I am a Melbourne based writer, primarily of speculative fiction. I find the writing process fascinating; the links below include examples of my work, fiction and non fiction, but also another story. How has a chapter evolved? How have places and the fictions of others informed and inspired my own. How do I research, develop ideas and turn them into narrative? Each page offers a different insight into the work and the story behind the work.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Melbourne Street Art 86

The following is a cross post from the new website I have set up for the photographs I have been taking of street art along the Melbourne 86 tram route - it is a kind of visual guidebook. Accordingly I will be removing the pages for this I had on this site (there never really belonged here as they are all about the work of others, not something I have taken the time to do myself).

The site can be found at:

Reading the post over there will probably make more sense, as it refers to some aspects of the site, but it is also the blogpost on this site for today, as its tone and fascinations closely reflect the sort of thing I often post on here.


Its funny how ideas and inclinations develop sometimes.

And its an odd thing how something can be all around you but you just don't see it. Human beings tend to follow scripts - familiar patterns of perception - and there are times when following these scripts makes us blind to the most obvious things.

To give you an example, I once trained as a fire warden and the trainer asked us what we thought people typically did in a fire.

"Run away", we all said.

"No, what they usually do is go towards it." and he showed us a video of numerous examples of people doing just that, including a women taking a pram with a young child into a convenience store that was going up in flames. Most of us have no script for what to do in a fire, and many of us can miss the obvious in many other circumstances for much the same reasons.

At least that is my excuse...

I had no idea until recently, that Melbourne is one of the major street art capitals in the world, and the work of its streets artists is a major tourist attraction. I also knew very little about street art. I had seen photos of it and heard about it in the news, mostly in relation to Banksy whose art very much appealed to my political sensibilities, but I wasn't really aware of how significant and widespread an art form it has become. 

It had never occurred to me there was much street art in my home city or to go exploring to see what was there. It certainly never occurred to me that the 86 tram that I take to and from work each day passes through areas with some of the richest concentrations of these vivid and evocative images in the city.

The reason I made this belated discovery is that I bought a small but effective digital camera in November 2012 and have spent many evenings and weekend days since roaming my local area and parts of city taking photographs. With a digital camera you can just snap away happily at anything that sits pleasingly in the frame. 

The first day I went out with the camera -back in late November -  in my home suburb of Northcote, I caught the following on film.

Street Artist working on piece at the South end of Eastment Street in Northcote in November 2012

It is quite possible this formed a kind of seed somewhere in my unconscious mind, but at the time I thought not much of it. As I took more and more photographs I started to look through them, partly searching for themes among them that might make interesting blog pots for my new website. After a while I started to notice how many street art pieces I had either photographed directly or caught accidentally in frame.

I also started to notice how similar a lot of this art was to the illustrations I had tried to create when I was a computer graphic artists in the early 1990s. I became more curious and read a little more into it.

Often dreamlike, vivid, striking and highly imaginative, it is an art form uniquely of our era, postmodern at times but often very cutting politically and expressive of the conscious and unconscious landscape of our times, in particular for those not part of the mainstream of our society. It breaks the convention of art belonging only in a frame and being coveted in the homes of those affluent enough to afford the work available in galleries and shows. Street art is never exclusive, it is always available in its original form to anyone who takes the time to find its location. It also has the power to transform dull or blank surfaces and entire buildings into something unique. In areas of where it is has become common it has often been embraced by the local community as bringing colour and life to the urban environment. For some street art has become a part of local culture to view with pride...

Though in others it has instilled anger and calls for increasingly harsh retribution and many local councils are forced to spend millions of dollar removing it and its sometimes inseparable cousin, graffiti, from the environment.

Street art is highly controversial as it is created in public or semi public spaces, often upon the walls and surfaces of private property. Some street art is created with the permission of owners, but not all. Anything that claims and re-invents a space owned or considered private property is likely to clash with our society and its laws and mores elevating property rights and the fruits of material gain far above more human considerations. Street artists caught practicing their art without permission can be looking at a two year jail sentence, a pretty stiff punishment considering the sorts of crimes that attract far less penalties.

There is also the issue of whether street art is vandalism, eyesores that citizens are forced to endure as they go about their daily lives. Some feel this way about even the most intricate and beautiful examples of the form. And where does the perhaps less than pleasant effect of multiple messy, badly executed tags making a wall look like a mess of dirty scribbles, cross over into something that is art. Is there a black and white difference between the tagger who starts with brief scrawls and with time begins to produce more thoughtful and generous work that the community might admire and enjoy? 

With these thoughts developing. I started to work on a blog post about street art and as I progressed, I felt I needed photographs of more examples and indeed needed see them myself to understand more about what I was writing about. So I started to explore along the Northern suburbs the 86 tram route passes through, and found more and more examples to study and photograph in side streets off the tram route and hidden in alley ways beyond. Before long I had nearly 400 photographs; far too much material for a single blog post. 

Hence I created some pages on my personal website to show case what I had found and realising my personal website was not the best place to include large amounts of the work of other artists, I soon decided to create a separate website.

There are already many other websites that showcase and explore street art; I felt that to legitimately add to what was already on the web I needed to have some kind of theme or focus. I had already been working on creative project relating to Melbourne public transport - in this case Melbourne train stations - so it was perhaps a nature progression to build my site around the street art to be found on a particular tram route that is rich in examples of the form.

Thus perhaps I went from a single photograph taken of a street artist last November to an entire website. It may well evolve with time. I have a mind to add my own comments and reaction to some of the art and add essays and links to interviews and articles. With many other projects to work on this year, including a book for an American publisher, the fruits of such notions may be some time coming. For the time being I will mainly be working on photographing and presenting the street art in Melbourne and Clifton Hill I have not yet had time to explore and also completely street art maps for the suburbs other than Fitzroy, which I have already completed. As I update the site with this or other things I will add posts on in this blog space.

For now, whatever this site may become, it is basically a kind of online guide book or selective journey along the 86 tram route, hopefully giving inspiration to others to hop on an 86 one morning and spend an enriching and enjoyable day hopping off the tram from time to time to seek out some of the wonders I have show cased here, and perhaps explore further afield and make some discoveries of their own.

best wishes

Kevin Anslow
Northcote, Melbourne

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