The good, the bad and the urban

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INSTANT street art connoisseur COLIN NICHOL discards spraycan for keyboard and casts a critical eye over Fremantle’s walls.

ThERE’S good and bad in Fremantle council’s new policy on spray can art in the central city—possibly. Its plan to conditionally allow if not encourage this urban phenomenon recognises the difficulty of keeping up with removing the considerable volume of paint over the central city.

Forget fears of losing Myer’s upmarket customers, most left well before the store did and the prospect of being confronted by more garish wall art will take care of many of the rest. Anything vertical now runs the risk of a makeover more dramatic than Myer’s cosmetic department would have recommended; don’t stand still for very long.


Yet there is a positive side to it as well: the multi-coloured forces of night may now be able to come out from the shadows and fear of arrest to work in daylight and fascinate or scandalise passers-by. Public art may enhance the city’s quirky appeal, but the risk is considerable and it is challenging to conclude the city will be better off now the matter is so prominent. And how will this policy be contained?

A current survey of 53 “tags” and “art” works in the central city, with many left to still be examined, illustrates a considerable and even high level of expertise amongst the other crass offerings. It is a long way since the ubiquitous “Foo woz ‘ere” from the WWII years.

Council is obliterating most of those that appear in main areas, but bursts are to be found off-street, above eye level and in locations so difficult of access it seems that to be an urban artist is also to be an aspirant for Bizircus. What happens when the city is covered with “approved art” and no space is left? Or if pop-artists just ignore the whole thing and do as they did before?

This policy attempts to address removing the element of rebellion that perpetrators relish along with the risks involved. Further to that, rather than letting street artists loose around the city, why not give them an indoor gallery venue or outdoor panels for a permanent exhibition?


It might have been preferable to try this policy discreetly, instead of trumpeting it from the rooftops. Its impact as it spreads out across residential areas may not be appreciated. Then there is cost: graffiti removal in WA has been conservatively estimated to run to $30 million a year and surely this policy would not reduce that, especially for policing.

Some sociologists regard graffiti as a symptom of a neighbourhood’s decline. Admittedly, something has to be done to improve the city, but is this it? A new input to Fremantle’s image is an interesting idea, but a business revival in so small a CBD with about 84 empty shops and neglected infrastructure seems unlikely to be encouraged by turning it into an illustrated city.

Judging by some current blazingly-coloured artworks, enjoying a leisurely wander around the streets of Fremantle may soon be less of one of absorbing the charm of its built heritage and special ambience, but of experiencing the hallucinations of an LSD trip.

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