Modern graffiti has come a long way since its inception on the streets of Philadelphia in the 1960s, where it was born out of boredom and a sense of disconnect from society.
Much like other forms of artistic rebellion like rap, breakdancing and even jazz, from its humble roots in disenfranchised communities and neighbourhoods, it’s grown into a globally celebrated – and commodified – art form, sold and traded at expensive private art galleries.
Melbourne’s famed Hosier Lane, where incredibly detailed multi-story murals and other painted pieces adorn the entire laneway, is a must-see for any tourist hoping to immerse themselves in Melbourne graffiti culture, and perfectly encapsulates the controversies surrounding the medium as an art form.
While some artists were being paid good money to spray paint a sanctioned mural on the wall of Hosier Lane, a young person would be arrested for doing the same thing on a wall just around the corner from there.
Now there are obvious differences. One has permission of the building owners and city council and the other does not, but this is exactly the point of the dozen or so people who filled fire extinguishers with paint and ‘graffiti bombed’ over the commissioned pieces in the laneway on Saturday.
Graffiti began as a way to reclaim space for the disenfranchised, for artistic and political expression, not the profit and enjoyment of the rich.
By painting over these murals, these vandals/artists have made one of the strongest artistic statements in the graffiti scene in a long time.
Dean Sunshine has worked with some of Australia’s top street artists is in full support of the new ‘piece’.
“The big names are all saying it’s the best thing they’ve all seen in Hosier (Lane) in years,” he told the ABC.
Obviously, some street artists are more than happy with the commodification of the art form, but the debate is ongoing within the community. Arguably the most famous ‘street artist’ in the world, Banksy – whose stenciled pieces are occasionally put behind perspex to protect them by the city in which they’re found – seems to be very amused by this commodification of his work.
In October 2018, a Banksy piece entitled “Girl with Balloon” destroyed itself with a shredder built into its frame the moment the auctioneer pronounced it sold for over £1,000,000.
Most people in the laneway in the aftermath of the bombing seemed to disagree it had artistic merit, but not too long ago Hosier Lane itself would probably not have had much artistic merit in the eyes of many either.
The murals will be replaced before long and business will return to usual, but if paint bombing Hosier Lane has forced us to question the place graffiti holds in our culture, perhaps the point has been made.