Melbourne Calling: My Australian Art Adventure

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Having just been named the world’s most liveable city for a fifth consecutive year, I’m very sure you all will have heard the buzz around Australia’s second largest city. Well, world liveability league tables are all well and good, but how niave to assume that every single one of us has exactly the same needs from a city we should call home? For whatever length of time that may be.

The scores calculated for these league tables go on everything from access to sporting amenities, restaurants and nightlife, arts and entertainment, as well as the general standard of healthcare, education and public transport. All of which coming with the Melbourne pricetag which you probably heard about before the city’s great reputation.

As a backpacker, I’d been planning to hit Melbourne early February this year, and already had my expectations set very high. The previous six months I had spent in Brisbane, comforted by the year-round sub tropical 28 degrees the city basks in, and embracing every Brit’s image of the typical Aussie lifestlye.

All I had heard for months from all of my Australian friends was about the fashion, the coffee, the culture, the seasons – YES … seasons! Seasons are a luxury when you live most your life in 95% humidity. I was also arriving in the city halfway through my year of travels, still craving that spark that would determine a direction I could take in life to start building a career.

The desire to find a calling is one of the main reasons I think most young 20-somethings decide to take a year or so out. There’s so much pressure in today’s society to have a calling – a trade, a purpose, a passion. The truth is, I have lots. All very differnt in thier own capacity. I just have such a hard time deciding which I want to be known for doing until day dot. I was about to discover: it’s not what you do, it’s how you do it.

As a creative coming to Melbourne for the very first time, the thing you are instantly smacked in the face by is the architecture. Not just one style that is unique to this city alone – like Barcelona, for example. More the fact that they have cherry-picked styles from some of the most beautiful cities around the world, and sculpted them across breathtaking parkland.

The entire city feels as though it has been carved around the delicate terrain and flora that caresses the banks of the Yarra river and onwards to the bay. Just taking a five-minute walk down one of the city centre’s main arteries, Flinders Street, running parallel to the river, you are towered over by skyscrapers that wouldn’t look out of place in New York or Chicago. There to be met at the intersection of Flinders and Swanston by the iconic orange dome of Flinders Street Station – a most magnificent dome Wren himself would approve of.

Stride down Collins Street and you’re transported to San Francisco with tramlines cresting the rolling hills in the shadow of the most elegant glass and steel pinacles. Even going into the city’s famous metropolitan suburbs such as Fitzroy, Carlton or Collingwood, you feel like you’ve stumbled into a previously French-owned part of the city where ornate, iron-clad facades frame the balconies of three-storey townhouses and red brick maisonettes. The simplest of structures have as much thought put into them as the 91-storey Eureka Tower.

And this is what initially sparked my imagination and got all those creative juices flowing in a torrent stronger than the Yarra. In Melbourne, it’s not about replacing the old with the new or the in-trends overtaking last season’s craze. It’s about the finer details, and this for an artist is key.

Melbourne is unique in that the graffiti and street art culture is highly praised. Back in 2007, the government looked at the amount of illegal graffiti around the city, and instead of seeing a problem, they saw an opportunity. 12 different locations around the city centre are legal to paint whereever, and whatever you like. No control, policing, or censorship. Just complete free artistic reign.

And the pitures provided don’t even do it justice. The narrow laneways and grimey alleys that are a problem for most large urban areas are now either plastered in colour floor to ceiling by the city’s creatives, in turn making them huge tourist revenue centres. Alternatively, they are opened up as units for an abundance of small businesses and indepenent coffee shop owners to thrive in, creating a very European atmosphere.

A city that would sooner knit woolly jumpers around the trunks of its trees than let them catch a cold in the biting winter. That lets its creative hearts run free around the streets with chalk, paint, sprays or whatever else you can use to fill colour in the dullest of places.

It’s not just the European influence that has made Melbourne the city it is today. As well as the large Italian and Greek populations, there were mass settlements by Korean, Thai, Chinese, Vietnemese and Cambodian people since the 1970s and the fall of Saigon. Melbourne is a melting pot of different cultures, all bringing something to the city’s exotic mix of East harmoniously blending into West. Resulting in an influence of arts from around the world, reflected in the street art, architecture and cuisine. It’s no wonder then has one of the best foodie reputations in the world, with a plethora of inspirational cuisine perfected by the artists of the hospitality industry.

There’s a very unique bohemian vibe to Melbourne. I learnt more about this at a Vali Myers exhibition at the Victoria State University, and the underground movement of free thinkers, artists and writers that all called this city home in the 1930s-40s, long after the gold rush of the 1850s which initially sparked the city’s boom.

At this time, Melbourne was a very conservative place. A young Vali recalls walking out her house with a face plastered in the most ostentatious make up, which her father would recoil in horror at, but her mother would just retort, ‘It’s her war paint’. A dancer, dreamer, shaman, poet and painter.

Myers drew her inspiration from the natural world around her, dreamscapes, spirituality and identity. These themes resonated within me and the longer I was spending in this city, the more anxious I was feeling. It was a good anxiety, of course. The feeling of so many different channels of inspiration all culminating at the same time, meeting at a confluence that was about to explode
out of me in a hurricane of colour.

Being an utter spray paint virgin, I wasn’t about to let myself get knocked back by the potential critics, the tags and throwers of the graffiti world that plaster over my masterpiece the very next week. I took a leaf out of Vali’s book, and I did my thing without looking back, or having a care in the world.

What follows is a series of works that I completed around the city in different locations. They all draw influence from the artistic utopia that stole a part of my heart, and with the will of the bohemian collectives that challenge conventionalism in the boldest way possible. It has left an imprint on me that, even now, has reaffirmed my decision to keep on that artistic path, and keep doing what I love. Life’s too short to do anything else.

About the Author

Jamie Clayborough is a freelance artist, currently living in Manchester. He draws inspiration from his travels, practising all forms of media, including conventional paint, street art, transfer prints, photography and tattoo design.

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