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Author Archives: Mark Holsworth

About Mark Holsworth

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

The Nicholas Building Open Studios

The antique elevators have been replaced and their fabulous lift operators, Joan McQueen and Dimitri Bradas, have long gone. The letter drop system near the elevators on each floor no longer works; the system that allowed people on each floor to post letters to be collected somewhere on the ground floor or basement. The tiles are coming off the walls. Threatened with redevelopment. But the Nicholas Building on the corner of Swanston Walk and Flinders Lane continues to be a centre for art and design in the centre of the city.

DSC02265It is a very interesting building just to look at an office building from the 1920s. From the lead-lighting of Cathedral Arcade on the ground floor to the ghost signs on the old office doors. Hand painted gold lettering from another era from businesses that no longer exist: Miss V Synan, Alexander Lau Pty Ltd and others.

The Nicholas Building had an open studio evening on last Thursday 22 of June. It has one every couple of years and although I am familiar with the building, its galleries and some of the studios I had not been to one of its open studios before. There were a few performances, exhibitions and other events were happening that night in the building.

I was pleased to see the studio of book sculptor Nicholas Jones. I had seen his work for many years but it was great to put meet the person behind the work and his studio.

Blindside and Stephen McLaughlan Gallery are the long term survivors in a building that has seen many exhibition spaces. Pigment gallery was followed by Edmund Pearce Gallery a contemporary art space dedicated to photography and now Kimono House a shop selling Japanese textiles and craft occupies the same space.

Open studios are like looking inside people’s homes or at least their offices. The studios of artists, architects, cartoonist, clothes designers, cobblers, jewellers, milliner,  toy makers, writers along with the office of the Bob Brown Foundation were open to the public for the night.

There is a growing sense of history about the building. The late, eccentric and artist Vali Meyers once had her studio on the 8th floor of the building. There is now a small engraved brass plaque on the door frame of her former studio.

I have been writing about the Nicholas Building since I started blogging. The Nicholas Building might be worth a chapter, if someone was going to write about contemporary artists studios in Melbourne as Alex Taylor has done with his book, Perils of the Studio (Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2007, North Melbourne).  Perils of the Studio is about artists studios in Melbourne in the 1890 and early 20th Century. It is a very interesting, well researched and perfectly illustrated book (I know from experience how difficult doing a first book as an illustrated text can be so I am even more impressed by what Taylor has done).

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Dan Wollmering “Street Beat”

When he did his masters at RMIT Dan Wollmering was a student of Inge King and Vicas Jomantas. In that respect he is a bridge from Melbourne’s high modernism to the present. He has had 40 years of exhibiting sculptures and now that he retired from his teaching career he can concentrates on his sculptural practice.

Dan Wollmering at & Gallery

Dan Wollmering at & Gallery

Wollmering’s exhibition “Street Beat” at & Gallery consists of three different series of sculptures and an earlier cast aluminium work On the Horizon (2010). This work harks back to earlier works of Wollmering. All the sculptures build on earlier works but in On the Horizon the small lime green hemispheres that indent and bubble on the surface becomes the central image in his most recent wall works.

The exhibition opening was well attended late on Saturday afternoon. & Gallery specialises in sculpture. It is a couple of glass walled commercial spaces in the ground floor of a new building on the corner of Spencer and Little Bourke streets, off Water Tank Place, a private lane in Melbourne.

The work on exhibition is inspired during two art residencies in Malaysia sponsored by the architectural firm Hajjis Kasturi. You will not see any quotes to buildings in KL or Penang but reference to architectural constructs in modern sculpture. The modernity of Malaysia, the modern federated state full of multi-story modern architecture. This series of stand alone hard edge modern sculptures. Penaga (1.2) is the intersection of a circle and rectangle, an alternative resolution to a classic architectural issue. Painted fabricated steel in lime green, orange and fire engine red; except for the largest Function Fit 1.2 which is fabricated painted plywood.

