Exhibitions @ Blindside & First Site


Jacqui Gordon, Re-building Our Flat-pack Aspirations, 2015

Jacqui Gordon, Re-building Our Flat-pack Aspirations, 2015

Quarter Acre is a group exhibition of six artists about suburbia but in the end the two rooms at Blindside was not simply not big enough. Even Jessie Scott’s four and a half minute video of brick houses and shops, The Coburg Plan, made from original 35mm slides of with faded colours, wasn’t enough. It is hard to comprehend or to depict the vast suburban spread without resorting to cliches.

The curators of Quarter Acre, Adriane and Verity Hayward did well with what they had with the space and art. Videos by Penelope Hunt, sculptures by Adrian Doyle, paintings by Eugenia Raftopoloulos, installation by Jacqui Gordon, and the photographs of Eva Heiky Olga Ebbinga. Earlier this year I wrote about the suburbs and Adrian Doyle’s art.

First Site

detail of Oliver Hutchison, Reflex, 2015

detail of Oliver Hutchison, Reflex, 2015

Prue Stevenson’s Neuroambiguous exhibition is not as it appears. Something is vibrating and moving under a homemade knitted woollen blanket. Using her foot and black paint Stevenson has systematically painted eight metres of the gallery wall. Over a metre up the wall the marks of her toes and the ball her foot are clearly visible.

Frances Cannon’s Paper Queens was eighty drawings of naked women. Some of the drawings are erotic, some humorous and all attempt a different style of drawing.

Melbourne based artist, Oliver Hutchison’s exhibition is great slacker art. So slack that he has a robot to do a large doodle on the wall, a hole in a portrait is filled in with a mirror and now it is a portrait of everyone. Hutchison has a background in jewellery, print making and carpentry, so he knows finishing but in this exhibition, Reflex he is channelling his slacker instincts in his art.

What do I mean by ‘slacker art’? I mean art that acknowledges the slack, un-rigorous, half-joking, un-finished, couldn’t be bothered nature in art. It is not the most glorious aspect of humanity but it is there and it would be dishonest not to acknowledge it. (Isn’t all glory dishonest?)

Progress on Man Lifting Cow

At Fundêre Foundry in Sunshine John Kelly, the artist famous for his Cow Up a Tree sculpture, is making the third sculpture in his cow series. This one will be a 5.5 metre bronze, Man lifting cow, but at the moment it is mostly clay.

John Kelly at work

Now that I am the author of Sculptures of Melbourne, a history of Melbourne’s public sculpture I get invited to foundries to meet artists. I should really check exactly what I have written about them in the book and on my blog before meeting them, so that I can be prepared. The first thing that John Kelly wanted to talk about was site specific sculptures as I had described his Cow Up a Tree sculpture as “completely non-site specific”.

I doubt that I will say anything like that for his next sculpture as there is a big hook for that story: local boy makes a sculpture for his local suburb in a local foundry. John Kelly is not the only contemporary artist who grew up in Sunshine, but sculptures by Leigh Bowery or Stelarc might be too extreme and confronting for general public.

The local Brimbank City Council is making the most of the sculpture’s local manufacture, holding a “commissioning launch” at the foundry for the sculpture in a few weeks time. Something to do before the model becomes unrecognisable in plaster moulds. For several reasons the model for fake camouflage cow will be made of fibreglass, chiefly as it would weigh several tons if made of solid clay like the figure of man.

John Kelly and the marquette

John takes a break from pushing clay around on the sculpture and shows me the marquettes as Cameron McIndoe of Fundêre Foundry welds the armature of the hand. The problem of fitting the hand to the cow’s leg is going to take some time.

John Kelly and Cameron McIndoe

In the corner of Fundêre Foundry there is the larger than life size equestrian sculpture of a Australian horseman from the Boer War by Louis Laumen. There are plans for three more.

Louis Laumen Boer War equestrian at Fundêre Foundry

Taste & Identity

Contrary to popular opinion taste is not subjective. Taste is both natural and reactive. Taste is a way that we express our identity.

It is easy to understand natural taste preferences. Liking chocolate is not a subjective, it is a natural human reaction to chocolate. If taste were subjective it would not be surprising to find an equal number of people who disliked the taste of chocolate. People who profess a dislike for chocolate are reacting to something about chocolate, perhaps they are allergic to chocolate.

Taste is also reactive. It is a reaction to a stimuli, it is a reaction to memories, it is a reaction to the tastes of others. Feedback loops can develop in tastes. Taste can also become a reaction that something is not as good as we remember. We react to our earlier tastes, we might grow tired of aspects of them. Reactive taste choices occur in response to a wide range of factors and account for much of the diversity of taste. It is an interpretation of the reaction, favourable or unfavourable or to other associated aspects.

Morrissey Edmiston suit 1993

Morrissey Edmiston suit 1993

Perhaps these example of about chocolate are not taste but an aesthetic judgements of chocolate. Perhaps taste is more about fashion and identity.

Wittgenstein wrote: “Take the case of fashions. How does fashion come about? Say, we wear lapels border than last year. Does that mean that the tailor likes them better broader? No, not necessarily. He cuts it like this and this year he makes it broader. Perhaps, this year he finds it too narrow and makes it wider. Perhaps, no expression is used at all.” Lectures on Aesthetics II.8, Wittgenstein, Lectures and Conversations on Aesthetics, Psychology & Religious Belief (Basil Blackwell, 1966,Oxford)

Wittgenstein’s  imaginary tailor might be more comfortable with hip-hop expressions like hardcore, old school (traditional) or wild style (eccentric) as these stylistic descriptions do not imply that one likes one trend or taste is better than another. Terms like ‘hardcore,’ ‘old school,’ ‘freestyle’ are useful in understanding that a culture is not a unified and timeless thing, but rather a cluster of emerging and past styles.

For taste is not just matters of aesthetics but about affinity or alienation, for example identifying with people wearing wide or narrow lapels. Taste is about identification, especially in taste in fashion.

Taste is a discourse that an individual is having with the culture that they are part of and with cultures that they are not a member. Janine Burke’s book, The Sphinx on the Table (Walker & Company, 2006, New York) is an examination Sigmund Freud’s art collection as a psychological and biographical analysis of his character. Burke uses Freud’s taste as a demonstration of both his personality as well as the way that he chooses to express it in society at the time.

Taste is the way that individuals define themselves within a culture. If taste were simply subjective then you would not be able to judge a person by their taste in music (see the Date Report “What Your Taste in Music Says About You On a Date”) any more than it you could judge them by a preference for fruit.

Guerrilla Geography

“Where the streets have no name.” U2

Zombie Dance Lane sign

You won’t fine Blender Lane, Chook Alley or Zombie Dance Lane on any official map of Melbourne but all these locations do have handmade street signs attached to a neighbouring wall.


I can give you directions: Chook Alley is off Ilham Lane in Brunswick. Ilham Lane was only named in the last decade by the Moreland City Council, after John Ilham, the founder of Crazy John’s, the mobile phone dealers.

There are practical reasons for  naming every little alleyway in the city, especially in providing accurate directions in emergencies, so I hope that someday these pieces of guerrilla geography will become official.

These acts of guerrilla geography (a term to go with ‘guerrilla gardening’) are all associated with Melbourne’s street art (‘guerrilla public art’). Blender Lane is named after the next door Blender Studios that also runs street art tours and workshops. Both Blender Lane and Zombie Dance Lane have a large amount of street art and graffiti and Chook Alley comes off Ilham Lane which has some street art, along with an art gallery and  studios.

In the 1950s the Situationalists advocated the renaming and reimagining of buildings. Can you imagine the front of the NGV as the entrance to a train station? If you can’t see the B-grade movie I, Frankenstein. Location scouts for movies are a crypto-Situationalists but other people really do reinventing buildings, turning a factory gatehouse into a coffeeshop, warehouses into apartments.

In 1955 in his “Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography” Guy Ernest Debord wrote: “The production of psychogeographic maps, or even the introduction of alterations such as more or less arbitrarily transposing maps of two different regions, can contribute to clarifying certain wanderings that express not subordination to randomness but complete insubordination to habitual influences (influences generally categorised as tourism that popular drug as repugnant as sports or buying on credit). A friend recently told me that he had just wandered through the Harz region of Germany while blindly following the directions of a map of London This sort of game is obviously only a mediocre beginning in comparison to the complete construction of architecture and urbanism that will someday be within the power of everyone.”


Sculptors & Stonemasons

This post is based on the tours that I gave to publicise the publication of my book, Sculptures of Melbourne earlier this year. Most of the examples can be found around Gordon Reserve at Parliament Station.

Bertram Mackennal, allegorical relief, 1888  Victoria’s Parliament House

Bertram Mackennal, allegorical relief, 1888 Victoria’s Parliament House

I was asked on one of my sculpture tours if Bertram Mackennal would have been a better sculptor if he hadn’t spent so much time working on commissions. I replied that I didn’t think that he would have been a sculptor at all if not for all the commissions.

Sir Bertram Mackennal, was born in Fitzroy the son of a sculptor and architectural modeller. His father supervised the architectural ornamentation on Victoria’s Parliament House and in 1888 Bertram Mackennal did two panels for Parliament House. Mackennal became Australia’s first international star artist exhibiting at the Royal Academy, the Paris Salon and doing portraits of British kings.

If Mackennal were alive today he would not be a sculptor. He would have been making pop music, films or something where good money can be made by a talented hard worker.

Bertram Mackennal, Sir William John Clarke Memorial, 1902

Bertram Mackennal, Sir William John Clarke Memorial, 1902

In the late-nineteenth and early twentieth century working class stonemasons could see their sons become upper class gentlemen sculptors. The economic power of craftsmen skills is a major factor in breaking down European class system from the Renaissance to the present. The working class lad who became a gentleman, or even a knight, because they were very hard working and very talented.

The stonemasons that built Melbourne, cutting, carving and decorating its buildings had plenty of work for stonemasons and so many could afford to pay for their sons to be better educated and the industrial muscle to demand better working conditions. It was the power of the stonemasons union that could demand an eight hour day in April 1856.

Stanford Fountain

                       Stanford Fountain

Charles Summers and William Stanford were both the sons of Somerset stonemasons who had apprenticeships in stone masonry before coming to Australia for the gold rush. Stanford was more impulsive than Summers. He was sentenced to 22 years for highway robbery and horse stealing completing his fountain in 1870 while still in Pentridge Prison.

Charles Summers had already got his lucky break when he had become an assistant to an English sculptor. After finishing the Burke and Wills Monument in Melbourne Summers moved to Rome where he established a sculpture business, a business that he passed on to his son. Summers sculpture business in Rome sold more sculpture to the Melbourne Public Library and, also to George Lansell, the “Quartz King” of gold rush Bendigo. When Lansell was in Rome he specifically visited the Summers factory where he purchased a considerable number of sculptures.

Charles Summers, Burke and Wills Monument, 1865

Charles Summers, Burke and Wills Monument, 1865

Paul Montford was the son of a sculptor and stonemason and his brother continued his father’s stone mason business in London. He employed many stonemasons and amongst them was Stanley Hammond who went on to become a sculptor himself continuing this tradition well into the twentieth century in Melbourne.

The end of sculpture as a family business marks a change in attitude to sculptors and sculpture and art in general. Art as a family business was common for centuries, three generations of the Bruegel family painted just as two generations of the Summers or Montford families sculpted. Art changed from a trade with apprenticeships to a vocation, from a matter of situation and birth to a question of character.

Street Art Sculptures in the Whitechapel Area

I went on a pay what you feel like walking tour of graffiti and street in the Whitechapel area of London. (Cheers Raw.) Forgive me for indulging in my special interest area of street art sculptures and guerrilla installations rather than giving a general report on the walking tour.

D*face, Banksy and others in Whitechapel

D*face, Banksy and others in Whitechapel

It was good to see other street art sculptures outside of Melbourne, not to make a comparison as I couldn’t do that in a few hours in one part of London, but to see what other artists are doing. Although, it was not all unfamiliar there were, of course, Invader’s ubiquitous mosaics (and a I spotted a few pieces, tags, paste-ups, stickers and even a whole building by some familiar Melbourne artists but that’s another story).



It was my wife that first spotted a small Jonesy, a whimsical bronze sculpture on top of a pole. Inspiring City has two articles about Jonesy. “Jonesy street art in London, the artist who is our little secret” and “Studio interview with Jonesy, the environmental artist who places bronze sculptures around the city.” Bronze sculptures can be made in multiples, but it is hard to see how an artist working in bronze can be called an environmentalist.

Dr Cream

Dr Cream

I saw lots of Dr Cream’s rolling fool on the walls. A cast plastic animated series of a jester rolling in a snail shell, not a surprising piece from someone, like Dr Cream who has worked for most of his life in animation. Read a long interview with Dr Cream by Dutch Girl in London.



Amongst the mosaics, masks and heads on the walls of Brick Lane there are the painted faces of Gregos, a French artist who casts his own face.

Community Garden Sculpture

Our tour guide took us to a community garden that included some large garden sculptures made of recycled materials. It is difficult for a sculptor to work on a large scale and these community gardens provide this opportunity.

D*face and Banksy were also working on the large scale with these two pieces using cars. The Banksy is the old pink car that is now under plexiglass; I was told that once contained a stencil skeleton in the driver’s window. Banksy could be seen as a street installation artist, especially after his work in NYC and Dismaland. Banksy pieces often uses the found location for most of physical part of his installation, rectifying the readymade location (alá Duchamp) with a stencil. Good placement of a stencil makes all the difference.

Brick Lane

Lurid Beauty and Australian Surrealism

Although the island of Australia is included in the 1929 Surrealist map of the world, this is probably due to Australia’s aboriginal population rather than its artists. It is shown as smaller than New Guinea and about the same size as Borneo.


What surrealism created by Australian artists was mostly an off-shoot of English surrealism. England being that black dot on the map between Ireland and Germany. Importing surrealism directly from the European mainland, in the case of the Marek brothers, was not well received. Surrealism in Australia was, like international art speak, poorly translated from French texts.

Lurid Beauty, Australian Surrealism and its Echoes at the NGV Australia is an awkward exhibition as most of the art in the exhibition is not surrealism. Lurid Beauty fails in distinguishing between being the current style trend and being old-school or hardcore, like James Gleeson or Eric Thake. These are important distinctions to make when you are considering something between an arts association and trend. Roy de Maistre painted in at least three other modern styles and his involvement in surrealism is like Picasso’s pieces working in the current trend and the exhibition’s mix of modern art with contemporary art is not resolved well.

Every generation needs a look back at surrealism in Australia and each time that they do the same small set of paintings are exhibited. Almost all the older work was last exhibited together in the 1993 Australian National Gallery exhibition Surrealism Revolution by Night section of Australian art. Lurid Beauty does include some great new James Gleeson paintings but only the series of Clifford Bayliss drawings have not been regular features of previous exhibitions of Australian surrealism.

Peter Daverington, The Hanging Gardens of Nineveh, 2014 (courtesy of Arc One)

Peter Daverington, The Hanging Gardens of Nineveh, 2014 (courtesy of Arc One)

There are plenty of great works of art to see in the exhibition but my question is did we need to see them all together? Did surrealism transform or have that much of an impact on Australian art? The relationship between the artists that would identify as surrealists and the contemporary artists influenced by surrealism is tenuous. For example, Peter Daverington’s The Hanging Gardens of Nineveh 2014 looks surreal but has so many other references to all of art history in this painting from Renaissance landscapes to modernism in the drips along the lower edge. For the surrealists there was only Freudian psychology but now there is a multiplicity of psychological theories.

There is no cross over between the old school surrealists and the contemporary artists because there were so few hardcore surrealists in Australia. Erik Thake’s Accidental Animal 1967-68 series of photographs of found paint splatters is as close as it gets.

The curators of Lurid Beauty only hint at the conservative Australian art world; the NGV, Australia and surrealism were all very different places then. Blink and you would have missed the important progressive role of the Contemporary Art Society (CAS).

It was CAS that advanced modern art in Australia in response to then Prime Minister, Robert Gordon Menzies reactionary attack on modernism at the opening of the Victorian Artists’ Society show in April 1937. The evidence for the CAS transforming Melbourne’s art world is there, the first to exhibit photography as art in Melbourne and if you look carefully at the frame of Gleeson’s We inhabit the corrosive littoral of habit 1940 you will see that it is “presented anonymously through the Contemporary Art Society.” (For more on the history of CAS in Australian art see my post on their 70th anniversary).


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