Why cap everyone?


I’ve written recently about the tiny war happening down the drain between the various paint artists. There are literally miles and miles of concrete on which to paint and yet everyone tends to congregate in the same places, particularly under bridges. The result is the phenomenon known in this subterranean world as “capping”: painting over someone else’s spray or roll-up.

The gigantic POAS and CUBE roll-ups are now almost completely invisible, though some scholar of the art has acknowledged this loss.


I came across a group at work on the weekend. They were, of course, not keen on having their photos taken. (I took this afterwards, after we’d talked.)


I also took a few close-ups, and we had a wee chat about things in general.




When I came past this evening I noticed the finished work, and the plea by SEKEM.


I can’t help but agree: why cap? It always seems to be the worst painters who do the capping. Is it simply the territorial nature of an art from borne of tagging and transgression? Or juvenile high jinks? It’s beyond me.

Beef with mustard


Graffiti is a given in every urban environment. From Dunedin to Reykjavik you’ll see walls daubed with tags and roll-ups. Some of them are witty and clever, some are thoughtlessly annoying, some have come to be considered as artworks.


All street artists start somewhere, but most often it’s in the drains, on the under sides of bridges, inside warehouses, on derelict buildings. As with any form of creativity the early pieces are pretty rubbish. I’ve watched some guys’ paintings improve dramatically, from basic tags to accomplished large-scale pieces.


But the world of street art is relentlessly competitive, and no matter how great your piece or your reputation you will, one day, get trashed.


The gigantic roll-ups made by CUBE and POAS are invisible now beneath layers and layers of ugly tags.


There’s been a beef on down the drain over recent weeks. The Christmas paint job that SEPS put up was sprayed out, then covered with something nowhere near as well executed.


Someone who calls themselves DC has appeared on the scene. He or she has an ego that’s in inverse proportion to his/her ability. It’s all big stuff, shoddily done. [Note: see comments below from DC. Basically telling me to shut the fuck up. To all street artists: I don’t claim to know anything about you guys or what you do. I only write about what I see. As with anyone who isn’t on the scene I get it wrong. Just let me know; I’m fine with being corrected.]


DC’s arrival coincided with lots of “Yah boo! You’re rubbish and we’re brilliant!” notices on the bankings.


It’s all rather depressing, but I suppose that it’s the nature of the beast. I remember back in 2012 acknowledging the 50th anniversary of graffiti put under the Chatham Road bridge in October 1962 by PP and Bert the Flirt. And yet, when I went past there with Jambo, I was shocked to see that some scroat (as they used to say in The Bill) had defaced PP’s 50-year-old graffito! I mean, show some respect!

Why on earth was I so bothered by that? I’m such a stodgy traditionalist. I need to take a leaf out of the kids’ book.


Farewell, old friend


I posted on Monday about the noises coming out of the gasworks. After a while of scraping here and scratching there the contractors had finally got onto the serious work of Knocking Stuff Down. I went down the drain and had a peek in from the banking. The green metal thing where the ducks used to nest was gone and the tower was obviously next in line, and yet I still expected it to be there for a few days at least. I mean, you’d need a wrecking ball with Miley Cyrus on to take that thing out. Wouldn’t you?


By early afternoon the tone of the sounds had changed from thumping bangs to a weirdly inhuman series of screeches. I headed down again and bumped into a couple of lads. “It’s down,” they said, barely believing it themselves. I scrambled up the banking and looked through the chain link.


It was like seeing the body of an elephant shot by poachers or an American dentist. Surely that tiny digger could not have caused that behemoth to fall? But it had. As we watched, the digger moved around the base of the collapsed tower. The digger made pneumatic huffing and puffing sounds as though it were a living beast gathering its breath for the next part of its work. It had a kind of grabbing or cutting claw which it sunk into the wall of the tower and our ears were assaulted with the hideous animal screech I’d been hearing.


What a shock! The tower was actually made of steel. All these years I’d assumed it was made of concrete. We moved around the bend in the creek and stood on the banking, the afternoon sun glaring in our eyes, and watched as the digger huffed and puffed round and around, tearing at the body of the downed tower. Its steel skin rippled in the sunlight as the digger’s claw dug into it.

Like the demolition of the Islington Junction Box, I felt a sadness for the loss of something that was ugly and utilitarian but a part of our industrial heritage and a landmark that we’ll soon struggle to remember ever existed. Goodbye, old mate.

A constant in a crowded market


I’m no expert, but it seems that most graffiti tag names tend to be single syllable: POAS, CUBE, OBEY, GUNZ, HACK and so on. I thought that this one was BLUE until I met him and discovered it was BLUF. Go figure.


It’s a crowded market though and, inevitably, even the most creative taggers run out of single-syllable names. I’ve seen a lot  more of the likes of this:


and this:


One constant amongst all this flux and turmoil is our old mucker H-Foot.


There are a lot of small things that, collectively, make H-Foot different to other taggers. Choice of medium (pen rather than can) is the most obvious. At one level this could imply a lack of the kind of commitment shown by the old school roll-up artists who had to steal wheelie bins and haul them – loaded with 20 litre paint tins, trays, rollers and poles – around the drains, building sites and railway lines of the city. Even the aerosol kids are making a significant commitment in terms of the amount of time they have to spend on site, and there’s always the issue of being caught with a green bag full of rattling cans.

H-Foot not only prefers the quick in-and-out of the fat pen, s/he has even used stickers for über-fast stick-ups.


It’s not just the medium that’s different; there’s a difference in H-Foot’s intent too. Sure, the “I was here” impulse is similar (why else the stickers?) but there’s also a sly humour that sets H-Foot’s work apart.


Show some respect, kids!

