The air is filled with the sharp smell of wet paint and the rattle of cans. A stencil workshop is underway at Blender Studios in Melbourne’s inner west – a 20-year-old institution open to the public that allows a peek into the mysterious and often clandestine world of the city’s street artists.
This expansive warehouse space is home to over 20 working artists and every surface is crammed with works. Traditional stencils, paste-ups, jagged, freehand ‘graphs’ – and, a little unexpectedly, whole stretches of extraordinary fine art.
“We have half street artists and half fine artists here,” says Doyle, renowned local artist and the founder of Blender, “and sometimes they cross over.” He tells the story of one fine artist – an oil painter with work displayed at the Art Gallery of New South Wales – who came to work at the studio. “I remember the day we were looking through her sketchbook,” Doyle says, “and I said why don’t you stick some of these on the street? It revolutionised her whole life – now she’s Baby Guerrilla, a famous street artist.”
The workshop group have finished their stencils and are wandering along the rows of studios, watching the artists work and getting a close-up look at their tools and works-in-progress. Matt Finch, an abstract expressionist, pauses for a coffee and a chat. “I [just] throw my paint on,” he says with a grin, gesturing at the strikingly vivid canvases in his space, “but I’ve been doing it for 20 years so I know where to throw it!”
Blender’s tours and workshops connect visitors to their inner artist. “We get people who loved doing art at school, then got distracted by life, getting a job and having babies,” Doyle says. “Blender makes them angry with themselves, and gets them inspired. Some come back afterwards and tell me they’ve decided to become an artist.”