Every so often a large romantic message turns up on the pavement – sometimes on a country road, sometimes on a city street – turning private feelings into blaring headlines. Obviously premeditated and deliberately located so they will be seen by the object of affection (or disappointment), these messages can’t be compared with the miniature declarations of love made by wet cement opportunists. I believe they are generally written by males. Am I right?
Shane loves Bonnie was written in Wilson Street, Newtown, in 2008. I photographed Please come home I love you in Surry Hills in 2005 when it had been there for a long time.
I’ve written about public-personal notices in an article in the journal antiTHESIS.
Hicks, M. Hard feelings. antiTHESIS 19 Exhibitionism: 229-233.
I wonder how many people know the story behind the coloured flowers on the traffic island at Newtown Bridge? They were originally painted during a day-long Reclaim the Streets party in November 1999, but if that were the whole story they would have worn off long ago. In fact, these flowers were deliberately preserved by friends of Kathy Jones.
Kathy was an artist who worked with advocacy groups for disadvantaged people in the Newtown area. On the day of the Reclaim the Streets demo it was Kathy who organised the decoration of roadways, kerbs and traffic islands at the intersection of King Street and Enmore Road. Just a few months later Kathy died. Her friends tied notices to the light poles to let local people know she had gone and coated this particular set of painted flowers with marine varnish. My photograph was taken in 2005 when regular applications of varnish had kept the bouquet fresh for six years. In 2009 the flowers, while still visible, are gradually fading away.
Sydney’s most famous pavement graffitist was Arthur Stace, a reformed no-hoper who walked the city’s streets writing the single copperplate word ‘Eternity’, after being dramatically converted to Christianity in the 1930s. Some years after his death in 1967, Sydney artist Martin Sharp adopted his chalked word and began incorporating it into prints, posters, tapestries, postcards and T-shirts. Thanks to Sharp’s thirty-year Eternity industry, what was originally a religious message has become a product of popular culture. In 2001 ‘Eternity’ in Arthur Stace script was registered as a trademark by the City of Sydney because of its ‘iconic value … to the people of Sydney’.*
A replica of Stace’s one-word sermon is preserved in metal near a fountain below Town Hall Square. Unfortunately is it is hidden from most people except the patrons of a café whose outdoor chairs and tables surround it. It was raining the day I took this photograph – the cascades off the café umbrellas matched the cascading fountain.
Every now and then I come across ‘Eternity’ written in chalk by someone trying to imitate Stace. And a stencil artist in Melbourne has used the form of Stace’s word to write ‘Optimism’ on the pavements there.
(* I have written about chalk and pavement writing in ‘The Eternal City’, Meanjin 65(2), 2006, pp.139-146).
Dribble and splash are becoming more common as ways of writing pavement graffiti. H2OE was busy making large and small versions of his watery mark around Newtown-Stanmore-Petersham in 2008. How does he actually do it?
Over the years I have found York Street in the CBD to be a very fruitful site for pavement observation. Last week I spotted this line of scribbles near Barrack Street. These scribbles are not meaningless – they are a record of the City of Sydney’s Rapid Removal policy on graffiti. I missed out on seeing the advertising stencils they replaced.
‘Rapid’ is a relative term, of course. A larger and less dainty scribble at the south end of King Street, Newtown shows where a ‘No war’ pavement art work used to be. It must have been there for some years before it was overwritten in 2008. I was very sorry to find it gone, especially as it was in a precinct where there is some tolerance for graffiti.
A thoughtful graffitist provided a decorative fence for this little garden of asthma weed near Piss Alley in Enmore. To see another tiny nurtured garden, check out Darlinghurst Nights.
Elsewhere in Enmore, pavement degeneration around a cast iron alignment pin has created a niche for a weedlet garden. Many thanks to PC for his enthusiastic explanation of alignment pins, which indicate where the surveyed kerb line is. For me, official pavement embellishments such as hydrants, manhole covers, and the various kinds of alignment posts, pins and stones, can be enjoyed for their aesthetic qualities or read like an archive of urban development.
A friend has suggested to me that angry people write on the pavement because they want to be trampled on. I’m not so sure.
Anyway, some angry people chalked their way down Broadway one night, from Broadway Shopping Centre to the University of Technology, Sydney. There was a mixture of rants, but you get the gist.
There are city roads and there are shity roads. Pavement graffiti is not just an urban phenomenon. This was on the Castlereagh Highway near Walgett in far northern New South Wales.
Even if you weren’t a graffiti aficionado you would probably recognize that this is somewhere in Melbourne because of the bluestone cobbles. It’s Hosier Lane in November 2005. Amongst the different styles of wall graffiti there is one stencil on the kerbstone. It might have been there for some years. Australia has long had poor reputation for its treatment of refugees. It is appropriate that graffiti should carry subversive messages. But do small and inconspicuous stencils on the ground make any difference to political processes?
A remnant of the playground or parking lot at what used to be Enmore Boys High School, now a fenced-off piece of waste ground. The scene of a massacre? No – probably somebody practising with ‘body outline’ shapes. But why? And why here?
The body outline is a crime fiction cliché. In real life police hardly ever draw around corpses but the image is used by everyone, from advertisers to political protestors, to signify some sort of violent death. There are more pavement bodies in an article I wrote for on-line journal Second Nature — ‘Outlines (Watch this space)’
Hicks, M. 2009. Outlines (Watch this space). Second Nature 1 (1):124 – 139.