Melbourne street art can be characterised by one thing only – diversity. Whatever your taste in the illicit arts of street culture, you can find it here.
Catch a train in any direction out of Melbourne’s central Flinders Street Station to see endless walls of graff that has origins in the New York school of writing. Sure you can see similar just about anywhere in the world, though local touches give it some distinction. Melbourne has a lot of serious crews who specialise in rolling steel and the concrete canyons of the train lines, but what I really dig is the stuff that has it’s own special Melbourne thing.
So who’s hot?
Bombing kings the 70K crew are everywhere right now and accordingto the cops, public enemy no.1.
70K – Stan, Bones, Renks, Meow and Reify, are the epitomy of bombing style. Getting up high, in your face, on the train lines, scratchies in phone cabinets, tagging back alleys, throw ups on vans. 20 foot high drippy tags made with mops and rollers can be seen from kilometers away when nicely placed, and 70k have a sweet eye for placement, hitting spots that have otherwise gone unnoticed for years.
The 70k style is minimal and straight up – reflecting the speedy and highly tactical nature of the work – but could never be accused of lacking style, and shows a deep understanding of the history of writing culture.
Now 70K are city wide, but Melbourne’s CBD is another thing all together, and this is where you will find insane diversity. Melbourne city is built on a grid system, and a by-product of this design are countless alleys and lanes and dead-end alcoves, just perfect for un-witnessed activity.
Pioneers of the city-as-a playground include Marcos Davidson and Colin Brielly in the 80’s, with a whole suite of original characters (while everyone else was still mastering wildstyle with homemade nozzles – ‘nuff respect) and in the early 90’s Marcsta pioneered adbusting and logo jamming when those terms were yet to be invented, penning his own theory of Re-Advertising in the process.
In 1996 the Citylights crew established their 24 hour lightbox gallery in a dead-end alley off Centre Place, and every month or so since, have put up exhibitions by more than 150 artists, printed from digital files onto vinyl and placed in the lightboxes and launched with speakeasy block parties. In 1998 Citylights launched a second lightbox gallery in Hosier Lane, and since then both sites have become central to the CBD scene, bombed nightly by locals and occasionally visiting artists such as Space Invader and Banksy.
By the late 90’s stenciling was going totally nuts, coinciding with a rising interest in political comment driven by globalization and several years of political conservatism in Australia.
By the time airliners where crashing into the WTC, Melbourne was covered in stencils, and a wild and hectic scene evolved driven by artists like HaHa, Dlux, Sync, Psalm, visiting Swede Sixten, Rone, Vexta, Civil, Azlan, Albo, and Phibs. Prism started up the massive Stencil Revolution website, HaHa and Dlux ran the now defunct but pivotal Early Gallery, and the Empty crew began staging Empty Shows in abandoned warehouses and secret locations. Everfresh crew have been innovating massive hand drawn paste-ups, sticker wars have come and gone, Ashtek has taken massive fire extinguisher expressionism to the public and Reks,1337, Guz and Lister come down from Brisbane regularly to put cats amongst the pigeons. And Nails, Monkee, Nurok and Reka, all progressing their own new schools of aerosol freehand. Not to forget an insane show by the great Barry McGee in 2004.
So what next?
Well that’s the interesting bit. Culture seems able to absorb and co-opt the street very rapidly, and a lot of the Melbourne scene are now busy on gallery exhibitions, graphics, working for corporate dollars or starting their own varied business. Monkee keeps slack hours at his Rancho Notorious shop, Citylights director Amac is about to open a lofty guerilla salon (strictly by appointment), the City of Melbourne have just announced a zero tolerance policy to graff in time for the Commonwealth Games, and Karl and Jake have published a fine record of the last 5 years: “Stencil Graffiti Capital: Melbourne“.
So as we write the citizens and cops wait nervously to see what new directions the Rats of Melbourne will bring to the walls. We say “bring it on !”.
Text and Photos: Andrew Mac
Edited by: Melodie Mars