The jetty series of wall works are assemblies of aluminium mesh, galvanised steal and various timbers. Titles, including Incense Jetty, Curry Jetty and Egg-tart Jetty have a more obvious Malaysian reference. These constructions reminded me of the bricolage make-do that fill in for modern unified designs and hark back to Mondrian’s early abstract Pier and Ocean series.

Attention was paid to the exhibition display with two groups of Wollmering’s wall works exhibited on painted large gray and large orange rectangles.


Three Public Sculptures in the Docklands

 

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Sally Smart, Shadow Trees, 2014

Shadow Trees by South Australian artist, Sally Smart, was installed in 2014 at the new Buluk Park and library the junction of Bourke and Collins Streets in Victoria Harbour, Docklands. Shadow Trees is both site-specific and creates a landmark for the site.

The plasma cut steel silhouettes are assembled into two large trees in a place where there have been no trees for probably a century or more. There were once many trees in that once swampy area where the river meets the bay before the Europeans arrived and chopped them all down to make docks for their ships. Now all of the trees, some of the docks and most of the ships have gone. Oddly this is not the only sculptural tree in the Docklands, there is also John Kelly’s Cow Up a Tree.

Painted pink, purple, orange, red, white, grey and black, Smart’s trees don’t pretend to be natural. However, they do appear more natural than the rest of the contrived, designed artificial area.

Trees are naturally a great sculptural form, redolent in meaning but until recently it was impossible to make at an appropriate scale. Smart’s trees seem full of stories. “The cut-out painted silhouette elements and text are open to interpretation, drawing on references from the site’s history, biology, botany, habitation, movement and language,” says Smart.

Shadow Trees tie in with Sally Smart’s gallery art works, where trees are a recurring motif. This is most obvious in her large installation, Family Tree House (Shadows and Symptoms),1999–2002. The felt and canvas with collage elements have been translated into steel for the Shadow Trees.

The shadows of these two trees links them to the text in the bluestone paving. The text is a poem by writer and cultural historian, Maria Tumarkin especially commissioned for the location. Like many contemporary sculptures it features an integrated lighting system rather than lighting as a modern addition.

Shadow Trees works well making and marking the location of a park and the Library at The Dock. For more see Victoria Harbour News.

Mark Stoner, A River Runs Through It, 2011

Mark Stoner, A River Runs Through It, 2011

The geometric rippling piles of brick and the organic rippling carved white marble rocks or waves are scattered across this large site. There is no front to this sculpture, no perfect vantage point; to see it you have to walk around it, seeing it only in part or as a process of exploration.

You even have to explore the site to find all of the blue explanatory text panels. I have brought all the text together in one quote.

“… this site is the intersection of two axes… one reflects the city grid and its built form, the other is the original flow of the site as traced by the river and the wind… … a collision of water, wind and sun… …a composition of sculptures that creates a landscape of spaces, materials and systems… …in acknowledging the flow and timelessness of the river we may imagine the primal site… ”

The ellipsis are all Stoner’s, he is obviously a fan of ellipsis.

Stoner has other public sculptures; at the Victoria Market a memorial to the previous graveyard and another sculpture on the Geelong foreshore. His work has a monumental heavy quality that has its foundations in the location.

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Adrian Mauriks Silence, 2001–02

On the NewQuay Promenade in Docklands there thirteen of these curvy white biomorophic fibreglass resin sculptures. It is all very surreal, like alien lifeforms growing in the Docklands. Silence, 2001–02 by Melbourne based sculptor, Adrian Mauriks, who described it as “a series of forms arousing to the mind”. Silence is spread out across an area of 18.5 metres by 12.5 metres outside Arkley Tower. The white painted surface of the biomorphic blobs are coated an accumulation of black scuff marks from the shoes of people, mostly children, who climb on them. (For earlier public art by Mauriks in Richmond see my blog post WTF Corner.)


