Newtown area graffiti and street art

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Since the 1980s, the area surrounding the inner-Sydney suburb of Newtown, New South Wales (NSW), Australia—including the suburbs of Newtown, Enmore, Erskineville, Camperdown and St Peters—has been known for its wide range of prominent graffiti and street art on walls.[citation needed] The public visual art in the Newtown area consists of a variety of styles and methods of execution, including large-scale painted murals, hand-painted (or sprayed) political slogans, hand-painted figurative designs, spray painted semi-abstract designs (including large-scale and elaborate semi-pictorial) "tags"), and other stylistic developments such as stencil art and street poster art (also known as "wheatpasting"), "Yarn bombing", and sculptural items cast from plaster and other materials.

Locations[edit]

Street art locations in the greater Newtown area include:[citation needed]

Another example is two slogans painted on the wall of a house on Salisbury Rd in Camperdown, at the Kingston Rd intersection. A large hand-painted slogan that displayed, "Madonna: The Devil Incarnate", was accompanied by a smaller slogan that read, "iConsume". Both slogans lasted approximately two weeks before being painted over.[citation needed]

Artists and attribution[edit]

Although several major works are community or private commissions, or were carried out with permission, others are illegal.[citation needed] Artworks are therefore rarely attributed to their respective artists due to the need for anonymity. Another impediment to attribution is the abstract nature of the pieces and identifying "tags" of the creators.

Unmitigated Audacity Productions[edit]

Many of the biggest and best-known large-scale murals painted in Newtown in the early 1990s were created by a group of mural artists called "Unmitigated Audacity Productions (UAP)". This group included Sydney mural artists, Matthew Peet (aka "Mistery" and member of hip-hop group, Brethren), Juilee Pryor, and New Zealand-born artist, Andrew Aiken.[citation needed]

Among the past and present murals that can be attributed to UAP are:

Juilee Pryor photographed much of the group's mural work and she has donated digital copies of these photos to the City of Sydney's photographic archive on the ArchivePix website [3]

Andrew Aiken[edit]

Andrew Aiken was the principal artist and major collaborator on several of the most prominent murals in the Newtown area in the early 1990s. His life was detailed in a 2003 Sydney Morning Herald article by Sean Nicholls. Using a donated cherry picker and a thousand dollars worth of paint, Aiken and Pryor created the "I Have a Dream" mural on King St. over two nights in August 1991, describing it as a "humanist protest against the sterility of postmodern art". [4]

Twelve months earlier, Aiken had fled the UK after murdering a man he had lived with in a London squat and burying the body of the 40-year-old busker in the squat's cellar. In 1997, after converting to Christianity, Aiken was convinced to give himself up by the leader of the religious group he had joined, the Twelve Tribes community in Picton, New South Wales. He returned to England, where he was tried and convicted of murder. He served 8 years in prison and, on his release in 2005, joined another Twelve Tribes community in Chilliwack, British Columbia.[4][5]

Big City Freaks[edit]

The "Big City Freaks" street art collective, founded in 1998, includes the artists PUDL, SNARL, SKULL McMURPHY (Troy Edwards), SET and ZEN (aka SKOTE STYLES). The group has executed several large-format murals and other works in the distinctive "blended" style, combining highly stylized tags and striking graphic elements such as monsters, aliens, robots, skulls and designs sourced from Japanese art. Probably the most popular and currently the longest-surviving example of their collective work is the "Great Wave" mural. The group has its own website, where images of many of the group's works can be seen. One of BCF's most recent works is a large large-format mural, created in late October 2009 on the rear wall of the Ausscrap Building, facing Wilford St, Enmore.

The mural is featured on the CD back cover photograph of the album, Size of the Ocean, by Sydney, Australia band, Big Heavy Stuff.

Other artists[edit]

Preservation[edit]

Several of the largest and most prominent Newtown area murals, dating from the early 1990s, are no longer extant.

The Council of the City of Sydney administers much of the north Newtown area. In Paragraph 8 of its Aerosol Art and Graffiti Policy[6] the Council ostensibly recognizes that these existing large murals are public-domain works worthy of conservation and maintenance, although in practice it has done nothing to prevent murals such as "Idiot Box" from being removed. Moreover, a Council media spokesperson recently stated that its general approach is "... to remove graffiti quickly and consistently to help maintain the appearance of our city while discouraging repeat incidents".[7]

Property owners have stripped and/or painted over a number of the area's most prominent works of street art in recent years, while others have been obscured by adjacent construction or destroyed by the demolition of the buildings on which they are painted, as in the case of the wall along Wilford Lane, Enmore, which formed the rear part of the former Blockbuster video store site, which was redeveloped into a large apartment complex.

