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Monthly Archives: November 2018

Cultural Diet Advice

It would appear to be a reasonable proposition that an art critic aught to be able to tell good art from bad and therefore would be able to advice on an appropriate cultural diet. What to see and what to avoid. Such advice is often obvious when someone is deprived of culture or has a very poor cultural diet, in the same way that it is obvious that a starving person needs food. As in recent reports of Canadian doctors prescribing a visit to an art gallery.

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Less obvious, perhaps better aesthetic taste provides a benefit, such as the benefits of a better cultural diet. As yet there is no evidence for this and as so many people have been so very wrong in describing some art as ‘junk food,’ ‘rotten’ or ‘poisonous’ I am loathe to follow their example. If there was equally clear evidence for poor aesthetic taste having detrimental effects it would as likely be around by now, given millennia of bad taste. The idea that someone knows the right kind of culture to consume is to avoided like a fad diet.

Much of our critical vocabulary is based on food: sweet, sour, light, vapid, rotten… all summed up in one word, ‘taste’. With this jumbo serving of misplaced synesthesia is hard not to imagine that we are in some ways ingesting culture. However food and diet are a poor analogy for cultural consumption and demonstrate why such a common analogies works so badly. We hardly know what the nutritional value of aspects of culture. To call something ‘cultural junk food’ maybe as misinformed as medieval dietary advice on balancing the four humors.

If culture is at all like food, or exercise, then the best advice is to consume a variety in moderation. Advice that I try to follow in this blog with posts on a variety of types of art and associated cultural matters but that I follow more in my everyday life as I don’t generally write about the music, dance and other aspects of my cultural diet in this blog (maybe I should).

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Moreland Summer Show 2018

I feel obliged to take a look at Moreland Summer Show 2018 at the Counihan Gallery because I live in the area, to keep up with what the local artists are doing. However, instead of trying to write about the whole exhibition I will be looking at three of the exhibitors: Wendy Black, Benjamin Sheppard and Yoshi Machida.

Wendy Black Sea Eagle over Tamar

Wendy Black Sea Eagle over Tamar 2017-18

Wendy Black’s Sea Eagle over Tamar is painted with spray paint enamel on board, what would be called a stencil piece on the street. But it is not on the street and Black is not a street artist and it is worth point out the elements that would be unusual on the street to contrast the differing aesthetics. Firstly, it is a landscape a genre rarely used on the street, secondly there are many rough elements, blistered or bubbling paint, evidence of masking tape that would be avoided on the street but give Black’s painting warmth. For more on Wendy Black see my blog post about Courtroom Artists.

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Benjamin Sheppard Sugary Teeth 2018

In Benjamin Sheppard’s Sugary Teeth the missing Steyr AUG, the infantry rifle of the ADF, leaves a blank space amidst the profuse ballpoint pen marks. This blank space illustrates the negative concept of peace, as in the absence of war and conflict. Intense biro work is typical of Sheppard’s work: I’ve been intending to write something about his art ever since his exhibition Le Coq at the Counihan Gallery in Brunswick in 2012. Along with fantastically detailed illustration of cockerels in biro there were abstract passages of intense random lines in his drawings; the division between the abstract art and the illustration has simply ceased to exist in the minds of artist. In MoreArts 2014 he had an installation at Jewell Station involving both newspaper headline displays and a full billboard. For more on Benjamin Sheppard read an interview with him on The Art and The Curious.

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Yoshi Machida Dialogue (First Step for Peace) 2018

The Moreland Summer Show has the usual motherhood statement theme, this year it is “Peace and the Pursuit of Happiness” and Yoshi Machida’s Dialogue (First Step for Peace) presents a kind of buddhist kōan on the theme. Notice that neither the frogs, the cat nor the monk has said anything. I assume that the  monk and the cat aren’t even registered on the frog’s consciousness because they aren’t moving, that the cat wants to kill the frogs and that the monk is considering how to start a dialogue.


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.)


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.

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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.


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