Street art in Melbourne

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Melbourne, the capital of Victoria and the second largest city in Australia, has gained international notoriety for its diverse range of street art and associated subcultures. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, much of the city's disaffected youth were influenced by the graffiti of New York, which subsequently became popular in Melbourne's inner suburbs, and along suburban railway and tram lines.

Melbourne was a major city in which stencil art was embraced at an early stage, leading to the naming of Melbourne as "stencil capital of the world";[1] the adoption of stencil art also increased public awareness of the concept of street art.[2] The first stencil festival in the world was held in Melbourne in 2004 and featured the work of many major international artists.[2]


Around the turn of the 21st century, other forms of street art began to appear in Melbourne, including woodblocking, sticker art, poster art, wheatpasting, graphs, various forms of street installations and reverse graffiti. A strong sense of community ownership and DIY ethic exists amongst street artists in Melbourne, many of whom are activists for the progression of society through awareness, created in part by their work.[3]

Many galleries in the City Centre and inner suburbs have started to exhibit street art. Prominent Melbourne street artists were featured in Space Invaders, a 2010 exhibition of street art held at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra.[4][5] Hosier Lane is Melbourne's most famous laneway for street art, however there are many other laneways in the inner city that have a plethora of street art.

Prominent international street artists such as Banksy (UK), ABOVE (USA), Fafi (France), D*FACE (UK), Logan Hicks,[6] Revok (USA), Blek le Rat (France), Shepard Fairey (USA) and Invader (France) have contributed work to Melbourne's streets along with visitors from all over the world, most prominently Germany, Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and New Zealand.[citation needed]

Melbourne's street art scene was explored in the 2005 documentary RASH.[7]


File:Ceramic Street Art Melbourne.JPG
Ceramic street art on the corner of a brick building in Fitzroy, 2008

While there are small areas throughout Greater Melbourne where various forms of street art can be seen, the primary areas in which street art is most densely located include, in alphabetical order:

Public and government responses

The proliferation of street art in Melbourne has attracted many supporters and detractors from various levels of government and in the broader community. In 2008 a tourism campaign at Florida's Disney World recreated a Melbourne laneway cityscape, decorated with street art. Victorian Premier John Brumby forced the tourism department to withdraw the display, calling graffiti a "blight on the city" and not something "we want to be displaying overseas."[8] Marcus Westbury countered that street art was one of Melbourne's "biggest tourist attractions and one of its most significant cultural movements since the Heidelberg School".[9]

Some street artists and academics have criticized the State Government for having seemingly inconsistent and contradictory views on graffiti.[10] In 2006, the State Government "proudly sponsored" The Melbourne Design Guide, a book which celebrates Melbourne graffiti from a design perspective. That same year, some of Melbourne's graffiti-covered laneways were featured in Tourism Victoria's Lose Yourself in Melbourne campaign. One year later, the State Government introduced tough anti-graffiti laws, with a maximum penalty of two years in prison. Possession of spray cans "without a lawful excuse", either on or around public transport, became illegal, and police search powers were also strengthened. According to Melbourne University criminologist Alison Young, the "state is profiting from the work of artists doing it, but another arm of the state wants to prosecute and possibly imprison (such) people."[10] Since laws were tightened, local councils have reported a "spike" in vandalism and greater incidences of tagging on commissioned murals and legal street art. Adrian Doyle, founder of the Blender Studios and manager of Melbourne Street Art Tours, believes that people who tag have become less considerate of where they put their tags for fear of being caught by police, and are "paranoid so they are taking less time—tags are less detailed".[11] In 2007, the City of Melbourne started the Do art not tags initiative—an education presentation aimed at teaching primary school students the differences between graffiti and street art.[12]

Some local councils have accepted street art and have even made efforts to preserve it. In early 2008, the Melbourne City Council installed a perspex screen to prevent a 2003 Banksy stencil art piece named Little Diver from being destroyed. In December 2008, silver paint was poured behind the protective screen and tagged with the words: "Banksy woz ere".[13] In April 2010, another stencil by Banksy, also painted in 2003, was destroyed—this time by council workers. The work depicted a parachuting rat and it was believed to be the last surviving Banksy stencil in Melbourne's laneways. Lord Mayor Robert Doyle said: "This was not the Mona Lisa. It is regrettable that we have lost it, but it was an honest mistake by our cleaners in removing tagging graffiti."[14]

