Street art on the walls of the Back Alley Gallery in Lismore’s Eggins Ln.
Street art on the walls of the Back Alley Gallery in Lismore’s Eggins Ln. Jay Cronan

Residents divided on street art

THE latest chapter in the argument over whether graffiti is art is being fought out in the back alleys of Lismore's business district.

A story in Tuesday's Northern Star detailed the arrival of German street artist Sbek, who helped overhaul an unsightly alleyway with his brand of art.

The artist was in town as part of stage two of the opening of the Back Alley Gallery, a new gallery of street art located in Eggins Ln.

The story prompted much discussion, with amateur art critics posting their opinions on the Northern Star website and its Facebook page

"After spending the last week in Melbourne's wonderful alleys full of outdoor cafes and amazing graffiti, I started to think that this is what Lismore could use to establish itself as what it is: a base for extremely talented artists to come out and share their visions. Art, after all, is not confined to paintings in great golden frames hanging in museums. Lismore has the empty canvases in her dark alleys. Set the artists free. I vote yes," Maybella from Ballina posted on the Star's website.

But Mr Wombat from Lismore took a contrary view.

"Unbelievable! Why would an area that is so diverse and unique need to rely on the back alley's city concept so we can 'be like Melbourne' Shame Lismore City Council (sic)," he said.

Most punters replying on the Northern Star's Facebook page seemed happy to make a distinction between what is now found in the Lismore CBD and the tagging that used to adorn the same area.

"In my eyes (the mural) is art. There is no way I could create the work seen on these walls. But when it comes to tagging, any doofus can do that. It's just pure vandalism," Facebook user Timaay Coombes said.

But Peter Boyle argued the art lacked some of the romance of places like Melbourne precisely because the work was sanctioned.

"Somehow it's just not the same as the evolving work over time of a host of passionate urban guerrillas," he said.

As for the professional critics, Lismore Regional Gallery director curator Kezia Geddes said the work in Eggins Ln reflected a contemporary artistic trend.

"Graffiti can be art, for sure. Graffiti is also a growing art form and we are seeing much more sophisticated graffiti than that of the '80s, which at its worst could be conceived as simply vandalism, marking of territory and abuse," she said.

"Now we see 'street art', which can include various forms from complex murals, stencils, hand-painted posters, paste-ups and yarn bombing.

"It tends to be much more outwardly focussed as well, in terms of challenging us, conveying a message or simply adding interest and colour to the streets.

"It's great to see more of this type of graffiti popping up in Lismore."

At least some businesses are obviously behind the Back Alley Gallery, given Chandlers, the Salvation Army, St Vincent de Paul and Mecca Cafe all had to agree to have their property act as a public canvas.

Lismore City Council Deputy Mayor Isaac Smith, who also sits on the business promotion panel that helped fund the works, said the development had more than paid for itself.

"We've killed two birds with one stone. It has gotten rid of the graffiti that covered the walls, while giving us fantastic artwork people want to see and will travel to see," he said.

Cr Smith said the next step for the gallery was to leverage off the interest it had created to attract more people to Lismore.

"It creates buzz you just can't buy," he said.

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