GRAFFITI OF SYDNEY and ATHENS.
It was intended to make Athens the subject of our first post for our forthcoming Odyssey Part 2 but after visiting the CBD of Sydney before we left Australia I just had to write. The inspiration came as we watched talented street artist James Kite. James not only created surreal images but also images depicting Australian icons. One I immediately identified with, with nostalgic affection, was that of Arthur Stace, Mr Eternity.
James has a web page, simply type in ‘James Kite street artist Sydney’. I recommend you have a look at it. Following is part of his website introduction: I lost my job July 2008 and failed to get on the dole (social security) because my bank account at the time was paperless (Centrelink required a bank statement and would not accept a print out) and after 6 months had no luck finding a job. I survived for 2 years via ebay selling odds and ends but…………’.
In the late 1940s and early 1950s during my childhood roaming days around Sydney there were few buskers, no graffiti and no street art other than the word Eternity written by Arthur Stace (1884–1967). I know this because for a Saturday entertainment my father would take me into the city to wander about. Our mooching meant visiting army disposal stores mostly in the Haymarket, Broadway area and along George Street down to Circular Quay. Army disposal stores in those days sold WW2 army surplus which was real stuff, not like the cheap imitations in so-called army disposal stores today. The paths we trod during our Saturday morning disposal store forays were the scribing grounds for Mr Eternity. I would gaze in wonderment at the way Stace wrote the word so beautifully. The first time I saw it I didn’t go off on a religious bent but I thought to myself ‘that I would write like that too’ and in the years that followed I did just that. Stace was my handwriting mentor and he didn’t know it.
Stace wrote ‘Eternity’ over half a million times between 1932 and 1967. Its appearance was a mystery until 1956 when Reverend Thompson, who preached at the church where Stace worked as a cleaner, saw him take a piece of chalk from his pocket and write the word on the footpath. Thompson wrote about Stace’s life and an interview was published in the Sydney Sunday Telegraph newspaper in June 1956.
In 1963, photographer Trevor Dallen cornered Arthur and asked to take a few pictures of him writing his famous word. After four photos Dallen ran out of film and asked for Stace to stay put while he got more film. Upon Dallen’s return, Stace was gone.
Stace was inspired to write Eternity when he converted to Christianity in 1930 after hearing an inspirational sermon at St Barnabas Church Broadway. Two years later Arthur was further inspired by another evangelist John Ridley who spoke of ‘The echoes of Eternity’ from Isaiah 57:15 which makes reference to ‘The high and lofty one who lives in eternity’. He shouted ‘Eternity, Eternity, I wish that I could sound or shout that word to everyone in the streets of Sydney. You’ve got to meet it, where will you spend Eternity?’ These words proved crucial in Stace’s decision to tell others about his faith. In an interview, Stace said, “Eternity went ringing through my brain and suddenly I began crying and felt a powerful call from the Lord to write Eternity.” Even though he was illiterate and could hardly write his own name he was able to write the word Eternity in a beautiful copperplate script.
After eight or nine years, he tried to write something else, ‘Obey God’ and then five years later, ‘God or Sin’ but he could not bring himself to stop writing ‘Eternity’.
The powers within the Sydney City Council were not impressed with Stace’s graffiti and they brought him to the attention of the police saying he was breaking the rules about the defacing of pavements. Stace narrowly avoided arrest on many occasions. Each time he was caught, he responded with, “But I had permission from a higher source”.
Arthur Stace was born in Balmain, an inner-west suburb of Sydney in 1874. The child of alcoholics, he was brought up in poverty and in order to survive he resorted to stealing bread and milk and searching for scraps of food in bins. At 15 he became an alcoholic and was subsequently sent to jail. In March 1916 at age 26 he enlisted for World War 1 but after suffering recurring bouts of illness he was discharged as medically unfit.
Stace died as a result of a stroke in a nursing home at the age of 83 in 1967. He bequeathed his body to the University of Sydney. Eventually, his remains were buried with those of his wife at Botany Cemetery around two years later. Stace has become an iconic identity of Sydney. Recently there was a film made about his life and there is even an opera. Eternty was the main focus of a fireworks display in 2008 on NewYears eve on Sydney Harbour, Eternity was emblazoned across the Sydney Harbour Bridge. I like now to think that Stace has joined the ‘Higher Power’ and now looks down with affection on all street artists, religious or not.
Today in most cities of the world the public can observe provocative, illegal ‘eyesore’ graffiti. Below is an example of ‘eyesore’ graffiti.
Most people think of graffiti as simply a stylized writing of a person’s name (tag) and that is what most graffiti is; however on the more complicated pieces where letters blend together and form an individualised calligraphic style they definitely take on an aesthetic appeal of the own.
In 2011 Bev and I attended an exhibition of street art on Cockatoo Island, once a thriving ship-building yard in Sydney Harbour. The abandoned industrial spaces were the canvas for more than 150 street artists and after viewing their handiwork I’m tending to think I wouldn’t mind learning the art of the pressure can.
On our property we have a number of concrete water tanks like the one shown above. I’m going to make decorating them a top priority when we return home from this odyssey. If there are any street artists reading this blog who want to teach me, let me know.
Following are a few photographs of our favourite pieces of street art taken during our Odyssey Part 1 in 2012.
The torpedo was invented in Rejika, the full story is detailed in our blog Odyssey Part 1. Go to Archives December 2012 and scroll to Rijeka Croatia Sunday 4th November 2012.
Note re the Athens prefix in front of some of the above images. I commenced this post in Sydney and finished it about a week after arriving in Athens. From my observations so far Athens is the graffiti capital of the world. It is at its best and worst here. I expect the amount of graffiti adorning public places in the city is relative to the numbers of disenfranchised unemployed youth. The Greek current youth unemployed is standing at 60%.
On our last odyssey I didn’t photograph as much street art as I should have, I concentrated my efforts on chimneys with attitude. On this odyssey I will concentrate on artistic street art and faces, real and artificial, so watch at the bottom of each posting for the images.
The next posting relating to Odyssey Part 2 will be from Kythera Island. Bev and I hope you stay with us, as I’m sure there will no doubt be some unexpected experiences and adventures.
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