The loss of these and other famous street artworks in Melbourne reignited a decade long debate over heritage protection for Melbourne's street art.[15] Planning Minister Justin Madden announced government plans in 2010 involving Heritage Victoria and the National Trust of Australia to assess street art in key locations throughout Melbourne and for culturally significant works to receive recognition for the purpose of preservation.[16] Examples of street art pieces that have been added to the Victorian Heritage Register include: the 1983 mural outside the Aborigines Advancement League building,[17][18] and a 1984 Keith Haring mural in Collingwood.[19][20]

The Melbourne City Council acknowledged the difficulties that hinder the preservation of street art, with their graffiti management plan for 2014–18 stating: "Protection of street art is not practical. The only exception may be especially commissioned works".[21]


File:Vexta hosier ln.jpg
She's Only Dancing by Vexta (left), and work by PETS (right), in Hosier Lane, 2007
  • Empty shows: illegal exhibitions held in derelict buildings since circa 2000[7]
  • Stencil Festival: The first stencil art festival in the world was held in Melbourne in 2004. It is currently in its 5th year.[citation needed]
  • Street video projection event: video projection events were held in Gertrude Street, Fitzroy in mid-2008.

Melbourne Stencil Festival

The Melbourne Stencil Festival was Australia's premier celebration of international street and stencil art. Since its inauguration in 2004 the festival has become an annual event, touring regional Victoria and other locations within Australia. The festival was held for 10 days each year, involving exhibitions, live demonstrations, artist talks, panel discussions, workshops, master classes and street art related films to the general public. It featured works by emerging and established artists from both Australia and around the world.[citation needed]

Since its inception, the Stencil Festival featured some 800 works by over 150 artists, many of whom were experiencing their first major art exhibition, finding it difficult to be exhibited in major commercial galleries reluctant to display emerging art forms. The first Melbourne Stencil Festival was held in a former sewing factory in North Melbourne in 2004. The three-day exhibition attracted spectator numbers far beyond expectations.[citation needed]

  • 2004 – The inaugural festival was held over three days in a warehouse in North Melbourne.
  • 2005 – Featured a ten-day exhibition at the refurbished Meat Market art complex. The festival was supported by the City of Melbourne and saw more than 700 visitors on the opening night.
  • 2006 – The festival moved to Fitzroy, a major location of street art in Melbourne, and was held at the Rose Street Artists Market. For the first time the four-day event was also held in Sydney. It received reviews in major mainstream media in both Melbourne and Sydney.
  • 2007 – Featured a total of 75 artists from 12 countries with more than 300 works. The Melbourne event alone was attended by more than 4,000 visitors with 500 people on the opening night alone. It also attracted a wide range of media coverage including daily newspapers, community radio and street press.
  • 2009 – The Melbourne Stencil Festival 2009 ran between 25 September and 4 October 2009.[22]
  • 2010 – The Melbourne Stencil Festival transformed in the "Sweet Streets" Festival, an all encompassing festival of street and urban art. It ran between 8 – 24 October 2010.[citation needed]

Notable Melbourne street artists

  • Be Free – Wheat-pasted prints combined with spray paint. Often appears on "best street art in the world" lists.
  • Kaffeine – Large-scale spray paint murals of animal and human characters throughout the city of Melbourne.
  • Lucy – hand-painted wheat-pastes and spray paint murals.
  • Tom Civil – Appears in RASH (film). Murals of stick figures, and nature.
  • Fred Fowler (a.k.a. Nurock) – since 1995 – exhibits commercially
  • Ha-Ha – since 2000
  • Meek – since 2003
  • Miso – lifesize, hand-drawn paste-up work
  • Phibs (Everfresh) – an artist from Sydney, Australia who, as of January 2013, is based in his city of origin.
  • Prism – since 2001 – founded the Stencil Revolution website,[citation needed] which has over 15,000 registered members
  • Rone – since 2002, moved to Melbourne from Geelong, Victoria, Australia
  • Vexta – moved to Melbourne, from Sydney, Australia, in 2003 (Now based in New York).
  • Shida – since 2004

Other media

  • RASH (2005) – Feature-length documentary film which explores the cultural value of Melbourne street art and graffiti.[7]
  • Not Quite Art (2007) – ABC TV series, episode 101 explored Melbourne's street art and DIY culture.
  • JISOE (2007) – documentary film about the culture of graphers and street artists in Melbourne.
  • Artscape, Episode 24 February 2009, ABC TV – Ghostpatrol & Miso featured.
  • WRITERS BENCH (2012) A documentary exploring the evolution of Melbourne Graffiti & street art culture, 1980-2012. feature-length
  • CHILDREN OF THE IRON SNAKE (2013) A biopic of the Melbourne graffiti and street art era.


