Author Archives: Mark Holsworth

About Mark Holsworth

Writer, independent researcher, artist, musician and philosopher. Mark Holsworth is the author of the book Sculptures of Melbourne.

Paying to Play – Art & Craft Shops

Yesterday, a friend was telling me about auditing all his art material. It was a familiar story, many creative people have more craft and art supplies than they know what to do with or will even have time to use. I have recently inherited all the unused art materials from an aunt of mine, an amateur artist.

Senior Art Supplies

The desire to be a creative individual is a strong drive in contemporary society, the ideas of expressing your identity through art or crafts because you can’t be alienated from what you have made. This desire is easily exploited in the sale of materials to assist your creativity and the marketing of creativity and artistry is just another way of selling more products. It is the compilers in the art world are the only ones who can really make a profit (the publishers, the suppliers, the performance venues, etc.) rather than the creative individuals and art supply shops are compliers of materials. A couple of major chains completely dominate Melbourne’s art supply shops.

When I was in a band I knew of venues where you had to pay to play and maybe if you attracted a large crowd you might make some money. If you are a writer you will know about vanity publishing or a visual artist you will know about rental space galleries (see my post on Rental Spaces). However, there is more to it than the costs in producing and marketing a performance or publication. These are the obvious instances of exploiting the artists but the whole creative industry is exploiting the idea of being an artist, a musician or other creativity individual. A lot of equipment and materials have to be bought before you can exhibit or perform.

This is where the art supply shop comes into the story of art. The artist, or potential artist, is drawn in to the shop by the attraction of chromatic rows of paints, pencils, pastels and coloured papers; the orderly world of brushes, palette knives and prepared canvases; the availability of everything that you could imagine creating with and more.

In his book 50 Techniques of Magic Craftsmanship, Salvador Dali recommends buying something new every time that you visit an art supply store. But before you do ask yourself do you really need all those coloured drawing inks, tubes of paint or sketch books?

Remember, if you are an amateur or professional artist, the most expensive thing that you can spend on art is your time. Instead of buying some new materials only buy what you need to replace. You don’t need to spend money and expensive equipment to be creative. You can buy a HB2-6 pencil and paper in stationary or 2 dollar shops. Porn magazines are cheaper than life models and twice as useful. There is nothing wrong with making your art practice around your income: that is the first step in making it sustainable. Dancing, singing and beat-boxing are free.

That said the creative industry is not as bad as the exercise and sports industry. Walking is free, no equipment required and amongst the best exercises that you can do.


Flexible sculptures @ Sutton and Seventh

On my way to Sutton Gallery on Brunswick Street in Fitzroy, one of the problems of rigid sculptures was made brutally obvious to me. One of the legs on Peter Corlett’s Mr Poetry was broken, the rigid bronze shell was fractured and the leg was only attached by the greater strength and flexibility of steel armature. The plinth had also been damaged where it was hit by the leg. Serious damage, but probably not irreparable.

Damage to Mr Poetry

An alternative to the standard rigidity of sculptures in both materials and concept is demonstrated in two current post-minimalist exhibitions: established international artist, Peter Robinson’s Neologisms at Sutton Gallery and emerging artist, James Parkinson’s exhibition Free Time at Seventh Gallery.

New Zealand artist, Peter Robinson has cut pieces of black and yellow felt sculptures that are pinned to the wall, stacked in piles, place against the wall and laid out on the floor. Some parts suggested letterforms, the new words of the title like the embossed text of a plaque. Robinson uses both the positive and negative forms and there doesn’t appear to be any waste material – it is all present.

Peter Robinson’s Neologisms at Sutton Gallery

Neologisms appeared to be commenting on the history of modern sculpture. From Marcel Duchamp’s 1918 Sculpture for Traveling made of rubber and string with ad lib dimensions. The grid of modernism hangs on the wall distorting its rigid geometry, the cube of the minimalists is made of felt sheets stacked in a corner. There is even a playful piece of figuration while other forms looked like early Geoffrey Bartlett sculptures.

Peter Robinson’s Neologisms detail

Although flexible sculptures do not so much define a space, as they are defined by the space and the pull of gravity, Robinson’s Neologisms determined the viewer’s movement around the gallery. Clear paths are laid out between the blocks of forms, there are linked chains across part of the gallery blocking movement and a reference to Robinson’s earlier sculptures involving styrofoam chains.

