ACT News

Street artists transform blank walls into superhero playground at Tocumwal Lane party

Passing on his spray painting skills to eager teenagers appears to come naturally to artist Houl.

And it's little wonder.

Faith Kerehona from Page in front of her partially finished artwork at the Tocumwal Lane Street Party in the city.
Faith Kerehona from Page in front of her partially finished artwork at the Tocumwal Lane Street Party in the city. Photo: Rohan Thomson

In his day job, where he is better known as James Houlcroft or more accurately Mr Houlcroft, he teaches in a very different environment – a high school classroom.

With spray paint fumes and hip-hop beats wafting around the central business district it was hard to miss Tocumwal Lane on Sunday.

An artist at the Tocumwal Lane Street Party in the City.
An artist at the Tocumwal Lane Street Party in the City. Photo: Rohan Thomson

The L-shaped space off Bunda Street came alive with colour when about 23 Canberra street artists transformed the drab urban backdrop into a superhero playground with the incredible Hulk, Batman, Ironman and more.

A practice wall for beginners or those trying to brush up on their skills was a star attraction of the party.


Houl welcomed the recognition and growing acceptance of street art at his second Canberra lane party.

"Everyone's super supportive," he said.

"It's no longer just artists creeping out a night painting in a dark alleyway, it's a social activity as well which makes it more fun."

Veteran of the Canberra street art scene Byrd agreed, saying the lane party gave artists the rare chance to work in larger groups and share their skills.

Houl was working on Link from the Legend of Zelda video game a suggestion from his girlfriend and a superhero from his childhood, while Byrd was putting the finishing touches to the unmistakeable Incredible Hulk.

And how does Houl balance his street artist alter-ego with his high school teacher day job?

"I try to keep it hidden in the first year because of that stigma around it, but the kids are clever enough to use Google," he said.

After starting out with stickers and paste-ups in Sydney, Houl began painting about seven years ago and has worked on the Canberra scene for the past four years most commonly painting animals.

While he frequently gets commissions, and works on illustrations using inks and markers at home, he enjoys focusing on the full time job he loves with art on the side.

Event organiser Graffik Paint owner Geoff Filmer said the lane party, funded and promoted by the Canberra CBD, showed Canberra had matured as a city with its own talent.

"We crave the culture, but we're making it ourselves," he said.

"Only one artist here is not from Canberra, but he's good friends with the Canberra guys."

Mr Filmer said he believed negative attitudes towards street art were starting to shift, with its bad reputation caused by the actions of few.

Research from Melbourne showed each approved mural saved the city $1000 each year in cleaning costs, he said.

He regularly works with community youth groups to help the tides change.

"What I want to do is wrestle it out of that idea of being vandalism," he said.

"For kids disenfranchised in schools, who are not very good academically or at sport, you need to give them another option and the option that works well is art."