Many other works are gradually covered over with more recent work by other graffiti artists after a period of weeks or months.

Murals and wall art of the Newtown area[edit]

King Street north and environs[edit]

The first mural that visitors will encounter when traveling south along King St. from the city is the "Herald" mural in northern King St. This large mural is an enlarged reproduction of the top section of the front page of the Friday 10 July 1992 edition of the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper, as can be clearly seen in the accompanying image. The image below the SMH says 'No Time'. At the bottom right hand corner used to be the words 'like the present'. This little section was removed during the creation of a driveway for the business that set up next door (around the mid-2000s).

The "I Have a Dream" (Martin Luther King) mural, painted over two nights in August 1991, is the largest, most prominent, and the longest-surviving of the many large format murals created around Newtown by the team known as Unmitigated Audacity Productions, the core members of which were New Zealand-born Canadian artist Andrew Aiken and his colleague Juilee Pryor. They were assisted in this mural by Tony Spanos, who provided a cherry-picker to allow the upper part of the mural to be painted.[4] It commemorates American civil rights leader Dr Martin Luther King Jr.. One of the last surviving large-format murals in the area, it displays a large portrait of Dr King, next to a large painted depiction of the Apollo 8 photograph of the Earth from space, and Dr King's quote "I have a dream" in large Gothic lettering, near which is the quotation from Genesis 37:19: "Behold the dreamer cometh; Come now therefore and let us slay him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams".

The upper section of the design remains largely unchanged from its original concept. A portion of left-hand-side of the mural was damaged by a 2011 fire that destroyed a temporary ticket booth set up nearby, but it was restored soon after.[4] The lower part of the mural has gone through numerous changes since it was first painted. At the time the mural was created, there was a raised garden bed against the wall of the building and the shrubs planted there partially obscured the bottom section, which initially featured a painted collage of a group of people. The council cleared the vegetation soon after and the lower part of the mural soon began to be defaced, notably with racist graffiti, which Aiken and Pryor quickly painted over, sometimes with anti-racist slogans. Frustrated by criticism of the mural by Marrickville Council's Community Arts Officer of the time, Aiken then over-painted the figures with a quotation from the officer ("Murals are no longer a valid art form") in large white Gothic lettering. He subsequently repainted the entire bottom section with a Newtown "Declaration of Independence" that featured a large blank space and the invitation "Sign here". At some point after this was painted, the council removed the garden bed and the declaration was in turn replaced with the design that is still in place, a large representation of the Aboriginal flag.[3]

The Last Supper Mural on King St. is located opposite the intersection of Church St. Despite broad community acceptance of the mural and the general respect shown to it, the mural has recently been defaced by vandal taggers who climbed onto the roof of the building it is painted on (and many others in the vicinity) and who spray-painted tags on the top edge of the mural and many other buildings in the vicinity.

The "Africa" mural in King St. was originally painted in the early 1990s. The large work occupies the entire side wall of an African restaurant, located between the Newtown Mission and the Commonwealth Bank. The first version was reproduced from an old map printed by the Australian firm Chas. Scally & Co., most likely dating from the 1960s. The current version, painted over the original in the early 2000s, reflects the major changes in African political geography in the recent times.

The "Eagle" mural is located in Wilson St., Newtown, on the rear wall of the Newtown Mission. The graphic style and content are very similar to the "Martin Luther King" mural and it is presumed to have been created by Andrew Aiken sometime in the early to mid-1990s. The lengthy Biblical quotation on the left-hand side of the mural is from the Book of Isaiah 40:28-31.

King Street south[edit]

There are many prominent murals and "wall art" works to be found along the southern end of King St., between Newtown Station and St. Peter's Station/Sydney Park. Only a few of these face directly onto King St., and most are located along the side walls of buildings on the corners of King St and the various side streets that lead off from it.

