Bowden graffiti

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The graffiti around the  streets of Bowden in the 1980s was done prior to the tagging and the boom in  street art in New York  in the 1970s-1980s and prior to many councils encouraging street art in the city by designating walls or areas exclusively for use by graffiti artists.

The Bowden  graffiti was text based,  not visually conceptual as in the work of Keith Haring who  painted wall murals  in Collingwood, Melbourne in the mid-1980s.

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No Worries

There was no street art scene nor any sense of artists challenging art by situating it in non-art contexts. It was more an expression  of the creative  impulse to put the writing on the wall  that set itself apart from the visual clutter of advertising; a form of expression  that has its roots in Arthur Stace chalking out his one-word message “Eternity” half a million times in Sydney between 1932 and 1967.

 I saw these words on the street  as a form of playful street poetry,   even if they  didn’t play with metaphor or create multiple or possibly conflicting meanings. Rennie Ellis, the Melbourne photographer who published three books on graffiti between  1975 and 1985,      observed that  the words on the wall  expressed a desire  to say something, to comment, inform, entertain, persuade, offend or simply to confirm his or her own existence here on earth.


At the time, however, this kind of wall graffiti was  seen as a form of petty vandalism–a  destructive crime representing an invasion of public and private property–rather than street poetry. This graffiti  was associated with the broken windows theory,  vandalised objects,  decay, and communities out of control.  So graffiti  is outlawed and public spaces are  increasingly placed under surveillance.

Graffitist’s were seen as petty criminals. The rhetoric was that graffiti is associated with  young people who under-achieve at school. Boredom, alienation, family and community breakdown, lack of leisure opportunities and youth unemployment were usually  cited as causes.

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