Wacko stencils (Guest spot)

Canberra writer Doug Fry has been travelling in the USA. This is his second guest blog about Pavement Graffiti.

Wacko, the self-described “premiere pop culture emporium of Los Angeles”, is located in the Los Feliz area – a suburb that’s affluent by real world standards, but decidedly middle class in LA terms. The store is part of a trifecta of hipster shopping opportunities on the eastern end of Hollywood Boulevard – just next door is Ozzie Dots, a novelty costume specialist that also carries overpriced second hand clothing. Barely a block away is Goodwill, the USA’s (approximate) equivalent of Salvos/Vinnies-type thrift chains. So, if you need a costume for Halloween when you’re in LA, Ozzie Dots and Goodwill can provide the clothing – Wacko, on the other hand, will provide the accoutrements.

The store sells all manner of trinkets and novelty items (Japanese conceived, Chinese made), along with a decent selection of books – a lot of indie and one-print-run-only titles, along with more ‘mainstream’ books covering everything from the early days of punk to the final days of the Manson Family. Finally, there is a permanent gallery space tucked up the back of the store; when I visited, the gallery was displaying a series of airbrushed paintings that were, as best I could tell, attempting to convey Alice In Wonderland-via-Dante’s Inferno (with LSD as the catalyst, and Dr Freud as executive producer).

I never established why the steps and pavement in front of Wacko have become an apparent mecca for stencilling and graf. Sure, its customer base would undoubtedly include a good many street artists, but what’s the ritual here? Do they celebrate their purchase of a marijuana-themed toilet seat by adding their latest stencil to the sidewalk? Or did someone arbitrarily spray the space one night, and unwittingly spawn a meme? Is this customer-customised livery actively encouraged by store management? And how does the City of LA feel about this communal modification of its grimy pavement?

Tumbarumba tar

The first time we passed through Tumbarumba I loved the place. It had already started snowing higher up the mountains and in Tumbarumba the cold rain tinged the main street with a romantic grey patina. Icy water flowed down the gutters and the café where we ordered soup had books to read and a log fire burning.

This time we visit on New Year’s Eve and I am reminded that the midsummer sun is a great leveller, the glare off the asphalt erasing any architectural features of distinction. The main street of Tumbarumba might belong to any country town, with its mix of verandah post and IGA Supermarket aesthetics, the Lotto posters on the newsagency window, the racks of synthetic Made-in-China clothes standing outside once-glorious retail emporia, the same flies, the same listless teenagers flicking chips at each other as they suck Cokes at plastic tables outside the take-away. The cosy café we remember is closed for the Christmas-New Year period.

What perhaps distinguishes Tumbarumba are the dead, undecorated Christmas trees strapped to every verandah post and traffic sign – an odd civic nod to the festive season. In the heat they give off the nostalgic piney smell of Christmases past.

Sunset in Tumbarumba

And the pavements? The only embellishments I find are yellow stencilled shoe prints – perhaps the remnants of some heritage trail (you can just make out a pair of them in the photograph) – and one-inch square bathroom tiles, some red, some blue, randomly and very sparsely pressed into the concrete footpath.

As we squint at this streetscape a water truck trundles by sprinkling water, not to settle the dust (recent floods here have eliminated dust), but to cool the melting asphalt. Too late for us. We are standing in the shade of the pub awning, gouging tar and stones from the soles of our Crocs, collected mid-afternoon when we stepped out of the car in a side street.

Happy New Year to all.

Expletive deleted

Cadigal Reserve, Summer Hill

The signs, symbols and graffiti on the ground are all evidence of a territorial battle that is being waged among government authorities, property owners, motorists, cyclists and pedestrians. Now the stencils themselves are getting in on the act. It is clear that this walker has cracked up and has said something sharp to the bicycle. But a zealous graffiti obliterator has painted over his speech balloon and now we’ll never know what it was he said.

These particular stencils are on a pathway in Cadigal Reserve in Summer Hill. The pathway continues along beside Hawthorne Canal, which eventually runs into an arm of Parramatta River. 

The canal has a history of successive waves of pollution. Originally a stream called Long Cove Creek by early European settlers in Sydney, by the late 1800s it was fouled with house slops and the run-off from factories and slaughterhouses. The stink that it gave off was considered to be a health hazard and eventually it was excavated, re-aligned and lined with concrete in 1895 and renamed Hawthorne Canal.

But over the years the stormwater it collects has still been polluted with leaking sewage and dirt, horse manure, oil, chemicals, plastics, heavy metals and garbage washed off the roads and nearby rubbish dumps. And then, some time in 1990s, the canal was subjected to what some people regard as visual pollution – graffiti.

