As if the kilometres of beaches on Newcastle’s doorstep weren’t photogenic enough, the resurgent seaside city is also home to dozens of large-scale murals that make it that much more Instagrammable. From photorealist portraits spanning several storeys to little hypercolour pieces hiding in little laneways, check out some of the most spectacular street art you can find in Newcastle, Australia.
Dickinson moved from London to Newcastle in 2002, and his creations are like an artistic love letter to his adopted home. Concerned with capturing the run-of-the-mill details of everyday life to produce a portrait of a place — take his 100 Letterboxes of Newcastle project, for example — Dickinson makes the ordinary look spectacular. His vivid drawings of Newcastle life — everything from bus stops and local businesses to icons like the Queens Wharf Tower and the Merewether ocean baths — explains why he was commissioned to liven up the pedestrian tunnels at both Merewether and Newcastle beaches in recent years.
‘Scenic Drive’ is the name of the road that cuts under the Merewether tunnel, and that subterranean patch of concrete is a lot more scenic thanks to this 2014 piece. Teaming up with local fine artist John Earle, Dickinson produced the ‘Amazing Merewether Aquarium’, directing pedestrians through an underwater world of crashed buses, dog-walking scuba-divers and green swamp monsters. Dickinson also gave the nearby Beach Hotel a special coat of paint in its outdoor area, as well as the tunnel to Newcastle Beach, which features a similarly whimsical mural.
Dickinson’s magnum opus though, is the interactive mural he added to the Newcastle Museum in 2012. After witnessing the amount of people who stopped for a selfie in front of his tunnel pieces, the artist designed this mural specifically for admirers to pose for photos, including a throne for the King of Newcastle, a wedding altar for Newcastle’s most attractive couple, a rather unflattering arrow pointing to the least attractive person in Newcastle, plus a graphic depiction of the city, which all converts a once-grey wall into one of the city’s most Instagrammable destinations.
You’ll spot more of Dickinson’s works all over the city, including the Mayfield Swimming Centre, the Lambton Park Hotel and another interactive effort at Sharpe’s Nursery on Darby St, including a space to pose as the ‘World’s Worst Garden Gnome’ and the ‘Gardener of the Year’.
Adnate is one of Australia’s most recognisable street artists, adding his huge photorealistic portraits of indigenous people to walls in every corner of Australia. And it’s for a good cause too — every dollar he earns is donated toward the Mudgin-Gal Aboriginal Womens Centre, which supports the local community of Redfern in inner-city Sydney.
If you want to see his Newcastle masterpieces, you better hurry up and catch him while you can. A mural of a young boy on Hannell St in Wickham is set to be covered up by a building development that’s been approved by council, although there are suggestions the artwork could be reconstructed elsewhere in the city. It might be harder to save a similarly spectacular multi-storey piece on Gibson Street car park in the city centre, which is also slated for redevelopment.
Sadly, it’s not the first case of disappearing murals in Newcastle. One of Australia’s preeminent muralists, Guido Van Helten, added one of his signature pieces to the corner of Hunter St and Stewart Av in 2014, but it was covered in black paint by the building owner last year, citing maintenance costs, to the dismay of the community.
This local Newcastle artist uses the bricks of his home town as his canvas, and you’ll spot his playful hypercolour works all over Newcastle. Umpel’s bright, surreal, cartoonish style is easy to spot, with smaller-scale graffiti pieces peppered in corners and laneways all over the place.
Commuters will recognise Umpel’s three-eyed figure on the wall of Wickham railway station, neighbouring a detailed portrait of Italian metal band Lacuna Coil singer Cristina Scabbia by upcoming stencil artist Skel Tor. He’s also added a mural to Morgan St, in collaboration with stencil artist Ben Foster, and the Grain Store craft beer bar, an old factory converted into one of Newy’s trendiest watering holes.
Newcastle is a bike-friendly city and one of its most distinctive pieces of street art encourages locals to hop on their bike: a mammoth mural by Sydney artist Skulk on the walls of Limelight Creative Media’s studio in Hamilton East.
And you can even get a spot of street art where you sleep if you book a bed at Newcastle Beach YHA. Painted by travelling American artist Kegan Eastham, when he was a staying at the hostel last year, the stairs down to the kitchen are decorated with a mural depicting the Pasha Bulker ship that famously ran around at Nobbys Beach, in 2007, as well as sharks and sunken treasures below the water’s surface.