Category Archives: Street Art

Understanding Graffiti

Some graffiti writers have some strange ideas about who can understand, speak/write, or even properly appreciate the work. The claim that it is anathema for the uninitiated to ‘understand’; that is not only are their explanations wrong but damaging. Street art tours conducted by graffiti or street artists; would you expect all art gallery tours to be conducted by contemporary artists?

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R.A.D Grant points out “to claim that a belief can be ‘understood’ only by its believers is to use the term ‘understanding’ somewhat oddly, since understanding is normally thought to follow upon explanation rather than to be precluded or destroyed by it.” (A Companion to Aesthetics, ed. David Cooper, Blackwell, 1992 p.103).

However, the English word ‘understand’ means both to comprehend and to be sympathetic. Can only the empathetic comprehend? For it is empathy and not sympathy that is expected. It is about the magic of initiation and spirit. Part of this is a need to maintain control of what is considered ‘understanding’ in order to maintain their power.

‘Understanding’ is connected to notions the person being ‘true to the spirit’ as Philip Brophy explains in “What is this thing called ‘Disco’” (Art & Text 3, Spring 1981, p.64)

“To perform jazz, blues, rockabilly, soul, power pop, Middle-of-the-Road , etc., is to evoke a specific type of consciousness related to a specific set of meanings inherent to the act of performing the particular music style. There, a notion of ‘truthful’ performers and ‘false’ performers exists, establishing a productive difference between ‘artists’ and ‘charlatans’ – and, it is interesting to note that in the realm of popular culture, the institutions that we call the recording industry can profit from both the ‘artist’ and the ‘charlatan’.”

Likewise the graffiti writer is expected to ‘evoke a specific type of consciousness related to a specific set of meanings inherent to the act’ of doing graffiti.

Here is some old graffiti from Brunswick to look at.

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The City As Art

The buildings in the centre of Melbourne are both familiar and unknown, they seem to change around like something out of the movie, Dark City. Exploring the city has to be a regular activity as there are changes occurring all of the time and a once familiar area transforms.

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The city as a creation, as a great co-operative work of architecture, art and engineering stretching over a vast area and reaching into the sky, a larger concept than a medieval cathedral. The creation, curation and alteration of which is a mix of planning, adapting and neglect.

The city draws you along its streets, wanting to see what is coming around the corner. Each street creates a new scene, one block is totally different from the next.

Underneath the city, the ground level is as constructed on foundations. How deep does it go? The labyrinthine network of tunnels, the subway, the subconscious of all cities. There is a mystery beneath all cities, the mystery of  the labyrinth and at its core the Minotaur.

Too much repetition in a city reminds one that it is also a labyrinth where a Minotaur hunts for sacrificial victims. “Bloody tribute!” says Theseus after tagging the wall with an outline of his hand sprayed by mouth in red ochre, or is it bull’s blood?

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Cities are visually dense; signs and symbols compete for our attention. The accretion of images, of advertising and signs. The many shiny surfaces reflect the many lights further confusing the vision. The visual density of the city has presented a challenge to visual artists for the last two centuries.

Graffiti and street art rise to this challenge by imitating the visual intensity of the city, by being part of and by being framed by the infrastructure of the city. Graffiti tries to fit into this environment by becoming a tag, a personal logo in a world full of corporate logos. Both the graffiti writer and the street artist rectifies the urban environment by adding their designs to the layers of images, personalising the alien, impersonal architecture of the city.

The whole of Melbourne could be seen as an un-curated art gallery for graffiti and street art. Except that there are small semi-curated zones, like… roll the credits… Doyle’s Blender Alley and Lovelands, the area of Fitzroy curated by Shaun Hossack of Juddy Roller, Dean Sunshine’s factories in Brunswick. Gordon Harrison, the City of Melbourne engineer should also get some credit of street art in the CBD. I’m sorry if I have missed anyone.

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Piecing in Burnside

Way out in Melbourne’s west, in the suburb of Burnside there is an industrial park. Constructions built from reinforced concrete walls fill up half of the blocks. Lots of big concrete walls covered in graffiti facing empty blocks. It is obvious from the graffiti pieces that Kame and the Boogaloo Bros had been doing a lot of painting on the industrial estate.

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At 11am last Saturday three cars rolled into the empty block loaded with spray cans, paint, rollers, and step ladders. There were four guys piecing: Jamit, Kame and the Boogaloo Bros, Suer and Rise. Forgetting their tags, these are just four middle-aged guys in daggy old clothes; the Boogaloo Bros are wearing fluro jackets.

These middle aged guys were all painting in the eighties, the initial hiphop graffiti phase in Melbourne but this was the first time that Jamit had actually met Kame and the Boogaloo Bros. The internet has brought these guys together, it has also given a new life to Kame’s painting. Kame had lost interest in graffiti many years ago and was completely unaware of how Melbourne’s scene had developed until an old friend got in touch with him just over a year ago. They are not a crew; the idea of graffiti crew has morphed into an online network.

