Tag Archives: Upfield Line

A paint war in Coburg

War is not pretty. War is ugly. Even a very small territorial war between a Melbourne street artist, 33rd Key and various graffiti writers over a wall gets ugly. The wall is part of some units beside the railway on Reynard Street. It is a large wall that is visible from the road, bike path and the railway line.

It is this view from the trains that make it a valuable asset to the area’s graffiti writers. While these days, few trains are sprayed in Melbourne trains are still connected to graffiti as they are one of the prime ways of viewing graffiti. Consequently walls along railway lines are valuable territory.

There are always new pieces being sprayed along the Upfield bike path. If the developers thought that by having the wall painted by a street artists would be enough to stave off graffiti. They were wrong.

The battle started just after the units had been built in 2017 when Melbourne street artist, 23rd Key was commissioned to paint a mural on the wall. 23rd key’s wall of botanical stencils were bland and boring, even compared to their other work. It might have satisfied the developers but it certainly did not impress the graffiti writers. It was not covered in a clear layer of graffiti resistant paint. And 23rd Key has not responded in paint as a graffiti writer would; they have no further interest in the wall after they have been paid for the original painting.

I don’t know what the motives or casus belli ; I’m not sure if motives are the right thing to examine in a war. Had there been a violation of the graffiti writer’s code of conduct? Had some graff writer had already staked their claim to the wall before 23rd Key sprayed paint?

There was another buff and an attempt to get the wall repainted however, once the war started, all kinds of things happened in the free fire paint zone. Each layer of paint is another skirmish. Someone even took to it with a paint filled fire extinguisher. The graffiti writers have won by their persistent bombing campaign but at what a cost. It is now one of the least attractive walls along the whole train-line.

The wall in early 2020, looking worse from construction barriers for SkyRail.

Legal walls that graff writers paint are rarely subject to tagging or bombing. It is not that it doesn’t happen but when it does it is quickly dealt with. Legal walls, that graffiti writers have permission to paint, are well maintained and even repainted when the colours fade. (See my post about same walls or about how the AWOL crew responded to the vandalism of one of their walls for examples.)

The most interesting aspect of this battle is that part of the wall painted by the naive artist with a brush has been left alone in this spray-can contest. This shows that graff writers do not consider that they have the right to paint all walls along the train-line and that they are painting by a code of conduct.


Movement of Sunflowers

Shopping carts full of sunflowers, portable gardens ready for adoption and placed near train stations on the Upfield line. Field Works II, The Colonies, 2017 is not the work of guerrilla gardeners but the Melbourne-based artist, Ben Morieson working through the RMIT’s Centre for Art, Society and Transformation.


It is different from a guerrilla gardens due to the hopes for public interaction and scope of the piece. A guerrilla gardener hopes to grow something and doesn’t consider  how the public will interact aside from a hope to be appreciated. Whereas Field Works II wants to map this interaction and wants it to be art. In order to properly map the work it must be noted that it is also part of this years Havana Bienale with more sunflowers at train stations in Cuba. (How much of the Havana Bienale comes from the Melbourne? I don’t know but the see a guest post by Greg Giannis for another work by a Melbourne artist that was in the Havana Bienale.)

Sunflower move to track the sun but in their shopping carts these are very mobile sunflowers.

Field Works II hopes to map the movement of the patches of sunflowers through the city. Th only problems is that I don’t think that any of the shopping carts have moved since they were placed by the artist. I didn’t take the cart full of sunflowers because I don’t feel like adopting any flowers and like the location that the cart closes to me is currently in as it decorates an ugly corner next to the book fridge, free library. Apparently this is a common attitude as narrated by the station attendant and writer, Jane Routley in Station Stories.

Maybe, given some time… and maybe they might all wilt and die from lack of water. This unexpected result would highlighting the lack of water and other basic facilities at some of stations along the Upfield line.

Rather than paint landscapes Morieson paints on the landscape with burnouts or flowers. He has worked with sunflowers before, Field Works I, a whole field of sunflowers planted on a vacant block of land near Macauly Station in 2014 and also 2014/15 Get Sunflowered, at eight assorted sites in Moe, Traralgon and Morwell.

There is a Van Gogh reference in sunflowers, Van Gogh painted his two series of sunflowers with his friend Gauguin in mind, thus doubling the art history references.

P.S. 17/1/18 Morieson informs me that 24 of the 70 trolleys have so far been adopted and moved so far.

