Tending to street art and keeping graffiti off city walls may seem like opposing forces, but Manu Parashar sees the beauty in each action.
On his first day with the city’s graffiti removal team, a colleague introduced Manu Parashar to a paint called ‘self destruct’.
He thought it was a joke until he saw the label on the tin. Twelve years later, this creamy-coloured paint is still one of Manu’s go-to shades as he does the rounds of the city in one of 18 vehicles kitted out for rapid response.
‘Some colour names can be really funny. My favourite is “ticking”, which has a blueish tinge and gives really good coverage on tags,’ Manu said.
Check out ‘self destruct’ for yourself at 237 Flinders Lane, or ‘ticking’ on the laneway wall at 19 Elizabeth Street. His team has even invented a new colour with a striking likeness to raw concrete.
‘I pretty much know all the building colours. I’ve got more than 100 different paints in my unit so we can match the colour of a door or the wall of a heritage building. To keep the aesthetics of the building.’
Every morning at 7am, Manu patrols his section of the central city, both for illegal tags and damage to iconic street art.
It’s street art that drew him to this job.
‘If you’re in Melbourne, you’ve got to love street art and coffee. I saw this chance to make the city beautiful,’ Manu said.
‘People don’t realise how many artworks we’ve got around the city. We get to see them while we’re working, and monitor them every day.’
His favourite is Hosier Lane.
‘It’s full of beautiful art and the art keeps changing. I love walking down there. I go there almost every day, looking for anything which shouldn’t be there, offensive words and that type of thing.’
The team is even busier tending to street art since City of Melbourne launched its Flash Forward public art initiative.
Over the past two years, street artists have dressed up the walls of more than 40 lesser-known laneways, to welcome back workers, visitors and students as they return to the city.
Before the artists set to work, Manu and his team either washed or painted many of the walls.
They also consulted with producers on the types of paints that would withstand the anti-graffiti coating applied to each finished piece.
‘We protect the street art as well as remove the graffiti. We protect it by putting an anti-graffiti shield on the actual artworks.’
Manu’s favourite piece of street art – a portrait of a dog called Jesse – has long since been painted over. And yet the corner of Hosier and Flinders lanes serves as a reminder of the relationships he has built over time with people on the streets of Melbourne.
‘It was a beautiful photo of Jesse. The dog’s owner is a rough sleeper. I love dogs and when I see one, I can’t resist, I have to pat the dog. So it starts with stopping to pat Jesse, and then I get to talking with the owner. She’s really friendly.
‘The best part of the job is that we get to talk to people. We listen to them, see how everything is going in their life. They share their stories. We talk to shop owners as well.’
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