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Tag Archives: Phoenix

Political Graffiti in 2018

In late April on The Conversation Dr. Flavia Marcello. Associate Professor at Swinburne University’s School of Design, asks “Where has Melbourne’s political graffiti gone?” It is worth asking the question but aside from the yearning for the 70s and the overtly political graffiti of those times there wasn’t much to the article.

The scene on the street is now a more complex system, with greater diversity and more types of graffiti and street art operating. Rest assured Dr Marcello there is still plenty of political graffiti and street art in Melbourne. In all kinds of media from aerosol paint to stickers and even yarn bombing. Some of the best is done by stencil artist like Crisp and paste-up artists like Phoenix.

There is a wide variety of causes being promoted from ending Australia’s abuse of refugees to free West Papua. These causes are now in front of the eyes and cameras of international tourists who throng in their thousands to Melbourne’s graffiti attraction of Hosier Lane. The Free West Papua slogan managed to occupy space in the highly desirable Hosier Lane by using a chainlink fence that the aerosol and paste-up artists didn’t want. Consider the subversive power of a series of paste-ups calling to Free Liu Xiaobo in front of the cameras of Chinese tourists taking selfies in Hosier Lane.

So here is a collection of some of the best political street art and graffiti that I’ve seen in Melbourne in the last year or so. Although I am aware that there are many ways that graffiti and street art can be political, as in, contesting public and private space, I have tried to keep the politics of the collection clear and obvious. 

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Melbourne Street Art Guide

Melbourne Street Art Guide, ed. Din Heagney, Allison Fogarty and Ewan McEoin, (Thames and Hudson, 2016) Instead of writing a review of yet another unremarkable publication about Melbourne street art here are six artists who absent from the guide: Calm, DrewFunk, Ero, Ghostpatrol, Happy and Phoenix. I considered if I should ask them same set of questions that Melbourne Street Art Guide asked all the artists but really, the same set of questions?!

Calm mostly does paste-ups but does work in other media. He was included in the Hosier Lane part of Melbourne Now in 2013 so there is community recognition of his quality. See my blog post about his work.

Drew Funk was painting every legal wall that he could with landscapes and dragons, mixing the oriental, cartoons and aerosol art. He was ahead of the current mural scene by almost a decade.

DSC02068Ero is a scruffy New Zealand street artist working in the tradition of Keith Haring, painting simple images in blocky colours. He uses ordinary house paint and brushes rather than aerosol paint. He does piss in his paint cans to relieve himself and water down the paint.

Happy was active a few years ago but hasn’t done anything for many years. This is another problem of Melbourne Street Art Guide, it is more of a fashion snapshot than knowledgable critical guide. This is more or less the reason for not including Ghostpatrol even though he done more recent work than Happy. Happy mostly worked with paste-ups that made ironic comments about the street art scene but some of his sidewalk tags in line marking painting can still be seen.

Phoenix has more of a beatnik jazz style than a skater dad look than most street artists affect. A master of the photocopier Phoenix is serious community orientated man; he is one of the fellows who will stand up to be counted. The kind of man who with loan his ladder to a fellow artist before putting up his own piece. See my blog post about his recent solo exhibition.


Out of the Ordinary

“Out of the Ordinary” is a solo exhibition by Phoenix in the front gallery of Off the Kerb. Phoenix is not the ordinary Melbourne street artist who works with paste-ups. Unlike other street artists you don’t instantly get the meaning of his images, you have to work at them. You recognise the ordinary object but then you realise that there is more, something out of the ordinary. Often the message is an environmental awareness like All in One Basket.

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Phoenix, M.C. (Milk Crate) Escher, Anchor Hand and Jumbo Sushi Fish

Phoenix makes his paste-ups using a very technical combination of drawing, photocopies and collage. He uses a photocopier to produce drawings and has been using photocopiers to make art for longer than he has done street art. He used the photocopier to add colour through different colour ink cartridges or coloured paper and especially to enlarge and reduce. Very accurate, detailed drawings, draftsman drawings that are built up by combining different elements or the same element at different sizes, as in his Show of Hands. Always the image incorporates a double spiral as a logo/tag/signature.

He has been working on the streets for about seven years. He is a generous guy who will loan other artists his ladder at painting events, before he’s put up his own paste-up, or volunteer to help at the Sweet Streets festival, which is where I first met him. He has an amazing trolley studio with a ladder and all he needs for working on the street.

This is the first time that I’ve seen Phoenix exhibit in a gallery but I know that he has had exhibited in Sydney before. The works are the same as they are on the street, except that the gallery editions are mounted on jigsaw cut wood rather just pasted on the wall. With the Night Diver, and other pieces there raised elements, like the bolts and other parts.

