Words by Emma Saunders

Melinda Vassallo is a Sydney local and Culture Scouts tour guide. She is the author of ‘Street Art of Sydney’s Inner West’ and she’s here to answer some of our questions.

So tell me about yourself. You're a Sydney local, what area of the city did you grow up in?

I have spent most of my life living in Redfern, Erskineville and Newtown. I have seen these areas turn from working class slums that no one wanted to live in -  to million dollar trendy Inner City areas.  

You're a graphic designer by trade, did this establish your interest in street art?

Yes, I am a graphic designer and always tried to keep myself involved in the arts. I love all forms of art and draw a lot of my design from trends in art and culture. I often took photos of the graffiti and street-art around the areas I lived in. Their use of line and colour always was a good source of reference. 

Over the years I began to follow certain artists on the streets and began to recognise different artists and their graffiti. I started following them and watching their artwork evolve.

What areas did you first see street art really develop in Sydney?

I guess it has been evolving long before I started to notice, but for me the turn of the century about 2000 there was some really exciting things happening on the streets.  Excellent pieces like the “Three Proud Men” in Macdonaldtown and really cool paste-ups and stencils. I photographed it all and got the crazy idea to write a book about it before it all disappeared.

Do you find that what you see on the streets feeds your design practice?

At first I drew my ideas from it and used colour and styles in my graphics. Now I tend to keep it separated. I love the non commercial side of street art and graffiti, I love its ephemeral nature It is my passion and graphics is my job. I don’t want to mix the two too much - it might take the fun out of it if it becomes a job!

You specialise in street art within Sydney's Inner West - what attracts you in particular to this area?

I guess the Inner West is the most condensed and prolific area. It is where I live so I can walk about every day and keep in touch with whats happening locally. I do travel to other areas - Melbourne, Adelaide, New York - but I mostly know what’s happening in my area.\

New street art initiatives are developing in the Inner West, such as Marrickville Council's 'Perfect Match'. Do you think the nature of street art will change in the Inner West by being actively supported as opposed to being more of an underground movement?

It has already changed a lot with the introduction of these initiatives. The public are becoming more aware of the ‘artistic’ side of street art instead on the ‘vandalistic’ side that they used to thing it was. I love that a lot of artists can now get paid to paint walls. 

But I also think it is important for a lot of street art to remain underground. To keep its edge. It is very important we don’t try and homogenise it or put it into a box or classification. It needs to be free.

Apart from Newtown, what areas of Sydney do you find most exciting for street art at the moment?

Marrickville is awesome. Also, St Peters, Camperdown and Stanmore. I’ve also seen some great stuff come out of Wollongong and Newcastle.

Melbourne is renowned for its street-art-covered laneways. What do you think makes the Sydney scene so exciting?

We don’t have the laneways of Melbourne - but we do have massive walls, edgy underground and cool laneways. I don’t go much for the ‘us vs. them’ mentality of the two cities. A lot of artists cross over all the time.

Street art is a particularly ephemeral type of art - are there any works that you wish still existed?

Yes there are a lot of pieces I loved and wish I could still see. It is sad when they go but it’s also the nature of the beast. I have many photos of all my favourite pieces. I guess my book and the photos are like the living dead. Someone once said to me that when you take a photo of street art, or confine it to a book, 'it dies a pretty picture'. I love that idea.

Who are your favourite 'established' street artists?

I love too many to mention. I love a lot of established but also there are a lot of emerging artists that I cannot wait to see where they go. That’s exciting.

Are there any emerging artists that you're especially keen to see develop in the next couple of years?

YES, YES, YES - I will keep vigilant watch on them and hope they continue to improve their art.

Anything else you'd like to add?

Street art is exactly what it is and should always be - it should always have a life on the streets. I don’t want to see it on a small canvas in a gallery, in someone’s home collection, in commercials, printed on shoes. I love it up big and loud and screaming with challenge and a bit of anarchy. 

Keep it free. 

Keep it on the streets. 

Keep it real.

Thanks Melinda!


Wendy KimptonComment