I was oh so late to the street art party.
Until Jesse and I watched "Exit Through the Gift Shop" several weeks ago I had a vague idea who Banksy was, but knew very little about street art culture or how everyone could become so enamoured with a few colorful stencils thrown up on a seemingly random brick wall.
It seemed cool and all. Irreverent. Political. Controversial. Often funny. But not all that much more than that.
The documentary, however, threw everything into a completely different light. Suddenly we became a little bit street art obsessed -- and arriving in Melbourne, a street art capital of the world, set out in search of a good hidden alley to explore.
Our best decision of the day was definitely to sign up for a walking tour with Dave. In addition to taking us around all the big sites and providing a great history lesson, he also steered us back behind Melbourne's major city streets and through some of the city's most famous alleyways.
I can't think of a better way to describe these streets than as massive explosions of color, and really the last thing you'd expect to see backed up against a fancy department store, bank, or towering office building.
Stencils, posters, paste-ups, stickers, plain old graffiti. It's all here, from ground level up even two or three stories. We spotted a pair of Banksy rats and a few Space Invader pieces, as well as a whole host of works by prominent Australian artists.
Street art has become a large part of the international identity of Melbourne, and while it certainly seems to be a good thing for tourism it does come with a fair amount of controversy. When street art is good, it's mesmerizing. And when it's bad, it can be ugly and even destructive to a city's reputation.
The line between street art and vandalism is undoubtedly a thin one and constantly in a state of flux. It's simple enough to say that many people genuinely like street art and don't support vandalism, but who makes the rules that say one is encouraged while the other remains a punishable offense.
As a city at the forefront of this international movement, Melbourne is learning how to embrace a new kind of art culture and even capitalize on it. For now, these alleyways are hidden gems in an already beautiful, character-filled city. Not always so easy to find, but certainly worth the hunt.