History Meets Street Art in Adelaide

History and street art are not something that you would think would ever be on the same page, let alone sentence, yet Peter Drew has managed to combine the two into an amazing art form.

Peter’s collection of Adelaide’s Forgotten Outlaws  is the most amazing street art that I’ve ever seen, and I’m so fortunate that they have been showcased in my own home town.  Not only are they images simply stunning in their own right, they really are. But to know that they are portraits of actual criminals from Adelaide in the 1920s adds a whole new level of fascination and admiration. I can’t imagine what it would be like to actually see an image of an reli 2.5m high on a street wall. No doubt very surreal, but I still think it would be amazingly cool. Sadly none of the images are of my reli’s

Before I go on, here’s the story of the Forgotten Outlaws street art from Peter himself …

Having made illegal street art for years without being caught I’d started to forget that it was a crime. So when I was finally arrested I began to think more seriously about its criminality. This interest grew into a ‘side project’ which quickly blew out into the largest street art campaign I’ve undertaken.

I started by searching through the police documents at the South Australian State Records. The photography of the early 1920s stood out immediately for its technical qualities so I narrowed my search to the record GRG5/58/unit103.

I began selecting criminal’s mug shots based mostly on the immediate impact of the image. Whether through their defiant pride, amused irreverence or shamed humiliation some faces drew me in and those where the ones I chose. I was also attracted by the more innocuous offences, especially those that have since been decriminalised. Judging by their expression, the dubious offence of ‘idle and disorderly’ seemed as laughable then as it does now. Likewise, the supposed ‘offence’ of ‘attempted suicide’ or ‘sodomy’ seemed to confuse the convicted as much as their criminal classification offends us today.

By evoking the power of nostalgia and the notion of historic value I knew I could use these images to confront the idea of the criminal as an outsider, especially in the context of street art as a criminal act.

I began pasting up the posters at night before I realised it would be much safer during the day dressed as a legitimate worker. This approach also seemed more fitting to the theme of questioning the criminality of street art. So when I donned the high vis vest and went about my business I didn’t feel like a criminal, I felt as thought I was performing a public good.

Each paste up stood 2.5 meters tall and included the criminal’s full name, conviction, sentence and date. Overall I pasted up 42 individual mug shots (21 sets of 2). Eventually I was contacted by the Adelaide City Council and I admitted the posters were mine. The council agreed to stop removing the posters if I would take steps to legitimise the whole project through their ‘pilot project’ scheme. So I filled in an application, promising to track down every property owner and request permission to do what I’d already done (still in progress). I was also told I would have to remove the criminals surnames so not to connect surviving relatives to their criminal past. I’ve since been contacted by several relatives who actually enjoyed connecting the dots and were very encouraging towards the project as a whole.

Despite these obstacles I was very pleased by Adelaide City Council’s allowing the images to stay on the street long enough to be seen by the public for whom they were intended. I hope their open mindedness can extend towards the work of other artists.

So that now brings us to Peter’s next project …

South Australia’s About Time History Festival is coming up in May. This is South Australia’s ‘history month’, and to coincide with the Festival Peter has created a new collection of history street art.

“Just started a new project for the About Time: South Australian History Festival. After seeing the Outlaws* project the good folk at History SA let me into their photo archive and I picked out 10 portraits of everyday, extraordinary South Australians from the 1870s to the 1930s. As the images appear around the city I’ll be posting whatever biographical information I’ve been able to find in the records. Sometimes this isn’t much so if you know something that the rest of us don’t about any of these photos then please let us know.”

So Adelaidians, May is a great month to go wandering the streets of Adelaide to see this beautiful collection of history-meets-street-art as you’ve never seen it before.

Here’s a few of the images to look out for …

Be sure to visit the photo album with all the photos from this new history street art collection as they go up.

Keep up to date with Peter’s projects by visiting:
Website:  http://peterdrewarts.com/
Blog: http://peterdrewarts.blogspot.com/
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/PeterDrewArts

2 Responses to “History Meets Street Art in Adelaide”

  1. margie goodwin says:

    I have seen a few of the photos and they look great! Well done Drew.

  2. margie goodwin says:

    Well done Peter !!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *