Everything in the city is competing to be the spectacle and all that Situationalist shit.
Lush is Melbourne’s piss take king, taking the piss out of street art and graffiti. Lush appears to have made Hosier Lane his own arena for his spray up comedy, ever since he staged his “secret show” there last year. Lush is full of extra confidence because he was the Melbourne street artist chosen by Banksy to exhibit at Dismaland. This is not surprising given that both Lush and Banksy produce easy to read work with a similar sense of humour.
In the visually dense jungle of the city there is an ecology of images. Different styles of street art compete for attention in the streets as they also compete for likes online. La Lune cuts paper and does paste-ups, filling a gap in the aesthetics of the street left by Miso and Suki.
Looking at my recent photos I ask myself if there currently a return of the stencils or do I have a selection bias? But it is not just me, a reader sent me a photo of a whole wall of stencils something that I hadn’t seen in six or seven years. Even a new Jamit stencil appearing recently on the street; Jamit claims to the first artist on Melbourne’s streets to have used stencils.
More recent stencil artists include Luv[Sic] and Mikonik, who are doing some great multi-coloured stencils. Mikonik’s images are all sprayed on jigsaw puzzles.
There are also plenty of stencils that work just because of their aphorism, the current pop culture references or just because they have the minimalist simplicity of Sunfigo’s stencils.
I went to see Regan Tamanui’s (aka HaHa) ‘Residency’ at the House of Bricks in Collingwood. HaHa is amongst the best stencil artists in the world and House of Bricks is one of the funky converted warehouse gallery spaces focused on the street art scene. Why a ‘residency’ was my first question? He explained that was offered the space due to a cancelled exhibition.
It is an informal way of working in public. Set up a studio, just a couple of tables and chairs, at the House of Bricks. With the roller doors of the House of Bricks open, Regan is practically working in the street and in public.
On the white wall he was taping up his work for sale at the very affordable price of $60 a piece, so I bought one. He is also offering to do stencil portraits for $100.
Regan is happy to explain and demonstrate his multi-stencil technique or just chat with the people who come in. He said that he has been attracting a fair number of local identities and eccentrics. He told me the best advice was not make eye contact with them otherwise they would talk forever.
There were small stencil studies for future work inspired by recent trips to Singapore, the Northern Territories and Papua New Guinea: orchids, crimson sunbirds, kookaburras, the Devil’s Marbles in the Northern Territories, along with portraits of dogs and people.
After that I wandered around the area. Regan told me about a large concrete cast spray can in an empty lot behind a chainlink fence a block away. I’m sure that is by Dface when he visited Melbourne in 2011. At the back of the lot against a concrete wall there was also a fake tomb stone, presumably also by Dface, that reads ‘Cheat Death’ (too far away for the zoom on my little camera).
On my walk I saw Tom Civil’s wooden cut out versions of his figures decorating the wall of the community garden on the corner of Cecil and Gore streets. It is not a big garden just a few planter boxes and benches but it makes a big impact on the street.
In Easey Street there were these decorated power poles, I didn’t think much of them, they looked a bit ugly, not surprising given the Christmas theme of some of them.
Also on Easey Street is the graffiti influenced architecture of the End To End building with the three train carriages on its roof. (For more see my post on Graffiti and Architecture.)
Walking up Hosier Lane in Melbourne’s for the first time in 2015 I notice that amongst the many pilgrims to this Mecca for street art and graffiti there new work of several visiting artists. Factor has been back in town.
That Will Coles has also paid a visit from Sydney and his current casts are finer and more elaborate than has old lost objects. There now must be a Will Coles piece in every niche in Hosier Lane, many now covered with layers of spray paint.
That Amorphic has put up some paste-ups while she was over from South Australia. She informs me that she put up some more around the Barkley Square Shopping Centre in Brunswick, off Monarch Lane in St Kilda, and on a door in Union Lane.
It is good to see Dolus bringing stencils back into the mix. Stencils were over used by street artists a decade ago and many people have been avoided using them ever since.
However the main reason that I wanted to take a look at Hosier Lane was to see how Melbourne’s street artists have reacted to recent events, namely the attack on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris. Melbourne’s street artists are always quick to follow a political meme and to contribute their part in the discourse.
I’ve been photographing Melbourne’s stencils for almost a decade, I’ve been looking at them for longer. Looking back at all my photos of Melbourne stencils here is my top 10.
