This from the New York Times - Melbourne is an epicenter of street art. Well worth a visit.
“Street art is different from graffiti,” one of my followers chided me on the Frugal Traveler Twitter account. Couldn’t something be both? Graffiti has traditionally meant a quick, illicit scrawl, while street art usually implies a more formal image of some kind. I had posted a photo of a brick wall on Greeves Street in the Fitzroy neighborhood of Melbourne that had been covered in a painted portrait of a dog staring manically into the street as looming purple and blue clouds gathered underneath. During my walks around Fitzroy, Collingwood and Richmond (where I had rented a cheap studio through Airbnb), it seemed as if nearly every square inch of available wall, fence or billboard had been claimed by paint or permanent marker.
On my long walks traversing the streets and alleys of Melbourne, it felt as if I was perusing gritty, informal art galleries. Some works were abstract, some skillfully done tributes to favorite cartoon characters, bands or movies. Better still, this seemingly endless stockpile of urban art was free and open to the public — ideal for my frugal budget. While experiencing that alongside the city’s excellent brick-and-mortar galleries, notable night life and A-plus food culture, I came to understand how Melbourne has gained a reputation as Australia’s cultural capital.
The sheer quantity of street art and graffiti on Melbourne’s thoroughfares was something I’d never seen, and it left me curious about the broader art scene. So I went from pondering the fierce dog mural on Greeves Street into the nearby Sutton Gallery, a cozy but excellent space that changes its exhibitions monthly. I took the opportunity to ask a gallery employee about the neighborhood. Was the practice of graffiti legal — or at least unofficially sanctioned — in Melbourne? It wasn’t, she said, then added that the police weren’t always strict about enforcing the law.
While many street artists operate illicitly, some Melbourne property owners have embraced street art and commissioned works. With larger, more detailed murals, there’s a good chance they were done with permission. After browsing the enjoyable Center for Contemporary Photography, or CCP, I asked a volunteer named Sarah for her thoughts. “It’s definitely a subculture that’s big here in the inner suburbs,” she said, mentioning that names like Nost and Pork — two prominent graffiti artists — were known throughout the city. (It’s worth noting that not everyone believes “artist” is the proper terminology, however; some prefer terms like “pest” and cite the high cost of cleaning vandalized buildings.)
From the CCP I meandered slowly through the streets of Fitzroy and Collingwood, past a tribute to the hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest; a large painting of Harambe, the gorilla that was killed at the Cincinnati Zoo; and the Keith Haring mural on Johnston Street. I doubled back and found myself on the appropriately named Exhibition Street, a brief stretch of alleyway that seemed to have been taken over by taggers and spray-painters who had left behind huge hummingbirds, cartoon skeletons, Disney characters and homages to James Bond movies. I stopped into Backwoods Gallery and spoke to the curator, Sean Carroll, who works with local street artists who exhibit in his gallery, about how Melbourne had become such a hot spot. “I’m not sure, it just sort of happened,” he said with amusement.