Category Archives: Street Art

Anti-Muralism

For the past three years murals, very large multi-story painted walls are the popular form in Melbourne’s street art. Murals are also very popular in advertising and with socialists. Van Rudd says that wants to revive the tradition of political mural painting in Melbourne that happened with Geoff Hogg in the 1970s.

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Murals are seen as community art solution, read Tony Matthews and Deanna Grant-Smith “How murals helped turn a declining community around” in The Conversation, as well as an advertising technique. Dvate’s painted banner for The Lion King in 2015 or HaHa’s 2016-17 3MMM banner at Macaulay railway station, a favourite old haunt of HaHa when he was running around the city getting his name up. Smug’s mural on Otter Street promoting a luxury apartment development, makes gentrification cute. The popularity of murals makes for endless commercial applications.

I think that I lost a lot of my interest in Melbourne’s street art when murals became the dominate form of street art. I don’t like most murals, street art or otherwise, as I have already written about the Harold Freedman mosaic mural on the Fire Station. So I don’t feel as motivated to write about street art, although I have written about Rone and Adnate’s murals.

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Rone in Collins Street, 2014

I’m not sure what it is about murals that I don’t like, after all they are just very large paintings. I do like a few murals in Melbourne. The Keith Haring mural in Collingwood but that is because I like his other work and the mural is simply a large example. I don’t think of the large walls by sprayed with fire extinguishers full of paint by Ash Keating and others as murals because they are just paint whereas a mural is about something.

Often murals are so about something that it feels like you are being lectured or advertised at. I’m not sure that I want the intended message or non-message of a mural and even if I do then what about people who don’t? The intended mass audience of a mural makes is like advertising. Whereas I like art that is aimed at a small audience rather than the lowest common denominator. The bigger the audience does not mean the better the art; size is kind of pornographic.

At other times there is so little content in a mural, like Rone’s faces, that being content free and abstract would have something more than these substitutes for content. For this reason I found Doyle’s Empty Nursery Blue to be more artistic than any and all of Rone’s murals.

I was also wondering if it is because murals lack a human scale. Murals are different to graffiti pieces in terms of scale. The reach of a graffiti writer defines the height of a piece, the arc of the curves so that a piece of graffiti reflects a human scale. Whereas the size of a mural is determined by the size of the wall and the equipment used.

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Cam and Scale, Brunswick 2017

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Street Messages

I’ve been looking, photographing and thinking about messages on the street. Not the stencil or paste-up poster messages directed at a mass audience but the individual messages directed at a specific audience or even an individual.

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I’m not sure of the accuracy of this claim outside Anstey Station, but it has been at least 20 years of providing a great legal wall.

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I am interested in the ethics of graffiti writing and the messages that debate this. Often this is the ethics of what counts in the claim of “I was sitting there first.” Claiming a right to a chair in bar or to occupy a spot by the pool or to paint a wall when such things are a limited resource by virtue of a prior claim of occupancy. Amongst graffiti writers there is a transmission of a code of ethics through an oral tradition, as well as, messages written on walls.

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Generally graffiti writers are only interested in communicating with other graffiti writers but occasionally they want to make a point to a wider audience. Messages written on walls, as an adjunct to a piece is the only direct form of communication. This note from Bailer was probably intended for a idiot who often caps pieces in the area.

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“No Style” is an irony free cap over a cleanly executed bubble letter style piece by Speds.

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Old skool graffiti writers do not respect anyone without good aerosol skills just like the old school conservatives would not read anyone who could write neat copperplate with prefect spelling and grammar.

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I don’t want to be a grammar nazi but some people have to, just like some people have to tag. This comment was in reference to a tag with unconventional spelling. (Are you still reading Facter?)


Out of the Ordinary

“Out of the Ordinary” is a solo exhibition by Phoenix in the front gallery of Off the Kerb. Phoenix is not the ordinary Melbourne street artist who works with paste-ups. Unlike other street artists you don’t instantly get the meaning of his images, you have to work at them. You recognise the ordinary object but then you realise that there is more, something out of the ordinary. Often the message is an environmental awareness like All in One Basket.

