Archive for the ‘Melbourne’ Tag

O Superman

Sometimes travel provides an occasion to reflect upon the place you’ve left behind… While I was in New York recently, there were two different kinds of ‘home’ that I felt conscious of having left.

One was England (or Britain, I suppose). I left Britain in 1995, when I moved to Melbourne, but New York this April was full of buzz about the release of Exit Through the Gift Shop, Banksy’s movie, which I have written about here and here already, and I certainly think of Banksy as a quintessentially English (or British) artist…

New York was also full of visual reminders of Melbourne, the city that became my adopted home. As I mentioned before, one of them was Meggs’s stickers, which I saw in many places around New York.

I’ve written about Meggs before (see here), and in that entry I was discussing his work in conjunction with that of Anthony Lister, an Australian artist from Brisbane, living in New York these last several years. There are several different consonances between these two in terms of their artistic preoccupations, but in terms of simple coincidence it was amusing that while I was in New York, Anthony Lister was paying a visit to Melbourne, where he had a show at Metro Gallery.

But it’s not as though Lister was entirely gone from New York. His stickers are still very much present on the streets:

And the front of Faile’s studio was adorned with this wonderful Lister painting:

Lister also had a solo show, How to Catch a Time-Traveller, at Lyons Wier Gallery in April, running simultaneously with the Melbourne show.

Meggs and Lister are linked by more than a common nationality; there’s a strong thematic link in their fascination with the superheroes of popular culture, and comics in particular. Both create painted works as well as their own versions of action figures, miniatures and busts. Both Meggs and Lister show superheroes as figures of crisis, barely holding themselves together in the face of unknown assailants or obligations.

But in representing these highly familiar figures away from the context of comics, their methods with paint are very different, however. Meggs uses a combination of stencils and techniques from graffiti art; Lister is evolving a style that recalls Francis Bacon’s way of blurring the painted figure to create a sense both of movement and of the disintegration of the self.

In Lister’s show at Lyons Wier, its title alludes to the idea that these figures are in motion – the artist is the one with the power to stop time, to freeze the disintegrating superhero for an instant, for our scrutiny. Lister’s had a prolific career on the street for a long time, and it’s fantastic to see his painterly skills evolving. Maybe Lister’s thematic will start to broaden a little so that it is no longer simply the superhero which is subject to examination. Charlie Isoe’s current show at Lazarides in London, while containing a lot of works that seemed to me to be somewhat similar, disappointingly, to Lister’s style, showed at least what can be achieved when a wider range of objects are brought into the paintings.

What next, Mr Lister? Can’t wait to see.

Art, Value and Banksy’s Rats in Melbourne – visit Hyperallergic

If you have been following the recent street art debacle in which Melbourne City Council ‘accidentally’ buffed one of Banksy’s rats in Hosier Lane in Melbourne, you might be interested in reading my account of this event, over on the excellent site Hyperallergic.

‘Tchusse’: new show by Miso at Gorker Gallery

It seems like every recent post I have uploaded to this blog has begun with an apology about how busy/sick/distracted/hectic I have been…. Well, why break a pattern by doing something different! Apologies for taking such a long time to add a new post here. I had been holding off on doing so because I was due to travel overseas (to Berlin, Paris and London) and I wanted to create lots of posts about the street art I would be seeing there. Instead, my daughter got pneumonia, and I managed to catch it from her, so my trip was postponed, then postponed again, then I finally said, ‘I give up and admit it, I am too sick to travel this year’. So I have had to delay with visits to those amazing cities until next year.

And then just when I thought that I would resume blogging about the fabulous street art in my home town  of Melbourne, my partner managed to get sick (yes, apparently I passed on the whole pneumonia thing to him) plus we decided on an impulse to move house, so we have been consumed by the obsessive, stressful and depressing process of selling and buying. And while that’s not over yet, some of it is (we sold our house last week), and it’s definitely good to be able to feel that there’s a little more time in the week as a result.

I wanted this first-post-in-ages to be about something very special, and I’m happy that it is indeed. Miso, one of my very favourite artists in the world is having a new solo show in Melbourne at Gorker Gallery in Fitzroy. It opened a little while ago so to some of you this will hardly come as news (did I mention that I have been crazy busy?) but it is on until 20 December and in fact on Wed 16th there will be an artist talk by Miso at the Gallery.

