SUE JACKSON Therapist/Writer/Photographer/Activist

Last year, as the unofficial blogger/photographer to the anti-East-West Link campaign, our battles were my blog's entire focus. But by Christmas, with the electoral win for people power and the dumping of the dud Tunnel, I was suddenly at a loss. What to write about now? Not sure yet. But there will be ongoing musings and images from this Australian life. So please leave a message. (No need to sign into an account. Simply comment as ‘anonymous’; then leave your name within the comment itself.)

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Trash's Treasure: An Insider's View of Melbourne's Graffiti Art

Green-eyed goddess

On Wednesday I paid my second visit to an art work in progress on Melbourne's super busy Alexandra Parade. I was keen to see how 'Trash', a young female street artist, was faring with the work commissioned by the hairdressing salon whose wall her goddess adorns.
I've learnt lots from Trash about life as a street artist.
One thing I hadn't realised was that street art coda and language features a Byzantine level of complexity. For example, sometimes 'graffiti art' is used as the general term to cover all sorts of temporary art works. At other times and places, the word 'graffiti art' is avoided at all costs because of its association with illegality and official reprisals, and is replaced by the term 'street art'.
And reprisals are commonplace, according to Trash. Being caught in flagrante delicto after several official warnings, graffiti artists can find themselves in court or even serving prison sentences. One way artists avoid official scrutiny is obviously by working at night in out-of-the-way spots. Another is by being careful about how and if they are photographed. They also typically use a range of different alias or tags to keep officialdom guessing.
I was surprised at one consequence of the illegality of grafitti art. As artists are prohibited from carrying the tools of their trade on public transport, cartage can present a big problem, especially when they are working on a large piece. I couldn't imagine how a woman as slight as Trash managed to carry all her stuff.

Prohibited items: Trash's art equipment on bus seat

Trash has a point when she says that official punishment of graffiti artists is unjust.  As Melbourne is now a Mecca for 'graffiti tourism', which puts dollars into government coffers, you would think that even purely on the basis of self interest officialdom would turn a blind eye. Mike Brown, Melbourne's very own Graffiti Godfather, who argued passionately thirty years ago that 'graffiti kids' should be given a fair go, would certainly have advocated that.
Speaking of dollars, it turns out that being a street artist is not cheap. The equipment above cost around $300. And not even all commissioned works are income-generating. When I asked Trash how she manages to stay afloat financially, she admitted it was difficult. She has relied on a series of 'crap jobs' to support her art practice. 'I do it for love', she said simply.
And some commissioned pieces do pay. The problem with that is hardly a new one. Trash never usually paints women and her preference is for abstract art, but she still accepted the invitation to create the green-eyed goddess. I'm sure even Michaelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci sometimes got sick of painting angels and flayed saints. They might have liked to let their hair down and paint bar scenes or country fairs had they not had to accede to the requests of their patrons. Whatever their personal preferences, sometimes artists just have to follow the money.

Trash at work

In our neighbourhood, local businesses are certainly cashing in on the current love affair with graffiti art. Bakeries, pubs, book shops - all are providing work for young artists, who can of course moonlight and follow their real passions at night. It would be great to think that Leonardo or Michelangelo gave themselves similar license. Perhaps in some dark alley way in Florence or Rome there are as-yet-to-be-discovered graffiti from the great Masters... We can but dream.

What I post about next time will be a surprise - to you and to me.


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