Nabbed on the footpath

Pavement advertising in Sydney has moved on since 1904. In that year bootmaker Joe Gardiner was nabbed by the police for whitewashing advertisements for his shop on the asphalt in Oxford Street near the entrance to Hyde Park. Joe’s fate is recorded in a correspondence file in the City of Sydney archives.

These days the footpath is a billboard, not only for small shops and garage sales, but also for corporations. In recent months NAB (National Australia Bank) has discovered the transgressive frisson of stencilling the pavement. At Sculpture by the Sea in November, advertisements on the Bondi to Tamarama walk made it evident that NAB was a sponsor of the event. On Valentine’s Day in February, city pavements were enlisted in a multiple media campaign announcing that NAB had split up with the other banks (whatever that means). Although these commercially creative works soon faded in the rain, their smeary remains are still visible in some places.

Sculpture by the Sea, Bondi-Tamarama, November 2010. In the background is Lucy Barker's installation 'Sea Cells'.

Defacing the pavement with any kind of marker is still illegal in the City of Sydney but, as I noted in an earlier blog post, perhaps council rangers have given up bothering about graffiti drawn with chalk or quasi-chalk.

Valentine's Day 2011, Newtown Bridge.

 

You can read more about footpath decoration and pavement advertising in two articles I have written:
Hicks, Megan. 2009. Horizontal billboards: The commercialization of the pavement. Continuum: Journal of Media and Cultural Studies 23 (6):765-780.
Hicks, Megan. The decorated footpath. Dictionary of Sydney.

Island hoping

Since this blog has become something of a travelogue, I should write about Lord Howe Island, which I visited recently although it is not an ideal destination for someone hoping to study pavements and pavement graffiti.

A few facts and figures then. Lord Howe is a World Heritage island paradise located some 600 km east of the Australian mainland. Nearly all the roads on the island are sealed but there are only 10 km of them. There are very few kerbs, gutters or paved footpaths. The speed limit for the 100 or so motorized vehicles on the island is 25 km per hour, consequently there are hardly any street signs except for one or two Stop signs and several warning about Mutton Birds on Road and Woodhens on Road.

I kept an eye out for graffiti and traffic marks on the bitumen itself but found none. Well, almost none, except for one upside-down-pudding-bowl ‘silent cop’ (correct terminology: traffic dome) at the
T-intersection of Lagoon Road and Ned’s Beach Road, and some
angle-parking spaces marked out nearby.

The only other pavement embellishment I found was an exceedingly flat rat on the road outside the Museum (close-up view omitted in deference to the squeamish). Rats came to the island off the wrecked ship Makambo in 1918 and promptly set about making at least five native bird species extinct. Rat control measures have been in place since then. Although not totally successful, these measures are probably more efficient and certainly less random than squashing by car.

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?

Tour de Snowy Mountains

The road from Tumbarumba to the Snowy Mountains Highway is called Elliot Way. It climbs and dips, climbs and dips, winding through pastoral land then tall forests, and over the Tumut River several times, before another steep climb to the winter-time snow fields above the tree line. It is a route that is apparently enjoyed by very fit cyclists. In summertime January it is hot and not very busy but, since I am not the hardy type at all, I chose to enjoy the scenery from my car. In the sun’s glare I almost missed these words of encouragement written, Tour de France-style, on the bitumen. All I can say is Vivent les amis d’Owen et Kathy for making the effort to cheer them on.

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.

The decorated footpath

‘Pavements should not be dismissed as simply utilitarian. A close inspection of Sydney footpaths will reveal that they are seldom purely practical, and never plain. There is always some decorative embellishment embedded in the paving or applied to its surface.’ So begins a recent entry in the on-line Dictionary of Sydney. Naturally I find this article interesting, and that’s mainly because I wrote it.

Footpaths are a matter of civic pride. The state of the sidewalks is an indicator of a city’s wealth and progress. For appearances’ sake local governments not only upgrade footpaths in busy areas, often replacing asphalt with synthetic bluestone pavers, but they also commission pavement artworks. This mosaic at Erskineville Station has actual tools from the former Eveleigh Railway Workshops embedded in it.

It is also civic pride and the desire to make an area seem safe and well-managed, that prompts government authorities to outlaw graffiti. In Sydney it is unusual for pavement artists to be allowed to draw directly on the paving. Usually they are required to tape down some sort of plastic backing. This artist outside the Queen Victoria Building is an exception.

Greetings

Many thanks to friends, colleagues and total strangers who have shown interest and given support throughout the year.

And to those who have cricked necks after taking up a bit of pavement spotting yourselves …

HAPPY CRICKNESS !

King Street, South Newtown

Graffiti rocks

Graffiti is usually spoken of as if it is an urban phenomenon, but of course people in non-urban areas do graffiti too. Often it is of the ‘I wuz here’ variety, some of which can be extremely elaborate. The graffiti on the Vee Wall at Nambucca Heads, painted by holidaying families, belongs to this category. But even this kind of folk-art graffiti is hated by people who dislike all graffiti on principle. They think it spoils the natural environment.

There are other people who use graffiti in campaigns to preserve the natural environment. For example, large messages painted on the road to Seal Rocks were made by locals protesting about a resort-style development proposed for the area.

I have written about how people see things in different ways in an article called Perceptions – Graffiti Rocks  in Macquarie University’s Scan Magazine.

Hicks, M., 2010. Perceptions: Graffiti Rocks. Scan (Journal of media arts culture).

 

Tree replaced

I am still thinking about why it is that some graffitists choose to write on the ground rather than on a wall or some other vertical surface. And that means I’m still thinking about graffiti that is site specific – where the message is relevant to that particular piece of pavement.

Here is a sad little piece of correction fluid graffiti. Gigantic Hills Fig trees are progressively being removed from this street in Enmore. Their roots break up the paving and are apparently playing havoc with people’s walls and sewer pipes. Perhaps they were an inappropriate choice for a street tree. But the street is looking bare without them and some of the residents – as well as all sorts of birds – are going to miss them. The loss of one of the trees is recorded in this tiny, signed epitaph: Tree replaced by cement! T.T.  10

There is more discussion and photographs of this tree and other trees in the same street on the Saving Our Trees website.

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