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Phoenix, M.C. (Milk Crate) Escher, Anchor Hand and Jumbo Sushi Fish

Phoenix makes his paste-ups using a very technical combination of drawing, photocopies and collage. He uses a photocopier to produce drawings and has been using photocopiers to make art for longer than he has done street art. He used the photocopier to add colour through different colour ink cartridges or coloured paper and especially to enlarge and reduce. Very accurate, detailed drawings, draftsman drawings that are built up by combining different elements or the same element at different sizes, as in his Show of Hands. Always the image incorporates a double spiral as a logo/tag/signature.

He has been working on the streets for about seven years. He is a generous guy who will loan other artists his ladder at painting events, before he’s put up his own paste-up, or volunteer to help at the Sweet Streets festival, which is where I first met him. He has an amazing trolley studio with a ladder and all he needs for working on the street.

This is the first time that I’ve seen Phoenix exhibit in a gallery but I know that he has had exhibited in Sydney before. The works are the same as they are on the street, except that the gallery editions are mounted on jigsaw cut wood rather just pasted on the wall. With the Night Diver, and other pieces there raised elements, like the bolts and other parts.

The masterpiece of the exhibition is his M.C. (Milk Crate) Escher it is truly out of the ordinary.

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Walk to Giant

Jamit was planning to buy some spray-paint at Giant in North Melbourne and I agreed to walk with him.

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Setting up for Tiana Sanjaya to paint with spice in front of State Library of Victoria

We started at the front of the State Library. When I got there I found that there was an Indonesian artist, Tiana Sanjaya was setting up to paint with spices. Tumeric, candlenut, horseradish, mustard seed, nutmeg and chilli; it smelt good. It was part of the AsiaTopa 2017, the Asia-Pacific Triennial of Performing Arts.

On the way we had a look at Blender Lane. Now that Blender Studios has closed I was wonder if the quality of the work in the lane will continue without Doyle being present?

Further to that subject, we also looked at the graffiti and street art in Lovelands, a series of lanes near Victoria Market carpark, near the corner of Queen and Franklin Street. It also has the same questions of redevelopment hanging over it. It doesn’t look like much has changed since I saw Itch painting last year during the Meeting of Styles.

We passed another lane painted during the Meeting of Styles in April 2016 but there is more to see on the streets than just graffiti and street art.

I am not just looking at graffiti and street art; I have other interests, like public sculpture. Outside School No.307 on Queensberry Street I stop to look at a Peter Corlett sculpture of Henry Barstow. Henry Barstow was the architect who designed many state schools. I hadn’t seen the sculpture before but this is not surprising given Corlett’s prolific production creating several figures each year.

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Peter Corlett, Henry Barstow, 2011

Finally we reach Giant in North Melbourne. Maybe we should have taken the tram but the walk has been worthwhile. Nth Melbourne is a long thin suburb and its geography of Nth Melbourne is disorientating because the streets are not aligned to the same axis as the grid of Melbourne’s CBD.

You have to be buzzed into the shop. Then there is a room, covered in stickers and aerosol spray paint where we are to leave our backpacks. Then there the room full of spray cans of paint, maker pens, graffiti magazines and more cans of paint, the whole spectrum plus metallics, plus effects…

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“Hello Mark” is the first thing that I hear.

At first I can’t see who is speaking because there is a big dude between me and the voice. It is Toby who runs Just Another Agency. Everywhere I go I run into people that I know, a bonus for writing this blog.

Jamit buys about two dozen cans and even though the cans are cheaper by the half dozen he doesn’t walk away with much change from $150.


Sandor Matos & Space

Sometimes it takes years for me to uncover a mystery. I first encountered Sandor Matos’s sculptures in Warburton Lane in 2009. I assumed that he was part of Melbourne’s street artist scene but no-one knew who did the work. Eventually, it was David Tenenbaum, the publisher of Melbourne Books who was able to put a name to the work. Still when I finally met Matos at his small exhibition, Archeology of Tomorrow at Studio 11 in Brunswick late in 2016 I was expecting someone younger and wilder, not a middle-aged Hungarian who works as stone conservator.

