Graffiti artist in demand

Shannon Harvey and Grace Millimaci

As a young graffiti artist, Fintan Magee was arrested four times in his hometown of Brisbane, where local councils have covered up "almost every piece" of his work.

Now he's a world-renowned street and wall artist dubbed "the Australian Banksy", there is no chance of that happening to Magee's giant as-yet-untitled wall mural on the three-storey art deco building of Luna Cinema in Leederville.

Magee was commissioned by the City of Vincent to create the bright, eye-catching street art as part of the Light Up Leederville Carnival on December 7.

"You have to start somewhere," the 29 year-old joked about his former life as a graffiti artist during a break from the mural, which depicts three giant people in the midst of migration, and is due to be completed tomorrow.

"I was already doing oil paintings and the 2010 movement known as post-graffiti or contemporary muralism really spoke to me. So it was a matter of merging my graffiti practice on walls with my fine art practice, and it worked."

His large-scale murals, which cost anything from covering his expenses to $20,000 per commission, are now hard to miss on buildings from London to Los Angeles and Moscow to Glasgow.

"It's about giving life to a building and bringing art to the people and making it a part of everyday life," said Magee, who has a degree in fine arts from the Queensland College of Art. "Art should be for the people and for those who don't get to the art gallery. At least they can absorb something on their way to work."

City of Vincent mayor John Carey said the mural at the corner of Oxford and Vincent streets was just one of the attractions that would add to the area's vibrancy during Light Up Leederville, which was in its third year and had been expanded.

"The festival is all about celebrating what's fantastic about Leederville, but also trying to renew and activate it to bring out its best potential," Mr Carey said.

"We have an incredible community that's got a bit of that 'grunge and grit' factor.

"It's not a pristine environment – people celebrate the fact that Leederville is a bit different and unique."

Magee said his Leederville mural was about movement and immigration.

"Perth is a new city and it seems that every third person I meet is English or Irish or has some kind of accent. But I like people to draw their own meanings, too," he said.

He is under no illusion that street art can be here today, gone tomorrow.

"I've lost about 20-30 murals to councils or owners, but the nature of painting on the street is ephemeral," he said.

"Buildings get knocked down or developed, and I think that is healthy for an artist. You shouldn't cling to things. You learn from it and let it go.

"It's in the public space as well, so it can get written on, it can get tagged, it can peel, it can age.

"Hopefully this one will stay a little longer than the others."

Magee shirks his Australian Banksy tag as "wildly inaccurate".

"I think every street artist is influenced by Banksy in some way, but he's probably one of the least influential on my style," he said.

"My work is very different. I'm not very political, but as a Queenslander who was there during the floods, Queensland architecture is kind of important to me.

"So I started painting traditional Queenslander houses on the backs of people, which also ties into the financial crisis and the housing market, as debt is a pretty serious problem people carry around."