The masterpiece of the exhibition is his M.C. (Milk Crate) Escher it is truly out of the ordinary.

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Duckboard Place Paste-Ups

Duckboard Place and its partner in the crescent, AC/DC Lane, are far less famous than the nearby Hosier Lane. Along with the usual aerosol art walls, stencil graffiti and guerilla installations, Duckboard Place has work by many notable paste-ups artists like Barek, Baby Guerrilla, Calm, Minou, Phoenix, Swoon and the enigmatic, Sunfigo. There is also this fine mosaic of beer bottle caps pasted up on a wall.

Bottle cap mosaic

Duckboard Place was named after Duckboard House on the corner of the lane. It was built in the interwar period and served as a World War II entertainment venue for the troops, later a branch of the Melbourne RSL and now has a number of fine restaurants.

Cherry Bar lighting bolt

The Cherry Bar in AC/DC Lane now has its own lighting bolt wall of fame for all people and bands that helped them raise money for soundproofing; it was a particularly successful crowdsourcing campaign. The soundproofing was required by all the recent development of apartment building in the area, Melbourne is, according to the latest Bureau of Statistics, the fastest growing city in Australia adding an extra 95,600 inhabitants in the year to December.

Phoenix, Milk Crate

Whereas Phoenix’s paste-ups have a clear message and is well known in the street art community, I’ve been following his posts on Facebook about the construction of his milk crate, Sunfigo remains an enigma. I’d like to know more about Sunfigo, I guess that other people do too because of the number of searches for his name on my blog. I once received an email from Sunfigo but communications ended there. I hesitate to guess anything about Sunfigo and the email gave nothing away.

Sunfigo Banksy tribute

I should just look to Sunfigo’s art, the selection of images, the limited palette of colours, the use of various other media, and try to make some conclusions from that? The geometric outline illustrations in tape or plastic ribbon strung through a chain link fence are a novel way of drawing. Are those lions and other images Rastafarian references? Or is Sunfigo claiming to be the king with the lion, putting a lion sign up in Hosier Lane above the door way to the now defunct Until Never gallery? There is not much to go on, unlike Phoenix, there hasn’t been much of a message in the work. And it is odd that Sunfigo started big with his Little Diver tribute and various works in diverse media and has become more specialised with smaller works. I was beginning to wonder if it was worth writing about Sunfigo and all these little images until I saw Sunfigo’s parody film poster (not in Duckboard Place).

Sunfigo, False Idols


Neighbourhood

On Sunday morning I was painting my new bullnose verandah. Standing on the scaffolding at the front of the house I had a view of my neighbourhood. As I paint I talk with my neighbours as they come and go.

Anstey Village Street Party

Anstey Village Street Party

When I finish with the painting Catherine and I go to a neighbourhood picnic at McCleery Reserve. This was part of Neighbour Day 2015 an annual celebration of community by Relationships Australia. There was a lot of talk about traffic problems on Munroe Street, too many cars and no pedestrian crossing.

Later in the afternoon I went to the Anstey Village Street Party and Zine Fair in Florence Street. For some people Anstey is just another small station on the Upfield Line but for other people it is home. Brunswick is made up of small districts each with their own character and Anstey is its creative heart. It had some of the first legal wall of graffiti (see my posts Coffee with Jamit and Legal Street Art in Brunswick), two art galleries, lots of artist studios in the area and recently, a lot of new multi-storey apartments, (see my post Graffiti at The Commons).

The street party was a strange mix between an art event, like an exhibition opening, a trendy market and a garage sale. Free face painting for adults by kids. There were a few bicycle carts, Soul System providing music and The Good Brew Co. selling some kind of brew.

Be Free on Florence Street Warehouse

Be Free on Florence Street Warehouse

Some of the good citizens of the street art scene, Phoenix and Civil had been at work in Florence Street. The beautifully simple design of the street painting was clearly the work of Civil. I didn’t see Civil but I did talk with Phoenix.

In the Florence Street warehouse space, along with the Zine Fair there was Imprint, a non­-profit student organisation from Melbourne Uni that “develops community ­based projects to drive social change”. The big map of Brunswick had been moved from the Desire Lines exhibition at Brunswick Arts Space (see my post Desire Lines @ Brunswick Arts).

How to be part of the community in the suburbs of a big city? Don’t drive your car, walk or ride a bicycle. Don’t live isolated in your house or in your backyard, but spend more time in your front yard. Talk to people. It is both simple and a very complex cultural problem because it needs to be supported by infrastructure, safe bicycle and pedestrian paths, better urban design along with cultural changes.

At both community events I saw the transport system failing; at the first a car reverse into a roundabout sign and, at Anstey the long neglected railway infrastructure breaking down and causing traffic jams at several intersecting roads. No bicycle or pedestrian fails were observed during my day in the neighbourhood.