The "South of the Border" mural (created by Unmitigated Audacity Productions) is located on the side wall of a shop on King St., opposing the Union Hotel. This mural was clearly visible for many years, but is now obscured by a tree growing in the front yard of the terrace house next door.

Enmore Road[edit]

The major mural along Enmore Road is the "Jungle" mural painted on the side of the medical practice on the corner of Bailey St. and Enmore Rd., next to the Caltex petrol station. Created by retired artist, Colin Bebe, it depicts various African wild animals rampaging around the intersection of King St. and Enmore Rd.

The "Great Wave" mural[edit]

One of the largest Newtown murals is the "Great Wave" mural, painted on the side of a house located at the corner of Munni St. and Gowrie St. in south Newtown. Created in 2000, it features a striking combination of elaborate 3D style abstract pieces and pictorial images on a Japanese theme, including a huge image of a breaking wave rendered in the style of the famous Hokusai woodcut The Great Wave Off Kanagawa. The work is credited to artists "DAYS", "DMOTE", "PUDL" and "SNARL", members of the street art collective "Big City Freaks" (BCF), whose initials can be seen on the far right of the Great Wave mural. In October 2009 members of this group rendered a new mural along the rear wall of the Ausscrap building, facing Wilford St.

Trafalgar St[edit]

The two story terrace located at the corner of Trafalgar St and Liberty St in Newtown was another prominent Newtown street art site. The work was commissioned over time during the mid to late nineties to give street artists a prominent wall for their work and to brighten an otherwise grey point in the urban landscape. The street-side walls of this house were adorned with a number of images including 1970s cartoon character "Fat Albert" (painted on the side fence), a large flowing design incorporating a mermaid (depicting the owners love of swimming), and a group of aliens. The Fat Albert was done by Rory (Rors/Akira?) and the aliens by Phiber/Phibs, both prominent artists of the area. The portraits of George Harrison and Jimi Hendrix on the Liberty St. frontage were by graphic artist Jason Moses, who has collaborated with Matthew Peet and who also painted the travel-themed murals on the walls of the Abbey on King backpacker hostel in King St. This property was sold in early 2008 and underwent extensive renovation during 2010, resulting in the eventual destruction of all the murals painted there prior to 2010. In late 2013 two new mural works, one depicting Bogart and Hepburn in The African Queen, and the other of singer Freddie Mercury were painted onto the Trafalgar St side of the building (facing the railway).

Other large murals[edit]

"Shine" mural, Linthorpe St
"Guard Dogs", near Newtown Station (no longer extant)

The "Three Proud People" mural faces the railway adjacent to the Macdonaldtown railway station. Created ca. 2000, the mural is a reproduction of the famous photo taken at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, when African-American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos sparked controversy by wearing black gloves and giving the "Black Power" salute during their medal award ceremony. The third person in the image was Australian athlete Peter Norman, who died in 2006. This mural became the subject of significant Australian media coverage at the time of Norman's death. For many years, the mural was a landmark for thousands of commuters who passed it daily on Sydney's western rail line. In 2007, RailCorp erected high concrete noise barriers near MacDonaldtown Station, which obscured the mural from train travellers. In 2008, Melbourne filmmaker Matt Norman led a campaign to attempt to force RailCorp to install transparent noise barriers to allow the mural to be seen by commuters.[8]

The "Sydney '04" mural is located on the corner of Eve and Coulson St, Erskineville. It was painted in 2004 with the permission of the owner by a team of artists—Australian graffiti artist Dallas (who also created a controversial commissioned mural in Surry Hills [2]) and two others. Their tags, obscured by the car in the photo, are "Days Aus", "Drift NL" (from the Netherlands) and "Webs NZ". The owner added the red 'No War' slogan in 2007 as a protest against the war in Iraq and a kind of tribute to Saunders and Burgess, the peace activists who painted a "No War" slogan the Opera House in 2003.

Enmore laneways[edit]

One of the most popular areas for graffiti and wall art is the industrial area near the Silo Apartments, bounded by Station St., Enmore Rd., Phillip St. and the railway. Many striking graffiti works can be seen on the various factory and warehouse walls along Gladstone St, Wilford St, Wilford Lane, Thurnby Lane and Phillip Lane. Some murals in this area have remained intact for several years while others typically last for only short periods before being tagged or overpainted.

