David Humphries and fellow muralist Rodney Monk pioneered the Community Mural Movement in Australia. From the late 1970s to
the early1990s, working as a company called PUBLIC ART SQUAD, they became renowned for their prolific output of huge murals. These became local landmarks and sources of regional pride. The murals were eloquent and
demonstrative visual statements by numerous and varied communities either about local issues or serious universal ideas such as peace, ecology, multiculturalism, concern for the aged and more.
The Goals of Public Art Squad are unashamedly idealistic -
'To Celebrate Joy and Peace through Universal Creativity'
Art is central to the self-concept of Public Art Squad; the aim is to create sensitive relevant and responsive artworks for
the populace. This is an egalitarian; multi media art form intended to be seen in public places. The streets, neighborhoods and shopping centers provide the exhibition arena. The audience is the open community and
the clients, co -workers and inspiration resource is often the local people.
Public Art Squad's publication of The Mural Manual - a guide to community murals in Australia (Arts Council of NSW 1982) -
had a profound impact and is still the standard text for schools and community group's today.
It was in New York in 1976 that David Humphries got his real grounding in this field. For a year he worked within the
Lower East Side mural movement where brilliantly executed murals were exploding like sunbursts on the drab grey walls of the deprived inner city. Here, art was out of the galleries and into the streets. Suddenly,
art had to do with ordinary people, incorporating their ideas, utilising their skills. Issues murals, magical message boards for the oppressed minorities.
'They were producing this incredibly dynamic, powerful work, both in terms of the craft involved and the community ideas it
expressed. I learnt in NY that there is no reason why community art can't be good, strong sophisticated art.' David Humphries 1977
David is impatient of the view that sees public art primarily in the terms of its political force.
'I see community arts
as an area where the arts can be used for social change, whether it comes out as it does in America on the level of protest or whether it's something as simplistic as giving bored people something interesting or
exciting to do. Public Art can be all things to all people who get involved in it'.
Mural painting is not simply studio painting done outdoors. 'The whole scale and the relationship with the
surrounding area are altered. The muralist knows exactly where his work is going, and, for the most part, who will be seeing it .He can also allow the design to take account of particular features of the
neighborhood and the local landscape.
The mural movement is important because it has developed a new audience for art. Every mural on the street is given a daily reception of comments and reactions. People enjoy
this new awareness of their environment. The argument that people are discovering the arts is not really accurate. What is true is that the arts are discovering people; where they live, where they work and where
'Everybody's going to the wall with a creative splash' Janet Hawley The Age16 April 83
Two great visual improvements
in Sydney over the past five years have been the greening of streets with masses of small parks and usable plazas and the new mural movement.
Adventurous murals, splashes of color climbing boring, stark, ugly
walls, tunnels and gas tanks, are transforming the environment in a way that makes people stop in their tracks and exclaim to passers-by:' Brilliant!' 'Great!' 'I love it!" Sydney is now turning streets
Go down some predictable street and suddenly your eyes hit upon a once drab wall, painted with trapeze artists or Superman in flight, parrots, cows, barber poles, bikes, clouds, palm trees,
dolphins. You feel a shiver of pleasure that people are creating such things.
The murals are not like the feature piece of foyer-art in your new corporate high -rise- the one that looks so good in the annual
general report color insert - but true community art with huge popular appeal.
Don't confuse them with haphazard communal paint-ins on building hoardings: they are planned and executed very thoughtfully.
'Public art sets an example and helps raise our standards and expectations about the quality of the environment.
Winston Churchill described importance of the physical environment in molding human values when he said that 'We shape our buildings and our buildings shape us'. I believe our environment reflects our values and
that the arts are an integral part of our life. We bear a considerable responsibility when we pass on these values to future generations.
Edited from 'A View of Public Art' Evan Williams Director NSW
Ministry for the Arts.
Redfern Mural 1984
'Think Globally Act Locally'
Commissioned by SydneyCity Council
Awarded the Sir John Sulman Prize 1985