An overnight gift for Newtown

Wednesday, September 11, 1991

Story and photo by Kim Shipton

SYDNEY — Over two nights in August, a team of six graffiti artists created and dedicated a huge mural to the people of Newtown. The mural features planet earth, US civil rights campaigner Martin Luther King and a phrase from his most famous speech.

The mural decorates a three-storey facade on King Street — previously a shabby wall awaiting council approval for advertising billboards.

For years, the mural was designer Andrew Aken's dream. Working as an anonymous graffiti artist who has enlivened Newtown with many other works, Andrew finally met someone with a similar artistic and spiritual passion.

At "work" one evening, he met local artist Julie Pryor. Pryor describes their art as being "at the opposite ends of the spectrum". Julie, whose background was more studio and exhibition-oriented, comments that she and Andrew were "not a combination you would think of as productive".

The two first tested their ability to work together when they sprayed painted roses on a wall in Rochford Street, Newtown. From that success, they began planning their major project.

"The only other mural that I had actually ever been involved with was the 'No Third Runway' mural on Enmore Pool wall. That was a real eye-opener to me, to work so fast and on such a big scale", Julie told Green Left Weekly.

Once the decision to go ahead was made, the project was unstoppable. "Having set our course of action, we were going to do it and that was that", says Julie.

On a Thursday night, six artists sugar-soaped and sanded the wall in preparation for their swift start the following night at 6. Work on it continued through Friday and Saturday nights, until 8 a.m. Sunday.

"We thought if we did it really quickly and really, really well, it would become conspicuous almost immediately. Then people wouldn't get sued. It would become a landmark overnight", Julie explains.

The police arrived on the Friday night after a tip-off. The artists relied on honesty and an unsurreptitious manner and were permitted to continue their work.

"All the imagery you see around you is selling something; it's propagating something", says Julie. "This mural is imagery that sells stuff that's not for sale. It's everybody's dream, it's more than one person's dream, although it was one person's magnificent obsession in life. It will affect the thousands of people who will see it.

"It's a humanist message, it's for everyone, anyone who cares to gain from it."

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