Just As

Just as

I seemed able to walk, as on Wattletree Road I walked,

Glimpsed myself — I, it could only be me —

Reflected in the glass of a window

Of what was once an ordinary house

Now a surgery, for animals


I could not walk

Could not be walking.

Street Sample // Greville Street, Prahran

Chinese dragon street art greville prahran melbourneChinese dragon street art greville prahran melbourneChinese dragon street art greville prahran melbourneChinese dragon street art greville prahran melbourneChinese dragon street art greville prahran melbourneChinese dragon street art greville prahran melbourneChinese dragon street art greville prahran melbourneChinese dragon street art greville prahran melbourneChinese dragon street art greville prahran melbourneChinese dragon street art greville prahran melbourneChinese dragon street art greville prahran melbourne


From the Archives // And That Was New York

As a lover of cities—of the pavement and the steel, of the bustling shops, the rushing people—I have been wanting for sometime now to put down in words my experience of that ultimate metropolis, Manhattan.

The simplicity of that phrase—New York, New York—belies the sheer enormity of what it signifies. New York can never be just a dot on a map, a confluence of islands and waterways at the point where New Jersey, Connecticut and New York State converge. It is more than the streets that, unlike the spidery web of a medieval city like London or Paris, assert themselves on the landscape in a stark, mappable grid.

I have hesitated because I feel that my knowledge of the city, after just five visits of no more than a week each, can only be very scant. I have never left the comfort zone of Manhattan to explore any of the unique boroughs, never in fact taken myself further uptown than 104th St and the Museum of the City of New York, or to any part of the West Side above the High Line elevated park. With that disclaimer, I can only present my vision of the city as it has presented itself to me, as a place that, impudently for someone who grew up more than ten thousands miles away, I would call a kind of home.

This sense of familiarity may be experienced perhaps by anyone who has ever watched a Woody Allen film, seen the images of John Lennon’s New York years, or listened to Simon and Garfunkel’s Bleecker Street. My sense of the city was shaped by these, and by the artists and poets who comforted me through the aches and buoyed me through the highs of young adulthood. There are Catcher in the Rye and Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Summer Crossing, with its depiction of the crushing heat of New York summer. There is the broken longing of Leonard Cohen’s Chelsea Hotel #2, and the self-assured thumb biting of Bob Dylan’s ‘Positively 4th Street’. There is the image of a young Dylan arm in arm with Suze Rotolo in Greenwich Village, warning off the cold with that iconic tan jacket and the comfort of spontaneous affection. Most of all perhaps, there is Bruce Springsteen, who revealed to me the aching, tainted beauty of an abandoned railroad track, a rusted fire escape, of rumpled sheets damp with sweat. These have been the conduits for my senses of belonging, fulfilment and voracious hunger, tying them inextricably to the idea of New York.

You cannot find New York in the hollow glare of neon lights in Times Square, nor will rising above the grid to one of the tourist-thronged observation decks reveal to you the tangible core of the city. Rather, the metropolis will gradually divulge itself through small and scattered experiences, fleeting moments and encounters. It is in the catcall of a construction worker on Park Avenue, in the warm glitter of a lighting shop window in winter, it is in the eyes of children skipping through the fountain in Washington Square.

It is a city of contradictions, made possible by the endless variety of inhabitants and the rapid and complete change in tone from area to area, street to street. It is at once harsh and warm-hearted, a place where a haughty-seeming Madison Avenue woman in fur will kindly offer directions to the bewildered tourist unasked, but a moment’s fumbling of change will earn you the terse rebuff of the convenience store clerk. Bustling and overwhelmingly frantic at any hour of the day, the city is also punctuated by serene oases and public spaces, like Bryant Park, the High Line, the main reading room of the New York Public Library, the rooftop at the Met and the courtyard at MoMA.

I have been fortunate enough to see New York under many of its guises – I have seen the city under a blanket of snow and felt the biting chill of the wind rushing down the avenues, I have seen it fine and clear and warm, cloudy, rainy, experienced the sweltering heat and humidity of July, felt the suffocating build-up of a thunderstorm and watched the clouds break, hailing a cool change. I have seen the Rockefeller Center’s Christmas tree and seen it bedecked with red, white and blue flags for the 4th of July. I have seen the doormen of the Upper East Side clad in heavy winter coats, and the children of the Village in flip-flops and swimsuits.

I have had my fill of the city’s tourist sights, museums and stores, and relished in these encounters. But my most powerful experiences of the city have been those few fleeting moments when I have stepped into the real life of the metropolis – I have plunged into the subway system in summer, where the hot air hits you with literally breathtaking force, and jostled with commuters at rush hour for a hold on the sweaty rail. I have drunk vodka on the rooftop of a block of apartments on the East Side below Midtown, with an uninterrupted view of the Chrysler Building and the Empire State, steadily glowing green on a warm, clear evening. I have sat in a bar in the Lower East Side on a Sunday night and joined in conversation with the local residents who dropped in for a solitary beer and the company of the bartender, aware of their cliché.

To return each night to a nondescript hotel room after these moments of urban participation, passing glimpses of an alternate life through the open blinds of lit apartments or the rolled-down windows of yellow taxis, fills you with an unutterable sense of longing. It is a love affair for which the end is already mapped out. It is as if you had borrowed, for a brief time, a friend’s diamond necklace or expensive car, and felt the thrill of admiration and the inner-glow that it affords you, and that now must be returned. You can only hope that one day, you will be able to cast off the pall of pretence, and call those pavements, those bits of brick and tufts of grass, and that skyline, just a little bit, your own.

