Street art in Melbourne

Street art in Melbourne
A stencil of iconic Australian cricketer Merv Hughes, 2008, Regan Tamanui (Haha)

Melbourne, the second largest city in Australia, has gained international notoriety for its diverse range of street art and associated subcultures. Throughout the 1970s and 80s much of the city's disaffected youth were influenced by the graffiti of New York which subsequently became popular in inner city suburbs and along suburban railway and tram lines. After the turn of the century when stencil art first became prominent in the UK, Melbourne was one of, perhaps the first, major city outside of the UK that embraced this art form, causing a vast increase in public awareness of the concept of street art.[1][2]

Around the turn of the 21st century, within the space of 3 to 4 years, many other forms of street art began to appear in Melbourne including; stencil art, woodblocking, sticker art, poster art, wheatpasting, graphs, various forms of street installations and reverse graffiti. Tags are becoming increasingly less popular as the public consciousness and local councils alike, view street art as an art form and tagging as vandalism. A strong sense of community ownership and DIY ethic exists amongst street artists in Melbourne, who endeavour for the progression of society through awareness created in part by their work.[3]

Many galleries in the central business district are now starting to exhibit stencil art and photos of stencil art, such as City Lights Gallery & Until Never Gallery. Melbourne's train lines are the main locations for graphs and tagging. Hoiser Lane is Melbourne's most famous laneway for street art with many visitors from around the world who have left their mark.[4] Prominent international street artists such as Banksy (UK), Fafi (France) and Logan Hicks,[5] have contributed work to Melbourne's streets along with many other visitors from all over the world, most prominently; Germany, Canada, USA, the UK and New Zealand.[6]

The first stencil festival in the world was held in Melbourne in 2004, in which the work of many major international street artists were exhibited.[7]

Many prominent Melbourne and Australian street artists are featured in “Space Invaders: Australian . street . stencils . posters . paste-ups . zines . stickers ”, an exhibition of Street Art at the National Gallery of Australia(NGA) in Canberra. The exhibition includes more than 40 of Australia's most prolific and infamous street artists active over the past 10 years. The exhibition opened 29 October 2010 and will tour Australia over the next two years, visiting Melbourne, Australia's renowned Street Art capital, in September. The list of artists includes, amongst others, Meggs, Rone, Haha, Vexta, Xero, Ash Keating, Dlux!, Meek, Sync, Optic, Aeon, Jumbo, Anon, Anonymous, Azlan, Braddock, Al Stark, Yok, Byrd, Civil, Makatron, Miso, Ghostpatrol, Xerox, James Dodd, Tai Snaith, Adrian Doyle, Marcsta, Reks, Lister, Wesam, Nuroc, Monkey, Nails, Twoone, Arlene Textaqueen, Psalm, You/Luke, Proof, Prizm, Phibs, Zap, And Sixten (Swedish, lived in Melbourne early 2000s), and Mini Graff. [8][9]



Ceramic street art on the corner of a brick building in Fitzroy, 2008

While there are small areas all over Greater Melbourne where various forms of street art can be seen, the primary areas in which street art is most dense include, in alphabetical order;[citation needed]

Public and government responses

The proliferation of street art in Melbourne has attracted many supporters and detractors from various levels of government and in the broader community. In 2008 a tourism campaign at Florida's Disney World recreated a Melbourne laneway cityscape, decorated with street art. Victorian Premier John Brumby forced the tourism department to withdraw the display, calling graffiti a "blight on the city" and not something "we want to be displaying overseas."[10] Writer Marcus Westbury countered that street art was one of Melbourne's "biggest tourist attractions and one of its most significant cultural movements since the Heidelberg School".[11]

Some street artists and academics have criticized the State Government for having seemingly inconsistent and contradictory views on graffiti.[12] In 2006, the State Government "proudly sponsored" The Melbourne Design Guide, a book which celebrates Melbourne graffiti from a design perspective. The same year, some of Melbourne's graffiti-covered laneways were featured in Tourism Victoria's Lose Yourself in Melbourne ad campaign. One year on, the State Government introduced tough anti-graffiti laws with penalties of up to two years' jail. Possession of spray cans "without lawful excuse" on or around public transport is now illegal, and police search powers have also being strengthened. According to Melbourne University criminologist Alison Young, the "state is profiting from the work of artists doing it, but another arm of the state wants to prosecute and possibly imprison (such) people."[12] Since laws were tightened, local councils have reported a "spike" in vandalism and tagging of commissioned murals and legal street art. Adrian Doyle, founder of the Blender Studios and manager of Melbourne Street Art Tours, believes taggers have become less considerate of where they put their tags for fear of being caught by police, and are "paranoid so they are taking less time - tags are less detailed".[13] In 2007, the City of Melbourne started the Do art not tags initiative—an education presentation aimed at teaching primary school students the differences between graffiti and street art.[14]

Some local councils have accepted street art and even made efforts to preserve it. In early 2008 the Melbourne City Council installed a perspex screen to prevent a 2003 Banksy stencil art piece named Little Diver from being destroyed, however in December 2008 silver paint was poured behind the protective screen and tagged with the words "Banksy woz ere".[15] In April 2010, another 2003 stencil by Banksy was destroyed, this time by council workers. The work was of a parachuting rat, and was believed to be the last surviving Banksy stencil in Melbourne's laneways. Lord Mayor of Melbourne Robert Doyle said "This was not the Mona Lisa. It is regrettable that we have lost it, but it was an honest mistake by our cleaners in removing tagging graffiti."[16] The loss of these and other famous street artworks in Melbourne reignited a decade long debate around heritage protection for Melbourne street art.[17] Planning Minister Justin Madden announced in May 2010 plans for Heritage Victoria and the National Trust of Australia to assess street art in key locations throughout Melbourne and recognize culturally significant works for preservation.[18] Examples of street art already added to the Victorian Heritage Register include the 1983 mural outside the Aborigines Advancement League building,[19][20] and Keith Haring's 1984 mural in Collingwood.[21][22]

Local terminology

  • Street art or Post-graffiti: used by street artists to distinguish their art from graffiti or vandalism
  • Taggers: those who place quick graffiti "tags" in discriminate places (trains, trucks, etc) or cause damage in the process (like scratching of internal fittings in trains)
  • Graphers or writers: those who display their tag in an artful manner, as with a mural, displaying a high level of skill
  • Graffiti: rarely used today except by those uneducated in street art culture, particularly in the media. Mostly used in a historic sense in reference to graffiti of the 1970s and 1980s.

(Source: RASH documentary, 2005)


She's Only Dancing by Vexta (left), and work by PETS (right), in Hosier Lane, 2007
  • Empty shows: illegal exhibitions held in derelict buildings since circa 2000[23]
  • Stencil Festival: The first stencil art festival in the world was held in Melbourne in 2004. It is currently in its 5th year.[24]
  • Street video projection event: Video projection events were held in Gertrude Street, Fitzroy in mid-2008.

Melbourne Stencil Festival

The Melbourne Stencil Festival is Australia's premier celebration of international street and stencil art. Since its inauguration in 2004 the festival has become an annual event, touring regional Victoria and other locations within Australia. The festival is held for 10 days each year, involving exhibitions, live demonstrations, artist talks, panel discussions, workshops, master classes and street art related films to the general public. It features works by emerging and established artists from both Australia and around the world.[25]

Since its inception, the Stencil Festival has featured some 800 works by over 150 artists, many of whom are experiencing their first major art exhibition, finding it difficult to be exhibited in major commercial galleries reluctant to display emerging art forms. The first Melbourne Stencil Festival was held in a former sewing factory in North Melbourne in 2004. The three-day exhibition attracted spectator numbers far beyond expectations.[26]

  • 2004 - The inaugural festival was held over three days in a warehouse in North Melbourne.
  • 2005 - Featured a ten-day exhibition at the refurbished Meat Market art complex. The festival was supported by the City of Melbourne and saw more than 700 visitors on the opening night.
  • 2006 - The festival moved to Fitzroy, a major location of street art in Melbourne, and was held at the Rose Street Artists Market. For the first time the four-day event was also held in Sydney. It received reviews in major mainstream media in both Melbourne and Sydney.
  • 2007 - Featured a total of 75 artists from 12 countries with more than 300 works. The Melbourne event alone was attended by more than 4,000 visitors with 500 people on the opening night alone. It also attracted a wide range of media coverage including daily newspapers, community radio and street press.
  • 2009 - The Melbourne Stencil Festival 2009 ran between 25 September and 4 October 2009.[27]

Notable Melbourne street artists

Poster art by Happy, Fitzroy, 2008
Work hung in Irene's Community Warehouse during the Irene Underground Arts Festival, 2010
  • Be Free - paste-up artist
  • Chiller
  • Civilian - since 2001
  • Dam Mad
  • Deb
  • Dest
  • Dlux - since 1998, moved to Melbourne from Adelaide
  • Dominic Allen
  • Dresk (since 1996, moved to Melbourne from China)
  • Fers (aka Nails)
  • Fliq (BurnCrew)
  • Fred Fowler (a.k.a. Nurock) - since 1995 - exhibits commercially
  • Ghostpatrol - moved to Melbourne from Hobart, also exhibits commercially; collaborates with Miso
  • Ha-Ha - since 2000
  • Junky - small creatures using discarded junk and found objects
  • Irk
  • Kab 101
  • Kaff-eine
  • Kano
  • Lister
  • LBK
  • mal function - sculptures of strange semi-formed heads
  • Makatron - spraycan artist; part of Everfresh Crew
  • Meek - since 2003
  • Miles
  • Miles Allinson
  • Miso - lifesize, hand-drawn paste-up work
  • Nails
  • Nufevah street artist since 2007
  • Phibs (Everfresh)
  • Phoenix the Street Artist - collage paste-ups and wall-plaques - since 2009; did The Little Diver Resurfaced - a paste-up restoration of Banksy's Little Diver in Cocker Alley
  • Precious Little - paste-up artist
  • Prism - since 2001, founded the Stencil Revolution, which has over 15,000 registered members
  • Psalm - since 1999
  • Reka
  • Rone - since 2002, moved to Melbourne from Geelong
  • Shida
  • Shut Up And Shop - since 1991
  • Shinobi - stencil artist
  • Sixten - since 2000, moved to Melbourne from Sweden
  • Snog
  • Sync (Everfresh) - also known as Syn, moved to Melbourne from Adelaide
  • Tai Snaith
  • Teo Doro
  • The Doctor - paste-up artist
  • Urban Cake Lady - paste-up artist
  • Vexta - since 2003, moved to Melbourne from Sydney
  • Vosko
  • Xero
  • Warnazz One Son

Other media

  • RASH (2005) - Feature length documentary film which explores the cultural value of Melbourne street art and graffiti.
  • Not Quite Art (2007) - ABC TV series, episode 101 explored Melbourne's street art and DIY culture.
  • JISOE (2007) - documentary film about the culture of graphers and street artists in Melbourne.
  • Artscape, Episode 24 February 2009, ABC TV - Ghostpatrol & Miso featured.


See also




  1. ^ Stencil Festival official website
  2. ^ RASH documentary, 2005
  3. ^ Innovative Theories in Art
  4. ^ RASH documentary, 2005
  5. ^ Logan Hicks book Arrivals and Departures from Drago website
  6. ^ Stencil Festival official website
  7. ^ Stencil Festival official website
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^ Topsfield, Jewel (1 October 2008). "Brumby slams Tourism Victoria over graffiti promotion", The Age. Retrieved on 16 February 2011.
  11. ^ Westbury, Marcus (5 July 2009). "Street Art: Melbourne's Unwated Attraction", Retrieved on 16 February 2011.
  12. ^ a b Topsfield, Jewel (12 January 2008). "Urban scrawl: shades of grey", The Age. Retrieved on 16 February 2011.
  13. ^ Robson, Suzanne (2 April 2009). "Taggers raid Melbourne street art", Melbourne Leader. Retrieved on 16 February 2011.
  14. ^ Do art not tags, City of Melbourne & Warner Group Pty Ltd. Retrieved on 18 February 2011.
  15. ^ Houghton, Janae (14 Dec 2008). "The painter painted: Melbourne loses its treasured Banksy". The Age. 
  16. ^ Fitzsimmons, Hamish (30 April 2010). "Melbourne debates street art", ABC Lateline. Retrieved on 16 February 2011.
  17. ^ Brown, Rachael (23 June 2008). Melbourne graffiti considered for heritage protection, ABC News. Retrieved on 16 February 2011.
  18. ^ "Melbourne's street art gets heritage review", Arts Victoria. Retrieved on 16 February 2011.
  19. ^ "Aboriginal mural", Victorian Heritage Register. Retrieved on 16 February 2011.
  20. ^ Rennie, Reko (10 January 2011). Street art: Preston mural, ABC Arts. Retrieved on 16 February 2011.
  21. ^ "Keith Haring mural, east wall Main Building, Collingwood Technical School complex", Victorian Heritage Register. Retrieved on 16 February 2011.
  22. ^ Brown, Simon Leo; Hunt, Richelle (28 April 2010). "Melbourne's Keith Haring mural in urgent need of restoration", 774 ABC Melbourne. Retrieved on 16 February 2011.
  23. ^ RASH documentary, 2005.
  24. ^ Stencil Festival official website
  25. ^ Stencil Festival official website
  26. ^ Stencil Festival official website
  27. ^ [1]
  28. ^ Uncommissioned Art: An A-Z of Australian Graffiti, Retrieved 16-10-2010.

Further reading

  • Nyman, Carl; Smallman, Jake (2005). Stencil Graffiti Capital: Melbourne. Mark Batty Publisher. ISBN 0976224534. 
  • Dew, Christine (2007). Uncommissioned Art: The A-Z of Australian Graffiti. Melbourne University Publishing. ISBN 0522853757. 
  • Stamer, Karl (2010). Kings Way: The Beginnings of Australian Graffiti: Melbourne 1983-1993. Melbourne University Publishing. ISBN 9780522857511. 
  • Ghostpatrol; Miso; Smits, Timba; Young, Alison (2010). Street/Studio: The Place of Street Art in Melbourne. Thames & Hudson. ISBN 9780500500200. 
  • Sync; Everfresh Studio (2010). Everfresh: Blackbook: The Studio & Streets 2004–2010. Miegunyah Press. ISBN 9780522857450. 

External links

Online Galleries

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