As Western Australia’s bankrupt “street art” scene staggers on, (I was in York the other day, hoping that the mural being painted in the main street wasn’t going to have a black cockatoo or be terrible. And of course it did. And it was.) So I thought it would be useful to post this here, so that anyone can send out the link to the next dimwit wanting to commission the same boringly painted bird on a wall near you. And I don’t blame the civic decorators so much (they are not artists in this context) – the scene itself does not allow anything good to be done. I don’t know, maybe the usual crew infesting our walls again and again with the same kangaroo paws, numbats and draught horses also groan when asked to recreate their same old stuff? Maybe they really do have that piece of biting social commentary in them, but have just never gotten the chance to do anything good? Or is it more likely that the safest and least imaginative decorators just get chosen because anyone good won’t even bother applying? Next time you smell a bad mural commission in the wind, send them these six questions to ask themselves.
So you’ve decided to commission a mural?
1). Is it because you can’t think of anything else? (AKA do you really have no imagination at all?)
If you’ve somehow become responsible for spending someone else’s money on public art, be that for a community, a local or state government body or NGO, are you commissioning a mural because you just can’t think of anything else? A mural is the single most boring and predictable solution to public art in Western Australia. If you don’t have an overwhelmingly good reason for inflicting one on your community, (and you won’t), think of a different option. Come on. How about literally anything else
2). Have you considered the location carefully?
Remember if you let someone paint some crap on a charming 1920s shop brick wall or heritage listed dam, it’s likely ruined forever. Consider whether the (inevitably tedious) mural you will approve is reversible. If you are going to commission an eyesore (and you will), make sure that your dumb mistake won’t be soaking into brick or concrete forever.
3).Are you really the best person to be judging artworks?
Do you know anything about public art? Or art at all? If you are a local councillor, it’s probably best to just stick to organising bins with different coloured lids. Be creative as you like with that. Maybe have an arts officer for arts and stick to their decision. If you are thinking that painting a Black Cockatoo on the side of the something in your community “would be a lovely idea!” or “cheerful”, you are absolutely the wrong person to be deciding on public art! Back away quickly.
4). Do you think you are doing Street Art?
If the piece you are commissioning is to be approved by a council or committee, then it is not street art. It’s not even art. It is called civic decoration, and has the same status as slightly fancy brick paving. Those doing it are civic decorators not artists in this context. It’s not really your fault. The concept of street art doesn’t even exist in Western Australia. If you want to see what street art is like, give artists the freedom to do anything they want on a space. And if it turns out to be political or social commentary rather than another Black Cockatoo or a fucking Kangaroo Paw, and you don’t think that is a good thing, then excuse yourself from the role.
5). Do you think you are making your community unique?
If that’s what you want to achieve, then painting yet another flora and fauna scene on a wall or a silo is making your community exactly the same as every other location that thought that bland chocolate box crap would be a good idea. It’s just a flag saying that “imagination doesn’t live here”.
6). Is it something disconnected from your community now, or even racist?
Almost as tedious a choice as another black cockatoo or kangaroo paw is the historical theme. Unfortunately murals often concentrate on a certain section of whitey culture from the early 20th century, often but not always, those done in rural areas. Shearers, diggers etc. you know what I mean. Apart from being universally terribly done, is this where your community is at now? Or going to be in the future? I mean don’t ever commission a mural, for all the reasons above, but don’t make it racist and backward looking as well as an eyesore! Same goes for any Marilyn Monroe, Seinfeld, Sophia Loren or other celebrity not connected to the place you might be thinking is a good idea.
So if you are in the position of commissioning a mural, answer all the questions above, and still don’t do it. Unless you are in the position of allowing an artist (not a civic decorator) absolute freedom to do what they want and be ready to back the choice, just don’t. Just don’t.