by Kerry Tolson @kerrytolson.com
Realising we hadn't been to 'the bay' in over a year and at a loose end on a glorious sun-soaked Saturday afternoon, we moseyed on over to Byron Bay and soon found ourselves at the Surf Festival drooling over sweet teepees, acid-swirled kombies and incredibly stunning 'wall-hangers' - surfboards so beautiful they double up as both blades for the waves and works of art for the wall. Along with mermaid fins, princess-seashell crowns, happy-clappy yoga tents, shamanic wands and 'happy high' ale; it was all so very gloriously Bryon.
But there's so much more to the clichéd bryonian vibe and as we drifted along on a wave of bliss we soon found ourselves surfin' Bryon Bay's vibrant urban art scene.
I've always loved the street gallery that decks Byron; the splashes of colour, flowers & waves on the shop awnings and power poles; the glittery mosaic tiles
Then in the mid-noughties (abt 2006/7) the locals, businesses and various community groups came together to encourage young urban artists to let loose with the aerosol.
Once known as 'spew alley', the murals of Surf Alley are the essence of Byron - beach, babes and bitchen' waves -, and along with dolphins, turtles and big barrels, is a roll-call of honour for sixteen Bryon surfing legends who put 'the bay' on the surfing map all those years ago. Prior to the murals being painted in 2010, the laneway was a taggers stamping ground and basically a no-go area, unless you were having a bit of a stagger and stumble with a late night purge after visiting the local drinking spots nearby. Today its a chill-out thoroughfare evoking memories of classic Byron.
It's interesting to note that this iconic mural is the work of an artist - Russ Fenn aka Sofles - who was once described as one of the most 'notorious graffiti vandals' and his arrest in 2009 was considered to have been the most significant tagger-nab of the time by Queensland authorities. Fenn was charged with criminal vandalism and given a hefty-fine, community-service sentence, and narrowly escaped serving jail time for his artworks. Artworks that today, are renowned and highly acclaimed world-wide.
Russell Fenn's brush with the law gives food for thought to that old age concept - 'what is art' - although I have absolutely no qualifications what-so-ever in art, so please don't expect anything deep and annalistic in my ramblings here... my credentials go something like "if it speaks to me, then its art, if I like it, then it's brilliant art!"... though I might add, I'm not keen on the 'scribble' tags repeated
who will be oohing, arhing and uploading - more likely hive-mind hologramming - pics of these tags just as we do now with the likes of the roman-times-graffiti, the carved initials on the Pont du Gard in France.
Since the advent of Hippie art, the Bay has always embraced the art in public places scene, encouraging the messages of environment, peace, love and never be apathetic in politics, so its not surprising to see that the town has welcomed with gusto the grittiness of guerrilla style art with images popping up and scattered throughout the coastal village. Just a quick wander around the central part of the town is enough to fill you with the feeling you've just been to a fabulous mind-blowing art gallery.
Not really making a conscious effort to find all the art in Byron Bay, we just ambled along content to do a 'blockie' - down the main street, across to the railway hotel and back to the car which was parked at the recreation sports grounds... just outside the you-need-to-take-a-loan-out-to-pay-to-park fees perimeter. Therefore none of the murals at the industrial estate, arts factory area, western side of the railway line or the 'top shop' area of Byron are mentioned or shown in this post. Plus not every mural in the towns centre is listed either (or found!)
One of the most prolific artists whose work is scattered in abundance in Byron is NITSUA, his pieces so identifiable by the trademark 'death-ray laser-eyes' or the sixties daisy flowers.
Another artist whose work I'm mesmerized by is that of Rufio Kalm. I find his (or her... I can find nothing about the artist) pieces hidden down near the railway line behind a wall and almost covered... bizarrely in tagging. Of particular delight is the 'Perception and Tea' mural of John Lennon with a brew and a written message for Antoni to contact Nancy in Coffs on New Years Eve in 2017 - I hope Antoni got the message!
I find myself trying to contemplate the story behind this mural, what is it about John Lennon with a brew... and later as I write this and try to find the meaning of the words 'perception and tea', I come across a blogpost written back in 2010 by Yoko Ono about how on the day John Lennon was assassinated all she could remember was the night they made tea with joy at 3am and 'that important gift we [the world] received from him was not words, but deeds.' (John Lennon: The Teamaker, by Yoko Ono Lennon)
Near the Railway Hotel we find these two pieces on an old shipping container. Love the laid-back expressions and vibrant colour that oozes from the keyboard players. The surfer with the kegs - couldn't get more chilled.
Looking for street art in Byron means keeping the eyes open and peeled ready to catch that glimpse. I remember reading a year or so ago a letter to the editor of the Byron Echo where someone had lamented the lack of street art in Byron Bay suggesting the bay consider emulating Melbourne's art scene, which of course is AMAZING!
And a person could be easily forgiven for thinking there is no urban art bouncing out; for if you didn't really look, you could easily miss it. Afterall, the village is filled with so much colour, dazzle and quirkiness it can feel like it's all blending together, melding into a wonderful Austin Powers inspired swirling wallpaper with all that rainbow magic.
Although for me, I see that hippie-trippy bohemian rainbow evaporating as the 'vibe' is given a hefty shot of adrenaline with the changing of the artistic guard.
Keeping this in mind, plus knowing from other street art treasure hunts I'd been on, I was aware that you needed to peek around corners, to look up... or down... to look for something small and to sometimes, even go back twice to find that spray or mark.
And that's exactly what I needed to do in regards to the pieces by Christian Palmer.
Palmer's work is very much linked to animals; what they might think and how they would act, and so to find Palmer's signature animal, the 'Staffy', I needed to look low... and there he was, hiding behind a shrub up a side street.
Our lazy afternoon stretched into four hours of wandering Byron central and only stopped because I had run out of battery on my fully-charged-up-upon-arriving-at-byron phone. I found I'd taken close to thee hundred photos.
and no, I won't display every mural we saw, but needless to say -
Byron's street art scene is EXPLOSIVE!
And of course, I can't finish a post on Street Art without a pic of the street-art-photo-bomber himself, Mal, who thought he was going to the Bay for a lazy arve catching some rays and instead found himself catching some sprays.
Hello! I'm Kerry
. . . a plan-nothing, have no idea where I'm going travelholic.
A daughter of the gypsies and the wife of a workaholic, I'm forever wondering 'What's over there?' and devising ways to squeeze through the barbed-wire fence of small-business ownership responsibilities and every-day life tangles to discover it.
and this is my book