Drawing a salary from graffiti

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AS a boy growing up with dyslexia, art became an escape for Geoff Filmer.

“I really struggled at school and gradually I developed the idea that art could be a way of channelling the paranoia that people might judge you as not good enough, and turning that into something good,” Geoff says.

“I’d see a paintbox or a spray can and it started to conjure up images of a deeper story or meaning.”

Geoff, 38, began spray painting colourful murals in Canberra’s south – “any murals I did were by a legal wall system, I felt I was too old to run around town spraying tags,” he laughs.

He now runs his own full-time street art business, Graffik, which launched in 2011 and employs around six freelance painters.

Graffik, which also runs regular street-art classes for locals, has been used by more than 50 businesses around Canberra to paint huge murals as a way to advertise and act as a deterrent for unwanted graffiti or vandalism.

A recent push by the ACT Government to implement more legal graffiti walls “is fantastic” says Geoff, who believes it is akin to creating “a giant gallery” for the city.

Businesses can pay anywhere from $1500 to $3000 for the murals, working with the artists to create a lasting message that is woven into the cityscape.

Geoff’s most recent job was for Canberra CBD Limited, where he and several other artists created a mural to mark this year’s Multicultural Festival in Garema Place. The mural, which took around six hours to paint and features skulls, fast cars and carnival dancers, explores themes of Canberra’s growth as a city.

“To be honest I never thought I’d get to be doing this for a living,” says Geoff, a former mechanic.

“I’m so thankful businesses like Canberra CBD are really embracing street art as a way to add vibrancy here, and that’s part of why I started my business, because I really saw scope for it to grow in Canberra.”

Over time, Geoff says the community has accepted street art as a way to bring aesthetic value to the city.

“Attitudes have changed over the years… there used to be people who couldn’t decipher the difference between street art and illegal graffiti, but now I get so much feedback from people saying they love it, and see it as a way to engage with the space we’re all living in,” he says.

“In my street art classes, for example, we all thought it would be just young people but the majority of my students are over 30, just people who really wanted to learn for fun and didn’t know how to go about it. It’s really breaking down the stereotypes of street art being a younger person’s thing.”

Geoff mixes his street art duties with a role as a stay-at-home dad to twins – “it’s a dream job, really,” he says.

Recently he started teaching street art to disadvantaged and troubled youths as part of a holiday program at the Tuggeranong Arts Centre.

He believes the classes could have the ability to combat antisocial behaviour.

“It’s funny, because the boys first came in with their tatts, shoulders slumped, and an attitude,” he says.

“After a while they realised I wasn’t there to judge them. They grabbed an aerosol can and started painting and their confidence just lifted. Street art, I think, works above other methods in this style of program because, compared to other art, these kids see it as something cool, it’s something maybe they can relate to.”

Graffik’s next job will be creating a mural of a children’s book in a Tuggeranong parking lot, which will then be photographed and sold as a real children’s book, to raise money for children with brain injuries.

“I think it shows street art has slowly gone from being something that just catches people’s attention or acts as a deterrent for vandalism, to becoming something that inspires people, changes a city’s landscape, or raises money for a good cause… and that’s what I love most about it.”


For more information on Graffik, visit graffikpaint.com.au/

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