Some of the most stylistically distinctive graffiti art works to appear in the Newtown area in recent times are the striking creations by the artist who signs his work "EMÖS". These highly intricate, semi-abstract bio-mechanical designs, executed by hand with spray paint, are all sited along Phillip Lane, behind Enmore Rd; some are still visible in June 2007, although inevitably they are being progressively covered by the work of other graffiti artists, and the two examples, shown above second from left and centre, haves now been painted over. However, a number of similarly styled works by other artists, shown below, have appeared along Phillip Lane during in recent weeks.

A piece of graffiti on or near Bedford Street (next to the railway line), which says "Cut me a line / of poetry, man." has been attributed to well-known local poet Benito Di Fonzo. People have claimed that he scribbled the piece to impress his then-girlfriend, local artist Joanne Patricia Shand (aka. Jo Jo Rona). The line is featured in Di Fonzo's poem, "Cut Me A Line of Poetry".[citation needed] Another dedication to Patricia Shand exists in Erskenville that shows her with two dogs in a wall mural; however, the painter is unknown.[citation needed]

Camperdown Memorial Rest Park[edit]

One of the key locations for political and personal graffiti in the Newtown area is the long sandstone wall surrounding St Stephen's Church in Newtown. By the 1940s the cemetery was overgrown. In 1946 local girl Joan Norma Ginn was murdered and her body dumped in the cemetery, where it remained for several days before being found. This prompted action by the local council, which resulted in all but four acres being cleared and resumed as public space. An Act of Parliament in 1948 established the Camperdown Memorial Rest Park, under control of the local council. As a result, most of the gravestones were taken up and placed around the inside of the sandstone wall, although the graves were not disturbed and the depressions that mark their locations are still discernible.

Much of the graffiti on the wall around the church is brush-painted or spray-painted, and many are politically oriented slogans, although some stencil graffiti has appeared in recent times, and a number of striking large-scale mural works have been painted on walls and fences surrounding the park.

Although most of the graffiti is relatively recent, some examples have survived for many years. One venerable piece of brush-painted graffiti (above, second from left), which can be reliably dated to the mid-1970s and which is still partially visible, is the political slogan, "Is Frazer (sic) controlling your bowels?"—a reference to controversial 1970s Liberal Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser. A photograph of this slogan appeared in a 1976 book on Australian graffiti by photographer Rennie Ellis.[citation needed]

Other long-lasting pieces of handpainted graffiti on this wall, believed to be from the late 1970s or early 1980s, include the slogans "Patriarchy creates destruction" and "Hands held violently on to words that meant nothing" (above, far left). Another slogan remembered by some residents, was: "broken-hearted disillusioned desperates against meanness and nastiness, greed and stupidity."

Another significant location in Camperdown Park is the various rear walls and back fences of the buildings at the southern edge of the park that face onto Australia Street. A large continuous mural (above, centre) featuring many pictoral designs and elaborate tags, has been painted along the side wall of the large commercial building that faces the Courthouse Hotel, and most of the other fences and walls in this area of the park now have murals or decorative tags, although these have changed a number of times in recent years. The two examples above illustrate this—the mural second from right (photographed in March 2007) had been entirely painted over by July 2007 and replaced by the mural shown above, far right.

Stencil graffiti[edit]

Natural History Museum mural, same location, Sept. 2011

In the last few years there has been a rapid proliferation of stencil graffiti around Newtown, with dozens of designs appearing on walls in the area during 2005-2006. This development reflects the growing popularity of this style in many international cities, and particularly in Melbourne, Victoria.

For several years (ca. 2006-2011) the most notable location in the Newtown area was the outer wall of the triangular property on the corner of Gladstone St. and Phillip S.t in Enmore. The owners allowed graffiti to be applied as long as it was stencil art and from 2006 onwards dozens of stencil designs of all shapes and sizes were applied, and the collection grew. Artists on this wall included "KRAM", "Dam!", and "GlitaGirl". Ca. 2010 a plaster cast of a television and VCR (with the word "obsolescence" embossed on the screen) was installed on the footpath in front of the wall. The first version was vandalized and was soon replaced. In 2011, the stencil wall was completely over-painted with a large monochrome mural depicting the main entrance hall of the Natural History Museum in London.