Peter Robinson’s Neologisms at Sutton Gallery

A few blocks away from Sutton Gallery at the shopfront artist-run-space of Seventh Gallery was another post-minimalist exhibition by an RMIT fine arts student, James Parkinson, Free Time. People kept on coming in from the street and asking: “What is this place?” Only to be told by the attendant that it was an art gallery and yes, you could play in the ball pit.

The main gallery at Seventh is filled with plastic balls of different colours, you have to wade through the balls to see the other rooms at Seventh. Parkinson calls his ball pit, ‘Prison’; the balls are in a prison, contained within the low walls at the front and back of the space. This prison gives freedom to enjoy the ball pit and playing in the ball pit is fun.

James Parkinson Prison Seventh Gallery

Free Time consists of a ball pit, a post-minimalist sculptures made of many plastic balls and four walls pieces, walls of plastic Lego blocks in uniform colours: grey, sky blue, orange and pink. (Where do you get Lego in those colours?) There is a fun contrast between lack of play in the rigid walls of Lego blocks and play of the ball pit contained with its rigid walls.

Post-minimalist adds a degree of play, levity and oxymorons to the serious formal rigidity of minimalism. This flexibility gives the sculptures freedom,  their flexible form has play in it, in that the materials have give and there is some slack.


Redevelopments and Public Sculptures

There is constant redevelopment in the CBD, buildings are being torn down and new buildings built, but two redevelopments have caught my attention because of the public sculptures caught up in these developments. Although these sculptures are public, in that they are on premises open to the public, they are privately owned. These are the redevelopment at the 360 Collins Street and 447 Collins Street.

The forecourt on Lt. Collins Street

The forecourt on Lt. Collins Street

My interest in 360 Collins Street is focused on the forecourt area on Little Collins Street where there are several sculptures by Peter Blizzard’s Shrine to the Ancient River, Paul Blizzard’s Fossil Stones and Chris Booth’s Strata. See my blog post.  In 2011 there was a proposal approved for 15-storey development in the forecourt area whereas the present 2015 proposal retains, refurbishes and redevelops part of the forecourt area. For more on the development see Urban Melbourne.

Michael Mezaros, John Pascoe Fawkner, 1978

Michael Mezaros, John Pascoe Fawkner, 1978

Ironically it was a dislodged slab of its marble facade in 2012  that spelt the end for the National Mutual building at 447 Collins Street designed by architects Godfrey, Spowers, Hughes, Mewton & Lobb in 1965. It’s façade of marble slabs was its one notable architectural feature, a move away from the curtain wall of earlier modernism. 447 Collins Street is now vacant and approved for demolition. In the forecourt of 447 Collins Street are the statues of John Batman by Stanley Hammond and John Pascoe Fawkner by Michael Mezaros, see my blog post.

What will happen to the sculptures? The Moral Rights provisions in the Copyright Act in 2000, under section 195AT, the owner of a moveable artistic work is liable to the artist if they destroy the artistic work without first giving the artist opportunity to remove it. The artist or their heirs, as two of the sculptors are now deceased, have the right to be informed about the removal, storage or subsequent reinstallation.

Percival Ball architectural ornaments now the entrance to the carpark at Melbourne Uni

Percival Ball architectural ornaments now the entrance to the carpark at Melbourne Uni

In the past Melbourne University was eager to provide new homes to sculptures dislodged from their original locations in the city, see my blog post. None of the sculptures at either 360 Collins Street or 447 Collins Street are site specific so it should not proved difficult to find a new home for them, if they are not returned to refurbished forecourts at their present locations.


Melbourne’s Gothic Revival

Gothic Revival is mostly found on Melbourne’s late nineteenth century churches, law courts and banks. “The Gothic Revival in Australia was a fabric of myths” write Robin Boyd in The Australian Ugliness (The Text Publishing Company, 2010, Melbourne p.61) Boyd goes on to note that: “Australia is full of Gothicky churches of crashing structural dullness struck about with decorative features.” Boyd maintained that the idea that the Gothic Revival was based on the northern European gothic tradition was a myth.

ANZ Bank, Collins Street

ANZ Bank, King Street and Collins Street

Gothic Revival architecture in Australia had a great appeal as it was seen as both particularly British and patriotic, as well as Catholic because of Augustus Pugin. Pugin designed the interior of the Palace of Westminster is widely regarded as the father of Gothic Revival and was a convert to Catholicism. There are a number of Catholic churches in Sydney and Brisbane designed by Pugin who was invited to Australia by the first Bishop of New South Wales.