The Wallflower of Collins Street

Rone street art 80 collins street melbourne

She is large, looming over a row of shop backs. Yet she is not threatening or grotesque. Nor is she tawdry or gaudy. Washed onto the cream wall in shades of warm grey, her lips have no shine, her eyes no azure intensity. She is not what we expect from Rone. She has walked from the pages of a magazine, but shed its glossy, saturated colours. An underpainting; a study in stripping back. She is not heavy, laboured or layered; her form barely impinges on the surface of the building.

She does not announce herself immediately, brazenly calling out from the wall as her predecessors do. Leaves curl outwards from plaza trees to veil her eyes and the curious back rooms of old city buildings protrude before her. Upon one of these, a doorway on the first floor opens onto air. From behind it, she seems to wink.

Rone street art 80 collins street melbourne

She has melted into her wall, charming those who look up into her eye. She seems to exude the subtlety, worldliness and charm of the stretch of sophisticated city street she adorns – this is Collins Street’s ‘Paris End.’ She is autumnal and mellow, perhaps mournful, as she seems to gaze through the glassy office buildings into a distance beyond.

Rone street art 80 collins street melbourne Rone street art 80 collins street melbourne

Longform // Paste-ups: from street to gallery

For anyone interested in the shifting, ephemeral face of city surfaces — as I am — the paste-up has particular resonance. Paste-ups are the epitome of ephemerality. Between pastings and as existing posters perish, paste-up sites come to resemble modern collages or a paper form of the archaeologist’s stratum; the suggestions of text and image become visible in part as the layers are torn away. To me, the stratum represents a temporally condensed equivalent of the overlays of paint and wallpaper in a period home which, if peeled back, reveal the evolving decorative tastes and economic standing of subsequent generations of the building’s occupants. Like layered advertising posters, the sanctioned cousin of the illegal paste-up, their content discloses the concerns of the urban inhabitants, concerns often as ephemeral as the posters themselves: commodities, events, political agendas, values, aesthetics.

Also like advertising, the images are infinitely reproducible: constructed in a studio and able to be rapidly wheat-pasted to any wall, paste-ups (like spray-painted stencils) enable the artist to bombard the city with a repeatable message or to transport a particular look to different urban centres. Yet the impact of different sites, different natural patterns, and of different public interactions and responses will imbue each image with a unique lifespan and patina of ageing.

The human process of layering the new upon the old and the natural processes of deterioration are a conscious interest for many street artists, who embrace the impermanency of their art form. In an exhibition in June 2011, titled L’inconnue de la rue (the unknown girl of the street), Rone created a series of works using torn billposters as canvases. The images on the posters themselves were created through a screen-printing process of layered paint colours. Multiple of these posters were pasted together, one to the other, as they would naturally be covered over in layers in the street. The artist then drew his fingers through the damp layers of thin paper, tearing and ripping into the surface, creating an instant, manufactured version of the weathering and disintegration that the posters would undergo while pasted on a public, outdoor wall. Continue reading

Word // Flânerie

Oxford English Dictionary:

Flânerie Aimless idle behaviour

Flâneur A man who saunters around observing society.

Larousse Dictionnaire de Français:

1. Action ou habitude de flâner, de se promener sans but  (The action or habit of strolling, of aimlessly wandering) 

e.g. Ses interminables flâneries dans les rues de Paris (His endless wanderings in the streets of Paris)

2. Action de perdre son temps, de paresser (The action of wasting one’s time, of lazing around)

e.g. Cette chaleur invite à la flânerie (This heat invites dawdling)

Longform // Mnemonic: Street Art and the Invocation of Remembrance

Miso street art Melbourne paste up

Street art’s power to invoke urban remembrance operates on dual levels: at the collective, artworks prompt the revelation of the city as accumulated,memory-laden residue; at the individual, many pieces have the potential to trigger recollection of personal city experiences and of personal pasts more broadly.

First, to examine street art’s role in collective memory. As popular awareness of the presence of street art increases, neglected city space comes under revision in the eyes of city dwellers. Graffiti and street art are almost always associated with neglected or forgotten space — abandoned structures, inaccessible or off-limits zones, secluded places, or interstitial spaces like train lines, fences, and walls.

In Melbourne, this enlivening of urban space has been most evident in the central city’s laneways, where much of Melbourne’s most sophisticated and most viewed street art is created. Originally rarely even noted on maps, these narrow alleys and lanes were built to service the greater streets of Melbourne’s 1830s grid; their concealed presence and public neglect (until tourists discovered them) has made them ideal places for artists to put up unsanctioned stickers, posters, stencils and pieces in privacy.1 Now, where once dwelled only rats and garbage cans, Melburnians sit at hole-in-the-wall bars, cafés and restaurants. It is no coincidence that changes to the licensing laws in the nineties were concurrent with the rise of stencil art in Melbourne.2 Along with unsanctioned street art, official public art programs — such as the Laneway Commissions — facilitate the development of the laneways.3 Under these influences, the once lost spaces of forgetfulness are reinvigorated and reaffirmed as lived spaces in which colourful graffiti art has become, for a segment of the population at least, a prized aesthetic; the laneways are now populated well into the night.

Alongside the rediscovery of forgotten urban spaces, it is also in the nature of all street art to reveal anew the very textures of the those spaces: walls, the basic but often unseen building block of the urban environment, become newly visible when painted or pasted upon, revealing the peculiarities etched into their façades by time. Urban dwellers cognisant of the city’s embellishment begin to walk the city in a different manner: their gaze becomes conditioned to seek textural detail, increasingly receptive to these physical landscapes of the past and of the past’s reworking. Continue reading