Melbourne Street Art 2/18

The street art scene in the last three years since I visited has undergone some changes.  It looks like many of the seasoned writers and mixed media artists have vacated the main CBD laneways.

AC/DC Lane

With the exception of two tribute murals to the late great Malcolm Young, I had trouble finding new works in the way of stencils, pasteups or any of the usual, quirky writers and artists.

Union Lane Feb 2018

There were reports in the media last year, of Mayor Doyle attempting to move on the homeless people from the laneways as they are a tourist attraction, and apparently we are offended by the presence of homeless people.  I think we tourists know full well there is no art without the participation of the artists, including those who are homeless.

Union Lane 2018

As for the state of the laneways, it’s easy enough to run a street sweeper/cleaner through every day, to get rid of the overwhelming stench of urine and worse.  Union Lane was particularly bad this year, but still looked beautiful.

Melbourne Street art

AC/DC Lane had more of the paste ups and stencils but the Swoon artwork has been painted over, and many of the works looked old.  Something is discouraging new and established artists from participating.  Is it a protest over the council policies or something else?

Duckboard Place

On the subject of homelessness, in the past we’ve seen some people sleeping rough in the daytime on the streets, but nowhere near the number of people we came across this year.  According to reports, charity services to people in need have been overwhelmed and fewer of the general public are donating either cash or goods.

Melbourne sticker art

I don’t carry cash anymore except for parking meters, and this is the difference between going hungry and a meal to many people.

Edit.  A footnote to this post, well known priest and humanitarian, Father Bob Maguire, runs a Foundation in Melbourne’s Albert Park.  If you would like to support his vision to end homelessness and disadvantage, please read more at


The Relevance of Art

With the growing popularity of Street Art, I was interested to see at Wonderwalls in Port Adelaide this year, a group of writers working on a wall next to a Street Artist*.  The Street Artist listed her own name on the official program, and the others worked under a crew name, for obvious reasons, to stay incognito.

This defining difference between the establishment and the newcomer, made me reflect on art in general, and the opening up of avenues for displaying and expressing art.

Our Art Gallery of South Australia is under the direction of Nick Mitzevich, who is happy to show colonial art next to Aboriginal/First Nations cultural objects.  He follows that theme around the gallery, mixing together works that would usually be seen as opposing, as having something significant in common.  As we don’t have a formal contemporary art building (yet), Mitzevich treats our gallery as contemporary art meets the art history of the world, including representation from our Asian neighbours.

This is a challenging and exciting way of displaying art, and keeps the gallery relevant culturally and geographically.  It also makes the gallery an inspiring place to visit, as we see the old collection in a new way and the new work in the context of the old.

After spending some years now admiring and participating in street art, I feel the pristine white walls of a gallery space that shut out history, noise, and windows to the outside world, are both restricting and old in the limited atmosphere and lack of authenticity in the space.  The artist is responsible for creating these things, which can come across as contrived and like a static museum display.

When operating exclusively in a gallery setting, an artist can begin to take this for granted, and I think that impacts on the relevance of art in the real world.  Artist Alfredo Jaar says to imagine the world we want to live in, meaning to use art to push us towards that world.  The beauty of street art is that it goes to the people, the people don’t have to seek it out.  Street art also reflects the integrity of the existing surrounding, and so becomes a part of it.

I’ve said previously, I embrace all street art, including tags and sgraffiti, as relevant to the contemporary and historical art scene.  Widening our definition of art as existing in the everyday, allows us to think outside the gallery space and work alongside others who have different perspectives, and so makes what we do relevant.

As a footnote:  The Art Gallery of South Australia could be inclusive and embrace street art by opening the outside side wall(s) as free walls for any artists to participate.  Then we would have a world leading rather than a world class art gallery.

*Street Art as the new wave of painters who only work by permission to paint a wall, street art includes any form in general.

Where to next? [fashion, Part One]

Looking at international Fashion Week designs for Winter 2017/18, it suddenly stuck me something is wrong with fashion.  It’s out of fashion.

What is supposed to be cutting edge has stagnated.  The biggest movement in the last eight years is preppy hipster wear, which first made an appearance in the 1920’s.

With global awareness of climate change, population growth, fair trade, ethical manufacturing, sustainable and closed loop production, making clothing from new materials suddenly makes no sense.

After this revelation, came another; that clothing for him or her is no longer a thing.  Our next generation is moving away from gender specific branding in every way, and now focuses on being authentic with what they like, who they are and how they identify.  This freeing up of gender specific clothing design goes beyond the unisex or androgynous looks of the 70’s to 90’s.  It’s not a fad based trend but a genuine social upheaval that is influencing how we dress at the grass roots level.

And finally, the old ‘travel the world for inspiration’ resulting in cultural appropriation is over.  Themed parades appropriating First Nation head-dresses, artworks and ceremonial clothing by designers who have nothing to do with that culture, and without the permission of the First Nation peoples, are stealing intellectual property.

I think this uprising social awareness pushes artists and designers further into their own culture(s) to find inspiration.  Now more than ever, we can quickly access global information and images, but are challenged to process them in a visual language that is unique to our own experience.

