“Skippy girls” 1997-2022, Wilson St. Redfern, Sydney.
The very first skippy girl I ever painted was back in 1997. Living in a share house on Wilson street, I was depressed by the long, bland fence of corrugated iron opposite. Every day I would watch people, heads down, shoulders slumped, trudging to and from work beside along this fence. Grim. I wanted to inject some fun into the street. Take over the fence for the common good of all. One night, with nothing much to hand except a desire to enhance the neighbourhood, I painted them. With a sock and some paint donated by a neighbour. From the beginning it was clear that the skippies had a positive effect on people. Instead of trudging there was bouncing down the street. A lighter atmosphere.
With more donations I just kept going down the street. Usually at night. Over the next few months I added girls..the first Christmas after I began I figured why not paint in the day. It was very quiet on the street. Hot. As the day progressed and neighbours realised I was out adding to the girls, they came and introduced themselves. Thanking me for the skippies. Everyone loved them. People shared their Christmas meals with me, donated more paint and shared the stories of how having the skippies along the fence made the whole street better. I got a lot of dinner invitations. Which was great because I was pretty broke. Sitting on my terrace verandah I would watch the previously grim commuters come down the street. Heads up, shoulders back, smiling. Watching the skippy girls progress down the street. Even skipping down the street.
Over the years I've been back six times with friends to update the girls, locals and friends have enthusiastically pitched in. I love the skippy girls, they were inspired by a ceramic tile/mosaic installation I came across outside a London primary school in 93. A fated find on an aimless amble.
At one point the Carriageworks adopted a slightly altered version of the skippies in their signage. Around 2012 I was invited to participate in a youth festival at the Carriageworks where I facilitated an interactive wall version of the skippies. It was great to see the public be creative with the girls. This really loosened me up, watching how other people got playful, this helped inform future refresh sessions where I began to diversify my approach to the girls.
I’ve been told that this is the longest standing piece of graffiti in Sydney, I don’t know if that’s true but they have lasted. The last time I refreshed them with a group of 18 volunteers I updated to a spray paint version and extended further down the street. This meant painting over them to create a clean background. Something I had done before. This time more than one local came up and were seriously affronted that I was touching the skippies. It was great. They were so protective. I had one guy tell me off, along the lines that the skippies were loved and had been there for longer than two decades. I introduced myself and explained I was the original and ongoing artist. He bought his wife and kids out to watch us throughout the day. I love the ownership locals feel of the skippies. My whole intention had been to inject some joy into a somber commute route, a dull, rather neglected fence. The skippies grew beyond that and took root in the locals hearts.
Initially it was all about that moment of suspended elation. Mid skip. About taking yourself lightly and of being in the moment. Over the years it became more playful, a Batman mask appeared, the girls went upside down or skipped in pairs. Later they diversified. Girls in shorts. Girls with spiked, short hair and Afro’s. They started to embrace a wider multicultural demographic, varying aspects of gender. United in their happiness. Everyone together.