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Category Archives: Blogging

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.

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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 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 (both Gant and Siddique were acquitted on appeal in 2017). 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
  • Has any information Timur Grin or Anthony D’Souza
  • Has any information about John Allen Haywood of Mount Druitt
  • Knew Ivan and Pamela Liberto in Toorak
  • 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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1000th Blog Post

This is my 1000th Black Mark blog post. That means approximately 4,000,000 words and 1,400 photographs. There has had 495,000+ 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).

Mark @ Sweet Streets

I started this blog in on February 16 in 2008. My first Black Mark blog post was about the painting of the wall of Faster Pussycat and actually includes a video of several notable Melbourne street artists, including Phibs and Deb painting a wall in Fitzroy.

When I started writing this blog it gave me a new reasons and motivation to look at art and Melbourne. I started to look around in a new way. James Gleeson suggested that the role of the art critic is that of an explorer, leading others to new and interesting discoveries. Every week I try to see several exhibitions, walk the streets of Melbourne, as well as spending time reading and researching. I would like to see more art exhibitions but I can’t be everywhere; there is so much to see and Melbourne’s vast geographic sprawl does not make it easy for me.

Between the art galleries I am looking for graffiti, street art, ghost signs, urban design and public art. Other things that have caught my interest from the design of micro-parks to drinking fountains.

It was not just ‘paintspotting’, craning my neck to look down every lane that I passed in I case I spotted some graffiti or a ghost signs. Writing the blog gave me a reason to think more and follow up with further investigations into what I had seen. That research has lead me in many directions, a good hobby should do that, expand your interests rather than narrow them.

Last year my first book was published, Sculptures of Melbourne (Melbourne Books, 2015). My interest in public sculpture grew from writing blog posts about various sculptures. I couldn’t have imagined that I would write a book about public art before starting my blog. Looking at my top ten posts you can tell that the public is interested in the subject.

Top 10 popular Black Mark blog posts (aside from the Home and About pages):

  1. Banksy in Melbourne
  2. Types of Art Galleries
  3. Melbourne’s Public Sculpture
  4. Keith Haring in Melbourne
  5. Where is the political art?
  6. Leonidas @ Sparta Place
  7. Political graffiti
  8. More Street Art Sculpture
  9. More of Melbourne’s Public Sculpture
  10. Russell Street Sculptures

 

Slightly further down the list there is a cluster of three posts that I am particularly proud to have written. In Political Motivation Behind Police Raid I  discovered important background to a major story about attempts to censor art and end public funding for Linden Contemporary Arts. More Art Censorship is unfortunately about a similar story; my initial response to Kevin Rudd’s attempt to censor Bill Henson. I feel I got that exactly right. And my post about the relationship between Street Art, the Internet & Digital Cameras where I’m pleased to have used a chemical metaphor to explain their relationship.

I will be celebrating my 1000th blog post with a psychogeographical walk this Sunday. This is not a tour, but a classic psychogeographical walk, there is no plan and no destination. According to Facebook 20 people say that they will be joining me on this walk, I feel honoured, nervous, imposter syndrome, looking forward to seeing you and curious about what will happen.

Thanks everyone for reading, subscribing and commenting.


December 2015

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Exit 2015, Friday 11th December, Brunswick Arts

On Friday night across Melbourne many galleries and studios were holding their end of year celebrations. But it wasn’t just the end of another year at Brunswick Arts (aka Brunswick Art Space, Brunswick Art Gallery), it is closing permanently. Eleven years ago Joel Gailer established the gallery in a building that featured an old house at one end and a factory space that opened onto laneway at the other end. On Friday there was a final one night only exhibition using the whole now empty building.

I like the tradition of the end of the calendar year but every year I write these terrible end of year blog posts. Barely coherent rambling pieces of writing but what do I expect? As if I could sum up a year in a few hundred words.

Normally in these end of year posts I write that I won’t be posting anything for another month but the Andy Warhol – Ai Weiwei has just opened at the NGV and Julian Rosefeldt’s brand-new thirteen-channel work Manifesto has just opened at ACMI. I anticipate that I will slow down my rate of writing but you never know what will happen. I hope I will take a break, part of being a self-employed professional means taking holidays, otherwise you will burn yourself out. (There is also professional development, or you will decay over time.)

Sculptures of Melbourne cover

Personally 2015 was a great year, a real point of self actualisation as my first book, Sculptures of Melbourne was published. I had two book launches, conducted several walking tours of Melbourne’s public sculptures (one of these was part of Melbourne’s Writers Festival) and a book talk at Brunswick Public Library. So support a local publisher, your local bookshop and buy my book.

Consequently I am being invited to visit a lot more sculptors at foundries or in their studio, however there has rarely been a story in it. In other public art new this year Mr Poetry on Fitzroy Street had his leg broken by a truck, nobody celebrated the 150th anniversary of the Burke and Wills Monument and Alex Goad’s Tethya was installed on the corner of Fitzroy and Jackson streets in St. Kilda.

This year I missed covering the story of Makatron’s Kama Sutra Burger at Land of Sunshine. Censorship, street art and Brunswick, it had all the elements of one of my blog posts, but I can’t write about everything. I also missed the story of the guerrilla exhibition about tagging in the Alexandra Avenue underpass under St. Kilda Road; I finally saw it this week and it had been systematically tagged.

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Grit, an exhibition of tagging, Melbourne

Next year I will be celebrating my 1000th blog post (this is number 992) with a psychogeographical walk in Brunswick on Sunday the 31st January. In March I will also be exhibiting a few of my paintings for the first time in many years. Doubtless I will also be doing a few tours of public sculpture too. (See my events page for more details).

Seasonal greetings and thanks for reading this terrible end of year post.

Live Christmas Decoration 2


My Melbourne Writers Festival

People have been asking me how my book, Sculptures of Melbourne is doing since it was released in May.  I am still working on promoting it, as well as, writing bog posts, pitching for articles and applying for writers awards, the last two without much luck except for a couple of reposts in The Daily Review.

Sculptures of Melbourne cover

I do have a few more events and other things coming up to promote Sculptures of Melbourne. On Sunday there is my sculpture walk for the Melbourne Writers Festival (you can book for on the festival website).

I can’t believe that I am in the Melbourne Writers Festival with my first book. My neighbour Jane, who has written several books and a fun blog about her job on Melbourne’s railways (Station Stories), is green with envy.

The festival liked the idea of a sculpture walk, everyone likes the idea of walking. Last week I was working a sculpture walking map for Walks Victoria. It is almost finished; just a few more photos to upload. Anyone can map out a walk on their website and I notice that there are a couple of street art walks (I am doing my walk for an exchange for publicity).

During the Melbourne Writers Festival I hope that I run into the great pedestrian and writer, Will Self, who is also appearing at the festival. The ultimate horror of an intoxicated fan and first time author who wants to tell him that the solution to his, and J. G. Ballard’s, problem with ending their sci-fi novels is that they should be writing their stories as role-playing scenarios. Actually I’d probably just tell him about Nick Gadd’s superb psychogeography blog, Melbourne Circle. (Don’t worry Will I’m not a stalker.)

Anyway, fantasy conversations aside, Melbourne Books has done a fantastic, unbelievable job at promoting my book. I’ve had the experience of going into a bookshops and not being able to find my book because it has been so prominently displayed.

Charles Web Gilbert, Matthew Flinders Memorial, Melbourne

Charles Web Gilbert, Matthew Flinders Memorial, a stop on my walk.


Book Launch

8057932_orig This weekend I have had two book launches for my first book, Sculptures of Melbourne. It was better than my 50th birthday party but that happened during a heatwave in February earlier this year. It was so great to see so many old friends and to actually meet people that I have only interacted with virtually online.

Why two book launches? The second book launch came about when the publisher, Melbourne Books got a stall at the Art Book Fair at the NGV. So it has been a big week. I have been working social media and writing two speeches for the two book launches.

The book launch at Gallery One Three was amazing, Richard Watts gave a great opening speech. Thanks to Fatima for organising the launch at Gallery One Three. I have so many people to thank for helping me with my first book, I am very grateful for all the help. You might not have thought that you have done much but think about it from my perspective where any help at the right time is so appreciated. Melbourne Art Review covered the book launch and check out the great photos by Matto who took the front cover photo for the book.

Left to right: CDH, Mark Holsworth, David Tenenbaum (Publisher Melbourne Books)

Left to right: CDH, Mark Holsworth, David Tenenbaum (Publisher Melbourne Books)

The second book launch at the NGV’s art book fair in the great hall. I got CDH to introduce me because he is in the book and I thought it would be slightly ironic after his Trojan Petition if he was officially talking at the NGV. It turns out that he is a very entertaining speaker and quickly got the audience to laugh. I talked about how I developed the book from writing about public sculpture in this blog. Then there were more books to sign.

book launch

There is a video of the launch of my book at the NGV, made by Chloe Brien who edited my book and consequently is a well edited video.

The art book fair is another example of the new direction that Tony Ellwood, the NGV’s director is taking the gallery. There were lots of stalls with zines and artist books. Catherine bought a couple of little publications by  Gracia & Louise (Gracia Haby and Louise Jennison). Although there hasn’t been any main stream media about my book (yet) several bloggers have posted about it.

Interview on The Art and The Curious.

Invurt on the book launch.

Art and Architecture on my book.

Public Art Research mentions my book.

Interview on Invurt about my blog and my book.

You can buy the book, Readings bookstore stocks it, or you can borrow my book from the following public libraries: City of Boroondara Library, City Whitehorse and Manningham Library, and Yarra Plenty Library. My events page has more information on my promotional free lunchtime sculpture tours next week. Normal Black Mark blogging will resume shortly.


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