Tag Archives: stencils

Melbourne’s Diverse Street Art

Walking around Melbourne exploring its many lanes, sometimes in the company of a notable, some would say notorious, street artist who would prefer to remain anonymous and keep his comments off the record. Thanks for the company. What follows are my photos, my comments and my opinions. The selection of photos is not my pick of the best street art that I’ve recently seen but to the diversity, both geographic, technique and materials, of Melbourne’s street art.

Deb, Uniacke Court, Melbourne

Deb, Uniacke Court, Melbourne

None of these photos are from the old locations, Hosier Lane, Centre Place, they are no longer the best place to see street art in the city. The locations for good street art have shifted in the eight years that I have been writing this blog, slowly moving north and west. In the west of the city where the street art is scare I found a whole lane, Uniacke Court, with several pieces by Deb and no-one else.

Sunfigo stickers

Sunfigo stickers

All over the city I keep on seeing more and more of the work of Sunfigo, simple and effective stickers and paste-ups but nothing to compare to Sunfigo’s Little Diver Tribute.

Anonymoose, Blender Alley

Anonymoose, Blender Alley

If you love stencils the best place to see them is Blender Alley. The reason is that the main door to Blender Studios, its roller doors were open when I was there, faces the alley and the artist’s in the studio, especially its director, Doyle, basically curate the alley.

Mutant

Mutant

I keep seeing more street art sculpture and, not just Will Coles and Junky Projects, more people are doing it. Mutant and Discarded are doing similar work casting bones and other found objects. So far I have only seen Discarded’s work online but I know that it is out there.

LaPok, Guerilla Garden Melbourne

LaPok, Guerilla Garden Melbourne

Unknown, Ilham Lane

Unknown, Ilham Lane

I’ve seen a few more artistic works of guerrilla gardening in the city and Ilham Lane in Brunswick. Also in Ilham Lane there is a piece of guerrilla geography, naming the small side bunch from Ilham Lane, Chook Lane.

Chook Lane, Brunswick

And there is still basic graffiti out there.

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Coffee with Jamit

In the late 1990s there was a lot less graffiti in Melbourne, but amongst the tags and pieces along the line, Jamit’s steaming coffee cup on the side of a house stood out. It was a personal favourite when I was working for LookSmart, an internet start-up. Every weekday I would take the train from Coburg station into the city, there wasn’t much to look at along the railway line; mostly I read my books, but occasionally I would have a window seat and glance up from my book. Once I saw a rabbit in the North Melbourne rail yards, other times I would mark my journey by spotting a familiar piece of graffiti. Every time I saw Jamit’s piece I would think: another cup of coffee, very appropriate for a Melbourne morning.

Oldest wall in Brunswick 2

The coffee cup was a rare time that Jamit painted along the Upfield line. Mostly he worked on the Hurstbridge line and around Camberwell. The wall where the coffee cup was painted is a long blank cream brick wall running the length of the house and directly facing the railway tracks near Anstey Station. It is the perfect wall for graffiti and Jamit’s friends knew the owner of the house who had given permission for it to be painted. Shame and possibly Ron B Me were there, it was a decades ago and Jamit doesn’t remember now. They had ladders and were painting in the daylight. Unfortunately he also can’t remember what brand of spray paint they were using because it has great durability, the paint hasn’t faded or deteriorated after many years. People talk about graffiti as ephemeral but a piece can last ages.

Jamit sprayed a large white coffee cup filled with hot steaming coffee on the wall. Jamit explained that “the coffee cup was settled on because, let’s be honest, coffee is a generally accepted symbol of friendship and funkiness in Melbourne. Try going into the old Rue Bebélons and asking for a milkshake. They would have accommodated it, no doubt, but not without a short, awkward, double-take.” An elderly passer-by liked the coffee cup; on the day it was painted he climbed up on a ladder to pose as if he was drinking from the cup.

