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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.

No Face by Sunfigo

Sunfigo’s No Face is an unofficial guerrilla art exhibition. I think that this started when Melbourne based street artist Sunfigo did a portrait of Trump and then crossed it out; more crossed out faces followed, including those of Bill Gates and Betty Windsor. A mirror face, a face obscured by smilie face, along with some older images of heads by Sunfigo. Sunfigo has been doing street art for at least six years now and has established a line in geometric drawing that works for ribbon on chainlink fences, stencils and pieces made of tape.

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This is Sunfigo’s second attempt to unofficially join in Melbourne’s White Night. In 2016 Sunfigo tried to put on a guerrilla exhibition as part of White Night but it didn’t last ten minutes. This time he has been more successful with an exhibition held in Platypus Alley off Lt. Bourke Street. Platypus Alley is a short, dead-end, unreformed and unused, even as a service lane. No-one currently uses the one door that exits onto the lane. The one door is blocked with a part of a granite arch that has been abandoned there.

The exhibition was already badly damaged (yes, No Face was defaced) by the time that my friend Vetti saw it on White Night. I’m not sure how much worse it was when I saw it but about half the art had been stolen. Almost every one of the works stuck up with liquid nails was stolen and only the paste-ups remained. According to the street artist Will Coles people don’t normally steal street art in Melbourne. Perhaps White Nights attracted different people to those who normally explore Melbourne’s laneways. I didn’t know that Sunfigo had so many fans but it is a shame that some of them are greedy selfish bastards.

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Confined 9 – Indigenous prison art

Not every Indigenous person who goes to prison is an amazing artist and far too many Indigenous people are going to prison in Australia. Far too many, land rights activist Noel Pearson’s claim that Indigenous Australians are ‘the most incarcerated people on the planet Earth’ is an accurate claim according to the best available data; well over five times the rate that African–Americans are jailed. And you don’t have to be an amazing artist to do worthwhile art because something that is worth doing is worth doing. Even a first painting by a prisoner, like Ricky W trying to connect with his culture.

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Last year 130 Indigenous artists filling the walls of the St Kilda Town Hall Gallery; this year the annual exhibition by The Torch is even larger. With almost 200 work of art in the annual Confined 9 exhibition there is a great variety in quality and styles. There are some exceptional paintings including works by Bex, Daniel Harrison, Ray Taplin, and Robby Wirramanda. Gary Wilson Reid’s painting Wati Ngintaka Story is an intense and dynamic image from a traditional Pitjantjatjara/Yankuntjatjara story.

So if you think that Indigenous art is all about dot painting then this exhibition will show you there is a lot more. There isn’t one homogenous, big dot of Aboriginal culture, but hundreds of cultures, each with its own traditions and motifs. There are the sunset silhouette landscapes influenced by the Carrolup (Noongar) Art Movement and plenty of art combining traditions.

There is also wood carving, textiles, baskets and ceramics. And an awesome three storey model house Shane J’s Dream House. The house, like a lot of the art, shows what awesome things can be done with persistence, dedication, 5,500 paddle pop sticks, and 4,950 matches.

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The Torch is an organisation that supports Indigenous offenders and ex-offenders by running an Indigenous arts in prison and a community program. It works with hundreds of prisoners in fifteen out of the seventeen Victorian correctional facilities and it continues to work with them after they are released, providing career and in-community support. One focus of The Torch’s program is in assisting Aboriginal prisoners to emphasise a professional approach to art. But the most important part of The Torch’s program is that it is teaching cultural learning and cultural strengthening, which help the prisoners reconnect with their culture. Aboriginal prisoners didn’t want art classes about how to draw or mix colours; what they wanted was to learn more about their own backgrounds and country. They wanted to know about their culture. They wanted to know their totem animal, consequently there are many paintings of turtles from Yorta Yorta people.

There is parallel exhibition, Dhumbadha Munga – Talking Knowledge on at the Eildon Gallery at Alliance Française in St Kilda of the art by the Torch’s arts workers and ex-offenders who have continued an arts practice. Such an exhibition is a necessary part of their professional development so that they can still be practicing artists. The Torch’s founder and CEO Kent Morris’s exhibited two art photographs of natives birds. These are not the kind birdwatchers take yet his carefully constructed images originate with the artist “walking on Country.”

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Robby Wirramanda, Colours of Tyrell #1 and detail of Old Man Goanna


Louise Paramor @ NGV

I first saw a sculpture by Louise Paramor when her Noble ape was exhibited in Melbourne Now 2013; it is currently installed in the garden at the back of NGV International. Other people might know her from her Panorama Station sculpture beside the freeway in Carrum Downs. Then I saw Paramor’s sculpture, Ursa Major being installed in Federation Square for the Melbourne Prize 2014. I hadn’t seen any of her previous twenty or so years of exhibiting sculpture.

