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The future of publicly approved "Street Art"

Doyle from Blender posted on facebook to a write up that he'd written for the cbd news, a local newspaper with online (and I think print also) articles.

In it he talks about Melbourne's street art scene and how its morphed into murals and that as an art movement it still is changing, transitioning into something he calls "nu-muralism". He mentions the benefits its had so far on Melbournes culture, how its drawn in tourism, and how it'll leave a lasting impact on the city's culture.

It was a short article but he hit on a topic that both of us have discussed at Blender and one that keeps coming back to me. It's a subjects that I find myself thinking about as if its a record stuck on loop. He is in a good position to write about it as Blender (his studio that he's been running since the early 2000s), has had a constant revolving door of street artists coming through in its time. He also facilitates murals and educational projects surrounding the topic of street art.

I agree with him that its hard to know when an art movement has started, ended or morphed into something else while you're in the middle of it because art movements aren't sterile dates with beginnings and ends, they're more fluid and organic. You can sometimes pinpoint certain key events that set the movement in motion but you don't know how relevant these events are until later.

I started getting interested in street art back around 2009ish when I was around 16 years old. I was obsessed, trying to learn all the different names of artists, styles and to discover new spots that I hadn't seen before. Looking back I think I caught the tail end of a pretty special time.

I thought maybe it was just nostalgia goggles and that everyone felt the same way towards the time they discovered this cool new thing hiding just out of reach of the normies, but after talking to a few older artists I'm convinced that it was just a different time.

Recently I sent an email to one of the large street art blogs that was running in the early 2000s, and asked why they don't post anymore. I've found myself enjoying a new hobby which involves going through old copies of art and culture magazines/websites/blogs, finding artists that were big back then and seeing where they are now. Comparing their work looking at how much (or little) they've changed.

Theres a lot of lost media which is a shame, but some websites are still up and if you go to the right shady links you can find old copies of scanned magazines that were uploaded.

I wasn't expecting an email back but I got one. Among more personal reasons, they explained that a major issue they faced with posting the level of quality that they'd maintained for so long was that a lot of the newer art painted on the streets had some kind of sponsorship involved, and often done with permission.

I think the current mural scene is shifting now in a weird way where it was for a while, a pipeline for street artists to make money from their craft to now having a bunch of established “mural artists” that were never considered street artists. That isn’t a dig at their legitimacy, just an observation.

To be able to avoid working a hospitality job and to spend your time painting for money is great. My biggest fear is that I'll one day fall out of love with it and a labour of love will just be labour.

I think the direction that the scenes going in will continue to shift towards public pleasing imagery and inoffensive themes. There was public outrage when David Lee Pereira painted his "72 Genders" mural in Werribee, Smug painted a Skeleton in Frankston and Mic Porter was accused of pushing antisemitic imagery in St. Kilda. All of these reactions seem silly to me, but the freedom of painting what you want is often lost when money is involved and you have to please the community.

Because of such backlash, councils will lean towards the most generic, safe work with multiple rounds of revisions and approvals. It is seems like the antithesis of what street art represented. The councils like that street art (and currently public art with a street art flavour (murals with spray paint)), has a cultural currency at the moment and want to use it to win favour and prove that they're hip, cool and current.

I could imagine a not to distant future where the perceived rawness and street cred that once existed with having a mural painted by a street artist is eroded to the point where the general public stops referring to the mural painters as artists and starts referring to them as sign writers.

I think it'll be around this time when a younger generation might decide that these murals don't connect with them and that they'd rather reclaim the public space, creating a new illegal public art movement mirroring the genesis of the one they're surrounded by.

Picture is a colab I did with Moises in Toronto

(No councils were reached for permission, payment or consultation in the making of this painting)


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