These are all legal walls that were being painted. The Boogaloo Bros have permission to paint from the building owners, a folder of signed documents sits in their car, just in case. So they have invited Kame and Jamit to join them for a day’s painting.

The first order of business was buffing the wall black. The black paint was watered down so that it would go on faster. Suer kissed goodbye to an old piece as they efficiently roller painted over the wall.

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Next the guys started their outlines. Jamit and Kame were working from sketches but not the Boogaloo Bros. they just start on geometric underpaintings. Suer and Rise do sketches but they just do them for their own sake. As they are out painting most weekends they have plenty of practice and confidence.

Three different styles of pieces start to emerge from the black wall: Jamit is doing a big blockbuster piece taking up two of the concrete panels, the Boogaloo Bros are working up two wildstyle pieces and Kame is doing something more character based in a rock’n’roll tattoo style.

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Jamit hasn’t painted in ages and is struggling a bit. He is running out of paint, using a tape measure to get the letters the right size and buffing out mistakes.

Kame’s curving lines are loose but well planned. He has a beautiful almost traditional sign writing calligraphy, his mother is into calligraphy. Kame has talent and it is not surprising to learn that he is off to paint in the Meeting of Styles in San Francisco in September.

The Boogaloo Bros are confidently and methodically filling in their outlines. Rise does run out of one colour and has to improvise. Suer loves his colours. “Wait till you see this Derby with Fuchia.”

It is all the guys do; apart from a couple of bottles of Pepsi, Kame documenting his painting with a camera and Rise sucking on some cancer sticks.

The wind blows across the wide western plains bring in the grey cloud fronts. It is about 10 degree Celsius out of the wind and there is nowhere out of the wind, the wind chill is freezing. You can see the rain closing in for about thirty minutes; plenty of time for Suer to stand on a small hillock and to try blow the clouds back west. Only Kame kept painting through the rain.

“This is the worst day I’ve ever painted” Kame says.

Perhaps because of this Kame is the first to finish while the others still painting. After another couple of rain fronts the others had finished their outlines and highlights. Finally they sign off with crew affiliations, tags and tributes to the people who were there on the day. Then it was time for photographs to be uploaded to Instagram.

It was just after 4:30 when the graffiti writers drive out of the industrial estate; cold, hungry but happy with their day’s painting.


Gallery Crawl July

I knew that I would see some art galleries and street art when I went for a walk around Fitzroy and Collingwood. I didn’t have a specific agenda or plan for my walk, there is always something new to see in the area and not just in the galleries.

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Yusk Imai, The Mortal Drama, pearlescent acrylic and marker on canvas

When I started blogging I had a real sense of exploration, I would go looking for new galleries. I yearn for that sense of exploration now but sometimes it feels easier just have to keep doing the rounds of certain galleries and familiar street art locations. Now walking down Flinders Lane or along Gertrude Street seems to be the most efficient way to find an exhibition to review in a blog post.

I was looking for Bside Gallery because I had heard of it so I don’t know how I missed seeing it; I must have been momentarily distracted as I pasted by the shopfront on Brunswick Street. I did end up seeing a gallery that I haven’t visited before, Besser Space.

At Besser Space was “Eve, a photographic exhibition” by Zo Damage of women in rock. Zo Damage claims to be “Melbourne’s busiest music photographer” and she might be; she is half way through her 365 Day Live Music project to photograph a live band a day for an entire year. Not including the hundreds of photos in her 365 Day project there are a lot of black and white photographs in this exhibition, fortunately Besser Space is a large rough warehouse space, perfect for an exhibition of rock photographs.

A dozen surreal paintings by the São Paulo based artist, Yusk Imai hang in his exhibition “The Moratal Drama” at Backwoods Gallery. Imai’s paintings combine painting and drawing with marker pen on canvas. They are a mix of patterns, arty splatters and delicately drafted figures. His surreal forms stand, often on plinths, in the surreal locations of the forest or the empty desert in the rain shadow of the mountains on the horizon, stuck contemplating their absurd but beautiful existence.

Gertrude Contemporary had a group exhibition of its usual contemporary art. I was unlucky with the galleries as many installing new exhibitions, like the CCP and Collingwood, or undergoing major renovations, like Hogan and Kick. Not one of my more successful gallery crawls. On the other hand I did see some interesting things on the street, had a walk in the sunshine and a delicious lunch.


