Urban art in Sydney

Different Street Art in Sydney

Have you noticed something different happening in Sydney? A new form of street art has appeared on the streets of Sydney. Not street art in the usual sense of the word, this is urban art creating a vibrant temporary street gallery.

Wandering the streets of Sydney, you are likely to pass large historic photographs and other creative works decorating building hoardings that hide the construction work going on behind them.

It turns out they are the result of a relatively new policy by the City of Sydney. Developers are now required to install approved artworks on their temporary hoardings. Building sites around the city have in effect become temporary galleries for the enjoyment of all who walk by.

Reg Mombassa Sydney Artwork

A Bespoke Piece by Reg Mombassa

This urban art not only enhances the cityscape. It also reduces graffiti and poster build-up on building hoardings which in the past, provided perfect canvases for unauthorised street art and hundreds of advertising posters.

When I first came across a series of historic photographs hiding the renovation of the Children’s Court in Surry Hills, I looked at them with interest and then walked on. Another day, a colourful piece outside Wynyard Station caught my eye.

More recently I discovered “Double Take” (which made me do just that) by Rachel Harris and I decided to find out more about these artworks springing up all over the city.

Double Take by Rachel Harris

Did you do a “Double Take”?

Double Take by Rachel Harris

What’s wrong here?

A Temporary Urban Art Gallery

A form of outdoor art gallery, the pieces create a vibrancy around the city and creatively hide construction sites from view.

Three types of artworks are on display. There are historic photographs, ten specially chosen artworks and approved commissioned pieces.

Historic Images

The historic images provide an insight into what the area was like when it was first settled. These black and white works adorn the temporary structures which surround heritage-listed sites or areas of heritage significance.

Historic Images form Sydney Urban Art

Elizabeth Street in 1907

Historic photographs form Sydney Urban Art

Sussex Street in 1900

Ten Sitework Images

Ten distinctly different and specially created artworks were selected from over 520 submissions by artists and designers. They brighten up the area, elicit reflection or provide food for thought to those who take the time to look more closely.

Bespoke Images

A third option available to developers is to create or commission their own site-specific piece of urban artwork. These designs must be by a living Australian artist and must be submitted to the City of Sydney for approval.

Discovering the different artworks is rather like taking part in a treasure hunt around Sydney. The pieces that are here today may be gone next week. The length of time the artwork is on display depends on the length of time the building work will take to complete.

My Sydney Treasure Hunt

Today I am on a search for something different in Sydney.  Walking the streets of Sydney I am looking for as many examples of this new form of street art can find. Armed with a list of possible sites (that took some researching to find), I set off.

New urban art in Sydney

One: Plastic Bags floating in water – “Poly Ubiquitous”

One: “Poly Ubiquitous”

First off, I discover Poly Ubiquitous. This colourful piece has a hidden message. Cynthia Schwertsik photographed plastic bags immersed in water hoping to raise awareness of the menace of plastic. Close up, the image is a swirl of colour and the plastic bags are not really apparent. From afar the plastic bags are clear.

Two: “Double Take”

Next, is the work called Double Take (as mentioned above) by Rachel Harris. This one is certainly worth looking at closely. At first glance, the historic photographs seem to be just that, but look again and notice the subtle additions that change the photograph into what Rachel calls a “subversive celebration of Sydney then and now”.

I am not the only one looking for the modern additions.  A man tells me to “look how they put something in there that shouldn’t be in there”.

When you find this piece do let me know what strange additions you find.
Stone Jewels decorate Sydney Streets

Stone Jewels

Three: “Stone Jewels”

Over the road is “Stone Jewels” by Fiona Currey. The individual coloured pieces, mostly made from glass reflect the stone tools made and used by man millions of years ago.

Australian birds creating Urban Art in Sydney

Birds of Australia

Street Art in Sydney

More Birds of Australia

Four “Birds of Australia”

Kent Street proves to be a treasure trove. There I find “Birds of Australia”, by Egg Picnic, which depicts Australian Native birds in a colourful and playful display. The people behind Egg Picnic, Camila De Gregorio and Christopher Macaluso aim to promote wildlife conservation through their work.

Sydney Opera House at night is great Urban Art

Detail of the work by Emily Crockford

Sydney Opera House forms great Sydney Street Art

What is behind Sydney Opera House at Night

Five: “Sydney Opera House at Night”

Nearby is “Sydney Opera House at Night” by Emily Crockford. Emily is an emerging artist from Studio A, which provides support for artists living with intellectual disability. Her bold use of colour and design enhances the areas where her work is displayed.

A bespoke piece

Not on my list is what appears to be lines of unconnected colourful letters on a black background.  A closer look reveals that it is a bit of a word search puzzle. A few words jump out at me – meme, tweet, spring, kiss and circle.  This is one of the “Bespoke Graphics”, an approved commissioned work. On another site with the same artwork, passers by have circled words that they have found.

Bespoke art forms temporary Urban Art

Hard at Work beneath the “Word Puzzle”

Getting into Strife

At one point I get into a bit of strife. A woman in a hard hat and orange vest doesn’t like me taking photos of her building site. At least I did get one of the artwork (“Double Take”) on the hoardings.

Sydney Urban Art

Double Take – without the open door

There is plenty of building work happening around Wynyard Station. Here I discover two bespoke works side by side.

Two more bespoke pieces

One is a colourful selection of work by Christopher O’Doherty (AKA Reg Mombassa) whose playful and insightful work depicts both urban and rural scenes. There are Sydney icons and unique characters typical of the artists style.

Still visible behind the hoardings is a Ghost Sign – for PEAPES Menswear. The sign will be obscured as the new building takes shape.

