I’ve been a little obsessed with Melbourne’s street art scene for quite a while; actually, since the day I discovered Melbourne Mark’s (that’s how I think of him!) State Of Flux; a great site dedicated to the art in and around Melbourne (in case you hadn’t guessed that already!). From then on I’ve been glued to that site and always enjoyed seeing all the new art as it was documented. I’m waffling…when I saw a while back that Stencil Graffiti Capital: Melbourne, by Jake Smallman & Carl Nyman, and published by Mark Batty, was coming out in the UK I was pretty excited and it’s been well worth the wait.
Just like the other Mark Batty books I own, Stencil Graffiti Capital: Melbourne is quality from the start. It’s nicely bound and instantly demands your attention from the second you lift over the front cover. Before you even get to the actual stencil documentation you’re pounced on by a couple of incredible night-time photographs of city streets and their painters. These are not in-your-face trophy photos of writers and painter posing next to their pieces but beautifully artistic long-exposure shots where the city is the star and the writer is part of the environment. It’s a great way to make you realise that this book isn’t just about the art but more to do with how the art and Melbourne interact with one another. The introduction follows and tells us more about Melbourne’s unique stencil history.
Stencil Graffiti Capital: Melbourne is packed with themed chapters and artist profiles as well as being interspersed with the same high standard photography. That’s not to say that the other photography in the book isn’t worth mentioning though; it is. While many of the photos are documentary style (just showing the actual piece of art) there are a whole lot more that are just oozing class. Actually, it has some of the best street art photos I’ve seen. I digress.
So, back to the themes…roughly half of the chapters are theme based. The themes include faces, politics, war, robots, music, horror (a great couple of pages), guns and lots more. One of the most impressive themed chapters concerns itself with public galleries; lanes where, although illegal, artists are constantly putting up new pieces. By the look of the photos these streets are not just painted with the odd stencil here and there but quite densely populated with work, making them truly like gallery spaces. Many of the pieces are single layered hits but there are also some multi-layered beauties. A great collection.
Of the many artists that have their own chapters I have to mention Meggs. His art makes perhaps the best chapter in the book with his cute, skyward looking, kids with devil’s horns. Fantastic imagery. He also has some cracking pieces that depict people throwing up some kind of crazy paisley pattern…nuts. Vexta also gets a mention here for not only having a great collection of pieces on show but also for having the second best photo in the book; an action shot of her hanging half way down a wall, in mountain climbing kit, painting the amazing police piece. Sixten’s chapter is also great, especially his work in progress, and his finalised Call It Popart One More Time And I’ll… piece. Sync also needs a mention as his screaming pieces had a real impact on me when I saw a couple of his pieces in NYC last year. Banksy also gets an honorary mention for hitting the place during a detour visit in 2003. Apparently he made such an impact with the pure quantity of pieces that he deserved the chapter that’s dedicated to him. Last mention has to go to Rone, who gets the title for greatest photo in the book! It’s a four-layer stencil of a guy high up in the air, maybe four of five metres high. It’s perfectly placed and traverses different types of textures across the wall. Just like all the great street art photos that have been taken, this one becomes complete with some personal interaction. This time it’s with the addition of someone throwing a skate deck in the air and making it look like the character in the stencil has been caught mid-trick. Fantastico! It’s a shame not to mention all the other great artists included in the book but I’ve probably already said too much…this is the kind of thing you should discover yourself.
I can’t really claim to know much about Melbourne but Stencil Graffiti Capital: Melbourne gives me the impression of it having a rich, and dense, tapestry of street art…perhaps more so than anywhere else I can think of (I’m willing to be put right on this one but that’s the impression I get from the book). I remember writing that Melbourne looks like a colourful place to live. Seeing this book has made my image of Melbourne much more intensely saturated with colour and dynamic imagery, I just hope I can get over there to visit some day. Like all great books, Stencil Graffiti Capital: Melbourne has made me want to know more about both Melbourne and its rich streetart scene. I’ll definitely be going back over all the photos at State Of Flux now that I have some solid reference material…I need to see more from these artists. Stencil Graffiti Capital: Melbourne weighs in at a healthy 160 pages in a casebound cover. Get a copy direct from Mark Batty, via Stencil Graffiti Capital: Melbourne’s homepage or from the usual places, including Amazon UK and Amazon US.