A collection of old signs on a fence near the Anstey train station

A collection of old signs on a fence near the Anstey train station


Melbourne’s Weather

On Thursday, taking advantage of one of the last sunny days of autumn, I bicycled along the Merri Creek to the old Kodak Bridge on Edgar’s Creek. I didn’t expect to find street art in the wilds of North Coburg but the pillars underneath this unused bridge is an excellent location. There above a couple of superb graffiti pieces with gold paint splatter highlights was a whole set of paste-ups by Phoenix.

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The graffiti writers below had carefully buffed their undercoat around Phoenix’s skull.

The remains of a camp fire under the bridge reminded me that although there are still pleasant days like this, the nights are getting colder. I’ve been resisting commenting on this for over a year now. I heard about Elmor Leonard’s rules for writing a novel – never start with the weather. Weather is dull conversation. However, Melbourne’s weather is part of its psychogeography, it influences the way that we move about the city, and it influences the writing of this blog.

Terry, the postman had a story for me about delivering mail in the city. “Looked out the back of the building it was all sunny, looked out the front of the building the city looked all sunny. Went outside and it was raining, directly above. Typical Melbourne weather.” That night we had the strongest winds in thirty years.

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Looking through my notes from January: “Street artists painting in the heat of the day. Too hot for me to attend; there is a heat health alert in the city with a maximum of 36 degrees is predicted. I feel like I have become a vampire living in perpetual twilight – the sun, it burns! It burns!)” This extreme weather does effect the culture, artists living in rural areas have to prepare their art collections for bush fires.

Melbourne’s weather influences when I choose to go out. September and October’s uncertain weather are Melbourne’s choice for arts festivals. You roll the dice, you take your chances, it could be good, it could be fantastic, it could be horrible. Melbourne’s population are tired of the bleak wet and cold winter weather (now for my Canadian cousins when I say cold I’m not talking about freezing, sub-zero Celsius temperatures that you would call cold – Melbourne’s cold is a freezing wind coming off the antartic ocean with or without rain).

Then the are the heat waves of extreme baking heat, days above 40 degrees and nights where the temperature does not get below 30. There is no humidity, the sun bakes the leaves on trees and bushes to a brown crisp. After a sever heat wave lasting for days there is a feeling like jet lag as your body deprived of adequate sleep catches up with the rhythm of the day.

Although Melbourne’s weather is a major topic of conversation there is very little contemporary art about the weather. It is not as if there isn’t modern and contemporary art about the weather; consider Duchamp’s Unhappy Readymade exposed to the Parisian elements or Joseph Beuys’s claim of artistic responsibility for any snowfall in Dussseldorf during February 1970. The artists who do comment on Melbourne’s weather are the paste-up artists, including Phoenix whose street art paste-ups warn about global warming are exposed to the elements.

Phoenix Kyoto t-shirt


PaintUp!

For the last two days Adnate, from Melbourne’s AWOL crew has been up in the heavens painting on the rear wall of McDonald House that faces in Hosier Lane. Adnate will be up there painting for a few more days to come.

McDonald House (no relation to fat food empire) is a seven story building built in the Chicagoesque style. It was originally built in 1921 as warehouse but has since been converted to offices. The wall overlooking the lane has not been painted before because it has been too high and inaccessible.

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The current painting was made possible because the cement rendering on the wall of the building was being repaired and the scaffold had to be installed. Adnate’s giant piece was commissioned by local community association Hosier Inc. and funded by the City of Melbourne’s annual arts grant program. Hosier Inc. say that is the first instalment in a series of major artworks for the lane.

Ink & Clag in Hosier Lane

Ink & Clog in Hosier Lane

Down below in the lane the tourists come, take photos and go. At the Flinders Street corner a notice that the Ink & Clog, a crew from Singapore has been painting. (I’ve had a long interest in Singapore Graffiti). Near the Flinders Lane end two guys, both named Dave, are sitting on stacks of milk crates watching Adnate paint. One of the Dave’s is better known as Phoenix, whose paste-ups can be seen in Flinders Lane and other places around Melbourne. The other Dave is David Russell who is photographs Melbourne’s street art scene and whose photographs are regularly seen on Invurt. The location was a difficult one to photograph and David Russell was preparing to go up on top of various buildings around the lane to get photographs of Adnate’s progress.

Melbourne is now following the example of many European and South American street art of very large legal murals to bring art and colour to a giant run-down and drab wall. I can’t tell how Adnate’s mural will look when it is finished, hopefully it will be as good as the face that he did in an earlier piece with the rest of the AWOL crew in Fitzroy.

AWOL Gertrude Street

Adnate with the AWOL crew, Gertrude Street


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