The backstreets of Surry Hills, a hub of Australian small business.
Some say it’s the Silicon Valley of Sydney. Some say it’s trash.
Surry, sporadically littered with graffiti, and occasionally blessed with street art, but rarely posed with an idea; a question…
Who is The Phantom?
It’s mid-2018; I start a new job in Surry Hills.
I used to be that pre-teen who watched the ground as he walked, because he could never look up to the places he thought he’d never reach.
After some sort of emotional reform in my late teen years, I now like to look around when I’m walking, from Central station to my office—I’m going to be staring at a screen for 8 hours anyway.
One day, I notice some spray-painted writing on a shutter—“The Phan-tom”.
My initial thought is that it’s pretty standard; just another random word/phrase on another building in Sydney.
A few days later, it’s still there. Again, quite normal.
Another few days later. I’m walking my usual route to work. “The Phan-tom”.
On another shutter. Ok, some repetition is cool; nothing we haven’t seen before…
If you’ve ever been on a Sydney train on the inner-west line and mustered the curiosity to look from your phone and out the window, you would see a prime example of bad repetition.
The random words or symbols graffitied over and over and over again, along the brick walls of the rail line.
SPUD, BONK, JINX.
There are 1,628,749,822 of them in a row and no one looks at them for the same reason that you didn’t read that entire number.
But the two words in question here, they’re different.
It’s only a few days later, that this shows up:
On a construction site gateway. The entire idea is subtly portrayed here: it stands out from everything else.
Now, it’s personal. It’s my game; a scavenger hunt, my very own Pokémon Go.
You’re may/may not be thinking, “ugh, it’s just more graffiti, but in purple.” And you may as well be right—art is subjective, and I can respect that.
But two words on a wall have never made me feel like I’m documenting an insanely smart comic book figure. I felt like I was following Batman’s Joker’s calling cards.
After all, it’s better than that guy who writes “no parking” on walls.
Speaking of parking:
Now, he’s incorporating the environment. I didn’t study art, but it doesn’t take an artist to appreciate it.
This one didn’t last long though. It was scrubbed off within two days.
I had The Phantom comic book vibe initially, but it solidified after this one:
Who is “The Phantom”? Why is he back?
Where did he return from?
Why has he returned?
Why is he scattering his calling cards all over Surry Hills?
Why are most of his tags hyphenated?
And why is it so cool?
What is he trying to prove?
Is there something coming next?
Is this just a very smart marketing stunt?
Just what is going on?
Will anyone ever know who’s behind the idea?
How can you trust that I’m not The Phantom?