Category Archives: Street Art

Guerrilla Geography

“Where the streets have no name.” U2

Zombie Dance Lane sign

You won’t fine Blender Lane, Chook Alley or Zombie Dance Lane on any official map of Melbourne but all these locations do have handmade street signs attached to a neighbouring wall.

DSC00072

I can give you directions: Chook Alley is off Ilham Lane in Brunswick. Ilham Lane was only named in the last decade by the Moreland City Council, after John Ilham, the founder of Crazy John’s, the mobile phone dealers.

There are practical reasons for  naming every little alleyway in the city, especially in providing accurate directions in emergencies, so I hope that someday these pieces of guerrilla geography will become official.

These acts of guerrilla geography (a term to go with ‘guerrilla gardening’) are all associated with Melbourne’s street art (‘guerrilla public art’). Blender Lane is named after the next door Blender Studios that also runs street art tours and workshops. Both Blender Lane and Zombie Dance Lane have a large amount of street art and graffiti and Chook Alley comes off Ilham Lane which has some street art, along with an art gallery and  studios.

In the 1950s the Situationalists advocated the renaming and reimagining of buildings. Can you imagine the front of the NGV as the entrance to a train station? If you can’t see the B-grade movie I, Frankenstein. Location scouts for movies are a crypto-Situationalists but other people really do reinventing buildings, turning a factory gatehouse into a coffeeshop, warehouses into apartments.

In 1955 in his “Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography” Guy Ernest Debord wrote: “The production of psychogeographic maps, or even the introduction of alterations such as more or less arbitrarily transposing maps of two different regions, can contribute to clarifying certain wanderings that express not subordination to randomness but complete insubordination to habitual influences (influences generally categorised as tourism that popular drug as repugnant as sports or buying on credit). A friend recently told me that he had just wandered through the Harz region of Germany while blindly following the directions of a map of London This sort of game is obviously only a mediocre beginning in comparison to the complete construction of architecture and urbanism that will someday be within the power of everyone.”

DSC00170


Street Art Sculptures in the Whitechapel Area

I went on a pay what you feel like walking tour of graffiti and street in the Whitechapel area of London. (Cheers Raw.) Forgive me for indulging in my special interest area of street art sculptures and guerrilla installations rather than giving a general report on the walking tour.

D*face, Banksy and others in Whitechapel

D*face, Banksy and others in Whitechapel

It was good to see other street art sculptures outside of Melbourne, not to make a comparison as I couldn’t do that in a few hours in one part of London, but to see what other artists are doing. Although, it was not all unfamiliar there were, of course, Invader’s ubiquitous mosaics (and a I spotted a few pieces, tags, paste-ups, stickers and even a whole building by some familiar Melbourne artists but that’s another story).

Jonesy

Jonesy

It was my wife that first spotted a small Jonesy, a whimsical bronze sculpture on top of a pole. Inspiring City has two articles about Jonesy. “Jonesy street art in London, the artist who is our little secret” and “Studio interview with Jonesy, the environmental artist who places bronze sculptures around the city.” Bronze sculptures can be made in multiples, but it is hard to see how an artist working in bronze can be called an environmentalist.

Dr Cream

Dr Cream

I saw lots of Dr Cream’s rolling fool on the walls. A cast plastic animated series of a jester rolling in a snail shell, not a surprising piece from someone, like Dr Cream who has worked for most of his life in animation. Read a long interview with Dr Cream by Dutch Girl in London.

Gregos

Gregos

Amongst the mosaics, masks and heads on the walls of Brick Lane there are the painted faces of Gregos, a French artist who casts his own face.

Community Garden Sculpture

Our tour guide took us to a community garden that included some large garden sculptures made of recycled materials. It is difficult for a sculptor to work on a large scale and these community gardens provide this opportunity.

D*face and Banksy were also working on the large scale with these two pieces using cars. The Banksy is the old pink car that is now under plexiglass; I was told that once contained a stencil skeleton in the driver’s window. Banksy could be seen as a street installation artist, especially after his work in NYC and Dismaland. Banksy pieces often uses the found location for most of physical part of his installation, rectifying the readymade location (alá Duchamp) with a stencil. Good placement of a stencil makes all the difference.

