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Tag Archives: books

My next book

When I was busy finishing my last book Sculptures of Melbourne my wife asked me what my next book would be. It was not the question that I wanted to hear then but she did help me work through a few ideas. It was worth asking the question because it was the same question that my publisher asked me just after my book launch. Fortunately by then my wife had helped me find an answer and my publisher liked the idea.

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Pablo Picasso, Femme au mouchoir, 1938

My next book will be A Brush With the Law, stories of true art crimes in Melbourne, or some title like that; I don’t have a deep commitment to titles because my titles have  often been changed. It will be published, whatever the title is, by Melbourne Books in early 2018. To keep to that schedule means finishing writing the book in the next couple of weeks. Then will come meetings with the editor, the copy editor, the book layout designer and eventually the person doing the publicity. For more clues about the content of the book see my blog post from last year.

I have no ideas for another book after this one. I don’t even have ideas to reject and I don’t want to think about that now. Perhaps I will find it writing more blog posts, exploring the city or taking with someone. It is not going to be about taking a walk there are too many people writing books about walking. The best of these books is Frédéric Gros A Philosophy of Walking (translated by John Howe, Verso, London, 2014); this is not ‘philosophy’ as in ‘new age nice thoughts’ but the rigorous hard thinking of Kant, Nietzsche and the ancient Cynics in relationship to ambulation. Not that Gros has written a dense academic examination, it is an entertaining read, but chapters about Ghandi, Rousseau or Rimbaud walking is about as light as he gets.

I haven’t been posting on this blog as often as I usually do because I am working on my book. However after all these years of writing this blog I don’t want to give it up because this is where I get many of my ideas.

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Alison Young & Melbourne’s Street Art

One of the unique features of Melbourne street art scene is the involvement of “Banksy’s favourite criminologist”, Professor Alison Young.

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CDH, portrait of Alison Young (Image courtesy of CDH)

Every city with a thriving street art scene has street art collectors, like Andrew King and Sandra Powell, or a blogger equivalent to Dean Sunshine (Land of Sunshine) or Facter (Invurt), or a photographer like David Russell, documenting the scene.

A tall, middle age Scottish woman with blond bob, Alison Young does not look like the typical fan of graffiti and street art. I first encountered her at a graffiti forum in an art gallery, probably the way that many people do. Speaking at venues from the National Gallery of Victoria to delivering the keynote lecture at a conference, Philosophy of Street Art: Art in and of the Street at Pratt Institute and New York University in 2016.

Subsequently I subscribed to her blog, Images to Live By and, would then run into her at various graffiti and street art events around Melbourne. Writing her blog was both a way of introducing herself to the street art community as a sympathetic observer and  also a way of introducing her thoughts to the same community.

Young has been researching graffiti since 1996. Central to Young’s examination of street art and graffiti is that our response is shaped by the way that we encounter with them. That initial moment where we are assessing what we are seeing based on how we think about where we are because the location is central to graffiti and street art.

Young has written four books on the subject: Judging the Image (2005), Street/ Studio (2010) with Ghostpatrol, Miso, and Timba, Street Art, Public City. Law Crime and the Urban Imagination (2014) for which she was awarded the Penny Pether Award 2015 and, most recently, Street Art World (2016). Not that it is possible to tell where her research ends and the fan of street art begins, complete with a tattoo by Miso.

Alison Young is not the only academic studying street art in Melbourne. There are other academics who are studying street art and graffiti however most are post-graduates and not a Professor of Criminology at Melbourne University. Young’s academic seniority that allows her to be influential in both the street art and academic worlds.

There is an account of Young’s involvement with the City of Melbourne’s graffiti policy in Chapter 6 of her book in Street Art, Public City – Law, Crime and the Urban Imagination (Routledge, 2014). But Young’s influenced Melbourne’s street art in more ways that advising and being ignored on the city’s graffiti policy or the odd appearance as an expert witness in court. Simply by being at live sprays, talking to artists, exploring cities, writing a blog, can have a subtle but important influence. Her sympathetic but sharp and insightful mind is part of the conversation, the discourse of Melbourne’s street art. For example, there is an article about her interactions with Kaff-iene in Articulation, the University of Melbourne Arts Faculty blog.  In this way her contribution becomes embedded in the local scene.

See also my review of Young’s Street Art, Public City. Law Crime and the Urban Imagination.


Free Books

The little Free Library in Coburg is along the Upfield bike track between Reynard Street and Moreland Station. It is a very well done; a neat little red school house style with a pitched roof and glass doors

.Little Free Library

The setting is completed with a matching red seat, a sign and a small garden, wedged in between a fence and the bicycle track. Guerrilla street architecture is practical way to help the whole community; public seating may be a useful as free books.

The sign reads: Little Free Library – Borrow, donate or exchange – Have fun – In memory of David J. Cumming – “Uncle Dicky”

I’ve no idea who David J. Cumming was but the little library is fun tribute to his memory.

little free Library

The collective noun for books is a ‘library’ and, although the Little Free Library is not a circulating library that circulates its collection by lending books, nor a research library that holds a collection, it is still a library. It is a street distribution/exchange library, that informally distributes books between people privately without records. Imagine encountering a free library a couple hundred of years ago, or in a totalitarian regime, an anarchic intellectual paradise.

It is an interesting cultural note that books are becoming increasingly difficult to sell new or old. New forms of book swapping are emerging: Book Crossing, Book Mooch and Little Free Libraries. http://www.bookcrossing.com http://bookmooch.com http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_swapping

According to Little Free Library Map there are also ones in Seddon, Kingsville and Hawthorn, and Thornbury. I didn’t find the one that was, according to the map, on Kendall Street in Thornbury near the Merri Creek. I wasn’t surprised, I’m sure that some come and go without being recorded, like many things on the street. http://littlefreelibrary.org/ourmap/


Seven Years With Banksy

This post is about the curious case of Banksy allowing people around him to exploit their relationship with him. For example Mr. Brainwash and his part in the film Exit Through the Gift Shop or Robert Clarke’s book Seven Years With Banksy (Michael O’Mara, 2012). I suppose that Banksy has no choice given that he wants to keep his identity anonymous but to tolerate these exploitations rather than face exploitative exposures. Being an anonymous artist clearly has it drawbacks.

Robert Clarke’s Seven Years With Banksy is a terrible read, even with low expectations. Like Mr. Brainwash and Exit Through the Gift Shop there is more of Clarke in the book than Banksy. Clarke spends two or three chapters just meeting Banksy. He actually has very little and sporadic contact with Robin/Banksy. If Clarke were honest the book’s title would be Seven Years of occasionally meeting Banksy.

I stopped reading the book the first time when Clarke started to recount his dreams about Banksy; it was too self-indulgent. In the words of Wm. Burroughs: “Such dreams radiate a special disinterest. They are as boring and commonplace as the average dreamer.” (Burroughs, My Education: a book of dreams, 1995 p.2)

I put the Seven Years With Banksy aside and read a couple of other books but when I came to the end of Daniel Farson’s Gilbert and George – a portrait (Harper Collins, 1999) the author wandered into a dream he had about Gilbert and George. I started both at the same time and enjoyed reading G&G more – G&G are so charming. And Farson’s occasional meanderings were forgivable because they showed his systematic commitment to the project. There is real content in the book about G&G, the people that they worked with and the people who bought their art.

I thought that maybe I was being too harsh on Clarke, so I went back to Seven Years With Banksy but I think that I should stopped reading the first time as it didn’t get any better. My opinion, don’t bother reading it in the first place. I’ve read it so you don’t have to.


Melbourne Street Art Reading List

Here is something for all the students and teachers out there.

Jake Smallman & Carl Nyman Stencil Graffiti Capital Melbourne (Mark Batty Publisher 2005) See also their website.

