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Melbourne Street Art Guide

Melbourne Street Art Guide, ed. Din Heagney, Allison Fogarty and Ewan McEoin, (Thames and Hudson, 2016) Instead of writing a review of yet another unremarkable publication about Melbourne street art here are six artists who absent from the guide: Calm, DrewFunk, Ero, Ghostpatrol, Happy and Phoenix. I considered if I should ask them same set of questions that Melbourne Street Art Guide asked all the artists but really, the same set of questions?!

Calm mostly does paste-ups but does work in other media. He was included in the Hosier Lane part of Melbourne Now in 2013 so there is community recognition of his quality. See my blog post about his work.

Drew Funk was painting every legal wall that he could with landscapes and dragons, mixing the oriental, cartoons and aerosol art. He was ahead of the current mural scene by almost a decade.

DSC02068Ero is a scruffy New Zealand street artist working in the tradition of Keith Haring, painting simple images in blocky colours. He uses ordinary house paint and brushes rather than aerosol paint. He does piss in his paint cans to relieve himself and water down the paint.

Happy was active a few years ago but hasn’t done anything for many years. This is another problem of Melbourne Street Art Guide, it is more of a fashion snapshot than knowledgable critical guide. This is more or less the reason for not including Ghostpatrol even though he done more recent work than Happy. Happy mostly worked with paste-ups that made ironic comments about the street art scene but some of his sidewalk tags in line marking painting can still be seen.

Phoenix has more of a beatnik jazz style than a skater dad look than most street artists affect. A master of the photocopier Phoenix is serious community orientated man; he is one of the fellows who will stand up to be counted. The kind of man who with loan his ladder to a fellow artist before putting up his own piece. See my blog post about his recent solo exhibition.

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The Story So Far…

Twenty works by Indigenous and Torees Strait Islander artists from the Moreland Art Collection curated by Kate Ten Buuren at the Counihan Gallery in Brunswick. This exhibition demonstrates not only the long commitment of Moreland City Council in collecting art Indigenous and Torees Strait Islander art since the early 1980s but also the diversity of that art.

It was good to see two colourful prints, Magpie and Echidnas 2011, by the late Trevor ‘Turbo’ Brown who died in January 2017. Turbo was a Latje Latje man from Mildura and the winner of the 2012 Victorian Deadly Art Award. The exhibition is particularly strong in printing with screen-prints by Lin Onus and Trevor ‘Turbo’ Brown, etching by Regina Karadada, Judy Watson and Janic Murray, and Brian Robinson’s magnificent linocuts. Although Indigenous Australian art is better known for its dot paintings printmaking is an important media for many Indigenous artists. The first was the artist and playwright Kevin Gilbert who started making lino-prints made from old lino floor tiles in Long Bay prison in the 1960s.

Lin Onus shows great technique in screen-printing with the transparent layer of the water in his Gumbirri Garginingi (Five Tortoises) 1996. The rarrk crosshatching work on the shells of the tortoises is not traditional for Koori artists but Onus had been taught and given permission to use the rarrk work by Maningrida artists.

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On a plinth is a fantastic tiny paper sculpture only 55 x 35 x 20 mm by Archie Moore. On a Mission From God (Goulburn Island) uses a little Bible to make a big point about the Mission Days destroying Aboriginal spirituality. Best use that I’ve seen made of a Bible for a long time.

What will the Moreland City Council’s collection look like in another forty years? The story continues.


The Smallest Pieces

“All the pieces matter” Lester Freamon The Wire

This is just a small post with a small collection of photos about the smallest works of street art. The antidote to the inflated egos and dubious aesthetics of murals are the smallest of graffiti pieces. To find them just look in the opposite direction to the murals, look down the wall below eye level. There are miniature street art sculptures, tiny drawings, small stickers; overlooked and often entirely unseen. At that scale they become a treasure hunt, rewards for being aware and looking around in the city. They are so small that often there is no room for a tag or signature but I think I know some of the artists, please comment to correct or add to this information.


Imperfection @ Trocadero

“A small show of imperfect paintings” at Trocadero Art Space is a unique and must see exhibition.

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Juan Ford, Untitled, 2007, oil and acrylic on linen

Twenty-one failed paintings is not a great advertisement for an exhibition but twenty-one failures by notable Melbourne artists is worth seeing. Curator Chris Bond has done what must have first appeared both impossible and crazy. The fantastic negotiation and diplomatic skill involved in asking artists, including perfectionists like Juan Ford or Sam Leach for failures. There is dust breeding on the glossy resin varnish of Sam Leach’s painting as it waits “under the bed to wait for the next consignment of work to the skip.”

Twenty-one rare examples of failures, and a variety of failures from abandoned efforts and bad ideas to technical failures. Good artists try not to exhibit bad art so failures rarely survive, they are either destroyed or repainting; so these are twenty-one rare paintings.

For once the artist’s statements accompanying the exhibition contained no art speak, only honest confessions about why their paintings failed and survived. There are tragic abandoned efforts, I know that Yvette Coppersmith can paint much better than that. And the even more tragic completed effort of Michael Brennan accurately reproducing two pages of text in his painting, Entry Form and CV for the 2005 Metro 5 Art Prize, for which he list 5 failures. There are technical failures: Louise Blyton managed to cut through the middle of her canvas and Lynette Smith’s badly cracked first attempt at egg tempera. And failures of composition, like Darren Wardle’s Swampland.

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Darren Wardle, Swampland, 2017, oil and acrylic on linen

“The composition is too rigid and corresponds to the limits of the stretcher so there are no dynamics in play. The work seems flat in a boring way, which isn’t helped by the background paint application having no depth. I tried to rectify this by inserting a stick, or crutch, with a shadow in the left foreground to provide a sense of dimensionality but it looks clumsy and obvious.” Wardle explains in his statement.

Every artist, art critic and art teacher in Melbourne should go to see this exhibition because it is a learning experience. The paintings demonstrate a benchmark of quality only they all fall on the wrong side of it, sometimes just shy of it. It is rare to see examples of failure exhibited yet failure is so common in painting that it is inevitable so this exhibition serves to correct that bias.

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Michael Brennan, Entry Form and CV, 2005, oil on canvas


Southgate Sculptures

Southgate on Southbank was one of the first shopping centres in Melbourne to commission notable sculptors to create a collection of public art for the centre. Positioned right next to the Arts Centre, it is on the border of Melbourne’s arts precinct but it is still a shopping mall; there is a food court at the river level. This means that however good the restaurants and however classy the specialty shops, including those that call themselves art galleries, there is a certain kind of homogenised taste that goes with a shopping mall.

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Deborah Halpern, Ophelia, 1992, concrete and ceramic, crowded out by outdoor dinning.

I have looked at shopping centre art before; Barkely Square Shopping Centre in Brunswick and Melbourne Central in the city.  There is more I have yet to see Robert Hague West Orbis (2009) four metre tall sculpture at Chadstone Shopping Centre or the Lenton Parr sculpture at another.

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At Southgate the main problems has been with the placement of the art. Sitting alone upon her own dusty inaccessible balcony is Loretta Quinn’s ‘Crossing the First Threshold.’ This is a bad case of dumping a sculpture in a poor location. Hardly anyone notices this sculpture and it has been reduced to being a bird roost. Not surprisingly, Loretta Quinn is better known for her sculpture at the city square.

DSC01500Maurie Hughes’s spiky style is evident in Southgate Sheraton Complex Gates, Forbidden Areas, 1992. I have never seen the gates closed so I don’t know how forbidden the area behind them is but the gates are pretty spiky with the demons and spears. Hughes is best known for his sculpture Ceremony and Vehicle for Conveying Spirit on Russell Street but he also has a few other public art commissions including the Security Gates, 1994, Lincoln Square South in Carlton. Hughes has his home and studio in South Melbourne and taught at art department at Frankston’s TAFE.

DSC01499Ophelia by Deborah Halpern is part of the Southgate complex although it is now located closer to the river than it once was, see my post about its move. It is made of ceramic tiles over a fiberglass core and was cleaned and restored in 2011 when it was moved to its current location but it looks like it could do with another restoration.

There used to be a sculpture on the upper level mall, the seated figure of a woman, Maggie by Peter Corlett was made of ciment findu, a type of calcium aluminate cement. It was vandalised beyond repair. Public art is not safe even with the security in shopping centres. This brings together two issues, the placement of the art to allow public interaction and to prevent damage to the work from this contact.


The Nicholas Building Open Studios

The antique elevators have been replaced and their fabulous lift operators, Joan McQueen and Dimitri Bradas, have long gone. The letter drop system near the elevators on each floor no longer works; the system that allowed people on each floor to post letters to be collected somewhere on the ground floor or basement. The tiles are coming off the walls. Threatened with redevelopment. But the Nicholas Building on the corner of Swanston Walk and Flinders Lane continues to be a centre for art and design in the centre of the city.

DSC02265It is a very interesting building just to look at an office building from the 1920s. From the lead-lighting of Cathedral Arcade on the ground floor to the ghost signs on the old office doors. Hand painted gold lettering from another era from businesses that no longer exist: Miss V Synan, Alexander Lau Pty Ltd and others.

The Nicholas Building had an open studio evening on last Thursday 22 of June. It has one every couple of years and although I am familiar with the building, its galleries and some of the studios I had not been to one of its open studios before. There were a few performances, exhibitions and other events were happening that night in the building.

I was pleased to see the studio of book sculptor Nicholas Jones. I had seen his work for many years but it was great to put meet the person behind the work and his studio.

Blindside and Stephen McLaughlan Gallery are the long term survivors in a building that has seen many exhibition spaces. Pigment gallery was followed by Edmund Pearce Gallery a contemporary art space dedicated to photography and now Kimono House a shop selling Japanese textiles and craft occupies the same space.

Open studios are like looking inside people’s homes or at least their offices. The studios of artists, architects, cartoonist, clothes designers, cobblers, jewellers, milliner,  toy makers, writers along with the office of the Bob Brown Foundation were open to the public for the night.

There is a growing sense of history about the building. The late, eccentric and artist Vali Meyers once had her studio on the 8th floor of the building. There is now a small engraved brass plaque on the door frame of her former studio.

I have been writing about the Nicholas Building since I started blogging. The Nicholas Building might be worth a chapter, if someone was going to write about contemporary artists studios in Melbourne as Alex Taylor has done with his book, Perils of the Studio (Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2007, North Melbourne).  Perils of the Studio is about artists studios in Melbourne in the 1890 and early 20th Century. It is a very interesting, well researched and perfectly illustrated book (I know from experience how difficult doing a first book as an illustrated text can be so I am even more impressed by what Taylor has done).


Dan Wollmering “Street Beat”

When he did his masters at RMIT Dan Wollmering was a student of Inge King and Vicas Jomantas. In that respect he is a bridge from Melbourne’s high modernism to the present. He has had 40 years of exhibiting sculptures and now that he retired from his teaching career he can concentrates on his sculptural practice.

Dan Wollmering at & Gallery

Dan Wollmering at & Gallery

Wollmering’s exhibition “Street Beat” at & Gallery consists of three different series of sculptures and an earlier cast aluminium work On the Horizon (2010). This work harks back to earlier works of Wollmering. All the sculptures build on earlier works but in On the Horizon the small lime green hemispheres that indent and bubble on the surface becomes the central image in his most recent wall works.

The exhibition opening was well attended late on Saturday afternoon. & Gallery specialises in sculpture. It is a couple of glass walled commercial spaces in the ground floor of a new building on the corner of Spencer and Little Bourke streets, off Water Tank Place, a private lane in Melbourne.

The work on exhibition is inspired during two art residencies in Malaysia sponsored by the architectural firm Hajjis Kasturi. You will not see any quotes to buildings in KL or Penang but reference to architectural constructs in modern sculpture. The modernity of Malaysia, the modern federated state full of multi-story modern architecture. This series of stand alone hard edge modern sculptures. Penaga (1.2) is the intersection of a circle and rectangle, an alternative resolution to a classic architectural issue. Painted fabricated steel in lime green, orange and fire engine red; except for the largest Function Fit 1.2 which is fabricated painted plywood.

The jetty series of wall works are assemblies of aluminium mesh, galvanised steal and various timbers. Titles, including Incense Jetty, Curry Jetty and Egg-tart Jetty have a more obvious Malaysian reference. These constructions reminded me of the bricolage make-do that fill in for modern unified designs and hark back to Mondrian’s early abstract Pier and Ocean series.

Attention was paid to the exhibition display with two groups of Wollmering’s wall works exhibited on painted large gray and large orange rectangles.


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