See also




  1. Jake Smallman and Carl Nyman (2005). "Stencil Graffiti Capital: Melbourne". Stencil Graffiti Capital: Melbourne. Jake Smallman and Carl Nyman. Retrieved 30 January 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 Vandalismo (8 August 2008). "Melbourne Stencil Festival". laneway. Laneway Magazine. Retrieved 4 January 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Innovative Theories in Art
  4. "Space Invaders". National Gallery of Australia. National Gallery of Australia. 2013. Retrieved 30 January 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. "Space Invaders" (Video upload). Art Nation. ABC. 12 November 2010. Retrieved 30 January 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. "Home". Drago. Drago Media Kompany SRL. 2013. Retrieved 30 January 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Mutiny Media (2007). "Home". Rash The Film. Mutiny Media. Retrieved 30 January 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Jewel Topsfield (1 October 2008). "Brumby slams Tourism Victoria over graffiti promotion". The Age. Fairfax Media. Retrieved 30 January 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Marcus Westbury (5 July 2009). "Street Art: Melbourne's unwanted attraction". Marcus Westbury. Marcus Westbury. Retrieved 30 January 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. 10.0 10.1 Suzy Freeman-Greene (12 January 2008). "Urban scrawl: shades of grey". The Age. Fairfax Media. Retrieved 30 January 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Suzanne Robson (2 April 2009). "Taggers raid Melbourne street art". Melbourne Leader. News Community Media. Retrieved 30 January 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. "Do art not tags". City of Melbourne. City of Melbourne. 2013. Retrieved 30 January 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Houghton, Janae (14 Dec 2008). "The painter painted: Melbourne loses its treasured Banksy". The Age.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. Hamish Fitzsimmons (30 April 2010). "Melbourne debates street art" (Transcript). Lateline. ABC. Retrieved 30 January 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. Rachael Brown (23 June 2008). "Melbourne graffiti considered for heritage protection". ABC News (based on a report from The World Today). ABC. Retrieved 30 January 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. "Melbourne's street art gets heritage review". Arts Victoria. State of Victoria. 27 May 2010. Retrieved 30 January 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. "Aboriginal mural". Victorian Heritage Database. State of Victoria. 13 November 2012. Retrieved 30 January 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. Reko Rennie (10 January 2011). "Preston mural a slice of Indigenous history" (Video upload). ABC Arts. ABC. Retrieved 30 January 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. "Keith Haring mural, east wall Main Building, Collingwood Technical School complex". Victorian Heritage Database. State of Victoria. 13 November 2012. Retrieved 30 January 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. Simon Leo Brown; Richelle Hunt (28 April 2010). "Melbourne's Keith Haring mural in urgent need of restoration". 774 ABC Melbourne. ABC. Retrieved 30 January 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  21. Carey, Adam (4 October 2013). "Melbourne street art not meant to last, says city's graffiti management plan". The Age. Retrieved 4 October 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  22. [1][dead link][dead link]
  23. Uncommissioned Art: An A-Z of Australian Graffiti, Retrieved 16-10-2010.

Further reading

  • Nyman, Carl; Smallman, Jake (2005). Stencil Graffiti Capital: Melbourne. Mark Batty Publisher. ISBN 0-9762245-3-4. <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Dew, Christine (2007). Uncommissioned Art: The A-Z of Australian Graffiti. Melbourne University Publishing. ISBN 0-522-85375-7.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Stamer, Karl (2010). Kings Way: The Beginnings of Australian Graffiti: Melbourne 1983-1993. Melbourne University Publishing. ISBN 978-0-522-85751-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Ghostpatrol; Miso; Smits, Timba; Young, Alison (2010). Street/Studio: The Place of Street Art in Melbourne. Thames & Hudson. ISBN 978-0-500-50020-0. <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Sync; Everfresh Studio (2010). Everfresh: Blackbook: The Studio & Streets 2004–2010. Miegunyah Press. ISBN 978-0-522-85745-0.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Dean Sunshine (2012). Land Of Sunshine: A Snapshot Of Melbourne Street Art 2010-2012. DS Publishers. ISBN 9780987382702.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Dean Sunshine (2014). Street Art Now – Melbourne and Beyond 2012-2014. DS Tech. ISBN 9780987382719.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links

Online galleries