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Carrot Man

I saw Carrot Man! I had heard the legend of a man who walks inner city Melbourne holding a giant papier-mâché carrot with green plastic leaves. I assumed that I would not see him for reasons of time and space; most report had him in Fitzroy. Then on Friday I was in Flinders Lane buying sushi when I saw him walking past the window. So I grabbed my sushi, the woman behind the counter ran after me with my change.

It has been years since the first reported sightings of Carrot Man but it was obviously the same man. I tried to catch up with him but he was walking quickly up Manchester Lane towards the tram stop on Collins Street.

For more about Carrot Man see a newspaper article on Reddit. I love Tuesdays has a blog post about him. There is The Carrot Man Hunt @carrotmanhunt on Twitter. And an interview with him on YouTube.

In all these reports and interviews he never once does he use the ‘Art’ word; his stated intention is simply to make people smile. (I think that the stories about him carrying a squid are a red herring.)

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Opie @ NGV

Julian Opie’s art is cool. It seems essential to his aesthetic. Feeding back from his cool is Opie’s association with pop music. He did the cover the of Blur: the best of (2000) and LED images for U2’s Vertigo world tour (2006).

Julian Opie, Walking in Melbourne 1, 2018

Julian Opie, Walking in Melbourne 1, 2018

There isn’t much to his images. Each has been reduced to the essential lines and shapes. The images are refined to minimise details. They are refined again in their manufacturing. Vinyl on wooden stretcher or laser cut anodised aluminium; processes that doesn’t leave a trace of the human hand.

From the LED displays of people walking in the forecourt to the fish swim across the NGV’s water wall entrance; the self-titled Opie exhibition leads the visitor into the two galleries of his work and onto the NGV Kids part. The NGV Kids interactive part was designed in collaboration with Opie; do your own portrait in the style of…

Julian Opie, View of Moon over Manatsuru peninsula, 2007

Julian Opie, View of Moon over Manatsuru peninsula, 2007

In the exhibition there is a respectful bow to Japanese art in his View of Moon over Manatsuru peninsula, 2007. Two LCD screens replace the traditional byōbu folding screens of rice paper but the format of the composition is the same. The lights reflected on the rippling water, the flashing lights of a plane flying in the star light sky, the moon still in the sky. There is something cool about refining kitsch lighting-feature landscapes; falling just short of being vacuous, insipid and vapid is cool.

Who are these people walking, running, jogging, dancing in Opie’s art? Faime, Marrie Teresa, Bruce and Sara? …Oh, and there is Julian in a t-shirt. There are two works titled: Walking in Melbourne 2018. I do a lot of walking in Melbourne; maybe I could be one of the people in the picture, maybe not.

The people are the same as Opie’s sheep or minnows. His landscapes, even when of a specific location, are generic enough to be anywhere. It is not great art but they are cool.


The Crystal Cave

I was around McLean Alley in Melbourne’s CBD snapping a few photographs of some paste-ups by some of the usual suspects: Doyle, Sunfigo, Kambeeno, Baby Guerrilla, Junky Projects … and this, as yet unattributed paste-up. Following the trail of outlaw artists is not like trying to track down other outlaws. Sometimes they write their names, or at least their tags, two metres high in block letters using a paint roller. They have an online presence and there are regular locations where you can expect to find signs of their activity. Not that I’m trying to catch-up with anyone as I walk around the city, Brunwick, Collingwood, Fitzroy: I am not trying to identify anyone, collect a debt or anything. I run into some by accident and they will tell me that I must come and see their next exhibition.

At other times I know that the person will remain as mysterious as the work itself. I found this cave of crystals built into the brick walls It was hard to photograph the space in the wall was covered in crystals as far back as I could see.

20181019_122155I’m not sure how to classify the crystal cave brick filling. Maybe it fits into the same urban corny craft as painting a pipe top as a mushroom that I saw in the same lane. Urban corn is the craft work of city folk. It is a kind of homemade decoration that evokes a predictable sentiment between a chuckle and smile and no further thought.

20181019_122056

Or maybe the crystal cave is an urban art project, a post-graffiti practice like Jan Vormann’s international project refilling walls with lego bricks.

Or maybe it really was magic portal for mice and cockroaches.


Windsor Place Studio

The sculptor William Eicholtz and mixed media minimalist artist Louise Rippert have been working in the same studio in Windsor for twenty-five years. They currently shares the studio with ceramic artist Janet Beckhouse, fine artist and jewellery Rose Agnew, painter Karen Salter, and ceramics artist Caroline Gibbes. They have the lease for another four years but the construction is closing in around them as inner city Melbourne grows in height.

Looking at William Eicholtz's studio

More than their art artists love their studios. Their art will hopefully be sold and go but the studio remains a constant muse. Most artist studios that I visit are in former factories or shops, partitioned into smaller individual studios. Aside from home studios I have rarely seen an artist studio who wasn’t sharing with other artists.

Alex Taylor Perils of the Studio (Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2007) is history of Melbourne art told from the perspective of the artist studio,Taylor shows that artist’s studios at the turn of the 20th Century demonstrated a range of ideas about what it is to be an artist: as an aesthete, as feminine, as a collector, as a scholar and as a bohemian.

Artists studios are considerably smaller and messier than a century ago, as described by Taylor. They are more workshops than lounge rooms. One reason for this is because artists are no longer working from models and are no longer selling art out of their studios.

There are less partitions than usual at the Windsor Place studio. Most of the artists can look up and see each other at work from across the studio. There is some cross pollination of ideas between the artists. Beckhouse has had a subtle influence on William Eicholtz and Caroline Gibbes who are both working in ceramics. They are unusually convivial studio in other ways; they go out together to exhibitions and events. The last time I ran into them at “Spring 1883” when they invited me to visit the studio. On the day I visited both Janet and Louise were wearing jewellery by Rose Agnew.

The day prior to my visit about thirty members of the NGV Women’s Association had visited the Windsor Place studio. This meant that the studio was unusually tidy and there was still left-over, but still delicious, cakes made by Rose. I know my place in the pecking order of the art world is somewhere below that of the ladies who lunch (I find it odd to imagine that such an organisation, as the NGV Women’s Association, still exists).

After morning tea the artist get back to work and I went around the studio seeing their space. I hadn’t met Karen Salter and Caroline Gibbes before so I took the opportunity of chatting with them and finding out more about their art. Salter paints the purity of forms of modernist architecture in 60s postcard colours.

Karen Salter dolls house

Karen Salter was considering if a miniature version of one of her paintings would work in a modernist dolls house.

Louise Rippert in her studio

Louise Rippert preparing the support for her new work.

Rose Agnew diorama

Rose Agnew was using this diorama as a model for a setting for her paintings of a hookah smoking caterpillar.

I will let the artists in Windsor get back to work. What other work place has so many visitors?


Civil @ Tinning Street

In “Tangled Love” Civil’s stick figure folk, a mix between Keith Haring and Matisse, form a gentle community as they sit, walk, dance and ride bicycles. They occupy a large wall in the laneway outside the gallery, Tinning Street presents but sit comfortably on the smaller supports within.

Tom Civil, Wavering Spirit (Tinning Street)

A decade ago I was interested in how street art and graffiti would be exhibited in art galleries. Moving from the street into the gallery is a matter of economics, conservation and, given the structure of the art world, inevitability. At the time stencil art dominated Melbourne’s street art scene so that meant that, aside from the gallery location, the other difference was support, outside walls or other materials.

However, sometimes that location on the street was very important to the art. I have seen many artists work fail to work in the gallery. The worst that I can remember was Urban Cake Lady’s exhibition at Rist; her art which looked enchanting on the street lost its magic inside the gallery.

Often this was because isolated in the gallery is different from being collaged onto the actual streetscape. Maybe they are missing the unexpected moment of discovery on the street, that Prof. Alison Young argues is the core of the street art experience, replaced with the totally expected experience of the exhibition. Sometimes the repetition of the artist’s single iconic image looks repetitious and boring in a gallery. Sometimes it is simply due to issues of scale. Certainly the white, anaesthetic room rarely helps the art look its best.

None of these appeared to be a problem in Tom Civil’s exhibition at Tinning Street presents. Dried botanical arrangements in old milk vats engraved by Civil decorate the gallery. His stick figures appear on a variety of supports: timbre lattice, ply, green corflute (corrugated plastic), doormats, wood and clear corrugated plastic which reminds the viewer of the variety of surfaces in the city. Aside from Civil’s familiar stick figures there are images created specifically for gallery exhibitions of animals from centipedes to chooks. Print making techniques extending from his early stencils on the street to linocut, drypoint etching, screen-prints and woodcuts. These printing techniques offer new material for the exhibition. Inside or outside of the gallery Civil’s images work.


The Australian amorality

In Penny Byrne I heart Nauru (2017) one of Byrne’s repurposed porcelain figure the wistful girl seated on a rock has sewn her lips together and has slashed her legs and arms, self-harming in despair. Byrne is also a ceramics conservator and uses the same conservation techniques to alter mass produced kitsch ceramics. She gives them a new political meaning with the judicious application of enamel paint.

Penny Byrne I heart Nauru (2017) in the background Angela Brennan Redacted then said (2018)

Penny Byrne I heart Nauru (2017) in the background Angela Brennan Redacted then said (2018)

I feel that I have failed as a critic this year because I did not write about “All we can’t see – Illustrating the Nauru Files” at Forty-Five Downstairs in August. Byrne’s figure was just one of the exhibiting artists in that exhibition. I wanted to address the deep systemic problems in Australia that have lead to this, however at the time I felt the pain depicted in the art too much and lacked the energy to write.

The Australian concentration camps are not the responsibility of one political party but are symptomatic of a deep lack of morality. There are so many examples of institutional child abuse, war crimes, genocidal activity in Australia’s recent history that all the apologies in the world cannot disguise the fact the country is amoral.

The cause of this Australian amorality is that either the majority of Australians or basic the structure of Australian politics is or both. At the foundation of this structure is the Australian constitution; a document without any protection of civil or human rights, a document that permits voting laws to be made on the basis of race. However the Australian constitution cannot be entirely to blame, it is merely facilitates a system without a conscience.

Nationalists consider that it a good thing for the subject of Australia’s criminality never to be raised. Denial, distraction and ‘no comment’ are the national character of a criminal state. You cannot have a civil debate when one side does not want to have one. Criminals charges must be brought against all those who participated in these crimes; only following orders, only doing your job, even only obeying the law are not excuses for crimes against humanity. And the Australian constitution completely rewritten so that these crimes can never happen again.


Motherhood is the new performance art

For every parent whose children use them as a climbing frame Tiffany Parbs has a portable climbing frame and a slide; with the mockingly dry formalist titles of structure and slope. Photographs of Parbs and her children demonstrate how the stainless steel structures enhances the parental play gym.

Parbs’s art is both fun and part of the serious thought in contemporary art of using the artist’s body the prime material for sculpture. Turning a woman’s body into an actual playground rather than a political one is fun for most of the family and very amusing for the gallery visitor. After seeing Tiffany Parbs’s exhibition Smother at Craft I thought: motherhood is the new performance art.

This is not the imaginary ‘motherhood’ of ‘motherhood statements’ or the ideal mother but the physical state of being a mother. Performance art is a theoretically elevated, actually denigrated, state. As such it is a metaphor for (artists and) mothers.

Being a mother is everything that performance art always wanted: treating the body as a sculptural object, use of bodily fluids and an emphasis on the sexual without being erotic. Performance art is about endurance and duration where the body is public rather than private.

Pharbs is Melbourne based “conceptual jeweller” whose work is exhibited nationally and internationally including in The Language of Things at The Dowse Art Museum in NZ (2018) and Masked at Holding House, Detroit (2017). And Craft is a great location for this solo exhibition, bringing in the perfect audience for Parbs exhibition.

Conceptual jewellery is a good way to describe the variety of media and crafts used to create the work. Photographs by Tobias Titz of Pharbs and her two children document the performance elements. In attached (2018), they are attached with velcro to Pharbs garment. In fodder (2015) a baby sucks milk from a device that looks like a combination of a beer hat and fetish wear.


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