Tag Archives: graffiti

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.)

Sculptures of Melbourne cover

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


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.


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.


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


Same Walls

Moreland Station

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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.


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