A bid to turn Darwin into Australia’s most colourful city, one wall at a time

Glow-in-the-dark paint, Auslan symbols and elaborate calligraphy are being splashed across the walls and buildings of Darwin this week, as the Darwin Street Art Festival returns to brighten up the city centre for another year.

Now in its eighth year, the festival — which runs from August 28 to September 15 — attracts artists from around the country to create more of the colourful murals taking over the city’s streets.

This year there are 31 artists creating an additional 22 murals and seven pop-up walls around Darwin — keeping organisers on track with their goal to make Darwin the most “colourful” city in Australia.

And despite approaching a decade since its conception, this year’s festival has been full of firsts.

A celebration of Auslan

Gonketa, a deaf artist from Geelong, Victoria, is the first artist to incorporate Auslan symbols into a mural in Darwin.

He said his artwork — a mass of hands in Auslan signs, exploding from a pair of shoulders — gives viewers a glimpse into his mind.

“My first language is Auslan, it’s not English,” he said.

“I want to show my thinking, and bring my mind out for you all to see, so you can see my thoughts.”

Gonketa up cose

Gonketa says the feedback has been heartwarming.(Supplied: Charlie Bliss Creative)

He said the response from the Darwin community so far had been rewarding, and hoped the artwork might inspire others to learn Auslan.

“We’ve had a few local Darwin deaf community members coming to have a look. I didn’t expect to meet that many deaf people here, so it’s been great,” he said.

“People have been curious, looking at their own hands in an interesting way, thinking ‘maybe I can use my hands to sign as well”.

Glow-in-the-dark paint brings art ‘alive’

In another Darwin Street Art Festival first, artist MaxiGig has been painting a huge artwork using UV paint that will glow in the dark.

In the span of just a few years, she’s gone from painting her first mural on her dad’s shed during lockdown, to painting her boundary-breaking mural in Darwin.

Her artwork, which depicts a child holding a puppet of a fish during the day, will tell a different story at night, when the glow paint lights up in the darkness.

a young woman on a cherry picker painting a mural

MaxiGig’s artwork will change when the sun goes down.(Supplied: Charlie Bliss Creative)

“It’s the kid’s imagination of what they’re playing with, so the fish becomes alive, and it shows the fish in the river,” she said.

It’s the first time MaxiGig has tried the technique, but she said the Darwin festival was the perfect environment for pushing artistic boundaries.

“I’ve never tried it before, it was just an idea. Thankfully [the street art festival] have given me the trust to give it a go,” she said.

a portrait of a woman painting and smiling

MaxiGig says she’s grateful to be a part of the festival. (Supplied: Charlie Bliss Creative)

A nod to the quirky side of Darwin

For some artists, the festival has been an opportunity to celebrate Darwin through their art.

Mary Franklin’s mural is made up of iconography of the territory’s Top End region.

A barra caught as part of the Million Dollar Fish competition, a carton of Paul’s Iced Coffee, a tornado potato from the famous Mindil Beach Sunset Markets, and a Gouldian Finch — all are key quirks part of Darwin’s unique and colourful culture.

 woman painting a large black and white mural

Darwin locals will be able to spot familiar icons in Mary Franklin’s mural.(Supplied: Charlie Bliss Creative)

There’s something for the tourists too, with images of a crocodile and frangipani flowers also part of the mural — Darwin staples to even those less familiar with the area.

“I’ve learnt little parts of Darwin that have really made up the personality of the town, and I wanted to represent that for both locals and tourists,” Franklin said.

Franklin recently quit her full-time job to pursue a career in art, and she said the festival had helped propelled her into new opportunities.

“In the past week I’ve gotten all kinds of offers from venues around town to put my paintings up, to do work for them,” she said.

Esplanade welcomes first mural

For others, Darwin is a change of scenery, but provides an exciting canvas for their art.

Mayonaize is from the street art capital of the country, Melbourne, but he said Darwin had been a great canvas for his calligraphy-embellished work.

“I selected some lyrics from a favourite song to put up there. They are, ‘positive energy activates constant elevation’. So I wrote it up there,” he said.

The mural Mayonaize is working on is the first to be located on Darwin’s Esplanade, and means there is now a mural on every major street in Darwin.

It’s a feat Mayonaize said he is proud to have played a role in.

“The amount of graffiti in Darwin, I was blown away, because I didn’t think there would be that many people interested in painting,” he said.

 a street artist wearing a camouflage face covering

Mayonaize says he wants more people to try their hand at painting.(Supplied: Charlie Bliss Creative)

He said he hoped his artwork inspired more people to pick up a paintbrush or spray can, too.

“In remote places like Darwin, you want to inspire people that you can do big things. And I think big murals are a good symbol of that,” he said.

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