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Category Archives: Art Galleries & Exhibitions

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.


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.


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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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.


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.


Brunswick Studio Walk 2017

It was always interesting to see behind the scenes, artists at work and inside building that you would otherwise not have access to. Admittedly this was often a concrete warehouse but not always. The modernist building housing Perucci Studio and Plein Air Studio has always intrigued me and this was probably my last chance to see it before the area is redeveloped.

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Perucci Studio and Plein Air Studio, Brunswick

What was a good idea last year has become an annual event. This was thanks to its instigators and organisers, Josh Simpson and Charlotte Watson of Studio 23A in Leslie Street and all the artists and studios involved; there was no corporate or council sponsorship of the event.

This year the studio walk was on Saturday and it was longer and larger. Not that the walk went to all of the studios in Brunswick, not even in the area of Brunswick near the train tracks between Moreland and Jewell station.

Including galleries in the walk expanded it and made this free event even more accessible. There were hundreds of people strolling along the route, especially after The Age ran an article last Thursday promoting it.

I didn’t see everything deciding that I had seen the Counihan, Blak Dot Gallery and Tinning Street Presents recently; see my post “an average week’s exhibitions.”

Soma Art Space had a great exhibition of handmade guitars. There were electric and acoustic guitars but my eye was drawn to some of the more eccentric designed cigar-box guitars by Greg McKinnon, made from reclaimed materials.

The diversity of types of studios from the art studios of Studio 23A and Studio Brunswick, the craft studios of Toast Workroom and SoCA pottery, to comic book art at SquishFace Studio. This diversity of the creative ecology of Brunswick is part of its strength.


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