Move over Melbourne – the street art in Perth is next level. This city is also littered with public monuments that have odd stories behind them. Read on to find out more about the public art in Perth – both the noteworthy and the not-worthy.
When you think of urban art in Australia, Melbourne tends to spring to mind.
However, other cities and towns across the country have been seriously upping their game, painting murals on walls, pavement and giant silos.
There’s even a whole town in WA, filled with painted fibre-glass sheep.
If there’s one place in particular that’s been flying under the radar when it comes to its street art scene, it’s Perth.
However, this hasn’t always been the case.
Although the street art in Perth is generally next level, some questionable decisions in the name of art have been made over the years.
This has led to a weird juxtaposition of some fantastic urban murals, sometimes right next to well… you can only describe them as public monstrosities.
However, most are quite lovely and just have interesting stories behind them.
Others are possibly not quite worth the exorbitant price tag that came with commission and installation.
Street art in Perth & other odd public art
Let’s ease ourselves into proceedings.
Here are some truly fantastic pieces of art to be found around the city – from the urban art in Perth to some truly cool sculptures.
First, some neat street art in Perth
Alfred Hitchcock on the Cygnet Theatre in Como
If you’re into art deco or arthouse cinemas in general, you’ll love the Grand Cygnet Cinema.
The cinema is located in Como and if you wander around to the left, you’ll find film legend Alfred Hitchcock staring back at you – a 2013 work by American street artist Nils Westergard.
There’s also a mural nearby by Singaporean artist Josh Gomes, so be sure to keep an eye out for that.
The cinema itself was designed by architect William T. Leighton, built by local identity James Stiles and opened in 1938.
To explore the inside of this fabulous cinema (I really, really love the fact that it’s pink) and maybe even catch a film, check out its program.
For more, ogle its twin, the Windsor in Nedlands.
16 Preston Street, Como
All the street art in Northbridge
There are a few suburbs in Perth that support an impressive amount of street art – Fremantle, Subiaco and the city centre, too.
Some of the best is in Northbridge, right near the city centre.
It’s well-worth taking a wander around to see what you can find, particularly on your way into the city.
If you want specifics, check out other street art in Northbridge.
Celebrations in Carlisle
There’s a ‘Celebrations’ bottle-o in Carlisle which is probably the most colourful in the business.
It’s adorned with three works by Straker – the very cool mural in the picture above, a giant octopus and some really cute penguins, jumping about here and there.
This is a bit of a step away from Straker’s usual work, which uses a distinctive ‘neon glow’ technique.
I often see his pieces popping up in Melbourne, the mecca for all street artists in this country.
This Celebrations has a pretty impressive collection of craft beer, so pop in for a longneck or two if all this hunting for street art has you working up a bit of a thirst.
2 Wright St, Kewdale
The Kraken in Fremantle
This Kraken (or Octopus – Kraken sounds far more dramatic) is by British artist Phlegm and can be seen as you enter Fremantle.
It’s very hard to photograph in full!
The work is just down the road from the rainbow shipping containers, so you can tick off two sights in very quick succession.
Fremantle itself is a very colourful part of the city
If you’re in the area and want to see something quite spectacular, check out the 78 metre fresco on the exterior of East West Design. The detail on this work is out of this world.
The Kraken – WW2 Naval Store on Queen Victoria St, Fremantle
Rainbow Sea Container in Fremantle
You may have seen this sculpture of Marcus Canning’s before, somewhere on the Internet.
It’s bright and cheery, and at 9 metres high and 19 metres long, it kinda stands out.
The containers sit at the entrance to North Freo.
There’s something just… really nice about this sculpture, which I guess would probably be the rainbow colouring.
Seeing them in the flesh, or even just pictures of them, puts a smile on my dial.
21 Beach Street, Fremantle
Dingo Flour Sign in Fremantle
Less street art in Perth – more an iconic landmark.
The “Dingo Flour Sign” has been towering over the Stirling Highway for almost eighty years now and is a source of pride among many locals.
There is a rumour that the dingo is the work of Australian businessman and convicted criminal Alan Bond, who was a sign writer in his youth.
Not true. It’s the work of artist Les Nash. He painted it on the side of the mill for £40 in 1940.
His work was short-lived – the sign had to be painted over during World War II (in 1943) as a precaution against enemy attack.
Luckily, the original design remained visible under the paint and it was re-created by Fred Parnell in 1946.
The heritage-listed flour mill is still running to this day, known as Great Southern Flour Mills Ltd (it’s never been called Dingo flour, oddly!).
Located on the Stirling Highway, between Perth and Fremantle.
The Migration at Luna Palace Cinema
Once you begin to immerse yourself into the Australian street art scene, you’ll see the same names popping up again and again.
You’ll even learn to recognise the work of certain artists as you walk around cities.
