Street Art In Melbourne

July 10th, 2009 | By | 1 Comment »

Hi there, my name is Alison Young, and I write Images to Live By, a blog about street art. I’m also an academic at the University of Melbourne, and I’m in middle of writing a book about street art and street artists in a number of cities around the world. Thanks, RJ, for inviting me to do a guest post for Vandalog.

So I’m based in Melbourne, Australia, where there is a huge and diverse street art scene. RJ suggested that it might be interesting for Vandalog readers if I could write about street art in Australia… There’s way too much to cover in one or two posts, but I can certainly introduce people to some of the most interesting artists here at the moment.

One of these is Meggs. I’ve written a little bit on Images to Live By about Meggs, because there are many resonances between his work and that of the British artist D*Face and the Australian artist now living in New York, Anthony Lister, both of whom may be better known to you than Meggs. All three of those artists are interested in the connections between superheroes, masculinity, money and popular culture, and all three use their media to re-present comic strip figures as being in crisis or under stress (click here if you want to read more about this and here for a link to Meggs’s website for more info about his work).

Up till now, Meggs has probably not been too well known outside Australia, but folks in LA are about to get an opportunity to see his work, in a show entitled ‘Crime and Charity’ at Cerasoli Gallery in Culver City.

Here’s a brief description from the gallery about the show:

“In 2007 Australia’s Victorian State Government passed the ‘Graffiti Prevention Act’. This legislation extended the government’s zero tolerance approach to Graffiti and provided police new authority to search any person, vehicle or object they suspect to possess a graffiti implement, within close proximity of public transport.
Ironically, this legislation was passed while Tourism Victoria was using Graffiti and street art to promote Melbourne Tourism on television and web advertisements. Melbourne’s laneways are a big drawcard for tourism and it is undeniable that the diverse artwork is part of the city’s broader cultural appeal.

Graffiti and street art will never disappear. Despite the State Government’s negativity, there are well documented social contributions and benefits provided by many artists, cultural tourism being one. Unfortunately these are only recognised when it is conveniently leveraged for commercial gain.

‘Crime & Charity’ depicts the frustration Meggs feels in the face of this hypocrisy. The characters depicted in his artwork are hybrids of guilt and innocence, both frustrated and persecuted for being part of a culture that is simultaneously celebrated and condemned.”

The work of Melbourne-based artists Ghostpatrol and Miso is very different from that of Meggs, but just as Meggs’s work has been a huge part of making Melbourne’s street art scene what it is today (Meggs is part of the Everfresh crew, famous for putting up all over the city’s buildings), so has that of Miso and Ghospatrol. These two artists have worked in galleries and on the streets for the last several years. Their work primarily uses the skills of drawing and cutting: they create meticulously drawn figures often reminiscent of childhood fairytales. These are sometimes drawn onto unusual surfaces, like a row of pencils (Ghostpatrol, click on this link and scroll down to see some examples) or painted on to a wall like this:
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Miso creates beautiful paste-ups, with intricate cut-out sections, on to a wall or a flat piece of wood. Her work sometimes reminds people of the images made by Swoon and Elbow Toe, but I think there are also really interesting evocations of fin-de-siecle artists like Egon Schiele in the magnificently textured images: have a look at Miso’s website for some images of her work.

Ghostpatrol and Miso work both individually and together, and have made paste-ups from photographs of themselves wearing fox masks to disguise their identities – hundreds of these paste-ups appeared around certain areas of Melbourne for a while, a wonderful expression of the street artist as fox (a creature of cunning and stealth which visits the city at night).

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From foxes to bushrangers: one of the most famous figures in Australian history and iconography is the bushranger Ned Kelly, a 19th century outlaw figure hunted and eventually hanged by the Melbourne authorities. The artist Ha Ha (also known as Regan Tamanui) has said, ‘Street artists are the bushrangers of the 21st century’, because of the challenge to authority represented by illicit street art. Ha Ha’s work has been hugely important in defining the nature of street art in Melbourne, especially in the early 2000s, thanks to the prevalence of his stencils all over the city. Check out his website to get a sense of his work. He has a particular fondness for robot figures, but he is also interested in celebrity and notoriety:

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In this image you can see a portrait stencilled behind the bars over a section of the wall in this laneway (Hosier Lane). The face is that of Mario Condello, an individual thought to be involved in Melbourne’s gangland wars, and who is represented here by Ha Ha in the same way that he stencilled his famous portrait of that other outlaw, Ned Kelly:

Image taken from Ha Ha's myspace site.

Image taken from Ha Ha's myspace site.

I’ll end by going back to where I started, with Meggs’s show in LA, which draws attention to the paradox of the state government here creating harsh new laws against graffiti and street art at the same time as it seeks to make money out of it by using images of street art in its tourism ads. All of the artists I’ve mentioned risk  these penalties every time they put up on the street, as is the case in most countries of course. But as you can see from the way that these Australian artists are representing themselves – as struggling superheroes, as foxes and outlaws – we are being given these fantastic images at a high cost: the weight of illegality upon the artists.


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