Walls and fences of Byron host a renaissance of street art

IT'S hard to miss Byron Bay's explosion of urban art - the largest piece is 100 metres long and greets visitors as they arrive to town on Ewingsdale Rd.

The industrial-sized wall art next to the BP Ozigo spans the wall of an 8m high factory and was commissioned by Boardshop owner Tony Gembeck after his skateboard and art supply business opened its Byron Bay warehouse a year ago.

"Street art, music and skateboarding have gone hand-in-hand since the late '80s," Mr Gembeck said.

"We were quite active in street art on the Gold Coast so when we opened the Byron Bay warehouse, painting this wall was a natural extension of that."

Painted by local artists and artists from the Ironlak aerosol paint company, the wall features sky-high portraits along with more abstract designs.

Mr Gembeck said Byron Bay's urban art scene has the potential to rival that in Melbourne.

"We have so many talented artists either living here or travelling through. I'd love to see Byron Bay get more creative and encourage more art," he said.

"The only thing holding it back is accessibility. We've got no place to go (to paint freely). Melbourne is far more accessible and welcoming.

"A lot of what people associate with graffiti art is tagging (signatures) that have negative connotations, but good art can take years of practice."

Mr Gembeck said getting the support of the business community and local council was the key to expanding Byron Bay's urban art scene.

"We had the owner of the wall that runs behind the Byron Aged Care facility in town contact us to give permission to paint something more permanent on the wall. They were sick of painting over tags only to have the wall was re-tagged 24 hours later," he said.

With the owner's consent, more than a dozen artists have been working on the wall, running parallel to Shirley St and leading to the Butler St market grounds, and it is the kind of partnership Byron Bay businessman Paul Waters would like to see happen more often.

"Tagging private or public property without permission is just vandalism," Mr Waters said. "It can cost the community as much as $100,000 a year in Byron Bay alone to remove tags. I estimate myself and our team have removed 10,000 tags in the past three years."

Mr Waters, who manages The Balcony, cited the new mural on the Bay Seafood wall in Lawson St as well as the changing wall at Bayleaf Cafe in Marvel St as examples of what he considers "good" street art.

Byron Council offers art grants

Byron Shire Council's Public Art Panel will host a small grants program in 2015 with up to $1000 available for two high-quality projects within the shire. Director of corporate and community services, Mark Arnold, said owner's permission (public and private) was need prior to art being placed on buildings. The council has already commissioned art for the Byron Regional Sport and Cultural Complex; the amenities blocks at Mullumbimby's Pine Ave sports fields and at Byron Bay's Recreation Grounds.



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