Tag Archives: Blender Studios

David Russell’s Street Photography

On Friday 13th of November at Blender Studio there was 32K, a one night only exhibition of David Russell’s photography.

David Russell's photograph

Russell’s first exhibition took his photography beyond simply documenting street art and graffiti to making his own art. Adopting the attitude of graffiti writers to the urban environment; the trains, getting up high and exploring the urban environment. Only Russell is using a camera rather than a spray can and painting with light and darkness. The photographs have the same chromatic intensity of aerosol paint. Not all of photographs had graffiti in it, three photographs at Flinders Street Station did not have even a sticker or tag in them but still had that attitude.

The exhibition brought out many people notable in Melbourne’s street art scene to support Russell. One wall of Blender Studio was covered with a wallpaper print produced by GT Sewell’s new business. Dean Sunshine supplied Mexican beers for the event. For although this was Russell’s first photography exhibition he is already highly respected in the scene.

Andrew King and David Russell

Andrew King and David Russell

Years ago when Facter first mentioned David Russell he said something like: “He looks like a cop; he isn’t, I’ve checked him out.” Graffiti writers and street artists have every reason to be suspicious of this short haired man with a big camera who was always hanging around watching them paint. Was he an undercover cop gathering evidence?

There are many photographer capturing the Melbourne’s street art and graffiti scene. I’ve done a bit of that myself and this is how it started for David Russell. However Russell was not just another photographer snapping shots of Melbourne’s walls. He was devoted to it, he was always there with his camera for as long as necessary. He was there for days in 2014 photographing Adnate paint his mural in Hosier Lane. This dedication led to Russell doing a long running series of monthly posting on Invurt blog; Through the Lens. His knowledge of the artists and scene lead to him to become more involved with various projects and doing street art tours.

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.”


Melbourne’s Diverse Street Art

Walking around Melbourne exploring its many lanes, sometimes in the company of a notable, some would say notorious, street artist who would prefer to remain anonymous and keep his comments off the record. Thanks for the company. What follows are my photos, my comments and my opinions. The selection of photos is not my pick of the best street art that I’ve recently seen but to the diversity, both geographic, technique and materials, of Melbourne’s street art.

Deb, Uniacke Court, Melbourne

Deb, Uniacke Court, Melbourne

None of these photos are from the old locations, Hosier Lane, Centre Place, they are no longer the best place to see street art in the city. The locations for good street art have shifted in the eight years that I have been writing this blog, slowly moving north and west. In the west of the city where the street art is scare I found a whole lane, Uniacke Court, with several pieces by Deb and no-one else.

Sunfigo stickers

Sunfigo stickers

All over the city I keep on seeing more and more of the work of Sunfigo, simple and effective stickers and paste-ups but nothing to compare to Sunfigo’s Little Diver Tribute.

Anonymoose, Blender Alley

Anonymoose, Blender Alley

If you love stencils the best place to see them is Blender Alley. The reason is that the main door to Blender Studios, its roller doors were open when I was there, faces the alley and the artist’s in the studio, especially its director, Doyle, basically curate the alley.



I keep seeing more street art sculpture and, not just Will Coles and Junky Projects, more people are doing it. Mutant and Discarded are doing similar work casting bones and other found objects. So far I have only seen Discarded’s work online but I know that it is out there.

LaPok, Guerilla Garden Melbourne

LaPok, Guerilla Garden Melbourne

Unknown, Ilham Lane

Unknown, Ilham Lane

I’ve seen a few more artistic works of guerrilla gardening in the city and Ilham Lane in Brunswick. Also in Ilham Lane there is a piece of guerrilla geography, naming the small side bunch from Ilham Lane, Chook Lane.

Chook Lane, Brunswick

And there is still basic graffiti out there.


Warehouse vs ARI

Daniel Lynch posted on Facebook today. “If you have ever been helped out by the warehouse. If u ever crashed there while u found your way. If u ever painted the walls. If you shot a film here or even just came to party, well come hang out today. I got a garage sale all day and I will be working around the place ripping the old beast down.”

Will Coles, cellphone flower, wall of Good Times Studios

Will Coles, cellphone flower, wall of Good Things Studios

I was looking at Facebook as I was thinking about how to reply to an email from an artist about volunteering at 69 Smith Street. The combination started me thinking about arts warehouses vs ARI; so instead of going to hang out one last time as Daniel ripped the studio walls down I thought that I’d write a blog post. I’d been to Good Things Studio on Coco Jackson Lane in Brunswick a couple of times for various reasons since Daniel established it in 2011. (In a 2012 post I call it Coco Jackson Studios I don’t know if it has changed its name or I just misnamed it with its address.)

There are some important art warehouses in Melbourne arts scene: Irene’s Community Arts Warehouse (where I first met some of the Indonesian artists involved in Taring Padi) and Blender Studios.

So how does this compare to ARI? ARI (artist run spaces) emerged in the 1980s; in 1982 Roar Studios in Fitzroy was Melbourne’s first ARI. Aiming to be bridge between the art school and major art galleries, ARI’s became part of the institution of art exhibiting. They look the same as the major galleries only the white walled spaces are smaller. But perhaps they have run their course especially as exhibiting in a gallery space is no longer essential to contemporary art and when even commercial galleries are opening what they call “project space” or dropping the word “gallery” from their name.

Warehouses combining artists studios and other events have been around since the 1990s. Warehouse parties, Warhol’s Factory and the old mystique of the artist’s studio all contribute to the warehouse vibe. The flexible warehouse space provides better matches contemporary art that might be seen on the street or a site-specific location. It allows for both artists who exhibit in galleries and those who don’t. It mixes the arts; musicians, film-makers and visual artists mixed at Good Things Studio. The community of artists working at the warehouse has a more direct influence on the work of the artist’s involved than the opportunity to exhibit.

For a young or emerging artist in Melbourne establishing an arts warehouse is more artistically significant than establishing an ARI.

An Independent Critic

“I’m terrible with words,” Baby Guerrilla said in her acceptance speech on winning Two Years on the Wall at Union Dining in Richmond.

Yes, I know – artist are good with images and often terrible with words (there are exceptions, of course). And this is one reason why I often don’t consider it worth while talking to artist. There are other reasons why I don’t consider artist’s views that important. I don’t necessarily want to get that close – it creates too many conflicts of interest. Just because I appreciate your art I doesn’t mean that want to be a friend or your publicist (if I was your publicist you would pay me). And I can’t be bothered fitting in with artists’ travel, party or nightclubbing schedules – I have my own deadlines and I can’t wait weeks for a reply to my email.

I am an independent critic – for the artists who are terrible with words look up these two words in a dictionary. Many artists and designers have never had anything critical written about their work. For many the media exists solely as a source of promotional puff pieces and they are annoyed when this blog doesn’t fulfill that gushing role. Art critics are not just there to offer their opinions but to extend the conversation about the art. Without critics the limited conversation would go something like this: “Cool art”, “No, it is shit”, “Well I think that its cool”, “And I think that it is shit”, “We have different opinions”, “Yes, we have different opinions, we can agree on that.” The critic’s role is to extend that conversation for as long as possible by bringing in as much additional material to bear on these opinions as possible. To point out the positives and the negatives – it is not the roll of a critic to gush (see my post on Gushing).

Sunday Times Restaurant Critic A.A. Gill said: “The other thing that people you criticise never know and understand is that, like the mafia, it’s not personal. It isn’t about you, or me, it is about the third set of people in the equation: your audience and my readers. One of the great traps for critics is to believe they are part of the business they’re criticising. In the same way that a traffic warden isn’t part of the automotive business, I’m not part of the restaurant business.” (Smith Journal v.5 p.15)

I am not part of the art business and it is not my job to promote your exhibition, gallery or art.

It is inevitable that I will get to know some artists and gallery owners in my time writing this blog. I was at the Blender Xmas Party drinking the organic beer and hanging out with artists – Joel, Factor, Adi and Heesco. It might be fun but I have to ask myself is this a good use of my time as a critic and won’t it influence my next blog post on their art?

In the ecology of the art world critics are like wolves and other wild dogs, we are not the top predators but nevertheless we are necessary for the environment. We will abandon our kill to the big cats of the art world, the rich collectors and public art galleries (if they buy it we can but skulk around their kill waiting for them to leave so that we can pick over the bones). The effect of critics is grossly over estimated the wild herds of artists, we kill only those that would otherwise have died of disease or starvation within the same season. Sure we could reap havoc on an unguarded herd of dumb domesticated artists but maybe I’m stretching this metaphor a bit far wondering who is the farmer with the gun in this scenario.

Finally there is the right of reply to my posts in the comments section; it doesn’t get enough use.

Baby Guerrilla Wins

‘Baby Guerrilla’ is the recipient of their inaugural art prize, Two Years on the Wall. Two Years on the Wall is a $9000 prize biennial art competition for emerging artists working in mural designs. The winner has their work on the feature wall space at Union Dining Terrace where their work will be displayed for two years, receives a $7500 monetary prize from sponsor TarraWarra Estate and a $1500 celebratory dinner at Union Dining. The restaurant, Union Dining is located in the heritage-listed ‘Union House’ in Richmond.

Baby Guerrilla at Union Dinning Terrace

“The piece I have done for Union Dining Terrace is influenced by life and people around me, as is all my work. The eagle to me represents life, it’s so quick, it’s cruel, but it’s beautiful. I’m the women in the picture, most certainly, but I really trust my subconscious and work very instinctively, so it’s then hard to put into words what the work means to me,” Baby Guerrilla comments on her winning entry.

Two Years on the Wall is not exclusively a prize for street art but street artists have an advantage because of their experience with wall pieces. So it is not a surprise that it’s first winner is a person whose work has spanned both the galleries and streets.

Baby Guerrilla is best known for her paste-ups of floating figures high up on walls. I’ve been watching guerrilla territory for years growing on the walls of the city, Fitzroy and Brunswick. I had seen her paintings on exhibition at the City Library and so in 2010 I knew where the illustrations that started being pasted up around Melbourne’s laneways came from. I had been impressed with her early figurative paintings; her painting was good but her subject matter with references to genetic modification was a bit odd. Still there was the image of floating figure of a woman in the exhibition that is now the central to her work.

Her early paste-ups were very “toy” both in the graffiti sense of the word, as in, someone toying at the scene, and in toy scale: “my first ‘paste-ups were tiny, about 20 cm long”. At the time Baby Guerrilla had her studio at Blender Studios. And as Blender Studios maintains a mix of gallery and street artists had lots of contact with Melbourne street artists and lots of encouragement to work on the streets.

Baby Guerrilla persevered working in the streets; she increased the scale of the figures and was much more daring in positioning her figures high up the wall. (There is a formula here kids – keep working on an image and do it large.) But what really makes the art of Baby Guerrilla is the image that her art presents of a Nietzschean avant-garde artist, full of the will to transfigure the city, bravado, adventure, fearless and indifferent to life or death.

Baby Guerrilla’s prize win is part of a trend of street artists winning mainstream art prizes or at least being in the prize exhibition, like E.L.K.’s entry in the Archibald prize last year.

Doyle’s Subtopia

I am acquainted with Doyle – he is a “friend” on Facebook (whatever that means). “Just call me Doyle,” he said when I first met him in 2008 and he was indispensable in organizing the Melbourne Stencil Festival but for two years – he didn’t know my name and was calling me “punk”. I didn’t care; Doyle calls everyone “punk”. A man about Melbourne’s art world, Doyle is the initiator and director of Dark Horse Experiment (formerly Michael Koro Galleries) and Blender studios in the building behind it, Melbourne Street tours and the Napier Crew. I’ve seen a couple of exhibitions of Doyles paintings, they are good paintings, combining fine art and street art techniques. (See my 2009 blog entry about Doyle’s paintings.)

Doyle – suburban house stencil – Fitzroy

When Doyle told me that he was going to be the subject of a reality TV I felt that this was typical the way that the world was going. (Would the ABC really sink so low? Yes, easily, I thought.) I saw the documentary crew following him around at an exhibition opening at Blender and rough cuts on his computer. It didn’t sound like a good idea,  – Doyle as a representative artist in a reality TV show sounded like a horrible idea. (I could think of worse, like Kevin Rudd curating the Australia’s pavilion at the Venice Biannual, but I had to put my imagination into gear, whereas, Doyle is all too real.) He comes across as a wide boy, a bit dodgy, always talking in self-obsessed but engaging manner  – “we are going to open a gallery and sell all this shit to big end of town.”

Then I heard that the director, Jacob Oberman was exposing Doyle’s idea of an artist who wants a reality TV show about him, I felt relieved. I was felt more relieved when I found out it was a two-part half-hour documentary. And after seeing the first part tonight on the ABC’s Artscape I was glad that there is a documentary that accurately captures the scene. The meat on the bone of the documentary is the art and the artists at Blender studios; the parts about Doyle and Pia Suksodsai’s relationship are a bit of a distraction and as shallow as suburbia.

Maybe Doyle still believes that it is a reality TV show; Doyle claimed on Facebook that it is “an art work in the medium of television by Adrian Doyle” and that it is “created by Adrian Doyle, Jacob Oberman, Piya Suksodsai,
Renegade Films, and ABC”.

“You’re making a documentary; we’re making a reality TV show.” Doyle says to the camera. I know which one I’d prefer to watch. (For those of you who want the reality TV version since the filming of the documentary Doyle has become engaged to Pia Suksodsai.)


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