Monday, April 6, 2009

Post 4 Susie B - Graffiti Artists

After watching "Rash" I was in two minds... as a Mum I thought of all hard work cleaning off the graffiti paint, tags, random spray painted words and stickers etc.  Then, I did begin to have a new appreciation of the amazing artwork of some of these Graffiti artists and the messages they are trying to convey.  I am still not a fan of the name "tagging" though, it seems messy, ugly, pointless and definitely not artwork to me.

Melbourne has been labeled the stencil graffiti capital of the world.  Over the past six years, the stencil graffiti scene has flourished to the point that it has gained a certain mainstream acceptance and is being discussed in art and design journals and major newspapers, exhibited in national galleries, and attracts advertisers and corporations wanting their product to have an instant street credibility. A photographic book has recently been published, "Stencil Graffiti Capital, Melbourne" by Jake Smallman.

There are those Melbourne residents who embrace street art as a reflection of the city's witty, creative and socially aware underbelly.  Then again, there will be plenty of graffiti-loathers and regard graffiti an illegal activity and that others have a gall to rate Melbourne as the world's top destination for stencil art.

Civilian is a street artist operating out of Melbourne, who has been profiled as a 'leading player' of "the city's vibrant stencil art scene". Civil is marked by his social conscience and concerns about political issues.  He has had several art works exhibited in gallery shows, but says he’s not entirely comfortable in those settings; preferring to do work in “Empty Shows” - illegal exhibitions held in derelict buildings. Civilian feels that “street art is an important and necessary part of society”.
His series of work on Australian icons, like cricketer Don Bradman, and footy players jumping for high marks, help non-traditional audiences notice and reconsider the street art they encounter.  The fish are a pleasant bit of escapism from the gritty urban, and vanilla suburban, spaces where we find a lot of graffiti. They contrast with many other artist styles, remind us of nature and ecosystems.. but also play on the fish-out-of-water notion.

Vexta is a another prominent Melbourne street artist. She is especially notable because she is a female operating in a male-dominated arena. Her work is mostly human portraiture. Vexta requests that name not be published.  Some of her work has been purchased by the National Gallery of Australia, to appear in an exhibition in late 2008. She has also completed commissioned pieces and worked with a landscape design company.

Vexta's motivation for stencil art is both artistic and socio-political. She has been documented as saying:  "I don't want to live in a city that's really bland and covered in grey and brown and advertising. I never said it was OK to put a billboard on the top of Brunswick Street, so who's to say that I can't put up a small A4 size image in a back laneway?"  

Her main aim in her work is to connect with the public on an emotional level:  "I want to find and capture what it is that makes us human, the soul of the individual that is at once personal but at the same time deeply universal."
Vexta has a background in screen printing. Many of Vexta's pieces are developed from photographs taken of her friends. She also posts paste-ups and stickers.

The British graffiti artist Banksy, keeps his identity a closely guarded secret, and has made a name for himself with provocative images stencilled around the streets of London and cities around the world, of course, Melbourne. He is perhaps the most famous, or infamous, artist alive. To some a genius, to others a vandal. Always controversial, he inspires admiration and provokes outrage in equal measure. Banksy's stencils feature striking and humorous images occasionally combined with slogans. The message is usually anti-war, anti-capitalist or anti-establishment. Subjects include rats, monkeys, policemen, soldiers, children, and the elderly.

Banksy is quoted saying... “To actually [have to] go through the process of having a painting selected must be quite boring. It's a lot more fun to go and put your own one up.”

Peter Gibson, a spokesperson for Keep Britain Tidy, asserts that Banksy's work is simple vandalism, and Diane Shakespeare, an official for the same organization, was quoted as saying: "We are concerned that Banksy's street art glorifies what is essentially vandalism"

When it comes to graffiti, it seems the world is divided into those who see it as a menace to society, a sure trigger of escalating crime and falling property values, and those who view it as a vital element of a city's urban fabric and consider the best examples of it as an exciting part of contemporary art practice.


  1. Hey Susie
    As you say, it is an exciting part of an ancient and contemporary art practice. Each example of it is random, immediate, personal, uncensored and does not have to meet curatorial practices of a traditional gallery.
    I enjoyed your honest blog!
    (: Clare (thedreamersbeacon)

  2. Interesting post great examples looking at argument through the eyes of all stakeholders. great work