A set of huge lips on a kaleidoscopic face pouts towards Northbridge from the corner of William and Wellington streets. The giant wall mural by artists Beastman and Vans the Omega features vibrant blues, greens, yellows and browns in a geometric-yet-fluid medley of four faces, and is one of a growing number of site-specific, large-scale works by local, national and international artists that are transforming 140 William Street into a cultural hub.
Most shopping centres in Perth have been around since the 60s, and, says Kristi Dempster, marketing manager at 140, did nothing to improve the identity of our city.
“I think why CBD retail has failed is because it has tried to really emulate what suburban centres are doing from a shopping point of view, and the city isn’t about that,” Kristi says. “I think property owners in the city need to start to understand that they need to deliver something different – CBDs are usually about culture, and I think art murals really contribute to that.”
Since its beginnings in 2010, we’ve slowly seen the 140 retail space turn into
a labyrinth of urban and contemporary art, its laneways covered in paint, sculpture, Perspex and honeycomb structures.
“We identified a real niche in the market and an opportunity to do something different with arts and culture,” Kristi says, on how the CBUS Property Group project came about. “We looked to really connect the cultural precinct in Northbridge and William Street, and use the property as a common loop to inject that culture back into the CBD and on Murray Street Mall.”
CBUS developed a jam-packed arts program that has seen some of the world’s best artists and creatives – from Perth’s jewellery king Alister Yiap, to US geometric artist Matt W. Moore – do just that.
“The works are a way for the people of Perth to interact with a physical space and appreciate it,” says Kristi. “Twelve artists painted murals on shopfronts while we were building, and people walking to work were smiling and taking pictures and interacting.”
Kristi says art in and around a city really contributes to its urban fabric.
“It always evokes some kind of emotional response – it might be something really simple, and it’s not necessarily tangible or measurable, but it definitely adds to the public space and public realm,” she says. “It creates a uniqueness about a place or a destination or a precinct in itself, and I think it’s really interesting to look at how people respond to it, especially in Perth where it’s so sterile and it’s all the same.”
Anya Brock, who installed four giant budgies on the facade next to the Aviary during the building’s renovation, agrees.
“I don’t understand why people build such boring buildings all the time,” she says. “I don’t really get it. It just seems crazy when the sky’s the limit – you can do whatever, yet people just build boring buildings over and over again.”
The artist says the project has done a lot to help shape the reputation and credibility of street artists and muralists alike.
“Street art in the city of Melbourne has been recognised for a while, but even so, a lot of people still confuse street art with graffiti,” Anya says. “I guess a lot of mainstream people in society don’t really understand what street art is. To bring that type of art into a more everyday corporate world and pair it with a commercial precinct like 140, if it’s going to give artists a little bit more recognition in the media and in mainstream society, and get artists paid, I reckon it’s a great thing.”
Although street art in Perth has become more widespread, Kristi says there are still generations of people who perceive it as graffiti.
“Graffiti art and street art have been quite controversial for some time, and not always been valued because they’ve been perceived as defacing property,” she says. “But when you look at most iconic laneways around the world, whether you’re looking at London, Paris or Madrid, a lot of that is graffiti art.”
Kristi believes the bottom line is that people don’t understand the value behind public art, what it contributes to the city’s urban fabric, or to people who are using the building and walking past it.
“I think the younger generation appreciates it and can understand the value of it, but I think other generations, particularly the older generations, are still confused about it.”
Despite the push by projects such as 140, and initiatives like FORM’s PUBLIC: Art in the City (FORM was the first to put a multitude of large public murals up around Perth), Kristi still says property owners don’t immediately warm to the idea.
“It will take a while for them to understand that if you put a mural up, in three years’ time if you don’t like it, you can change it,” she says. “They feel like it’s a decision that’s so concrete, rather than allowing the property to transform and the space to transform, and I think that’s the reason it hasn’t been adopted.”
The 140 project is helping to change that, influencing the attitudes the people of Perth have towards street art by using differing art styles and media in its build.
“We didn’t want the art that had been curated to be pretentious or hard for people to understand,” Kristi says. “We wanted children to your grandparents to be able to come into the precinct and to not have to necessarily understand it, but to appreciate it.”
With murals by street artists, sculptures by jewellery designers, and hanging jewels by installation artists, 140 presents a mixed bag. This was essential for a broader reach, the developers realising that not everyone had to like each piece, just as long as the works roused conversation and became part of people’s dialogue about the CBD.
And it has created a buzz – not just with the public but with investors and property owners, too.
“140 has been a real challenger and has forced other developers and other owners to really step back and take a look at what we’re doing here,” Kristi says. “We’ve had a lot of our competitors actually seeming to adopt our strategy, which I find is hilarious because it was the ugly duckling for a while.”
Unfortunately, Kristi says that with property it’s all about return on investment, so it’s hard for developers to understand the value of art in building design.
“It’s not a tangible outcome, incorporating art into your development – it doesn’t necessarily increase the value,” she says. “It may over time, if it becomes quite iconic in a way, or people probably will come to value certain elements of the property, but it is not guaranteed success.”
It was a gamble 140 was willing to take, and if its social media presence is anything to go by, the project is definitely turning heads. “On Instagram, I think we’re pushing about 10,000 followers, and we’ve never even launched to market,” Kristi says. “People have responded to what we’ve done and we’ve received local, national and international exposure – The New York Times has even picked up images of our art.”
With attention like that, it’s no wonder the precinct has become the figurehead
for Perth’s emerging urban landscape. Just look around the next time you’re
there – someone is bound to be taking a photo of one of the murals, gawking up at the geometric ceiling covering the Forrest Chase entrance, or arguing about whether they love or hate the unashamed display of colour in this part of town.
Nike Savvas is a contemporary artist who works across sculpture, installation, kinetic and light-based media. Nike tells us about working in commercial spaces and installing her large-scale work, Rapture (above).
What’s it like working in a commercial space?
Public commissions attract a different budget and require a different process and also a set of considerations like health and safety, and the permanence of the work. It is a lot of fun working outside of the sterile cube. Public art has to be site specific, which means taking into account the public context the work will find itself in, in terms of who the main audience will be and the physical environment it is made for. It’s wonderful, engaging people who normally might not set foot in a gallery.
Do you think more projects like this should be created in Perth?
Yes, of course. Art is not only great for a city’s profile and urbanscape, but also as a means of social engineering. Being surrounded by art is great for your mind and cognitive development. It transports you away from the everyday mundane concerns into other worlds and places. It’s also an all-round tonic for the heart and soul. Artists reflect and validate a society’s concerns, and offer a voice for people via proxy. Engaging art creatives promotes lateral thinking and the most exciting and inventive outcomes.
How do you think this project will change the Perth City landscape and the way that Perth is perceived?
When Winston Churchill was asked to cut arts funding in favour of the war effort, his reply was: “Then what are we fighting for?” Art doesn’t have an inherent value or purpose, but what we do know is that it’s a necessity for any human civilisation because it’s good for us. Perth will be seen and experienced as a cultured city, and the work will inspire, motivate, and engage the public, adding to their quality of life. It will add vibrancy to Perth and transform it for the better in every way.
Tell us about your amazing installation.
Walking into the renovated Postal Place Courtyard you will find yourself immersed in a world of vibrant colour. Giant blades of Perspex – 2000 of them in varying opacities, suspended across the canopy – create a mesmerising continuous colour field. I felt that the artwork sited for the canopy needed to look like it belonged there, I wanted to create an artwork that looked like it actually was meant for this space. I also wanted the work to be accessible, given its public location. It needed to be an egalitarian work of art that was meant for all and not just a few. Colour has a primal effect on people and it has always been an important part of my work. And of course I took the bigger picture into consideration in capturing the energy and aspirations of the project.
Perth artist Anya Brock talks birds and temporary art.
On budgies As a lead up into the bigger project of 140, some artists were asked to cover the whole outside of it while they were doing all the renovations. I initially did a few different mock-ups of birds, to fit in with the whole Aviary theme (Anya’s piece featured next to the Aviary bar at 140), and one of them was a whole heap of budgies. I painted four budgies in the end.