There are many kinds of gothic revival in Australia from the decorative to the austere. The five-storey Venetian Gothic style building at 673 Bourke St that was built circa 1890 and is now known as “Donkey Wheel House”. There is the gothic revival of decorative grotesques, including an image of Jeff Kennett amongst the gargoyles of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne or the austere gothic revival of peaked arches Coburg’s Methodist church. The combination of dark basalt walls and light sandstone is repeated in many of Melbourne’s older churches and cathedrals irrespective of their denomination, they all believed in the gothic revival because it referred back to their medieval heritage and created for them a hyperreal European medieval presence in a city on the other side of the planet.

ANZ Bank detail

ANZ Bank detail

As well as churches and universities Gothic Revival was favoured for banks building cathedrals of commerce. The English Scottish & Australian Bank was designed the architect was William Wardell. Boyd describes the English Scottish & Australian Bank as “probably the most Italian-looking thing in Australia until the expresso bars of the 1950s.” (p.62) The adjacent stock exchanged (both now the ANZ bank on Collins Street) was designed in the gothic revival by architect William Pitt and completed in 1883. It is an extravagant building both inside and out that is well worth a visit if you are in the city during business hours.

Interior ANZ Bank

Interior ANZ Bank

The rich sculptural ornamentation of  Gothic Revial buildings kept many sculptors and stonemasons employed. In 1888 the sculptor, Bertram Mackennal was commissioned for the spandrels of the Mercantile Chambers, Collins Street. However the borrowed ancient splendour of the gothic revival style did not protect the banks from the financial disaster of the Australian banking crisis of 1893 when several of the commercial banks and the Federal Bank collapsed.

Gothic Revival was the main alternative to neo-classical architecture in Melbourne, alternative not as a rival but another option for architects, just as Fanta is an option to drinking Coke. All of these architectural revivals, the Gothic revival, Babylonian revival and the other architectural revivals in Melbourne’s architecture is part of a Victorian revision of history. It is as if the upper class Victorians were playing an enormous game, like a strange kind of Cosplay or the Society for Creative Anarchronism, dressing up not just themselves but their buildings in ancient fashion to play at knights. And perhaps they really were, after all Queen Victoria’s favourite portrait of Alfred depicted him wearing armour (although I’m not sure which one as there are several that do).


Skunk Control @ The Dirty Dozen

Has it only been half a year since Platform closed and the dozen glass vitrines in the tile lined underpass at Flinders Street Station were left empty? The artist-run initiative Platform ran the space for twenty years and I regularly wrote about their exhibitions. Now Melbourne City Council’s Creative Spaces program have taken over management of the dozen vitrines in Campbell Arcade. They have rebranded them The Dirty Dozen because, as Creative Spaces’ Eleni Arbus puts it, ”It’s a pretty grungy site”.

Platform Degraves St Underpass

The Dirty Dozen brings a new direction for the vitrines, filling them with the work of what Eleni Arbus calls “creative practitioners” rather than artists. Hopefully this will make the exhibitions more engaging for the commuters who use the underpass. The work of many contemporary artists failed to produce site specific art and failed to speak to the thousands of people who continued walking past.

Prevaricated Frequencies by Skunk Control

The first exhibition at The Dirty Dozen, Prevaricated Frequencies by Skunk Control, a team of engineers and scientists from Victoria University demonstrates what Arbus means by “creative practitioners”. The vitrines were full of a forest of animatronic blooming flowers and caves of crystals, both with prismatic light effects from rotating polarised screens. Another vitrine contains a motorised kaleidoscope and another, rotating tanks of liquid. The attention to detail to create these complete other worldly visions is impressive.

Parts of this exhibition is similar to what was seen in Rose Chong’s display window last year when Skunk Control won the People’s Choice award at the annual Gertrude Street Projection Festival for Pestilent Protrusions. That People’s Choice award is an indication of engaging beauty that Skunk Control produce. The elegant engineering and science are used to present engaging and intriguing work rather than lecturing the audience.

Skunk Control was formed in 2012 by Nick Athanasiou a lecture at Victoria University in the College of Engineering and Science. There are a surprising number of engineers in Melbourne creating exciting art, including the street artist CDH. I wish that more artists today, instead of doing their Masters or Doctorates in Fine Arts, studied something else, something apparently unrelated to their art, because this would improve both the content and the art. I am looking forward to seeing what other “creative practitioners” will next be exhibiting at The Dirty Dozen.

Prevaricated Frequencies by Skunk Control


Logic and Art

Given: the waterfall and the illuminating gas

We assume that there is a logic to beauty and art. If x is art and y is equal to x then y must also be art. If you think that x#1 is beautiful then it would be reasonable to assume that you would agree that x#2 is beautiful. If not; then why not?

