Tag Archives: Street Art

Presgrave Place

A place where the art is glued to the wall.

The picture frames glued to the brick wall were the first elements to appear. These had cheap prints of European art in them at first. The prints have long since decayed, but the frames are still on the wall and used by other artists. Over the years, more frames and more original art has been added. Frames now cover much of the wall. It is a story of accumulation because Presgrave Place has never been buffed, unlike the aerosol-covered laneways.

In 2007, the lane and its frames appeared in ABC’s Not Quite Art presented by Marcus Westbury, when Melbourne’s street art scene had been around for about a decade. In 2008 there was also Melbourne’s smallest art gallery, Trink Tank, a small glass vitrine outside Bar Americano. (My 2008 blog post on Presgrave Place.)  

Presgrave Place is a remnant of the service lanes of Melbourne, an open-air dead end trapped between several small shopping malls. A few businesses still store their bins around the corner, but it is not an unpleasant place. It is not the easiest place to find as it is off Howey Place, which is off Little Collins Street (opposite David Jones).

At the entrance to the lane, high up on the wall, there is a cast concrete sign, a geometric panel with a sign announcing the Capital Theatre and emulating the crystalline ceiling of the theatre. According to eMelbourne, the Capitol Theatre’s workshop was in Presgrave Place in 1961. Walter Burley Griffin and his wife Marion Mahony designed this piece of mid-century modernism. 

Kranky’s art and energy revived the location in 2016. (See my post Presgrave Place Renaissance.) Now, the continued presence of work by the Ninja of Street Art and many other artists keeps it active.

Presgrave Place ranks number 18 in Stephen’s 24 Best Laneways in Melbourne. I would include it in my top 10 street art locations in Melbourne’s CBD. It is the smaller, lesser-known, long-running location for Melbourne Street art, but Presgrave Place rarely disappoints. Few things change in Presgrave Place, not even the street art. The art will be left on the wall until it rots away, adapted into another work, like the original frames glued to its walls.

I have written about many artists in other blog posts: SunfigoPhoenixCalmVKM (Vikki Murray), Mr Dimples, and Facter. Other artists whose work that you might see include Manda Lane, who created all the foliage, pot plants and the wonderful paper-cut cats at the end of the lane. Crisp is the thinking person’s sci-fi fan; if anyone needs a stencil spray-painted Star Wars meme, then Crisp can supply them with added political content. Stencils of birds by Edie Black. Paste-up women by Suki. Jayeff with the smiling eye. Kambeeno’s red, white and black paste-ups… G.T. Sewell, Michael Fikaris, Vinks, Happy … it would would take hours to list them all.

If you have been breathing those aerosol fumes or straining your neck looking at those giant murals for too long, then Presgrave Place is the place to go. It is distinctly different from the aerosol paint and fame of Hosier Lane.


Burn City

Looking down on an entire laneway painted blue from the pavement to the third storey. Pieces in Melbourne’s Hosier Lane don’t last very long before they are tagged or painted over. Getting photographs of fresh street art is an art in itself, requiring dedication and a commitment to following social media.

Lou Chamberlin Burn City – Melbourne’s Painted Streets (Hardie Grant Travel, 2017)

Books of photographs are an established part of the street art scene, and publishing about street art is a crowded scene. And Melbourne based writer and photographer Chamberlin has created several books on street art: Urban Scrawl: Street Art Text in the City (Hardie Grant 2019), Street art international (Explore Australia Publishing 2016), Street Art: Australia (Explore Australia Publishing 2015), Street Art: Melbourne (Explore Australia Publishing 2013), Street art: Rio (Blurb Creative Publishing, 2012), and Street art: Melbourne (Blurb Creative Publishing, 2012). She provides more text than Land of Sunshine but less than most books; chapter introductions and then a paragraph here and there with a bit more information about one or two of the artist.

Burn City is organised into chapters by content: face, fauna, abstraction (and there is a surprising amount of abstract work, an antidote to all the aerosol realism). Then there is the artist’s intention to create an illustrative storytelling style. Or to raise social and political issues (politicians are as proud of their representations in street art as they are of political cartoons). And finally, two chapters on the structure of the street art in the streetscape, one with images of painting whole buildings and pavements, bins, and traffic signal boxes. And the other looks at the same wall with new paint; this final chapter emphasises the ephemeral aspect of street art, justifying the photographic record of what once was.

It is worth pointing out that this is a travel photo book about an attractive aspect of a place at the intersection of art and travel. The spectacle of urban murals as a tourist attraction, a destination to visit, something to see and photograph. And although the foreword is written by David Hurlston, the Senior Curator of Australian Art at the NGV, he does write about the geographic spread of Melbourne’s street art and how it reaches walls and silos in regional Victoria.


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

A decade ago in Hosier Lane

Instead of going out paint-spotting today; photographing graffiti and street art around the city I am staying home. I have been cleaning up my photo collection of graffiti and street art. The photos need to be named, tagged, filed. In the process I saw my photos of Hosier Lane and, the then adjoining, Rutledge Lane from a decade ago in 2008, 2009 and 2010.

Hosier Lane was not created so that people could sell product or attract tourists. It was a place for graffiti writers and street artists, where they could spray in the centre of city. Not that those original intentions mean anything in what it has become. So here is a photo-essay about Hosier Lane from over a decade ago when there were a lot less tourists and a bit more respect for the art.

Stormie Mills (cut off) Reko Rennie, Drew Funk and Vexta all on one wall in December 2009.

Elemental Forces in Public Art

Considering the use of the so-called ‘elemental forces’ of water, fire, earth and air in public art; with examples from Melbourne’s public and street art.