Poster or 'Paste Up'/'Wheatpaste' graffiti[edit]

Since the mid-2000s innumerable examples of this new form of graphic street art have appeared in the Newtown area. Many small poster and sticker type graffiti graphics have been placed in various locations over the last few years, but these larger works — similar in scope to the many large poster graffiti works that have appeared in Melbourne in recent years — are a relatively recent development in Newtown.

Unlike the conventional painted designs and the recent popularity for stencil graffiti, these new works are essentially a form of poster art. Smaller designs are typically monochrome photocopies (some of which may be hand coloured) while others have been printed as self-adhesive stickers which are often affixed to roadside traffic signs.

Several large-format examples have appeared in 2007 such as the 'cartoon' figures pictured below, and the bus design, which was approximately a metre in length. Some, such as the octopus design from Gladstone St, appear to have been hand-painted or screen printed onto the backs of commercially printed street posters.

Other media[edit]

Several novel street art developments have recently appeared in the Newtown area.

An example of yarn bombing, Enmore, NSW, 2009
Concrete graffiti, May St, St Peters, NSW, 2011
Concrete graffiti, May St, St Peters, NSW, 2011
Concrete graffiti, May St, St Peters, NSW, 2011

Works no longer extant[edit]

Below: four vanished Newtown murals -- "Idiot Box", Erskineville Rd (photographed November 2006), a Jimi Hendrix portrait in Camperdown Memorial Rest Park (photographed July 2005) and a colourful Mayan-inspired mural (same location and date) and a mural in Goddard Lane (off King St.) photographed in January 2007.

"Purple Haze"
(artist unknown)

A number of the largest works of street art in the Newtown area have been removed or painted over by the 21st century; including several large murals executed by Aiken , Pryor and others in the early to mid-1990s (formerly located along, or near, Erskineville Road).

For many years since the 1970s, a strip of land along both sides of Erskineville Road, extending east from King St., was reserved by the NSW Department of Main Roads as part of a plan to build a large arterial road through the area. This scheme was eventually abandoned after the imposition of Green Bans by the Builders Labourers Federation (BLF), which effectively stopped all work on the planned road; although, a number of shops and houses along the street were demolished. This struggle is now commemorated by Green Bans Park, located near the railway on Erskineville Rd. The park is located on land that was formerly occupied by buildings that were demolished to make way for the proposed road.

Prominent street art pieces and large murals that are no longer extant include:

Erskineville Road[edit]

'Below - the mural artworks on the former Newtown Police Citizens & Youth Club, cnr Erskineville Rd and Angel St.

Commercialisation[edit]

In mid-2009, artists associated with Sydney company, "Mr Perso & Detch", to execute a commissioned "guerilla" graffiti campaign on behalf of Warner Music to promote the album, 21st Century Breakdown, by American rock band, Green Day. The campaign included large painted images in several locations in Newtown and Surry Hills, and the painting of approximately eighty stencils in skate parks around the Sydney city area. The large images depicted the artwork and title of the album; however, at least two of the Newtown murals were soon defaced as a protest by locals, who sprayed over the slogan "CA$h Cow". Sydney City Council, which has incorporated policies aimed at discouraging "graffiti", was reported to be investigating the matter.[7]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Staff (2012). "Graffiti commentary". St Lukes. St Lukes. Retrieved 21 May 2012. 
  2. ^ City of Sydney Council (26 February 2003). "Aerosol Art & Graffiti" (PDF). Resolution of Council: 26 February 2003. City of Sydney Council. Retrieved 5 September 2012. 
  3. ^ a b c City of Sydney (2012). "Search". ArchivePix. City of Sydney. Retrieved 5 September 2012. 
  4. ^ a b c d Nicholls, Sean (2003-04-26). "Wall of silence". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 2008-09-02. 
  5. ^ Divolo, Barry (2011-08-25). "King(s) Street". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 2011-08-26. 
  6. ^ [1]
  7. ^ a b Christine Sams (21 June 2009). "Band's graffiti earns a spray from council". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 5 September 2012. 
  8. ^ Murray, Elicia; Maddox, Garry (2008-05-13). "Hidden Mural". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 2008-09-02. 
  9. ^ "Fear, hate, dumb and will". Nosey In Newtown blog. Retrieved 15 February 2013. 
  10. ^ Coles, Will. "Will Coles website". Retrieved 15 February 2013. 

External links[edit]