Australian street artists are ‘Young & Free’ in San Francisco


Move over Shepard Fairy and Banksy, street artists from down under are ready to share their work with an international audience, too. The destination? The country that initially inspired the take off of Australian urban art, America.

Anthony Lister, 'Backside Street Face', acrylic and aerosol on canvas.

Young and free in San Francisco

The largest exhibition of Australian street art in America to date will be on view at 941 Geary gallery in San Francisco through October 2011 before returning to Melbourne for a 2012 exhibition, reports ArtsHub in an article published on the art resource website in September 2011. The exhibition, “Young & Free: Contemporary Australian Street Artists“, features new work by urban artists Anthony Lister, Ben Frost, Dabs & Myla, Dmote, Ha-Ha, Kid Zoom, Meggs, New2, Rone, Reka, Sofles and Vexta, in a range of media including stencils, paste-ups and direct sprays.

Installation view of "Young & Free", exhibition at 941 Geary (San Francisco, USA).

Installation view of "Young & Free", exhibition at 941 Geary (San Francisco, USA).

In an interview with Hi-Fructose magazine, artist Meggs expressed his hope that the exhibition of “Young & Free” in America would gain Australian street artists the recognition that he feels they have deserved for some time. The artist sees “Young & Free” as a potential catalyst for greater international attention towards the thriving art form, and more exhibitions of urban art in Australia.

Meggs, installation view of "Young & Free" exhibition at 941 Geary (San Francisco, USA).

Meggs, 'Small Skull', hand cast skull with painted details by the artist.

The history of street art in Australia

According to Jaklyn Babington, curator of “Space invaders”, the Australian street art movement can be traced back to the early 1980s when graffiti became increasingly prevalent. During the early years, aesthetically, text dominated the street art scene, but since that time, street art expression has developed into a mixture of signs, symbols and text in the form of stickers, stencils, street interventions, hand-painted posters and paste-ups, and combinations of these practices.

Vexta, 'Tomorrow's War Paint', hand stenciled giclee print, edition of 30, 13 x 13 inches.

Although street art in Australia initially adopted the rebellious underground characteristics common to the worldwide graffiti subculture and the artists of the movement set their goals on conquering public spaces, exhibitions such as “Young & Free” and “Space invaders”, an exhibition by the National Gallery of Australia which surveyed street art in Australia from the past ten years, demonstrate that street art has since expanded, and now includes organised exhibitions in gallery and museum venues. The curators of “Space invaders” state that “street art now functions as an elaborate national and international communication system and is morphing into its next phase in which the ephemeral has become the collectable.”

Ha-Ha, 'Sitting Ball', aerosol stencil on paper, 31 x 23 inches.

New2, 'New (Refinement of the Decline Part 3)', hand cut layered paper collage, 8 x 18.5 inches.

Melbourne: home of Australian street art

Melbourne, in particular, is an Australian city in which street art thrives. Local artists offer tours of the city’s urban artworks. This is an interesting development given that street artists are notorious for protecting their identities at all costs. In 2008, Australia National Trust and Heritage Victoria’s cultural heritage manager, Tracey Avery, announced her support of a move to protect Melbourne’s street art along the city’s Hosier Lane, recognising the artistic and cultural significance of the art form. Avery’s support was met with opposition from local council groups claiming that protecting graffiti was essentially condoning illegal behaviour and would encourage further tagging in the suburban neighbourhoods that surround the city.

A happy median appears to have arisen from the controversy, as the City of Melbourne website acknowledges that public spaces, when given the appropriate approval, provide artists with powerful platforms to express their creativity and ideas and as a result, legal street art is encouraged. This is an indicator of the official acceptance of street art and also perhaps gives us a taste for what is to come in the development of urban art in Australia.

“Young & Free” will be on view at 941 Geary gallery in San Francisco in the United States until 22 October 2011 before returning to exhibit at a yet to be announced venue in Melbourne, Australia.


Related Topics: street art, exhibitions, Australian art

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