We recently caught up with Lou Chamberlin, who’s Burn City book about Melbourne street art has been published who kindly gave us an exclusive interview.
How did you first get started in street art?
As an arts educator and writer of textbooks, I’ve always been involved in the gallery scene in Melbourne. In the middle of the noughties, I began to notice that there was art appearing on the walls of streets and laneways that was every bit as good as the work I was seeing in galleries. It didn’t take long to realise that such work interested me more and challenged my way of approaching the art world, so I happily drifted into documenting street art.
What do you believe makes a good piece of street art?
I believe that good art challenges the viewer. This is as true of street art as it is of the art we see in galleries and museums. Art that makes us think performs a valuable role in our lives as individuals and as a community. In fact, street art is most powerful when it confronts our preconceptions or our social conscience. It causes us to stop and think; on occasions, it can
even help us to reconsider opinions and actions.
On the other hand, street art can also make us smile, or chuckle, or even laugh out loud. Some artists are witty, some artwork is pithy. Often the art is just plain beautiful. For me, all of
these qualities are part of good street art.
Who’s your favourite burner (street artist) featured in the book?
It’s almost impossible to single out one artist. Melbourne is extremely fortunate in being home to so many wonderful artists; it’s a magnet for great art and artists. I’m probably more drawn to the quiet and subtle works in the book rather than the burners, though. The serene work of Manofdarkness, such as the melancholy piece on the cover of the book, appeals to me enormously. That said, the enormous walls that Smug and Guido van Helten have painted in Melbourne are awe-inspiring – they ARE burners!
What are your top 7 things a visitor should see or do in Melbourne?
If we’re talking about street art, there are so many places to visit. A walk around the CBD, dipping into the alleys and laneways in search of stencils and paste-ups is always enlightening – Hosier Lane, Presgrave Place and Tattersalls Lane are a few good places to visit. Don’t forget to try the fare in some of the numerous cafes and bars as you walk around.
If you have transport or are happy to navigate the tram and train system, go further afield to Fitzroy and Collingwood. As well as an ever-changing collection of street art, there are also some top-class galleries that specialise in the work of young, active artists, many of them also working on the street. Backwoods Gallery, Juddy Roller, Off the Kerb and BSIDE Gallery all have excellent and varied exhibition programs.
Richmond, Brunswick and Northcote also have active street art scenes and are worth visiting as thriving local inner-city communities.
What message do you hope to achieve with your art and writing?
I love sharing what I love! So seeing my books out there enthusing people to enjoy the painted walls around them is a great pleasure. If there has to be a message, it’s Look up, look around you and enjoy the work brought to you by artists who want to make you think, or laugh, or just colour your day a little more!
Do you have any predictions for the future of street art?
Who can tell? The world is changing so quickly that there is great scope for innovation. It’s hard to think that technology won’t be involved in some way, whether it’s the where or the how work is placed in the streets, I don’t know. I can’t wait, though
Do you have any plans for the next 12 months?
I love to travel. Over the last 10 years, street art has been a terrific focus when I have the opportunity to get away, whether it’s in this part of the world or further afield. It’s increasingly easy to link with like-minded people and to see their cities through their eyes, often with them beside you. I’m hoping to visit Europe and Canada early next year and am starting to put together my wish list of cities and artworks. If another book comes from the last few years of such travel, that would be great. If not – hey – the focused travel gives me the opportunity to visit grittier places and experience situations that most travellers never see. What a bonus that is!
About Burn City
Melbourne – aka ‘Burn City’ – is internationally renowned for its street art, which can be provocative and controversial at times. Burn City features artwork by both international and local artists.
Lou Chamberlin has been photographing Melbourne’s painted streets since 2005, capturing the most memorable pieces of this ephemeral art form, creating an ongoing record of the city’s ever-changing street art scene. Burn City showcases the best of this collection, including the ‘burners’ – the pieces so hot they’re ‘burning’ off the wall.
Burn City is available from your favourite bookstore in hardback.
About Lou Chamberlin
Lou Chamberlin is an artist, author and arts educator and has been writing about art for 20 years. Her interest in street art has been fuelled by living and working in Melbourne with its vibrant street art scene. This is Lou’s fourth street art book, following ‘Street Art: Melbourne’, ‘Street Art: Australia’ and ‘Street Art: International’.