Some info about the show and what to expect, which I have taken from Miso’s website:

Miso – Tchusse

Miso – Tchusse
{Stanislava Pinchuk}

Opening Night: Thursday, 3rd December {6-9 pm}
Gorker Gallery – crnr Gore & Kerr Streets, Melbourne.

“‘Tchusse’ sees Miso re-create & condense her home city into a gallery.
Kharkov {Ukraine} becomes a floor to ceiling installation – portraits of
strangers in the street, of friends, folk stories and things otherwise
forgotten, turned into a city built from paper, material and decaying wood,
as Miso replicates buildings, street signs and notices, ladders, empty
bottles, criminal tattoos and clothesline and clothesline from memory.
In this way, Tchusse becomes an extension if Miso’s widely renowned
work as a street artist, as well as being her most ambitious installation &
gallery project yet.”

Miso will be doing an artists talk on the wine tasting evening – Wednesday,
16th of December, at 6 pm. ‘Tchusse’ will also be the launch of a
collaborative clothing project with Warren Harrison.

The exhibition will run until 20th December;
3-7 pm Wednesday-Friday // 11am – 7pm Saturday-Sunday.

If you click on the link for Gorker, you will see some shots from the opening night and get a sense of how amazing the show is. And if you know Miso’s work already, you will realise that this is definitely a show not to be missed.

It’s also a great way for Gorker to end the year. In 2009, they have put on some of the most interesting exhibitions in Melbourne, and I’m looking forward to see what they have lined up for 2010….

The Everfresh wall in Fitzroy

Recently when I was reading the excellent blog by Very Nearly Almost, I came across a recent post which was celebrating some of Melbourne’s street art (which you can read here) and noticed that the Everfresh wall in Fitzroy was featured.

The post reminded me that I photographed this wall a few weeks ago, with the intention of dedicating a whole post to the amazing work of the Everfresh crew in creating this wall. So here is that post…

Everfresh will be well known to many readers of this blog, since their contribution to street art in Melbourne has been enormous. Their work, both commissioned and uncommissioned, can be seen on walls in many areas of the city (they are well represented in Hosier Lane, for example), but they are most closely associated with Fitzroy and Collingwood, and it’s in the streets of those suburbs that their works can be seen to best effect.

Everfresh are a crew of several artists (including Sync, Rone, Makatron, Reka, Meggs, and Phibs), who work as a group, solo, and in all possible combinations allowed by the group. They have evolved a very distinctive style, which, once you are familiar with it, is instantly recognisable. here’s one example, seen in a laneway in Fitzroy:


Last year, when I was in Amsterdam, I had the pleasure of looking up at a wall outside the Cafe Belgique in Gravenstraat and seeing an image that I immediately associated with Melbourne, and ‘home’:

Cafe Belgique#6.JPG

Quite a while ago, I had heard that there was a large wall in Fitzroy that Everfresh were going to paint, outside the Black Cat nightclub. I know this wall well, in that I drove past it every day for two years, on my way to work. It was like any other wall in this semi-residential, semi-industrial area: tall, brick, occasionally tagged, occasionally billpostered. But now – now it looks quite different… I guess the painting happened during the several weeks that I was ill with the dreaded whooping cough earlier this year. At any rate, I didn’t see any of the work being carried out, but one day when I drove by – there it was: quite wonderful. ‘Welcome to sunny Fitzroy’:


The car parked next to it gives you a sense of the wall’s scale and size. The artwork that completely covers it is an intricately designed homage to Melbourne in general and Fitzroy in particular. The fact that it is painted in black-and-white (and shades of grey) gives it a startling prominence amid the naturalistic colours of the street around it. It looks like a frame from an old film, somehow transported into the everyday ‘real’ world, located as it is opposite a petrol station and a row of terraced houses. It  also manages to showcase the distinctive styles of the artists who worked on it (for example, by incorporating some of their signature images within the letters that comprise the words) within the overall sense of a single coherent visual style. It’s such a huge work that it’s hard to photographically do justice to all the complexities within it, but here are some examples.

A section by Rone:


And one by Meggs:


And here are a few more, just for good measure, because the work is so great:




In this last image, you can really see the brickwork under the paint, a reminder that underneath there is a rather drab wall, now transformed into something which embodies the very idea and spirit of Fitzroy. Which is what Everfresh is all about, really.

Talking about street art….

I’m giving a lunchtime talk in my department next week, called ‘Street Art and the Contestation of Public Space’.

Here’s what it will be about:

“Cities are sites of intense cultural and aesthetic production, engaged in the continual development and refinement of their self-image. This occurs by means of a range of aesthetic practices, such as architectural innovation, statuary, control of signage and advertising, and public art, underpinned by a network of planning regulations, local and municipal laws, and public order law.

For its citizens, a city’s processes of cultural production are sometimes unremarkable or even imperceptible; at other times, however, these processes become contested, subject to planning disputes, legal intervention, and shifts in public opinion. This talk focuses upon the contestation arises in connection with street art and graffiti writing.

The talk will focus upon two examples.

The first is the approach to street art taken by the City of Melbourne. Since 2003, local councils within Victoria have been required by the Department of Justice to develop plans for the regulation of graffiti within their municipalities. The City of Melbourne initially developed a strategic approach to graffiti based on the concept of zones of ‘tolerance’ for graffiti and street art, but then elected instead to pursue a policy of zero tolerance combined with a discretionary permit system.

The second example focuses upon the French street artist JR, who uses street art as a means of engagement with the politics of ethnicity, race and religion and as a platform to draw attention to the impact of war or emergency in ‘post-conflict’ cities and countries.”

If you are in Melbourne and are interested in coming along, here’s a link to the departmental homepage, where you can find details of the talk listed under ‘Events and Seminars’. Clicking on that link will open a downloadable pdf of a poster for the talk, which gives information about the venue and the time.

I’ve done a few talks on street art and graffiti over the last few years in Melbourne – Street Alliance, at Federation Square, or the Cultural Development Network’s forum on Permissible Art at the Famous When Dead Gallery. This one will be a more ‘academic’ one, given the setting, of course. Anyway, if you are interested, you are welcome to come along.

Losing Banksy…

There’s been a lot of discussion since the weekend about what’s happened to the famous Banksy stencil in Melbourne’s CBD. This stencil is famous for two reasons: first because not many of Banksy’s works, painted during a visit here in 2003, remain in Melbourne; and, secondly, because plexiglass plastic had been screwed over the top of it to protect and preserve it, thus singling it out from the mass of stencils and street artworks in Melbourne.

It seems that someone has poured silver paint down the back of the plexiglass, so that the image is now obscured. On top of the plexiglass, the words ‘Banksy woz ere’ have been written in black marker pen.

Here’s what it all looks like (photo sent to me by Miso, who found it on Nice Produce):


You can see a news report about this here.

I have some pretty mixed reactions to what’s happened. Yes, it’s definitely sad to see the end of a cute little stencil. And it’s a bit frustrating if the stencil has been destroyed in order to provide whoever did it with a quick thrill of excitement.


There’s a lot more that needs to be said about what has happened. For example, why get worked up about this image in particular? Other images done by Banksy in Melbourne have also been lost over the years, such as this classic ‘Laugh now…’ ape, which I photographed in Richmond back in 2003:


It is long gone, painted over by Yarra City Council. Its disappearance wasn’t remarked by the media. So why is the loss of the ‘little diver’ so noteworthy now? Ah, but wait…. In recent years, Banksy has been the object of much media interest as well as seeing his works suddenly increase in value (in fact, a version on canvas of the same image that I photographed in Richmond in 2003 sold at Bonhams ‘urban art’ auction in London, in February this year, for 80,000 pounds).

And many other stencils and street artworks have also disappeared, without finding themselves to be the subject of news reports or mass ‘mourning’. Why is their loss not so noteworthy? Works have been put up by local and visiting artists all over Melbourne, only for them to be painted over, or torn down, and thus vanish. Perhaps it’s only the disappearance of Banksy’s work that merits comment in the mainstream media?

I also suspect that the media is reporting on this because the work appears to have been destroyed by an individual who can be portrayed as a ‘vandal’. As I mentioned, Yarra City Council painted over Banksy’s apron-wearing ape, along with rats such as this one…


When a council, or a property owner, buffs street artworks or graffiti, the media doesn’t represent them as ‘vandalising’ the images – instead, no doubt the council would be seen as exercising its ‘graffiti management strategy’ and a property owner would be ‘cleaning’ the surface.

I’m sure a large part of the media’s interest in what has happened to Banksy’s stencil is because it allows them to have their cake and eat it too – they can express regret at the loss of the stencil while implicitly condemning whoever did it.

To me, the whole event brings up a number of issues that are worth thinking about. One relates to the protective plexiglass that was placed over the stencil. The news story that I read stated that it was the building owners who asked for the protective covering; in conversations with people around Melbourne in the past I’ve heard it said that Melbourne City Council decided to protect the stencil. I don’t know which is correct, and in some ways it doesn’t matter, because what interests me is less who put the plexiglass there and more the fact that suddenly there has developed the desire to preserve street artworks along with (apparently) the technology to do so.

I started thinking about this recent phenomenon back in July, when I visited Cargo in London. Cargo is a desperately hip bar in Shoreditch, famous for its courtyard area where the walls have been painted by a range of street artists. Some of its panels get painted over as different artists visit: for example, in July there was a fantastic panel painted by Logan Hicks; by October when I went back, it had gone and a new piece was up instead. Exceptions to this process of renewal are two panels by Banksy, which have been covered in plexiglass. You can see one of these here (and in the photo you can see some weird reflections caused by the plexiglass covering):


The Cargo courtyard demonstrates the emergence of a hierarchy in the way mainstream culture is responding to street art. It’s a hierarchy that is clearly related to ‘the Banksy effect’, in which Banksy’s works are treated differently than others (they sell for more money, they are the subject of more media interest, they are ‘protected’ where others are not).

Leaving the ‘Banksy effect’ aside (and I’m not trying to be critical of Banksy here, since this phenomenon has arisen mainly through the responses of others to his work rather than through direct actions of his own), is the desire to ‘preserve’ street art a good thing?

I have to say I’m suspicious of what the plexiglass represents. It seems like an attempt to pin down something that shouldn’t be ‘frozen’ in this way. And am I sad at the loss of the little diver stencil? I know I have expressed sadness at ‘losing’ an image in the past (see the entry ‘Losing the image’ in October this year), but in this instance I am much more ambivalent. I think what has been done to the image draws our attention to the plexiglass as much as it destroys the image behind it. As such, if it makes people think about what hypocrisy might be present when one work (or the works of just one artist) can be placed behind plexiglass, then perhaps that will assist the public debate that still needs to take place around street art. And as for whether this is an act of ‘vandalism’, well, in some ways it might be, but if we take a moment to look at what has actually been done, then it’s a little more complex than that.

How can we read the meaning of writing ‘Banksy woz ere’? Well, it is quite a funny, literal, demonstration of what has happened. A Banksy stencil was here, and now these words are here instead. Or, Banksy himself was here in person, and is now gone. And of course ‘Banksy woz ere’ evokes the famous ‘Kilroy was here’ graffiti of the 1970s onwards, in which an anonymous male character seemed to travel the world, leaving only his enigmatic images on walls. A bit like Banksy, really.

So if the stencil had to disappear (and most street artworks will disappear, some day, one way or another), then this might not be a bad way to go.

Superheroes forever…?

I’ve been thinking a lot about superheroes lately. This might sound odd, but they seem to be in the cultural (and political) air at the moment.

Superheroes have featured in recent shows by three artists: Anthony Lister, an artist from Brisbane who now lives and works in Brooklyn; D*Face, one of the mainstays of the London street art scene; and Meggs, based in Melbourne. All of them feature superhero figures in their work – and all of these superheroic figures are in some way twisted, or subverted, or undercut in the way they are depicted by the artists.

Lister has had two shows recently, one at Elms Lesters in London (with WK Interact), and ‘This Won’t Change Anything’ at metro 5 gallery in Melbourne. I only got the briefest glimpse of the Melbourne show, but I think there are some really interesting things going on in his work right now. The figures in his works emerge out of the paint, alluded to rather than rendered in explicit detail.. Colours are sometimes thin, pale or insubstantial, almost gauzy. The combination of these inchoate figures and Lister’s ethereal brushstrokes creates a superhero who is rather less than heroic – a fleeting character rather than one with the definitive qualities of the hero.

In D*Face’s current show ‘Apopcalypse’, at Black Rat Press in London, several works feature superheroes. In one, Batman is shown hanging by the neck from a noose; in another, part of Superman’s face has been replaced by a ghastly skull. These characters, usually associated with strength, invincibility and power, are in this show made problematic. Their presence seems less to do with ‘saving the world’ (as superheroes conventionally do) and more to do with (the evils of) capitalism.

