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Tag Archives: Street Art

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.

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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.


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.


Graffiti and Street Art by Anna Wacławek

All art history students would be familiar with the Thames & Hudson World of Art series. These paperback books with their black spines are authoritative accounts of various art movements, styles and histories. When Thames & Hudson launched its World of Art series in 1958 it aimed to produce low cost, high quality art books. Now with over 300 titles in the series ranging from Aboriginal Art to Internet Art it is not surprising that there is Anna Wacławek Graffiti and Street Art (Thames & Hudson, 2011, London).

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In the book’s introduction Wacławek notes that: “a major study of graffiti and street art grounded in visual art analysis has yet to be published,” and that she intends this book to fill that gap. Most of the words about graffiti and street art have being written in sociology or criminology rather than from the discipline of visual arts. The lack of a serious book on the art of graffiti and street art is surprising given that in 1984 Thames and Hudson published the some of the first documentation of graffiti art, Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant’s Subway Art. But Subway Art, like most of the earlier books on graffiti, is a collection of photographs.

Graffiti and Street Art certainly fills that gap. After reading so many short articles and interviews with artists it was relief to read in an organised and systematic order in one book rather than gleaming the same information from diverse sources. Wacławek’s precise language can pack many ideas into a single sentence. The many photographs in the book are used as examples and each one is referred to in the text.

The first question about such a book is if graffiti writers do not consider their work art then what is point of an art book is actually an irrelevant question. Apart from some contemporary English speaking artists the same can be said about almost everyone currently called an artist. But trivial categorisation disputes aside the art of graffiti needs to be included in this book. Describing the structure of graffiti writing and the genealogy of graffiti is necessary, at the very least to distinguish it from street art.

Later the question, ‘is graffiti art?’, allows Wacławek to distinguish art history from visual culture studies. Distinguish between art history and visual culture history removes the aura of excellence around in art history and allows the examination of  popular images. This is an important distinctions not just for graffiti and street art but for any examination of popular images.

The popularity of graffiti and street art is not dismissed but examined. It is looked at in the collaboration of the public in the creation of street art. When Wacławek examines the dissemination of street art in photographs and online she raises the question: where do you see the most street art and graffiti on the streets or online?

Examining graffiti and street art from the perspective of art history is important that issues of style, subject and signature key to both art history and graffiti. Wacławek gives context to Haring and Basquiat as a sidetrack in the history of graffiti. There are also occasionally references to contemporary artists, like Andy Goldsmith, in perspective with street art

Sometimes I felt that Wacławek was being too subtle with both her arguments and the examples that accompanied them rather than doing something more obvious. Vexta and Nick Walker are the examples in the section titled “Identity Politics”. However, if the average reader can think of the more obvious arguments and examples is it necessary to writing them?

At the University of Melbourne has CCDP20001 Street Art can now be studied as part of the breadth subjects for undergraduates studying Science, Music, Commerce, Biomedicine and Arts. I am surprised that this book is not one of the prescribed texts.

The prescribed texts for the subject are:

Cubrilo, Duro et al (2010), King’s Way: The Beginnings of Australian Graffiti – Melbourne 1983-1993 (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press)

Schacter, Rafael (ed.) (2013) The World Atlas of Graffiti and Street Art (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press)

Alison Young’s Street Art, Public City: Law, Crime and the Urban Imagination.

Anna Wacławek Graffiti and Street Art is a book that is needed by the many high school students and university students who are and will be studying graffiti and street art.

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Vexta’s Wildness

Veteran Melbourne street artist Vexta is now based in Brooklyn, New York, but is currently back where she started her street art career, painting a police station wall and exhibiting at Mars Gallery in Windsor.

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Earlier this week The Age reported on Vexta painting a wall on the St Kilda police station. The level of contradictions in this act, part of the City of Port Phillip program to reduce graffiti, would be mind boggling if I wasn’t, at least partially, immersed in Melbourne’s graffiti and street art scene. So for me it is just more of the spectacle and the situation of street art. For Vexta it was just another wall.

Street artists exhibiting in a gallery is a different challenge to the street. Basically it is an issue of managing expectations; in the street we are surprised by street art because we didn’t expect any whereas we do expect art in an art gallery. Off the street the same images can appear limited, repetitious, or otherwise lose their charm. Despite this many of Melbourne’s commercial galleries have one or two street artists in their stable.

Fortunately Vexta for her exhibition, The Wildness Beneath, at Mars Gallery has more than figures painted with mix of a brushes and spray cans in her psychedelic palette of black and florescent colours. The paintings on canvas are hung as diamonds, their corners emphasising the round form within. On one wall they are framed with florescent builder’s twine creating geometric patterns around them.

The women in Vexta’s paintings stare out at the viewer. Are they powerful witches with animal familiars or are they nymphs and victims, like Leda and the swan?

Silk screen images of cicadas feature on several of the paintings reminding me of the cryptic nature of cicadas. The long underground life of 13 or 17 years of cicadas reminded me of the development of an artist.  Vexta must have done that many years, so perhaps it is time for her to emerge from the underground.

