Category Archives: Street Art

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.


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.”

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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

Walking and Thinking about Sculpture

Taking advantage of the winter sunshine on Friday I walked around Melbourne thinking about sculpture. I have to plan my sculpture tour for Melbourne’s Writers Week walking around Melbourne looking at sculptures. I am amazed that I am in Melbourne’s Writers Week with my first book, Sculptures of Melbourne.

Kranky, Miss You Frida

Kranky, Miss You Frida

I am doing a few things to promote my book – I’m writing this blog post and pointing out my up coming events, like Melbourne’s Sculpture Walking Tour on Sunday 23rd August and my talk at Brunswick Public Library on Thursday 10th September. For more details see my events page.

I’m glad that I’ve scouted out the walk as there was test drilling along Swanston Walk for the new underground rail line going on. There was temporary fencing around Akio Makigawa’s Time and Tide. The fencing and drilling rig might be gone by the time of the walk but I probably won’t take the tour that far up Swanston Walk.

Walking up Hosier Lane I noticed that there are more street art sculptures. Lots of new mixed media assemblages by Kranky, including a spectacular painted skull and a lot of rats. From Blek to Banksy rats are a traditional theme for street art.

Kranky, Rats

Kranky, Rats

After my walk around the city I noticed that there was a very small retrospective exhibition of Lenton Parr’s sculptures in the foyer of the NGV Australia. Lenton Parr (1924-2003) was born in Coburg and initially studied engineering. Another engineer – I keep writing about  engineers – see my recent post on Skunk Control; several of Melbourne sculptors started studying engineering (Lenton Parr, Clement Meadmore and Anthony Pryor). Parr was a member of the Centre Five, Melbourne’s modern sculpture group but what surprised me about Parr’s modern steel sculptures was the number of titles with classical references: Perseus, Andromeda, Orion… It seemed that even in the early 1980s the classical names still retained an artist aura. Now, classical references, even in the titles of sculptures, are very rare.

Lenton Parr, Orion

Lenton Parr, Orion

Duckboard Place Paste-Ups

Duckboard Place and its partner in the crescent, AC/DC Lane, are far less famous than the nearby Hosier Lane. Along with the usual aerosol art walls, stencil graffiti and guerilla installations, Duckboard Place has work by many notable paste-ups artists like Barek, Baby Guerrilla, Calm, Minou, Phoenix, Swoon and the enigmatic, Sunfigo. There is also this fine mosaic of beer bottle caps pasted up on a wall.

Bottle cap mosaic

Duckboard Place was named after Duckboard House on the corner of the lane. It was built in the interwar period and served as a World War II entertainment venue for the troops, later a branch of the Melbourne RSL and now has a number of fine restaurants.

Cherry Bar lighting bolt

The Cherry Bar in AC/DC Lane now has its own lighting bolt wall of fame for all people and bands that helped them raise money for soundproofing; it was a particularly successful crowdsourcing campaign. The soundproofing was required by all the recent development of apartment building in the area, Melbourne is, according to the latest Bureau of Statistics, the fastest growing city in Australia adding an extra 95,600 inhabitants in the year to December.

Phoenix, Milk Crate

Whereas Phoenix’s paste-ups have a clear message and is well known in the street art community, I’ve been following his posts on Facebook about the construction of his milk crate, Sunfigo remains an enigma. I’d like to know more about Sunfigo, I guess that other people do too because of the number of searches for his name on my blog. I once received an email from Sunfigo but communications ended there. I hesitate to guess anything about Sunfigo and the email gave nothing away.

Sunfigo Banksy tribute

I should just look to Sunfigo’s art, the selection of images, the limited palette of colours, the use of various other media, and try to make some conclusions from that? The geometric outline illustrations in tape or plastic ribbon strung through a chain link fence are a novel way of drawing. Are those lions and other images Rastafarian references? Or is Sunfigo claiming to be the king with the lion, putting a lion sign up in Hosier Lane above the door way to the now defunct Until Never gallery? There is not much to go on, unlike Phoenix, there hasn’t been much of a message in the work. And it is odd that Sunfigo started big with his Little Diver tribute and various works in diverse media and has become more specialised with smaller works. I was beginning to wonder if it was worth writing about Sunfigo and all these little images until I saw Sunfigo’s parody film poster (not in Duckboard Place).

Sunfigo, False Idols

Same Walls

Moreland Station


Fear of a Graff Planet - Moreland

Moreland Station Wall

The end wall of the terrace house opposite Moreland Station has been painted for as long as I can remember. It was one of the earliest walls in Coburg painted by OG23 and Askem. It was repainted in 2012  and then again this year. Thanks Arty Graffarti for the attributions.

Brunswick Station

Adnate & Slicer Brunsick Station

AWOL Brunswick Station

There are a couple of walls here that have been painted multiple times. Adnate and Slicer “Nothing Lasts Forever” in 2012 and then Adnate again along with the Dutch writer, Does in 2013. This wall became hotly contested territory and was splashed, bombed and capped into oblivion subsequently streets have been planted in front of it making the wall less visible.

Cyclist and Graffiti

Brunswick Station House

The end wall of the small row house was one of the first legal walls that sported a big piece. Unfortunately I don’t have a photo of the first time it was painted depicting Alice’s encounter with the caterpillar. The first photo is from 2009 by Grace (‘gerd’) and Rags. The second from 2012 times by Lapse and Gers/d. Again, thanks to Arty Graffarti and dannym for all the attribution, they made me aware of how much ‘ownership’ and maintenance of these walls exists by the particular writers.