Many of the works in this show take a swipe at the institutions of capitalism (see for example ‘American Depress’, an ‘altered’, expanded replica of the Amex credit card). What then should we make of an image such as Batman hanged by the neck? Is he the victim of a corrupt system? Or is he a part of that corruption? The link between superheroes and capitalism does not, in these strange times, seem at all strained: merchant bankers have previously shown, in their uncritical adoption of Tom Wolfe’s critical epithet ‘masters of the universe’, that they are not averse to viewing themselves as all-powerful superheroes. And I write this entry on a day when I read in the London newspapers that the British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, is being described as ‘a superhero’ by European financiers for his bailout of the banks. Perhaps the current global financial crisis gives D*Face’s critique of capitalist superheroes an unexpectedly topical edge.

in Meggs’ recent work, the ‘Own Worst Enemy’  show at Dont Come gallery in Melbourne and which can be seen here, there’s no critique of capitalism, but it’s possible to read the works as a critique of powerful masculinity. The images draw heavily on comics and their rendition of the superhero, but rather than depicting singular characters (a ‘Batman’, a ‘Phantom’ and so on), these works feature a figure who is an uncomfortable hybrid of several superheroes. His costume sometimes shows the pointed ears of Batman, sometimes the purple colours of the Phantom, sometimes a winged helmet, sometimes the features of He-Man, and so on. In looking at the figures we recognize each of these as markers of the various superheroes, and thus subscribe to the idea that by means of such markers we can identify them – only to find that the figures resist easy identification, always presenting themselves as uncertain amalgamations and alternatives.

And ‘uncertain’ is a key word here. The figure embodies uncertainty. In a number of images his face grimaces in pain or distress; in others, he cowers away from an unseen threat or attacker. In one series (‘Don’t Know, Don’t Care’), he turns his head away, eyes closed, saying, ‘Don’t…’. The depiction of a superhero in postures of distress, uncertainty, powerlessness or injury radically undercuts the standard associations we have for such figures, converting them from figurs of salvation and rescue, into characters who may need rescue themselves.

Which means that, adapting the classic question ‘who guards the guards’, we should ask, ‘who is there to save a saviour?’. When ‘white knights’ and superheroes are incomplete, corruptible, or vulnerable, it may well be time to reconsider our cultural and political assumption that there will always be someone to rescue us.

On tourism, street art, and Melbourne

Well, this topic certainly deserves a long post, which sadly I don’t have time to write at present. More later, I think. But I did want to note the latest instalment in the continuing saga of the State Government’s conflicted attitude to street art and graffiti in Melbourne.

On Monday, I noticed a story in The Age (our local broadsheet newspaper, for any non-local readers) which reported on how a recreation of Melbourne is the centrepiece of a food and wine festival at Disney World in Florida. Laneways painted with street art and graffiti are the location for small cafes serving different kinds of food – so far, so Melbourne, right? Well, today (Tuesday) a friend (thanks, Esther!) sent me a message with a link to a story in the Herald Sun, which is all hot under the collar about this, on behalf of Tim Holding, the Victorian Minister for Tourism and Major Events, who has apparently criticised his department for allowing Melbourne to be associated with graffiti: ‘graffiti is not the way we want Melbourne to be promoted to a global audience’, he says.

Tourism Victoria is, sadly, admitting that it has made ‘a mistake’ in allowing the graffiti panels to be included. I say ‘sadly’ because, for one thing, I would have preferred Tourism Victoria at least to have been consistent in its expressed views, given that it features street art in much of its promotional material. And for another thing, I would like the State Government to actually consider what it objects to about the association between Melbourne and street art. It seems so short-sighted and blinkered: street art in London has brought large amounts of money into previously cash-strapped areas like the East End and Shoreditch over the last 8-10 years. If the State Government here could at least participate in a discussion about the cultural value of street art and graffiti, it might not need to engage in such self-righteous huffing and puffing about a food and wine festival. Makes me wonder if Minister Holding has ever wandered around the laneways of Melbourne – spending time on such a pursuit might show him that, for many, food, wine and street art combine very nicely in this city of ours.

If you would like to read the Herald Sun story, it’s here.

There’s a forum for posting comments, too.