LOL Street Art

Toys will be Toys

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Chuck Norris Was Here

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B1 Crucified, Brunswick

Jesus paintroller original

God has a plan to kill me

Darth %22Who's Your Daddy%22

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Graffiti’s Bonnie and Clyde

Over the last decade in Melbourne there has been a change of attitude about many kinds of graffiti and street art, what once was reviled is now celebrated. One man who knows about these changes is Gordon Harrison, the city engineer who created and runs the City of Melbourne’s graffiti management policy. Harrison knows about the changes because he wrote the city’s current graffiti policy.

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The current graffiti policy is to remove graffiti only when it is obscene or racist or when  requested by the building owner. Otherwise it would be left to survive in the organic process of the street. Harrison does not believe in protecting graffiti or street art. The City of Melbourne does keep a photographic record of significant work and it passes on its record of tags that it removes to the police.

According to Gordon Harrison $900,000 is spent each year in the removal of tags. All graffiti writers and even some street artists tag but then there are some people who just tag. Some prolific taggers like Nost and Pork have nineteen images removed per month from just the small area of the centre of the city administered by the City of Melbourne. Harrison explained to the Street Art Round Table, 22/4/16 at Melbourne University.

Unlike many people Harrison doesn’t hate taggers. He understands that there a blurred line between tagging and graffiti pieces. Harrison would prefer tags to violence or suicide, he removes the tagging but respects the free spirit behind it, wishing that it was directed differently.

The free spirit of taggers makes them not just vandals but sometimes audacious urban outlaws. They are risking their liberty and life. For there are the industrial scale dangers of the railways and rail yards. The dangers of climbing up to the heavens just to leave your mark, to show that you have existed in the city and made part of it your own.

Along with the dangers hardcore taggers also experience the most violence. There are fights between them over walls and other issues. They are also likely to be beaten up and abused by the railway’s Asset Protection Officers or even vigilante citizens taking the law into their own hand.

This brings me to the American graffiti writers and lovers, Ether and Utah who were in Melbourne earlier this year. It was here that Ether’s self-titled “Probation Vacation” came to an end on a Fitzroy sidewalk in a fight with a vigilante citizen. Charged with attempted robbery, recklessly causing injury, unlawful assault, possessing a controlled weapon (a knife) and four counts of criminal damage. He received a six month sentence, less the 27 days he was held in remand. On his release he will be deported to the US where he faces another six months for outstanding graffiti offences.

A six month stretch at the notorious Rikers Island in New York goes someways but doesn’t completely explains Ether and Utah leaving the USA in 2011 for a five year intercontinental graffiti spree focused on that most traditional graffiti site, the train. Neither does Utah & Ether’s Probation Vacation, in book and video format, which is available online along with limited edition zines, t-shirts, poster, sticker sets and box sets. There is a weird post-modern romance about deciding to live the life as an international outlaw with your love while creating “a dialog between the safety of the gallery setting and the vitality of painting in the streets illegally.” (Utah & Ether about page)


Moving Sculptures In Melbourne

Although stone and metal sculptures might appear to be permanent and stationary they do move. They are slow to start moving but once they start they move with surprising speed. Sculptures move around the city, even around the world, climbing down from the tops of old buildings to go to university. Urban Melbourne has a page about sculptures that have moved generally due to demolitions. So now that Strata has found a safe new home, out of hands of Melbourne University to the MONA in Hobart, it is time to look moving sculptures in Melbourne that may be soon moved.

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John Cummins has an audio report in The Citizen about preserving Melbourne’s public art where he interviews Adrian Doyle of Blender Studios, Ken Scarlett author of Australian Sculptors, ghost sign expert Stefan Schutt, sculptor Petrus Spronk and myself.

On Collins Street Stanley Hammond’s 1978 statue of John Batman, one of the alleged founder of Melbourne, is keeping his head down these days. He can still just be seen from behind the temporary building hoarding. His companion sculpture, another early Melbourne land owner, John Pascoe Fawkner by Michael Meszaros is outside of this fence.

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Jackie Ralph, Horse with something to say, 2013

Another sculpture with an uncertain future stands in the roundabout on Siddeley Street out the front of Melbourne’s World Trade Centre is Jackie Ralph’s Horse with something to say, 2013. The black expressionist work by Ralph has remained in the middle of the roundabout since it was installed at a temporary sculpture exhibition. It is not uncommon for a sculpture to remain after an exhibitions because of the expense of transportation, another sculptural gift of this kind is Ship to Shore at the Coburg Lake Reserve. Ralph’s horse will not be difficult to move as it is made from wood, wire, fiberglass, polyester resin and enamel paint.

Brunswick-based sculptor, Ralph wrote, in an exhibition statement; “When sculpture leaves the gallery and becomes part of the landscape, it not only reaches a larger and more diverse audience, but people seem to have a much more unguarded, unrestrained approach to it and interact with it more informally and naturally.”

I saw some new sculptures in Melbourne by an unknown artist. These sculptures will be very temporary and the creators of these works of street art knows that.


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