Festival to turn Perth into street art central

Some of the world's best street artists have begun turning Perth into a giant canvas on a scale not seen before in the city.

More than 40 local and international artists are adorning walls, lanes and other public places during the free urban art festival Public: Art in the City, which opened last night.

The names Phlegm, ROA, Jordan Seiler, Pixel Pancho, eL Seed, Maya Hayuk and Gaia may not spark much recognition in many WA households.

But the world street art superstars would shine a light on Perth through their hundreds of thousands of social media followers, Lynda Dorrington, executive director of festival organiser Form, said.

Ms Dorrington said street art had great cultural tourism potential, as had been shown by similar events in Miami, Buenos Aires and Bristol.

Top Australian artists Beastman, Kyle Hughes-Odgers, Reko Rennie and Stormie Mills also are enlivening the city with murals, projections, installations and pop-up events until April 13.

Ms Dorrington said people would be able to watch artists painting on buildings as high as 10 storeys.

Mills, who graduated from Perth's illegal "night-school" graffiti scene in the 1980s to drive big art projects around the world, hoped Public would become an annual event and a catalyst to convert conservative objections to street art.

Unlike other festivals, Public would leave an enduring footprint, he said. "You can walk around a corner and see this work by these extremely talented guys."

Many property owners, developers and civic authorities still had trouble distinguishing between tagging, graffiti and street art, Mills said.

Fremantle City Council's policy of preserving graffiti considered to have artistic or cultural merit was a positive move, he said. "We can address these on their merits or we can continue the same old boring response, which is to paint these beige patches and chase our tail."

Private and corporate supporters are spending about $2 million on Public this year, with about half for art to revitalise low-cost housing in Fremantle.

New York urban artist Hayuk has been brightening up the drab balconies of a Foundation Housing block of flats in Hampton Road, Fremantle. Hayuk has painted her lush, patterned abstract murals all over the world. She said she thrived on the hit-and-run democratic nature of street art.

"People identify with it in different ways to going into a gallery or museum. In our technological age, people take 'selfies' and want to be part of the art. There is no commodification or buying and selling of it. It is part of us, populist, egalitarian and democratic."

Many urban and graffiti artists have entered the temples of high art, the galleries.

Perth artist Clare McFarlane has found a different kind of credibility by going the other way.

"Doing street art is seen as cool and has a cachet and attitude that gives you an extra profile," she said. "Having your work out in public where people can see it gives you an extra lift."

Festival information is at form.net.au/projects/public

The West Australian

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