Melbourne Central has Art

Monday 1 June, a very cold morning, the start of winter in Melbourne and art consultant, Bernadette Alibrando is giving a tour of Melbourne Central’s art for the media. Some people are surprised that Melbourne Central, a shopping centre above a train station, even has a public art collection. Another surprise is the number of street artists commissioned by the shopping centre.

Hamish Munro, Filling the Mould, 2014

Hamish Munro, Filling the Mould, 2014

The tour did not look at the novelty clock (for that see my post on Melbourne’s giant novelty clocks) or the way that the old shot tower is incorporated into the glass cone architecture the central features of the centre’s main space. We started with the floating Hamish Munro sculpture, Filling the Mould that was slowly deflating after the morning rush hour. The fabric sculpture over a stair well expands and contracts relative to the number of people in the shopping centre. The grey fabric of the sculpture matches the raw concrete architecture of Melbourne’s Central’s interior.

There is the huge (61m. long x 3.5m height) heritage listed mural in the Swanston Walk entrance way to the train platforms that dates back to the completion of the station in 1984. The mural is by Dr Hogg was made in collaborated with Ilma Jasper and Kay Douglas and celebrates workers in a variety of trades and industries. Dr Hogg is the Coordinator of Public Art/Art in Public Space in the School of Art and has been working with public art and murals for most of his career.

Part of RMIT lightscape project at Melbourne Central from earlier in the year.

Part of RMIT lightscape project at Melbourne Central from earlier in the year.

The proximity of RMIT to Melbourne Central brings in RMIT lightscape project with a regular rotation of works by six students. In the food court there is a painted piano, inviting and encouraging buskers to ask permission from the shopping centre administration.

Although I had seen the work before when I thought about it was surprising how many street artists have pieces in Melbourne Central. The tour took in Kaff-eine’s pillar and Kelsey Montague selfie wings. Kelsey Montague cold called Melbourne Central when she arrived in Melbourne to do this piece. The tour didn’t get to the Lucy Lucy and Slicer mural that is also in Melbourne Central.

Lucy Lucy and Slicer

Lucy Lucy and Slicer

The commissioned works in the controlled environment of shopping centres by street artists known for their uncommissioned/illegal art is either a complete sell out or the obvious triumph of their style of guerrilla urban decorations. There are also works by street artists at the QV Centre and read my post about the street artists at Barkly Square in Brunswick. I am reliably informed that there is also pieces by Adnate-Sofles-Smug in Northland and Lister in Broadway Shopping Centre. That shopping centres consider street art to be the best style to present to their customers stands in contrast to the frequently seen small business owner doing vox pop complaints to the media about graffiti.

It feels odd to be writing about the arts policies of shopping centres but Melbourne Central has a similar arts strategy/policy to Barkely Square with using both recognisable and popular street artists along with buskers to add local colour and atmosphere to a shopping centre’s architecture.

Evolving Scene 2015

Hosier Lane continues to subtly change, even though the major development has been stopped by the new government, and the smell of aerosol paint still lingers in the air. Hosier Lane was once part of Melbourne’s garment district and Melbourne’s Communist Party Headquarters was at 3 Hosier Lane from 1936 to 1939. Old school graffiti writers and old lefties, like Jeff Sparrow bemoan the changes but I enjoy the vitality of the lane.

Hosier Lane

Now the sound of a busker is now common in the lane, not surprising given the amount of foot traffic in the area.

You can get a take-away coffee in the lane from Good to Go, a social enterprise cafe providing barista experience to long term unemployed, definitely a good improvement.

Guerrilla gardening has started in the lane; the sticker suggests that it is a project by Signal.

Guerrilla Garden, Hosier Lane

Looking at the art in lane is now like seeing an exhibition opening. It is hard to see the art for all the people, mostly taking photographs.

Hosier Lane must now be the most photographed place in Melbourne, there are so many people with all kinds of cameras taking photographs every day. You can hardly move without stepping in front of someone’s shot. Wedding photographs, selfies, tourist snap shots, videos, creating a hyperreal digital version of the lane for Facebook, Instagram and other social media. Street art is now influence on commercial photography.

Camera stencil

It is not surprising, the lane is spectacular and centrally located and other municipalities in Melbourne are starting to realise the potential for street art as a tourist attraction. This week the City of Yarra is calling for street art tours of the area. The City of Yarra has had this potential for years, I went on a short tour given by Makatron a couple of years ago and back in 2007 the Melbourne Stencil Festival was running booked out tours of Collingwood and Fitzroy.

Makatron Fitzroy

Melbourne’s street art is now part of Australia’s foreign policy. Most recently with notable street artists Adnate, Civil, HaHa, Vexta, Makatron and others painting murals in Singapore for the Australian government to celebrate 50 years of diplomatic relations with Singapore.

All of this is what could be called an organic development; it has not been directed or controlled, it has even and continues to be resisted on some levels. Back in 2008 I would hear street art insiders saying that the scene had peaked years before; what ever they meant by ‘peaked’ maybe just when they and their mates did their best stuff. Melbourne’s street art and graffiti scene continues to change and evolve (I don’t want to write for the better or worse) to take advantage of new walls, spaces, ideas and opportunities.


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