A piece of street art is temporary. An ephemeral art form.
It will eventually disappear. It may be tagged, painted over or terminally faded by the harsh Australian summer sun or even, somewhat more dramatically, the wall or building acting as its urban canvas demolished. This is the norm for Melbourne street art. It is an entirely transient form of art and I would assume as a street artist it would be best not to become too attached to what you have just created.
Other than living in Brunswick, an inner-city Melbourne suburb synonymous with urban art, I have no association whatsoever with graffiti.
I’m not an artist nor do I ‘hang’ in their circles. However I do live in a street which is renowned for the works of many internationally acclaimed street artists. It is this accident of locality combined with my penchant for wandering and photography that drew me to street art many years ago.
So, do street artists feel aggrieved when one of their works gets destroyed for whatever reason? I’ve also often wondered if there is some kind of ‘code’ that dictates where new pieces can be painted and how long is considered ‘long enough’ before it can be painted over by others. I was keen to try and find some answers and stumbled upon a spot of luck.
In December I was fortunate enough to encounter one of the world’s most famous street artists ‘at work’ – the incredible Belgian artist ROA. Famed for his intricate black and white animal paintings, that can often span several stories in height, I ended up having a fascinating (well for me at least) chat with him. During this conversation I asked whether or not there was any code-of-ethics between artists. He replied:
there is a code of the streets that sorts out the relationship between taggers, graf and street artists. When a line is crossed it is sorted out from within.
Makes sense to me. Oh and I didn’t ask what exactly “sorted out” entails! What happens in Vegas…
To try and answer my other nagging question about the ‘feelings’ of artists when their work is defaced, defiled or demolished I was lucky enough to chat with one of Melbourne’s most influential urban art figures.
Toby the founder of Melbourne based Just Another Agency has on her books an impressive and enviable stable of some of Australia’s most talented, well-known and commercially successful urban artists (Including Kaff’eine pictured above). If anyone would know the answer she would. I asked Toby…
Do the artists get angry or annoyed when they are painted over or do they just have to grow a thick skin? Toby responds with…
A little from column A and a little from column B. No-one likes their work being capped or tagged. You spend hours creating something, transforming a wall and producing something you are proud to put your name to, so of course when it gets trashed you aren’t going to be thrilled however in saying this most, if not all artists that work on the street are aware this is part of the game. This is the ‘transient nature of graffiti’. This is what allows it to constantly grow and change. It’s also what I believe pushes artists to continue to grow and push the boundaries. If you create an incredible piece of work, the chances are it will stay up for a little bit longer. It also has to do with politics to a degree. It’s about your name. Have you done the hard yards to earn your place on the streets? Thats why “the greats” are respected.
Rather ironically the amazing piece below by RONE was eventually painted over by, um – RONE! Click to see more of his amazing Melbourne street art.
To sum up:
All of the Melbourne street art photographed by me for this story is now completely painted over. Old ghosts beneath new paint. Some were up for many years whilst others, like those in Hosier Lane, only a matter of days. All are now gone, but, as is the purpose of this post…