Brick Lane


Life in the Fast Lane

“Graffiti writers don’t read. They just look at pictures.” The author told me when he dropped his book off. Film maker, musician, graft writer and now author. I first encountered “S.D. Rokkatansky” (SDR) five years ago watching his Graff Hunter videos online. At the time he was only living a few blocks away and I’m happy to call him a friend. This is his first novel but I’m not going to pull my punches with this review.

Spud Rokk Life in the Fast Lane

Road to Redemption – Life in the Fast Lane is a youth crime novel set in Melbourne in the mid 1990s. The worst thing about this novel is the title that sounds like a Christian story of hope when it isn’t and there are so many other books called Road to Redemption. I really hate the title. But that is judging the book by its cover and so is bitching about the appearance of poor copyediting and clunky book design.

Still on the subject of the book’s cover what is the parental advisory logo doing on the cover? It not a legal requirement, maybe it is a marketing code to attract the teenage readers, the very kind of readers who should read this book.

So why did this novel need to be written at all? Not just because some teenagers would buy it. Firstly, there aren’t enough low level crime novels, people are always writing about murders and major crimes as if those crimes happen everyday. Shoplifting, tagging, selling weed, stealing cars, breaking and entering happen everyday and these are the crimes that the central characters are committing. There aren’t enough novels written about doing graffiti (why I paid my money for the Pozible campaign). There aren’t enough novels about living in Melbourne’s outer suburbs and the war on teenagers has been a continuing feature of society for decades.

Graffiti writers are prone to boasts and exaggerations about their deeds but the story didn’t strike me as false (or redemptive). The story was more Ancient Greek with nemesis punching the protagonist Tommy hard in the solar plexus for his over-reaching hubris.

SDR was in that scene in the 1990s doing graffiti and probably other shit so there are good details about the formulas for ink markers, the popular brand clothes, the brands of perfume and dog food but I wanted more descriptions.

I also wanted more descriptions of the characters because it was hard to keep the relationships between all the characters in mind, they needed more of a backstory or an explanation and not expect the reader to work so hard. Tommy is a bit too much, it was hard to keep him in focus with his diverse activities: rapping, graffiti, cars…

Too often characters have their “mouth agape” as if they are all a bunch of slack jawed yokels. SDR is nowhere near as good a writer as Irvine Welsh and SDR’s novel is written in the third person rather than Welsh’s superb first person stream of consciousness. But it did remind me of Welsh’s drugsploitation novels, the narrative alternating between the group of young men and young women. The young women are a lot more serious than the young men. The seriousness of the young women is contrasted to the young men who regard life a series of drinks, drugs and other escapades.

S.D. Rokkatansky Road to Redemption – Life in the Fast Lane (Carry Case Publishing, 2015, Australia) soft cover, 286 pages.


Kranky

I have to write about this new and very prolific street artist in Melbourne because they specialise in street art sculpture. Kranky, a crank version of Banksy?

Kranky, Rats

Kranky, Rats

Mixing toys, plastic rats, rat traps, lego men, fake turds, fake CCTV camera; Kanky’s small assemblages are often jokes with references to art and graffiti. Simple, basic, crude but effective visual jokes. It seems to me that Kranky is often making a joke about Banksy’s style, it is so easy, just put a Barbie doll’s head in a rat’s mouth.

Kranky's Selfie Three Businessmen (photo courtesy of Kranky, taken on his cellphone.)

Kranky’s Selfie Three Businessmen (photo courtesy of Kranky, taken on his cellphone.)

I knew that I had to write about Kranky and this was reinforced when I saw StreetsmART’s photo of Kranky’s alteration to The Three Business Men… in early September. The non-destructive alteration of an existing public sculpture is a right of passage for a street artist working in three dimensions from Banksy’s wheel clamp on Bodacia’s chariot to CDH’s Atlas Intervention.

This iconic Melbourne sculpture by Paul Quinn and Alison Weaver, The Three Business Men who brought their own lunch; Batman, Swanston and Hoddle is one of the most photographed sculptures in Melbourne. People are always taking photographs posing with these metal men. Kranky attached lanyards with selfie photos on iPhones on each of the corresponding sculpture’s face. Kranky explained that “it was a privilege, to stand back and observe, the tourists/city visitors/CBD workers, taking a selfie with the sculptures and their selfie. Which was the exact interactive response that I intended.”