After spraying the coffee cup freehand Jamit added his tag, in a stencil. This is unusual for an old school graffiti writer but was not unusual for Jamit, he had done it for years. He can’t remember anyone else in Melbourne using stencils at the time and there Puzle claims that Jamit did the first stencil northside in 87-88. “When I was commuting to school along the Hurstbridge line, I saw paintings by Bo the Snoutcatcher. It struck me that graffiti needn’t use spraypaint directly onto the wall in the conventional way at the time.”

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Melbourne’s graffiti scene was very different in the late 80s and early 90s, without the internet the scene was more insular. There was not a lot of love for Jamit’s graffiti in small graffiti scene, but graffiti is not a popularity contest it is about getting pieces up. Jamit had been doing that for years, mostly large-scale colourful blockbusters and italicised blockbusters. “Hugh Dunit was there too, though he wasn’t appreciated until later on—too little too late in my opinion.”

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Impressed by the “…very straight-forward graffiti by Tubby and Raffles, whose tags were between Camberwell and Canterbury”, he had started working with his friend that he had known since primary school, Worm, as well as doing some writing with Mags in Rosanna.

It was an old-school scene based along the railway lines and hip hop music mostly supplied by Central Station Records. “Back then I loved Strange Tenants, Kool Herc, Schooly D, Rammellzee, all the breakdance stuff and even Malcolm McLaren, at the time not thinking much about a white guy coming in and capitalising on it all.”

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Jamit is now living in Singapore and, although he still does the occasional piece, he is now, in his own words, a changed person. Although much of the graffiti from the 90s has now faded away or been capped, buffed or otherwise vanished, Jamit’s coffee cup is still on the wall looking as fresh as it ever did and I still see it every time I take the train.

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On the streets

Eight of my recent photographs along with notes and comments about paste-ups, aerosol pieces, street art sculpture, stencils, stickers and yarn bombing that I’ve seen on the street in the last couple of the months.

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Walking around Coburg I spotted Chromatovore putting up this paste up; he was pushing a baby buggy containing his two kids and paste-up materials. Excellent placement and a cool way for a busy dad to do street art.

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Thanks for the ‘warning’ Whop Taps (also in Coburg). Do people read? Do people think?

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Although these funky sci-fi street art sculptures (there are two of them) are hanging on the railway Ansty Station in Brunswick they have not been removed by the railway staff.

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A great aerosol piece in Brunswick – this skull wears the crown. Along the Upfield bike path just up from Brunswick Station, next to a very old face by Mic.

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Stencils in Hosier Lane by PD027. You don’t see that many stencils around Melbourne anymore.

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Radical cross-stitch and yarn bombing by Yarnonymous. I hope that the Australian government is convicted for their crimes of against humanity.

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Inviting comments on Gertrude Street, Fitzroy: “Before I die I want to…” I assume that the cafe provided the chalk.

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I have to ask is this old piece in Collingwood a portrait of Geoff Newton, the director of Neon Parc gallery, because if it isn’t then we have found his long lost twin.


Then & Now

“Like seeing gnomes out of the corners of your eyes, stencils appear and disappear in surprising and crafty urban nooks and shadows. Replicating like most good ideas tend to do, Ha-Ha, SYNC and DLUX took their obsessed stencil messages off the streets and into a gallery in 2003. Outing the mythical icons and images in Melbourne advanced the opening of the gates across the world. Ten years later and the shadows part once more into a painted world of imagination, humor, and collaboration.” – Russell Howze (San Francisco), stencilarchive.org & author of Stencil Nation

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“HaHa is an authentic street artist and poet of the city . We have worked together during my trip in Australia in 2009 and it was really great to have meet HaHa and his beautiful stencils. ” – Blek Le Rat

“This site doesn’t normally do announcements about upcoming shows, as you will know if you have visited it before. But sometimes I like to put up information about a show that promises great things or is by artists who are really significant in the scene.” – Alison Young, Images to Live By

“Now & Then” at Second Story Studios in Collingwood has to be the most overhyped exhibition of Melbourne’s stencil art; so many people are praising this exhibition as a landmark before it has even opened.

