Brisbane City Council, long the bane of street artists for its zero tolerance of graffiti and street art, has now embraced street art culture — so long as it’s “authorised”.
Last week the city’s Lord Mayor Graham Quirk posed under a vibrantly painted inner-city overpass and declared the work by Brisbane artist Matt Stewart a “wonderful offering”.
“This is authorised art, this is the sort of stuff we love brightening up our infrastructure the way Matt has done,” Quirk told the ABC.
The authorised art was commissioned by the Montreal-based entertainment behemoth, Cirque du Soleil, who had approached the city council about paying for a public art work “inspired” by its touring show Totem.
Even Matt Stewart, a studio artist from a marketing and advertising background, was surprised by the city’s turnaround.
“In Melbourne there’s authorised street art and non-authorised street art — it just happens, but here the Council has put a hard stance on it,” Stewart told Daily Review.
It took Stewart 80 hours, much of it on a cherry picker, to paint the four overpass pylons that feature “eye imagery” inspired by him seeing the show. Although Stewart has painted other corporate murals, this is the first he has done in an outdoor public area. The work is protected by an anti-grafitti coating and CCTV cameras.
Stewart wondered if his work, and the council’s new attitude might “open the floodgates” for other street artists.
If so, it’s a long time coming according to street art blogger and author Dean Sunshine who said Brisbane’s council policy of “buffing” (painting over) street art was notorious.
“People love to cash in on the whole street art thing now. On some levels there’s more appreciation, but on other levels you are still getting art removed. Street art is being used to stop tagging and lot of people don’t know the difference between graffiti and street art,” Sunshine told Daily Review.
“Without tagging there’s no graffiti and and without graffiti there’s no street art,” he said.
Brisbane’s most celebrated street artist, Anthony Lister has said that even one of his “authorised” art works was destroyed by Brisbane authorities.
“In other cities, people stand around, take photos and clap when I’m painting — here, people try to grab me and think I’m a criminal, I don’t have time for that,” Lister told the Brisbane Times in November. “I would like to feel free to paint here, but honestly I can’t even think of one place… I would feel comfortable painting without feeling like I could go to jail for the next 12, 24, 36 hours.”