Art beats of the street
Mega murals have taken centrestage in Perth and are a cultural representation of its past, present and future
If you're planning a trip to the Western Australia capital this year, you're sure of a 'big' surprise. Not only has the Perth cityscape just welcomed a mega-mural that's considered the largest in the southern hemisphere, but the state it belongs to occupies the entire western third of the Oceanic nation and is fast gaining some very reputable street cred.
The 25-storey masterpiece that has taken pride of place on the exterior of the city's first Art Series hotel is the work of its namesake, Australian artist Matt Adnate, and depicts the face of a Noongar man, an Indian woman and a Mediterranean woman - all created solely with spray paint.
"Each face tells a different history and background," Adnate said in an interview about the project. "It depicts the past through the cultural representation in the subject's dressing elements, the present with contemporary faces, and the future as the subjects are the youth of today."
The mega-mural is the latest addition to a landscape that has in the past 10 years gone from being almost non-existent to one of the most talked about in Australia.
"People are always surprised at how many cool things there are to see and do in Perth, mainly the amazing street art you can find tucked away down laneways and the hidden gems that you might walk straight past and never know were there," says Adie Chapman, the owner of walking tour operator Oh Hey WA!
One of the city's most passionate art ambassadors, Chapman first fell in love with street art in Berlin nine years ago and says that back then she never expected to see anything of that quality in Perth.
"I did a street art tour there (Berlin) and was blown away by all of the murals of the Berlin Wall, the massive scale of the murals on huge buildings, small stencils and paste-ups, as well as the many buildings covered in graffiti," she tells me. "I remember thinking you would never see anything like that in Perth."
How wrong she was, Today, Perth boasts an impressive 'outdoor gallery', has its own street art tours, and has amassed worldwide attention.
"Before 2014, it was quite rare to see any commissioned murals here. now they are all over Perth," Chapman explains as we stop under Spanda, a 29-metre tall sculpture at Elizabeth Quay that represents ripples, and links the Swan River, land, and sky. "This is mainly due to the fantastic work of Form (a not-for-profit organisation that advocates for and develops creativity within WA) and their public street art festivals."
As opposed to a few paintings here and there, interested tourists can expect to find large-scale works by local, national, and international artists spread across the city, beyond its limits, and into regional WA.
Stormie Mills is the most well-known of the contributing artists. The Australian is renowned for his eerily sad black-and-white characters that draw on a deep sense of isolation, but also carry a message of hope.
Fellow Aussie artists Anya Brock and Yok make their mark here, too. Brock is known for her spirited, bold use of colour and strokes, while Yok, a Perth local who now calls New York home, focuses on characters.
In addition, there are plenty of works by notable international talent too, including American Nils Westergard, Indonesian Eko Nugroho, ROA from Berlin, Italian artist Pixel Pancho, and Malaysian artist Josh Kane Gomes.
"I really love anything by Stormie Mills," admits Chapman. "Perth-based graffiti artist Drew Straker's neon murals have an impact too and there is a fantastic piece by Puerto Rican artist Alexis Diaz - a leafy sea dragon/human hybrid - that blows me away every time I see it."
Howards, Wolf, and Prince lanes are three of the inner-city locations on the trail, each boasting evocative large-scale works like Mills' Swing overlooking the Field and The Conversation; Yok's Night Forest; and Brock's Fierce, to name a few. Koorden, an indigenous urban art installation by Noongar (the Aboriginal Australians who live in the south-west corner of Western Australia) artist Rod Garlett, Richie Kuhaupt and architect Frank Chaney do their bit to add some traditional flavour to the al fresco gallery that's become almost as popular as attractions like the Swan River, Kings Park/Botanic Gardens, and the Bell Tower.
"I had no appreciation of the hidden wonders of street art in Perth - I'm now excited to return and discover more," admits one tourist from Brisbane we spoke to. Another says: "I feel like I got to see a side of Perth that even many locals haven't seen."
Street art is not confined to the city, in fact, there are plenty of engaging murals in outlying areas like Subiaco (Olive Street's worth a look) and North and South Fremantle, then there's the Public Silo Trail that's attracting its fair share of attention.
Project manager at Form, Rhianna Pezzaniti, has been quoted as saying that the project was designed to drive cultural tourism and "the response from the public has been overwhelmingly positive".
Chapman's Oh Hey WA! focuses specifically on the inner city offerings. She and her younger sister Robyn host two-hour (4-kilometre) curated walking tours packed with passion and insight.
The pair has lived in Perth most of their lives and has watched it grow into the vibrant and exciting cultural capital it is today.
"Perth and the West Coast should be on every traveller's Australian itinerary for its unique culture, outstanding and varied landscapes, delicious produce and stunning weather," says the young entrepreneur, who still can't believe she gets to spend her days walking the vibrant streets and laneways with tourists from the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands, Canada, US, and Singapore.
While some may beg to differ, there is merit in suggesting that WA may on its way to claiming the title of Australia's 'state of the arts'.
Urban Adventure perhaps put it best recently when it said: "You could be forgiven for thinking that you had fallen down into a rabbit hole and ended up in Australia's renowned cultural capital, Melbourne, with the amount of colour, creativity, and hipster vibes the area (Perth) oozes."
Why don't you decide?