Wander around Melbourne, the capital of Victoria and the second-biggest city in Australia, and you are bound to eventually run into some street art.
Melbourne has a long and storied history of street art, inspired by the graffiti artists of New York City and tracing back at least three decades. The city has become world-renowned and applauded by many around the globe for its vast expanse of paintings, stencils and wall drawings, with street art picking up at the turn of the 21st century and actually becoming a profitable endeavor for some artists.
Of course, street art has long been a controversial topic, as well, with some admiring the artistic displays canvassing city walls and others denouncing paintings and stencils as nothing more than destruction of property.
In June, TravelPulse got an inside look at some of Melbourne’s most famous street art neighborhoods, including Fitzroy, before the Australian Tourism Exchange, courtesy of Tourism Australia and Tourism Victoria. RONE, one of the area’s renowned street artists, showed a group of media members around the neighborhood, highlighting major works of art, talking about Melbourne’s blooming street art scene and even welcoming us into his studio, Everfresh, in Collingwood.
RONE touching up one of his works of art.
What distinguishes street art from illegal graffiti in Melbourne is still bit of a gray area, RONE said. According to the City of Melbourne, illegal graffiti “is the marking of another person’s property without permission,” while street art is work done with the permission of the owner of the wall and the local council.
This painting was intended to continue on the left wall, but the wall owner forced the street artist to stop.
Of course, there’s an unwritten rule among the local community of street artists, RONE said: If something is good enough to stay up, you leave it be; if something isn’t worth keeping up, you paint over it.
During the tour, RONE noted that he felt street art has become “more accepted” in Melbourne in recent years, adding that street artists are “no longer trying to quickly do something in the night.”
As someone who has been painting for the last 15 years, he should know. RONE, 35, said that street art began as a social activity and an “ego sport” for him and many others, along with skateboarding. When he realized he wasn’t any good at skateboarding, he ditched skateboarding and stuck with street art. Since then, he’s been able to live off street art alone. He now works at Everfresh studios, part of a team of nearly 10 street artists.
Street artist Mayonaize works at Everfresh studios. Look closely: Those are letters that spell words.
As the street art scene in Melbourne has grown, a passionate community has also emerged, RONE said. The community is almost like a little city in itself, complete with collaborative groups and businesses like Everfresh, as well as rivalries (some street artists even paint over each other’s pieces or mock their competitors with caricatures). RONE joked that it’s sort of like a school—“Not everyone likes each other, but they all know each other.”
If these walls could talk: The alleyway where the Melbourne street art revolution allegedly began.
The street art scene in Melbourne also shatters many stereotypes. Not everyone is a political activist, so to speak. One studio intern TravelPulse spoke with said he a) majored in economics and b) joined the army, only to “rethink my life” and begin canvassing walls in Melbourne with incredibly detailed black and white drawings.
The work of an economics major.
One thing’s for sure: Many of the street artists in Melbourne are living their dream. Embed yourself within the growing community and you’re surrounded by smiles.
For RONE, who said he’s “hugely surprised” by how quickly the street art scene has bloomed, he has to go back and sift through old photos just to remember how Melbourne’s city walls used to look.
As if he’d even want to.