Street art, public art and more in Coburg

I have been walking around my neighbourhood, the streets of Coburg, looking at the street art, the public art and the streets. You can see almost 150 years of history of domestic architecture on the streets of Coburg, from the 1870s to the contemporary buildings still under construction. And you have to love quality pop culture home modifications; we need more of this kind of Batman, not the John Batman kind.

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Notable Melbourne street artist, Al Stark Thinking of the Earth has painted a mural on a couple of buildings at Coburg Oval. Regardless of what I have recently written about murals I like this one. The abstracted geometric shapes and the colours glow against the dark ground improving the feel of an otherwise drek utilitarian carpark between the Sydney Road shopping strip and the oval.

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On the wall of the new flats by the Reynard Street railway crossing is Tropical Flora. It is a mural by experienced Melbourne stencil artist 23rd Key. The very large multi-layered stencil of hibiscus flowers and monstera leaves are technically proficient but boring.

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There is also more unauthorised street art around. I love finding little pieces hidden away, making a treasure hunt out of a walk around the neighbourhood. But this is the strangest piece of buffing; it leaves you wondering what either the writer or the buffer was thinking.

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Some great guerrilla gardening taking over a wide nature strip in Coburg complete with a mosaic ceramic features by local Mel Craven.

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The sculpture of a small bronze house on a rusty steel plinth has been removed late 2016 early 2017 from the corner of Victoria Street and Waterfield Road. Dwelling by Jason Waterhouse was the winner of the 2005 Moreland Sculpture Show. I don’t know what has happened to this sculpture; I hope that a better location has been found for it. It was too small to make any impression on the corner location. You can also see how bad Coburg’s pigeon problem was just a few years ago.

ason Waterhouse, Dwelling

Jason Waterhouse, Dwelling

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The Other Art Fair

What other art fair? Melbourne doesn’t have an art fair anymore as the Melbourne Art Fair was cancelled last year. There is the Not Fair. There has also been the Affordable Art Fair, Supergraph and probably a something else, like a craft fair.

On Thursday night I was at the opening of The Other Art Fair, the start of a four day event. Presented by Saatchi Art; it is very well run with a food, coffee, a bar, music, space to sit down, lots of portable gas heaters glowing red, an art wrapping service, performance art and other events.

Kensington, on the other side of the Moonee Ponds Creek, is not a suburb associated with art exhibitions. Between two railway lines and near a tram line it is a surprisingly accessible location. The venue, The Facility is another surprise a converted wool-shed with some new interior additions.

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“Keep your eyes open, you never know what you might see.”

Reads the note that I selected at random from the performance artist’s bag, a work devised by by Rioko Tega.

Unlike most art fair the 98 booths at the Other Art Fair have artists and not galleries. The art ranges in styles from the painterly abstract, hard edge abstracts, large format art photography, realist landscapes, paintings of animals, surreal fantasies and erotic tapestries.

Most of the artists are not represented by a major commercial gallery but I recognised a couple of names, emerging artists that I have seen in various smaller galleries. The interior and exterior walls of the venue reminded me what was missing from the variety of artist exhibiting there were no street artists.

Meeting the artist is what every art buyer wants, to meet the person who created the art. It is a tough gig for the artist, four days of fronting their art, hoping to sell enough to pay their expenses. The artists were picked by a selection committee that included the artist Patricia Piccinini, Director of Mossgreen Gallery Lisa Fehily and Senior Curator at Australian Centre for Contemporary Art Annika Kristensen. The committee has done its job in ensuring a consistent quality of artists. There is a lot of attractive, fashionable art that would compliment contemporary decor, along with, depending on your taste, some beautiful art direct from the artist.


Thanks for the cocktails, Cheers

What am I doing at the Whitehart Bar, in Whitehart Lane, Melbourne? I am ‘doing things your way’ doing things my way with a hashtag Wild Turkey Kentucky Firebird smoke infused cocktail and hoping to win a work of art. Yes, there will be alcohol sponsored promotions in this post. My excuse, and I will stick to it  even under cross examination, is that I was there as an art critic observing the work of the guest artists: Gareth Stehr, Klara, Adrian Doyle. Will Coles, Bertie Blackman and Nikolaus Dolman were part of the publicity up in Sydney.

