Masked spray painters destroy world-famous Melbourne street art

The destruction of street art in Melbourne’s iconic Hosier Lane has divided the urban art community.

A dozen people wearing masks were filmed spray-painting over the street art with paint-filled canisters on Saturday 8 February.

Hosier Lane is cherished by locals and world-renowned for its vast and colourful works of street art. It became a street art gallery in 1998 and attracts around 5000 visitors per day. Over the years, the laneway has featured everything from a memorial to Taylor Swift to a koala spraying a fire hose in tribute to the New South Wales fire services fighting devastating bushfires in Australia.

Saturday’s paint bombing, which left the laneway covered in a blur of green, pink, yellow and blue paint was captured on film by drones flying overhead and appeared on Instagram.  It appears to have since been removed.

The lane has represented a tricky legal grey area for the local government authority, the City of Melbourne. While most of Hosier Lane’s works are covered by a general permission from the relevant property owners, street art in Melbourne still technically requires the prior agreement of the affected property owner, otherwise it is considered vandalism.

The City of Melbourne also states in its 2014 Graffiti Management Plan that protection of street art is not practical because it is “not meant to last”. Nevertheless, even local government could not stomach Saturday’s events and the City of Melbourne has filed a complaint with police.

Melbourne’s Lord Mayor, Sally Capp said the masked group’s acts were “unacceptable and… not in keeping with the spirit of Hosier Lane” even though the site is recognised as “temporary, ephemeral and forever changing”. This was because the paint bombing was in Capp’s opinion “self-centred… damaging and creates no value for anyone”.

Some locals agreed that what happened on Saturday was a step too far. “Down here any street art is culture”, said Chase Joslin, an employee at Culture Kings streetwear shop on Hosier Lane. “But where you’re going through and destroying people’s art, I don’t think it’s part of the culture”, he added. Others believe that the masked group were waging a guerrilla campaign against the perceived commoditisation of the laneway.

It’s really important to find out what their motivations were”, said Zoe Paulsen, festival director for a new urban art and street festival in Melbourne called Can’t Do Tomorrow, which takes place later this month. Paulsen thinks the group “wants to say something” and deliberately staged their attack on the laneway in broad daylight to make a cultural or political statement.

Whatever their motivations, says Paulsen, the masked painters have reiterated the underlying ethos of street art where a “work can be there one day and gone the next”. Now it remains to be seen what will appear on the new canvas that has been created in Hosier Lane.

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