Veteran Melbourne street artist Vexta is now based in Brooklyn, New York, but is currently back where she started her street art career, painting a police station wall and exhibiting at Mars Gallery in Windsor.
Earlier this week The Age reported on Vexta painting a wall on the St Kilda police station. The level of contradictions in this act, part of the City of Port Phillip program to reduce graffiti, would be mind boggling if I wasn’t, at least partially, immersed in Melbourne’s graffiti and street art scene. So for me it is just more of the spectacle and the situation of street art. For Vexta it was just another wall.
Street artists exhibiting in a gallery is a different challenge to the street. Basically it is an issue of managing expectations; in the street we are surprised by street art because we didn’t expect any whereas we do expect art in an art gallery. Off the street the same images can appear limited, repetitious, or otherwise lose their charm. Despite this many of Melbourne’s commercial galleries have one or two street artists in their stable.
Fortunately Vexta for her exhibition, The Wildness Beneath, at Mars Gallery has more than figures painted with mix of a brushes and spray cans in her psychedelic palette of black and florescent colours. The paintings on canvas are hung as diamonds, their corners emphasising the round form within. On one wall they are framed with florescent builder’s twine creating geometric patterns around them.
The women in Vexta’s paintings stare out at the viewer. Are they powerful witches with animal familiars or are they nymphs and victims, like Leda and the swan?
Silk screen images of cicadas feature on several of the paintings reminding me of the cryptic nature of cicadas. The long underground life of 13 or 17 years of cicadas reminded me of the development of an artist. Vexta must have done that many years, so perhaps it is time for her to emerge from the underground.
Vexta explained that the exhibition was getting back to her roots in collage. All of the images started as collages before being translated into paint, even the painting the cut-out words and phrases.
Vexta’s painted copies of collaged words have a strong sense of poetics of the nocturnal urban world of street art missions or psychedelic trips. Not everything worked the decorated skulls hanging from the ceiling looked hackneyed and odd (skulls are so common in art and especially street art, see my post Melbourne Skull).