Clamping down: the Graffiti Prevention Act 2007

You could be forgiven for thinking that the Australian state of Victoria just can’t make up its mind as to what it thinks about graffiti and street art. On the one hand, it uses images of graffiti and street art to promote tourism, showing images of Melbourne’s laneways (well, Hosier Lane, usually) on television and in its information guides (have a look here). On the other hand – well, it has recently passed a new statute called the Graffiti Prevention Act 2007, which creates a bundle of new criminal offences and gives the police new powers of search, which hardly seems to fit with its marketing of Melbourne as the city of cool street art.

So, what are the new offences? Well, there’s one of ‘marking graffiti’ – creating graffiti that is visible from a public place and done without the property owner’s consent. Another one is ‘possessing a graffiti implement on transport company property or an adjacent public place, or a place where you are trespassing’. What’s meant by ‘graffiti implement’? It’s pretty broad – it means any tool or object or implement or substance that you can use to mark graffiti. So… what does ‘mark graffiti’ mean? Spray, write, draw, mark, scratch or ‘deface’ property by any means so that the result cannot be cleaned off with a dry cloth.

So one thing that’s clear from this is how legal language likes to bind one definition up in another, so that interpretation of what this statute will actually mean is the product of a chain of associations, definitions and meanings (making it hard, sometimes, for non-lawyers to realise that they might be actually breaking the law in what they are doing).

But what else is clear is that this Act has really broad scope. The title of the Act and its fixation on public transport property make it sound as though it might be restricted to tagging and so on. It isn’t. It includes stencils. It includes paste-ups. It includes all kinds of street art as well as conventional graffiti. It applies to everyone who puts up on a wall  on or near public transport property, if the image they make can’t be rubbed off with a dry cloth (and since walls aren’t really anything like whiteboards, I’m a bit at a loss to think of what you can put on and rub off a wall with a dry cloth and leave no mark).

These new offences come with new penalties, as you might expect. Marking graffiti – up to 2 years’ imprisonment, and a fine of up to $26,428. Possessing a graffiti implement on or near public transport property, or while trespassing – a fine of up to $2,753, or an on-the-spot fine of $550. Pretty serious penalties, and remember that the police may well be looking to charge people with a number of counts, which would increase the total fines. (It’s through non-payment of fines that many people end up in prison, so imprisonment is a real possibility under this Act.)

And in order to assist the police, the Act creates some new powers of search for them. A police officer can search any person, vehicle or thing if they have ‘reasonable grounds’ for suspecting that person is in possession of a graffiti implement on or near public transport property or while trespassing. What does ‘reasonable grounds’ mean? It means that if you are at or near a place that has recently had graffiti put up on it, the police officer is entitled to take that into account in deciding if it’s reasonable to search you. If they search you and find an ‘implement’ (like a spray can), they must ask you why you have one.

So, suppose you are stopped and searched by the police? You’re at a train station, or on a tram, or waiting at a tram stop, or walking down a laneway near a train station. The police find a spray can in your bag and ask you why you have one. It’s up to you to convince the police that you have the spray can for a ‘legitimate’ purpose – like a school art project, or that you are on your way to your studio where you are working on your next big gallery show.

The thing is, this means that the ‘burden of proof’ has been reversed. What SHOULD happen is for the police to prove there’s reasonable grounds to suspect that you don’t have a spray can for a legitimate purpose – this is part of the work of policing and it’s what the police have to do for most offences. The burden of proof has previously been reversed in relation to drug offences – does that mean that a spray can is being equated with heroin in terms of the amount of social harm caused?

So what will be the consequences of this new legislation? Well, one of its stated aims was to make it easier for the police to arrest graffiti writers and artists, and it seems very likely that we’ll see an increase in arrests once the police get into the swing of using it (at the moment they are still being trained in its implementation). Another consequence is the erosion of legal principles: the burden of proof is supposed to be one of the cornerstones of criminal justice, a basic safeguard against the abuse of power by the state and its agents. If the State Government can create an Act which reverses the burden of proof in the context of graffiti, simply in order supposedly to address ‘community concerns’ about graffiti and to facilitate the arrest of graffiti writers by the police, then that seems to indicate that legal rights are not taken as seriously in this State as they should be.