Peapes behind a work by Reg Mombassa

Peapes peeks through in the Background

Next door is the former Shell House (more recently known as the Menzies Hotel) which is undergoing significant refurbishing. The building hoarding artwork is by Luca Ionescu, a Sydney-based typographer. The work makes use of Art Deco elements and reflects the businesses and brands that have had a place in the building since the 1800s. It is another piece that deserves more than a passing glance.

Once the Shell Building Sydney and then Menzies Hotel

Art Deco inspired

It fascinates me how often people turn back to look at what I am photographing. If the simple fact of taking a photograph encourages others to slow down and look more closely at their surroundings, I am happy.

Six: “Obstacle Course”

Urban Art in Sydney

“Obstacle Course”

Around the corner in George Street is “Obstacle Course”, by Elliot Foulkes. This bold abstract artwork, with its curves and lines, references a person’s experience and journey through the city.

Seven: “Real Myth”

Sydney Street Art in the form of decorative building hoardings

Playful and Mythical “Real Myth”

“Real Myth” by Captain Pipe (aka Neil McCann) is a playful and colourful mural. The original artwork was only three-to-five centimetres high.

Eight: “The Terminal Face”

The last piece that I find is a small section of “The Terminal Face of the Perito Moreno Glacier, Patagonia”, by Timothy Harland. The whole piece is an image made from over 50 individual photographs stitched together.

A Glacier forms Urban Art in Sydney

The Glacier

While I haven’t mentioned the historic photographs that I passed on my search for urban art specifically, I did pass a few. They create a street museum for the City of Sydney and while their colours are not as eye-catching as the others I have mentioned, they are no less interesting.

I have missed Two

I am pleased that I found eight of the ten siteworks today as well as a few bespoke works. Missing is “Children Very Upset”, by Edwin Budhi. This is a series of photographs that depict lost pet signs. I also missed “A Song from Nature” by Danling Xiao (aka Mundane Matters). This work of fruit and vegetable sculptures encourages viewers to think about food waste.

Update: I’ve found number Nine

After going around in circles in Waterloo (you would think by now that I could follow a map), I found “A Song from Nature” in Alexandria. Thanks to Helen who put me onto this one.

Different Sydney Street Art

Another view

Different Sydney Street Art

A Song from Nature

And Another Bespoke Work “Transformation”

Craig and Karl, Webuyyourkids and Karan Singh were commissioned to create artworks interpreting transformation. Each artist had a different and unique approach to the challenge.

Craig and Karl

Detail of Spin by Craig and Karl

Transformation by Craig and Karl, Webuyyourkids and Karan Singh

The different interpretations of Transformation

Webuyyourkids and Karan Singh in Sydney

Clockwise from top left Fashion Forward (Webuyyourkids) The Fashion (Karan Singh) Take Off (Webuyyourkids)The Future (Webuyyourkids) and unknown.

There is so much building work happening in Sydney. Most if not all sites have temporary street art on their hoardings. The emphasis is on temporary – some that I hoped to find had already gone . As building work gets completed, this urban art gallery changes and evolves.

When you next walk through the city, be on the lookout for this temporary gallery on the streets of Sydney.

Do let me know when you find one that I have missed or if one I have mentioned is no longer there. I will update this post accordingly.

Where I found the Artworks (they may no longer be there when you go looking):

Corner of Bathurst and Castlereagh Streets: Polyubiquious.

Corner of Bathurst and Sussex Streets: Double Take

Corner of Bathurst and Sussex Streets: Stone Jewels

234 Kent Street: Historic Photographs from the City of Sydney Archives

264 Kent Street: Birds of Australia

275 Kent Street: Sydney Opera House at Night

304 Kent: The bespoke work “Word Search”

Carrington Street: Bespoke work by Christopher O’Doherty (AKA Reg Mombassa)

Carrington Street: Bespoke work by Luca Ionescu

George Street Entrance to Wynyard Station: Obstacle Course

1 Circular Quay: Historic and contemporary photographs

Corner Albert and Macquarie Streets: Historic photographs from the collection of the Royal Automobile Club.

71-79 Macquarie Street: Real Myth

Martin Place: The Terminal Face of the Perito Moreno Glacier, Patagonia

Mitchell Rd near the corner of Henderson Rd Alexandria: A Song for Nature

Bridge Street between Young Street and Phillip Street: Transformation


  1. I love these and think its a brilliant initiative. There is one on the corner of Philip and King Street that I will share on your facebook page.

    1. Author

      It is a great initiative. I live how some people stop and look to work out what’s happening in Double Take.

  2. I noticed these photographs around town, especially at Broadway Shopping Center. I love this initiative, it makes familiar places so multi-dimensional. Thank you for the great write up!

    1. Author

      Thanks Margarita. I’ll have to check the ones out around Broadway. You’re right – they do add something special to the city.

  3. I’ve noticed these around. Being stuck in traffic is more tolerable with something nice to look at.

  4. Great post, I always enjoy looking for street art too! I work in St Leonards, and we have had some beautiful street art pop up in the last year or two- I think it is definitely becoming more accepted and popular.

    1. Author

      Thanks Katie. Perhaps street art is becoming more mainstream now. I’ll have to check St Leonards out.

  5. We’re in Sydney for a brief visit but have made a point of seeing some of the artworks and have been delighted. Will try and catch the ones on Kent Street tomorrow. It’s a great initiative and we have really enjoyed looking at the various examples and the different types of artwork.

    So thank you Joanne for making us aware of them.

    1. Author

      Thank you so much for letting me know. I am pleased you enjoyed them. I hope to find one I missed tomorrow…..

  6. I’ll take more notice when I walk though the city. What a great idea – the city certainly needs brightening up. Thanks for the article

  7. Pingback: I thought I check in to see if my artworks are up to be seen around the place. Yes, at 116 Bathurst Street, Sydney

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