Melbourne's 86 tram route as a giant open air gallery of street art


Melbourne, Australia is internationally known for its street art and its trams. Melbourne Street Art 86 imagines Melbourne's 86 tram route as though it were a giant open air gallery of street art with its own regular tram service. The pages in the dark blue side bar below have photos of street art by the suburbs the tram passes through. Locations are noted by tram stop, street location and also on maps of the area that can be downloaded or printed. Other Melbourne suburbs rich in street art are also featured.

Take me to the site guide and quick gallery of street art CLICK HERE.
Tell me more about the 86 tram & sights along the way CLICK HERE.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Welcome and What's it all About

Its funny how ideas and inclinations develop sometimes.

And its an odd thing how something can be all around you but you just don't see it. Human beings tend to follow scripts - familiar patterns of perception - and there are times when following these scripts makes us blind to the most obvious things.

To give you an example, I once trained as a fire warden and the trainer asked us what we thought people typically did in a fire.

"Run away", we all said.

"No, what they usually do is go towards it," he told us. And he then showed us a video of numerous examples of people doing just that, including a woman taking a pram with a young child into a convenience store that was going up in flames. Most of us have no script for what to do in a fire, and many of us can miss the obvious in many other circumstances for much the same reasons.

At least that is my excuse...

I had no idea until recently, that Melbourne is one of the major street art capitals in the world, and the work of its streets artists is a major tourist attraction. I also knew very little about street art. I had seen photos of it and heard about it in the news, mostly in relation to Banksy whose art very much appealed to my political sensibilities, but I wasn't really aware of how significant and widespread an art form it has become. 

It had never occurred to me there was much street art in my home city or to go exploring to see what was there. It certainly never occurred to me that the 86 tram that I take to and from work each day passes through areas with some of the richest concentrations of these vivid and evocative images in the city.

The reason I made this belated discovery is that I bought a small but effective digital camera in November 2012 and have spent many evenings and weekend days since roaming my local area and parts of city taking photographs. With a digital camera you can just snap away happily at anything that sits pleasingly in the frame. 

The first day I went out with the camera back in late November 2012, I wandered around my home suburb of Northcote and happened to snap the following photo.

Street Artist working on piece at the South end of Eastment Street in Northcote in November 2012

It is quite possible this formed a kind of seed somewhere in my unconscious mind, but at the time I thought not much of it. As I took more and more photographs, I started to look through them periodically, partly searching for themes among them that might make interesting blog posts for my new website. After a while I started to notice how many street art pieces I had either photographed directly or caught accidentally in frame.

I also started to notice how similar a lot of this art was to the illustrations I had tried to create when I was a computer graphic artist in the early 1990s, and indeed computer graphic systems of the time were most effective at creating. And regardless of what it reminded me about my earlier career as an artist, there was something about the sensibilities of the work that captured my imagination - why else would I spend so much time hunting it with my camera in hand. I also became more curious about the form, and read a little more into it online.

Often dreamlike, vivid, striking and highly imaginative, it is an art form uniquely of our era, postmodern at times but often very cutting politically and expressive of the conscious and unconscious landscape of our times, in particular for those not part of the mainstream of our society. It breaks the convention of art belonging only in a frame and being coveted in the homes of those affluent enough to afford the work available in galleries and shows. Street art is never exclusive, it is always available in its original form to anyone who takes the time to find its location.

It also has the power to transform dull or blank surfaces and entire buildings into something unique. In areas of where it is has become common it has often been embraced by the local community as bringing colour and life to the urban environment. For some street art has become a part of local culture to view with pride...

Though in others it has instilled anger and calls for increasingly harsh retribution and many local councils are forced to spend millions of dollar removing it and its sometimes inseparable cousin, graffiti, from the environment.

Street art is highly controversial as it is created in public or semi public spaces, often upon the walls and surfaces of private property. Some street art is created with the permission of owners, but not all. Anything that claims and re-invents a space owned or considered private property is likely to clash with our society and its laws and mores elevating property rights and the fruits of material gain far above more human considerations. Street artists caught practicing their art without permission can be looking at a two year jail sentence, a pretty stiff punishment considering the sorts of crimes that attract far less penalties.

Example of tagging (on a wall next to a church in central Northcote)

There is also the issue of whether street art is vandalism, eyesores that citizens are forced to endure as they go about their daily lives. Some feel this way about even the most intricate and beautiful examples of the form. And where does the perhaps less than pleasant effect of multiple messy, badly executed tags making a wall look like a spider's nest of dirty scribbles, cross over into something that is art. Is there a black and white difference between the tagger who starts with brief scrawls and with time begins to produce more thoughtful and generous work that the community might admire and enjoy? 

With these thoughts developing. I started to work on a blog post about street art and as I progressed, I felt I needed photographs of more examples and indeed needed see them myself to understand more about what I was writing about. So I started to explore along the 86 tram route, and found more and more examples to study and photograph in side streets off the tram route and hidden in alley ways beyond. Before long I had nearly 400 photographs; far too much material for a single blog post. 

Hence I created some pages on my personal website to show case what I had found. I soon realised however that my personal website about my own artistic processes was not the most appropriate  place to include a high volume of the work of other artists. I soon decided a separate website, giving sole focus to these artist's work was necessary.

There are already many other websites that showcase and explore street art; I felt that to legitimately add to what was already on the web I needed to have some kind of theme or focus. I had already been working on a creative project relating to Melbourne public transport - in this case Melbourne train stations - so it was perhaps a natural progression to build my site around the street art to be found on a particular tram route that is rich in examples of the form.

Thus, perhaps, I went from a single photograph taken of a street artist last November, though a gradual awakening and discover process, and a slow but steady peculation of ideas and impressions building in my unconscious mind, to creating an entire website a few weeks later.

It may well evolve with time. I have a mind to add my own comments and reaction to some of the art and add essays and links to interviews and articles. With many other projects to work on this year, including a book for an American publisher, the fruits of such notions may be some time coming. For the time being I will mainly be working on photographing and presenting the street art in Melbourne and Clifton Hill I have not yet had time to explore and also complete street art maps for each surburb (only the Fitzroy leg of the 86 route is completed so far).

As I update the site with this or other things, I will add posts in this blog space.

For now, whatever this site may become, it is basically a kind of online guide book or selective journey along the 86 tram route, hopefully giving inspiration to others to hop on an 86 one morning and spend an enriching and enjoyable day hopping off the tram from time to time to seek out some of the wonders I have showcased here, and perhaps explore further afield and make some discoveries of their own.

best wishes

Kevin Anslow
86 Tram Stop 32, Melbourne

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