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.
In a week when we are reminded that influenza is from pigs and birds, perhaps it’s time to reflect on the message spread by some aggrieved crusader in 2007-2008. This person broadcast their warning widely around Sydney’s northern beach suburbs and also in the city itself. Pavement graffiti is fairly rare in the CBD — it soon gets scrubbed off by cleaning machines. This example was on the corner of Elizabeth Street and Martin Place, and judging from the reddish remnants on the greasy writing the medium was lipstick.
Mine is not the first blog to mention the Cancer is from dog’s campaigner (see here for example). The apparently errant apostrophe drives some people mad. In this case it is not a matter of incorrect grammar but rather an indicator of the writer’s social delicacy. However the graffitist was feeling less constrained when they wrote the full message in texta on a hoarding in George Street: Cancer is from dog’s poo (then again, maybe it was an indelicate apostrophe vigilante who filled in the missing word).
Welcome to pavement graffiti, where asphalt rules and grey is good. The focus is on roadways and footpaths, and ‘graffiti’ means anything written, drawn, scrawled or stencilled on them.
First up, one of my favourite photographs. It shows a lane off Enmore Road in Newtown. I took it in 1999, not long after I started noticing pavement graffiti, and somehow managed to capture the texture and colours of worn asphalt on a rainy day. Some months later a smart coffee shop opened at the end of the lane and crumbling asphalt was replaced by regimented pavers.
The graffiti is by Phibs. He is a big boy now, his art is used by advertisers, and his framed works sell for thousands. Currently he is based in Melbourne but he recently visited his roots. His show was at Oh Really Gallery, not far from the laneway in the photograph. For the exhibition he sprayed the gallery floor with geometric figures like some of the stuff he was spraying on Newtown pavements back in 1999.