News & Commentary, Stage, Visual Arts

Brisbane welcomes street art — just keep it “authorised”

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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.”

4 responses to “Brisbane welcomes street art — just keep it “authorised”

  1. Thanks for this Raymond. As someone who has been at the forefront of this debate and engaged at being positive and listening and writing around the subject of art in the streets since 2002, I am still bemused by how carefully Brisbane is progressing but it is progressing. I applaud art in the public domain but art is not about control by town planners, politicians, curators or investors. We know where that leads. Such is the nature of this city, its culture and its art. We recently lost a wall at our open air public access self managed art space in the November 2014 hail storm and the layers of paint were an archaeological wonder – 13 years of everyone’s attempts from Lister, Sofles, Gimiks, Magee, Guido, Shida, Treas, Drapl to the kids from Albert Park Flexi School. When price and control are the agenda you will get what you pay for and sometimes it is wonderful. When you take a big breath, let it rip and allow yourself to be led by the artists you will find yourself in a labyrinth of never ending wonder. Peter Breen. Co-Founder/Director Jugglers Art Space Inc.

  2. The worst part is that even if you do have permission the constant hold ups with explaining that you have the permission to everyone who passes. I have even had a person place me under citizens arrest till the police turned up and sorted it out.

  3. I think authorised street art is an oxymoron. If art is authorised then it is simply what the authorities regard as acceptable for the people to see. It might look good and has its place but it is authorised art.

    When I look at real street art I want to see what the authorities don’t want us to see

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