Sydney’s urban art

STORY AND PHOTOS BY JAMES SHERIDAN

 
‘Graffiti’ refers to the obtrusive art that is not confined to a canvas, but instead makes its abode on urban landscapes. Sydney’s city habitat is no exception to this, however not all the city inhabitants welcome this species of art.

The graffiti scene causes conflict between councils and communities on some occasions because of its obtrusive nature. This obtrusive nature has prompted legislation to combat this style of expression. The legislation the NSW government enacted to specifically combat graffiti is the Graffiti Control Act (2008). The legislation has undergone numerous amendments, one of which was repealed in 2012. The 2014 Amendment Bill aimed to tighten “clean up” punishments and raise the penalty rate to a maximum fine of $440, according to a proposal speech held in September by NSW Parliament, and which is still in discussion.  

Another more passive method of controlling graffiti which holds agreement between some in the art community and government are graffiti walls. The walls aim to provide an area for Sydney graffiti artists to use their style of art in a legal manner and gain more practice developing their craft. They have also lessened the rate of vandalism (the category garffiti falls within) but according to psychologists and other artists, not enough. Sydney community centres receive 1,000 calls a day in reports of this form of vandalism, a spokeswoman from one centre claimed. Also in the city graffiti clean-ups are held regularly but are hindered on occasion by conditions of the Act. These procedures were placed to stop accidental removal of graffiti works which are protected, such as works by famous street artist Banksy, or those commissioned by property owners.

Graffiti itself can be a political tool used by artists to state their opinions in a way that differs from a simple mark denoting ownership of a certain area, very much like residents of Pompeii did in their time. This, like any art, spurs differences of opinion. One Sydney dweller suggested that “good” graffiti had to have thought, tell something, and show talent.

However despite the legal ramifications many artists have clung to the adrenalin rush they feel when painting graffiti. The human mind will cause this chemical reaction when we break a social taboo or law due to the social risk involved.  This factor concerns police in their attempt to stop this form of vandalism. Most cases of vandalism concern juvenile offenders because of the peer social factors involved. In Sydney’s socio-economically challenged western suburbs, minor crimes such as vandalism are recorded in higher levels than in to the city. In some places, “legal” artists are helping out by directing upcoming young artists to embrace their style butrestrict it to canvas or a legal wall. In this way artists who condemn vandalism help with the education factor, and in their way help reduce the vandalism they oppose.
 

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