Paint the Town
Since its origins in the 60s, street art has adorned the walls, nooks and crannies of big cities and small towns across the globe. Starting out as a movement of free creative expression, street art has progressed over the decades to be the celebrated art form it is today. And we just can’t get enough of it.
By Tierney Seccull
You might have noticed new works popping up on walls across Darwin, featuring bright illustrations of flora and fauna, powerful Larrakia imagery and local icons immortalised in large format masterpieces – from Paulie, Julio’s dearly departed cockatoo, to the iconic NT Draught stubby.
Delivered by local business Proper Creative, administered by Activate Darwin and funded by the Northern Territory Government, Darwin Street Art Festival (DSAF) returned for its fifth instalment last month to literally paint the town red. And yellow. And green. And blue. And any other colour you can imagine.
DSAF’s founding father, local artist and Proper Creative boss man David Collins, says the festival’s inception came as a bit of a surprise.
“I was doing some work for NT Major Events and we were planning a mural for them. It was kind of a throwaway comment. I said, ‘you know, we actually need a street art festival’, and they said ‘that’s a great idea’. We pushed it out in six weeks with their support to get the festival off the ground,” Collins says.
“Street art festivals are not my idea – they’re something that exist throughout the world – but I just wanted a locally managed festival to empower local artists and give them collaboration ops with visiting artists. As far as festivals go, a lot of interstate artists tell me they like that it’s Proper Creative running it. We are artists ourselves, and even though it’s getting big and slick, it’s still grassroots.”
And he’s right. This year’s festival features the work of over 20 artists, most of whom are locals.
“I feel like we’ve nailed a varied group of people across a range of styles. There’s huge diversity, including people with disabilities, a great mix of male and female artists, queer and trans artists. At the Babes Paint workshops, everyone could get involved which was pretty magic – Tiwi ladies were painting alongside young people.”
Breaking free of the confines of the CBD, responding to the theme ‘journeys’, this year has seen large scale artworks plastered on empty walls of the ‘burbs in Nightcliff, Casuarina, Wulagi and Parap.
Painting his first mural just three years ago, 19-year-old Caleb Schatz (aka Mr Calebdude) was allocated a wall in Wulagi just around the corner from where he grew up in Anula. The young artist says he’s stoked to be involved.
“It’s great to meet other artists and chat about what they’re up to, what their walls are like and the trials of them – like being blasted by the sun or pipes getting in the way,” he says.
“It’s really exciting to be able to actually follow my dreams. People say you can do whatever you want, but I’m really getting to do that.”
Local artist Jesse Bell was honoured with the task of painting a mural to commemorate the 55th anniversary of the Wave Hill Walk Off.
“The brief asked to include the iconic photo of Gough [Whitlam] and Vincent [Lingiari], which was taken by Mervyn Bishop – the first Indigenous photographer to work for a metropolitan newspaper.
"I also wanted to include something that gave a nod to the other people involved in the Walk Off and sourced historical photos that I felt captured this. I still have a few little extras I’ll be adding to the mural, including a quote in language from Vincent,” he says.
“Being involved with the festival as a local headlining artist is a great opportunity – not only do I get to paint my hometown, I get national and international exposure as an artist and I often get to collaborate with some of the best artists around the country.”
The purpose of the festival is to entice locals and visitors to get out and about soaking up the art and culture of the NT, beautifying our tropical city and supporting local artists, with a flow on effect to surrounding businesses.
Grabbing a laksa or juice at the markets after checking out the work of Shaun Edwards and B4mble in Parap is a morning well spent. And a cheeky cocktail at Dom’s after marvelling at masterpieces by Miss Polly and PRESSplay in Nightcliff sounds like a great plan to us.
Take a tour around town and beyond, and treat your peepers to the to the incredible street art this colourful festival has splashed around – not just this year, but since it started.
Darwin’s been firmly placed as a hotspot on the national street art hit list, and there’s darn good reason for it.
Header & thumbnail: Detail of mural by PRESSplay, Amelia Luscombe and Jocelyn Tribe, located at the Aralia St shops in Nightcliff.
Middle: Mr Calebdude
Bottom: Jesse Bell