Newtown is one of Sydney’s most vibrant street art suburbs. Home to an eclectic mix of artists, designers and creators, it is ideal to explore on foot as most of the street art hot spots are close together. We joined a Culture Scouts street art tour led by Craig Bunker, aka Bunkwaa, a local Australian comic book artist and cartoonist.
After an orientation talk at the tour’s Newtown train station meeting point about what we would be doing, we started walking and soon arrived at the first artwork on the Culture Scouts tour. This was one of the oldest street art works in Newtown and took 24 hours to paint. Not surprisingly, the police were notified about the illegal painting and turned up to ask the artist whether he had permission to paint it.
When he said ‘No,’ rumour has it they turned a blind eye and let him finish the powerful painting. Bunkwaa went on to say that it is rare for someone to deface or tag street art with an Aboriginal flag.
Next to this painting was an early work by indigenous artist Blak Douglas who was a finalist in this year’s Archibald Prize. Bunkwaa explained how Newtown’s street art scene had changed over the years.
“Before if you got busted for one illegal painting, the police would have a folio of all your work and you would get done for the lot. Now the local council is matching artists with people’s walls.”
Council’s Perfect Match Public Art Program tackles unwanted graffiti by working with artists to create high quality street art in Sydney’s inner west. Property owners nominate a wall to be transformed by an artist who is commissioned (and paid) by council to create the final work.
Some Newtown works are by street artists who have gone on to earn worldwide acclaim. One of my favourites on the tour was this painting of a girl listening on a ‘tin can telephone’ by Fintan Magee.
We discovered artworks in building sites like the one above and others created by an artist collective with multiple artists working on the same painting. Bunkwaa explained that the artists agree on a colour palette before they start.
This keeps the work cohesive, even when multiple people are working on it at different times. Other artworks were hidden down alleys and backstreets. We probably wouldn’t have found them without a guide.
The artwork above is by a professional artist who makes a living designing album covers, posters, and other commissioned works but also enjoys creating street art. Some artists started on the streets and still enjoy the original art form which began their careers.
Many paintings in Newtown are official these days but some unauthorised art is also held in high esteem. Sculptor Will Coles’ concrete washing machine was created when the European artist lived in Sydney and still takes pride of place in a busy thoroughfare.
Council’s graffiti removal team have been known to clean it and remove tags, even though the piece is officially illegal. The tour finishes with a craft beer, cider or soft drink at Young Henry’s, a boutique brewery and favourite hangout for Newtown creatives. You’ll find plenty of street art here too.
Disclosure: The writers joined the tour as guests of Culture Scouts.