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Sandor Matos sculpture with unknown paste-up in Warburton Lane 2009

The packing space series started when Matos had some artificial stone left over from a restoration job at Melbourne University, so he decided to put it to use. He was living in Warburton Lane at the time of the installation so transportation of the heavy sculptures was not a problem.

Studio 11 is a small white walled cubical at the front of this warehouse studio space that the artists, Joe Flynn and Joel Gailer are running. Joe Flynn raised up the roller doors and we looked at it from the street.

Sandor Matos turns negative space into positive sculptures. The use of found negative space as a sculptural area has been explored by several other sculptors, notably Rachael Whitebread in her House, winning the Turner Prize.

Cast from rectified readymade moulds found in the space between packing material. Matos rectifies the packing material slightly, enhancing the geometric compositions and removing any indication what it once contained or other symbols.

Matos has uncovered a mid-century modern style at the core of packaging. It is found in the negative spaces of styrofoam. That the modern style is preserved in packaging is hardly surprising given the connections between modernism and efficient design.


Van Rudd at Work

“I wanted to be a conservative painter but something…” Van Rudd pauses, searching for the best way to explain his life and the world. Van Rudd, the nephew of former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, is a politically engaged socialist artist who installs provocative street art sculptures, exhibits the stolen forks of the ultra-rich and parts of exploded vehicles from Afghanistan.

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I wondered what he had been up to since he ran for parliament against Julia Gillard in 2010. As it turns out he is painting a mural the Trades Hall carpark.

It is hard to believe that Van was ever a conservative painter but he was shows me some photos of his early paintings, they are very good but conservative in style. In his late-teens he was painting plein air Impressionist paintings of Brisbane. He then shows me some cool paintings that he did of exploding figures in stylish lounge rooms; paintings that looked like a mix between Geoffrey Smart, James Gleeson and Brett Whitely. He tried the fine art and contemporary art audience and he didn’t get the response was looking for, so he went in search of a different audience.

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Now his audience is not into contemporary art or street art. Now his audience is the union member who has no interest or time for following artists on Instagram or buying art in galleries. It is the person in the street or someone looking at the news. Van sees himself as a propagandist, even though he freely admits that the power of art is minimal compared to economic power. His art is there to support and illustrate the message.

Considering Van’s diverse art practice, from illustrating a children’s book to street art installations, I wanted to know what he did with most of your time as an artist? Did he work in a studio? He doesn’t really have one. When he is not an artist his hobby is indoor football. He also goes to a lot of left wing meetings because he finds that is a condensed way of doing research and getting information.

The carpark walls at Trades Hall are covered in graffiti and Van has had to buff back two large concrete sections. The graffiti in the carpark is a mix of the most basic tagging, by writers like Pork and Nost, along with political slogans: “Unions are part of the detention industry.”

The large mural that he is painting in Trades Hall carpark is just at its outline stage. Van says wants to revive the tradition of political mural painting in Melbourne that happened with Geoff Hogg in the 1970s.

Work progresses slowly, especially with me asking questions. Van with a paintbrush is not as fast as the street artists with their spray cans. He is critical of what he calls the “proletarianisation” and the “hyper-exploitation of street art.” The artist as sole trader has no protection, from exploitation and hazardous conditions especially the street artists working at heights. He tells me that has recently got his CFMEU white card for working on elevated work platforms; scissor-lifts, booms lifts, etc. Not that he is going to be working at height with this mural. He puts on a fume mask to protect against both the paint and car exhaust fumes and gets back to painting.


Caminando vias de agua – 12th Havana Bienale

During the 12th Havana Bienale 2015 I walked a lost river in Havana, Cuba. The walk took me through an impoverished part of Havana that was not far from the center but somehow well concealed. I discovered colorful shanty houses, a stark contrast to the colonial architecture that characterizes most of Havana, odd sacrificial objects nailed to trees, offerings to the pantheon of Santeria gods and the old port area, yet to be revitalized by the influx of foreign investment pouring into Cuba. A characteristic of this type of work is the unpredictable discoveries made as one walks a route not available on any contemporary map. This work, Caminando vias de agua (Walking Waterways), was my contribution to a group exhibition organised by curator, Claudio Sotolongo Menendez whom I had met many years previously. Other artists involved included: Alessandro Celante (Brazil), Heather Freeman (USA), Herve Constant (France) and Mariana Branco (Brazil).

