Category Archives: Street Art

Presgrave Place Renaissance

Look up and a couple parachuting rats are descending on Presgrave Place in Melbourne. Three-dimensional version of Banksy’s stencil but it is not the work of the famous British street artist but a prolific Melbourne street artist known as Kranky who makes art from plastic rats and dolls.

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Look down and the dolls arms poking out from the grating, that remind me of the children currently held in indefinite detention of the Australian government, is also the work of Kranky. (Wait a minute one of those hands has a cigarette butt.)

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Look at the wall and there is more work by Kranky and other street artists.

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There has been street art in Presgrave Place for quiet some time; if my memory still serves me there were frames on its wall when it was shown in Marcus Westbury’s 2007 series Not Quite Art. However, there never was that much art in Presgrave Place. Just that one wall really, around the corner there is the dead end and the rubbish bins and back doors of businesses. Without the graffiti writers it never had the same turn over of work. The frames, some stickers, a paste-up by Happy and the couple of Junky Projects sat on its walls for years.

The paste-up by Happy and the Junky Projects are still there but they have a lot more company, it is now intense. Last year Kranky started to crank out assemblages in the place, along with everywhere in Melbourne, but this new energy was what was needed to revitalise the place. Kranky was followed by Mikonik who continued the tradition of using cheap picture frames sourced in opportunity shops. Sunfigo and Luv[sic] followed with this theme framing their work; Luv[sic] regularly uses frames but this is new for Sunfigo. Tinky added toy soldiers attacking the Mona Lisa and other pieces using plastic figures. The frames themselves refer to art.

Distinguishing between street art and graffiti is not always easy but in Presgrave Place the distinction is clear. Street art is made of wide variety of media, not just aerosol paint. It is generally denser, there is a greater quantity of both art and artists. The artists have made more use of specific aspects of the site, the wall is often not just a support for the art work but part of it. The subject matter is different too; street art refers to art and popular culture. The calligraphy and letter form of graffiti are not important.

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Presgrave Place is a quiet place in the middle of Melbourne that is currently having its own little street art Renaissance.


Recent Walls

Everything in the city is competing to be the spectacle and all that Situationalist shit.

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Lush reading my mind in Hosier Lane

Lush is Melbourne’s piss take king, taking the piss out of street art and graffiti. Lush appears to have made Hosier Lane his own arena for his spray up comedy, ever since he staged his “secret show” there last year. Lush is full of extra confidence because he was the Melbourne street artist chosen by Banksy to exhibit at Dismaland. This is not surprising given that both Lush and Banksy produce easy to read work with a similar sense of humour.

In the visually dense jungle of the city there is an ecology of images. Different styles of street art compete for attention in the streets as they also compete for likes online. La Lune cuts paper and does paste-ups, filling a gap in the aesthetics of the street left by Miso and Suki.

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La Lune, Moreland

Looking at my recent photos I ask myself if there currently a return of the stencils or do I have a selection bias? But it is not just me, a reader sent me a photo of a whole wall of stencils something that I hadn’t seen in six or seven years. Even a new Jamit stencil appearing recently on the street; Jamit claims to the first artist on Melbourne’s streets to have used stencils.

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More recent stencil artists include Luv[Sic] and Mikonik, who are doing some great multi-coloured stencils. Mikonik’s images are all sprayed on jigsaw puzzles.

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Luv[sic]

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Mikonik

There are also plenty of stencils that work just because of their aphorism, the current pop culture references or just because they have the minimalist simplicity of Sunfigo’s stencils.

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Sunfigo


Graffiti and Street Art by Anna Wacławek

All art history students would be familiar with the Thames & Hudson World of Art series. These paperback books with their black spines are authoritative accounts of various art movements, styles and histories. When Thames & Hudson launched its World of Art series in 1958 it aimed to produce low cost, high quality art books. Now with over 300 titles in the series ranging from Aboriginal Art to Internet Art it is not surprising that there is Anna Wacławek Graffiti and Street Art (Thames & Hudson, 2011, London).

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In the book’s introduction Wacławek notes that: “a major study of graffiti and street art grounded in visual art analysis has yet to be published,” and that she intends this book to fill that gap. Most of the words about graffiti and street art have being written in sociology or criminology rather than from the discipline of visual arts. The lack of a serious book on the art of graffiti and street art is surprising given that in 1984 Thames and Hudson published the some of the first documentation of graffiti art, Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant’s Subway Art. But Subway Art, like most of the earlier books on graffiti, is a collection of photographs.

Graffiti and Street Art certainly fills that gap. After reading so many short articles and interviews with artists it was relief to read in an organised and systematic order in one book rather than gleaming the same information from diverse sources. Wacławek’s precise language can pack many ideas into a single sentence. The many photographs in the book are used as examples and each one is referred to in the text.

The first question about such a book is if graffiti writers do not consider their work art then what is point of an art book is actually an irrelevant question. Apart from some contemporary English speaking artists the same can be said about almost everyone currently called an artist. But trivial categorisation disputes aside the art of graffiti needs to be included in this book. Describing the structure of graffiti writing and the genealogy of graffiti is necessary, at the very least to distinguish it from street art.

Later the question, ‘is graffiti art?’, allows Wacławek to distinguish art history from visual culture studies. Distinguish between art history and visual culture history removes the aura of excellence around in art history and allows the examination of  popular images. This is an important distinctions not just for graffiti and street art but for any examination of popular images.

The popularity of graffiti and street art is not dismissed but examined. It is looked at in the collaboration of the public in the creation of street art. When Wacławek examines the dissemination of street art in photographs and online she raises the question: where do you see the most street art and graffiti on the streets or online?

Examining graffiti and street art from the perspective of art history is important that issues of style, subject and signature key to both art history and graffiti. Wacławek gives context to Haring and Basquiat as a sidetrack in the history of graffiti. There are also occasionally references to contemporary artists, like Andy Goldsmith, in perspective with street art

Sometimes I felt that Wacławek was being too subtle with both her arguments and the examples that accompanied them rather than doing something more obvious. Vexta and Nick Walker are the examples in the section titled “Identity Politics”. However, if the average reader can think of the more obvious arguments and examples is it necessary to writing them?

At the University of Melbourne has CCDP20001 Street Art can now be studied as part of the breadth subjects for undergraduates studying Science, Music, Commerce, Biomedicine and Arts. I am surprised that this book is not one of the prescribed texts.

The prescribed texts for the subject are:

Cubrilo, Duro et al (2010), King’s Way: The Beginnings of Australian Graffiti – Melbourne 1983-1993 (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press)

Schacter, Rafael (ed.) (2013) The World Atlas of Graffiti and Street Art (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press)

Alison Young’s Street Art, Public City: Law, Crime and the Urban Imagination.

Anna Wacławek Graffiti and Street Art is a book that is needed by the many high school students and university students who are and will be studying graffiti and street art.

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December 2015

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Exit 2015, Friday 11th December, Brunswick Arts

On Friday night across Melbourne many galleries and studios were holding their end of year celebrations. But it wasn’t just the end of another year at Brunswick Arts (aka Brunswick Art Space, Brunswick Art Gallery), it is closing permanently. Eleven years ago Joel Gailer established the gallery in a building that featured an old house at one end and a factory space that opened onto laneway at the other end. On Friday there was a final one night only exhibition using the whole now empty building.

I like the tradition of the end of the calendar year but every year I write these terrible end of year blog posts. Barely coherent rambling pieces of writing but what do I expect? As if I could sum up a year in a few hundred words.

Normally in these end of year posts I write that I won’t be posting anything for another month but the Andy Warhol – Ai Weiwei has just opened at the NGV and Julian Rosefeldt’s brand-new thirteen-channel work Manifesto has just opened at ACMI. I anticipate that I will slow down my rate of writing but you never know what will happen. I hope I will take a break, part of being a self-employed professional means taking holidays, otherwise you will burn yourself out. (There is also professional development, or you will decay over time.)

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Personally 2015 was a great year, a real point of self actualisation as my first book, Sculptures of Melbourne was published. I had two book launches, conducted several walking tours of Melbourne’s public sculptures (one of these was part of Melbourne’s Writers Festival) and a book talk at Brunswick Public Library. So support a local publisher, your local bookshop and buy my book.

Consequently I am being invited to visit a lot more sculptors at foundries or in their studio, however there has rarely been a story in it. In other public art new this year Mr Poetry on Fitzroy Street had his leg broken by a truck, nobody celebrated the 150th anniversary of the Burke and Wills Monument and Alex Goad’s Tethya was installed on the corner of Fitzroy and Jackson streets in St. Kilda.

This year I missed covering the story of Makatron’s Kama Sutra Burger at Land of Sunshine. Censorship, street art and Brunswick, it had all the elements of one of my blog posts, but I can’t write about everything. I also missed the story of the guerrilla exhibition about tagging in the Alexandra Avenue underpass under St. Kilda Road; I finally saw it this week and it had been systematically tagged.

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Grit, an exhibition of tagging, Melbourne

Next year I will be celebrating my 1000th blog post (this is number 992) with a psychogeographical walk in Brunswick on Sunday the 31st January. In March I will also be exhibiting a few of my paintings for the first time in many years. Doubtless I will also be doing a few tours of public sculpture too. (See my events page for more details).

Seasonal greetings and thanks for reading this terrible end of year post.

Live Christmas Decoration 2


Vexta’s Wildness

Veteran Melbourne street artist Vexta is now based in Brooklyn, New York, but is currently back where she started her street art career, painting a police station wall and exhibiting at Mars Gallery in Windsor.

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Earlier this week The Age reported on Vexta painting a wall on the St Kilda police station. The level of contradictions in this act, part of the City of Port Phillip program to reduce graffiti, would be mind boggling if I wasn’t, at least partially, immersed in Melbourne’s graffiti and street art scene. So for me it is just more of the spectacle and the situation of street art. For Vexta it was just another wall.

Street artists exhibiting in a gallery is a different challenge to the street. Basically it is an issue of managing expectations; in the street we are surprised by street art because we didn’t expect any whereas we do expect art in an art gallery. Off the street the same images can appear limited, repetitious, or otherwise lose their charm. Despite this many of Melbourne’s commercial galleries have one or two street artists in their stable.

