Tag Archives: Keith Haring

Graffiti and Street Art by Anna Wacławek

All art history students would be familiar with the Thames & Hudson World of Art series. These paperback books with their black spines are authoritative accounts of various art movements, styles and histories. When Thames & Hudson launched its World of Art series in 1958 it aimed to produce low cost, high quality art books. Now with over 300 titles in the series ranging from Aboriginal Art to Internet Art it is not surprising that there is Anna Wacławek Graffiti and Street Art (Thames & Hudson, 2011, London).


In the book’s introduction Wacławek notes that: “a major study of graffiti and street art grounded in visual art analysis has yet to be published,” and that she intends this book to fill that gap. Most of the words about graffiti and street art have being written in sociology or criminology rather than from the discipline of visual arts. The lack of a serious book on the art of graffiti and street art is surprising given that in 1984 Thames and Hudson published the some of the first documentation of graffiti art, Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant’s Subway Art. But Subway Art, like most of the earlier books on graffiti, is a collection of photographs.

Graffiti and Street Art certainly fills that gap. After reading so many short articles and interviews with artists it was relief to read in an organised and systematic order in one book rather than gleaming the same information from diverse sources. Wacławek’s precise language can pack many ideas into a single sentence. The many photographs in the book are used as examples and each one is referred to in the text.

The first question about such a book is if graffiti writers do not consider their work art then what is point of an art book is actually an irrelevant question. Apart from some contemporary English speaking artists the same can be said about almost everyone currently called an artist. But trivial categorisation disputes aside the art of graffiti needs to be included in this book. Describing the structure of graffiti writing and the genealogy of graffiti is necessary, at the very least to distinguish it from street art.

Later the question, ‘is graffiti art?’, allows Wacławek to distinguish art history from visual culture studies. Distinguish between art history and visual culture history removes the aura of excellence around in art history and allows the examination of  popular images. This is an important distinctions not just for graffiti and street art but for any examination of popular images.

The popularity of graffiti and street art is not dismissed but examined. It is looked at in the collaboration of the public in the creation of street art. When Wacławek examines the dissemination of street art in photographs and online she raises the question: where do you see the most street art and graffiti on the streets or online?

Examining graffiti and street art from the perspective of art history is important that issues of style, subject and signature key to both art history and graffiti. Wacławek gives context to Haring and Basquiat as a sidetrack in the history of graffiti. There are also occasionally references to contemporary artists, like Andy Goldsmith, in perspective with street art

Sometimes I felt that Wacławek was being too subtle with both her arguments and the examples that accompanied them rather than doing something more obvious. Vexta and Nick Walker are the examples in the section titled “Identity Politics”. However, if the average reader can think of the more obvious arguments and examples is it necessary to writing them?

At the University of Melbourne has CCDP20001 Street Art can now be studied as part of the breadth subjects for undergraduates studying Science, Music, Commerce, Biomedicine and Arts. I am surprised that this book is not one of the prescribed texts.

The prescribed texts for the subject are:

Cubrilo, Duro et al (2010), King’s Way: The Beginnings of Australian Graffiti – Melbourne 1983-1993 (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press)

Schacter, Rafael (ed.) (2013) The World Atlas of Graffiti and Street Art (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press)

Alison Young’s Street Art, Public City: Law, Crime and the Urban Imagination.

Anna Wacławek Graffiti and Street Art is a book that is needed by the many high school students and university students who are and will be studying graffiti and street art.


Mainstream & Alternative

On Gertrude Street the passing tram displays an advertisement on its side; the image of the street artist, Rone modelling for the fashion label Uniqlo. Now lets talk about mainstream and alternative culture or, at least, read Paul Harrison’s article “We are all sheep: what Uniqlo and H&M tell us about Australian retail”.

Rone advert for Uniqlo

I can’t remember the last time that I wandered around Fitzroy and Collingwood looking at the streets, the street art and the art galleries. It has been over a year since I last reviewed a gallery in Fitzroy.

I used to regard the area around Gertrude Street and Brunswick Street the alternative cultural centre of Melbourne and although never a resident I used to be a frequent visitor. It has definitely been awhile, things have definitely changed but fortunately other things remain reassuringly familiar. I always pass a street artist up a ladder painting a wall on perambulations of Fitzroy or Collingwood.

Fitzroy is such a mix between the discount and the designer, between the socially vulnerable and affluent and between the mundane and the marvellous. A scruffy guy scuffs twice with his foot at a two dollar coin that some prankster had glued to the pavement and then moves on. How many different Fitzroys are there?

Keith Haring

In Collingwood I was glad to see the Haring mural fully restored and complete with information panels for the public (although the little service hatch door is not the original). It is a major change since I first wrote about it on this blog.