It has been my experience that much of the reclaimed land where waterways once existed is prone to flooding, and is used for public facilities such as car parks, sports grounds and parks but in some cases housing for poorer communities. As I neared the location where the waterway would have drained into the sea, I was informed that the flooding in this part of Havana can reach 2 meters.

Caminando vias de agua involves identifying waterways in urban settings that have all but disappeared from view, usually having been subsumed by the urban infrastructure, rendered invisible. Despite this erasure, traces remain: the shape of the land, the propensity for flooding and the way that the reclaimed land itself is used. These traces when paid attention too, can reveal what was once there.

The process involves the utilisation of maps from the 19th Century in order to identify the location of the waterways and then embedding this information in a contemporary map so that the waterway can be walked. A mobile phone with a camera and the ability to send an MMS is used to document the walk. This documentation is transmitted during the walk and appears in close to real time on a representation in the gallery space, through the website http://peripato.net.
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In 2003 I had visited Cuba for the first time to exhibit and present a paper at the V Salon Y Coloquio Internacional de Arte Digital. Little did I know that this was the beginning of a long engagement with Cuba, its music, culture and most importantly, its people. I participated in the subsequent VI Coloquio and maintained contact with the organisers for many years, culminating in being invited to participate in the 12th Havana Bienale.

The curatorial theme of “the Biennial intends to involve architecture, design, the communicational phenomena, science and the forms in which the habitat is constructed”[1] to which my work was a good fit. This iteration of the ongoing series of walks grouped under the project heading Peripato Telematikos[2], was one of many that had taken place in many parts of the world, including Sao Paulo, Brazil and Istanbul, Turkey.

The curatorial team wanted the Bienale to spread out into public space, and it did this successfully except for one major hiccup. Tania Bruguera, a Cuban national, artist and activist tested the limits of the curatorial premise by re-staging a participatory performance piece in a prominent public space, Plaza de la Revolución, despite not being granted permission to do so. This landed her in jail and months of house arrest. Many locals supported her, whilst others felt that she had stolen attention away from the biennale itself. Whilst under house arrest, she performed a public reading of Hannah Arendt’s ‘The Origins of Totalitarianism’.

At the time Cuba was in the midst of renewed negotiations with the US and the lifting of decades long restrictions. Bruguera’s incursion was intentionally testing the waters. Was the renewed negotiations with the US an indicator of a loosening of the strict control by which the Cuban government had reigned for decades? Not so, in that particular case. Some of my own experiences reflected this. I had been held up at customs for 4 hours because I needed to bring a wi-fi modem into the country. I had a letter from the Minister previously organized by the curator, but even this was not going to smooth my entry. I later discovered that this was because many Cubans were creating unauthorized internet access points and this was illegal in a country where the internet is very restricted and censored. I had also been warned about the photographic content of my work. There were unsettling times when soldiers would come running towards me, blowing a whistle, for photographing a building or landmark. The curator had conveyed to me warnings he had received from Bienale organisers, regarding the photographic component of my work. As he argued, thousands of tourists traipse through Havana every day taking many photographs that no one seems to worry about. But these warnings were not to be taken lightly so some anxiety prevailed.

On my way home, I received a message from a curator I had worked with in Sao Paulo, Brazil, where I had staged a waterways work in 2009 at the Museum of Image and Sound. He informed me that since about 2010, there was a large interest[3] in the hidden waterways of Sao Paulo. Apparently, this was triggered by a water crisis in Sao Paulo, but the curator wanted to acknowledge my work that preceded. I suspect it was simply coincidence but it is humbling to think that I may have had a tiny influence.

Upon returning to Melbourne, I discovered that a friend was walking the whole length of the Murray River[4]. I accompanied him for a day. The walking continues.

Greg Giannis <giannis.greg [at] gmail.com>

[1] http://www.biennialfoundation.org/2014/05/havana-biennial-2015-curatorial-concept/

[2] http://www.peripato.net

[3] https://www.facebook.com/rioseruas

[4] http://mildurapalimpsestbiennale.com/blog/


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