The Whitehart Bar is at the end of dark lane, separated by a chain link fence topped with barbed wire. Constructed out of iron girders and shipping containers in an old parking lot, the numbers are still visible on its old bluestone walls.

It is the perfect setting for a hard-bitten, true art crime writer. I need a break from working on my art crime book and writing about the art forgery convictions being quashed for The Daily Review. I haven’t had time to write anything for this blog in weeks.

Were you not there simply for the free Wild Turkey cocktails?

Not entirely, I was there to observe the synergies between artists and marketing event. I looked at the three paintings and I photographed Gareth Stehr’s jacket. I saw a lot of retro elements, I thought that circular paintings went out with painted tambourines. Stehr piece had a poker work skull, burnt into the wooden support with a hot poker; I thought that poker work went out with sailing ships but I’ve seen several pieces already this year. Hot Potato Band were a lot of fun but again lots of retro elements; I thought that Sousaphones went out with that expression but once again I was wrong.

The smoke filled glasses are spectacular of “Wild Turkey Kentucky Firebird” and the citrus notes cuts the sweetness. I am probably amongst the first million people in the world to taste the cocktail. I had to sample this smoke infused cocktail twice for accuracy along with a couple of other bourbon based cocktails. Burgers By Josh were launching a menu and I sucked in about three of their smoked “spicy turkey wingettes” with peach and bourbon BBQ sauce. The food bloggers on the guest list talking about “the biggest burger that I ever ate”.

Cheers.


Anti-Muralism

For the past three years murals, very large multi-story painted walls are the popular form in Melbourne’s street art. Murals are also very popular in advertising and with socialists. Van Rudd says that wants to revive the tradition of political mural painting in Melbourne that happened with Geoff Hogg in the 1970s.

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Murals are seen as community art solution, read Tony Matthews and Deanna Grant-Smith “How murals helped turn a declining community around” in The Conversation, as well as an advertising technique. Dvate’s painted banner for The Lion King in 2015 or HaHa’s 2016-17 3MMM banner at Macaulay railway station, a favourite old haunt of HaHa when he was running around the city getting his name up. Smug’s mural on Otter Street promoting a luxury apartment development, makes gentrification cute. The popularity of murals makes for endless commercial applications.

I think that I lost a lot of my interest in Melbourne’s street art when murals became the dominate form of street art. I don’t like most murals, street art or otherwise, as I have already written about the Harold Freedman mosaic mural on the Fire Station. So I don’t feel as motivated to write about street art, although I have written about Rone and Adnate’s murals.

Rone in Collins Street

Rone in Collins Street, 2014

I’m not sure what it is about murals that I don’t like, after all they are just very large paintings. I do like a few murals in Melbourne. The Keith Haring mural in Collingwood but that is because I like his other work and the mural is simply a large example. I don’t think of the large walls by sprayed with fire extinguishers full of paint by Ash Keating and others as murals because they are just paint whereas a mural is about something.

Often murals are so about something that it feels like you are being lectured or advertised at. I’m not sure that I want the intended message or non-message of a mural and even if I do then what about people who don’t? The intended mass audience of a mural makes is like advertising. Whereas I like art that is aimed at a small audience rather than the lowest common denominator. The bigger the audience does not mean the better the art; size is kind of pornographic.

At other times there is so little content in a mural, like Rone’s faces, that being content free and abstract would have something more than these substitutes for content. For this reason I found Doyle’s Empty Nursery Blue to be more artistic than any and all of Rone’s murals.

I was also wondering if it is because murals lack a human scale. Murals are different to graffiti pieces in terms of scale. The reach of a graffiti writer defines the height of a piece, the arc of the curves so that a piece of graffiti reflects a human scale. Whereas the size of a mural is determined by the size of the wall and the equipment used.

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Cam and Scale, Brunswick 2017


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