Art. It’s a pain isn’t it?
Every city says it has a vibrant arts scene yet they still say ‘The Arts is dead.’
So, where’s it at?
Street art is the win-win for cities.
It’s an expression of grass roots economic growth, demonstrates a vibrant arts scene, is distinct to its region, brings pictures of your city into the media, generates visitor interest and is the pride of the city matriarchs once it’s safely in place.
So, wouldn’t it be great if your city could have a body of work in its streets which was of an international standard, is endemic to its region and is executed in a way that’s sensitive to public and private property?
You know what I’m taking about – the type of artist which any city would be proud to call their own, to steal them, or to offer them commissions of their own so no-one else could have them.
Another reason why Fremantle is the arts capital of the world is we have this person.
I introduced myself to Horatio T Birdbath a couple of years ago. I had always known his work – the large mural on the side of the Gino’s wall which started in the early 1990s and has been added to, touched up or modified for 20 years since, but I have never met him.
Once I had introduced myself, I personally volunteered to sponsor him with more work in Fremantle’s streets so no-one else could have him.
I then went to powerful people and explained that just as a Mallee tree had evolved after eons of adaptive regeneration to become beautiful in a habitat of pure sand, there was a body of work in Fremantle which had become so distinct, strong and beautiful that we must – of course – trap it and exploit it with money.
I prosecuted this idea with Horatio, too, who modestly didn’t think it necessary that he pour more of his seed about Fremantle. Apparently twenty years in the smoking section of Gino’s meant one too many interuptions from people with bad BO.
Although I’ve never tried it, I guess it would become tedious moving my office to an open air environment too.
Horatio then had meetings with powerful people and was invited to come up with a concept.
One of them was a series of installations in Kings Square which would be created on Saturdays with live-community input and then eventually be taken away.
That’s exactly what a lot of cities think of when they think of ‘Art’ – so long as a five-year old can turn up with his mum and an oversized apron and swipe some Clag on it then the ‘comminty art’ project is done.
The problem with this is you end up with a product that looks like a five metre mural shared by a year 3 classroom and stuck on the wall, and how many of those have you kept for later? None. See?
Then I spoke to the powerful people. I objected. ‘Why on earth are we wasting money on temporary artwork when the streets need permanent improvement?’
‘It’s just $5,000,’ they say. ‘It’s nothing.’
‘It’s something if it’s a waste,’ I said. ‘Why not give him a hard surface to work on – just like behind Gino’s.’
‘But we have no hard surfaces left in Kings Square.’
‘Well, why not give him one of the bollards to work on.’
It didn’t seem like a great idea – but it was.
With this, I was given a mock-up of a bollard design two weeks later, and that was that.
Just look at these images and imagine an ordinary concrete bollard there. Now look at them again and enjoy the violence of colour that Horatio has created for this city.
It is so unutterably beautiful that it sometimes it chokes me up to see them. And yes, people are flocking to see it.
So if you are a community planner, Mayor, politician, economic developer or a five year old kid, come and see the genius at work.
And if you try to steal him, we’ll shoot you.