The aerosol artist

14 December 2021 | Posted In: #141 Summer 2021,

While you may not recognise the name, you will no doubt be familiar with Scott Marsh’s controversial street art. Christopher Kelly reports.

You have to be quick to view Scott Marsh’s murals in the flesh as the guerrilla graffitist is arguably one of the most censored street artists in Australia.

All too often, not long after the paint has dried, Marsh’s politically-charged inner-Sydney artworks are removed by local authorities or defaced by testy residents. “When you’re working in a public space that’s what tends to happen, especially when you’re doing stuff that dances on that line of politically correct stuff or that could be deemed offensive by some people,” Marsh said.

Marsh’s 2019 Chippendale mural of Scott Morrison is a case in point. Standing before a wall of flames, wearing a Santa hat and Hawaiian shirt, the PM was pictured saying “Merry Crisis”. The mural was a reference to Morrison’s supposed indifference to the raging bushfires. A couple of days after it had been completed, the mural was painted over. “It’s a shame they did that because I think a lot of people were enjoying it,” said Marsh at the time.

Another of Marsh’s murals suffered a similar fate. Saint George appeared on the side of a house in Erskineville in 2017. Depicting George Michael in a priest’s vestment and rainbow stole with a joint in hand, the 20-foot artwork was soon vandalised by evangelical Christians who seemingly objected to the gay icon’s beatification.

“You can’t get too bummed out about it and I think if you did, you’d kind of be losing the battle,” Marsh said. “The only thing that I get upset about is the guys who lived there got so much grief from assholes attacking their house.” Besides, added Marsh, painting over murals is counterproductive.“Every time someone does it, it just fucking blows up, becomes a shitstorm, and just amplifies what I’m painting about. Whatever the message is just gets amplified by a fucking tonne.”

Meanwhile, a Black Lives Matter mural created last June in Redfern showing a police car on fire with the name TJ Hickey written on the side was removed within a day after requests from NSW Police to the City of Sydney. Questioning whether legal artworks created on private property can be destroyed, Marsh said: “If the police had left the mural alone, it would not have received national attention back then and we wouldn’t be speaking about it now.”

One of Marsh’s most contentious murals, however, has somehow managed to escape defacement. Also situated in Redfern, Tony on Tony depicts Tony Abbott marrying a wedding-gowned Tony Abbott. Inspired by the marriage equality debate, Marsh decided to install the mural following a statement from the former PM urging Australians to “protect the family”.

“I was hoping to find a wall in Manly to do [the mural] in his electorate. But unfortunately that was a lot harder to find,” said Marsh. Instead, Marsh ended up painting the mural on the wall of a Redfern Street cafe — “I was just listening to people laugh and screech all day”. And for Marsh, rather than the actual act of painting, that’s the most satisfying part of street art: “seeing people’s reaction, reading people’s commentary, getting people to think about something”.