Sometimes things are just meant to be. Last week a thought planted itself in my mind. I wanted to write a nice piece about Sydney’s exciting street art. I had done so before for Melbourne and Paris, so why wouldn’t I want to do the same for my own city?
I figured the best way to find some of the best Sydney street art was by walking the back streets of Newtown. To ensure that my endeavour would not turn into a story of my getting lost in Sydney’s Inner West I wrote a quick message on my personal Facebook page, asking my friends for help and direction. No reply.
But then, just a couple of hours later I received an email from the team of Culture Scouts, inviting me on a walking tour of Sydney’s street art scene. So thanks to these guys I now have plenty of material to write about and to show you. Accompanying this article are 53 photos of Sydney’s street art. Plus, I have had the privilege of joining one of the best done walking tours I have ever participated in.
Our host Melinda Vassallo is an artist herself, a graphic designer who finds inspiration in urban art. For more than 15 years she has been researching and photographing the local art scene, culminating in the book “Street Art of the Sydney’s Inner West”. Her knowledge of the local art scene, the different artists, the techniques used, is really impressive. And she has the talent and the presence to tell stories and share facts that are both compelling and intriguing.
During our 90 min walking tour we learnt a lot about the different forms of street art. From tagging to proper murals, sketching, posters, stickers, guerrilla knitting, affixing items with concrete onto public walls and walkways.
There’s this fine line between art and vandalism, and I think street art is probably one of the most controversial forms of art out there. In fact, street artists need to overcome many obstacles to live their art. The anger of local residents and councils. Then the open criticism and scrutiny of their peers (look out for the tag “toy” to show another artist’s discontent with the piece).The dangers of working in dark and off-limit areas, the omnipresent risk of imprisonment.
Our walking tour with Culture Scouts took us around Newtown and Enmore, both of which belong to the Council of Marrickville. Overwhelmed by the sheer amount of artwork the council has actually taken a liberal approach to the phenomenon.
Instead of just fighting the artists and their ever reoccurring display of art, the council now also works as a curator and matchmaker – helping property owners in the area to find an artist of their choice to work on their walls.
A quality piece of art earns respect on the streets, and other artists will refrain from destroying existing masterpieces that they respect. This way, street art in Newtown and Enmore becomes institutionalised and socially accepted, in fact it is used more and more as means of beautifying the area and bringing art to the public.
Street art can be just art for art’s sake, but it can also be political. While this will not be one of the major themes in Australian street art, there are still some voices that you can hear around the streets. And artists do interact on an international level – some art you will find around Sydney is actually work done by artists from other Australian cities and indeed from around the world.
I think the beauty of street art is that it is such an unfiltered, quick response to our everyday lives. I like the fact that it can be surprising, offering an alternative reality to the urban landscape. It can be thought-provoking and challenging, and because of that it’s ever changing and never boring. As our host Melinda pointed out, you never know what you might find around the corner as artwork can change so quickly around here.
As you will see from the pictures below, our tour took us past a host of fantastic street art. It’s a very unique way of looking at Sydney, quite different from the usual tours that would only show you the typical landmarks of the city. It’s a great present for friends visiting the city and anyone who is interested in art. The Street Art Basic Tour is a two hour tour around Newtown that will end at a gastro pub where you can enjoy a craft beer with the rest of the group. Groups are no bigger than 15 people, so it’s a rather intimate experience which gives you plenty of opportunity to ask questions and engage in lively conversations with like-minded people. The cost is $50 per person.
Culture Scouts also do a lunch tour to taste coffee, cheese, wine and dessert in Newtown and Enmore, and there is a walking tour from Chippendale to Redfern along the backlanes.
Culture Scouts. http://www.culturescouts.com.au