Kranky’s work is amongst the most ephemeral of street art sculptures. His works are quickly stolen and only the square bases, with the simple signature mark in san serif capital letters, remain behind. The theft of these pieces shows that someone really wants them (even though they destroy it for others and loose the signature in the process) and Kranky just produces more, individual pieces and multiples. Kranky’s highly ephemeral assemblages stands in contrast to the Junky Projects and casts objects by Will Coles that are covered with many layers of aerosol paint after surviving on the street for years.

Kranky, Barbie doll

Kranky, Barbie doll

Kranky, Catch the Graffiti Police

Kranky, Catch the Graffiti Police

Kranky, Dollar skull

Kranky, Dollar skull

Kranky, Miss You Frida

Kranky, Miss You Frida


Street Art Against Money

“I wonder why people think that it is ok to sell your paintings from a gallery but as soon as someone gets a public commission its called selling out… I think it is kool that people can make a living off their art… artists need to help each other support each other… at the moment its like we are all pitted against each other… it should not be like that” – Adrian Doyle, artist (Facebook post)

Kranksy, Melbourne

Kranky, Melbourne

From time to time we all become concerned about money and when an artist is concerns about money it can take them in some strange directions. This gets even more warped when street artists get involved. I’m not surprised that street artists feeling worried about money as most are working for free and then suddenly finding themselves in a hot market. (see my post Hot Market Dealers).

Often responses of this anti-capitalist influence artists does not appears much different to the scene that the writer and social commentator, Tom Wolf archly describes:

“Now it was in the late 1960s, and the New Left was in high gear, and artists and theorists began to hail Earth Art and like as a blow against ‘the Uptown Museum-Gallery Complex,’ after the ‘military-industrial complex’ out in the world beyond. If the capitalists, the paternalists of the art world, can’t get their precious art objects into their drawing rooms or even into the bigger museums, they’ve had it. A few defiant notes like this, plus the signing of a few dozen manifestos against war and injustice – that was about as far as New York artists went into Left politics in the 1960s.” (Tom Wolfe, The Painted Word, Bantam Books, 1976, p.102)

Back to worrying about money and that feeling of being cheated and worrying about the effect of money on art. Are dodgy practices, fraud, forgery and other corruption in the art world? Yes, there is. Deanna Brown reports that “Art Fraud in Australia is relatively minor compared to that of international art markets; however it is believed to account for at least 10 percent of the Australian art market.”

Yes, but that is spare change compared to the corruption of the politicians in NSW or the corruption in sport. I am not going to start worrying about artists making money from their art until some artists regularly make more money than most company CEOs.

Following the money like watching the auction prices instead of the art. It follows the popular obsession with the money trail (and the monied) is totally out of perspective and distorts or ignores the other aspects of the institutions of the art world such as those highlighted by the Guerrilla Girls (for other examples see my post on National Galleries & Nationalism).

2014 was a bad year for this obsession amongst street artists with CDH’s torn-up cheque and Art vs Reality. I am very glad that both CDH and Peter Drew have found something better to do with their time this year. Peter Drew has been much more successful with his “Real Australian’s Say Welcome” meme.


Fragments from the history of Melbourne’s graffiti

Graffiti, fly-pasting and stencil advertising have been around in Melbourne for a long time, at first it was mostly advertising. The traditions and media of Melbourne’s street art were created by the advertising industry, only the product changed, from commercial to self-promotion or art.

DSC09005

It was also the advertising industry that brought the law down on these techniques as Andrew Brown-May in his book, Melbourne Street Life (Australian Scholarly, 1998, Kew). “In 1920 some men who had stencilled the footprints of a dog in whitewash on the footpath from Flinders Street to the Majestic Theatre could not be prosecuted under clause 32 by By-Law No.134, as no obstruction or annoyance could be proven. This lead to the creation of a new By-Law No. 156 ‘for regulating or prohibiting the writing, painting, printing, stencilling, placing or affixing of any letter, figure, device, poster, sign or advertisement upon any footpath, street, or road within the said City, or upon any building, fence, or other property vested in the Municipality of the City of Melbourne.'” (p.50)

Later, after graffiti became illegal, there was protest graffiti and tagging in Melbourne. This was painted with a brush and can of paint or written in ink and sometimes documented by Rennie Ellis in three paperback books of photographs of graffiti: Australian Graffiti (1971), Australian Graffiti Revisited (1979) and The All New Australian Graffiti (1985). In 1971 as part of Anti-Vietnam War protests the word “PEACE!” was painted in large white letters on the pillars of the north portico the Shrine. Tagging and slogan writers had no limits, there was graffiti on Vault in the City Square and even more when it was moved to Batman Park. For more on this phase see my earlier post Remembering Australian Graffiti History.