The best part of the exhibition were the collaborative works that brought the three artists and some of their original stencils, along with some new ones, back together again. These works were nostalgic for those who remember Melbourne’s streets a decade ago. They are a condensed version of what happens on the street. The accretion of stencils rather than a single stencil, the mixing of style that is an essential feature of hip-hop, is what makes these works outstanding – I wish there was more of it on the streets.

It is well over a decade since this Melbourne street art scene started to happen. Late in 2002 Ha-Ha, Sync and DLux first met at the old Blender Studios. In 2003 they had a group exhibition, “Cut It Out” at Hush Hush Gallery in Hosier Lane. No-one was keeping track of exactly what they were doing to begin with because to begin with it was just a bit of fun. Back when the street art started Ha-Ha, Sync and DLux were spraying their stencils everywhere and writing their name up large with rollers on the walls of the abandoned factories around Macauly Station.

A bit over decade later Melbourne’s street art scene has blossomed and become internationally famous. Digital cameras and photo sharing are now ubiquitous and the audacious, punchy appeal of street artists still captivated a still growing audience. New forms have developed, there are more artists, a larger audience, more collectors and more recognition. Ha-Ha is listed in the top fifty street artists in the world.

The artists have also changed in the decade, what was fun has become their life.

DLux has started to paint freehand combining “sunset palette” with “toilet block graffiti” scrawled across it unfortunately his painting technique doesn’t always match these ambitions. Sync has also abandoned stencils to create ordinary and passé abstract paintings; his recreations of his old stencils on scraps of reclaimed wood were selling well at the exhibition.

Only Ha-Ha has kept working and developing his multi-layer stencil technique. He has added to this with the mixing of different faces and now adding “subliminal text” to his images; the words “magic” and “sex” appear in the hair of Ha-Ha’s Marilyn Monroe.

Then and now and the differences are enormous.

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Urban Folk Art

Notes towards a history of graffiti….

Graffiti has been around for millennia; it has been recorded as far back as the Sumerians (1500 and 1800 BC). But in the last few decades of the last century it suddenly changed. One of the reasons for this change was developments in technology but spray paint cans and marker pens doesn’t explain all the changes and rapid growth of graffiti/street art. Lee Newman invented the felt-tipped marking pen in 1910 but it was not until the early 1960s that they were refined or common. Aerosol spray paint was invented in 1949 Edward Seymour in Sycamore, Illinois. Other reasons for the change in graffiti are best explained by a re-examination of folk art in an urban world.

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In trying to position street art in art history, it is not useful to understand it as the feral younger brother of pop art, as it is a kind of urban folk art. Folk art is often ignored in art history except when folk traditions and outsider artists influence modern and contemporary art.

Is it realistic for folk art in the urban context have to remain un-influenced by academic or fine art? Is it realistic for all folk art to remain the activity of amateurs? Is it realistic to expect that all folk art will be cosy, apolitical and conservative? Or is more realistic that urban folk art to attempt to actively engage in trying to change their world. Urban folk art is not outsider art; the artists are as well informed about art as they want to be. They have access to the same technology and materials as professionally trained artists. Due to this crossover of fine art ideas, materials and technology, urban folk art can be artistically progressive and even avant-garde.

Consider the single most important development in the visual arts in the last century – collage. Decoupage was a popular activity for upper and middle-class women in the late 19th Century. Commercially produced images for decoupage were available in the late 19th Century and these were cut and pasted on dressing and fire screens. It is a short step from decoupage to collage or photomontage. It should not be surprising that a young woman would make progressive artistic collages. That woman was the Berlin Dadaist artist Hannah Höch (1889 – 1978) whose photomontage and collage art used images from magazines.

Perhaps Dada should be considered, in part, as a radical urban folk art movement. Dada emerged from the home printing press movement of the 1890s (L. Frank Baum, the author of The Wizard of Oz, was an early home printing press enthusiast). Although there were trained artists in the Dadaists there many of Dadaists were neither trained as artists nor went on to a career as a professional artists like Richard Hulsenbeck was a medical student at the time he joined the Zurich Dadaists, he went on to practice psychiatry.