Train Lines and Graffiti

I was intrigued when I saw a couple of these notes from the train, travelling past them at speed I couldn’t be sure of what I read. I knew that there were probably more and so I rode my bicycle along the Upfield bike track to photograph as many as I could find in Brunswick.


The more of these messages that I saw the less interested I became. Soon it wasn’t as interesting as some of the graffiti and street art that I was seeing.

What is it? Why is it there? It wasn’t graffiti because there was no tag and the stencilled letters had no calligraphic quality. It had no obvious appeal or charm so it wasn’t street art. Therefore it had to be contemporary art, or, maybe post-graffiti, if there is a difference.

Why it was there became obvious when I saw the MoreArt 2016 program. Train Lines is the creation of interdisciplinary artist writer and director, Marcia Ferguson is the artistic director of the Big West Festival. Ferguson intended Train Lines to be a poem based in interviews about the use of the Upfield line as mortuary transport to Fawkner Cemetery. Again you would have to have read the MoreArt’s program to know any of that.

It reminds me that in all its years MoreArts has never come to terms with exhibiting in the same areas as graffiti and street art. Existing in their own conceptual bubbles, each competes for attention without acknowledging the existence of the other. There are so many groups competing to use areas along the Upfield train line, see my blog post from earlier this year.

Ferguson’s Train Lines has the quality of what Alison Young what calls “streetness”: “a quality whose importance derives partly from the fact that the street does not provide passers-by with details of authorship that we take for granted in a gallery.” (Young, Street Art World, 2016 p.35) However, Train Lines is not street art.

Many histories of street art and graffiti ignore that contemporary art also exists outside of the art gallery and often in the street alongside street art and graffiti. From land art to happenings contemporary artists were creating art outside of the gallery.

An early example is Christo blocking a small street in Paris with oil drums, Wall of Oil Barrels – Iron Curtain on June 27, 1962. It was a protest against the Berlin Wall that had been built the year before. If you look carefully at Jean-Dominique Lajoux photograph of Iron Curtain you can see that the street that Christo and Jeanne-Claude used has graffiti on its walls.

“Streetness” or urban locations for contemporary art is it a difference of competing ideas and intentions rather than one of style?

Silo Variations

The old grain silo at Tinning St. in Brunswick has stood abandoned for decades; when did grain cars last travel along the railway tracks? The raw concrete stands bare except for some graffiti at the base of the two towers – graffiti decorates the ugly ruins of the modern world. The silo is a relic from another era of industrial Brunswick, a sore thumb landmark beside the Upfield train line. I don’t know what should be done with it – what do you think?

What should be done with the silo is the subject for the current exhibition at Tinning Street Presents… 20 artists presenting their ideas for a new image for the silo. All of the artists worked on the same photograph of the silos. There were the street artists like Snot Rag and Nick Ilton but I didn’t recognize most of the artist’s names. 20% of the exhibition is good, 20% is crap and the other 60% is ordinary work from the artists. There are the artists who gave up on the project or didn’t have any good ideas like Louise Klerks or Stuart Beckmeyer’s collages. There was some good work by Liam Barton and an over-the-top fantasy Lovecraft-inspired creation by Otis Chamberlain. Lincoln Walker’s design to turn the grey silos into an elephant was appealing. There were also two pads of images of the silos with sharpies to draw your submission, to be made into a book by Aaron Maxwell.

But the opening night was not just about the art; after all 20 average images riffing on an image of a grain silo are not a big attraction. There were musical performance and a bar with gold coin donation for drinks. Above the bar there was a big stretched canvas with the beer sponsor’s logo on it – but they aren’t sponsoring me so I won’t mention their name.

When I arrived Oliver Hunter as 0+0 was vocalizing into a Boss digital echo unit and looping unit. Over 500 people said that they would be attending the event on the Facebook event page. Not that the Tinning Street gallery could fit that many people – they were spilling out into the graffiti decorated laneway. I didn’t hang around for the projections on the silo by Projector bike but I did photograph the bike.


I’ve seen some of the MoreArts exhibition in Moreland. MoreArts appears to be replacing the annual Moreland sculpture show with a more contemporary site-specific series of installations along the Upfield train line from Gowie to Jewell. It has been successful at being noticed and starting conversations. My neighbours have been talking about Carmel O’Conner’s “Traart In Line Travellers” a series of line drawing on clear acetate installed in the Coburg train station waiting room. I have only seen part of the exhibition from the window of the train as the works are installed in wasteland beside the tracks or in the stations and I have been too busy to ride my bicycle along the trail beside the Upfield line to see all of them.