On my walk I managed to see exhibitions. Fitzroy and Collingwood’s art scene of little galleries is another world.

Off the Kerb’s group exhibition of creatures provided enough focus for such a disparate group of artists. This was better than BSG ungainly hanging and mix around their group show, creating a something that was less than the sum of its parts. ‘Body Sex’ was the theme of BSG group show but Off the Kerb’s broader theme of ‘Creature’ made a more unified exhibition. Off the Kerb’s exhibition also had the benefit of Dan Dealy who curated the show. (More taxidermy art at Off the Kerb by Lucia Mocnay and Tul Suwannakit, see my earlier post on Contemporary Art and Taxidermy.)

Next door to Off the Kerb, at Fawn Gallery, ’Analogue Re-Mission’ by Tansy McNally is an exhibition of paintings based on digital television distortions that creates random abstract of the image. The translation of this source material into paint actually did work, like post-impressionism for the digital age.

At Seventh there was Travis John’s FaceSplitter Lauren McCartney’s The Hula Hooping Project and  is described as a “composition, performance and installation existing somewhere between destruction and creation”. It looks like something out of Mythbusters. McCartney had used ppaint filled hula hoops. I’ve seen this idea before executed better by No Mi Che’s Oroborus in 2007 as she could really spin a hula hoop and wasn’t afraid of being covered in paint. McCartney’s paint splattered ‘gallery two’ with the prints and impressions of the artists feet reminded me of the work of Japanese art movement, Gutai because of the expression of primal energy.


Persons of Interest

Persons of Interest was a series of blog posts about artists, writers and thinkers who have had an impact on me at some time in my life and have continued to have an impact. I wanted to write a personal history of art, telling it from my own view, to examine how the art and biographical details have influenced my own critical judgements. It was not an easy process and the posts did not attract many readers; maybe it was too self-indulgent or my choose of persons too obvious. Maybe, the posts didn’t come with enough images; anyway, I don’t think that I will continue it.

Who to include and who to leave out? This is always the question in making such lists. Influences come and go in waves of interest by the public and at various times in your life you get caught up in that wave of general interest. As a kid I must have been reading Robert Hughes in Time Magazine as my parents subscribed to it but I wouldn’t want to count Hughes as an influence or a person of interest. I played on synthesisers and so I was interested in Brian Eno. I am not claiming that I am major fan of Eno but Here Come the Warm Jets and Another Green World has been on high rotation for decades.

Here are all my Persons of Interests posts. They were written roughly in the order that they started to influence me.

Jan #1 – Desmond Morris

Feb #2 – Andy Warhol

March #3 – Salvador Dali

April #4 – Marcel Duchamp

May #5 – Laurie Anderson

July #6 – Various, Notes from the Pop Underground 

July #7 – Keith Haring

August #8 – William Burroughs

September #9 – Philosophers

December #10  – Hunter S. Thompson

It is not surprising that I am interested in influences when the subject of my thesis was the influence of Max Stirner’s philosophy on Marcel Duchamp’s readymades. I started reading Max Stirner because of one remark by Marcel Duchamp but as I was investigating his relationship to philosophy, both the influence on and the influence of, I felt I had to read him.

“When he (Duchamp) was asked later in life to identify a specific philosopher or philosophical theory that was of specific significance to his work, he cited Stirner’s  only major book – Der Einzige und sein Eignetum…” (Francis M. Naumann “Marcel Duchamp: A Reconciliation of Opposites”  p.29)


Person of Interest – William Burroughs

The confessions of an unredeemed William Burroughs junkie: I first became addicted to Burroughs when I read an interview with him in Rolling Stone back in the mid 1980s. I had a taste of him before that through David Bowie, Gary Numan, Laurie Anderson and other artists that he had influenced. Since then I have read most of his books, listened to a lot of recording and watched a few documentaries.

My favourite book by William Burroughs is The Western Lands (1987). This is his final novel, although Burroughs lived longer than even he expected and managed to write a few more novellas, this is clearly intended as his final novel. I love how The Western Lands critiques his most famous early work, Naked Lunch and the pathos of writing his own death as a lonely cat obsessed old man.

My favourite spoken word CD by William Burroughs is Spare Ass Annie and other tales (1992) with The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy. But my favourite musical collaboration with William Burroughs is on Laurie Anderson Home of the Brave. It was my first encounter with him and it contains my favourite concept from Burroughs is that “language is a virus from outer space.” I’m not sure where Burroughs got this idea from the “logic bacilli” of Tristan Tzara’s Dada Manifestos or the “spooks” of Max Stirner or somewhere in Buddhism. It is the softwear/hardwear distinction, the “meme” of Richard Dawkins, expressed in a beatific poetry.

