Thursday 23 June 2011


Hosier Lane in Melbourne, is found between Swanston and Russell Sts, extending from Flinders Street through to Flinders Lane. In the 1920s businesses in Hosier Lane were diverse and included an organ manufacturer, a warehouse for a men's clothing company, and a costume manufacturer. The nearby Higson and Oliver Lanes had warehouses that were predominantly used by businesses involved in the manufacturing of clothes and the name of this lane reflects its association with clothing.

Hosier Lane today is well known for its bars but mostly for the graffiti and stencil art that can be seen on its 19th century brick walls. The artwork decorating the walls near number 1 Hosier Lane and near Misty Place at number 3-5 Hosier Lane have been approved by the City of Melbourne as registered street artwork.

Melbourne City Council regards graffiti as primarily a product of an urban environment that should be engaged with creatively, not something that it merely takes a strict zero tolerance approach to. This engagement is seen as a diversion that hopes to tame a vigorous and diverse form of expression. By having certain areas of the city where street artists can express themselves, graffiti on unacceptable locations can be controlled.

Graffiti artists at work in Rutledge Lane, a C-shaped offshoot to the west of Hosier lane.

Yes, but is art? Ellen Dissanayake says that art is (amongst other things):

·  the product of conscious intention,
·  a self rewarding activity,
·  a tendency to unite dissimilar things,
·  a concern with change and variety,
·  the aesthetic exploitation of familiarity vs. surprise,
·  the aesthetic exploitation of tension vs. release,
·  the imposition of order on disorder,
·  the creation of illusions,
·  an indulgence in sensuousness,
·  the exhibition of skill,
·  a desire to convey meanings,
·  an indulgence in fantasy,
·  the aggrandizement of self or others,
·  illustration,
·  the heightening of existence,
·  revelation,
·  personal adornment or embellishment,
·  therapy,
·  the giving of meaning to life,
·  the generation of unselfconscious experience,
·  the provision of paradigms of order and/or disorder,
·  training in the perception of reality

If art is to adorn, to beautify, to express, to illustrate, to mediate, to persuade, to record, to redefine reality, and to redefine art, Hosier Lane is truly art...

A vandal (apart from the historical reference to the Germanic people of the fourth and fifth centuries who invaded and sacked parts of Western Europe), is understood to be a wilful or ignorant destroyer of property, or of anything beautiful, venerable, or worthy of preservation...

Art is often in the eye of the beholder. Someone who likes admiring the neat symmetry and wonderful workmanship of 19th century brickwork, mellowed by the elements and time would regard the graffiti in Hosier Lane as vandalism. Someone who is stimulated by the wild expanses of colour and form, quirky subject matter and loves the challenging "in-your-face" immediacy of the graffiti would quickly say this is truly art, as defined above.

What do you think? What is this above, art or vandalism?

 Graffiti happening in real time!

The subject matter is quite diverse, but dominating the "canvases" are the highly ornate text of obscure messages, counter-culture catch phrases and "me pinxit" names...

The graffiti causes great delight in some!

Stencils also adorn the walls. Dlux, a Melbourne stencil artist, claims there is an ethic within stencillers’ circles about which sites constitute fair game – "artists," he says, "avoid heritage buildings and, for the most part, residential properties." He also says that "...racist and sexist stencils generally will not last long on the wall. People [other artists] react much more negatively to sexist or racist graffiti. They get covered over much more quickly. People will add their own messages to offensive stencils …" (The Age, 16 August 2003).

Considerable ingenuity can be seen when a wall is covered by stencils or graffiti (or often a combination of both).

Graffiti art being created.

"The City of Melbourne will work with property owners, mangers and occupiers, graffiti writers, Victorian Police and local communities to investigate providing legitimate avenues for murals and street art to be displayed. The City of Melbourne will engage with the arts community regarding murals and street art, for example, in conjunction with cultural festivals or arts development projects in the public domain. The City of Melbourne will positively engage with graffiti writers in mentoring and arts programmes to facilitate opportunities for legitimate artistic expression and to divert their efforts away from illegal and towards high quality work."
Melbourne City Council Graffiti Management Plan, 2006

Graffiti being created in Rutledge Lane.

We are multicultural, even in our graffiti!

For me personally, this image exemplifies the difference between art and vandalism. This graffiti (self?) portrait, is art; but the graffiti scrawl that defaces it, is vandalism...