Air 

Although it is the space between, air is the most under used element in public art. Aside from making flags and banners flutter it is used in a couple of sculptures. The 15-metre-high wind-powered sculpture by Duncan Stemler, Blowhole in the Docklands. Elsewhere in the world there are musical sculptures that are played automatically, like Aeolian harps and the common wind chime. On a more subtle level there is scent of gardens, of incense and the burnt eucalyptus leaves of smoking ceremonies carried in the air.

Duncan Stemler, Blowhole

Water

Water was the first one to be used for public art with public drinking fountains and other water features from artificial lakes and waterfalls. There are many fountains and drinking fountains in Melbourne there are also mist sprays on the rocks in Footscray, Wominjeka Tarnuk Yooroom by Maree Clarke and Vicky Couzins. Street artist have also used water, one summer blocks of coloured ice were left to melt in Hosier Lane, the coloured liquid running between the bluestone cobbles. The street artist, CDH used hypochromatic ink for stencil works where the piece that only became visible when wet. Finally there is the unofficial colouring of fountains and moats often in conjunction with protests.

Maree Clarke and Vicky Couzins, Wominjeka Tarnuk Yooroom

Fire

From the eternal flame at the Shrine of Remembrance, candle light vigils, to Indigenous smoke ceremonies fire is used in a variety of public art. Camp fire with Aboriginal story teller at Federation Square. It is not all sacred; there are profane gas flares at the casino and temporary public art events like, fireworks displays. Fortunately there is little use of fire in street art, aside from a rare CDH pyrotechnic painting.

Immolating portrait of Yukio Mishima by CDH (photo courtesy CDH)

Earth

Earth art is the principle form of public art. From its landscaped gardens, the city is an artificial constructed landscape, complete with kitsch floral clocks. The metal and stone used in sculpture is also from the earth but that might be labouring the point. Street art also use earth and plants in guerrilla gardening.

Melbourne’s Floral Clock

Walls and supports

I want to write about the aesthetics of walls; the supports for the advertising, graffiti, street art, decay and accidental marks in the city. Something about the dirty mix of dividers, partitions and supports that we see all the time, that defines the city but we don’t usually focus on.

What brought the city’s walls into focus for me was a copy of a wall on a wall in the CBD. On a brick wall in the city someone had added cast a section of bricks; I guess it was done by an art student who had read some Baudrillard. It had then been reattached to the matched section of the wall. This simulation was an elegant minimal celebration of a plain brick wall for what it is.

Consider some other walls and surfaces, not just for their suitability as a surface for applying aerosol paint, or glue. In Union Lane some paint had come off a wall in a big acrylic sheet about the size of my hand. It revealed the layers of different coloured aerosol paint was almost half a centimetre thick. Some Melbourne walking tour guides will tear off a bit of peeling paint to show visitors the archeology of Melbourne’s graffiti.

Like the accretion of staples, nails and screws on wooden power-poles, all that remains of posters for lost cats, garage sales and other signs.

The advertising posters at Flinders Street Station, torn off because their contracted time is up, compared to the “décollage” of Raymond Hains and Jacques de la Mahé Villeglé in France in 1949. The duo exhibited layers of torn advertising posters that they had ripped from the streets as works of art.

The contested values of  buffing and art appreciation where selected street art pieces are painted around. Or where graffiti writers leave space to preserve ghost-signs, the old hand-painted advertisements by professional sign-writers.

They make you wonder what forces are operating on the wall. Are they intentional? Or accidental? Or the inevitable entropy of a plumber putting a pipe through a Banksy rat on a wall in Prahran.


Reko and Turbo, from the street to the NGV

“From Bark to Neon: Indigenous Art from the NGV Collection” at the NGV in Federation Square includes works by Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri, Rover Thomas, Emily Kam Kngwarray in the collection. But I want to focus on two local artists in the exhibition who both have street backgrounds: Reko Rennie and Trevor Turbo Brown.

Blek le Rat, Reko Rennie, Drew Funk, Reko Rennie et. al. in Hoiser Lane & on the internet.

Part of their street background both embraced one of the four elements of hip hop; for Reko it was writing graffiti and for Turbo, breakdancing.

Reko Rennie has a neon crown in his Regalia 2013; as in crown that a top graffiti writer would put a crown above their tag. I first saw his work at the Melbourne Stencil Festival in 2008, a magnificent multi-layer stencil of a red kangaroo. Later I saw the same stencil sprayed on a wall in Hosier Lane alongside Blek Le Rat and Stormie Mills. I didn’t know that he was Kamilaroi all I knew is that he was amongst the best street artists in Melbourne. Many street artists were later represented by commercial art galleries but Reko Rennie navigated this transition better than most. In a few years he had work in the NGV’s collection was making public art. Rennie’s public art includes his Neon Natives, 2011 in Cocker Alley for the City of Melbourne’s Laneway Commissions and his Murri Totems, 2012 outside of the La Trobe Institute for Molecular Science building.

Trevor Turbo Brown, Getting their photo taken by tourists, 2007

The late Trevor Turbo Brown was a Latje Latje man from Mildura and the winner of the 2012 Victorian Deadly Art Award. Turbo was a self-taught, outsider artist who had multiple disadvantages amongst them homelessness and an intellectual disability. Turbo had a clear relationship to the street. He got his nickname, ‘Turbo’ breakdancing on the streets in the 1980s and 90s. One day I ran into him Brunswick trying to sell his art. The NGV has three new acquisitions of Turbo’s paintings on exhibition; they acquired some of the best Turbo paintings that I’ve seen, there is a genuine sense of humour his dingos smiling and photobombing for the tourists. Dingos were very significant to Turbo for many reasons.

Hip hop and the street are now part of the greater cultural mix that influences urban Indigenous art in Melbourne.


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