There was a piece of news today that a stencil by artist Banksy was painted over by Melbourne Council workers.
The question is however whether that’s part and parcel of street art, that unlike something that it is framed and placed on a wall it is ephemeral by its very nature.
But this debate is not new. Street artist Keith Haring came to Melbourne in 1984 and painted commissioned pieces of art, such as the wall of the car park of the former Collingwood Technical School on Johnston Street, which is now fading.
The question is whether this piece of art should be in some way ‘restored’ or left to deteriorate to the elements. Is this after all the destiny of art which is painted on street walls?
The mural was placed on Heritage Victoria’s register in 2004. But it may not last for very long. As ‘The Age’ articles above states, Haring began by having his chalk drawings erased, and himself arrested, in art attacks on New York subway platforms, and also knew the transitory nature of public painting. “Sometimes they’re temporary, sometimes they last forever,” he said.
Haring became a celebrated artist in New York before his untimely death aged 31 in 1990. I am sure that that painting in Collingwood is ‘valuable’, but then again street art cannot be placed in a museum.
I remember that Haring when he came to Melbourne did some ‘illegal’ and ‘unapproved’ paintings around the city. I remember reading then that he did this in any city that he visited. Doing a commissioned painting was one thing, but if I remembered correctly he believed that street art also had to be somewhat uncontrolled and free, and that urban landscapes were a canvas.
In fact I remember one of Haring’s figures painted on a pylon supporting a railway line near the Richmond Station opposite Punt Rd Oval. You could only see it from Brunton Avenue and over the years it was half hidden by the trees that grew in front of it. I discovered it by chance once as I was stuck in a traffic jam waiting to turn into Punt Rd.
About ten ten years ago it was painted over, probably by workers that didn’t know who Haring was and that they were probably erasing a few thousand dollars. I felt somewhat sad that that little men was gone, considering that Haring was gone as well, and that figure was my little secret and it wasn’t going to come back anymore.
But perhaps that’s is how it was meant to be.
Update: The Banksy thing must have reminded other people of the Keith Haring mural.