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Tag Archives: Street Art

Buff After Reading – the art of buffing

To ‘buff’ is to paint a wall to remove the graffiti or to prepare it for another piece of graffiti. But sometimes the results of buffing can be strange.

Buffing comes in several styles: colour field, hard edge abstract and more abstract expressionist. Colour fields require the complete buffing of a wall to a single colour. Hard edge abstract art is created by the repeated buffing of parts of a wall in different shades paint. The more abstract expressionist style follows the graffiti covering but not eliminating the form.

Buffing is not the natural enemy of graffiti and is often an ally of street art. People will buff around the stencils and paste-ups to preserve them in Melbourne. People like Baby Gorilla or Be Free enough to avoid destroying them. Then there was the Christian buffing around a crucifix in Coburg. I love it when an artist alters buffing to make something of it.

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Altered buffing, unknown artist, Brunswick, 2011

There were a couple of strange buffing incidents in 2016. Australian artist Scott Marsh was paid to paint over his six-metre-tall mural of Kanye West kissing Kanye West. Reportedly it was Kanye’s management that paid Marsh $100,000 to buff it. Also in 2016, but kind-of the opposite to Marsh’s pay to buff,  when Bologna street artist, Blu buffed everything he ever did to prevent the mayor of Bologna from exploiting it.

Meanwhile, an a fence in Coburg someone fights back against graffiti with paint. As effective a strategy as any but this has now been overgrown with vegetation; if you really want to prevent graffiti vegetation and not buffing is the solution.

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Eyes open in Brunswick

I’m keeping my eyes open. I’m looking around. I have not got my face fixed on the screen of my mobile phone as I walk so I notice things on the streets of Brunswick and Coburg. Anarchist posters with anti-religion and anti-fascist graphics and all the beautiful aerosol works down the bluestone alleyways.

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Inspector Gadget over Tinning Street

I hope that whoever is doing the Wandjina spirit in paint, paste-ups (and now in ceramics?) has the cultural authority to use the sacred image. That they are an Mowanjum person from the Kimberley and not some Europeans living in the Blue Mountains, as in the 2017 controversy over the use of the image of the Wandjina spirit. But then this is the street and nobody is meant to know.

Discarded

Discarded

A piece by Discarded along the bike track is less obvious. I can’t be sure that I haven’t overlooked this piece for a year or more. The cast ceramic pieces of discarded items found on the street are collaged together into a new form. The piece is framed by the better brickwork outside the patch. I am keeping my eyes open as I quickly photograph the piece to avoid being run over by a bicycle when I kneel down.

Civil painting

Civil painting in Brunswick

Sometimes it is so obvious that you only have to be there. I see Civil behind a row of orange bollards, half way up another wall in a Sydney Road carpark. He is painting another scene of stick-figure people, dogs and bicycles with a brush. The description of stick-figures sounds crude when the practiced lines of Civil’s figures is anything but crude. They have the simplicity of a figure by Keith Haring or Matisse. The curved  lines arms and active legs along with the simple details of hats, dresses and bicycles.

I saw a lot of new Civil walls for it was only an hour before that I’d noticed that Civil has repainted his old wall in Tinning Street with more of his stick figures but this time against a bright green background. For more on Civil read my earlier post. 

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Another wall by Civil in Brunswick

Keeping my eyes open in Brunswick had its visual rewards.


Street Art notes January 2018

I had low expectations of the city’s first official street art precinct and they were met. The ‘official precinct’ was launched in December 2017. It is just a couple of murals by Adnate, Dvate, Fintan Magee, Rone and Sofles on walls in Lt. Bourke Street before it ends at Spencer Street. Several big heads and a big orange belly parrot.

Adnate

Adnate

 

Most murals in Melbourne serve the interests of property developers or local city councils; similar interests anyway. The realistic images are sentimental, superficial and a distraction from what is happening around the large wall. Murals are anti-graffiti, anti-street art management strategy… but enough about murals (or if you want to read more).

I am look for something else on the streets, something smaller. (The smallest piece perhaps…)

I find a stencil; perhaps, given the geometric lines in the body of scorpion, it is by Sunfigo. A cartoon face by Twobe and one by the internationally renown artist Lister, who blurs the rough line between contemporary art and street art.

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Lov3

An excellent piece and installation by Lov3 in Collingwood. Up-cycling three discarded mattress and using the quilting pattern as snake scales.

Silk Roy

Silk Roy

In Flinders Court I saw a recent piece by local Melbourne artist, Silk Roy. Silk Roy loves painting. Sure many artists love to paint, often painting the same thing over and over again, in that they enjoy that experience. However, Silk Roy’s art shows more than just enjoyment like the conservative mural painters but artistic risk taking, changing and developing. This is graffiti aware of contemporary painting. (Read an interview with Silk Roy on Invurt.) Silk Roy does paint big walls but I doubt that he will be painting a multi-story mural any time soon and that, for me, is a relief.


A shadow of a memory

The death of Richard Hambleton, ‘Shadowman’ reminded me that, aside from Keith Haring, Shadowman was the only other street artist that I’d heard about in the 1980s. I knew about Keith Haring because of his tour of Australia.