Hawthorne Canal, Summer Hill

Taggers and graffiti artists continue to express themselves on the walls and under the bridges there. Their marks have spread to the pathway beside the canal. Government authorities and a bush regeneration group have done much to improve the banks of the canal in recent years, so it is understandable that they might want to remove ‘unsightly’ graffiti from the asphalt. They can’t win though. More pavement graffiti has appeared since the last applications of grey paint. But I wish I had been there before they covered up that pedestrian’s outburst.

(Some of the information for this post was obtained from Hawthorne Canal – the history of Long Cove Creek, written by Mark Sabolch and published by the Ashfield & District Historical Society in association with the Inner West Environmental Group in 2006)

May Lane

The wall art in May Lane is often in the news. This time it’s on page three of the Sydney Morning Herald because there is going to be a national tour of panels from this laneway in St Peters, setting off in October. It all started about five years ago with Tuli Balog encouraging graffiti writers to do pieces on the wall of his picture-framing factory. Kurt Iveson has written about it in his book Publics and the city (Blackwell Publishing, 2007).

But the graffiti on the pavement in May Lane is never mentioned. Walk up and down the lane, though, and you will find all sorts of deliberate and accidental art decorating the gutters, along with the signatures of people whose wall pieces have long since been covered over.

POSTSCRIPT  – Since I wrote this post, May Lane has become the subject of discussion at Marrickville Council (not for the first time). Here’s a report by an onlooker of the discussion at the meeting on 9 November 2010. It’s on the Saving Our Trees website, although I don’t quite get the connection.

Mauvin’ on

That party in Enmore. It’s still going. Only at some stage it turned into a Bon Voyage Party. Having wished ‘Neill Bourke’ Happy Birthday the appendage-challenged gnome is now waving farewell. ‘Bye Bourkes XOX’, he’s saying.

The remote is by Numb (that’s Will Coles). The gnome is by Hazzy Bee. Thanks to Godot, the cabbie and graffiti blogger for this information. Here’s Godot’s Wallup blog, and here’s his Zombie film of Sydney Street Art.

A whiter shade of mauve

In the month since I took the photograph of the mauve decorations I’m afraid they have faded considerably. But the party on the corner of this lane in Enmore is still happening. The disabled gnome has now become the bearer of birthday greetings for Mr Neill Bourke.

OK, the gnome and his party speech balloon are not on the pavement. I have allowed my eyes to stray vertically. But Numb’s cement confections certainly are pavement graffiti. Here’s a photo of another one just round the corner.

Mauve

Now here’s a colourfully interesting grouping of pavement and close-to-pavement graffiti in Enmore. A gnomish amputee in paper, a soda siphon stencil, a cement cast – presumably by guerrilla artist Numb – and mauve crowns and circles. Mauve is an unusual colour for pavement graffiti and not particularly distinct on the mottled concrete. Did Numb add these embellishments to his own work or was the violet (not violent) spray-painter an admirer who came along afterwards?

Bondi butts

This January, edutainment was used by Waverley Council in an effort to prevent smokers from butting their cigarettes on the beach without resorting to fining them. As part of the campaign a chalk artist was contracted to draw pictures with messages on the promenade at Bondi Beach, complementing the official ‘No smoking on beach’ pavement signs. You can see one of these large yellow stencils in the background of this photograph.

Three days later, after a battering by weather and feet, the chalk artwork was looking a little the worse for wear but it had already done its job, attracting coverage in newspapers like the Sydney Morning Herald, and probably also being passed around on social networks via tourist cameras and mobile phones.   

In an article recently published, I talk about the way in which old-fashioned street art is used by advertisers as a starting point to disseminate their messages across a wide spectrum of new media.

Hicks, M. 2009. Horizontal billboards. Continuum: Journal of Media and Cultural Studies 23 (6):765-780.

Poke

03JAN28-13sc PokeXing_edited-1 blogThe Dictionary of Sydney was launched on 4 November 2009. It’s an on-line encyclopaedia of the history of Sydney with new material being added continually. The range of subjects is broad and sometimes surprising. Along with such conventional topics as, say, Governor Lachlan Macquarie or the Japanese Submarine Attack, there are such entries as Drag and Cross Dressing, and The Royal Commission into Noxious and Offensive Trades, and even (ta-da!) Reading the Roads.

‘Poke’ is one of the illustrations for that article. It’s an example where unofficial graffiti – an advertisement for a dance party – has colonised a piece of official pavement graffiti – a zebra crossing. The photograph was taken in Newtown in 2003.