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Tag Archives: stencils

Melbourne Street Art Past and Future

In Centre Place there are a couple of relics of an earlier era of Melbourne’s street art. Both the City Lights and Heart Lock are now covered in layers of paint and stickers. Centre Place was once a prime location for graffiti and street art, now after a new building it is now too small for more than one or two pieces.

The heart lock is still there but has lost its heart and I think that it has been moved from its original location. I guess that Melbourne walking tour guides no longer tell the love story about Paula Birch’s Sacred Heart of Centre Place (See Demet Divaroren’s Blog for the legend). Andy Mac’s City Lights Project were photo light boxes; you can still see the now redundant cables for the power. There were two sets installed in Centre Place and Hosier Lane back in the 1996. (For more see my blog post from 2009.)

Appearing to go further back in time; I spotted these initials carved into the bluestones along the bank of the Yarra. At first I thought that they might have been stonemason’s marks. However, if they were stonemason’s marks I would have expected them more widespread amongst the stone embankment rather than concentrated in one place. If they were stonemasons would also expect greater quality in the carving of the initial. So I suspect that they are mid-century modern tags but they could be earlier.

I photographed some more stencils around the city; not surprised that this time they are in the laneway leading to the new location for Blender Studios. Melbourne’s street art and graffiti appears to have entered a holding pattern. Instead of any developments or new directions there is an almost steady state where we can expect more repetition. No new developments, just new walls with the same kind of stuff on them. There are so few innovators currently on the scene that I’m not even aware of any disruptors, like Lush. In another old street art location, Presgrave Place, there are new works by Tinky, Phoenix and Calm.

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Current Stencil Street Art

It did require a conscious decision on my part not to change my habits and walk a different way through the city. It required minimal effort but surprising results because it led me to Baptist Place and the stencils of the Night Krawler.

Night Krawler Contra toda autoridad excepto mi mama

I can’t believe that I haven’t been to Baptist Place before but it seems I haven’t. Baptist Place runs off Little Collins Street.

There are little lanes that I’ve never been in, right in the centre of Melbourne. I am almost three years behind the times, so don’t look to me for recent information. I can date this because I have only learnt about the Night Krawler, a stencil artist who has been working around the inner city since late 2016. At least according to the knowledgable Toby of ‘all those shapes’.  (Cheers, Matthew W for your help.)

I had seen Night Krawler’s cat stencils before, but these were different. “Contra toda autoridad excepto mi mama” (against all authority, except for my mum). The headless hoodie kid with his halo of razor wire was almost buffed away, so that only a ghostly image remained under the paint.

Other works were spaced down the walls of Baptist Place with a sense of narrative, like panels in a comic about a Latin-American magical-realism with cats.

Stencils were once a major feature of Melbourne’s street art. They were the talk of the streets for the first decade of this century. Max GPS, Night Krawler, N20, Sunfigo, Drasko and others are keeping the technique going on the streets. The internationally infamous, Max GPS had done a large piece in Union Lane, off the Bourke Street Mall.

It is hard to credit all the stencil artists because they often don’t tag their work. I can understand why Night Krawler deserves credit but who would want to be held responsible for some of these atrocious puns?


No Face by Sunfigo

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.

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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.


The Great Australian Lie

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unknown, stencil, Brunswick

“Australian history does not read like history, but the most beautiful lies.” Mark Twain wrote and he knew how to stretch the truth.

There are so many lies; Australians aren’t racist but yet have managed to commit genocide and have racism in it constitution. The bullshit piles up so fast you’d be buried alive if you only listened to Australians.

Remembering that the The Commonwealth of Australia exists as nothing but words. The country that calls itself The Commonwealth of Australia is built on the lie of terra nullius; everyone knows that the Aboriginals were the true owners of the land. The only things that is definitely Australian is the word ‘Australian’; everything else is disputed territory.

“Indeed, what we think of as Australia is a species of fiction – as, in essence, is any nation. Hoaxes lie at the foundation of the European discovery and settlement of the Australian continent and familiar myths like that of the Anzacs, Bodyline and the Kelly Gang all have a substantial, if often overlooked, hoax component.” (Simon Caterson Hoax Nation (Arcade Publishing, 2009, Melbourne, p.15)

Australia does have not much history, instead it has lots of ‘legends’; sporting legends like Phar Lap, folk legends like Ned Kelly, ANZAC diggers, lots of legends. The word ‘legend’ is widely used in Aussie slang to denote a superlative. No truth implied in the use of the word ‘legend’; the story is better than the facts, better than history. Nobody expects a legend to spawn imitators, who could expect to repeat to legendary achievements? A legend quarantines the subject whereas history has effects that are felt today.