Fortunately Vexta for her exhibition, The Wildness Beneath, at Mars Gallery has more than figures painted with mix of a brushes and spray cans in her psychedelic palette of black and florescent colours. The paintings on canvas are hung as diamonds, their corners emphasising the round form within. On one wall they are framed with florescent builder’s twine creating geometric patterns around them.

The women in Vexta’s paintings stare out at the viewer. Are they powerful witches with animal familiars or are they nymphs and victims, like Leda and the swan?

Silk screen images of cicadas feature on several of the paintings reminding me of the cryptic nature of cicadas. The long underground life of 13 or 17 years of cicadas reminded me of the development of an artist.  Vexta must have done that many years, so perhaps it is time for her to emerge from the underground.

Vexta explained that the exhibition was getting back to her roots in collage. All of the images started as collages before being translated into paint, even the painting the cut-out words and phrases.

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Vexta’s painted copies of collaged words have a strong sense of poetics of the nocturnal urban world of street art missions or psychedelic trips. Not everything worked the decorated skulls hanging from the ceiling looked hackneyed and odd (skulls are so common in art and especially street art, see my post Melbourne Skull).


Hosier Lane in the News

Yesterday I made a brief appearance on the Channel 7 news after Lord Mayor Robert Doyle stirred up the media. It has been a while since multiple news crews were in Hosier Lane and it is a good opportunity to draw attention to one of Melbourne’s attractions. Both Channel 7 and Channel 10 sent crews to cover the story.

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Lush in Hosier Lane

Lord Mayor Doyle was playing a similar game to Lush in stirring people up. Lush has been doing a bit of painting in Hosier Lane, poking fun at the scene and himself. Both Doyle and Lush want a reaction and don’t care if it is positive or negative or even if people point out that they are just trying to get a reaction.

Adrian Doyle was keen to promote Blender Lane over Hosier Lane because he manages Blender studio and the Dark Horse Experiment gallery right next door.

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Is it all over for street art? I doubt it; I’ve heard that too many times to even be able to write that seriously. I remember Ghostpatrol saying that 2003 was the high point of Melbourne’s street art that was back in 2008 at a panel discussion at Famous When Dead. I’ve written about the end of street art before, considering the political interests involved in declaring Surrealism over.

The long tail is still play out but with population growth this might be sooner than expected. Earlier in the year the removal of love-locks from the Southgate bridges in Melbourne and the Pont de l’Archeveche Paris made the news.  I first noticed a few love-locks when travelling in Europe in 2007 and eight years later their weight was becoming a concern to engineers.

The personal city of romantic strolls by the river is shared with so many other people with similar stories. There are now millions and billions of people and it is hard to get your head around those kind of numbers. The unimaginable mass of the population is such that a trend can become a structural engineering problem in crowd crushes and love locks. If it weren’t for the millions of people following in the footsteps of a few drunken Englishmen to see ancient Rome or Greece then it wouldn’t be a problem if the odd traveller scratched a name on the ancient stone ruins.

Yesterday morning Hosier Lane was not looking its best; there were a couple of fresh pieces and Lush’s piss takes. But writing about how Hosier Lane looking is like commenting on Melbourne’s weather, it is always changing.

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GT Instagram spray can, Hosier Lane


David Russell’s Street Photography

On Friday 13th of November at Blender Studio there was 32K, a one night only exhibition of David Russell’s photography.

David Russell's photograph

Russell’s first exhibition took his photography beyond simply documenting street art and graffiti to making his own art. Adopting the attitude of graffiti writers to the urban environment; the trains, getting up high and exploring the urban environment. Only Russell is using a camera rather than a spray can and painting with light and darkness. The photographs have the same chromatic intensity of aerosol paint. Not all of photographs had graffiti in it, three photographs at Flinders Street Station did not have even a sticker or tag in them but still had that attitude.

The exhibition brought out many people notable in Melbourne’s street art scene to support Russell. One wall of Blender Studio was covered with a wallpaper print produced by GT Sewell’s new business. Dean Sunshine supplied Mexican beers for the event. For although this was Russell’s first photography exhibition he is already highly respected in the scene.

Andrew King and David Russell

Andrew King and David Russell

Years ago when Facter first mentioned David Russell he said something like: “He looks like a cop; he isn’t, I’ve checked him out.” Graffiti writers and street artists have every reason to be suspicious of this short haired man with a big camera who was always hanging around watching them paint. Was he an undercover cop gathering evidence?

There are many photographer capturing the Melbourne’s street art and graffiti scene. I’ve done a bit of that myself and this is how it started for David Russell. However Russell was not just another photographer snapping shots of Melbourne’s walls. He was devoted to it, he was always there with his camera for as long as necessary. He was there for days in 2014 photographing Adnate paint his mural in Hosier Lane. This dedication led to Russell doing a long running series of monthly posting on Invurt blog; Through the Lens. His knowledge of the artists and scene lead to him to become more involved with various projects and doing street art tours.


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