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Tag Archives: Miso

Ten years of Melbourne’s street art and graffiti

Ten years in the history of Melbourne’s street art and graffiti told with a series of artists, crews and events. Rather than another listical of notable street artists this is an attempt at a kind of chronology that points out peaks rather than beginnings and endings. In it there are artists who opened new directions, who could not be ignored, who reinvented themselves or the techniques and the idea of street art and graffiti. There are artists who have persisted along with artists who for a short time made a big impact. It is a list based on my observation of Melbourne’s street art and writing them in this blog.

 

2008: Drew Funk and HaHa

Drew Funk and HaHa are two affable guys, studio mates and friends on the two sides of the aerosol paint use. Drew Funk’s aerosol art and HaHa’s stencil work were once ubiquitous with the Melbourne street art scene.

2009: Ghostpatrol and Miso

The power couple of the emerging illustrative street art scene. Ghostpatrol’s whimsical character illustrations and Miso’s paper cuts were fresh styles and techniques. Neither does any street art now both quickly moving into the fine art and legal murals.

2010: Yarn Wrap and Junky Projects

Both these artists expanded media of street art. Before Bali Portman and Yarn Corner crew there was Yarn Wrap guerrilla knitting. I was sceptical when I first heard about yarn bombing but I was wrong and the technique quickly became a favourite of city councils. Meanwhile, Junky Projects collecting rubbish from the street and transforming it in the most coherent and long term up-cycling project ever.

2011: The Everfresh and the AWOL Crews

The Everfresh crew of Phibs, Rone, Reka, Meggs, Sync, Makatron, Wonderlust, Prizm and the Tooth have been the most significant crew in Melbourne. The AWOL crew of Adnate, Deams, Itch, Li-Hill, Lucy Lucy, Slicer were not far behind and by changing their styles they sprayed their way to more fame.

2012: CDH and Baby Guerrilla

Two ambitious artists who made a big impact but are no longer actively making art on the streets. CDH was the mad scientist of the street art scene; trying out new techniques using fire, hydroactivated paint and creating conundrums for the NGV with his Trojan Petition. At the same time, Baby Guerrilla was reaching for the heavens, trying to fill the largest and highest walls with her floating paste-up figures.

2013: All Your Walls & Empty Nursery Blue

Both projects buffed the walls of Melbourne’s graffiti central to good effect. Adrian Doyle painted the whole of Rutledge Lane blue. And, as a curated part of the NGV’s “Melbourne Now” exhibition, the whole of Hosier Lane was repainted by some of Melbourne’s best graffiti and street artists in All Your Walls.

2014: Rone and Adnate

In 2014 year both artists painted very large legal murals of big faces on big walls. Everfresh crew member Rone painted women’s faces and AWOL crew member Adnate painted Indigenous people.

2015: Kranky and Tinky

Kranky was a crazy explosion of assemblages, then it stopped; maybe the supply of plastic toys ran out. Tinky used even smaller toys to make her little scenes Along with other artists Kranky and Tinky revived the street art in Presgrave Place.

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Lush’s work in Richmond

2016: Lush and Nost

The most irritating assholes in Melbourne’s street art/graffiti scene where there are plenty of irritating assholes. These two guys have made it a speciality. Lush does have a trollish sense of humour but he highlights a problem that is essentially for so much street art, especially murals, they are just click bait. Nost is a tagger, an aerosol bomber who hates street art.

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2017: Astral Nadir

The art Astral Nadir encouraged me to look down at the sidewalk and not up on the walls. With so many walls already painted and the backs of signs covered in stickers Astral Nadir artistically exploring a relatively unused area in Melbourne.

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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.


Women of Paste

There are all these women in Melbourne’s streets doing amazing paste-ups.  I’m only commenting on their gender because for years males have dominated Melbourne’s street art scene. What few women street artists there were in Melbourne were often notable not for their art but for being female. Now there are so many note worthy women doing street art in Melbourne and their talent is obvious to anyone, although their sex might not so obvious. (I had no idea that Kaffine was a woman – not that it is an issue anyway – I was wondering why broos, goat headed people, a common RuneQuest monster were appearing on the streets of Melbourne albeit with a stag’s skull head – even more frightening). Most of these women concentrate on paste-ups (wheat pasting).

