Archive for the ‘stencils’ Tag

Sweet Streets

I’m back in Melbourne, arrived a few days ago and still propping my eyelids open to combat the jetlag, but at least the weather this weekend is helping me get used to being in the southern hemisphere again – Melbourne looks its sparkling best, bathed in sunshine and with one of those amazing clear Australian blue skies….

But also helping me keep awake is the knowledge that Sweet Streets is on…. The erstwhile Melbourne Stencil Festival has been re-designed to take account of the huge range of street-based art activities that we find in Melbourne and in other cities, and the result is Sweet Streets. During the Festival, you can find exhibitions of some brilliant artwork, both local and from overseas; workshops on everything from stencil-making to yarn-bombing; and some film-based visual enjoyment too – the DVD of Exit Through the Gift Shop is being launched during the Festival, and there’s even a dedicated Film Night, showcasing some amazing looking documentaries.

Check out the Festival website for further details….

Bella Italia

Not many posts recently, because I’ve been travelling through Europe. Sometimes there hasn’t been internet access; sometimes it’s just been too much of a holiday to do any blogging….

But here I am in Todi, an amazing hill village in Umbria, and there is wifi in the hotel room, so I thought I would dedicate a post to some of the fantastic street art I have seen so far on my trip.

I spent a couple of days in Venice, which is really one of the most fantastic cities in the world. And it was great to see work by C215, beautifully placed as always, against the fading Venetian stucco:

It’s also good to see that some street artists in Venice use boats to move around while getting up – I love the placement of this Swoon piece too, as though the figures are waiting to catch a vaporetto:

I also spent some time in Padova, which is a university town not far from Venice. There’s a huge amount of art on the walls there. I love it that people are still writing their thoughts on walls (something you don’t see so often in Australian cities like Melbourne these days): political comments, declarations of love, cryptic sayings, and a few words in Latin, too:

I also saw a lot of good stencil work, like this:

And many pieces which made use of the Padova’s gorgeous arcades to frame elegantly drawn figures like these:

I don’t know who the artist is – if anyone does, please let me know, I thought these works were excellent.

I’ll be in Rome soon. I’m looking forward to seeing the walls there…..

Berlin: name-writing

Berlin surfaces are written on to a degree I haven’t seen in many places… Tags, whether words or icons, are everywhere. The city’s lack of cash (Berlin is hugely in debt) means that graffiti, postering, stencils and so on are rarely removed, but simply layered over each other or gradually fading away. And so the walls (and many other surfaces too) are filled with images and words, many of them the names of the author or artist.

Lots of these are tags: tagging in Berlin has both an idiosyncratic history and quite distinctive contemporary forms. When reunification occurred after the taking down of the Berlin Wall in 1989, many in the former East wanted to participate in graffiti writing, and began to develop styles and tags. For many, however, it wasn’t an invented tag name that they initially practised: one artist showed me scans of pages from his black book from the early 90s, as an artist growing up in the newly unified, former East Germany, he wrote brand names, instead of tag names, before he developed his own tag (the notebook was filled with ‘Diesel’, ‘Reebok’, ‘Nike’ and so on). But then Berlin style developed very quickly (many artists looked to cities such as Prague for inspiration, after initially being influenced by Brooklyn, New York and so on) and huge block letter throw-ups developed in 90s, many of these still being done or fading but visible still, on train lines especially.

Right now, I’m told there’s a fashion for the so-called ‘ugly’ style of tagging, writing as if in a ‘toy’ style. Interestingly, many tags are very simple, but their significance lies in the prolific range of places that they have been written (this would apply to many, many artists, including Brad Downey, Charlie Isoe, PiTR, 6 and others); other tags are amazing because they have been placed on rooftops or high on walls. Some have developed beautiful forms and shapes (such as the stencilled tag of xoooox); others have used icons s a means to get up all over the city (especially someone like Kripoe).

