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Kaff-eine takes art to Melbourne's streets

Melbourne’s veins flow with art and culture, and the street art of the city’s lanes beats right from its heart. We caught up with one of our city’s renowned local artists, Kaff-eine, about her experiences as a street artist in Melbourne.

Melbourne Central Kaff-eine street art

Melbourne Central is home to some cheeky Kaff-eine artworks

Art in public spaces

Kaff-eine – whose large-scale piece from 2013’s Melbourne Now exhibition still watches proudly over Rutledge Lane – is excited by the abundance of Melbourne street art and the increasing celebration of the form.
‘It’s such a drawcard…the traffic that goes through the Hosier/Rutledge Lane area is amazing – the public loves it. It’s become a lot more popular, but it is still criminalised,’ she says. ‘I have a background as a criminal lawyer, so I know what the penalties are if you don’t ask for permission.’

Kaff-eine street art melbourne

You’ll be able to pick Kaff-eine’s distinctive style

A woman in a man’s world

For Kaff-eine, doing good work, supporting good artists and not getting caught up in politics or preconceptions has been key. Owning her space in what is seen as a masculine field, the artist explains that she never let it intimidate her.
‘If I’d cared what people thought of me as a woman, there are so many things I wouldn’t have done!’ she says. ‘I’ll paint with people I like and who’s art I like. It might not be gender-balanced, but I’ve never experienced misogyny. I’ve never lost out on opportunities to male artists just because they’re male, and I’ve never felt excluded because I’m female.’

kaff-eine street art melbourne

Kaff-eine in her studio

Paint what you can’t see

Painting anonymously for the first three years of her career helped Kaff-eine let her art speak for itself, and speak loudly it does. Her style is distinctive and highly recognisable, featuring ‘humanimals’ that make you stop, take a second look, and conjure your own interpretation.
‘Part of the joy of painting is that you can make something you can’t see anywhere else,’ Kaff-eine says. ‘By painting these characters, it gets around the representation of age, gender, nationality…I get away from the politics of who I represent. It’s very freeing to just paint what I want.’
She adds, ‘It makes people think and talk. I know what I’m thinking when I paint it, but that doesn’t mean that you won’t see something else; people interpret images according to their background and experiences. I don’t like to ascribe meaning to my paintings.’

Kaff-eine street artist melbourne studio

Kaff-eine in her element

Ironically, Kaff-eine’s current art subjects are real humans, as part of a charity project for which she is painting 10 portraits onto housing tarpaulins for the Baseco and Happyland communities in Manila. But once that project is completed, Kaff-eine looks forward to taking her art back to the streets of Melbourne.

Kaff-eine’s ‘best of’

Best of the street art: The 23-metre tall portrait of an Indigenous boy that looms powerfully over Hosier Lane, by local artist Matt Adnate. ‘I love what he does in terms of bringing Indigenous faces into public space. They’re large and they’re proud, and it is a community with whom he has a personal relationship. I think that’s awesome.’
Best of the laneways: The exposed brick walls and pipes of Duckboard Place. ‘I found it when I was 15 years old and up until recently it hadn’t changed. It’s a beautiful laneway and it’s all painted up now.’
Best of the city: Despite painting all around Melbourne, the city itself has Kaff-eine enamoured. ‘The city is so small and lovely, and you have these beautiful old lanes that still haven’t been messed with. If I had spare time I’d walk around the city more, because I love it.’