What the Act won’t do is deter people from tagging, of course, no matter what the Department of Justice and the public transport companies are hoping. What the Act will do is create the risk that many more people – and especially many more young people – will be brought into the criminal justice system, acquiring fines and a criminal record as a result.

And on top of this, the Act is about criminalising artists. It’s all very well for the Department of Justice to make claims about graffiti being a social problem (which they do on their website, here), one major consequence of the Act will be that artists are subjected to the criminal law for putting up work on the streets. The result could well be be a kind of ‘chilling effect’ on many of the great artists who live in Melbourne or who visit the city, so that it could seem too risky to do work on the street.

It makes me sad and frustrated that a city so well known around the world for its urban art should be the site where laws like this get implemented.

And if you are one of the folks who get arrested and charged under this new legislation, you can get legal advice from organisations such as your nearest community legal centre or from Youthlaw.

In anticipation….

I’m writing this at a moment of great anticipation. Next week, an exhibition will open in Melbourne: Futureshock (Part 1), at the Per Square Metre Gallery in Johnston Street, Collingwood.

Three artists are exhibiting: Ha Ha, who is something of a Melbourne institution these days (a prolific, highly respected, incredibly influential, and extremely ethical street artist); Vex Ta, a Melbourne artist who is on a trajectory of international stardom and is recently returned from the Cans Festival in London, where she painted alongside some of the best known street artist in the world right now; and Logan Hicks. Logan Hicks is an American artist who has lived overseas but is now based in Brooklyn. And – what can I say – I am a fan of his work.

I had seen images of his work online. Many, many street artists like his work, and his name tends to come up in conversation. He has his own website here. On YouTube, you can watch time-lapse footage of Logan Hicks spraying a stencil:

I had looked at the online images of his work, and had admired what I had seen, but recently I had the chance to stand in the same room as 16 of his works, and that was a stunning experience.

When I was in London in July, a gallery called Black Rat Press was showing his work. The gallery space at Black Rat Press is located in a converted tunnel, so that instead of the standard ‘white cube’ there is a curved arc of exposed brick. The works were hung around this curved, vaguely subterranean room, and the mottled red brick provided a fitting backdrop to them.

Logan Hicks’s images tend to be of urban scenes: tired commuters on the New York subway, gazing into the near distance; a deserted stoop in front of a decaying building; the escalator that descends into a train station; the facade of a building. These images are rendered by means of extremely detailed stencil-making. Hicks appears to cut his intricate shapes with ease: the images appear directly painted rather than transferred through the indirection of a stencil.

His colour palette is sombre – greys, black, more grey. But these monochromal repetitions are counterposed in some of his works to a sudden, astonishingly bright, primary colour. In one image, the sky is red; in another, a window appears golden yellow. The effect, for me, is enormously pleasing: even now, several weeks after seeing them, the works hover in my memory.

I visited the gallery with my partner and our daughter. After a while they went outside, to sit in the sunny courtyard that belongs to Cargo, a tremendously hip Shoreditch bar. (One wall of Cargo’s courtyard is adorned with works by various famed street artists: Logan Hicks has a work on that wall, and so does Shepard Fairey, while two Banksys look demurely out from behind their plexiglass protective cover.)

While Peter and Sophie were outside, I chatted to the gallery staff member who was present. He said the opening night had gone well, and pointed to several red dots next to various works. ‘Wait a minute’, he said, ‘You should see the works like this…’, and he switched off the main gallery lights. In their place a number of small track lights pointed at the images. The metallic lustre of the paint emerged; the images seemed even more to fade into the brickwork. For a moment, gallery became street: image on brick, artificial light turned almost into the gloom of a tunnel.

Logan Hicks’s works seem poised at that delicate moment between appearing and disappearing. I felt this acutely when I saw his contribution to the Cans Festival, Banksy’s paintfest in a disused tunnel called Leake Street, near Waterloo Station in London. Hicks was one of the artists invited to participate, and he painted two large works on the brickwork of the walls, in one of the dimmest corners of the tunnel. One is an image of Union Square subway station; another shows a solitary man on a subway train. Both works evoke the city as almost uncannily unpopulated, yet crowded with the machinery of modernity. Both are peaceful yet disquieting images. Both sink into the walls, yet insinuate their images outwards toward the spectator.

Where so much of street art is about getting noticed, Hicks’s work seems almost to be receding away from the viewer. Is it this that captivates me so much?