Louis Paramor

Louis Paramor, Noble ape, fiberglass, plastic and steel

Currently the NGV is exhibiting Paramor in two large spaces on the third floor of the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia with a specially commissioned installation of new paper sculptures and a survey of her recent colourful plastic assemblages.

Palace of the Republic is a series of massive paper sculptures. Honeycomb paper decorations on a scale that will leave you awestruck. It is a reference Paramor’s earlier artistic practice before she started to collage found plastic objects.

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Louis Paramor, Palace of the Republic, paper, steel, aluminium and plywood

Unlike the personal art of Del Kathryn Barton, exhibited on the same floor to the Potter Centre, Paramor’s sculptures inspires no interest in the artist. There is nothing that I can tell you about her that will help you make any more sense of her art, so I will tell you nothing. Likewise you don’t need to know the history of art, anything of biochemistry or French to make sense of her art. Partially because her art makes little sense; her sculptures are cool and humorous and I know this by the smile that they grew on my face when I saw them.

A curator explains them noting that they “combine formal concerns with a pop-inspired sensibility.” That is arranging found plastic in an asymmetrical way makes them look silly and funky.

Studies for Boomtown is a series of maquettes for sculptures that demonstrate Paramor’s seemingly inexhaustible creativity. Perhaps it is inexhaustible due to the supply of plastic objects in the world.

Louis Paramor

Louis Paramor, Studies for Boomtown, 2016, plastic, steel, wood


Religious Statues in Melbourne

Public sculptures of religious figures are becoming more common in Melbourne. A decade ago there were hardly any but recent commissions seem to have doubled their numbers. The cynical psychologist in me suggests that the erecting permanent statue is a compensation for the decline in religion’s status in Melbourne. I use the word statue, rather than sculpture, because all of them are life-sized realistic figures made of bronze.

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Darien Pullen, Fr. Patrick Bonaventure Geoghegan, 2017

Darien Pullen’s statue of Fr. Patrick Bonaventure Geoghegan (1805-1864) the first Catholic priest in colonial Melbourne, stands with his hand outstretched in a blessing. Installed in 2017 in front of the oldest Catholic church in Melbourne, St Francis Church on Elizabeth Street. The sculptor, Pullen has worked at Meridian Sculpture Foundry since 1984 where he mostly assists in the modelling area. This is the second life size statue of a religious figure that Pullen has made; in 2015 he was commissioned to make a statue of St Patrick, for Australian Catholic University, Melbourne Campus.

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Louis Laumen Mary MacKillop 2012

Louis Laumen’s Mary MacKillop 2012, Catholic university depicts a young female figure plain 19th Century dress. The figure is on a conversation bench; you can sit down next to Mary, if you can squeeze in between the her and dove, but it looks like she is just getting up. She is about to put her book down and stand up. She is looking towards her birth place across the road. It is also a reference to images of the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary, with the dove to symbolise the Holy Spirit. In the middle of Australian Catholic University’s new St Mary of the Cross Square on Brunswick Street that connects to the University. Laumen is best known for his statues of sporting heroes at the MCG, has done other sculptures for the Catholic church, including a previous Mary MacKillop for Penola College in Victoria and St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney. Laumen finds the church’s commissions were less restrictive than those for the MCG.

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Julie Squires, St Mary of the Cross McKillop, 2012

St Mary of the Cross McKillop, 2012 by Julie Squires is installed at the new St Mary of the Cross Mausoleum at Melbourne General Cemetery. A life-sized statue of a nun, an older Mary MacKillop, embracing a little girl. The plinth puts the two figures at eye level for the average viewer. The use of different patinas on the sculpture adds to both the realism and increases the sentimental nature of the sculpture. Its sculptor Squires has taken over from Laumen in sculpting the sporting heroes around the MCG; after all sport is the major religion of most Australians.


Melting into Movement @ Counihan Galler

Two exhibitions of contemporary art that incorporate live performance and video elements for the start of the Counihan Gallery annual exhibition program; Collected Odysseys 2017 by Malcolm Angelucci, Chris Caines and Majella Thomas and All That Is Solid Melts Into Movement 2017, by Kaya Barry, Rea Dennis, Jondi Keane.

Most of the artists in both galleries are wearing all white which works as a screen for the video projections. It also makes the works in the two galleries appear more linked than they actually are.

In both the movement of the artists is determined by the structure of the gallery. In Collected Odysseys (it is difficult to divide the works and assign a title because they overlap) the artists follow the gallery wall as they write. Two videos of artists without their art, a dancer from the head up and a pianist without a piano, projected on the walls and a 2 metre tall stack of ink black books.

