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Tag Archives: 45 downstairs

January Exhibitions

As I set off to explore Melbourne’s art on Thursday I wonder how many art exhibitions would be open this early in the year. I knew that the major institutional art galleries would be open, but I had already seen Andy Warhol – Ai Weiwei at the NGV and Manifesto at ACMI.

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Anthony Pryor, Landscape 3, 1982

I started at the Spring Street end of Flinders Lane with Craft Victoria where there is Timber Memory, a survey exhibition of woodwork in Victoria from the 1970s to the present. It is a rather interesting group of exceptional woodworkers including a block of huon pine inlaid with ebony, granite and jarrah, Landscape 3 (1982) by the sculptor, Anthony Pryor. It is Pryor’s response to the minimalist cube.

At 45 Downstairs there were two exhibitions that were part of the Midsumma Festival, Meridian a group exhibition and Découpages d’hommes a solo exhibition of photographs of nude males by Eureka (Michael James O’Hanlon). The compositions and backgrounds in Eureka’s photographs reminded me of a recent conversation with a friend who had suddenly realised how similar many Renaissance and Baroque paintings are to pornography. I was stunned, assuming that everyone who has studied art has read John Berger’s Ways of Seeing.

The Midsumma Festival generally has a good visual arts section and I could have continued along Flinders Lane to the Melbourne City Library where there was another of the Midsumma Festival’s exhibition.

Arc One had a solo exhibition by Tracy Sarroff Barbecue Stalagmites, Balloon Drumstick, but Sarroff’s brand of weirdness and obsessive mark making left me in outerspace.

Further along Flinders Lane the Mailbox Art Space had yet another group exhibition: Cells. Using the individual glass fronted mailboxes as cells in a three-dimensional comic book. The exhibition text makes other references to cells but the artists involved are focused on comics.

Instead of continuing down Flinders Lane because of a lunch date I then turned north. I briefly stopped at No Vacancy gallery in the QV Centre where there was a trade exhibition of Okayama Sake  and Bizen Ware from Japan. Bizen Ware is a traditional type of Japanese pottery made in wood burning kilns.

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Reg Mombassa & Mambo

In the late 80s and 90s I remember seeing paintings by Mental As Anything guitarist and artist, Chris O’Doherty (aka Reg Mombassa) hanging at the Melbourne Art Fair. The little paintings of suburban landscapes with a mood of foreboding, the brooding sky hang over the isolated houses set in empty landscapes. They felt like a relief amongst so much large, pretentious and non-representational paintings at the Art Fair.

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Chris O’Doherty considered his work Dada rather than Surrealism but basically he is a popular artist. When he started painting the term “pop surrealism” hadn’t been invented. O’Doherty’s pop surrealism was a cross over hit for rock musician, the high art market, as well as, the rag trade with the surf wear images.

In 1986 O’Doherty joined the irreverent Australian design label Mambo. He was one of the first generation of artists that created fashion from his illustration, a trend that has continued with street artists creating images for fashion labels. Crossover artists have been a feature of the post-modern breakdown of barriers dividing cultures and sub-cultures. O’Doherty’s crossover didn’t impress everyone; the writer, Patrick White, an early collector of O’Doherty’s landscapes didn’t like his Mambo work.

Currently there is are two exhibitions featuring the work of Chris O’Doherty on in Melbourne: Hallucinatory Anthropomorphism is at 45 Downstairs, Flinders Lane, Melbourne and Mambo: 30 years of shelf-indulgence is in the NGV Studio at Ian Potter Centre, NGV Australia in Fed Square.

Hallucinatory Anthropomorphism is a large exhibition of almost one hundred recent works on paper by Chris O’Doherty. Both aspects of O’Doherty’s art are presented: his atmospheric landscapes and his pop surrealism. Many of the works build on his established iconography of three eyed motorcycle riding Jesus, mutant mixes of kiwis and kangaroos and one eyed trees.

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Mambo: 30 years of shelf-indulgence has more work by Chris O’Doherty along with the other artists who worked for Mambo. Curated by Wayne Golding, a former Mambo ‘ideas man’ and t-shirt collector Eddie Zammit. This is not the first exhibition at NGV Studio that Zammit has been involved in; TEES: Exposing Melbourne’s T-shirt culture in 2012 displayed part of his extensive t-shirt collection. There is more than just Mambo merchandise (t-shirts, board shorts, shirts, posters, key chains, belt buckles, stickers watches, patches) and original art work by their designers. The most spectacular parts of the exhibition are the Mambo promotional items, the surf boards and the large sculptures by Hugh Ramage and Peter King based on the drawings of O’Doherty and Jeff Raglus.

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Murray Waldren’s The Mind and Times of Reg Mombassa (2009, Harper Collins) is a workman-like biography of Chris O’Doherty. The large book contains too many details and not enough about his art and music; maybe you just had to be there. I would have preferred more detail about how New Zealand inspired the weirdness in Chris O’Doherty along with many of his compatriots rather than more details of various gigs. Mental As Anything is depicted as an art school band, a typical feature of the 1980s and the band had two art exhibitions as a band. Like Mental As Anything and Mambo surf wear the attitude was to keep on partying until it wasn’t fun anymore. It is hard to tell from the biography if it was ever that much fun for Chris O’Doherty considering the sense of angst in his art.


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