Fintan Magee is one such muralist. His work is phenomenal in itself and often created on a massive scale.
He contributed a mural to the first ever silo art trail in Victoria. Many of his works feature on large buildings around the world.
This monumental piece can be found on Luna Palace Cinemas in Leederville.
Known as “The Migration”, it draws on Perth’s own identity as a city built on immigration.
It reminds me a lot of his work “Housing Bubble”, which can be found in the suburb of Enmore in Sydney.
155 Oxford Street, Leederville
The Adnate Hotel
The Art Series Hotels are a, well, series of hotels that pay homage to artists. The hotels are named after the artist they celebrate and their works are featured extensively throughout the building.
The Adnate holds a focus on renowned street artist Matt Adnate. Known for his towering multicultural portraits (which you can find throughout Melbourne), the building features a massive mural, spanning 25 storeys.
Go marvel at this mural if you’re in Perth… or even stay the night!
900 Hay Street, Perth
Orobus mural in the city centre
There is some super dynamic art in Perth’s CBD – giant murals and brightly coloured laneways.
One of my favourite works is this one by Belgian artist ROA, of a snake eating its own tail… an Orobus.
Unfortunately, the bottom of the work has been tagged, as of early 2019. Hopefully it either has or will get cleaned up but, probably not.
Here’s some more art you can find in the city centre of Perth.
Cnr Wellington St & Milligan St, Perth City
This spectacular 5-metre sculpture by Noongar artist Laurel Nannup depicts the arrival of European settlers to Perth.
The distant sailing ships on the horizon were thought to be giant floating birds. The Noongar people believed it was past ancestors returning from sea.
Elizabeth Quay is a newly developed area of Perth and well worth exploring. There’s some beautiful and baffling art here.
First Contact is beautiful. Now, prepare to be baffled.
Elizabeth Quay, The Esplanade, Perth
Somewhat strange Perth art & sculptures
Now that we’ve spent some time talking up the street art in Perth, it’s time to head on a downward trajectory and turn to some truly questionable pieces.
Many are fine works of art, but the public perception of them is what’s made them controversial or interesting.
Others are just plain weird, hence their inclusion on this list.
I am delighted by each and every one of them.
Nicknaming weird sculptures is a Perth thing, as you’ll continue to see throughout this portion of the post.
This sculpture is officially known as ‘Totem’.
The city of Perth has elected to refer to it as ‘The Corn Cob’, for reasons that should be obvious when you look at the thing.
Geoffrey Drake-Brockman’s sculpture is 9 metres high and is a robotic artwork that can sense pedestrian movement in the vicinity.
I don’t recall seeing anything out of the ordinary when I visited, but there was only two of us in the area.
Maybe you need more people. Maybe it just doesn’t work. Possibly, I’m just not very observant.
Apparently it projects laser beams on the side of the Arena at night. Everyone knows lasers are cool.
Here we have the beloved creations of Australian author May Gibbs, immortalised in bronze by artist Claire Bailey in 2003.
They sit happily together in Stirling Gardens, surrounded by greenery and supposedly delighting any children who come across them on trips to the park.
Then tragedy strikes in 2015.
Snugglepot-or-Cuddlepie (it’s not specified who is who) is stolen in the night, by well-prepared thieves who cut through the steel anchors that once secured the statue to the ground.
The other Snugglepot-or-Cuddlepie is left bereft, to continue on without its Gumnut brother.
Don’t worry – this story has a happy ending.
Claire Bailey is commissioned to make another Gumnut Baby and the new Snugglepot-or-Cuddlepie is installed in the park.
All’s well that ends well.
Stirling Gardens, Barrack Street
Grow your Own
Colloquially known as “Perth Cactus”, the erection of this statue in Forrest Place has not been well-received, mostly due to the accompanying price tag of $1 million.
The work is the result of an international sculpture competition known as ‘Situate’, aiming to brighten up the area near Perth Train Station.
Note the presence of questionable art next to a train station. We’ll return to this later.
This sculpture is apparently about the growth of art and ideas, as well as your own local roots. That’s what artist James Angus says, anyway.
Well. Cacti have roots – right?
Perth Cactus even has its own Twitter feed, which I feel sums up the public reception of the artwork quite well.
Forrest Place, Perth CBD
I am being a bit mean placing Spanda on this list, but then I am in the mood to be critical.
It’s a great piece of sculpture, designed by Christian de Vietri and standing 29 metres tall.
Spanda is intended to be inclusive, but apparently it is also meant to represent about ten million other things, as well.
Personally, I’m a fan of keeping it simple when it comes to art. Just let the thing do what it says on the box.
Anyway. This steel and carbon fibre sculpture came with the price tag of $1.3 million, outstripping even the Perth Cactus.
Oh and its nickname… can you guess? Why, the ‘paperclip’, of course!