“I said at the time, if only half of what is written about Australia is true, it must be lovely there; but all these reports are lies and deception. My advice is: stay at home and provide for yourself in an honourable way.” Carl Traugott Hoehne, 1851 (The Birth of Melbourne ed. Tim Flannery, Text Publishing, Melbourne, 2002, Australia)

When I first arrived in Australia I’d never encountered so many people so keen to lie to a stranger before in all my travels around the world, I had already lived in three other countries and had visited half a dozen more. I remember thinking how stupid all these Australians liars must be to think that I’ll believe this stuff. And I am not the only one Rudyard Kipling was amused the quantity of lies that he was told on his visit to Australia. (The Birth of Melbourne p.358)

Australians enjoy lying to foreigners but more numerous were the lies told by new arrivals to Australia about their own pasts. Coming to a new country is a process of re-inventing the self and the self is just a story that we tell ourselves. The great Australian lie that masks the deep Australian insecurity. The great Australian lie fosters anti-intellectualism and other aggressive responses to feelings of inadequacy.

Too often art is supporting this fiction but there are artists producing great art that attacks the Australian fiction. “Fictional beauty & beautiful lies” by Gemma Weston (Art & Australia v49 no1 2011) discusses the art of Tarryn Gill and Pilar Mata Dupont. Tarryn Gill and Pilar Mata Dupont’s video Gymnasium, that won the Basil Seller’s Art Prize in 2010, beautifully and knowingly recreates an example of the fascist lies of white Australia (see my blog post). There needs to be more art exposing, exploring and explaining the dishonesty of the Australian fiction. There is also a need for art to tell a better story.

 

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Graffiti dialogue in Brunswick

I have accepted the call from Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance for #7DaysOfResistance, Jan 20th-27th in the lead up to #InvasionDay. This post is part of the resistance.

australia-pasteups


Graffiti Alley in Toronto, Canada

Graffiti Alley in Toronto is also known as Rush Lane or Rick Mercer’s Alley. It runs between Queen and Richmond streets and west from Spadina Avenue to Portland Street. It is an alley in every sense of the word, a single one lane access for services, parking and deliveries. There might be fashion shoots in Graffiti Alley but it still is full of rubbish and delivery vans. It is mostly low, one story with the occasional multi story building, a couple of full building commissions but mostly just piece after piece, on back wall after back fence. There are so many pieces that it goes for almost a kilometre.

I know nothing about Toronto’s graffiti and street art. I’m from Melbourne, as the subtitle of this blog indicates and I want to see something like Hosier Lane. One distinct difference is the community garden off Graffiti Alley.

It is the first place that I go in the city, it says something about me but also the attraction of graffiti for a jet lagged international traveller as it is there when you are, a twenty-four hour seven days a week spectacle. I walk to Graffiti Alley from my central hotel (my wife is attending a conference in the city). There aren’t any other tourists in the lane but I believe that there are graffiti tours of the area (I was just on the wrong day).

There were several pieces are commenting on former Toronto Mayor, occasional substance abuser, and currently deceased, Rob Ford. Ford is targeted because he promised to stamp out graffiti. Graffiti culture is frequently a reaction to its most prominent opponents.

Graffiti Alley is in a cool neighbourhood of Toronto with interesting shops, places to eat and band venues. There is the “hug me” tree on Queen Street. There are a full more murals on carpark walls around the area and a few other small concentrations of graffiti.

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Graffiti Alley is not the only place to see graffiti and street art in Toronto I saw more murals in the Kensington Market area. Lots of cool things in the Kensington Market, marijuana dispensaries and Sth American food. This is Canada in the twenty-first century and not Australia stuck in the past and aspiring to be another Singapore. Maybe I should just live in Toronto, after all I am a Canadian.


Melbourne’s Diverse Street Art

Walking around Melbourne exploring its many lanes, sometimes in the company of a notable, some would say notorious, street artist who would prefer to remain anonymous and keep his comments off the record. Thanks for the company. What follows are my photos, my comments and my opinions. The selection of photos is not my pick of the best street art that I’ve recently seen but to the diversity, both geographic, technique and materials, of Melbourne’s street art.

Deb, Uniacke Court, Melbourne

Deb, Uniacke Court, Melbourne

None of these photos are from the old locations, Hosier Lane, Centre Place, they are no longer the best place to see street art in the city. The locations for good street art have shifted in the eight years that I have been writing this blog, slowly moving north and west. In the west of the city where the street art is scare I found a whole lane, Uniacke Court, with several pieces by Deb and no-one else.

