Graffiti Today in Newtown
Graffiti in Newtown Precinct today varies from tags to stencils to narrative images. The majority types of graffiti in Newtown are visual tags, i.e. tags that are on a larger scale, including colour, texture, shading or volume. These tags are consistent throughout the Precinct and even continuing near St Peters Station.
The location of graffiti is crucial within Newtown. The map suggests that there is a council boundary line which is located through the main road that is King St, the two council are the City of Sydney (located on the East side of King St) and Marrickville Council (located on the west side of King St). These two councils have conflicting views when it comes to graffiti and public art. Marrickville Council see graffiti as an expression of the community, previously there were laws against it, however recently a graffiti act has been passed within Marrickville area allowing for building owners to graffit their own property or with the permission from the owners other graffiti artists to graffiti in the area. In contrast City of Sydney Council does not allow graffiti, unless it is a part of a youth or community center.
‘Political’ Spaces and Art
As graffiti is a popular art form in Newtown there is rules that are unwritten that is known amongst graffiti artists. There is a rule of conduct regarding over-tagging other people’s work. This suggests a politics of space within Newtown.
“If people wish to tag over other’s work they need to
first of all ask the permission of the building owner
as well as ask for the artist they want to tag over.
However there is a hierarchy with the artists, if there
is a top artist and they agree to you tagging over,
out of respect you don’t.”
There are “safe places for graffiti artists” places that are well known and recognised by the community, in Marrickville it the lane ways located behind MOST (Marrickville Open Studio Trial) located near St. Peter’s train station. When being asked about the space the interviewee states:
“This is a safe place for graffiti artists, its a place
where they don’t need to worry about getting
caught by the police. All they need to do is ask for
permission by the building owner to use this space.
It’s a well recognised space, there are many walks
and tours that take you to this part of Marrickville, it
is seen as a showcase of graffiti and public art.”
Unmitigated Audacity Productions, 1991-1995
The following graffiti artworks are a collection of murals from Juliee Pryor, Andrew Aiken, Tony Spanos, Matthew Peet and Tim Guider. They called themselves Unmitigated Audacity Productions, they were responsible for some of Newtown’s most iconic murals of 1991-1995. The following is a collection of their most memorable murals in Newtown Precinct, past and present.
Many of the artworks that were painted were inspired by ‘old master paintings’.
Facing 596 King Street, this artwork represents the Native Indian leader Geronimo, it represented the land right movements of the Indigenous people. This was painted by Andrew Aiken in 1992 or 1993 with the assistance of Julie Pryor and Tony Spanos.
“Have we already forgotten?”
Painted by Andrew Aiken and Julie Pryor in 1992, it was based on a representation of “The Head of John the Baptist” by Leonardo Da Vinci. It was repeatedly tagged with the swastika symbol and provocative racist graffiti, this mural had a negative response by the community.
Another piece of artwork that had a negative response to the community was ‘Madonna and Child’. Located on Erskineville Road painted by Andrew Aiken in 1992 or 1993. This piece was interpreted as an anti abortion image, it was also assumed due to the widely known Christian beliefs of Aiken that it was anti abortion.
Painted in 1992, Andrew Aiken, after many practices of creating the Mons Lisa painted this mural on the corner of Wilson Street and Erskineville Road. It currently still located at that site.
Completed by Andrew Aiken and Julie Pryor in 1993, this mural currently is located on King Street, on the wall of a African restaurant. This artwork was funded by the restaurant.
Painted by Aiken and Tim Guider in 1993. This piece represents the power of the media to society. It also was the introduction of more sculptural works for the artists.
This mural was one of Aiken’s first big ones in 1991, it was located on the corner of Wilson Street and Erskineville Road. It was a representation of Miles Davis and was greatly appreciated and loved by the community.
Painted in 1993 Andrew Aiken and Matthew Peet’s mural on the Police Citizens Youth Club. The images painted are of 1980s Australian TV characters.
This mural was painted in 1992 or 1993, it was based from an old master painting of the Head of Saint Anne. The Latin text on the artwork translating to “Through difficulties to the stars” which was the motto for Unmitigated Audacity Productions.
And of course the “I Have a Dream” mural which is mentioned in the next section.
Political Expression and Art
The “I have a Dream” mural painted by Andrew Aiken and Juliee Pryor in 1991 reflects the Speech and the message addressed by Martin Luther King in 1963. According to the artists the mural was painted as a contrast to the commercial imagery throughout the city, it also embodied the ideas of Christian and humanist values. This became an important piece to the artists for the reasons that Aiken was a murder who later turned himself in, prior to turning himself in he found hope and strength with faith to rehabilitate himself of his actions.
The original mural did not consist of the indigenous flag but of a group of people looking up to Martin Luther King. The indigenous flag was added several weeks to years later, the date is unknown, but it was the image of the indigenous flag that joined the message of ‘I have a Dream’ to the Australian community.
As this piece was performed without council approval police were called on site of the night of the mural, their authorisation of the piece convinced the council to let it remain, although they worked in conjunction with commercial groups to get rid of it.
A mural stating “Say No to Burqas” painted by Sergio Redegalli in 2010 sparked a lot of controversy within Newtown community and Marrickville council, it has brought up debates over the issue of freedom of speech vs. the freedom of choice. Radegalli states that this image isn’t ‘racist or anti-Muslim but rather anti extremist.’ He states “I would not like to see Australia have Sharia law…It might never happen but it will be challenged. It’s through that process of it being pushed I’m worried about the violence…Just because the Cronulla riots happened six years ago doesn’t mean the tension isn’t there.”
The idea of the mural was to provoke discussion about the issue as he believes that the state and federal government won’t bring up the issue.
Redegalli said 10 to one people who walk past believe it’s positive, and when people have been negative he has invited them into his shop to try and explain his views.
“No one that is Muslim have vandalised this, I think it’s just the locals who are doing it,” he said.
Under the legal right of the Graffiti Control Act, 2008 Marrickville council gave a statement saying that they did not have right to remove the mural as it done by the building owner and not a third party. Although Marrickville council have no rights in removing the graffiti they have suggested to him to alter it.
Huck Spin, a Marrickville resident, was so offended by the mural that she organised a protest in front of the painting. She said “I’m shocked it is in Newtown… I went around there to take a look and a girl was there with paint and a roller and the cops were trying to arrest her…I don’t want police protecting this racist bullshit. Why is Australia turning so racist?”
Opinions of Graffiti
One thing that surprised me about the results of my research were the opinions that I got from people that I interviewed. I found it interesting that locals response to graffiti was manly positive. While people who lived in outer areas of Marrickville and Sydney Council had conflicting views about graffiti in the area. One gentleman that I spoke to was from Vaucluse, he is an owner of Queen Victoria Hotel on Enmore Rd, when I asked him what his opinions were on the graffiti in Newtown he response was:
“I don’t like it at all. I think it’s destructive to other
people’s private property. Do you know how much it
costs to get a door done with text? (refering to the
emergancy exit door) They just have no respect, it’s
the same with train and bus windows, you see it
everywhere…I wouldn’t might it if they asked for
permission first, but they don’t. I installed a security
camera but they cover their faces. It just bothers me
that I need to go through council to change the
colour of my business but they [refering to the
graffiti artists] don’t need council approval.”
Unmitigated Audacity http://www.sydneyarchives.info/street-art/223-unmitigated-audacity 7.3.2011 Site by IMR, 2009
Newtown Area Graffiti and Street Art http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newtown_area_graffiti_and_street_art [24.03.11]
‘I have a Dream’ http://www.sydneyarchives.info/essays-a-histories/200-i-have-a-dream [22.03.11]