In All That Is Solid Melts Into Movement a white gallery wall on casters is pulled and pushed back and forth across the gallery while a video of this is projected onto and then behind the wall. Adding to the drama the wall fits tightly into the gallery space, each time it moves it just miss hitting the video projector mounted on the ceiling by a few centimetres. Then another artist rides a bicycle around the wall as it continues moving forward and back. According to the artists this “allows gallery goers to collectively measure the affects/effects of structural shifts on our everyday experiences.”

There were also several sections of concrete sidewalk on casters but I didn’t experience them moving and can’t comment on the experience. All That Is Solid Melts Into Movement is an out standing work because of the way that the moving wall disrupts the site, uses perspective in a new way and merges the formal with the informal. The moving wall is dramatic, effective and points to the manipulation of the gallery space with walls.


Gorilla carrying off a woman

I thought that I should look closely at something that I hate; Emmanuel Frémiet’s Gorille enlevant une femme (gorilla carrying off a woman) 1887, a bronze sculpture. It won a medal in the Paris Salon of that year. Most people in Melbourne, or Montreal or various other cities would be familiar with Frémiet’s Jeanne D’Arc. In Melbourne it stands, in a strange pairing, with Boehm’s St. George outside the State Library.

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Emmanuel Frémiet’s Gorille enlevant une femme (gorilla carrying off a woman) 1887

Frémiet was a nineteenth century French sculptor who specialised in animal sculptures. I just find some nineteenth century sculpture ridiculous; man’s battle with monster from his unconscious that is in retrospect, in the post-Freudian world so obvious. But Frémiet’s sculpture is far worse than any sexual fantasy because this isn’t simply a prototype King Kong as evidence of the stone hand axe that he is carrying indicates. The tool maker means that this sculpture is perpetrating the ugliest of racist stereotypes. Along with the idea of women as property that foreigners want to steal.

The primeval scene is not referencing classical or biblical mythology but a fantasy of pre-history. It is the kind of thing that you might expect on the cover of one of an old Tarzan books from the 1960s. It is not the kind of images that art galleries collect today. If you tried to sell that kind of shit today there would be a campaign to put a stop to your business because it is both racist and sexist.

There is a snake disappearing under the rock. The obsessive details and the quality of the modelling are enough to save the work but not enough to keep it out of storage at the NGV where I hope it spends most of its time.

Fantasy art and visionary art are now considered as a separate category to serious art but Frémiet’s Gorille enlevant une femme is a reminder that this was not always the case. Fantasy art uses broad metaphors, if they are metaphors, and not symbols or icons. It makes me wonder if the change of art styles in modernism was about a change in meaning expressed than in an outward appearance. The rejection of works like Frémiet and what they meant and resulted in art searching for a different meaning and look. Modernism was about looking for a new subject and not a new way of depicting an old subject.

If I were to write such a grand history of art I would use a broader word like ‘meaning’; a word that could encompass all those fuzzy words like ‘spirituality,’ ‘truth’ and ‘beauty.’ For there was a crisis of meaning in European art due to increasing reports and evidence of death of the one, true God; the same God that was meant to be the foundation of European culture. Meaning in art and the meaning of art started to crumble and the obvious racist fantasy presented in Frémiet’s Gorille enlevant une femme is now best seen as evidence of this disintegration. The patriarchy and its ugly irrational racism in bronze.


Street Art notes January 2018

I had low expectations of the city’s first official street art precinct and they were met. The ‘official precinct’ was launched in December 2017. It is just a couple of murals by Adnate, Dvate, Fintan Magee, Rone and Sofles on walls in Lt. Bourke Street before it ends at Spencer Street. Several big heads and a big orange belly parrot.

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Adnate

 

Most murals in Melbourne serve the interests of property developers or local city councils; similar interests anyway. The realistic images are sentimental, superficial and a distraction from what is happening around the large wall. Murals are anti-graffiti, anti-street art management strategy… but enough about murals (or if you want to read more).

I am look for something else on the streets, something smaller. (The smallest piece perhaps…)

I find a stencil; perhaps, given the geometric lines in the body of scorpion, it is by Sunfigo. A cartoon face by Twobe and one by the internationally renown artist Lister, who blurs the rough line between contemporary art and street art.

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Lov3

An excellent piece and installation by Lov3 in Collingwood. Up-cycling three discarded mattress and using the quilting pattern as snake scales.

Silk Roy

Silk Roy

In Flinders Court I saw a recent piece by local Melbourne artist, Silk Roy. Silk Roy loves painting. Sure many artists love to paint, often painting the same thing over and over again, in that they enjoy that experience. However, Silk Roy’s art shows more than just enjoyment like the conservative mural painters but artistic risk taking, changing and developing. This is graffiti aware of contemporary painting. (Read an interview with Silk Roy on Invurt.) Silk Roy does paint big walls but I doubt that he will be painting a multi-story mural any time soon and that, for me, is a relief.


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