Young & Free in SF! (Guest blog – Georgia Frances King)

Young & Free: Australian Contemporary Street Art is the biggest Aussie street art show that has been exhibited in America, ever. VNA regular readers will know that we have an affinity for our fellow Commonwealth art buddies, so it’s great to see that they’re finally getting some serious recognition internationally.

For nearly a fortnight at the start of September, San Francisco was overrun by thirteen of Australia’s best street artists and their ensuing clan of media, organisers and curators. Like the convicts of the past they embraced their shady roots, painting as much on walls outside the official gallery space than inside. Over the week murals were painted all around town, with Lister’s faces shooting technicolour laser beams, Ha-Ha’s Geronimo stencils popping up on anything from doorways to the sides of trucks, and pieces from Australia’s original 80s graffiti legends, New 2 and Dmote, being created alongside Australia’s most notorious current graf guy, Sofles. Members of the Everfresh crew in Melbourne, a studio that we’ve supported for a long time, arguably had the most works up out of anyone. Character-king Reka evened out at four massive colourful creatures popping out of buildings, some taking over a day to complete, Rone’s iconic posters of pretty girls would appear over night, last two days and then be painted over, and although Meggs spent most of his time putting together an impressive gallery installation he still had enough energy to map out a giant superhero on the side of a bar wall in the Tenderloin.

The actually gallery space itself combined all of the best bits of the street with negative space and immaculately perfected work. We’re not going to go into the gallery vs. street debate here, but this show was a perfect example of how the two can combine. Many of the canvas works were extended onto the walls and the entire entrance hall was covered in genuine graf. Every artist returned to their illegal roots to cover it in throwies, stencils, tags, small pieces that then got capped, stickers, the whole tamale. By the end of the two weeks it resembled one of the bombed out laneways that Melbourne has become so famous for – a true example of the street being replicated on a gallery wall.

Two cubes dominated the space – one painted together by Sofles and Dmote, and the other made by Lister. It was a giant painted head that held small resin artworks on it like hairclips and earrings. Peering inside the eye holes you were greeted by a smaller hanging head (“the brains of the piece,” he said) piercing through you with fluorescent lasers. The outer gallery walls featured two completely painted areas – one by Dabs Myla, who also collaborated on an outside wall with members of Seventh Letter, who they have just been admitted entrance to, and another by Kid Zoom. Zoom’s entirely-aerosol large-scale works are what have set him up to be the next great Australian street artist alongside the likes of Lister and Kill Pixie, and the six-metre tall skull alongside six painted Australian flags perfectly illustrated this. Vexta’s flying figures dripped black paint and geometric confetti and were teamed with tiny painted skulls, whereas Ben Frost’s vulgar Pop art imagery needed no surrounding touches in order to get his somewhat-provocative message across. The crude imagery that perverted Disney characters on prescription pill packets angered one viewer enough to pick a fight with Frost that sent canvases flying off the walls and blood being shed on the gallery floor. Come for the art, stay for the show, folks.

Scuffles aside, the work illustrated exactly what it is about Australian art that the world is suddenly standing up and paying attention to. They may live in a far away place, but that does not mean that they should be ignored. Perhaps it’s the isolation that has fuelled them to become such unique artists, not as touched by external influences and thus creating distinctive work that sets them apart. You may know the names Anthony Lister, Kid Zoom and Dabs Myla, but we guarantee that over the coming years the Australian invasion shall begin. Aussie Aussie Aussie?

Young & Free: Australian Contemporary Street Artists is showing until October 22nd at Geary 941 in San Francisco. Below are some images capturing the weeks leading up to the show, including the gallery process, public walls and the eventual opening night.

Images courtesy of Andrius Lipsys

Follow Georgia Frances King on Twitter