H-Foot: The elusive Newcastle street artist providing an alternative to ‘the tough-guy graf scene’
Some of the strangest conversations that H-Foot, an anonymous Newcastle graffiti artist, finds himself in are the ones about him.
The anonymous Newcastle graffiti artist H-Foot is omnipresent in his hometown, and the office of mayor is no exception. (Supplied: H-Foot)
As the reclusive tagger has spent five years decorating — some would say defacing — his hometown with his trademark: a doodle of Homer Simpson with a foot for a body, he has walled himself off from his graffiti identity.
Being outed as the face of an underground persona does not appeal to him.
But he finds fun in the possibilities of a double life.
“I’ve had people tell me who H-Foot is, when they’re speaking to me,” he said.
“I’ve heard people criticising H-Foot, taking it too seriously.
“I’ve heard people read something into it that maybe I’d never even thought of, which is great — I guess it goes with the whole death of the author thing.”
A visitor to Newcastle might find an H-Foot mark on a street sign, on a petrol bowser, blinking out from the rusted badlands of the former steel city.
A defiant online presence
H-Foot’s Instagram page documents a trail of cameos in Tokyo bars, US skate bowls, the street next to the Colosseum.
As seen online, H-Foot has shown up in defiance of asbestos warnings, seaside cliffs and police tape.
He has shown up on burnt-out cars.
“The figure itself started because of my lack of skill,” H-Foot said.
“A friend asked me to draw Homer Simpson and I couldn’t draw the body, so I just skipped everything else and chucked a foot coming straight off his neck.
“I just wanted something that was easy to draw, easily identified and would maybe bring a smile to people’s faces if they were on their way to work.”
The artist also said he chose such a cheerful image as he wanted to breakdown the “tough guy” image of street art and graffiti.
“I’ve always tried to make [Homer] smiling or looking happy because I want there to be an alternative to that kind of, the tough-guy graf scene,” he said.
The anonymous Newcastle street artist H-Foot, spray-painting his Homer Simpson-like mark in a tunnel. (Supplied: H-Foot)
The artist said he is drawn to abandoned places.
As he began exploring Newcastle’s drains, canals and the catacombs of the BHP, he felt an urge to leave his mark.
The results were small at first, in pen, then paint, bright and bold in alleyways — then stickers.
Using stickers, or “slapping”, is not unusual for a graffiti artist, said Dr Chris Honig, a lecturer in street art at the University of Melbourne’s Victorian College of the Arts.
Within the “graf” community it is more or less accepted that some days are for spraying buildings and trains, while a night out with friends might include a casual tag on a toilet door, or slapping up a sticker on the walk home.
A subculture with history
For a subculture that much of society thinks is lawless, Dr Honig said, graf is carved along sectarian lines.
The New York style emerged in the late 1960s and quickly coated the city’s subways in huge, elaborate murals of stylised letters.
The artists drew inspiration from hip-hop music and aspired to proficiency with the can.
The Newcastle graffiti artist H-Foot also canvasses his work on stickers, a practice known as “slapping”. (Supplied: H-Foot)
Before social media, a train carriage was a prized canvas.
Then the Euro style arrived in the late 1990s, also on trains.
“The idea [for Euro style taggers] is that if a train pulls up, I’m going to hit it in two minutes,” Dr Honig said.
“It’s a style that’s full of drips, painted really quickly, and the fills are incomplete.
“It’s a newer style that emphasises illegality, and people started transferring it off the trains and onto the streets — fistfights came of it.”
The laconic Euro style, with its lawlessness and kinship with skateboarding and punk, is often openly hostile to the mainstream appeal of the New York style, and its street murals in service of gentrification.
The tension can be seen on walls in Melbourne, where the graffiti crew Pure Aussie Art (PAA) recently “capped”, or disrespectfully wrote over, a mural by the street artist Shida.
H-Foot certainly embodies some of the elements of Euro style, Dr Honig said.
But for the artist, it is all about his hometown and he spoke highly of his fellow Novocastrian street artists.
The Newcastle graffiti artist H-Foot leaves his mark on many institutions, including Australia Post. (Supplied: H-Foot)
“Newcastle has some amazing graf artists, some of the best in the country. I’ve got mad respect for those guys,” he said.
“I never cap anyone’s work.
“If anything, when I’m exploring and I find someone’s work, I’m really excited.”
If H-Foot hopes to leverage his own anonymity to fame, he does not speak about much beyond Newcastle.
“I’m definitely an outsider,” he said.
“For me, it would be great if I was in my 60s or 70s, have a Posca [brand of marker] in my pocket and could just throw one up on the back of a toilet door, or have a sticker in my pocket and pop it on a stop sign while I’m walking my grandchildren somewhere.
“That’s really the goal so that, at some stage, I can be the longest-lasting street artist in Newcastle.”