Longform // Seeing the city as palimpsest — part III

brunswick croydon miso-greeve-st

The peeling paste-up

ONE OF THE MOST POPULAR forms of street art in Melbourne is the paste-up: printed or drawn posters adhered to city walls with a wheat-based glue. The physical insubstantiality of paste-ups renders them particularly ephemeral — they do not have the ‘sticking power’ of paint — yet this also makes them particularly ‘active’ components of the city footprint. The effects of time and human interface are readily wrought upon their surface. Older paste-ups peel away from the walls on which they are stuck; new ones are pasted over them, perhaps in turn to be painted over by following artists, tagged by graffitists, or torn down by council cleaning teams. For artist Miso, the traces of the ‘life’ of the poster are part of its appeal as an art form:

There is a certain excitement in nature and the city reclaiming that piece and the way people interact with it. Whether it is rained on, pipes drip onto it, moss grows on it, it’s tagged over, drunks piss on it, or it’s documented and archived and put into books or whatever happens, I really like that it has a life of its own.[1]

These actions leave physical traces on the site of the artwork. The city’s fabric is in constant flux; it is an organic, evanescent, growing surface.

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. 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 stencil art) 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 aging.

[1] Interview with Miso in Street Studio by Alison Young, 167.

41 thoughts on “Longform // Seeing the city as palimpsest — part III

  1. I find your writing very touching. I really like the way you frame the urban space as a palimpsest; I’ve already started using this metaphor with others. This is the second time I’ve read the series. I hope you’ll write more pieces like this.


    • Thank you so much for your comment. I’m glad the series resonates with those who are actually active in contributing to Melbourne’s wonderful street art scene. Cheers!


  2. That is so cool. I would love to see some of this in my area! Thanks for sharing those images, it is always cool to see how art evolves into different forms. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed as well, that is so exciting!


    • I’m using my Typekit account through the custom upgrade option, with Adobe Caslon Pro as the text, and Freight Sans Pro as the headings. I’m glad you liked the font – I’ve just started taking a class on graphic design and typography, which is really opening up my appreciation of type! Cheers.


  3. hi… great post,but you need to tell the Freshly Pressed gang at WordPress that they have spelled “palimpsest” wrong on their “Freshly Pressed” page (you have, of course spelled it correctly on your blog). So the header to your post reads, “Seeing the City as Palimpset”… I think, given that you have taken so much effort writing and composing it, they should at least get it right! Cheers. JC


  4. Fascinating…thanks for sharing! I am currently in a History of the Book class, and we have been discussing buildings and even human skin as manuscripts, and your post fits right into that idea. I think I will share it with my class!
    Live long and prosper.


    • I am also taking a subject called The History of Books and Reading – we haven’t even considered the built environment as a kind of manuscript, but it’s a fascinating way of looking at it, as though we are all ‘reading’ our surroundings. Glad you enjoyed the post 🙂


  5. I’m so glad to have stumbled upon your beautifully written post. I learned about the paste-up trend in Melbourne, and was introduced to the term “palimpsest.”
    All the best. ~Lori


  6. Great article and an even greater idea for graffiti.

    Though some of the oldest art in the world could be described as graffiti, my feellings about contemporary graffiti are mixed. There is a side of me that feels graffiti should be ephemeral rather than attempt for permanence. The idea of any art being made to last forever I find slightly uncomfortable. Why forever? for investors? for future generations? for art? or for ego?

    What is forever? Paper, canvas, oil and stone, they will all disappear eventually.

    The prehistoric artists who painted in Lascaux had no idea of time in the contemporary sense. They could not imagine their paintings lasting thousands of years. Anyway, more of a subject for an article I intend to write.

    Meanwhile, I was in Granada some years ago. Perhaps the greatest Andalusian city, it has become a centre for graffiti, I write about it here:
    and show a few photos of it here:


    • Thanks for your thoughtful response, Bryan. I too have been thinking about the issue of permanence and impermanence in art. There have been some pushes here in Melbourne to ‘protect’ examples of fine street art as items of cultural ‘heritage’. But isn’t this entirely at odds with the idea of ephemeral art? There was, for example, a Banksy work in a Melbourne laneway that, despite its illegality, the council protected with a piece of perspex drilled into the wall. It didn’t take long for another anonymous artist to tip a bucket of paint down the back of the covering, destroying the piece. The loss of a valuable work that should have been kept for posterity, or an apposite bit of protest?


      • Warming to the theme, in 1994 I saw one of Damien Hirst´s exhibitions in London´s Serpentine Gallery, where he was exhibiting ‘Away from the Flock’, a dead sheep in a tank of formaldehyde. Coincidentally, a few hours later, the same afternnon, Mark Bridger, an artist from Oxford, poured black ink into the tank, and retitled the work ‘Black Sheep’. Wish i’d stayed long enough to witness that.

        Bridger was later prosecuted and given two years probation for what I had seen as an act of conceptual art in itself.

        But it got more interesting when Hirst published a photo of ‘Away from the Flock’ in a book with a pull-over piece of card minmicking black ink being poured into the tank. As a result Bridger sued Hirst for breach of copyright. I don’t know the result of the action, but the whole affair questions Hirst. and his artistic values. In my eye, he should never have allowed the prosecution to go ahead. Apart from anything else, it was a temendous piece of publicity,.

        I have to admit to never having been impressed by Hirst, as an artist, or a man.


  7. We could have also redrawn the facade with the new configuration, as he had done previously. Perhaps WE had difficulties making decisions, or, as a diplomatic move, was trying to elicit some participation from his client. By replacing only the door, he was limiting the options. Although architects often sketch many visual possibilities for their own study, it seems more likely that this facade was meant for presentation. Otherwise, We would not have needed to attach the door to keep it from being lost.


  8. It is fascinating how art in itself is so interchangeable…one form unintentionally yet coincidentally leads to the birth of another form of art.Each form in itself leaves a residue not just in the colors and materials but as a residue of the time and space that artwork was a part of-just like the flaking posters which once spoke of another time and when “re-art-ed” speak about a completely new time frame.
    well written 🙂


  9. This kind of art is pretty fascinating once you realize there’s more to street art than just Banksy. Plus, it seems more responsible to put art up with a tasty wheaty glue as opposed to staining concrete with chemical based paint. I can only hope I live in a big enough city to see gorgeous art like this in the daily.


  10. Reblogged this on ARCHITAMENT and commented:
    The artists working for the Timurids were responsible for the development of a true national style of Persian painting. were great patrons of the arts of the book. One of the earliest Timurid paintings in the Burnett collection represents a pair of lovers in a garden, probably Humay and Humayun. It is unusually large, measuring I9 Y by 12 9/6 inches, and comes from the same manuscript of Rashid ad-Din’s Jami at-Tawarikh, or “Universal History,” as the Jonah and the Whale in the Metropolitan Mu-seum.



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