My favourite movie appearance by William Burroughs is Gus Van Sant’s Drug Store Cowboy (1989) as an old priest – it was a roll that was perfect for him. He did appear in other movies; he plays an unnamed old man with a gun in the comedy Twister (1989) – another roll that was perfect for him.

My favourite work of visual art by William Burroughs is… no, I’m not going that far. I’m not that much of a fan but I do have three books on his art. As Burroughs said: “Something worth doing is worth doing badly.” As far as celebrity painting goes Burroughs successfully integrated his personality with his art practice. And writing about art in Painting and Guns (Hanuman Books, 1992) is certainly worth a read.

Burroughs has influenced so many artists from Jack Kerouac to Keith Haring. His influence has been wide from literature, to music to the visual arts. Many new forms of media emerged during his long life from tape recorders, 16 mm film, computer art and spray cans. This makes him the seminal artist of punk, graffiti and music sampling. He exemplifies the Beat idea of the person as multi-dimensional, free, individual, artists working across art forms and media.

At the request of Alan Ginsberg Marcel Duchamp passed on the mantle of the godfather of the avant-garde to Burroughs with a kiss.

I will end this post with Burroughs “Words of Advice For Young People” – it is good advice, worth following and delivered with an elegant brutality.

Person of Interest – Keith Haring

The art of Keith Haring first came to my attention when he visited Melbourne (see my post Keith Haring in Melbourne). Haring was like a pop star, except that he was doing visual arts rather than music. I didn’t get to see him in Melbourne but he was everywhere for the next few years; I saw him on TV and in magazines and not just the art magazines.

Peat Wollaeger, Keith Haring Stencil, 2008 at Collingwood Technical College

Peat Wollaeger, Keith Haring Stencil, 2008 at Collingwood Technical College

In the early 1980s Keith Haring along with other East Village artists, like Jenny Holzer and Barbara Kruger used ‘wall-posters’ (paste-ups/wheat-pasting). Haring’s paste-ups were fake news headlines like as: “REAGAN SLAIN BY HERO COP”; cutting up headlines was a strategy adopted from William Burroughs. Haring also used stencils in his early street work stencilling “CLONES GO HOME” on sidewalk borders in the Village. This early flowering of what would later be known as street art heralds an art movement.

“The galleries at that time were still dominated by people over thirty and mostly Conceptual and Post-Minimal art.” Keith Haring commented on his influences (Notes from the Pop Underground, Peter Belisto, p.99) Haring went the opposite direction, appealing to people under thirty, like me at the time, and creating art that didn’t depend on art galleries for their meaning. Haring’s line drawings worked on subway walls, t-shirts and even Grace Jones’ naked body.

In 1986 Haring collaborated with Brion Gysin in “Fault Lines”; Haring’s art is connected to Gysin’s tagging calligraphy (see my post). In 1988 Haring collaborates with Burroughs for “Apocalypse.” The great centipede with a television head in the Collingwood mural is an image clearly inspired by Burroughs who writes about giant aquatic centipedes in many of his novels.

When Keith Haring died in February 1990, followed by the death of Jean-Michel Basquiat, it felt like the art of the 1980s had died. Both Haring and Basquiat were, what we would call today, street artists who had become international art superstars. Street art would have to wait another decade before its full flowering.

After that I would look out for Haring’s wall every time I went that way in Collingwood. Now, finally after decades of inaction there preservation work has started on the site. It is a difficult issue, preservation or restoration, both will have loses – a restoration would lose the authenticity of Haring’s brushstrokes and preservation loses the vibrancy of the original but better either than the loss of the whole mural.

“I just want to be taken seriously. I would like to think that someday there will be drawings next too a Lichtenstein, or beside a de Kooning drawing in a museum.” Keith Haring said. (Belisto, p. 111)

This year Keith Haring is finally receiving the recognition that he richly deserves. There is a major retrospective “Keith Haring, the Political Line “ at the Musée d’Art Moderne in Paris and a very small exhibition about his 1988 Tokyo Pop-Up Shop at the New York Historical Society. (It was a very small, just a display case, a painted lantern and video shot of Haring discussing the lighting for the Tokyo Pop-Up Shop.)