Maybe the final awareness of the change in society, is the growing acceptance of street art and graffiti.  Art is coming out of the galleries in all forms of expression, and into our faces on the street.  After years of generic paid advertising creating visual pollution, it’s refreshing to see the work of random artists.  People who are willing to pay for their own materials, donate their own time, and at their own risk, make the city a more interesting place.  I’m waiting to see how this influences fashion beyond creating a backdrop for fashion shoots, a hoodie and pair of jeans that accommodates a spray can.


Young people are very good at shaking up the status quo, and pushing us into a new way of thinking.

Street Art v’s Graffiti

As an admirer of street art I find the argument of Street Art v’s Graffiti baffling.  For the purpose of this post, street art is inclusive, Street Art (in capitals) is separate from Graffiti.

Melbourne laneway
Melbourne laneway

Street art as a valid artistic expression first hit me on a visit to Melbourne.  The impact of whole laneways covered in a layered mix of graffiti, stencils, paste ups and any way anyone could get anything up on a wall was confronting, fascinating and inspiring.

South Melbourne
Benzo, Itch, Kid Zoom in South Melbourne

Street art has always existed in one form or another.  There are significant rock paintings and carvings by Aboriginal people around Australia that go back thousands of years.  In early colonial history, South Australia recorded protest writing on an unauthorised fence in Port Elliot in the 1800’s.  When I was at school in the 70’s it was common to write on desks, bags and pencil cases with black textas.  I can’t remember a time when the Sisters’ Rocks on the main highway to Melbourne from Adelaide, weren’t covered with chalk or painted names and messages.

Sisters rocks near Stawell, Victoria
Sisters rocks near Stawell, Victoria, by

Graffiti of the late 70’s and early 80’s embodied the risk, subversion and one-upmanship that is the foundation of street art today.  Being caught using a spray can on an unauthorised wall in Australia can result in a criminal record.

The first contemporary Street Art I remember was photographs of the streets in Cuba with the beautiful revolution murals.

A mural in Centro Havana
A mural in Centro Havana by Paul Turner,

Graffiti in New York in the late 70’s broadened the application from tagging to whole wall writing.  Street art has always been about artistic expression whether it is carving, painting, writing or murals, or in more recent years, stencils, ceramic sculptures and yarn bombing.

Adnate in Adelaide

The very existence of street art is political.  Working on an unauthorised wall is in itself a protest.  One thing all street artists have in common is the need to put their message out there in their own time and place with freedom of expression.

Rundle Street, Adelaide

To my way of thinking all work on the street is street art, so how did the division come about between Street Art and Graffiti?  Graffiti is freehand spray can writing.  I don’t know where the line is drawn between a work being Graffiti or Street Art as some writing has illustrations, or illustrations with no writing.


Street Art is anything put together in the studio prior to working in the street, such as stencils, paste ups, yarn bombing, etc?  On the side of Graffiti, freehand writing takes longer and so is higher risk than putting up stencils.  Some argue freehand requires more skill than a studio set up.  On the other side, Street Art supporters deride Graffiti as vandalism with no artistic merit.

All unauthorised street art is vandalism, or it’s a sign of reclaiming the streets.  Maybe the only thing missing in the Street Art v’s Graffiti debate is respect.  Street Artists and followers should respect the people who created the street art culture and learn to understand the artistic value of Graffiti.

Brompton, Adelaide

Tagging and Writing exists in the tradition of calligraphy, an art form that takes years of practice and experience to develop into a signature style.  Great Graffiti artists continue to work on their technical skills and push boundaries in the expression of their writing.

Rundle Street, Adelaide

In the arts community, street art v’s gallery art is another debate.  The fact that anyone at any time in any place can put something up means that it doesn’t require permission, an arts degree, curating, or even talent.  Having said that, there is strong competition in the street art community to improve and develop a style, and put up good work.  Some street artists have an arts education and others are self taught but have worked at their craft for years.

Vans the Omega, Beastman, kyle hughes-odgers in Adelaide
Vans the Omega, Beastman, kyle hughes-odgers on Rundle Street

There has been recent discussion questioning the success of street art showing in a gallery context.  Many street artists exhibit successfully but some are called sell outs or are derided for using a wall to promote the gallery exhibition.  I think a street artist can work anywhere if they consider what is at the core of their work, and keep that authenticity and integrity in what they are doing and the way it is shown.

Independent Visionz
Independent Visionz, the beautiful writing was painted over unfortunately

Another debate is street art v’s art on a wall.  I question whether an artist who only works authorised walls can be called a street artist.  As said previously, street art has a tradition of risk and freedom of expression that is central to the artform.  Walls aren’t just a canvas but a forum for public interaction.

Businesses and councils are recognising that a graffiti covered wall is a deterrent to more graffiti (!!?).  Hardly a week goes by when a graffiti wall is not in the background of a photograph in a newspaper or blog article.

West End, Hindley Street

I hope the future of street art is inclusive and valued as important to the uniqueness of a city as architecture.  I would like to see all Adelaide public and business side walls and back yard laneways opened up to artistic expression for the benefit of local culture and tourism, and for the councils and governments to divert funding for graffiti removal to street artists along with immunity and freedom of expression.

See also:

KAB101 Lane

It’s A Jungle Out There


Vans the Omega

Independent Visionz