One things I do like and a disappointment for the selfie crew – it’s near impossible to photograph yourself in the thing. Unless you have a giant arm.
You’d have to take a photo from under your chin, quite possibly the most unflattering angle in the world.
To be fair, there’s nothing really controversial about this statue, known as Eliza.
It’s what people do to her that’s quite odd, but undeniably cool.
Despite her being placed in the Swan River, Perthlings make it their mission to dress Eliza up, each and every opportunity they get.
Eliza rarely sports the same thing twice.
She’s worn dresses, t-shirts, outlandish hats and Santa outfits. She’ll often carry signs – celebrating anniversaries, birthdays and school events.
Surely there’s been a proposal or two.
Eliza is the work of local artist Tony Jones, unveiled in 2007 to commemorate the old Crawley Baths – a prominent landmark in Perth for a large chunk of the 1900’s.
Matilda Bay, Swan River
Gina Rinehart’s Poetry Rock
Gine Rinehart is Australia’s richest person, with the mining magnate claiming a net worth of around $9 billion USD.
Having lots of money is cool, sure. However, there are lots of things that money can’t buy, such as style.
It doesn’t make you any good at poetry, either.
Yet, what do the sickeningly rich care? Lack of skill has not stopped Rinehart from penning a ballad entitled “Our Future” and affixing it to a 30-tonne boulder in Morley.
This monument to iron ore and mining in general, has a go at the Federal Government for not supporting the resource industry and hiking taxes.
I was going to put the poem directly into this post, but I try to only stick good pieces of writing on my blog.
You can read it in full here.
Coventry Square Markets in Morley
The Swan Bell Tower
I feel like I give the Bell Tower a lot of crap in every post I write about Perth.
I also feel this is somewhat deserved.
Another frighteningly expensive public landmark, the Bell Tower cost $5.5 million to erect in 1999.
The tower was intended to herald in the new millennium and house the hand-me-down bells from St-Martins-in-the-Fields Church in London.
They got a sparkling new set. Perth got the rejects.
The design has never been popular and most locals were bemused as to why the Bell Tower was needed in the first place.
At the very least, it seems to fit into the area of Elizabeth Quay a bit more seamlessly, after redevelopment and the inclusion of several other loud and expensive sculptures.
Barrack Square, Riverside Dr, Perth
In all honesty, this 2011 work of art created by Marcus Canning and Christian de Vietri is in my opinion, gorgeous.
However, it’s been placed on this list due to the unfortunate nicknames gifted to it by Perth locals, the nicest of which is “The Jizz”.
I’m not going to name any others, because I like to keep things at least PG on this blog. Use your imagination and don’t be afraid to get down into the gutter.
Anyway, funnily enough it’s not meant to represent semen – rather, it was commissioned to a “St George and the Dragon” theme.
‘Ascalon’ in actual fact, is the name of the lance St George used to slay the dragon.
You can find this 18 metre tall sculpture within the grounds of St George’s Cathedral.
St Georges Terrace, Perth.
The Face of the Community
I’ve saved the best for last. Which sadly doesn’t exist anymore, so the mention is purely commemorative.
This piece of public art is probably the strangest in Perth, narrowly beating Gina Rinehart’s Rock, because at the end of the day… it’s just a rock.
This terrifying work is known as The Face of the Community and you can find it at Cockburn Train Station.
Many people mistake these installations for the faces of missing people, or Australia’s most wanted. They couldn’t be more wrong.
Alarmingly, this piece of public art was made by MORPHING THE FACES OF 120 DIFFERENT CITIZENS OF THE AREA INTO EACH OTHER.
Yes, that’s right – in 2006 photos of local residents of Cockburn are digitally taken, to represent users of public transport. Then, they are super-imposed upon each other.
Well I suppose, digital photographic technology is in its infancy at this time.
We’re left with a male and female face, each intending to resemble members of the local community.
The young to pre-adolescent boy picture is… well, it’s okay. His gaze is blank and emotionless, like that of a murderer, but he’s in pretty good nick.
The middle-aged to possibly elderly woman however, has certainly seen better days.
There was a whole Facebook Page dedicated to removing the faces from Cockburn Station.
At the time of writing, it had close to 10,000 “likes”. Eventually, they got their wish.
Formerly at Cockburn Train Station
Final thoughts on Perth’s public art
There you have it – some of the best street art in Perth and some more questionable sculptures, littered around the city.
I have to say, I had an exceptionally great time writing this post and feel that in a really twisted way, it’s my love letter to Perth.
The city has more heart than many others in Australia, although many would try to convince you otherwise. They’re very wrong.
Perth, you’re the best (more than okay, in fact). Don’t ever change.
So there you have it – a mix of some of the best street art in Perth and too, the most questionable and controversial public art. Any favourites you’d like to add to this list?