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Category Archives: Blogging

Where is Tintin?

Where is Tintin? Where is that brave boy reporter from Belgium who uncovers international conspiracies and corrupt corporations? Tintin was a model reporter who  thoroughly and boldly investigated his story. He is there on the spot investigating through coups, international crime and scientific expeditions.

Brussels wall 3 Tintin

Now the world needs Tintin more than ever. Now, when daily newspapers in major cities are closing down, or in Melbourne’s case now only in a tabloid format. Now, when sports, business and entertainment reporting is being automated. Now, we need the voice of the young boy reporter.

Who didn’t dream of being Tintin and what are you doing about it now? Now, anyone can be a reporter and there are a million stories in your city waiting for you to write them. You might not be able to bring down dictatorial regimes like Tintin – but the opportunity is there.

Even if you are not bringing down governments there are the usual journalistic thrills of finding a story, of being the first to report on a story, of finding that your story’s Google ranking is just below the Wikipedia entry on the topic.

The need for real reporters, or citizen journalists, is greater than ever. The world needs more people to act like Tintin and examine the actions of the state and corporations. To report first hand rather than to rely on media releases and media managed events. We need a greater diversity of voices and we need to cover a greater diversity of subjects.

Bloggers are accused of doing thing that the media does it just as often: lack of fact checking, lack of copyediting, copy and paste… It is said that we live in a copy and paste culture, where content is endless compiled from media releases. These accusations and common faults are evidence of the desperation of reporters/bloggers in these times.

And where is Tintin? Well, what do you think happened after he didn’t get paid for all those stories? On the expedition in The Shooting Star, Tintin is described as “the young reporter who will represent the press” (p.14) but we never see him writing a story, even in the final radio news report there is nothing about his story on the Sãn Rico financier that attempted to sabotage the expedition. It is never clear if he a freelance writer or is he on the staff of a newspaper or magazine. You never see Tintin sending invoices or going to editorial meetings. You never see the sponsorship that Tintin needs to pay for his expeditions.

Neither bloggers nor the mainstream media have developed a functional business model for their online versions and most print newspapers have rapidly diminishing revenue streams. When I get together with other bloggers the discussion always turns to how to monetise our blog: donation buttons, sponsorship, advertising…

The actual cartoon Tintin is a different matter, it is still very profitable and in 2015 there was a court case over image rights.

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My next book

When I was busy finishing my last book Sculptures of Melbourne my wife asked me what my next book would be. It was not the question that I wanted to hear then but she did help me work through a few ideas. It was worth asking the question because it was the same question that my publisher asked me just after my book launch. Fortunately by then my wife had helped me find an answer and my publisher liked the idea.

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Pablo Picasso, Femme au mouchoir, 1938

My next book will be A Brush With the Law, stories of true art crimes in Melbourne, or some title like that; I don’t have a deep commitment to titles because my titles have  often been changed. It will be published, whatever the title is, by Melbourne Books in early 2018. To keep to that schedule means finishing writing the book in the next couple of weeks. Then will come meetings with the editor, the copy editor, the book layout designer and eventually the person doing the publicity. For more clues about the content of the book see my blog post from last year.

I have no ideas for another book after this one. I don’t even have ideas to reject and I don’t want to think about that now. Perhaps I will find it writing more blog posts, exploring the city or taking with someone. It is not going to be about taking a walk there are too many people writing books about walking. The best of these books is Frédéric Gros A Philosophy of Walking (translated by John Howe, Verso, London, 2014); this is not ‘philosophy’ as in ‘new age nice thoughts’ but the rigorous hard thinking of Kant, Nietzsche and the ancient Cynics in relationship to ambulation. Not that Gros has written a dense academic examination, it is an entertaining read, but chapters about Ghandi, Rousseau or Rimbaud walking is about as light as he gets.

I haven’t been posting on this blog as often as I usually do because I am working on my book. However after all these years of writing this blog I don’t want to give it up because this is where I get many of my ideas.


10 things I have learnt from my years of blogging

I am now into my tenth year of writing a blog about Melbourne’s visual arts. My first blog post on Black Mark, Melbourne Art and Culture Critic was on February 16, 2008. It was “Faster Faster Pussycat” about Phibs, Debs and other street artists painting a wall in Fitzroy. Now over a 1000 blog posts later this is what I have I learnt about blogging.

  1. Motivation The first thing I learnt was that writing a blog was motivation to do more in life; I was already going to many art exhibitions but now there was more motivative to go to places, meet people and do other fun things. Soon I started to get invitations to do more things and meet more people. Blogging changed my life; although it wasn’t actually the writing, nor the taking endless photos, or the posting online that really made the change.
  2. No Money You are not going to make money from advertising on your blog but there are a variety of other ways that you can use a blog professionally from promotion to networking. My friend, who I met through blogging, Prof. Alison Young used her blog Images to Live By, to introduce herself. Middle aged academics are not a typical part of the street art/graffiti scene but now Alison is “Banksy favourite criminologist”.
  3. Friends I have made many new friends through writing the blog and that has improved the quality of my life. One reason why I have made so many friends blogging is that I mostly write about what other people are doing.
  4. Enemies I learnt how to deal with hostile comments, trolls and other idiots. You can’t predict what will get people to write hostile comments it could be pigeons in Coburg but I never shied away from controversy, writing posts about the persecution of Bill Henson and Paul Yore. When I have hostile comments I always remember that the person writing them will forget about it after a day or two and, if they don’t, that I can always block them from making comments, but I’ve only had to do this once in ten years. Comments are no indication of anything, no comment does not mean a bad post. Out of 1,077 post I have only had 2,099 comments, half the comments are my own because I generally reply to all comments but I avoid feeding trolls.
  5. Focus My blog is focused on Melbourne’s visual arts but I do post about other things on it. Having a clear focus for a blog is important but it is a balance between a very narrow focus and ranging too far. With thirteen categories on my blog I’m not sure that I’ve got it right on my blog but it is a lesson I’ve learnt.
  6. People watching Vox pops can make a good local blog post. These don’t have to be direct quotes, but observations on how people are reacting. I like to watch how small children react at art exhibitions; are they engaged or bored? “Why does a tree need a sweater?” is an example of how one observation of an angry man made a successful blog post about yarn bombing.  Another local bloggers is the writer Jane Routley who writes about her day job in Station Stories, life as a Station Assistant.
  7. Book published You can get a book published from a writing a blog. In 2015 my first book, Sculpture of Melbourne, was published by Melbourne Books. I started writing and researching the book on my blog, before I started my blog I couldn’t have imagined writing a history of Melbourne’s public sculpture. I am now working on my second book about true art crimes in Melbourne.
  8. Stats I learnt from watching my stats the there was an interest in Melbourne’s public sculpture. What the public wants to read about art is different to what many arts writers want to write about. There are a lot of different kinds of feedback that you can get on blogs from comments to stats. Lots of stats, numbers of subscribers, views, repeat views… stats can be addictive. Here a few more stats in ten years I’ve had approximately 537,000 views from 155 countries around the world (still no views from Greenland, Cuba, Iran, South Sudan and various central African countries, you get the idea).
  9. Blogs can be works of art. My blog isn’t but the artist, Peter Tyndall’s blog was exhibited at the NGV in Melbourne Now exhibition in 2013 and there are other less notable examples.
  10. It is hard work On the plus side you are your own boss, your own editor and you make your own deadlines. Ignore the advice about blogging that you have to post regularly. Writing a blog may not be for everyone but it has worked for me and I will continue.

2016: Dada, Punk, Parties

Last Friday night I was at the Blender Xmas Show; it is a longstanding tradition, a blended mix of exhibition, party and open studios. Maybe not for much longer for there is talk about Blender closing, nobody knows anything definite. Has the whole area around the Melbourne market has been rezoned? Research is required but after the Sky Vodka mixers, basically ethanol was mixed with filtered and deionised water marketed in cobalt blue bottles that might have been fashionable in the 1990s and standing around in the warehouse for a couple of hours research is the last thing on my mind.

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What is on my mind is wrapping this blog up for the year and other anniversaries. It is a century after the summer of 1916 when Dada bloomed in Switzerland but who cares, it is history. To commemorate this centennial I wrote some posts about Dada this year; posts about the various historic forces that had aligned to bring the original Dadaists together in Zurich and the small celebrations for the centennial amongst poets in a bar in Clifton Hill.

I re-read my post about the success and failure of Dada after Joe Corre, the son of Malcolm McLaren and Vivian Westwood burnt his Sex Pistols memorabilia. Remember that Dada could not be properly understood until after punk. Ending up in the hands of rich collectors or in museums is not the problem, it is not an indication of success or failure, nor a cause of ossification. Thinking that the success and failure of a movement is dependent on the location of holy relics is as nostalgic as a collector’s desire. Corre was forgetting his father’s three word manifesto: “cash from chaos.”

I am also think what I will do next year with this blog? My first WordPress blog post, Faster Pussycat, was on February 16 in 2008, so early next year in February it will be the tenth anniversary since the start of this blog. This year was a time for big round number milestones for this blog: 1000th posts and 500,000th views. I celebrated my 1000th blog post with a psychogeographical walk. It was not a tour, it was like this blog, a psychogeographical walk, with no plan and no destination. People did give me a presents and bought me drinks, thank you.

I have written some diverse blog this year from a gallery crawl around Chelsea in NYC, to graffiti piecing in Burnside on the far west of Melbourne, to the VR experience of Sean Gladwell’s studio. But the most unusual experience was watching the forgery trial in the Supreme Court.

If you are reading this blog for the first time or for the thousandth time, thank you for reading in 2016.

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The Forgery Trial

Since April 4, 2016 I have been attending the Supreme Court to observe the trial of Peter Gant and Aman Siddique who were accused of forging two Brett Whiteley paintings. Last Friday Justice Croucher finally passed sentence. The jury verdict had been delivered months before, but the sentences had been delayed to hear plea hearings and applications for damages.

The trial of Aman Siddique and Peter Gant was itself is at a trivial crossroads in legal history as it is one of the last cases to be tried in the Supreme Court with the lawyers and judge wearing the traditional wigs. As of May 1, 2016 Supreme Court trials will no longer have the judge and barristers wearing wigs.

For most of the trial Justice Michael Croucher was wearing in his wig and red robes edged with silver. His tipstaff was dressed in the traditional uniform of a long grey coat with black brocade.

The venerable old defence barrister Remey Van De Weil, QC, who was representing Siddique, commented on the loss of wigs in his summing up to the jury. He noted that the wigs going back to the Sun King, Louis XIV of France. Mr Van De Weil used this historical point to emphasise this to the jury. “You are here to apply the principles of law, and that’s why we dress the way in which we do and it’s the only justification for it – believe me; I do not go to bed wearing these clothes, I don’t wear them around the house or certainly don’t wear them walking my dog.” He probably uses the same speech on all the juries.

Remey’s old wig looks like it is made out of horse hair, but the younger wigs in the courtroom are all made of nylon.

All the wigs were off for the sentencing.

On Friday Peter Gant, the art dealer who had sold the forgeries was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment, with a non-parole period of 2.5 years. Aman Siddique, the art restorer who painted the forgeries was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment, with an order for ten months to be served and 26 months suspended. There were several reasons for the difference in the sentences including that there was no proof that Siddique had received any money and because if Siddique served twelve months he would be deported from Australia, as he is not an Australian citizen.

The sentences were not a surprise to those watching the trial. The verdict will probably be overturned on appeal because there is evidence from a couple of witnesses that the two paintings in question existed in 1988.

For most of the time I sat with the large blue painting in its gilded frame known as “Blue Lavender Bay” resting on the padded seats just behind me on the press bench. The slightly smaller painting “Orange Lavender Bay” was further along.

I was not alone on the press bench. The other regulars observing the trial included, Bill Luke and the former arts reporter for The Age, Gabriella Coslovich were also both writing books. We were very occasionally joined by various journalists, generally, Pia Akerman for The Australian.

I have never observed a Supreme Court trial before but I have some experience with court reporting. (Read my blog post Are You Experienced?)

I have not been able to write about most of the trial because my blog allows comments and reporting on a jury trial with online comments risks contempt of court. I was not there for my blog but to work on my book about art and crime. I did find one exception and that was to write about the tagging on the press bench.


True Crime and Art

I am working on my next book about true crime and visual arts in Australia. (My first book  Sculptures of Melbourne of Melbourne was published last year.) This has involved sitting in court, searching archives as well as, my usual activities, looking at art and talking to artists.

Melbourne, like all metropolises has artists, public art galleries, private art galleries, art collectors, art dealers and criminals, everything that is needed for art thefts. Everything that is needed for a lot of other crimes involving art and art involved in crimes.

There are many true stories about the intersection between the worlds of art and crime. I will be writing about the theft of Picasso’s Weeping Woman, of course and also other stories involving art thefts, vandalism of art, vandalism that is art and criminals who do art.

Earlier this year I spent days sitting in the Supreme Court watching the trial of Peter Gant and Aman Siddique for the forging of Brett Whiteley paintings. I learnt a lot about courtroom procedures and how Brett Whiteley’s paintings are framed.

Both Gant and Siddique have been found guilty by the jury but the judgement for that trial has still not been given, so I can’t finish that chapter just yet. Coincidentally it was one of the last trials to be conducted with a judge in a wig.

A couple of weeks ago I was looking at original documents in the State Library’s Heritage Collection Reading Room. I had heard that they had the sketch book of the bushranger and sculptor, William Stanford. When I investigated I found that there were two books. They were waiting for me on the desk with the pillow on it. The pillow was to cradle the spin of the delicate old books, its cover half falling off, pages coming out. I was surprised that I was not required to wear white gloves to handle them but there was enough grim on the pages already from when Stanford was in Pentridge.

I was not allowed to take photographs of Stanford’s notebooks, nor was I allowed to photograph the tags on Supreme court’s press bench where the crime reporter have cut their names. Not that I am worried as my next book is going to be an unusual book about art, one without many pictures.

Mostly my historical research has involved searching old newspapers scanned on Trove. You would not believe the number of paint brushes stolen in Victoria in the nineteenth century but before mass production made them inexpensive. It wasn’t until the twentieth century that anyone actually stole a painting.

Readers maybe able to help me if they:

  • Any serving or retired member of Victoria Police who has investigated any art theft, fraud involving art, vandalism of art or is interested in art crimes.
  • Knew the painter Ronald Bull
  • Has any information about Phillip Richmond O’Loughlin of Sydney from around 1946
  • Knows Timur Grin or Anthony D’Souza
  • Has any information about John Allen Haywood of Mount Druitt
  • Knew Ivan and Pamela Liberto in Toorak. Ivan worked as a mechanic in Diamond Creek
  • Taught visual arts at any prison in Victoria
  • Studied visual arts in prison in Victoria
  • Has a criminal conviction for graffiti in Melbourne
  • Was a victims of art theft or forgery in Melbourne
  • Has been arrested and/or convicted of any crime due to their art practice in Melbourne
  • Was a member of the Australian Cultural Terrorists (ACT)

If you want to contact me about this or any other information about art involving crimes or crimes involving art in Australia I can keep your identity confidential.


Books and Milestones

Today is the anniversary of my first book launch (insert plug for Sculptures of Melbourne here). Recently I passed several other milestones. Earlier this year I posted my 1,000th blog post. And now this blog has had over 500,000 total views! Thanks to everyone for reading it. Cheers!

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The author trying to look through Andy Warhol’s eyes with a sleep mask from the Warhol/WeiWei exhibition gift shop.

I have started researching my next book about art and crime. There are many true stories at this intersection between two worlds, stories involving art thefts, art forgery, vandalism of art, vandalism that is art and criminals who do art. If you want to contact me with information about art involving crimes or crimes involving art in Australia I can keep your identity confidential.

I was able to post an early draft about courtroom sketch artists but I will not always be able to do that. I can’t blog about some of my current research into art and crime, so you will have to wait and read about it in my next book.

For this and other reasons, that I will describe as R&R (research and relaxation), I will be taking a short break from posting on this blog. I feel that I owe my regular readers a note explaining the absence of any blog posts rather than simply vanish and leave them wondering what happened. I hope to be posting my usual mix of exhibition reviews, street art notes, public sculpture history and other items about Melbourne’s visual arts culture in a little over a month.

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