Persons of Interest

Notes from the Pop Underground edited by Peter Belsito (Last Gasp, 1985) aspires to be Calvin Tompkins The Bride and the Bachelors: 5 Masters of the Avante-Garde (1965) for the eighties. Both books are a series of interviews, horizon scanning the horizon for the arts. Tomkins interviewed Marcel Duchamp, Jean Tinguely, John Cage, Robert Rauchenberg, and Merce Cunningham. Notes from the Pop Underground had a broader focus including the performing arts, literature and film. And Peter Belisto has interviews with: Survival Research Laboratories, Diamanda Galas, Church of the Subgenius, Robert Anton Wilson, Jim Jarmusch, Michael Peppe, Raw Magazine, Keith Haring, Jello Biafra and Spalding Gray. (You can give yourself out of ten if you have seen the work of these people.)


I remember buying this book; it was on the special’s stand at Minotaur Books back in the late 1980s. I’d heard of a couple of the people in it and after seeing the photos of Survival Research Laboratories and Diamanda Galas I had to buy the book. It soon became a favourite and I continue to update it with references to articles and dates of death. The first thing that I did when I heard that Spalding Gray was dead was to make a note in my copy of Notes from the Pop Underground.

Before I bought the book I’d heard of 3 people on that list: Robert Anton Wilson, Jim Jarmusch (thanks to the Valhalla Cinema) and Keith Haring (because he had painted walls in Melbourne). Since reading the book I have encountered, through various media, all of them again with the exception of Michael Peppe.

When I started thinking about my Person’s of Interest series for this blog Notes from the Pop Underground instantly sprang to mind. It was a great predictor of culturally significant people from the pop underground, some emerged from the underground into the mainstream but all had incredible artistic vision. The 1980s came across loud and clear. It was a time when you could see the future while still living in a past full of analogue technology.

Diamanda Galas’ concert in Melbourne a few years ago was magnificent. I was also impressed by the number of people that walked out, Melbourne’s Concert Hall must have emptied by two thirds. And how in the taxi ride home the taxi home the Armenian taxi driver was happy to hear that she sang an Armenian folk song.

Jet Set Street Art

Where in the world is HaHa? Dabs and Mylar have returned to Melbourne after several years abroad. Melbourne street artists are travelling the world. Street art is the most extensively travelled art movement of all times. It is one of the necessities of working on the streets means finding news cities and places to exhibit.

Many street artists from other countries have visited and left their mark on Melbourne’s streets. Looking through my collection of photos of Melbourne street art I have many examples of these international artists. I have listed the visiting along with their country of origin and year/s that they visited Melbourne. Most visited in conjunction with an exhibitions as and I have noted if they also participated in major festivals or events.

A1one - Gertrude St. Fitzroy

A1one – Gertrude St. Fitzroy

A1one (Iran, 2008, Melbourne Stencil Festival)

Aerosol Arabic, Thirst for Change, Sparks Lane, Melbourne

Aerosol Arabic, Thirst for Change, Sparks Lane, Melbourne

Aerosol Arabic (Britain, 2008, Melbourne Festival)

Above, Melbourne

Above, Melbourne

Above (USA, 2011 & 2012)

Now destroyed Banksy's  "Little Diver"

Now destroyed Banksy’s “Little Diver”

Banksy (Britain, 2003, a covert visit, see my post)

Blek le Rat under perspex Parhran

Blek le Rat under perspex Parhran

Blek Le Rat (France, multiple visits)

Choq, Fitzroy

Choq, Fitzroy

Choq (France, 2012-13)

Celso Gitahy, Brunswick

Celso Gitahy, Brunswick

Celso Gitahy (Brazil, 2008 & 2009, see my post)

Keith Haring, Collingwood

Keith Haring, Collingwood

Keith Haring (USA 1984, see my post)

Nash, Sparta Place, Brunswick

Nash, Sparta Place, Brunswick

Nash (Netherlands, 2012, Project Melbourne Underground see my post)

Snyder, Rocket Pop Boy, Hosier Lane

Snyder, Rocket Pop Boy, Hosier Lane

Sydner (USA, 2012, private initiative see my post)

Peat Wollaeger, Keith Haring Stencil and tribute at Collingwood Technical College

Peat Wollaeger, Keith Haring Stencil and tribute at Collingwood Technical College

Peat Wollaeger (USA, 2008, Melbourne Stencil Festival).

This is not at all a complete list of artists who have visited Melbourne. Nor does it include foreign street artist who have made Melbourne their home.

I am not writing about these international artists out of a cultural cringe away from local artists. Australian culture has long had a belief in a superior foreign culture – be it French, British or American. I am writing about these artists to demonstrate that street art is a global style. Images of street art are so easily transmitted around the world by the internet and travel is also easy. So many notable street artists have become international nomads. And it is one of the strengths of the art.

Which, if any, visiting artist do you think has been the most influential on Melbourne’s street art?

%d bloggers like this: