Taking It To The Streets
Street art – is it graffiti or an art form?
More risky than a mural but not the hit-and-run guerrilla art.
It has links back to World War One when the writing “Foo was here’’ started appearing.
Then there was the witty graffiti that went with the warning “Bill posters will be prosecuted.’’
Banksy and the likes pioneered street art as a form of expression that has spread worldwide.
And this art form attracts.
Melbourne is making a name for itself with the art work in the lanes opposite the Ian Potter Centre at Federation Square, that houses the Australian part of the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) and the inner city between Flinders Street and Bourke.
Now street art is emerging on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast.
The ocean mural on the machinery shed at Marcoola has long caught the attention of visitors and Sunshine Coaster’s alike, for the way it captures the coastal lifestyle.
A wave breaking on a perfect beach.
The shed has been in a rural landscape … until now. Heavy earthmoving equipment is reshaping the land around it for the airport expansion.
But you can still hear the sound of the surf from here on a clear night.
When the idea of street murals was being fostered on the Sunshine Coast it was ridiculed in some circles as a waste of time and money.
Now, 30-something years on it is being encouraged and in many cases sponsored.
Street art is a major attraction around the world … it can pop up in the most unlikely places and have a political edge to it.
At other times it is done with the local community blessing or business backing.
Now there are pockets of street art in Caloundra, Maroochydore and around the CBD in Nambour for instance.
The back lanes. What does that mean? Underground art, anonymous expression, art for those from a certain demographic … edgier than a mural yet more artistic than grafitti?
Does street art represent an area or is an area represented by its art? Is it simply a matter of it is what it is … don’t think too deeply?
It attracts attention and foot traffic to the most obscure places. And endless selfie photo opportunities.
Street art is everywhere when you open your eyes wide.
Such as the fencing surrounding a vacant block opposite the Sunshine Coast University Hospital or the Dingle Wall in Caloundra.
Strength of outline, bright primary colours catch the eyes. Then, a closer look reveals people and things – patterned, like a naughties Picasso.
As well as bringing colour to the local community street art can affect tourism. It might be hard to quantify, yet there is a reason for cafes and coffee to flourish near the popular sites.
Is the reason these people are in this otherwise laneways the art?
Yes. An art place. And how much did they spend to be there? And buy stuff in nearby shops?
Street art is usually unsanctioned and composed to make a public statement about the society that the artist lives within.
The work has moved from the beginnings of graffiti and vandalism to new modes where artists work to bring messages, or just simple beauty, to an audience.
It’s a way to raise awareness of social and political issues while others simply see urban space as an untapped format for personal artwork.
Then again, others may appreciate the challenges and risks that are associated with installing illicit artwork in public places.
Kilroy, a simple drawing of a bald-headed man looking over a fence, was one of the early examples. That is said to have grown out of the US – from the GIs in the 1940s.
The tag “Kilroy was here” … an omnipresent character. Yet even Kilroy was a spin-off from World War One with Australian soldiers writing “Foo was here’’ … often in the most unlikely locations.
It seemed to draw on a sense of the ridiculous and the laconic sense of humour displayed by the Diggers, even when faced with extraordinary circumstances.
Those three words seemed to say that the human spirit was undeniable.
“Kilroy” graffiti was outrageous not for what it said, but where it turned up.
Digger History, the Unofficial history of the Australian & New Zealand Armed Services, says of Foo that “He was chalked on the side of railway carriages, appeared in probably every camp that the 1st AIF served in World War One and generally made his presence felt”.
It has been claimed that “Foo” probably came from the acronym for Forward Observation Officer, that it marked where soldiers had been.
I can remember in the ’60s railway underpasses in Sydney and Melbourne with political slogans painted on them … Pig Iron Bob was a reference to then Prime Minister Robert Menzies having sold scrap or “pig” iron to the Japanese in the 1930s only for it to become part of the war machine as Japan expanded its empire in 1940-44.
Then there was the painted sign on fences and side walls of shops: “Bill posters will be prosecuted.’’
This referred to the act of pasting advertising flyers and posters on private premises.
These bills could be for concerts, meetings, dances and especially when the circus came to town.
I loved it when graffiti artists hit back: “Free Bill Posters.’’
Meanwhile others wrote “Bill Posters is innocent.’’
Australia’s best known example of street art/graffiti would be Eternity, the copperplate writing in chalk on the streets and walls of Sydney by Arthur Stace.
The artist’s identity was a mystery for more than two decades.
Almost every day for 35 years, he spent hours writing a single word “Eternity” on and around the streets of Sydney and sometimes beyond, to country New South Wales and even to Melbourne.
Then, after his ‘unmasking’ in 1956, he became a reluctant folk hero.
By the time he died, in 1967, his was a household name and the word Eternity was ingrained in the soul of Sydney.
It culminated in the word Eternity being lit up on Sydney harbour bridge as part of the New Years Eve fireworks display.
As part of the fireworks on Sydney Harbour Bridge to mark New Year’s Day of the year 2000, the graffito “Eternity” was illuminated on the steelwork frame.
This moment was symbolically recreated later that year as part of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games opening ceremony, beamed to billions of television viewers worldwide.
Today, the word is inlaid in the floor of the Eternity Theatre in Darlinghurst – in what was the Burton Street Tabernacle where Stace found salvation.
So think about the bigger picture during the course of your day or your stay on the Sunshine Coast.
What better than to wander of a morning, past skate bowls and art centres, vintage clothes and furniture stores, and those with collections of vinyl records.
Coffee shops and come-and-go bar cafe/restaurants. Near theatres and other entertainment venues.
In Caloundra there is Williamson Lane and Lamkin Lane, just off Bulcock Street and Ormuz Ave.
In Nambour you can wander right around town, from Howard street and Petrie Creek pathway to Mill Lane and Civic Way opposite the railway station.
It’s the same in the Ocean Street precinct at Maroochydore, where street art and murals brighten the “eat street’’ areas.
Take your time. Enjoy your day.
Appreciate the beauty that is around you. Even the simple things.
There is so much to like.