Tag Archives: mural

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.

Rone in Collins Street

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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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.


Nost Thoughts

A couple of thoughts about Nost’s massive tag/bomb capping all the tags and bombs that had accumulated along lower section of the 30 year old Smith Street feminist  mural. I haven’t been out to see or photograph the wall, I doubt that I will ever have time for that and I trust that others already have digitised it documenting it for history.

Tagging on this massive scale becomes a kind of buffing. The amount of block colour covering the wall makes it essentially buffing. This makes Nost in this case a kind of grey ghost, the anonymous men who in response to graffiti and street art unofficially buff walls.

Towards the end of the Fitzroy Flasher’s post there is a critique of Megan Evans and Eve Glenn’s original mural. Arguing “a faded, neglected and in my humble opinion, outdated public mural” that need to be refreshed. Fitzroy Flasher’s points out that the original mural is “poorly painted”, that “the perspective is wrong, shadows not true to where they should fall” and that it was not as good as the work of Adnate or Kaffeine.

Fitzroy Flasher’s critique demonstrates the different priorities between graffiti and the Melbourne muralists of the 1980s. Clearly there differences in aesthetics, perspective, subject, politics and the work’s place in history between the muralists and graffiti writers. It would be good to examine these differences but that would mean going over the history of Mexican muralists, Union banners and I don’t have the time to go into all of that right now.

Expectations of progress on the part of the mural artists have not been fulfilled by the last 30 years of history, consider domestic violence or the gender pay gap. On the other hand graffiti writers, like Nost expect their fame to be instant and temporary rather than historical. The fresh novelty in graffiti and street art demands that the viewers, to some extent, forget the past. Popular culture, from television series to popular politics, assumes an ephemeral state of memory.


Urban Murals & Brussels

Often public murals can look naff, too politically correct or otherwise too preaching they look like a school guidance councillor has designed them. Part of the grand socialist tradition of public murals promoted by the Mexican mural painters. Or simply decorative. But the comic book murals in Brussels escape these hazards because they are not propaganda for products nor ideas; they are just having fun with established comic book images. So the impact of these comic book murals is different from other public murals; there is no didactic function to them, they are simply fun.

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Belgium invented the comic book, along with French fries, shopping malls, art nouveau and a lot of other things that have made the modern world. Belgians are particularly proud of their comic books as demonstrated by the city’s many comic book shops, it’s statues of comic book characters and public murals of enlarge comic book panels around Brussels inner city.

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The justification for these murals on the basis of Belgium nationalism is thin; the population and visitors to Brussels enjoy the comic books. The Brussels Comic Strip Route was created by the comic strip museum by Michel Van Roye, Brussels Councillor for Urban Development and the Environment, in 1991.  It is an on going project and new murals are being added, form posts on a “comic strip route” around Brussels.

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The murals are encountered as surprising, engaging and entertaining aspects of Brussels. One reason for the success of the murals is that the murals are not placed on urban eye-soars in an attempt to ameliorate their ugliness; rather they are placed on suitable walls around the city where they compliment the urban scene. Comic book images frequently depict the urban environment and comic book design works with the architecture of the city. Frequently the murals employ tromp l’oeil elements integrates the image with the building.

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Public art tributes to Belgium comic books do not stop at these murals; there is a comic book museum, the Belgium Comic Strip Centre, in a fantastic art nouveau building designed by grand master of Art Nouveau, Victor Horta in 1906. There is also a very large sculpture of a duo of comic book characters making a colourful and light-hearted splash in the business district of Brussels.

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Fitzroy to East Melbourne

In my wanderings around the city, searching for art galleries and street art, I walk along familiar and unfamiliar streets. I pass the mural on the wall of Whitlam Place in Fitzroy; it has been there a few years but still looks good. Of course these great public murals on so many buildings in Fitzroy would not be possible without artists working illegally along its back lanes. You cannot have one without the other. And there are so many pieces on the streets.

Anon. Fitzroy stencil

In the back lanes of Fitzroy, along with old stencils by Psalm, Dlux, HaHa, Optic and other veteran street artists, Vandal Spruce has been adding his paste-ups. Vandal Spruce is continuing to paste-up to taunt the Victorian Police with his inverted version of their badge. Vandal Spruce has been doing a great many of these paste-ups; I’ve seen them from Brunswick to Fitzroy.

Vandal Spruce, Fitzroy

Crossing Victoria Parade the municipal boundary between the City of Yarra and the City of Melbourne. Suddenly there is no more street art, legal legit pieces nor any illegal pieces. (Like I said you can’t have one without the other.) The backs of street signs were not covered in stickers, the white cream of all the buildings is fresh and clean. And the streets of East Melbourne are almost empty of people in contrast to the bustle of the streets of Fitzroy.

Tom Civil, 3CR wall, Fitzroy

It is only a couple of hundred meters south from 3CR community radio with its sidewall covered in a two story high painting by Tom Civil, Reko Rennie and others. Tom Civil’s huge section with hundred of figures walking, riding bicycles and sitting around a campfire is a great vision of the idea of community. Victoria Parade clearly demarcates the contrasting patchwork of Melbourne’s inner city and the different policies of its municipal governments. Is this what the City of Melbourne has a dedicated graffiti removal van for? To protect the areas of Melbourne occupied by the Masons, private hospitals, surgeons and the police association headquarters from the dread graffiti.


Prison Art @ Pentridge

Pentridge Prison operated in Coburg between 1850 and 1997 and as in all prisons some prisoners were also artists (not just escape artists and bareknuckle bash artists). In 1886 professional photographer, Joseph H. Soden was convicted of forging pound notes and served time in Pentridge in the same year his photographs were exhibited at the Melbourne Intercolonial Exhibition.

In 1960 (or 1962 or1964) aboriginal artist Elliot Ronald Bull (1942-1979) painted the mural in “F” Division. Painted with ordinary house paint the mural depicts an aboriginal camp scene. Part of the stolen generation Elliot Ronald Bull had already studied painting with Melbourne painter, Ernest Buckmaster. After his release Elliot Ronald Bull participated in a number of solo and group exhibitions. Some of his mural at Pentridge has been preserved.

Having lived in Coburg for decades I can remember the prison in operation, closed the location being slowly rehabilitated. I can still remember hearing the howls that came from Pentridge at midnight on New Year’s Eve in 1991 when I was living a block from the prison walls. I also saw and photographed parts of the prison shortly after it closed.

Carving from officers club rooms Pentridge Prison.

There was some prisoner art on the site in the maximum security Jika Jika Unit and in the officers’ club rooms. On a wall in the officers’ club rooms were a series of folk art style carved and painted round base reliefs. I’m don’t know what has happened to them.

The escape proof Jika Jika Unit has been demolished along with the art on its walls. Prisoners had painted some of the yard walls of the Jika Jika unit. On the ceiling and walls of one cell an unknown, probably aboriginal artist had painted goanna with tracks leading up the wall and onto the ceiling. The simple elegance of this design helped humanized a dehumanising cell.

Towards the end of its long life Pentridge Prison did have various art programs for prisoners run by art educator, Dr Max Darby and painter, Margaret Miles. (See Dr Max Darby’s “My Days In Prison”.)There was also at least one prisoner art exhibition in a CBD bank – so if anyone knows anymore details about prisoner art in Pentridge Prison please comment before the details are lost to history and redevelopment.


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