'Great walls'
The Sunday Age M Travel  18 Dec 2011

A colourful city tour celebrates Melbourne's street art writes Kerrin O'Sullivan

It's the pinstripe navy suit that makes me laugh. Or rather, what's attached to the suit when Adrian Doyle, manager of Melbourne Street Art Tours, swings around - a beautifully tailored pinstripe-hoodie.

Doyle's novel business attire is out of respect for the uniform of the street artist - the hoodie. The Blender Studios warehouse street-art hub, is another form of homage. Here at tour's end, we watch artists at work.

This is the first street art walking tour in Australia to be run by street artists. We meet our artist-guide, Michael, in Federation Square. Exploring Melbourne's underground art scene today are aspiring local artists, a wheat-farming couple on a city break, a Sydney stenciller and an Indonesian "creative" undertaking an artist's residency.

Crossing the cobblestones, we view Transport Bar's massive mural by internationally exhibited Drew Funk. Drawn from his Malaysian heritage, design degree and graffiti background, Funk's distinctive style sings in this commissioned piece - a mystical creature in black, grey and fuschia.

Next stop is Hosier Lane, an open-air riot of colour where camera-toting tourists jostle with brides and grooms using this wall-to-wall graffiti gallery as a photographic backdrop.

On the walls of tapas bar MoVida, is a maelstrom of cerulean blue created by Melbourne artist Lucas Grogan, via a Citylights public art commission. A myriad of patterns, island metaphors and quotations spiral with a Federation quilt effect.

"Look up," Michael says. "Look down." Pointing out artworks high and low on our street safari, he deciphers the range of styles from stencils, stickers, aerosols and paste-ups to installations, mosaics and sculpture.

We meander the labyrinthine laneways matching street pieces to creator - international artists such as New Yorker Swoon, Parisians Blek Le Rat and Invader, and even the defaced remnants of British supremo, Banksy. Sharing street-space are Australian stars Anthony Lister, Tom Civil, Haha and the Everfresh crew. Some shock, some make you smile - they might last a day or a decade.

I discover arcades and gritty inner-city pockets I never knew existed. In delightfully shabby Tattersalls Lane, I'm taken by the cool mesh-iron jungle of a former car park where two shipping containers act as the Section 8 bar, their walls a canvas for spontaneous street art. In adjacent scion, Stevenson Lane, a Princess Diana paste-up and giant panda compete for attention with ever-changing art ephemera on waste disposal bins.

In Chinatown's heart amid lip-smacking aromas of dumplings and dim sum, ancient Chinese proverbs hang next to Japanese kawaii kitsch in a disused laneway. Nicknamed Neon Lane for its light-box installations, Hong Kong meets Melbourne in a pop-infused electric salute to Asian culture. I vow to return at night to get the full effect.

So in the world of street art, who are the players?

"Sao Paulo, Los Angeles, Berlin, Barcelona… they're the big ones," volunteers Sydney's flannelette-shirted stenciller.

"Melbourne's on the map too, bro," Michael adds, leading us to an alley where there's work in progress. From atop an aluminium ladder, "Al" sprays colour, and a fantastic beast emerges in shades of orange, crimson and cobalt.

Fancy creating a mural or commercial wall yourself? Your own legally sanctioned project can be organized, complete with permits. BYO talent … and hoodie.

© 2012 Kerrin O’Sullivan