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Monthly Archives: March 2017

Out of the Ordinary

“Out of the Ordinary” is a solo exhibition by Phoenix in the front gallery of Off the Kerb. Phoenix is not the ordinary Melbourne street artist who works with paste-ups. Unlike other street artists you don’t instantly get the meaning of his images, you have to work at them. You recognise the ordinary object but then you realise that there is more, something out of the ordinary. Often the message is an environmental awareness like All in One Basket.

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Phoenix, M.C. (Milk Crate) Escher, Anchor Hand and Jumbo Sushi Fish

Phoenix makes his paste-ups using a very technical combination of drawing, photocopies and collage. He uses a photocopier to produce drawings and has been using photocopiers to make art for longer than he has done street art. He used the photocopier to add colour through different colour ink cartridges or coloured paper and especially to enlarge and reduce. Very accurate, detailed drawings, draftsman drawings that are built up by combining different elements or the same element at different sizes, as in his Show of Hands. Always the image incorporates a double spiral as a logo/tag/signature.

He has been working on the streets for about seven years. He is a generous guy who will loan other artists his ladder at painting events, before he’s put up his own paste-up, or volunteer to help at the Sweet Streets festival, which is where I first met him. He has an amazing trolley studio with a ladder and all he needs for working on the street.

This is the first time that I’ve seen Phoenix exhibit in a gallery but I know that he has had exhibited in Sydney before. The works are the same as they are on the street, except that the gallery editions are mounted on jigsaw cut wood rather just pasted on the wall. With the Night Diver, and other pieces there raised elements, like the bolts and other parts.

The masterpiece of the exhibition is his M.C. (Milk Crate) Escher it is truly out of the ordinary.

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New Sounds on the Street

The conversation at the BBQ turned to complaining about various buskers: love them or hate them, the bagpipes at Flinders Street Station or the Chinese fiddle player at the NGV. Melbourne has a good culture of buskers from living sculptures and sidewalk performers to musicians. There is an international feel to Melbourne’s buskers, reflecting the multi-cultural nature of the city. There are amateur musicians with just their instrument and its case open for coins to professional buskers with CD for sale and so much equipment that they need a roadie or at least a handcart to move it.

India Bati and friend

India Bharti and friend

I always like to see different instruments played on the street, not the usual busker with a guitar. This is about the stranger instruments, the unique inventions that I’ve seen played on Melbourne’s streets. New musical instruments are a combination of invention, engineering, make-do and art.

The variety and quantity of buskers in Melbourne is impressive. From the bagpipe player who used to play on the on the steps of Flinders St. Station to a guy doing beat boxing . The human beat box was doing bass and drums with just a microphone and an amp. He was excellent, impressive as the vocalisations — covers of ‘Stand By Me’ and ‘Another One Bites The Dust’. The human beat box was also expressing his artistic desperation in between songs: “I don’t want to be busking for the rest of my life.”

One day I saw a guy playing a “dagpipe” player on the corner of Elizabeth and Bourke. The “dagpipe” were his inventions, or maybe not, another guy playing one called it a “gagpipe” — either way it is a very Australian alternative to a bagpipe. It used a foot pump for an air mattress to inflate the plastic bag from a 4-litre cask of wine that supplies air to the single pipe.

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Man playing “dagpipes”

Another day I saw another very Australian improvised instruments being played by a busker — tuned beer bottles hung on a wooden rack.

In the late 1980s there was Jerome and Soul Desire who were street performers using improvised percussion instruments. And now there is Victor Lancaster aka Mr Mention who plays the improvised drum kit made of plastic buckets.

India Bharti is my favourite busker because of his unique collection of instruments. He is a Shivaism, a Shiva devotee with long wild hair, trident and other accoutrements and his lyrics reflect this interest. He performs with several unique handmade stringed instruments; the largest being a long piece of natural wood with many strings attached. All of these stringed instruments are augmented with many guitar effects peddles. The sound that it produces is somewhere between an electric guitar and a tempura (the Indian instrument that provides the continuous tonic drones that backs the soloists). He has released CDs and I even saw a video clip on Rage many years ago (he now has many videos on YouTube).


Hasell with Bells

The publicly marking time is a basic function of a city because a city need a sense of time to function. Bells can also sound alarms, announce events or play music. Bells can be famous or in themselves works of art. Art bells in Melbourne are often the work of Anton Hasell.Anton Hasell Federation Bells Carillon, 2002

The Federation Bells at Birrung Mar are a combination of sculptural and musical objects. There is this whole area of musical sculpture but then every musical instrument is a kind of sculptural design. Designed by Neil McLachlan and Anton Hasell in collaboration with Swaney Draper Architects. The bells were commissioned in 1998 and installed in 2002. In 2005 the poles underwent a structural upgrade and in 2012 Federation Bells were removed and refurbished; public art requires regular maintenance.

The computer controlled 39 upturned bells can be programmed. Hasell wants the public to interact with his sculptures; he wants more people to compose music for the “Federation Bells.” However, it is not that simple because you have to compose in the just intonation that the bells are tuned to rather than the tempered scale.

Hasell moved from convention sculpture making to bell making as sculpture; after all they both involve casting. (For more on casting bells The Great Wren posted on his blog about the Whitechapel Bell Foundry one of the oldest businesses in London.) I look at one his earlier public sculpture of his in Richmond in my post – WTF corner.

An early bell work of Hasell is the Tilly Aston Bell, 1999 is a bronze sculpture that incorporates three connecting bells. It stands in the middle of a path in Kings Domain near the sunken garden to the Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden. It commemorates the centenary of the Vision Australia Foundation, formerly known as the Association for the Blind, and the life and achievements of its founder, Tilly Aston.

Tilly Aston was the first blind person in Australia to attend university, but her education was cut short by an absence of textbooks in Braille. So in 1894 she established a Braille library. She was responsible for gaining for the blind free post for Braille and talking books, free travel on public transport and the right to vote.

The top bell has three scenes from the life of Tilly Aston in raised relief along with a quote from Tilly Aston. “Poor eyes limit your sight. Poor vision limits your deeds.” The quote is repeated on a Braille strip on the middle bell. The lowest bell has the highest pitch, it has no inscription but a series of hand prints.

Originally movement sensors trigger a series of tolls, when people approached marks proximity and movement. Unfortunately it no longer works and the marvellous speaker mouths on the base are silent.

In 2008 Hasell and Terence McDermott had a temporary installation, The Speed of Sound Nau Interactive Bells,  in Union Lane part of the Laneways Commissions. I didn’t experience this work but again interactivity and bells was an important element.

Hasell’s other Federation Bells, a massive set of tuned hand bells, are spectacularly displayed at one end the Melbourne Museum’s first floor.

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Anton Hasell, Federation Hand Bells, Melbourne Museum


Yannae Wirrate Weelam and prison art

At the Melbourne Museum I saw Yannae Wirrate Weelam, The Journey Home in the Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre. The exhibition was organised by The Torch, who are very actively exhibiting. In January I saw their exhibition, Confined 8 at the St. Kilda Town Hall Gallery. They also have an exhibition, Dhumbadha Munga (Talking Knowledge) at the Alliance Francaise’s Eildon Gallery that looks at the two-way relationship between the arts workers and the artists they support.

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The exhibition, Yannae Wirrate Weelam, The Journey Home had a very short history about the far too many aboriginal artists in prison along with work by people in the current The Torch program.

All of the artists in the exhibition took such care and time with their art but a few of the artists are outstanding. Robby Knight, of the Wergaia/Wotjobaluk, has so much creative energy and talent when working in both paint and many other materials. And Knight’s work with other materials gets frighteningly awesome and powerful. The paintings by Jeffrey Jackson, of the Mutti Mutti, are so powerful and beautiful. I was also impressed with the pokerwork, burning wood with a hot bit of metal, by Roger Sims, of the Barkindji, proving that you can do a contemporary illustration of a Murray Cod with fantastic detail in that media.

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Jeffrey Jackson, Knowing Country

This was research for my next book which is about true art crimes in Melbourne. For along with art theft, art forgery and art vandalism I also want to write about prison art and other places where art the criminal justice system intersect.

Prison art has not been an easy topic to write about for a number of reasons, chiefly I don’t have much information. I have been able to interview a couple of prison art educators and I expect to interview some more.

To add to the difficultly I want to focus on Aboriginal prison art including the artist Ronald Bull who painted the mural in Pentridge Prison’s “F” Division. In the 1970s Ronald Bull was described in advertisement in The Age: “Hailed by many as the foremost and most versatile landscape painter of the present time. Showing the often unseen beauty of our countryside, an artist with turbulent talent. Capable of becoming Australia’s premier painter.” Yet few people have heard of him today; I don’t want his life and art, along with others like him, to be forgotten so I am writing about it.


Walk to Giant

Jamit was planning to buy some spray-paint at Giant in North Melbourne and I agreed to walk with him.

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Setting up for Tiana Sanjaya to paint with spice in front of State Library of Victoria

We started at the front of the State Library. When I got there I found that there was an Indonesian artist, Tiana Sanjaya was setting up to paint with spices. Tumeric, candlenut, horseradish, mustard seed, nutmeg and chilli; it smelt good. It was part of the AsiaTopa 2017, the Asia-Pacific Triennial of Performing Arts.

On the way we had a look at Blender Lane. Now that Blender Studios has closed I was wonder if the quality of the work in the lane will continue without Doyle being present?

Further to that subject, we also looked at the graffiti and street art in Lovelands, a series of lanes near Victoria Market carpark, near the corner of Queen and Franklin Street. It also has the same questions of redevelopment hanging over it. It doesn’t look like much has changed since I saw Itch painting last year during the Meeting of Styles.

We passed another lane painted during the Meeting of Styles in April 2016 but there is more to see on the streets than just graffiti and street art.

I am not just looking at graffiti and street art; I have other interests, like public sculpture. Outside School No.307 on Queensberry Street I stop to look at a Peter Corlett sculpture of Henry Barstow. Henry Barstow was the architect who designed many state schools. I hadn’t seen the sculpture before but this is not surprising given Corlett’s prolific production creating several figures each year.

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Peter Corlett, Henry Barstow, 2011

Finally we reach Giant in North Melbourne. Maybe we should have taken the tram but the walk has been worthwhile. Nth Melbourne is a long thin suburb and its geography of Nth Melbourne is disorientating because the streets are not aligned to the same axis as the grid of Melbourne’s CBD.

You have to be buzzed into the shop. Then there is a room, covered in stickers and aerosol spray paint where we are to leave our backpacks. Then there the room full of spray cans of paint, maker pens, graffiti magazines and more cans of paint, the whole spectrum plus metallics, plus effects…

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“Hello Mark” is the first thing that I hear.

At first I can’t see who is speaking because there is a big dude between me and the voice. It is Toby who runs Just Another Agency. Everywhere I go I run into people that I know, a bonus for writing this blog.

Jamit buys about two dozen cans and even though the cans are cheaper by the half dozen he doesn’t walk away with much change from $150.


Sandor Matos & Space

Sometimes it takes years for me to uncover a mystery. I first encountered Sandor Matos’s sculptures in Warburton Lane in 2009. I assumed that he was part of Melbourne’s street artist scene but no-one knew who did the work. Eventually, it was David Tenenbaum, the publisher of Melbourne Books who was able to put a name to the work. Still when I finally met Matos at his small exhibition, Archeology of Tomorrow at Studio 11 in Brunswick late in 2016 I was expecting someone younger and wilder, not a middle-aged Hungarian who works as stone conservator.

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Sandor Matos sculpture with unknown paste-up in Warburton Lane 2009

The packing space series started when Matos had some artificial stone left over from a restoration job at Melbourne University, so he decided to put it to use. He was living in Warburton Lane at the time of the installation so transportation of the heavy sculptures was not a problem.

Studio 11 is a small white walled cubical at the front of this warehouse studio space that the artists, Joe Flynn and Joel Gailer are running. Joe Flynn raised up the roller doors and we looked at it from the street.

Sandor Matos turns negative space into positive sculptures. The use of found negative space as a sculptural area has been explored by several other sculptors, notably Rachael Whitebread in her House, winning the Turner Prize.

Cast from rectified readymade moulds found in the space between packing material. Matos rectifies the packing material slightly, enhancing the geometric compositions and removing any indication what it once contained or other symbols.

Matos has uncovered a mid-century modern style at the core of packaging. It is found in the negative spaces of styrofoam. That the modern style is preserved in packaging is hardly surprising given the connections between modernism and efficient design.


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