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.

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Walk to Giant

Jamit was planning to buy some spray-paint at Giant in North Melbourne and I agreed to walk with him.

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Setting up for Tiana Sanjaya to paint with spice in front of State Library of Victoria

We started at the front of the State Library. When I got there I found that there was an Indonesian artist, Tiana Sanjaya was setting up to paint with spices. Tumeric, candlenut, horseradish, mustard seed, nutmeg and chilli; it smelt good. It was part of the AsiaTopa 2017, the Asia-Pacific Triennial of Performing Arts.

On the way we had a look at Blender Lane. Now that Blender Studios has closed I was wonder if the quality of the work in the lane will continue without Doyle being present?

Further to that subject, we also looked at the graffiti and street art in Lovelands, a series of lanes near Victoria Market carpark, near the corner of Queen and Franklin Street. It also has the same questions of redevelopment hanging over it. It doesn’t look like much has changed since I saw Itch painting last year during the Meeting of Styles.

We passed another lane painted during the Meeting of Styles in April 2016 but there is more to see on the streets than just graffiti and street art.

I am not just looking at graffiti and street art; I have other interests, like public sculpture. Outside School No.307 on Queensberry Street I stop to look at a Peter Corlett sculpture of Henry Barstow. Henry Barstow was the architect who designed many state schools. I hadn’t seen the sculpture before but this is not surprising given Corlett’s prolific production creating several figures each year.

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Peter Corlett, Henry Barstow, 2011

Finally we reach Giant in North Melbourne. Maybe we should have taken the tram but the walk has been worthwhile. Nth Melbourne is a long thin suburb and its geography of Nth Melbourne is disorientating because the streets are not aligned to the same axis as the grid of Melbourne’s CBD.

You have to be buzzed into the shop. Then there is a room, covered in stickers and aerosol spray paint where we are to leave our backpacks. Then there the room full of spray cans of paint, maker pens, graffiti magazines and more cans of paint, the whole spectrum plus metallics, plus effects…

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“Hello Mark” is the first thing that I hear.

At first I can’t see who is speaking because there is a big dude between me and the voice. It is Toby who runs Just Another Agency. Everywhere I go I run into people that I know, a bonus for writing this blog.

Jamit buys about two dozen cans and even though the cans are cheaper by the half dozen he doesn’t walk away with much change from $150.


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.


Remembering Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner

A memorial to Aboriginal freedom fighters, Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner now stands facing some gates from the old Melbourne Gaol. The corner of Bowen and Franklin Street was the site of their execution and a commemoration held each year on January 20, the date of their execution in 1842.

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Brook Andrews and Trent Walters, Standing by Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner, 2016

Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner engaged in an eight week resistance to English occupation, burning farm houses that ended in November 1841. Tried and hung for the murder of two whalers that they shot at Western Port.

I’m not sure about the memorial while there does need to be public recognition of the Aboriginal resistance I’m not sure that something that looks like a combination between a swing set and a gallows is the best way to do it.

Designed by established Australian artist, Brook Andrews and his production and installation manager, Trent Walters. Although Andrews’s art often explores post-colonial issues this memorial doesn’t much resemble his gallery work, there are none of the patterns, for example.

A set of six newspaper boxes provide a design to contain the didactic elements that explaining the reason for the memorial. It feels odd because while newspaper boxes are a common feature in North America are not commonly seen in Melbourne. The six colours of the boxes are another esoteric part; I am sure that there is an explanation but it is not easily interpretable.Brook Andrews and Trent Walters, Standing by Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner, 2016dsc01967

Andrews & Walters, Standing by Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner, 2016

I am not sure in general about the purpose of memorials, earlier this year I wrote a post questioning the need for another memorial.

Maybe there needs to be some public desecrations of some of the genocidal invaders to balance this out. Unofficial acts do occur like pouring red paint on a bust of Governor Lachlan Macquarie in McQuade Park, Sydney the early hours of Monday 13 February 2017. “Governor Macquarie was the fifth Governor of New South Wales and has a historical significance to the region,” Chief Inspector Sims said. “This memorial is a tribute to his leading role and influence between 1810 and 1821. It is even stranger to have the NSW police making an effort to defend his reputation.

In 1991 the Aboriginal activists Gary Foley and Robbie Thorpe tried John Batman in effigy, using the statue of Batman Melbourne. The names of his crime was hung around his neck: theft, trespass, rape, and genocide. Currently there is discussion about getting rid of the name of the evil Batman from parks, trains stations and other places but maybe his statue should be kept around to be regularly tried in effigy.


Van Rudd at Work

“I wanted to be a conservative painter but something…” Van Rudd pauses, searching for the best way to explain his life and the world. Van Rudd, the nephew of former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, is a politically engaged socialist artist who installs provocative street art sculptures, exhibits the stolen forks of the ultra-rich and parts of exploded vehicles from Afghanistan.

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I wondered what he had been up to since he ran for parliament against Julia Gillard in 2010. As it turns out he is painting a mural the Trades Hall carpark.

It is hard to believe that Van was ever a conservative painter but he was shows me some photos of his early paintings, they are very good but conservative in style. In his late-teens he was painting plein air Impressionist paintings of Brisbane. He then shows me some cool paintings that he did of exploding figures in stylish lounge rooms; paintings that looked like a mix between Geoffrey Smart, James Gleeson and Brett Whitely. He tried the fine art and contemporary art audience and he didn’t get the response was looking for, so he went in search of a different audience.

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Now his audience is not into contemporary art or street art. Now his audience is the union member who has no interest or time for following artists on Instagram or buying art in galleries. It is the person in the street or someone looking at the news. Van sees himself as a propagandist, even though he freely admits that the power of art is minimal compared to economic power. His art is there to support and illustrate the message.

Considering Van’s diverse art practice, from illustrating a children’s book to street art installations, I wanted to know what he did with most of your time as an artist? Did he work in a studio? He doesn’t really have one. When he is not an artist his hobby is indoor football. He also goes to a lot of left wing meetings because he finds that is a condensed way of doing research and getting information.

The carpark walls at Trades Hall are covered in graffiti and Van has had to buff back two large concrete sections. The graffiti in the carpark is a mix of the most basic tagging, by writers like Pork and Nost, along with political slogans: “Unions are part of the detention industry.”

The large mural that he is painting in Trades Hall carpark is just at its outline stage. Van says wants to revive the tradition of political mural painting in Melbourne that happened with Geoff Hogg in the 1970s.

Work progresses slowly, especially with me asking questions. Van with a paintbrush is not as fast as the street artists with their spray cans. He is critical of what he calls the “proletarianisation” and the “hyper-exploitation of street art.” The artist as sole trader has no protection, from exploitation and hazardous conditions especially the street artists working at heights. He tells me that has recently got his CFMEU white card for working on elevated work platforms; scissor-lifts, booms lifts, etc. Not that he is going to be working at height with this mural. He puts on a fume mask to protect against both the paint and car exhaust fumes and gets back to painting.


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.

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