Liz Walker’s field of poles with plastic bags has attracted my attention, blown in the wind the plastic bags look like the ones that get caught in trees. Walker uses the effects of pollution and recycled materials and turned them into an art installation.

The MoreArts 2010 winners, judged by Sam Leach, are: 1st Prize Saffron Lily Gordon for  “Don’t fence me in” and 2nd Prize Danielle Bain and Susie Zarris for “Life Obsolete”. Commendations went to Elizabeth Phillip-Mahney for “Jumper Leads” and Candy Stevens for “Rocks of all ages”.

Art-Vend is an “art gallery in a vending machine dispensing original artworks for $1.20 a pop.” It is a side-project to the MoreArts exhibition. While I was at the Coburg Library I did buy my own miniature artwork from the machine. Not that you could see the work in the machine, so it wasn’t really an art gallery more of a lucky dip. But the packaging and the machine were more attractive than the picture made of squashed plasticine inside.

Art-Vend packaging and art

A less successful exhibition was going on at about the same time along Sydney Road in Brunswick, the annual art in shop windows exhibition that has a different name each year. There is so much to look on Sydney Road that it is kind of pointless having an exhibition in shop windows as well but it is there, with “Window/Frames.” Street art, advertising and shop window displays are all competing with the haphazard quality of a community exhibition. Amongst the better works in “Window/Frames” is Ben Howe, “Everything Sacred Is Stolen By The Rich”. Last year Ben Howe was highly commended in the 2009 Melbourne Stencil Festival’s award exhibition but this is an oil painting. Oil painting is not such a strange move for an artist as both stencils and oil paintings require similar techniques in separating the image into areas of colour. (I also saw some of Howe’s stencils at Brunswick Street Gallery in Fitzroy.) Bliss, one of the few shops to give the artist enough space in the window hosted Aviva Hannah installation with drawings “Dancing on Glass”.

The reasons for the success and failure of these two exhibitions is simple, it is, as any real estate agent will tell you: location, location, location. And although Sydney Road might appear to be a better location than the Upfield line, the variety of locations, the surprise and joy of seeing art on the commute to and from the city makes MoreArt more successful.

Street Art Locations

First a quote from Moreland Mayor Joe Caputo: “We must do something about this (graffiti along the Upfield Line). Find these people and get them to finish it as they are our great artists of the future.”

Mayor Caputo has a vision where the energy and creativity of street artists are promoted and protected. And there is a lot of great street art in Moreland worth promoting and protecting. The best street art locations in Moreland are along the Upfield train line, between Jewell and Moreland. The carpark around Jewell Station and the small streets around Brunswick Station have some excellent work, especially the work of Henry St. Some of these are commissioned work by the house owners and factories.

My favourite street art locations in Melbourne’s CBD are:

1. Hosier Lane, along with Rutledge Lane, its side alley. It is the famous street art location and still the best street art location in the city. Still keeping it real, even council approval and professional photographers using it for a location. There is a lot of work filling this laneway, mostly aerosol and stencils. It also has the advantage of City Lights project and Until Never gallery in Rutledge Lane.

2. Centre Place, in a central location with a lot of variety but often looks a mess. There is a very high turn over of art in this location.

3. Union Lane, a large colourful legal collaboration of professional piecer in a central location, perfect to show tourists, children or your grandmother.

4. Caledonian Lane, a variety of scattered pieces; including high up, some faces by MIC.

5. Little LaTrobe Street, stencils and other aerosol pieces

6. Pesgrave Place (off Howey Place) frames, stickers and tags. This is also the location of 20×30, a hole in the wall gallery, outside of Pushka’s.

7. Lush Lane, stickers and a few stencils and other pieces

8. Corporation Lane, a few scattered pieces

9. Higson Lane, paste-ups and few scattered pieces

10. I can’t decide; there are other locations like Donaldson Lane, the unnamed alley off McKillop St., the unused elevator door in the Degraves St. subway with its stickers and the carpark off Anthony St.

I decided to write this entry because of all the tourists or high school art teachers trying to plan an excursion around the CBD’s street art. If any high school teachers do use this entry could you send me your lesson plan? To help me further understand the wider picture of street art and art education. Maybe, you could share it with everyone (I’ve always wanted to say that to a teacher) and post it in the comments.

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