Rant: Who’s a Big Little Man?

by The Editor

Let’s face it… Canberra has a reputation of being a little bit boring. We don’t prescribe to this belief, however are painfully aware of the general perception. Just ask Guy Pearce and that slapper from Jerrabomberra.

Street art is not particular common in our capital’s car parks and alleyways, however we have gone to pains in the past the highlight both the good and the bad around town. So too, our interest extends to public art. Who doesn’t love the dogs and sheep on City Walk?

Unfortunately, on occasion the two meet, and at such times it is fair to take a stand and make comment.

Here we go…

First a history lesson for those that came in late. ‘Tagging’ has a long history in the context of reclaiming public space. In the United States during the Eighties, an increased tendency for public space to be sold off to private enterprise (think shopping malls or McDonalds playgrounds) created a sense of disenfranchisement with urban space. While in Canberra we may be used to wide open spaces and front yards, things were quite different in large, American urban centers.

The act of signing one’s name on a building was an act reclamation for those that felt a loss of public space. It’s almost a sense of “if you can own it, so can I.” This an important fact to consider when examining the current state of street art, with the current prevalence of ‘tags’ within our own urban environment.

In Canberra the game plays out quite differently. We are blessed with wide open spaces and moreover, as mentioned there is quite a strong impetus to install public art within these public landscapes. One of the more quirky examples is the quirky ‘Big Little Man’ located in Petrie Plaza just up from the Carousel. He keeps watch over skateboarders, lunchtime conversations and young families at the merry-go-round, and was created by Dean Bowen in 1999.

So, what’s our point?

Well, wandering past Big Little Man recently we couldn’t help but notice additions to the plinth on which he stands.


Our issue is a big one. Whoever thought to add their moniker has done themselves a disservice for not one, but two reasons.

One. The crappy, infantile, culturally irrelevant and intellectually immature tags a nothing more than scribble. If those responsible consider this in any way a valid form of urban expression they fail to understand the long history of an artistic movement with aims so very far removed from whatever ideology this paltry effort intends to promote.

Two. The larger issue at hand is the insult delivered to Dean Bowen who, regardless of whether or not you like Big Little Man, has been chosen by the elder artists of this city to be worthy of permanent recognition. These people should be held in equal stead with others who contribute to Canberra’s cultural fabric.  Mr Bowen had his name installed on this plinth in brass as he has elevated his craft above most other practitioners.   On the other hand, the taggers have in one swipe of a Posca pen ridiculed both his efforts and their own intellect.

Don’t get us wrong, we love street art (the good stuff, not the bad stuff) and believe it has its place about town – just not on the work of others. Express yourself, create your work but, importantly, make sure you’ve something of real value to add.