Victoria’s love affair with street art

Living Well | Larissa Dubecki | Posted on 06 February 2019

How Melbourne street art became mainstream.

It’s been dubbed “graffitification”: the growing mainstream appeal of street art being used to create communities, encourage tourism, and even sell inner-city developments.

Spraypainted laneways in the heart of Melbourne – Hosier Lane, Duckboard Place, AC/DC Lane and their tributaries – are now a destination for school excursions while, in the suburbs, the likes of Artists Lane in Windsor and Dandenong’s Little India are unofficial open-air galleries. 

The regions are catching on fast, too. Spread over six towns and 200 kilometres in the Wimmera Mallee, from Rupanyup to Patchewollock, the Silo Art Trail has captured imaginations with a series of epic mural portraits celebrating the region’s people, painted by prominent street artists onto grain silos. Spearheaded by the Yarriambiack Shire Council after a one-off effort in the town of Brim sparked international interest, the trail has been instrumental in bringing much-needed tourist dollars into the depressed region.

silo art  at dusk

Art silos at Rupanyup. Photo by Anne Morley.


Over the past decade street art has gone from furtive to high-vis; something actively promoted by councils and tourism authorities and undertaken by artists in broad daylight before captivated crowds. 

But the beauty of street art remains its accessibility. It’s art you can touch, freely available to anyone, while its ephemeral nature adds a lick of poignancy.

As well as providing a splash of colour for locals, Warrnambool City Council estimated that an extra $300,000 flowed into the town’s coffers during the three weeks earlier this year that artist Jimmi Buscombe worked on his 17 yellow-tailed black cockatoos flying along the city’s Ozone Walk. 

“I sent them an invoice for $300,000,” says Jimmi. “They said they’d frame it.”

His road to street art fame was cemented accidentally by an unauthorised test run for his cockatoos: a wombat, drawn in pastels, seemingly peering through a hole in a bridge near his house. He intended to wash it off the next day but found that fellow local Phil Hoy (ironically, a former graffiti removalist for the council) loved the wombat so much that he’d added a protective film. Now a Warrnambool landmark, Jimmi Buscombe’s accidental wombat mural story was filmed by the ABC and became a viral video sensation. 

Art brings communities together and we’ve found amazing results from being supportive of Warrnambool’s street art scene.

But that’s so 2018. The tentacles of the street art scene stretch back decades, long before Hosier Lane was clogged with smartphone-wielding tourists. In the 1970s photographer Rennie Ellis documented a thriving street art scene. In 1984 the late American artist Keith Haring painted his groundbreaking mural on a Collingwood wall, now protected by the Victorian Heritage Register.  

One of the attractions of street art for many of its early adopters was its secretive, illegal nature – look no further than the money-spinning mystique surrounding English stencil artist and provocateur Banksy. But now that street art has proven its cultural capital, everyday people are seizing the opportunity to be part of the movement.

Photographer, art historian and cafe owner Rebecca Fagan was inspired to revive the dilapidated shed next door to her Hock the Ruby cafe in the central Victorian town of Tallarook with a wattlebird mural by professional street artist Scottie Neoh, who paints as Bonsai


Heesco, Merciless Mongo. Photo by Andrew Haysom.



Dalai Lama, by Matt Adnate, in Fitzroy. Photo by Andrew Haysom.



Heartcore by Kaff-eine in Rutledge Lane. Photo by Andrew Haysom.


“The shed is 120 years old and I just thought it would beautify it,” says Rebecca. “Part of the beauty of street art is that it can be on a decaying building. The town has heritage overlay so the design had to be approved by council but after that it was fairly straightforward. I had to pay for a scissor lift and scaffolding for the two days it took. It’s an investment in art, essentially, for people to do it on private property.”

You don’t have to do it alone. Just up the road in Seymour, a $156,000 proposal was recently approved to beautify the town’s railway underpass, thanks to the state government’s Pick My Project initiative, which puts place-making project ideas to a public vote.

The local pair behind this Art Attack project, James Hall and Bruce Johnstone, were inspired by the sheer ugliness of the railway underpass. “Bruce said it looked like a troll bridge,” says James. “We’d seen what the Silo Art Trail has done for tourism and community pride and thought, ‘why not here?’ ”   

Once I’ve painted something it’s on the street and anything can happen to it. That’s the nature of street art. Nothing lasts forever.

Back in Warrnambool, the council has found that where street art goes up, vandalism and tagging goes down. “ ‘Place-making’ is becoming a big economic factor – getting people to visit, stay longer, feel safe and spend more,” says the council’s co-ordinator of economic development and business support, Helen Sheedy. “Art brings communities together and we’ve found amazing results from being supportive of Warrnambool’s street art scene. It’s a real turnaround from the days all street art was seen as bad.” 

Starting out

Kaff-eine’s advice to up-and-coming street artists is simple: “Keep painting!”  

“Find your own spaces to paint, and paint in secret spots until you’re confident with your style. Don’t ‘cap’ [paint over] any work you can’t burn [paint better than].” Street art, she says, is a great method for advocating social justice issues, as she does. But it is eternally ephemeral.  

“Once I’ve painted something it’s on the street and anything can happen to it. That’s the nature of street art. Nothing lasts forever.”


Mural masters

KEITH HARING 

The American pop-art painter’s 1984 mural on a wall in Johnston Street, Collingwood, was restored in 2013 and is on the Victorian Heritage Register. 

KAFF-EINE

From the streets of Fitzroy to France, the work of the street artist known as Kaff-eine is immediately recognisable. Her whimsical figures are hauntingly beautiful and justify her leap from lawyer to street artist after painting her first piece about 10 years ago.

JIMMI BUSCOMBE

The man behind the Warrnambool Wombat has seen his mural-painting career take off after creating this (initially) illegal marsupial on the Otway Road rail overpass. 

GUIDO VAN HELTEN

This photorealist’s monochrome portrait of four figures on a silo in the Wimmera town of Brim sparked the whole idea of a Silo Art Trail. 

HEESCO

The Mongolian-born street artist has made many a Melbourne wall his own, including this one in Windsor adorned with Merciless Mongo. His Footscray work Miss Citizen of the World won last year’s Footscray Art Prize in the street-art category.