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A Site for Sore Eyes: Teazer & May’s Lane

If you’re a Sydney native, odds are your familiar with the alternative and cultural mecca that is the suburb of Newtown. Renowned for its collection of funky cafes, restaurants and vintage clothing stores, it’s just as well known for the street art that adorns its many alleyways and side streets. But have you ventured down May’s Lane?

Kaleidoscopic colour stretches across the length of the once barren alleyway that links St Peters train station to the suburb itself, a cocktail of artistic styles and influences all vying for your attention. Much to the disappointment of its employees, the brothel situated on the lane is no longer the most likely reason tourists and locals alike have been coming here in droves. May’s Lane and its adjoining side streets have become somewhat of an outdoor exhibition space for the who’s who of the Sydney street art scene, with the cities most highly regarded graffiti writers updating the site regularly.

There’s no entry price, no art critics chowing down on canapés and definitely no white-walled gallery space here. Simply known as the May’s Lane Street Art Project, this is where the public can experience graffiti the way it was intended; on a dirty alleyway with the tang of paint fumes hanging in the air.

A rarity for graffiti related endeavours, the project was founded in 2005 by local artist Tugi Balis and is sanctioned by the council and community. With the aim of creating a world of ever-evolving artworks invited artists work on 3 x 2.5m panels and any spare inch of street wall space they can find. Even the industrial bins have been covered in someone’s artistic expression, with everything from stenciling to faithful remnants of the grassroots street art scene.

For amateur graffiti enthusiasts such as myself, you can take a trip around the world by walking through the May’s Lane labyrinth. On one wall, South American influenced lettering weaves between a political Banksy-esque stencil piece before being overshadowed by a bold combination of characters, shapes and full-bodied lettering reminiscent to the American styles of writers like Rime and Wane One. And that’s just the beginning; the deeper you delve into the lane the clearer it becomes these pieces are the definition of juxtaposition, but in paint. With opposing artistic styles and conflicting cultural influences thrown against each other, this is one of the Sydney’s most diverse creative outlets. Where else can you see an Indian influenced graffiti piece with a global presence similar to the work of Sonik lingering above a pop-art inspired mural with the Muppets riding spaceships and quoting Star Wars dialogue below?

A name that does standout among the artistic melting pot is the tag Teazer, which accompanies some of the slickest pieces that appear to have been somehow laser-printed on the wall. The very notion that the anime-incorporating, cultural-referencing and pop-art-punching works gave been done by hand (with spray paint, no less) seems inconceivable as the technical detail and layering is so flawless and so smooth, it holds up in real-life just as well as it does in photos.

Real name Davey Mac, the Bondi native has grown up painting on the streets of Sydney and is now considered one of the most notable graffiti artists in the country, having held countless solo exhibits and commissioned to paint pieces for companies like Sony. His current status as a `local legend’ is a long way from his teenage years where street art took a backseat to petty crime and drug abuse.

“If I didn’t have the graffiti or art stuff I definitely would have gone down another path of crime or gotten into the drugs more, you know? I got into all that stuff but this was like a shining light that said ‘no, that’s the wrong path,’” he reflects.
“If kids can get into this or get passionate about the graffiti or the music or part of the culture it can definitely pretty much save your life, and stop you from getting in to that drama. I can’t recommend it enough for kids to hold on to something.”

“Your parents will tell you you’re kidding yourself and you wont be able to make a career out of this or skateboarding, but a few of us are, so why can’t you? I wish I had someone to tell me that in the earlier days but you know, it’s all good.”

Mac says that making a career out of street art all comes down to the commercial pieces. For him, canvas and panel work are the bread and butter.

“I can’t afford to do graffiti pieces every day, so that’s why I’ve also got to get into artwork as well. I try to translate what I do in graffiti now on to canvas so its still got that street edge, but it can be shown in a gallery and can end up on someone’s wall,” he describes.
“I’ve got different techniques for doing the boards or the canvases because it’s on a lot smaller scale, so there’s a lot of freehand, a lot of taping, whatever it takes to get that product. I’m not really interested in how it’s done but the end product to me should look like its been printed straight out of a computer.
“For my graff stuff it mostly starts from sketches and I work from photos as well, so I do a lot of portraits. It’s just a remix, everything is a remix of something I’ve been inspired by or a photo I’m looking at with an idea I might have had yesterday. It’s like mixing music, they’re not your own records but your remixing it in to something that is your own.”

“I guess nothing is an original thought, you know?”

That ‘fun’ attitude started in the late eighties when, as a child, Mac first came up with his tag Teazer because TZR were the only letters he could write and it “seemed to make a logical word”. From there it became a passion and he started tagging walls around Bondi, sketching furiously in class and sneaking out late at night to paint on the train line.

“It was just the rebellion kind of thing and it made me feel alive,” he says.
“It’s stuck with me ever since.”

Taking inspiration from everyday life and international graffiti artists, Mac says a lot of his recent work has been influenced by the New York style with sharp, aggressive lettering and each character being able to “stand on its own”.
“People are more accepting of it I think when they’re seeing it at this level,” he says.
“They love the vibrant colours, they love a character on an Apple laptop with a Nautica hat ‘cos they identify. They’ve seen it before and they’re like ‘oh, I can relate to this guy, he’s put Nike’s on this character’. It seems friendlier to them, whereas if it’s more aggressive or its too much then its an eye sore. They’re more accepting at this level whereas in the last 20 years of my work they mightn’t have been, so it’s pretty exciting for them to start to understand.”

“Its got a long way to go, but the public are starting to understand this is part of our culture and it’s part of us growing up in Bondi or wherever. It’s us.”

words: Maria Lewis


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