Vexta explained that the exhibition was getting back to her roots in collage. All of the images started as collages before being translated into paint, even the painting the cut-out words and phrases.

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Vexta’s painted copies of collaged words have a strong sense of poetics of the nocturnal urban world of street art missions or psychedelic trips. Not everything worked the decorated skulls hanging from the ceiling looked hackneyed and odd (skulls are so common in art and especially street art, see my post Melbourne Skull).


Hosier Lane in the News

Yesterday I made a brief appearance on the Channel 7 news after Lord Mayor Robert Doyle stirred up the media. It has been a while since multiple news crews were in Hosier Lane and it is a good opportunity to draw attention to one of Melbourne’s attractions. Both Channel 7 and Channel 10 sent crews to cover the story.

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Lush in Hosier Lane

Lord Mayor Doyle was playing a similar game to Lush in stirring people up. Lush has been doing a bit of painting in Hosier Lane, poking fun at the scene and himself. Both Doyle and Lush want a reaction and don’t care if it is positive or negative or even if people point out that they are just trying to get a reaction.

Adrian Doyle was keen to promote Blender Lane over Hosier Lane because he manages Blender studio and the Dark Horse Experiment gallery right next door.

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Is it all over for street art? I doubt it; I’ve heard that too many times to even be able to write that seriously. I remember Ghostpatrol saying that 2003 was the high point of Melbourne’s street art that was back in 2008 at a panel discussion at Famous When Dead. I’ve written about the end of street art before, considering the political interests involved in declaring Surrealism over.

The long tail is still play out but with population growth this might be sooner than expected. Earlier in the year the removal of love-locks from the Southgate bridges in Melbourne and the Pont de l’Archeveche Paris made the news.  I first noticed a few love-locks when travelling in Europe in 2007 and eight years later their weight was becoming a concern to engineers.

The personal city of romantic strolls by the river is shared with so many other people with similar stories. There are now millions and billions of people and it is hard to get your head around those kind of numbers. The unimaginable mass of the population is such that a trend can become a structural engineering problem in crowd crushes and love locks. If it weren’t for the millions of people following in the footsteps of a few drunken Englishmen to see ancient Rome or Greece then it wouldn’t be a problem if the odd traveller scratched a name on the ancient stone ruins.

Yesterday morning Hosier Lane was not looking its best; there were a couple of fresh pieces and Lush’s piss takes. But writing about how Hosier Lane looking is like commenting on Melbourne’s weather, it is always changing.

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GT Instagram spray can, Hosier Lane


Kranky

I have to write about this new and very prolific street artist in Melbourne because they specialise in street art sculpture. Kranky, a crank version of Banksy?

Kranky, Rats

Kranky, Rats

Mixing toys, plastic rats, rat traps, lego men, fake turds, fake CCTV camera; Kanky’s small assemblages are often jokes with references to art and graffiti. Simple, basic, crude but effective visual jokes. It seems to me that Kranky is often making a joke about Banksy’s style, it is so easy, just put a Barbie doll’s head in a rat’s mouth.

Kranky's Selfie Three Businessmen (photo courtesy of Kranky, taken on his cellphone.)

Kranky’s Selfie Three Businessmen (photo courtesy of Kranky, taken on his cellphone.)

I knew that I had to write about Kranky and this was reinforced when I saw StreetsmART’s photo of Kranky’s alteration to The Three Business Men… in early September. The non-destructive alteration of an existing public sculpture is a right of passage for a street artist working in three dimensions from Banksy’s wheel clamp on Bodacia’s chariot to CDH’s Atlas Intervention.

This iconic Melbourne sculpture by Paul Quinn and Alison Weaver, The Three Business Men who brought their own lunch; Batman, Swanston and Hoddle is one of the most photographed sculptures in Melbourne. People are always taking photographs posing with these metal men. Kranky attached lanyards with selfie photos on iPhones on each of the corresponding sculpture’s face. Kranky explained that “it was a privilege, to stand back and observe, the tourists/city visitors/CBD workers, taking a selfie with the sculptures and their selfie. Which was the exact interactive response that I intended.”

Kranky’s work is amongst the most ephemeral of street art sculptures. His works are quickly stolen and only the square bases, with the simple signature mark in san serif capital letters, remain behind. The theft of these pieces shows that someone really wants them (even though they destroy it for others and loose the signature in the process) and Kranky just produces more, individual pieces and multiples. Kranky’s highly ephemeral assemblages stands in contrast to the Junky Projects and casts objects by Will Coles that are covered with many layers of aerosol paint after surviving on the street for years.

Kranky, Barbie doll

Kranky, Barbie doll

Kranky, Catch the Graffiti Police

Kranky, Catch the Graffiti Police

Kranky, Dollar skull

Kranky, Dollar skull

Kranky, Miss You Frida

Kranky, Miss You Frida


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