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.

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.

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)

Maria in white

The intersection of two backstreets in Newtown is a smeary mess of white paint, but walk around it and you will find the right angle to decipher the name ‘Maria’. Close by, ‘Jen’ has written her name more neatly. What inspired Maria and Jen to leave their autographs here? Probably a tin of white paint found discarded nearby. There is no sign of the paint can now, but  the offending ‘paintbrushes’ are still on display – branches nicked from a shrub in someone’s garden, defiantly attached to a light pole on the corner.

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.

Eco-cycle rapists

This inscription has me baffled. Godot, the graffiti-spotting cabbie, saw it first and posted on his Flickr site. It’s in Wilson Street, Darlington, near Eveleigh, and it reads Eco-cycle Rapists. The style of writing is accomplished and familiar but what does it mean? Who or what is it defaming – or advertising?

(Eco Cycle, by the way, is the brand name of an electic-powered bicycle that has a “rechargeable lithium battery and electric motor which cuts in when you flake out”).

Wilson Street was a popular inner western route to the city long before it was officially stamped as such with the large white bicycle stencils. Dozens of cyclists earnestly pedal over these words daily. Do they notice them?

Crime story

Princes Highway at Brodie Sparks Drive, Wolli Creek, January 2010

See, there were these armed robbers being chased by police, and they ran a red light and crashed into another car, and two people were trapped in the wreckage. And the robbers, see, they jumped out of their stolen car, and … well, if you can’t read all this off the yellow marks sprayed by police on Princes Highway at Arncliffe, then you’d better look it up in the paper.

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.

Parkour in Macquarie Street

Macquarie Visions is a series of light installations on buildings in Sydney that “celebrate the 200th anniversary of Australian visionaries Governor Lachlan and Elizabeth Macquarie – the ultimate Sydney power couple” as part of the Vivid Sydney Festival.

We went along to have a look one night last week when the rain had abated, but as we watched the coloured words and pictures play over the façade of the Conservatorium of Music, I realised we were standing on what was, to me, a more interesting piece of text – Parkour is sexy. It was not easy to photograph in the dark with my little camera, but I had to have it. Pavement graffiti this large is unusual in the centre of the city.

How long ago was it painted? Was it done to celebrate some parkour event? And the big question – is parkour really sexy? For whom – the perpetrators or the spectators?

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