H-Foot’s confidence as a social commentator appears to be growing. The emergence of this kind of public satire is the critical departure point for the artist from the “Notice me!” culture of much street art.


In the white noise that characterises much of the painted adornment of our built environment (Did I really just write that?), H-Foot stands out as a constant for humour and inventiveness.


Keep hoppin’, H-Foot!

Born dead


My Sunday morning walk took me under the Chinchen Street bridge and past Islington Public School, a regular leg-stretch that satisfies Jambo’s need to charge around and annoy the birdlife. He stopped halfway through the bridge; as I have to stoop to get under without banging my head I almost didn’t see what it was he’d paused to inspect. Then I saw it: a pigeon’s egg.

Is there anything more perfect in its form and execution than an egg?

Sometimes my backyard chooks get caught short and pop one out under the lamandera, or even on the bare dirt. I can only assume that that’s what happened here to one of the flock that broods on the stanchions under the bridge. Jambo tried to carry it home in his mouth but he’s no retriever. I need not tell you how this story ended.

That afternoon I had a lovely walk with POAS. We’d been communicating back and forth for some time but it took until Sunday for the planets to align and for us to actually get together. I always enjoy creek walking with new people; it opens my eyes afresh to the place. No matter how observant you intend being your senses inevitably deaden to the little things, and a new person’s shock and revulsion at the stench of pollution leaking from the gasworks is a good kick up the bum.

We did a Grand Tour of some of POAS’s works in the area, many of them dating back a decade or more. It was fascinating to have all my questions answered and POAS was very generous with his explanations, satisfying all the typical dumb queries that your average middle-aged gentleman of a certain demographic is likely to ask, such as “Why?”

We had a look at some of the Next Gen’s work too, in the old admin building.

Street art and graffiti has become a recognised (almost sanctioned) rite of passage for young men and it’s remarkable to think that POAS started in a pre-Banksian world in which it was a reviled criminal activity.  We talked about “olden days” graffiti, which to me (and, as it turns out, POAS’s mum) was always either sporting or political in nature. Probably the first graffito that I remember is this one:

It followed Barrow AFC’s Friday night victory over Fulham in the (old) Division 3 and for one night Barrow was top of the division. This was 1967 (I think, or thereabouts); within five years we were kicked out of the league. Should you ever find yourself in Barrow I believe that the words are still just and so visible on the Holker Street end.

The other kind of graffiti, the political kind, stretched from the local (anti-Trident submarine stuff in Barrow, or pro-miners’ strike, or anti-Thatcher) to the huge Ulster murals. Though I’m not sure if they count as graffiti at all. Do they? The first one I remember seeing in Australia, when I first arrived, was up near Balmain Leagues Club. It read something like “John Pat dead five cops go free” or similar. I didn’t understand it for quite a while, and even now 16-year-old John Pat’s death is but one forgotten footnote in the long history of deaths in custody.

Walking back up towards New Lambton we came across this little doodle, a spray-painting dinosaur. Cute, and made us both smile.

Then back home. POAS and I traded – a book for a print – and now I’ve added this beautiful artwork, titled “Born dead”, to the rogue’s gallery in my office, along with the other traded and gifted Styx Creek-related ephemera that’s filled my life since the book hit the bookshops.



I was listening to Henning Mankell, the Swedish author of the Wallander novels, on BBC World Service the other day. (What a lovely internetty world we live in!) Mankell’s novels have been translated into about 30 different languages, and he was fulsome in his praise of the translators. But when translators “translate” a novel, are they changing one word in one language for another word in another, or are they creating a new work entirely?

And, similarly, (at least, in my head), when does a restored painting become a new painting?

There are occasions when this has been hotly contested in Australia: the late Eric Michaels gave the pot a good stir when he wrote about the “notorious” repainted caves on Mt Barnett Station, WA. A group of young Aboriginal men from Derby were accused of “effectively desecrating a traditional rock art site, despite the fact that they were officially commissioned to undertake the project and had ‘cultural’ backing from at least some of the site’s traditional owners”. (Read more here if you can’t get hold of a copy of his book Bad Aboriginal Art; email me if you’d like to borrow mine; wandjina pic below from this site.)

And, in Britain, councils can’t make up their minds whether or not to protect Banksy’s stencils, works that were once considered vandalism but are now considered to be part of the national estate. (They worry less in Melbourne, where a Banksy stencil was “cleaned up” by council workers.)

That’s a long introduction to a walk down Styx Creek. But stay with me: there is a link. Because all of this (yes, all of it) was boinging around in my head after seeing that POAS had been hard at work by the railway bridge, freshening up his big roller.

It’s been there for a few years and was starting to look pretty ratty, and the next generation of kids with cans were using it as a blackboard for their own stuff. I wondered: Is that the old roller, freshened up? Or is it a new roller entirely that just happens to be exactly over the old roller? I had other questions too: What, if any, are the protocols for applying paint to flat surfaces in public? Is there a pecking order? Do “vandals” get angry when their “vandalism” is vandalised?

If, indeed, it is actually vandalism.

Because, to my mind, if you really want to see vandalism in Styx Creek then you don’t need to look at the concrete bankings: look at the floor. The creekbed is an absolute disgrace at the moment.

Drink bottles are, as ever in abundance. When will New South Wales adopt container deposit legislation?

And fire extinguisher deposit legislation.

And … erm … glove, tennis ball and syringe legislation.

And don’t get me started on bicycle wheels.

Much to my relief, I think that there is a person who can provide the answers to all these issues – the translations and art restorations and CDL advocations. What’s more, that person may well live in our very own Hamilton North, indeed I believe that he or she lives in Phillips Street, just down from the Bowlo. Because somewhere, in one of these houses, lives a …