Free Art All the Damn Time!

Having recently moved house, I’ve been out doing some investigating round my neighbourhood – wandering about the backstreets of Stanmore, Newtown and Camperdown the past couple of weeks, spontaneously taking photos of street art on my phone. I knew there was a lot around, and I’ve seen much of Newtown’s and St Peter’s/Sydenham’s (May Lane, etc.), but turns out even though I thought I knew the area pretty well, there’s a lot more going on than I realised.

I love the idea of this whole secret language happening in the city that we barely know anything about, between people in the know and between street artists and the public. Messages to each other, some long-lasting, others fleeting, getting buffed off/painted over almost immediately. I also love the idea that it’s resistance against the concrete jungle, it’s an attempt to humanise the city, make it friendlier.

I did a stencilling class a couple of years ago when things were a bit shit for me. I also hadn’t done much art for years, long years. Street art holds a place dear to my heart because it helped me slowly get out of the place I was in and back to art, to the point where I was able to have an exhibition with my sister in May, our first in eight years. I haven’t done much stencilling this year but I did go to see the 2014 Stencil Art Prize a couple of weeks ago, which got me inspired, plus I’ve been seeing all this street art lately around me.

I think I’m developing an eye for finding it, like some private street art detective – it’s so weird. I’ll catch a hint of something at the corner of my eye, a lonely splash of colour down a likely alley that I then realise is the edge of something interesting (that on closer inspection turns out to be an amazing mural).

I also think street art resonates with me because it’s nostalgic. The first time street art ever really registered on my radar was when I was about sixteen and started coming up from my south coast hometown with friends to Newtown. The ‘I Have a Dream’ mural by Unmitigated Audacity Productions was pretty recent then and attracted a lot of interest, becoming a central point of Newtown, and there were others dotted around the neighbourhood, some that have been painted over or the buildings they were on have been knocked down (‘Idiot Box’ featuring Marcia Brady, and Miles Davis ‘On the Wings of a Song’ in Erskineville, South of the Border on south King St, Cat in the Hat, the Africa map on Whateley Lane which has sadly been redone), and some that are still around like ‘The Great Wave’ by Big City Freaks in south Newtown, the Sydney Morning Herald front page on north King St.

The Newtown area graffiti Wikipedia page is a decent place to find out more and even covers some of the now extant works, and also Juilee Pryor’s website (she was part of Unmitigated Audacity Productions, along with Andrew Aitken, etc.). In March I did a street art tour run by Melissa Vassallo during the Marrickville Open Studio Trail, which was a good introduction to the scene – she’s got a book out called Street Art of Sydney’s Inner West that I haven’t read but would like to get my hands on.

Newtown is a very different suburb now to how it was all those years ago when I was a fresh-faced teen, buying nagchampa incense, meeting so many ‘different’ people – sure, we had some where I came from but nothing like Newtown. It blew my tiny suburban mind. It was at the height of ‘alternative’, grunge was big, students and artists and musos were everywhere, living in big old terrace house that hadn’t had the guts renovated out of them yet. You could see arthouse movies there (wow – does not seem like a big deal now), cool bands at various (kinda rough) venues, eat Indian, African, Nepalese, you name it. Not a freaking froghurt bar in sight yet. Ha, there was a McDonald’s though, briefly.

Getting stuck in traffic on King St meant watching the broad spectrum of Newtown pedestrians pass by – an awesome, eclectic parade of punks, hippies, goths, rockers, burnouts, and – interestingly – homeless bums who I still see around now. Those were my people (okay, maybe not the bums), to an extent anyway – I felt most comfortable with the outsiders for some reason. Anyway, that’s what street art reminds me of, and transports me back to. It’s a vestige of, an homage to, a continuation of the Inner West of my youth.

Interestingly, I’m not seeing a great deal of politically charged art on the streets around here these days. I would’ve thought at this particular time, with things in government looking so dire and other world events turning a bit grim, this would be seeping onto the walls of the city. But not so much – there are a few, but maybe it’s still coming.

I know you can find countless blogs and Flickr streams of Inner West street art, but I’ve decided to begin keeping my own record, starting with the gallery below. Where I’ve been able to find out the artist (or ‘writer’, if I’m going to use the language of ‘the street’), I’ve attributed it to them. I’m starting to recognise certain people’s work as theirs and follow the path connecting various pieces as they’ve travelled the streets, making their mark. I’m beginning to decode some of it too, though until I get my own crew and start getting my own art up (haw haw, ‘White middle class lady hooks up with crew and starts painting all over town’) and getting super involved, most of it’ll remain a lovely mystery to me.

I do have a few stencils of my own in various states of completion. Not sure if I’ll ever get them up on the streets but maybe one day . . . It would be sweet to be able to contribute to the fabric of a place that I’ve observed with interest for a couple of decades – and, let’s face it, the place sixteen-year-old me fell in love with – and where I now live.

PS. Okay, news just in: I’ve re-enrolled in stencil class for next Monday, so you’ll no doubt be seeing some work from me soon . . . Stay tuned! Now I just need a rad street art name.