On 140’s semi-permanent artworks Some people get really scared – especially if they are conservative people – about splashing big, bright colour everywhere. So the works we produced were just a good way to say, “Look, it’s a semi-permanent thing and if you don’t like it, you can literally wash it off the next day, or peel it off, or whatever.”
On letting go We all went into the 140 project knowing it was a semi-permanent situation. But the pieces were actually only meant to be up for three months, and then it got extended another three months, and came down in April. I got a lot of press from that; it was in The New York Times. And because it was so huge, and in such a massive traffic area, I was like, “Yes, this is awesome, I’m loving this.” It just totally got the word out about my work, so the day it came down I felt really sad. I never really thought I cared that much but I guess I have never really experienced that kind of loss of something that you’ve done that gets taken down. You don’t think you’re connected to it, and then…
On artists sharing space Phibs was next to me, and then Sara Winfield, who is a friend of mine. Andrew Frazer was down the way, and then Amok Island. It’s funny with artists, you just kind of go into your own zone when you’re working. They’re funny as well, you get them in social situations and you think that everyone’s going to be like, “Hey guys,” and talk about all their own crap, but we’re all kind of introvert, it’s actually quite funny watching us in a room together.
With the help of 140, designer Alister Yiap has made the bold move from jewellery to sculpture.
Alister Yiap is one of Australia’s famed jewellery designers, but despite all his successes, he can’t help feeling in awe of his fellow 140 artists.
“It still baffles me that I have work set alongside internationally recognised artists including Matt W Moore, Nike Savvas, Kyle Hughes-Odgers and Benjamin Johnson,” he says. “I’m just a small town boy!”
Alister’s work, a seating concept for Globe Lane, draws inspiration from the gold rush that helped shape Perth. “I’m running off the premise there is an underlying gold mine along Globe Lane which references Perth’s history as a gold-mining town. The faceted gem-like seating elements are representative of this, created in golden tones. This gives the space a luxurious tactile feel and warm tones, whereas the shapes and forms are in line with my practice, which is a stylistic signature of my design aesthetic.”
The 140 project provided the perfect opportunity for the artist to move into sculpture, but it wasn’t without its challenges.
“Unlike designing your own jewellery collection where you have creative freedom, with this project you have to work with fabricators, engineers, managers and architects,” he says. “It was an interesting process to be part of, and understanding what can and can’t work within a given brief, but I’m excited with the result and I can’t wait to show everyone.”
He says 140, along with initiatives like PUBLIC: Art in the City, have also helped to liven up the urban landscape, showing the importance of public art to the city. “With the multitude of developments starting to pop up, developers are seeing the added value that public art plays in creating atmosphere and a point of difference,” he says. “It also gives us designers and artists a job to keep doing what we do best.”
Alister says the artists chosen for 140 all have a similar aesthetic, which he feels is an important part in the finished product. “140ART is one of a kind and it is leading the way for future creative arts to unite culture and consumerism,” Alister says. “There is a huge sense of community and feeling part of the fabric of Perth, and the flow-on effect that extends from cultural, social, and economic value is immeasurable.”
WA artist Kyle Hughes-Odgers sure gets around. Thepainter/illustrator/installation artist has travelled to New York, England, Germany and Singapore, painting large installations of his geometric patterns and lanky armed-and-legged characters on walls, rooftops and car parks. And don’t think he’s left his hometown untouched either. Kyle’s also adorned Perth airport with a floor-to-ceiling piece comprising blue, purple and pink triangles, has painted a bright blue friend for Margaret River’s IGA, and a dreamscape city floating around the entry of 140’s Globe Lane.
“I was working with ideas of building a new city but also respecting the past,” the artist says. On the other side of the wall, within Jamie’s Italian, you’ll find one of Kyle’s pensive characters splayed across the interior. The artist says the works that make up 140 bring a lot of energy and creativity into the public space.
“I think any public art project is a positive to launch artwork and creativity across a broad audience,” he says. “It’s always great to see lots of different media and creative outcomes in one place. It makes for far more interesting public space and adds another layer to the architecture.”