Everfresh: Blackbook, Uncommissioned Art, Kings Way

‘The trains. So much clean.’ I recall my mother saying this to me as a child, my first clue to the fact the adult world doesn’t revolve around play but the demanding necessities of earning a living. In 1985, as a recent migrant to Sydney, my mother took a job as a cleaner at the then New South Wales State Rail depot at the Eveleigh rail yard. I recall visiting my mother at work­—perhaps in lieu of more formal childcare arrangements—reveling with expansive wonder at the bulk of those red rattlers and the graffiti that she, along with her mostly Greek, Maltese, Arabic and Vietnamese colleagues, were directed to clean. A quarter century on it’s easy to recognise the ironic relation between those cleaning ladies and the mostly young men who transformed vandalism into a process of identity formation. These days, graffiti has assuredly moved out of its subcultural ghetto, is given serious appreciation in our National Gallery and, as illustrated by a suite of recent Miegunyah Press publications, reside in the printed splendour of coffee-table books for connoisseurs. That rail yard, once monstrous to a child’s eyes, is today Carriageworks, where one might see contemporary dance, a suite of conceptual works by Joseph Kosuth and pick up organic pomegranates at a farmer’s market—all before a Saturday brunch appointment. It seems the old-school graffiti refrain of ‘yuppies go home’ only encouraged the rest of us.

Showing that the battle cries against gentrification remain constant, Everfresh crew’s Blackbook (2010) is a survey of work by its nine member artists whose self-presentation demonstrates that the form’s methodologies have reached a high point of sophistication since the 1980s. The book’s style is Vanity Fair meets Vice, where Sync, Rone, Reka, Wonderlust, Phibs, Meggs, Prizm, Makatron, and The Tooth are given separate Q&A profiles, each photographed in various degrees of disguise: obscured in shadow, by sunglasses, hoodie or balaclava. Everfresh are widely regarded as leaders in stencil art, with their key role in ensuring that: ‘by 2002, the streets of Melbourne were stencilled like nowhere else’. The crew are well travelled and consummate professionals in their field. It’s a global business now. 

Christine Dew’s Uncommissioned Art (2007) is an analysis of the breadth of Australian graffiti practice that takes a decidedly sociological bent. Chapters are pitched at articulating facets that necessarily inform the medium, its makers and audience: ‘A = Art crimes’ through ‘Z = Zero tolerance’. Dew makes the point that ‘twenty-first century viewers have a high level of visual, rather than textual, literacy’, arguing that this goes some way in explaining the formal change in focus from tags to more sophisticated designs in stencil art. However it’s disappointing that the book’s design works against Dew’s insightful and thoroughly researched text.

Kings Way (2009) will surely prove a landmark tome in Australian arts publishing, deserving high praise for its historical comprehensiveness. The authors excel in illustrating the diversity of Melbourne’s graffiti scene in its early years, superbly contextualising its cultural and aesthetic specificities against international developments, and providing information-rich sections on artists, crews, locations and materials that are expertly elucidated for the uninitiated. Over 1,200 images from scores of contributors are laid on high-gloss black pages, including fascinating records of Melbourne’s cityscape mid-stride in post-industrial transformation and luscious Kodak colour snaps by, among others, Ron the Train Driver, an enthusiastic insider known for stopping a train full of passengers to jump out, SLR at the ready, to record that which impressed him. Indeed, Ron’s commitment to posterity shows that the Melbourne scene got the Berenice Aboott it deserved. Yet what most stays in the mind of this reader is a casual snap of a young writer, The Banker, c. 1988, dressed in dirty denim and a bomber jacket, index finger raised towards his fresh tag, with a teenager’s defiance underlined by coyness, a portrait of the subversive thrill of mark-making.

Everfresh Studio, Everfresh: Blackbook – The Studio & Streets 2004-2010, The Miegunyah Press, Melbourne, 2010, softcover, 246 pp.

Christine Dew, Uncommissioned Art: An A-Z of Australian Graffiti, The Miegunyah Press, Melbourne, 2007, hardcover, 272 pp.

Duro Cubrilo, Martin Harvey and Karl Stamer, Kings Way: The Beginnings of Australian Graffiti: Melbourne 1983-93, The Miegunyah Press, Melbourne, 2009, softcover, 373 pp.

Published in Art & Australia, vol. 48 no. 4, Winter 2011, pp. 242 - 243.

© Pedro de Almeida 2011.