Artist painting at Flinders Street

Artists propose these questions all the time. If one Elvis is desirable then why not have more than one concluded Andy Warhol. If puppy dogs and flowers are beautiful therefore a giant puppy made of flowers must be beautiful concluded Jeff Koons.

The word art is used as both a category and a quality and this duality confuses many discourses about the nature of art.

If art is a quality with a certain cut off point, a bench mark of quality, then there is no such thing as bad or poor art. Are we talking about what qualifies to be entered into the category or about the quality? The idea that art is a category or a quality has led some people think that there is a rule book for art (sent down by God at the same time as the 10 Commandments) and become disillusioned when they discover that artists aren’t playing by this imaginary rule book. That the image wasn’t drawn freehand, that other people worked on it, that it was done to make money…

The distinction between the category and the quality of art is often raised in discussions about the defence of work accused of obscenity or pornography people will bemoan that they wish that it was a great work of art, as if, only great works of art are worth defending.

If art is a category is that there should therefore be parameters that define the category. However, any attempts to find such parameters will be proved incorrect with counter-examples and excluding all counter-examples to the category of things that are called ‘art’ but aren’t becomes a curmudgeonly position because art is part of a continuing culture and not part of a narrowing category.

The idea of a category of art has emerged after many of its contents were created as ‘art’, whatever it is, is an idea that has been made up by people as they went along and there are several different versions of ‘art’ in the last five hundred years.

However, art is not a category that can be empirically defined, such as a particular wave length of light. It is not a football code, there is no rule book that defines art. The more stringent the code that is thought to define it, ersatz art and the ossification of the art. The more that the logic of a rule book is applied to art the more that it becomes a tired, stale version of its former incarnations.

Art is sequential and each work is part of a very long series, a series that we keep on adding prequels as well as sequels too. The items in the series have a family resemblance because they are members of the series rather than that they can be a defined category because of particular qualities. Examining the items out of sequence makes no sense and nor is it possible to predict through logic too far ahead in the sequence.

Since Duchamp other artists have humourlessly followed the same logic that he successfully employed but as they have a different position in the sequence their desire is different; not to collapse the boarders of art but to extend them.


Duckboard Place Paste-Ups

Duckboard Place and its partner in the crescent, AC/DC Lane, are far less famous than the nearby Hosier Lane. Along with the usual aerosol art walls, stencil graffiti and guerilla installations, Duckboard Place has work by many notable paste-ups artists like Barek, Baby Guerrilla, Calm, Minou, Phoenix, Swoon and the enigmatic, Sunfigo. There is also this fine mosaic of beer bottle caps pasted up on a wall.

Bottle cap mosaic

Duckboard Place was named after Duckboard House on the corner of the lane. It was built in the interwar period and served as a World War II entertainment venue for the troops, later a branch of the Melbourne RSL and now has a number of fine restaurants.

Cherry Bar lighting bolt

The Cherry Bar in AC/DC Lane now has its own lighting bolt wall of fame for all people and bands that helped them raise money for soundproofing; it was a particularly successful crowdsourcing campaign. The soundproofing was required by all the recent development of apartment building in the area, Melbourne is, according to the latest Bureau of Statistics, the fastest growing city in Australia adding an extra 95,600 inhabitants in the year to December.

Phoenix, Milk Crate

Whereas Phoenix’s paste-ups have a clear message and is well known in the street art community, I’ve been following his posts on Facebook about the construction of his milk crate, Sunfigo remains an enigma. I’d like to know more about Sunfigo, I guess that other people do too because of the number of searches for his name on my blog. I once received an email from Sunfigo but communications ended there. I hesitate to guess anything about Sunfigo and the email gave nothing away.

Sunfigo Banksy tribute

I should just look to Sunfigo’s art, the selection of images, the limited palette of colours, the use of various other media, and try to make some conclusions from that? The geometric outline illustrations in tape or plastic ribbon strung through a chain link fence are a novel way of drawing. Are those lions and other images Rastafarian references? Or is Sunfigo claiming to be the king with the lion, putting a lion sign up in Hosier Lane above the door way to the now defunct Until Never gallery? There is not much to go on, unlike Phoenix, there hasn’t been much of a message in the work. And it is odd that Sunfigo started big with his Little Diver tribute and various works in diverse media and has become more specialised with smaller works. I was beginning to wonder if it was worth writing about Sunfigo and all these little images until I saw Sunfigo’s parody film poster (not in Duckboard Place).

Sunfigo, False Idols


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