Some call it Wall Art, some Murals and still others call it Street Art. Whatever you call it the painted walls in Toowoomba are really something. On a recent visit as I strolled around town I encountered many impressive paintings on the town’s spare and once bare walls. Near my hotel I found the extraordinary mural that I called the Elephant signed simply “Magee.” Later I was told it had become a landmark for the locals, a place where people could meet, and was looked upon with great affection. The artist, Fintan Magee is a Sydney-based artist with an international reputation, recognised for his surreal and magical paintings.
Later I had coffee at Ground Up cafe down a laneway – Searles Lane – just off Ruthven St. the main street of Toowoomba, where I encountered another distinctive and painterly wall painting, this time by Alice Weinthal.
Next to the image was printed a wall label with the title of the painting, Bad Faith, and the artist’s name as well as the name of the gallery where the artist’s work could be seen.
The gallery responsible for these wall works is No Comply Gallery and its Curator is Grace Dewar, an artist with seemingly unlimited energy whose practice had been spatial or installation art but who now focuses her spatial thinking on working with artists through No Comply Gallery and First Coat Festival.
No Comply is housed in Kontraband Studios, a graffiti store & sign writing studio and the two enterprises share the space and collaborate on many art projects. While staying in Toowoomba I spoke to Grace Dewar about No Comply Gallery which had emerged out of a collaboration with Ian McCallum from Kontraband Studios. The Gallery is located in the front room of Kontraband Studios and the name No Comply was initially the title of their first exhibition where local artists were invited to make work on a blank skateboard, provided by the Gallery, where the skateboard was to act as a canvas. The response saw thirty skateboards returned after two weeks, as a piece of artwork.
Another very successful project cooked up in this local creative space is an annual Festival called First Coat. In 2014 Kontraband studios partnered with Toowoomba Regional Council to present a three day street art festival. This extraordinary festival, apparently the first street art festival to be held in Queensland, attracted 27 artists nationally and internationally to come to Toowoomba and paint in public spaces. It also attracted a sizeable audience from both Toowoomba and online. “The public art legacy was 19 large-scale outdoor murals throughout the heart of the city.” The next year, 2015, the number of artists doubled and it is reported that more than 4,000 out-of-town visitors travelled to Toowoomba to watch the live painting events.
In 2015 the organisers included “cutting edge, online infrastructure.” which includes a website with loads of information to help facilitate visitors stay, with info about accommodation, cafes and restaurants and past and present murals, artist info and so on.
First Coat Festival and its public art legacy has made everyone happy with great support from both the local regional council and local businesses; everyone is happy to have their walls painted with extraordinary artwork. The vibe in the streets is still palpable. I found myself desperate to go for a walk, supplied with a self-guided map from Grace, (even though it rained every day of my visit). It was a wonderful experience to walk around town, to turn a corner and suddenly meet a beautifully executed work on a laneway wall or walking down a street. There are now approximately fifty wall works around the streets of Toowoomba. It’s no wonder that First Coat has been billed as “Queensland’s largest outdoor gallery”.
And it is set to happen again soon. The brochure declares:
First Coat Art and Music Festival.
10 Days. 20 – 29 May, 2016
Let’s roll. http://www.firstcoat.com.au