A street artist has “censored” his own mural depicting federal Liberal and National politicians smoking coal using ice pipes after complaints from locals and a Coalition senator.
Instead of glass pipes, the mural now shows Prime Minister Scott Morrison, ministers Angus Taylor and Peter Dutton and backbenchers Barnaby Joyce and Craig Kelly inflating balloons and using party blowers.
Artist Scott Marsh was flown back to Adelaide from Sydney this week to alter the mural in Port Adelaide after complaints via the City of Port Adelaide Enfield.
The council commissioned Marsh to paint the mural as part of its Wonderwalls festival in March.
He said feedback at the time ranged from “very positive” in person to “super positive” online.
“The idea was to use meth addiction as a confronting kind of statement about the [federal] government’s addiction to coal and how it’s kind of blinding them and changing their decision-making to move away from any type of climate action,” he told the ABC on Thursday.
Senator sparked action
While the council told the ABC complaints came in almost immediately, Marsh said the urgency appeared to have “dialled up” after an emailed complaint that copied in Liberal senator Alex Antic late in September.
Senator Antic said he visited the mural in Cannon Street and considered it to be “offensive and in very poor taste”.
He then followed up with the council’s chief executive last week.
“There are a number of childcare centres in the area and the depiction of people smoking pipes would be difficult under any circumstances but the fact it was the Prime Minister and others added to the level of the standard which is being depicted,” Senator Antic said.
He said a resident of the street told him she thought it “brought the area into disrepute and it wasn’t the image that she was looking for in the area”.
“I don’t have any problems with it from the purpose of a political statement – people are obviously quite free to express their views about all matter of political issues as they want,” he said.
“The problem I had with the mural was strictly related to the use of illicit – or what appeared to be – illicit drugs.”
Jaye Osborne used to work at a drug counselling service nearby and said clients did not like it.
“I am not saying that anyone I know put in a complaint, but I do know my clients saw it and made comments that methamphetamine use is already so stigmatised that jokes about ice pipes located outside a drug and alcohol service was not great,” she said.
Censorship adds to story
Marsh said he had not “censored” one of his murals before – some have been defaced or removed by other people – so it was a big step to change it.
He said the out-of-place depiction of party balloons and horns would make people question what was covered up and add to its story.
“I think sometimes when you make a work in the street, they have a life that’s not just the same as [when] you paint a picture and you put it in a gallery and that’s its existence,” he said.
“People can mess with them or you can change them or the weather and the environment takes its toll on them so they kind of change over time so I guess this is one of those changes.”
Alterations to come from budget
A council spokesman said it did not select the artists who took part in the festival or what they painted, instead leaving it to the festival organisers.
“The council has received some complaints about this piece due to its drug reference and the adverse impact drugs have had in their lives and these complaints have been responded to,” he said.
“The council had been in talks with the artist to alter the piece since before COVID-19, however due to lockdowns it was only possible to get the work changed this week.
“The council undertakes upkeep of over 60 murals on walls around the Port, saving on graffiti removal due to the positive impact Wonderwalls has in the community.
“Funding to alter this piece came from that upkeep budget and cost about $1500.”
Marsh said the council had been “fantastic” in dealing with the issue and was brave in not just wanting uncontroversial murals of kookaburras.
A mural depicting Seinfeld character George Costanza was vandalised and then repaired after the 2019 Wonderwalls festival.
In 2014, the City of Port Adelaide Enfield kept a large sculpture on Main North Road despite some saying it looked like a “cat turd”.
On Thursday, it unveiled public art in support of the Port Adelaide Football Club ahead of the Power’s qualifying final against Geelong.