If I had to describe Melbourne’s street art scene, I’d call it a living, breathing organism. Ever-evolving and simply pulsating with new and creative blood, the experience I’m about to share with you will be very different from whatever you encounter if ever you head to the land Down Under and explore Melbourne’s street art for yourself.
But here’s the low-down. While art can be found in just about every nook and cranny of this bustling metropolis, there are a few main streets and alleyways where the local (and international) street art and graffiti community come together to literally make their mark.
And with street art being so open to all, you do get everyone from young to old having a go at tagging or stencilling their work on. From experienced artists looking to explore buildings as a new canvas or complete noobs (like youths in the community) having a go at it for fun, the marks left by these artists are indelible even though the art changes all the time.
During my trip to Melbourne, I was fortunate enough to go on an immersive walkabout with Melbourne Street Art Tours — the only street art tour collective that street artists themselves host. I was hosted by the lovely Gigi Gordes (check out her amazing work here), who herself is a sculptor, illustrator, and street artist.
She takes us to three main areas on our walkabout. Before we kick off, she gives us some backgrounding on the scene and from what we gather, Melbourne’s street art community is respectful, and there are unwritten rules about how and when you can cover up someone’s work with your own. Because while you want to leave your mark, you still want to acknowledge those who came before you and not deface their hard work.
Anyway, here we go. We start our tour at Melbourne’s most iconic street art lane. Their Mecca, if you will. Situated smack bang in the city’s CBD, Hosier Lane is a cobbled street covered wall-to-wall in spray paint. Heck, even their dumpsters are covered in graffiti! And I honestly never thought I’d live to want to take a photo by a giant bin. Yet here we are.
Hosier Lane is where we start getting introduced to artists such as Getnup (you’ll see him tagging his name all over the street art lanes. His challenge? Getting his tag on seemingly impossible surfaces) and Adnate (who has a massive 23-metre-high realist mural). We also get schooled on the differences between the types of street art (tagging versus graffiti, installations versus poster art, stencilling versus sticker art).
Naturally, we asked Gigi to show us some of her work, and she was happy to do so. At Presgrave Place, much of the street art is three-dimensional, perfect for a prolific sculptor like her. Along the main wall, you’ll see whimsical dioramas, small sculptures, and images set within a series of differently-shaped and coloured picture frames and also Gigi’s own signature finger sculptures shooting out of the most random places.
Next, we mosey on over to Exhibition Street and shoot off the main road and onto AC/DC Lane. Understandably, you’ll find many artworks here that feature famous recording artists — from Prince to Michael Jackson to the Rolling Stones to the local hard rock band AC/DC. If you love music, then do keep an eye out for your favourite artists as you explore this lane.
Finally, we turn the corner and are welcomed by Steen Jones’ vividly-hued homage to Melbourne city. Personally, this is one of my more favourite areas for its windiness, brick walls, and the sheer excitement of being able to take selfies with some of Banksy’s last remaining works in the city.
Easily one of the world’s most known (and notorious) street artists, Banksy visited Melbourne pre-pandemic and left his parachuting rats all over the CBD. But as time’s gone by and more work has covered his, pretty much all that remains is a stream of parachuting rats (for now, perhaps). Gigi tells us that the reason it probably hasn’t already been covered is because it’s the last of the prominent works Banksy did in the city. Other street artists see the value in that and leave it be.
Just before we culminate our tour with a little look-see inside Blender Studios — the home of Melbourne Street Art Tours — we have a glimpse of Blender Lane decked out in comical artworks. Usually done by the resident artists of Blender Studios themselves.
Once at Blender Studios, we’re treated to some Victoria-grown wines and local cheeses. It’s an absolutely wonderful way to end the afternoon, and we’re also treated to a peek at the resident artists’ studio spaces and catch more insight into their world. We also get to meet some of the artists who happen to be around and chat with them about their work, which is another treat in itself.
What I see and what you do will likely be worlds apart. You could even go on a street art tour on every visit to Melbourne and have a different experience each time — and that’s the magic of it! But what makes it genuinely enriching is hearing from the street artist themselves the community rules, insights, and even challenges faced.
Because as much as Melbourne’s street art is cherished, the community still faces backlash from the authorities. There’s a fine line between what is deemed art and what might actually be vandalism. And when the authorities are left to decide, oftentimes, they get it wrong. But it doesn’t matter because come a few days later, something fresh will be back on the walls and ready to be adored!
If you’d like to learn more about some artists who’ve made their mark on Melbourne’s streets, feel free to Google the names below.
Pheonix The Streetartist
*All images by Tengku Zai