At the start of 1980s aerosol hip-hop style graffiti started in Melbourne. An early article to explore Melbourne’s graffiti culture in depth was Chris Everett, “Adrenalin” (Youth Issues Forum, Dec 1988 – Jan 1989). “As a result of the pervasiveness of rap, spray can art ‘crews’ sprang up in a wide range of often contrasting areas around Melbourne. These areas are possibly best delineated by the railway lines. In 1984 crews were most active along the Belgrave, Frankston and Hurstbridge lines. These were their home lines and the artists tended to work within these boundaries. Home suburbs included West Heidelberg, Macleod, Burnley, Elsternwick and Mentone. By 1985 crews were leaving their mark on most other lines though some, such as the Gowrie line have remained relatively untouched. Lines which have produced the most crews comprise all those from Epping to Frankston inclusive.”

jamit 1994.jpg.opt588x290o0,0s588x290

In the article Everett points out some of the standard elements of graffiti youth culture, especially the conflict between the graffiti artists and the rail transport authorities, laying the blame this on the heavy hand of the transport authorities. Aside from the heavy hand of transport authorities and police Melbourne was receptive to the new graffiti style. There was a graffiti wall in the original City Square that along with Central Station Record’s shop creating a hub for graffiti writers. Everett mentions exhibitions of graffiti at the National Gallery of Victoria and the City Gallery but doesn’t give any details about either of these (I’m guessing that the NGV exhibition might have been Keith Haring painting the water wall window in 1984).

There was no mention in Everett’s article of the anti-American attitude in Australia towards aerosol graffiti that was seen as an imported cultural product along with the rest of the elements of hip hop. But Everett does make one interesting cultural point about graffiti writers in Australia. “Their continued confidence and desire to have their bold art ‘on display’, whether on walls or in a gallery , needs to be nurtured in a country notorious for its cultural cringe and tall poppy syndrome.”


Graffiti Characters

We are talking old school characters, the supporter of the heraldic calligraphy. Graffiti artists draw on many sources from comic books, tattoos art and other illustrators. The reverse is also true and many artists working on the street create comic books, tattoos and other legitimate/paid artwork. The influence of comics and cartoons on traditional hip-hop aerosol art is clear with characters. Although the influences of other sci-fi or fantasy illustration artists cannot be ignored with hyperrealism and overdone shine marks.

Unknown, classic characters, Brunswick 2012

Unknown, classic characters, Brunswick 2012

Unknown, James Brown, Brunswick, 2011

Unknown, James Brown, Brunswick, 2011

Painting characters can be showing off the graffiti writer’s artistic chops or the work of a writer who specialises in characters.

Debs, Rankins Lane 2009

Debs, Rankins Lane 2009

Some graffiti writers, like Dabs and Myla, create their own characters.

Dabs and Mylar, Collingwood, 2010

Dabs and Mylar, Collingwood, 2010

Unknown, Bootsey Collins, Brunswick, 2013

Unknown, Bootsey Collins, Brunswick, 2013

Unknown, Elvira, Brunswick

Unknown, Elvira, Brunswick, 2013

Aside from comic book, other graffiti characters also show other pop culture influences from James Brown to Elvira. The art of movie and other billboard painting looked like it was about to disappear as printing technology improved and became cheaper. In Melbourne Adnate of the AWOL crew and Rone of the Everfresh crew have resurrected the billboard-sized portrait.

Rone in Collins Street, 2014

Rone in Collins Street, 2014

However, I must say that the idea of character design seems limited to me because a character without a world and story is nothing but image. An isolated character often appears meaningless, lost and stationary even if they are frenetic.

Unknown, Collingwood, 2009

Unknown, Collingwood, 2009

Sofles, Fitzroy, 2010

Sofles, Fitzroy, 2010

Once again, if I have failed to attribute a work or I have misattributed a work, please contact me and I will make a correction.

Unknown, Ilham Lane, 2011

Unknown, Ilham Lane, 2011

Unknown, character, Collingwood, 2008

Unknown, character, Collingwood, 2008


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,404 other followers

%d bloggers like this: