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Pop Surrealism in Melbourne

“The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are filled with a passionate intensity.”

W.B. Yeats – The Second Coming

Fantastic, visionary and surreal elements have always been present in art; these strange attractors will always have artists and collectors. It exists in a cluster of other strange attractors: the exotic, the primitive, the macabre, and the comic…

What ever it is a fantastic publishing opportunity for books and magazines, prints and posters – and the galleries that sell them. Several Melbourne people have published fantastic art: in the past, Art Visionary magazine and currently, BeinArt Publishing. Melbourne has two galleries that specialize in this art: the established city gallery, Outré Gallery and, the Brunswick gallery, 696 Ink.

Outré Gallery is a commercial boutique gallery on Elizabeth St. in the Melbourne that exhibits artists like Shag, Mark Ryden and “other pop, lowbrow, street and alternative art”, according to their entry in Art Almanac. They also have a branch in Sydney. Outré Gallery is focused on American lowbrow and street art along with more than books, prints and vinyl toys. The last time that I was in Outré Gallery I saw a painted porcelain hand-grenade and other porcelain products from Laibach.

696 Ink (see my review of their opening) is a smaller gallery and although it also exhibits internationally known pop-surreal artists. There was a Robert Wilson painting on the wall when I was last in there and a young artist from the eastern suburbs was in to see a single painting by an artist that he admired. 696 Ink specializes in local artists and more affordable art. It also distributes the books of Jon Beinart, who also has a hand in the management of the gallery. BeinArt Publishing started with glossy full colour book of fantastic art, Metamorphosis, since then it has published Metamorphosis 2 and two other monographs on the work of individual fantastic artists.

Art Visionary, “Australian & International Journal of Fantastic & Visionary Art”, was an irregular publication from Melbourne, starting in 1997 and continued for 3 issues. Damian Michaels, an American artist and art collector who migrated to the suburbs of Melbourne in 1995, edited it. Art Visionary focused too much on the Viennese School of Fantastic Art, like H.R.Giger, and Wolfgang Grasse. Issue 1 started with a colour cover and black and white inside but the number of colour pages grew in later issues. There was a modest amount of advertising in the magazine from galleries from around the world including Outré Gallery.

Both Damian Michaels and Jon Beinart operate as publishers, collectors and dealers. They organize exhibitions of the artists that they represent; Jon Beinart has had exhibitions at Brunswick Arts and the old, 696. In 2001 Damian Michaels curated Fantastic Art, an exhibition mostly from his own collection of fantastic art from around the world, at Orange Regional Gallery. Later this exhibition toured Ballarat Gallery and other regional galleries. On the 23rd of July 2004 I was at the opening of the Fantastic Art exhibition at Ballarat Gallery. About a hundred other people braved the heavy rain and icy Ballarat winter weather to see because of the variety of contemporary fantastic art. There were works by Tom McKee (US), Erik Heyninck (Belgium), Alex Grey (US), H.R. Giger (Switzerland), Ernst Fuchs (Austria), Paul Freeman (Australia) and many other artists from around the world.

There are problems with pop surrealism and its relatives; they are not innocent in its appropriation by advertising and the mass media as Hakim Bey argues (Hakim Bey TAZ Automedia 1991 p.79). It has become the most commercial of all types of art with mass edition prints and other products marketed at a variety of price levels. What else is the purpose of this art? Is it just to look strange and impressive in reproduction in books and magazines?

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About Mark Holsworth

Writer, independent researcher and artist, Mark Holsworth is the author of the book Sculptures of Melbourne. View all posts by Mark Holsworth

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