experience - Street Art, Melbourne
Written by Ulrike Lemmin-Woolfrey
Melbourne is known for its galleries and prestigious art programmes that draw students and authorities from around the globe. Yet it is street art, in its many guises, that really makes this city stand out.
Forget the fancy galleries and concentrate on whats under your nose, or above it. You want a cow in a tree? John Kelly's square cow is part of the landscape in Docklands. Within the CBD you'll see fish and horse weather vanes in beaten copper, and at the intersection of Bourke and Swanston streets, three skinny businessmen ogle the crowd. Still on Swanston Street, theres the giant purse – seemingly dropped by a shopper – while Architectural Fragment – a corner of the library's classical roof – is sunken into the pavement outside the State Library of Victoria. Look into shop windows or chat to your friend as you're walking, and you'll miss the quirky art that can be found on every street corner.
If you are in the habit of avoiding dark alleys, then you'll miss the best art Melbourne has to offer, the so-called graffiti. Giving in to the urge to scribble on walls, which seems innate to mankind, Melbourne's laneways come to life with a riot of colour and mind-blowing designs that represent the zeitgeist of the city and are just as fleeting and changeable.
Just when you thought graffiti simply involved a couple of youths waving spray cans, think again: there are stencils, spraying, paste-ups, sculptures within wall paintings, stickers, and more. The artists include, yes, youths, but also reportedly a middle-aged housewife who puts up the most intricate pieces of paper-paste work, renowned street artists from around the world, and proper artists who also show their other work in some of the citys galleries.
But being a graffiti artist is fraught with danger: get caught putting up your art and you could face up to two years in prison and fines of some US$26,000, with your art being wiped off the unauthorised canvas. Even a Banksy piece fell foul of the city's cleaning crew back in 2010.
Trying to see, as in literally spot, street art in the city is an art form in itself. This is where the walking tours come in handy. Led by street artists themselves, you will be guided into Melbourne's hidden, often unappealing-looking laneways, and taught about this misunderstood art form. You'll discuss techniques, learn to recognise different artists, and often see a work in progress when truly going behind the scenes. The tours end up at Bleaker Studios, a refuge-cum-gallery for street artists. When your'e out and about, look out for Banksy's rats in AC/DC Lane – if they are still there…