Baby Guerilla – has been pasting up her drawings of women, men and birds floating for years. How she gets her paste-up up so high must be how she has got her name, climbing like a baby gorilla. (See Invurt’s interview with Baby Guerilla.)

Baby Guerilla

Klara – I thought Klara was a one-image artist just doing faces until I saw her self-referential paste-up at Dean Sunshine’s warehouse.

Klara

Urban Cake Lady – the woman stripped tights, the red cloak and the animal familiars are the legend of the Urban Cake Lady.

Urban Cake Lady

Suki – clearly inspired by Miso, Melbourne’s first woman of paste, not that that’s a bad thing, although people, including myself, have misattributed Suki’s work to Miso. (Miso hasn’t been doing any paste-ups on the streets for over a year now.) Suki’s women are beautiful water bearers with long hair. (See Invurt’s interview with Suki.)

Suki

Bubbles Unknown – text based and hand written pages with small illustrations.

Bubbles Unknown

“I & The Others” – also inspired by Miso, “I & The Others” produce some fine paper cutting.

“I & The Others”

Kaff-eine – paste-ups figures of children and a stag skull headed figure, along with working in aerosol paint, marker pen, up-cycling and other street art activities.

Kaff-iene

Precious Little – first came to notice for her poetry on laneway walls printed with an old fashion Dymo label maker but has since moved into using aerosol paint. (For more on Kaff-eine and Precious Little see my blog post about their exhibition, Urban Scrawl, at the City Library earlier this year.)

From Jenny Holtzer to Miso and Swoon and this current generation of paste-up artists: why are paste-ups attractive to female street artists?


Anti-Modern

Street art is anti-modernist – consider it from this angle.

I & the Other(s), paper cut, Flinders Lane, 2012

Street art is a significant post-modern art movement. It rejects the art gallery defined art object, exemplified by Duchamp’s readymades, for art that is identifiable amongst the bins in a back alley. It is site-specific. It is follows other post-modern, contemporary art trends but often take this further than the gallery art.

Modernism rejected humanizing decorative elements in architecture and street art decorates those bare concrete walls. In architectural terms (not that street art should be reduced to an architectural art form regardless of the number of walls involved) street art cannot be reduced to eclecticism, kitsch or “featurism”. These terms are meaningless outside of a modernist context, where theoretically a style can be debased. There was no kitsch in the Renaissance and, likewise, the term “kitsch” is meaningless in street art. Tattoo style and comic book art are part of the street art mix not in appropriation or when converted to art but as an equal part. Other contemporary post-modern artist have also rejected the modernist high culture and popular art distinctions and tried to create synthesis.

Melina M., Hosier Lane, 2012

Street art rejects the modernist (fascist) hierarchy of styles; the hierarchy is based on the same faulty reasoning that lead to the fascist hierarchy of races. There is no pure art, no more than racial purity. For street art is practiced without economic or political stimulus that places the patrons at the top of any hierarchy; it is often practiced in defiance of the plutocrats.

In rejecting the traditional system of patronage, street art subverted the modernist aesthetically sterile gallery and the creation high-end commodity art objects in favour of free art often in multiple editions. Instant fame on the street subverted the traditional media filters.

Street art rejects the modern art education system, many street artists are self-taught coming from various backgrounds. If they do have an arts eduction a street artist is more likely to have studied design rather than fine art. On the street artists have created a master and apprentice system and crews operate a quasi-guild system.

Detail of Napier Faces, various artists, 2009

Many street artists collaborate on large projects and this is a change to the modern artist’s identity as a unique creative genius. Collaborative work has a significant presence in post-modern art with artists like Gilbert and George, Brown and Green, Warhol and Basquiat. Collaborative art uses the merging of ideas and identity rather the modernist unique creator, the heroic artist. Street art has a different kind of hero artist, the trickster and prankster, who defies the authorities with a spray of his can.

Street art is a rebellion and not another modern revolution. Rebels seek to alter something in the present; a revolution wants to change everything in the future.