Matthew Lunn, Street Art Uncut, (Caftsman House, 2006) (see my review)

Duro Cubrilo, Martin Harvey and Karl Stamer, Kings Way – The Beginnings of Australian Graffiti: Melbourne 1983 – 93 (The Miegunyah Press, 2009) (see my review)

Alison Young, Ghostpatrol, Miso Street Studio – the place of street art in Melbourne (Thames & Hudson, 2010) Design and layout by Timba Smits. The book has interviews with Neils Oeltjen (aka Nails), Tom Civil, Tai Snaith, Ghostpatrol, Ash Keating, Al Stark, Miso, Twoone, Mic Porter, and the Everfresh Crew. There is an excellent review of this book on Hyperallergic.

Dean Sunshine’s Land of Sunshine – A Snapshot of Melbourne Street Art 2010 – 2012, (Brunswick, 2012) (see my review)

As well as these books, I must also recommend, even though it is not about Melbourne graffiti – “How to read Graffiti” by Jason Dax Woodward (13/6/99)  This well written introduction to aerosol graffiti is worth reading for people outside of graffiti culture. The article is strictly about old school aerosol graffiti but it is good to start at the beginning.

In the beginning was the word. The word was often a name, a tag, repeated, endlessly, like Taki 183 who is often cited as the first graffiti artist. “After working on the tag form for an indeterminate period the writer inevitably beings on developing a piece style. This process might involve working on throw ups first or straight into rounding out the tag into a piece form.” (p.4) The enlarged tag refined, areas of colour are filled in, clouds or other background are added, along with highlights and a “keyline” running around the outside of the piece. The addition of characters, cartoon or realistic, further completes the background of the piece.

These words, the basic vocabulary that Jason Dax Woodward explains are the way graffiti or street art is defined, described, designated and denoted. It is the ghostly theory, the invisible culture behind the visible images that allows them to mean something, to be compared, even, to be discussed. These verbal definitions run like a “keyline” in the mind around graffiti.

Please add to this reading list in the comments.


Deconstructed Books

Back in 2006 when I started blogging I was seeing a lot of art made from old books. And there is still a lot of it around; in this entry I will mention four Melbourne artists making art made from books.

Art made from old books has become a new genre. It emerged from Duchamp’s experiment Unhappy Readymade (1919), a geometry book destroyed by the Parisian weather, and has been repeated with variation until it become a genre. In recent years old books have been stacked, folded and cut into new works of art. Art made from books is return of literature as the subject for art, not in the form of illustrations, as it was in the 19th century, but as deconstructed books. The 19th century virtue of saving printed matter has become a vice in the 21st century. There are too many books, too many redundant books, too many ordinary books, too many books to save. Legal deposit libraries that try to collect all printed matter, like State Library of Victoria, are growing exponentially. Where the content of the book is unloved the love of books is being transferred to a love of the material that makes books.

There are many ways in which books are turned into art but generally the book is destroyed in the process. I saw a good sculpture from made from a book without damaging the book, “Evil” (2005) by Peter Madden at Gertrude Contemporary Art. The book, a small dictionary, was held together with 3 G-claps and all these illustrations of snakes were curling out from between the pages. A little knowledge, and it is “The Little Oxford English Dictionary”, is a dangerous thing.

Rosie Miller cuts the book’s pages free from binding and rebinds them into the curve of a wave. Rosie Miller exhibited her unbound curved sculptural books in a wood cabinet with shelves, in April 2009 at Platform. I also saw her “Untitled” (2008) wave of paper at Lindberg Gallery earlier in the year. It is ironic that Miller who studied printmaking at the VCA is now making sculpture from printed matter.

Katherine Hattam used paper pasted with the title and dedication pages of Penguin paperbacks as the support for a series of still life paintings. Some of the books in these still life images have the collaged real spines of real paperbacks. I saw her painting “The Divided Self” (2006) and other paintings at Australian Galleries.

“In Memorium” (2008) by Samantha Harris a book forms plinth for a small scene made from paper and twigs. The twigs are wrapped in ribbons of paper cut from book pages. Harris’s scenes are literary in that they recreate the way we construct stories about our own home.


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