Time Out caught up with co-owner of Backwoods Gallery, Alexander Mitchell (aka 'Koan') to talk about creating a voice for the street art community.
How did Backwoods Gallery come to be?
Backwoods was founded by curator Alexander Mitchell along with Izabel Caligiore and key Australian artists including Ghost Patrol, Rone, Reka and Meggs of the Everfresh crew. Commercial galleries are becoming interested in street art, but don't necessarily understand the culture or how to present it. So we built Backwoods as a way to create a voice for the community and to present the culture and artists in their original and authentic habitat, a place run by the artist who are at the heart of the scene.
Why is it important for Melbourne to have a dedicated place to view the work of street artists?
Street art has a place in all types of galleries – that’s for sure. After all, it's a strange genre; it spans across multiple mediums and styles, but once it's no longer on the street (for example, once it's in a gallery with the exception of the fact that the work may in some way reference the streets), the fact is, it’s no longer street art. But what we gain from having a dedicated space for street artists at Backwoods Gallery is a cumulative and layering effect. It's like the layers of paint that make up our gallery’s walls - there is a history and a community in the layers that spans across Australia and the world.
A highlight exhibition so far?
Tokyo street artists, husband and wife team Kami and Sasu, created an incredible show last year, they painted an installation throughout the entire space. There was something spiritual and sublime about the installation that still sticks with us. That was a truly incredible show. Having local street artists and fellow gallery owner Rone exhibit his debut solo show at Backwoods after nearly a decade of prolific work on the streets was a perfect example of how Backwoods is the perfect venue for transitioning an artist from the street to the gallery.
What kind of experience did you set out to create for your visitors?
We hope to present street art in its truest form, and not to focus on silly commercially appealing things like "illegality" or playing on it as a "youth" culture phenomena. We focus on quality and honest presentations of the artist. While nearly all our artists are street artists, we hope that through our shows our audience can see how vastly different each artist's philosophy and vision is and how the genre of street art isn't limited by one particular aesthetic, but is in fact incredibly vast.
A favourite piece of street art in Melbourne?
The Everfresh wall on Johnston Street in Fitzroy is a classic.