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HomeIssue 24Street art under government eye

Street art under government eye

By OSCAR PERRI

Six walls around Alice Springs are currently being transformed into large scale public art by 13 local and interstate artists this week, as part of this year’s Alice Springs Street Art Festival.

The Festival is funded by the NT Government and organised by Red Hot Arts (RHA), who also commissioned the artists and chose the locations. After cancelling last year, due to COVID19, RHA General Manager Jeanette Shepherd says it’s good to follow up 2019’s inaugural festival and continue to turn the streets into an open air gallery. 

As more works are added, she says the murals can become another attraction to draw people to Alice Springs.

“Ideally we want tourists to be able to stay and really enjoy the town, and a part of that is having attractions for them to go and see.

“Alice Springs already draws a lot of artists, but I think when they see arts being supported like this, it’s definitely more appealing for them to come to.”

It wasn’t easy for Melbourne artist “Kaff-eine” to get here for the festival, having to fly through Newcastle, Brisbane and Darwin to finally touch down in Alice.

Working as a full time artist for over a decade now, she has painted works in America, France, Germany, and the Philippines, as well as one of the enormous works in the highly regarded Yarriambiack Shire’s Silo Art Trail in rural Western Victoria.

Her work, out the front of the House of Talhulah cafe on Hartley Street, features two figures on horseback, one with a heeler, and both appearing laid back and comfortable, with Akubras shadowing their eyes.

They are in red, blue and cream spray and acrylic paint, reflecting the colours of the soil, sky and trees of Central Australia.

“It started of as a bit of an homage to indentured labourers, indigenous Australians being forced to work as stockmen and women, essentially slavery, which the community then turned around to being their own culture.”

Place has a big impact on her art, particularly when away from home.

“Especially a place with a 60,000 year old history like here. I come in and paint and then I go away again, so it’s got to have meaning and to be owned by the folks who live here and work here, otherwise what’s the point?”

Kaff-eine says that working in the outside world draws her away from the design she may have originally planned, recognising and reflecting the social, political and natural environment surrounding the work. She says it is Important to have a voice and a message, “otherwise why are you painting?”

This freedom of expression, though, has its limits for artists commissioned by the festival.

Designs need approval from RHA, the property owner, and NT Government owned NT Major Events Company. RHA confirmed that some artists had to change their designs as a result of “feedback” from business owners and funding bodies.

Tagging, a less publicly celebrated aspect of street art, is integral to any street art scene According to Kaff-eine, “whether people like it or not.” 

She says it’s how artists learn the basic skills and theories of graffiti, a necessary part of growing a street art scene that produces high quality pieces like the ones that the festival has commissioned.

“You don’t get one without the other, it’s all part of the same culture.

“Most of the artists that I know, if they don’t do it now then they definitely used to, it’s where everything comes from.”

“Just paint,” is Kaff-eine’s advice for aspiring street artists.

“Practice somewhere not in public first, everyone sucks at the start, follow artists you admire and watch what they do, especially when they’re at work, not just looking at the finished piece.

“If you love what you’re doing and you’ve got something strong to say then others will feel the same.”

Once the piece is finished, she is going to be spending the next week working with artists from Many Hands Art Centre on a mural on Leichhardt Terrace.

Already acclaimed for what they do, Kaff-eine’s focus will be to help with translating their work to scale and using spray paint instead of their habitual watercolour and brushes.

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