There’s tons more that could be said about Berlin’s culture of obsessive name-writing, but for now, here is a selection of my favourites…

The insanely prolific tags of Brad Downey:

The equally prolific French artist, PiTR, whose tag features here in the toilet of a cafe on Kastanienallee:

Some nice placement here, low down to the ground (as were all the tags by Isoe that I saw):

Kripoe’s iconic fists, followed by his equally iconic rollerskate:

And the little face drawn by Prost (which means ‘cheers!’) all over Berlin (usually laughing, although sometimes angry. This shot shows the archetypical smiling Prost icon:

Here’s an elegant stencil showing xoooox’s tag:

The utter simplicity of a tag that’s reduced to one digit: 6’s tag, here done on paper and pasted high up on a wall:

And along with the memories of Paris provided by seeing PiTR’s tag all over Berlin, here’s the tag of one of my favourite French artists, L’Atlas:

Berlin: city of memories, city of history, city of names.

The walls of Fitzroy: a love letter

When I first moved from England to Melbourne, in 1995, I lived in Carlton North but I spent a lot of time in Fitzroy, and I was struck by what I could see on the walls there. Not stencils (they would come later), not tags or pieces (they were on the trains, and the walls adjoining the train lines), but a kind of conversation taking place on the walls. Sometimes the conversation was between the authors of the comments, but oftentimes the addressee was me – or at least any individual who was walking, or taking the train, or driving, or sitting on the tram – any individual who happened to be looking. I saw graffiti that said: ‘subjugate thyself to the screen’; ‘this is the wrong site for the museum’; and ‘corporate whore’.

I became fascinated by the ways that these comments addressed the passer-by. Some seemed to simply express a view (for example, ‘this is the wrong site for the museum’); others seemed to be seeking an object of denunciation (for instance, ‘corporate whore’). And one day I passed by a wall, on which weeks before I had seen a piece of writing that said ‘Real Men Don’t Rape’. It had been edited, either by the original author or by another writer, and it now read ‘Dead Men Don’t Rape’. Something in that moment, which caused me to pause and think about the difference in the politics of each of the two statements, made me realise that the activity of writing on walls generated an encounter with the spectator (me, or anyone else), which can be educational, emotive, perhaps even transformative.

Over the years, the walls of Fitzroy hosted a huge range and number of statements, the majority being intensely political: ‘Refugees ain’t got fleas’; ‘Save Goolengook’ (an old-growth forest in Gippsland that was being intensely logged for woodchipping), and the myriad comments made by members of grrr, an all-women collective whose aim was to comment on and critique the narrow range of acceptable body types and identities depicted in television: ‘more fat women on tv’, ‘more dykes on tv’ and so on. (I was living in Northcote by this time, and I was delighted that one of grr’s comments, ‘more hairy women on tv’, was painted on the pavement in my street.)

After the explosion of stencilling in Melbourne from 200o onwards, the walls of Fitzroy became more known for its stencils than its political slogans – although many stencil artists used their medium for political ends, exploiting the stencil’s ability to catch the eye of a passerby, and using its combination of word and icon to provoke critical thought, as you can see in these examples:

And nowadays? Well, Fitzroy is still synonymous with the communicative and creative use of wallspace but now it’s the diversity of styles and media that is most remarkable. There are entire painted walls, such as the ‘Welcome to sunny Fitzroy’ wall by Everfresh (the subject of an earlier post on this blog). There are amazing paste-ups like these:

It’s worth taking a closer look at the details here. Rone has made each image slightly different, and has placed them under a ‘BILL POSTERS PROSECUTED’ sign:

There are plenty of tags, of course, and some of Fitzroy’s laneways have some very old tags, such as this 70k one:

And stencils: there are certainly still stencils around, and, once again, some have been there a long time:

The history of the appropriation of the walls in this area by artists has been on my mind a lot recently, because I’m now living in Fitzroy, so these walls provide the backdrop to my everyday life, and when I walk past them I get a strong sense of the layers of street art, visible and invisible (through the effects of time, weather, buffing, and other artists), that have become part of the very geography of this suburb.

And it was while I was walking home the other day that I came across this piece: a stunning work by Al Stark, wrapped around the corner of a house, intricately painted, simultaneously evocative and elusive:

It’s almost fifteen years since I came to Melbourne, and I wanted to write a love letter to the walls of Fitzroy (and the artists who have transformed them), providing me (and many others) with so much pleasure. Long may it continue.

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