A love of street art sparked by a short stint living in Berlin has led to a book and a new business for this longtime 4101 resident.

Former library technician Paul Rollo first published his photographic tome, West End Street Art, in 2007. Fresh from three months living in the German capital, a city that has been described as the “graffiti mecca of the urban art world”, Paul had started to notice similar street art around Brisbane. “I walked from West End to the city to work every day. On the way, I’d stop and take photos on my phone,” he says, “Eventually I had over 1000 photos. I put them up on flickr and got heaps of likes.”

With an abundance of images clearly generating interest, Paul was inspired to publish a book. “Every city you go to, Melbourne, Rio, LA, everyone’s got a street art book. I wanted Brisbane to have one too.”

Street art can be a controversial topic however. Paul investigated getting a grant from Brisbane City Council to help fund the project, but was told it would “conflict with their anti-graffiti policy”. Artists’ names were left out of the book over concerns they could get in trouble, with pieces identified by the street where they were done instead.

Paul understands people getting upset when someone tags their front fence, but says from his experience that most artists chose places that were not offensive.

“They would do it on the backs of street signs or those electricity boxes or rundown old empty buildings. They weren’t doing it on business shop fronts. They weren’t doing it on people’s cars. They were, I thought, being selective about where they did the work, because it meant it would stay there longer too.”

The book itself has been a mammoth achievement by Paul, completely self-funded and self-published. To date, he’s sold almost 1000 copies, at Avid Reader, GoMA, the National Gallery in Canberra, MONA in Tasmania and bookshops in Sydney and Melbourne.

Many artists whose work features in the book have since gone on to receive international acclaim. Paul is quick to point out that he does not take any credit for their success, but he is proud to see them doing well. He mentions artists such as Mik Shida who recently painted one of the ‘Pillars Project’ murals in South Brisbane. “He was just a young guy, just finished high school … He’s painting in Poland at the moment. He’s done stuff in favelas in Rio. Some of the artists in this who were just doing little things locally have really taken off and gone global since then.”

Having cut his teeth on his own book, Paul has now established a micropublishing business, Rollo Press, which will specialise in small print runs. “Publishers want to sell 10,000 copies but there are still books that will sell a few hundred,” he says, “I know my books have gone all over the world. I don’t know who’s bought them. Who knows, Banksy might even have a copy.”

Words by Leah Carri | Images by Darlia Argyris