Sunfigo stickers

Sunfigo stickers

All over the city I keep on seeing more and more of the work of Sunfigo, simple and effective stickers and paste-ups but nothing to compare to Sunfigo’s Little Diver Tribute.

Anonymoose, Blender Alley

Anonymoose, Blender Alley

If you love stencils the best place to see them is Blender Alley. The reason is that the main door to Blender Studios, its roller doors were open when I was there, faces the alley and the artist’s in the studio, especially its director, Doyle, basically curate the alley.

Mutant

Mutant

I keep seeing more street art sculpture and, not just Will Coles and Junky Projects, more people are doing it. Mutant and Discarded are doing similar work casting bones and other found objects. So far I have only seen Discarded’s work online but I know that it is out there.

LaPok, Guerilla Garden Melbourne

LaPok, Guerilla Garden Melbourne

Unknown, Ilham Lane

Unknown, Ilham Lane

I’ve seen a few more artistic works of guerrilla gardening in the city and Ilham Lane in Brunswick. Also in Ilham Lane there is a piece of guerrilla geography, naming the small side bunch from Ilham Lane, Chook Lane.

Chook Lane, Brunswick

And there is still basic graffiti out there.

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Coffee with Jamit

In the late 1990s there was a lot less graffiti in Melbourne, but amongst the tags and pieces along the line, Jamit’s steaming coffee cup on the side of a house stood out. It was a personal favourite when I was working for LookSmart, an internet start-up. Every weekday I would take the train from Coburg station into the city, there wasn’t much to look at along the railway line; mostly I read my books, but occasionally I would have a window seat and glance up from my book. Once I saw a rabbit in the North Melbourne rail yards, other times I would mark my journey by spotting a familiar piece of graffiti. Every time I saw Jamit’s piece I would think: another cup of coffee, very appropriate for a Melbourne morning.

Oldest wall in Brunswick 2

The coffee cup was a rare time that Jamit painted along the Upfield line. Mostly he worked on the Hurstbridge line and around Camberwell. The wall where the coffee cup was painted is a long blank cream brick wall running the length of the house and directly facing the railway tracks near Anstey Station. It is the perfect wall for graffiti and Jamit’s friends knew the owner of the house who had given permission for it to be painted. Shame and possibly Ron B Me were there, it was a decades ago and Jamit doesn’t remember now. They had ladders and were painting in the daylight. Unfortunately he also can’t remember what brand of spray paint they were using because it has great durability, the paint hasn’t faded or deteriorated after many years. People talk about graffiti as ephemeral but a piece can last ages.

Jamit sprayed a large white coffee cup filled with hot steaming coffee on the wall. Jamit explained that “the coffee cup was settled on because, let’s be honest, coffee is a generally accepted symbol of friendship and funkiness in Melbourne. Try going into the old Rue Bebélons and asking for a milkshake. They would have accommodated it, no doubt, but not without a short, awkward, double-take.” An elderly passer-by liked the coffee cup; on the day it was painted he climbed up on a ladder to pose as if he was drinking from the cup.

After spraying the coffee cup freehand Jamit added his tag, in a stencil. This is unusual for an old school graffiti writer but was not unusual for Jamit, he had done it for years. He can’t remember anyone else in Melbourne using stencils at the time and there Puzle claims that Jamit did the first stencil northside in 87-88. “When I was commuting to school along the Hurstbridge line, I saw paintings by Bo the Snoutcatcher. It struck me that graffiti needn’t use spraypaint directly onto the wall in the conventional way at the time.”

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Melbourne’s graffiti scene was very different in the late 80s and early 90s, without the internet the scene was more insular. Jamit’s graffiti was not famous but graffiti is not a popularity contest it is about getting pieces up. Jamit had been doing that for years, mostly large-scale colourful blockbusters and italicised blockbusters. “Hugh Dunit was there too, though he wasn’t appreciated until later on—too little too late in my opinion.”

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Impressed by the “…very straight-forward graffiti by Tubby and Raffles, whose tags were between Camberwell and Canterbury”, he had started working with his friend that he had known since primary school, Worm, as well as doing some writing with Mags in Rosanna.

It was an old-school scene based along the railway lines and hip hop music mostly supplied by Central Station Records. “Back then I loved Strange Tenants, Kool Herc, Schooly D, Rammellzee, all the breakdance stuff and even Malcolm McLaren, at the time not thinking much about a white guy coming in and capitalising on it all.”

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Jamit is now living in Singapore and, although he still does the occasional piece, he is now, in his own words, a changed person. Although much of the graffiti from the 90s has now faded away or been capped, buffed or otherwise vanished, Jamit’s coffee cup is still on the wall looking as fresh as it ever did and I still see it every time I take the train.

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