Into the streets

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The best kind of culture is a surprise. It’s encountering a talented busker whose music makes you smile and offering a grateful prayer for that unexpected interlude. For the same reason I’m a fan of public art, relishing that ‘whoa, did you see that?’ moment as an artwork is suddenly revealed.

Art in public places is all the more intriguing when it is in a street or neighbourhood you know well. Finding a building wall that was blank one day transformed into a giant canvas the next is utterly joyful. Sometimes art leads naturally to more art, with one public artwork morphing organically into a public art gallery, as borne out in the West End’s unique Beresford Lane.

The edgy Hit the Bricks street art festival has just rolled through Newcastle providing skilled visual artists with a stack of walls, mountains of paint and giving them a three day deadline in which to create giant public murals. Creativity was unleashed, ugly walls and empty spaces were reborn and now the city is all the better for it.

This is the second year of Hit the Bricks and the 2014 artworks have added to last year’s spectacular offerings. With lots of art now adorning Newcastle’s public places it’s clear that a beautification renewal, as well as an urban renewal, is solidly underway. The West End had eight new murals created during the festival and such a number is only fitting, after all we put the ‘edge’ into ‘edginess’, the ‘street’ into ‘street cred’ and most probably the ‘shabby’ into ‘shabby chic’.

In the Parry Street cul-de-sac the artist Deams has created a gorgeous, geometric abstract on a black background reminiscent of the Russian artist Kandinsky. At the corner of Hunter Street and Stewart Avenue muralist Guido Van Helten offers a large portrait of a white boy’s face. It seems to be site inspired; this dreamy work a natural companion to last year’s stunning mural of a young Indigenous boy by another artist on the other side of the railway tracks at Wickham.

Ever had too much coffee? If you’re nodding, or reading this at 3.00am, you’ll get how perfect the mural above Bank Corner Café is. It’s all trippy, hippy with I-need-to-get-to-bed-badly, over stimulated caffeine eyes (all three of them).

I’m a follower of Japanese-born, Melbourne-based artist Twoone and it was his animal portrait which I’ve anointed as my 2014 Hit the Bricks favourite. Located in King Street, between Steel and Union Streets, he’s painted the head of a lion/wild cat whose eyes stare defiantly away from the viewer. Twoone frequently uses animals in his murals and this one has something to say; his beast is noble but injured, with a spear protruding from its face, its jowls and chin running red with blood.

Is it a trophy hunting protest, a call out in the name of endangered big cats, or am I just projecting? It has a solemnity about it and invites active interpretation, rather than just passive viewing, social commentary rather than decorative admiration. For that alone I say “thank you”.

The second annual Hit The Bricks was held this year, it is the brainchild of Michael Langenegger, Sally Bourke and Carl Morgan. You can read more about it and download a map to find the artworks here: http://lookhear.com.au/hit-the-bricks. Newcastle City Council has a Public Art & Placemaking Policy which is available on the Council website: http://www.newcastle.nsw.gov.au

Kimberly O’Sullivan

Have you chosen the West End as your home or as the perfect place to run your business? Do you have a West End tale which deserves a wider audience? What inspires and infuriates you about the West End? If you have a story to tell I would love to talk to you! Here’s how to find me: kimberly@netspace.net.au; 0413 250 155.

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