“Like seeing gnomes out of the corners of your eyes, stencils appear and disappear in surprising and crafty urban nooks and shadows. Replicating like most good ideas tend to do, Ha-Ha, SYNC and DLUX took their obsessed stencil messages off the streets and into a gallery in 2003. Outing the mythical icons and images in Melbourne advanced the opening of the gates across the world. Ten years later and the shadows part once more into a painted world of imagination, humor, and collaboration.” – Russell Howze (San Francisco), stencilarchive.org & author of Stencil Nation
“HaHa is an authentic street artist and poet of the city . We have worked together during my trip in Australia in 2009 and it was really great to have meet HaHa and his beautiful stencils. ” – Blek Le Rat
“This site doesn’t normally do announcements about upcoming shows, as you will know if you have visited it before. But sometimes I like to put up information about a show that promises great things or is by artists who are really significant in the scene.” – Alison Young, Images to Live By
“Now & Then” at Second Story Studios in Collingwood has to be the most overhyped exhibition of Melbourne’s stencil art; so many people are praising this exhibition as a landmark before it has even opened.
The best part of the exhibition were the collaborative works that brought the three artists and some of their original stencils, along with some new ones, back together again. These works were nostalgic for those who remember Melbourne’s streets a decade ago. They are a condensed version of what happens on the street. The accretion of stencils rather than a single stencil, the mixing of style that is an essential feature of hip-hop, is what makes these works outstanding – I wish there was more of it on the streets.
It is well over a decade since this Melbourne street art scene started to happen. Late in 2002 Ha-Ha, Sync and DLux first met at the old Blender Studios. In 2003 they had a group exhibition, “Cut It Out” at Hush Hush Gallery in Hosier Lane. No-one was keeping track of exactly what they were doing to begin with because to begin with it was just a bit of fun. Back when the street art started Ha-Ha, Sync and DLux were spraying their stencils everywhere and writing their name up large with rollers on the walls of the abandoned factories around Macauly Station.
A bit over decade later Melbourne’s street art scene has blossomed and become internationally famous. Digital cameras and photo sharing are now ubiquitous and the audacious, punchy appeal of street artists still captivated a still growing audience. New forms have developed, there are more artists, a larger audience, more collectors and more recognition. Ha-Ha is listed in the top fifty street artists in the world.
The artists have also changed in the decade, what was fun has become their life.
DLux has started to paint freehand combining “sunset palette” with “toilet block graffiti” scrawled across it unfortunately his painting technique doesn’t always match these ambitions. Sync has also abandoned stencils to create ordinary and passé abstract paintings; his recreations of his old stencils on scraps of reclaimed wood were selling well at the exhibition.
Only Ha-Ha has kept working and developing his multi-layer stencil technique. He has added to this with the mixing of different faces and now adding “subliminal text” to his images; the words “magic” and “sex” appear in the hair of Ha-Ha’s Marilyn Monroe.
Then and now and the differences are enormous.
This is a story about a shy suburban guy living the suburban slumber of the sedated lifestyle waking up. He doesn’t go wild and try to stay wide-awake all the time. He just calmly looks around at what is going on in the big picture, tries to find a voice and then uses his voice get involved. What more can be expected in a life?
Calm found his own voice with first with a mock Neighbourhood Watch poster featuring a Planet of the Apes gorilla and the slogan: “control the human pests”. He has gone on to more paste-ups with his pertinent satire in Melbourne streets.
Calm is a Melbourne street artist who has been working on the street for the last three years. Married with three children, unlike many other street artists he does not have an art school or design background. He is still refining his spray-painted multi-layered stencilled techniques that often does on paper before pasting them up in the street. He has been in a few group exhibitions mostly for charities and was involved with CHD’s Trojan Petition in 2012.
It isn’t often that you hear an artist talk about the work life balance, sometimes you are just amazed that they have a life. It is not that Calm is prolific, he doesn’t do massive runs and paste-up everywhere, but the quality of the work makes it stand out and he is happy with the balance in his life now. There is a balance in his art, it is not all political, there is also his Toucan spray-cans.
Calm’s pop political posters of current political figures satirize and comment on the media’s current cast of heroes and villains. The simple form and the few colours keep the design clear and concise. Calm’s satire doesn’t preach or rant but has a cool, wry and ironic quality. Often there a few different angles; referring to his Bradley Manning in football uniform, Calm points out that there are a few quarterbacks named Manning in the NFL.
When I mentioned that his Murdoch swine was a bit vicious compared to his lighter touch with other work, Calm replied, “Sometimes you’ve got to do it.” It was saying what everyone was thinking of Murdoch after News of the World.
Calm see his street art as a way of breaking the advertising monopoly on public space and the public conversation. Calm’s images are like single panel editorial cartoons on the pages of the city.