Stencils on back of a truck

Other urban folk art movements followed including Mail Art and punk. Mail Art movement worked with a folk art tradition of decorating envelopes, examples of which can be seen from throughout postal history. To this tradition the Mail Art added an artistic and a utopian intention that the future of art would not be high-end art objects but multiple edition art mailed to insiders. Punk took to the streets with bands using stencils and spray paint for publicity.

There are many folk art/craft elements in street art and graffiti from automotive spray painting to yarn bombing. The interior decorating craze for stencils in the 1990s lead into Melbourne’s street art stencils in 2000, it was a familiar craft technique. Street art and graffiti emerged as an urban folk art movement and due to the internet became the most international and visible urban folk art movement so far.

Yarn bombed bicycle Collingwood


Not Gangnam Style – Korean Street Art

There isn’t much Korean street art, not that I saw on my recent travels. Most Korean graffiti is traditional, back before old school; people writing on the wall with pens. There is nothing about the small amount of aerosol graffiti or street art that is due to Korean respect for property; Koreans are writing on the walls.

Korea graffiti wall

Writing on the stone of Inwangsan Mountain, Seoul

Writing on the stone of Inwangsan Mountain, Seoul

There is even traditional Korean writing on the rocks of Inwangsan mountain in Seoul.

Isadong wall, Seoul

Isadong wall, Seoul

In Seoul I actually saw more street art than old school aerosol graffiti and I saw more aerosol art in the lanes of Gyeongju that I did in Seoul. I’m told there is some in Seoul but Seoul is a very big place and although I followed up some leads and looked down many streets and lanes, I never saw it. This post comes with my usual caveat about commenting on the graffiti and street art of other cities applies here; I probably didn’t know the best locations to visit, that street art is ephemeral and I was just seeing what happened upon during my travels. Normally I see some graffiti along the railway tracks when I travel by train but there was none in Korea. I saw some in the many laneways of Seoul and Gyeongju.

Gyeongju wall

Gyeongju wall

Paste-up in Bukchon, Seoul

Paste-up in Bukchon, Seoul

I saw a great paste-up (wheatpasting) in the Bukchon district of Seoul. There were also some stencils and other work in this attractive and cultural significant area.

Bukchon wall, Seoul

Bukchon wall, Seoul

Of course there was some tagging and stickers in Seoul – mostly by Zacpot, he is everywhere with stickers and pens.

Zacpot sticker, Seoul

Zacpot sticker, Seoul

There is lots of potential for some truly great street art in Korea, there are a lot of great walls it just needs artists who want to do it (along with better cans and caps).

Merecat stencil, Seoul

Merecat stencil, Seoul


Footprints of history

Here is a bit of history for Melbourne’s street artists:

“Stencilled advertisements were a popular form of footpath advertising particularly in the more frequented stretches of Bourke Street. Little action was taken against offenders unless damage to property was incurred, though the practice was seen by the MCC as being contrary to the spirit of the advertising regulations. 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 of By-Law No. 134, as no obstruction or annoyance could be proven. This lead to the creation of a new By-Law No156 in 1920 ‘for regulating or prohibiting the writing, painting, printing, stencilling, placing or affixing 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’.”

(Andrew Brown-May, Melbourne Street Life, Australian Scholarly, 1998, Kew, p.50)

Brown-May does not have any information on when stencilled advertising began in Melbourne. Stencilled advertisements were probably used prior to 1920 but before 1870s when it would have been pointless as the sidewalks of Melbourne were in too poor a condition.

Maybe if this trail in the 1920 had been proto-street art, the work of art students rather than advertising then the City of Melbourne’s council might have taken a different view of the activity. However, there was no street art in the 1920s and advertising not graffiti was seen as blighting the image of the city. Along with stencilled advertisements there were numerous advertisements pasted around Melbourne along with people ringing bells to advertise sales. And so the City of Melbourne passed the first laws specifically prohibiting stencilling, wheat-pasting and the other techniques of street art

Advertising has long had a deleterious effect on Melbourne’s culture and on its street art in particular. Except that without the techniques and technologies of advertising, like stencils, there wouldn’t be street art. (See my post for more on the nexus of  Art & Advertising). The footprint of advertising is still on us.


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