Unknown paste-up, Geelong, 2012


Poster Bombing 2011

Graffiti creeps up along the Upfield line bicycle path and in recent years there several quality pieces north of Moreland station. Paste-ups have now reached the shoe factory on my block with a well-placed piece by Shark, who appears to be specializing in images of birds.

Shark, flying ducks, Coburg

As if there weren’t enough fly-posters for bands and concerts all over Melbourne there has been a big increase in paste-ups in the last year. Paste-ups maybe popular with street artists but are not highly regarded by the general public, unlike the public reception to the stencil art scene. This is because there often there isn’t much to this poster bombing. An unoriginal black and white photograph is enlarged on a photocopier and pasted on the wall doesn’t impress the general public even if it is really big. Part of the problem is often the only consideration for paste-up placement is access and visibility. The content of many of these paste-ups is just bland selection of sampled photographs images. Many people want the instant fame of street art; years ago Happy commented with his “Instant Fame” series of paste-ups.

Happy, "Get Instant Fame"

Quality paste-ups are cut around the outline of the image, or include, even more paper cutting, like those of Miso and Swoon. Paste-up specialists like Phoenix mounts his paste-ups on cut MDF panels that have been designed withstand the weather.

Baby Guerilla, floating nude women

Many artists and illustrators are using paste-ups to show their work on the street; I keep seeing Baby Guerilla’s floating nude women along on the streets. The Melbourne paste-up artists that I most admire are Phoenix, Urban Cake Lady and Happy. (There are others who I have not been able to identify.) I admire their work because they are produce interesting content; the message and content of the paste-up is more important than the wheat paste technique. Phoenix is interested in the politics and meaning of signs. Urban Cake Lady mysterious red draped woman with stripped stockings along with wild animals. And Happy had a cynical take on both street art and advertising.

Phoenix

Suki

Urban Cake Lady

unknown artist, clothes line

Happy, "toy!"

unknown artist

Who is your favorite wheat-pasting street artist?


Miso’s Smoking

A bunch of white paper arrows hang from the white gallery wall, the delicate cut paper creating the veins of their feathers, their thin shafts and arrowheads. Cut paper forms art noueveau patterns and fantastic images of dogs with monasteries on their backs.

Miso “Paper Birch”

Notable Melbourne street-artist Miso specializes in paper cutting and paste-ups. Her current exhibition at No Vacancy Project Gallery features some fine paper cuts along with images made from the patterns of holes from needle pricks.

Miso’s paper cutting is a reversal of the stencil cutting techniques of many of Melbourne street artists. Instead of using cutting to create a stencil the cut paper is the image. Both Miso and US artist, Swoon have taken paper cutting up a level both in the scale and the artistry of their work.

The techniques of cutting paper tends to be overlooked, relegated to a folk art from another time, the silhouette cutter working their trade on the cusp of photography. Overlooking the old hands of Matisse as he cut colored paper to make works like the Blue Nude towards the end of his life. Overlooking also the hands of Hans Christian Andersen and William S. Burroughs as they cut up paper. (Cut-Outs and Cut-Ups, ed. Hendel Teicher, The Irish Museum of Modern Art, 2008) Hans Christian Anderson was a master at traditional folded paper cutting. Andersen used his delicate paper cutting technique as an adjunct to his story telling; keeping his audience’s attention as they watched his large hands delicately cut paper as he told his story and unfolding the completed paper at the end. William Burroughs used Brion Gysin ‘s “cut-up” technique in both in writing and visual art. Burroughs also used it to create stencils for spray paint.

The installation of Miso’s exhibition “Les Lumières” is impressive; the small No Vacancy Project Gallery at the Atrium, Federation Square has been lined with white painted bits from old houses, windows, doors and boards. At the far end of the gallery on a white wall of boards the neon sign “Les Lumières” glows. Impressive though the installation is I’m not convinced by the aesthetic connection between the paper-cuts, the installation and the artist’s statement about the future of cities. The work on paper do not connect with the old doors and windows, with the exception of the figures of “Ellen” 1 & 2 that bracket an old arch sash window. And, as much as I like the idea of urban gardens, I didn’t see how the plants connected with the exhibition, apart from visual relief from all the white. But this does detract from the smoking hot quality of Miso’s cut paper.

Miso’s installation with “Ellen 1” at No Vacancy


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.


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