Tag Archives: graffiti

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?)

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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.


Upfield Bike Path Graffiti

The Upfield bike path goes through Brunswick and Coburg before running out at the northern end of Fawkner Crematorium and Memorial Park. There has been graffiti along the bike path for decades. It is interesting to observe the urban real politics of competing uses of this stretch of land that is maintained by Moreland City Council.

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The city council built the bicycle track on land that is bounded between the train line controlled by VicTrack and the backs of private property.

Private property owners with walls backing on the bike path have been upgrading their property; the old corrugated iron sheds are being replaced with walls of concrete. This has created more and better walls for the graffiti writers extending further north. (See my post on The Commons Graffiti.)

The areas around the tracks controlled by VicTrack are the most neglected. This is not entirely due to utilitarian considerations and derelict railway buildings are allowed to decay without allowing them to be used as surfaces for graffiti.

The graffiti writers were there first, making use of the walls beside the train tracks. Their work has been slowly accumulating until it covers about six kilometres of walls on both sides of the tracks. Sometimes the same graffers will paint the same walls years later.

Then came the bike path and the cyclists and in the last couple of years the guerrilla gardeners.

If you want a way to prevent graffiti, the solution is to plant trees and vegetation in front of the wall. This has worked at Brunswick Station where all the graffiti is more than two years old now due to extensive planting by the “Friends of the Upfield Linear Park”, who have more extensive ideas for the whole area on their website.

Further north along the bike path the graffiti and the guerrilla gardening create a beautiful combination, growing simultaneously along the Upfield bicycle track just north of Moreland Station. Here a back laneway has blossomed, the colour of flowers mixing with the paints. Further enhancing this area is the solar powered lighting built into the fence separating the bike track from the railway. At this point there appears to be a balance between the competing interests but the situation is dynamic.

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Further reading:

I can reveal that Banksy is really Clark Kent, mild mannered reporter for The Daily Planet. My flawed logic is that Clark Kent has a secret identity, Banksy’s identity is a secret and they have never been seen together. Responding to this week’s attempt unmask Banksy read Peter Bengtsen ‘Clickbait: The cash, flaws and ethics of “revealing” Banksy’ in Vandalog.

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Notice about Banksy’s ‘Little Diver’ in Cocker Alley

In further academic writing about street art.

Have you ever wondered if an artist is doing street art or graffiti and then thought why not correlate the artist’s Instagram followers and general ‘street art’ and ‘graffiti bombing’ accounts in order to find out.  ‘Audience constructed genre with Instagram: Street art and graffiti’ by Christopher D.F. Honig and Lachlan MacDowall. (First Monday, v.21, no.8, 1 August 2016) Further to this Lachlan MacDowall writes about his research and Lush in ‘Meme wars: Lush Hillary Clinton and graffiti on Instagram’ in The Conversation.

Someone should write an article “How to Talk to your Children About Lush” but not me, I don’t have any children.

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Lush’s work in Richmond

The Conversation is a great place for many more articles about graffiti and street art. This includes David Kelly’s important discussion about how the recent rise in homelessness in Melbourne and the use of Hosier Lane: ‘Graf all you want but don’t you dare be poor!’ (I’m sorry I left the link until last but then I couldn’t have used the Banksy hook to get you in.)

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Various Artists, Flinders Court, Melbourne


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.


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