In the 1980s it was difficult to access information and finding it was often determined more by fortune than strategy. I heard about Shadowman by word of mouth and I don’t think that I saw an image of his work until decades later. At the time I was living in Coburg and studying at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. It was a long way from New York’s East Village where Keith Haring, Jenny Holzer and Barbara Kruger et. al. were putting up ‘wall-posters’ (paste-ups) and Shadowman was splashing paint around.

In 1985 I heard of him as “Splashman”. A friend, Rod who was doing media studies at Rusden, told me that he had heard about this guy splashing paint to create silhouette figures on walls. It was from a second or third hand report that was probably based on a 1983 profile of the artist in People magazine. My friend told me that Shadowman had painted in Berlin. Given that it was in Berlin and I assumed that it must be on the Berlin Wall because, at the time, that was the best known location for artistic graffiti (the definition of ‘graffiti’ was still fluid at that time).

At the time I didn’t know that Richard Hambleton, was an NYC-based, Canadian artist with long term problems of addiction to heroin and crack. At the time he was a mysterious, unknown person painting on walls at a time when that was very unusual. His art and existence raised many questions and provided few answers. Now only the shadow of a memory remains.

For more and images of Hambleton’s work see: Daniel Maurer “Banksy Precursor Richard Hambleton Dies at 65, Days Before MoMA Show and Shadowman Film”.

 


Thanks for the cocktails, Cheers

What am I doing at the Whitehart Bar, in Whitehart Lane, Melbourne? I am ‘doing things your way’ doing things my way with a hashtag Wild Turkey Kentucky Firebird smoke infused cocktail and hoping to win a work of art. Yes, there will be alcohol sponsored promotions in this post. My excuse, and I will stick to it  even under cross examination, is that I was there as an art critic observing the work of the guest artists: Gareth Stehr, Klara, Adrian Doyle. Will Coles, Bertie Blackman and Nikolaus Dolman were part of the publicity up in Sydney.

The Whitehart Bar is at the end of dark lane, separated by a chain link fence topped with barbed wire. Constructed out of iron girders and shipping containers in an old parking lot, the numbers are still visible on its old bluestone walls.

It is the perfect setting for a hard-bitten, true art crime writer. I need a break from working on my art crime book and writing about the art forgery convictions being quashed for The Daily Review. I haven’t had time to write anything for this blog in weeks.

Were you not there simply for the free Wild Turkey cocktails?

Not entirely, I was there to observe the synergies between artists and marketing event. I looked at the three paintings and I photographed Gareth Stehr’s jacket. I saw a lot of retro elements, I thought that circular paintings went out with painted tambourines. Stehr piece had a poker work skull, burnt into the wooden support with a hot poker; I thought that poker work went out with sailing ships but I’ve seen several pieces already this year. Hot Potato Band were a lot of fun but again lots of retro elements; I thought that Sousaphones went out with that expression but once again I was wrong.

The smoke filled glasses are spectacular of “Wild Turkey Kentucky Firebird” and the citrus notes cuts the sweetness. I am probably amongst the first million people in the world to taste the cocktail. I had to sample this smoke infused cocktail twice for accuracy along with a couple of other bourbon based cocktails. Burgers By Josh were launching a menu and I sucked in about three of their smoked “spicy turkey wingettes” with peach and bourbon BBQ sauce. The food bloggers on the guest list talking about “the biggest burger that I ever ate”.

Cheers.


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.


Presgrave Place Renaissance

Look up and a couple parachuting rats are descending on Presgrave Place in Melbourne. Three-dimensional version of Banksy’s stencil but it is not the work of the famous British street artist but a prolific Melbourne street artist known as Kranky who makes art from plastic rats and dolls.

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Look down and the dolls arms poking out from the grating, that remind me of the children currently held in indefinite detention of the Australian government, is also the work of Kranky. (Wait a minute one of those hands has a cigarette butt.)

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Look at the wall and there is more work by Kranky and other street artists.

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There has been street art in Presgrave Place for quiet some time; if my memory still serves me there were frames on its wall when it was shown in Marcus Westbury’s 2007 series Not Quite Art. However, there never was that much art in Presgrave Place. Just that one wall really, around the corner there is the dead end and the rubbish bins and back doors of businesses. Without the graffiti writers it never had the same turn over of work. The frames, some stickers, a paste-up by Happy and the couple of Junky Projects sat on its walls for years.

The paste-up by Happy and the Junky Projects are still there but they have a lot more company, it is now intense. Last year Kranky started to crank out assemblages in the place, along with everywhere in Melbourne, but this new energy was what was needed to revitalise the place. Kranky was followed by Mikonik who continued the tradition of using cheap picture frames sourced in opportunity shops. Sunfigo and Luv[sic] followed with this theme framing their work; Luv[sic] regularly uses frames but this is new for Sunfigo. Tinky added toy soldiers attacking the Mona Lisa and other pieces using plastic figures. The frames themselves refer to art.

Distinguishing between street art and graffiti is not always easy but in Presgrave Place the distinction is clear. Street art is made of wide variety of media, not just aerosol paint. It is generally denser, there is a greater quantity of both art and artists. The artists have made more use of specific aspects of the site, the wall is often not just a support for the art work but part of it. The subject matter is different too; street art refers to art and popular culture. The calligraphy and letter form of graffiti are not important.

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Presgrave Place is a quiet place in the middle of Melbourne that is currently having its own little street art Renaissance.


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