as part of the city’s Graffiti Mentoring Project. Somewhere on its walls under years of aerosol paint there are works by Phibs, Deb, Rhen, Taj, Ha Ha and many other artists. Union Lane is currently managed/curated by Signal as part of its street art mentoring project.
Union Lane is a lot narrower than Hosier Lane, it is now just a gap connecting the Bourke Street Mall to Little Collins Street; it is more about graffiti and less about street art but there were a couple of new Junky Projects, now colourfully spray painted with stencil tags.
Presgrave Place is the opposite of Union Lane a location for odd street art rather than graffiti, the op-shop frames glued to the wall are still there but most no longer have their old prints in them. There is an old paste-up by Happy of a dead Pinnochio hung with noose made from his long nose and a new Junky Projects.
In Presgrave Place there is also Melbourne’s smallest art gallery, Trink Tank, a small glass vitrine outside Bar Americano. Nicholas Smith was exhibiting “Notes on Live Night Parrot Sightings in North-western Queensland” with a model of the last authenticated sighting, a dead parrot (Pezoporus Occidentalis) found on the side of the road.