Tag Archives: aboriginal art

State of the Nation @ Counihan

State of the Nation, curated by Kimberley Moulton, at the Counihan Gallery in Brunswick, is a group exhibition of six indigenous artists who live on Kulin and Eora countries. Amongst them the work of Jason Wing, seven years ago I reviewed one of his exhibitions and his work is completely different now,  going from street to contemporary and conceptual.

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Video still from Megan Cope, Blaktism, 2014

Megan Cope is a Quandamooka woman from North Stradbroke Island in S.E. Queensland. Her impressive video, The Blaktism (2014), takes an absurd look at establishing her aboriginal identity at the same time questioning what Australian identity means. It was inspired by her experience in obtaining her ‘Certificate of Aboriginality’.

The video shows a theatrical ceremony where she moves from under the Union Jack to wearing the Australian flag. During the ceremony her pale skin is painted brown and dark contact lens inserted. In the end, after the fluoro dance party celebration, she removes the Australian flag, the contact lens and make-up choosing to return to her original appearance.

Paola Balla’s Unsettling Or The True Story of When Mok Mok Came to the Big Smoke (2016) is a photographic series with text. The title of the work is apt as ‘unsettling’ is disturbing, it is literally the opposite of what the colonial settlers did. To unsettle is to remove that feeling of ownership and familiarity. Balla takes on the spirit of Mok Mok, a female entity from Wemba Wemba Country that steals kids and chops up men. Here she is cooking and washing clothes in an urban domestic setting and composing a massive rant about all the injustices the indigenous women and children suffer.

Paola Balla is a Wemba-Wemba and Gunditjmara woman of Calabrese and Chinese heritage; with this background it is not surprising that Melbourne’s Il Globo has a biographic article about her that emphasises her Calabrese heritage.

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Paola Balla, Untitled and Uncared For (a)

Balla also had a couple of installations in the exhibition, assemblages of objects are hairy and disturbing. Untitled and Uncared For (a) consisted of three objects. A tin cup with a colourful image of “Outback Australia” printed on it, revealing its tourism origins. A kangaroo skin bag that appeared to contain a head and a vintage hand-coloured photograph defaced with fur. In this work identity is removed, to be replaced with a cheap souvenir that is itself uncared for. I wasn’t so impressed with Balla’s Untitled and Uncared For (b), even though I could see the point of the dead native flowers and introduced weeds and the feral fox fur, as it is just a flower arrangement.


March Exhibitions Fitzroy

On Thursday I saw a few exhibition at galleries in Fitzroy.

Sutton Gallery has a post-humous exhibition of paintings by Gordon Bennett, part of his “Home Decor (After Margaret Preston)” 2014 series. The hanging of this exhibition has three pairs of paintings, which felt both tasteful and awkward. This feeling of tasteful but awkward is at the core of Bennett’s “Home Decor” series. Like Margaret Preston’s appropriated Aboriginal shield designs of the Central Australia and Northern Queensland Indigenous communities that Bennett has re-appropriated for this series. These are some of the most appropriate works of appropriation art.

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Gordon Bennett, Home Decor

Also on exhibition at Sutton was a single large painting by Vivienne Binns, “Minding Clouds”. A large blue painting was broken up with vignette scenes, that might represent dreams or memories, painted within clouds raised from the textured surface of the painting.

This Is No Fantasy + Dianne Tanzer is showing series of sexy drawings by Arlene Textaqueen. Textaqueen’s technique with coloured marker pens (fibre-tips and watercolour on cotton rag) just gets better, her compositions are more dynamic and her message about gender, race and Australia is clear.

The exhibitions at Seventh Gallery didn’t grab me. Sorry, Cameron Bishop and Simon Reis, “Leisureland”, and Jenna Pippett, “Grab a Partner”, but I have seen exercise equipment and artists doing exercises in art galleries too often in recent years.

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If People Powered Radio: 40 Years of 3CR at Gertrude Contemporary

If People Powered Radio: 40 Years of 3CR at Gertrude Contemporary is a large exhibition about the community radio station located just around the corner. Curators Spiros Panigirakis and Helen Hughes have created an impressive and interactive display, even building the frame of a house in the main room. The exhibition  not only tells the history of the station but is a contemporary art exhibition that includes works from several notable artists including Emily Flyod and Reko Rennie.


10 Public Sculptures in Melbourne that you have probably never seen

The ten best public sculptures in Melbourne that you have probably never seen.

Springthrope Memorial

1. Springthorpe Memorial. If you have never been to the cemetery in Kew then you will not have seen this over the top, late-Victorian masterpiece of sentimentality created by an all star team. (See my post.)

Will Coles, Consume, 2015

2. Will Coles, various objects. Will Coles is notorious for his small cast objects. You need to look carefully walking around Melbourne. They can be found in surprising locations around the inner city suburbs. Except you won’t find this one in Hosier Lane anymore because it was stolen.

Reg Parker Untitled 8/73

3.  Reg Parker, Untitled 8/73, Preston Public Library. Forget all the hype around Ron Robertson-Swann’s Vault, this is actually the first abstract public sculpture still on public display and still in its original location.

Charles Robb, Landmark, 2005

4. Charles Robb, Landmark, 2005, LaTrobe University. This statue of Governor LaTrobe, Victoria’s first governor turns traditional monuments on its head.

Rolled Path II

5. Simon Perry, Rolled Path, 1997, Brunswick. This is my personal favourite. It is on a bicycle path along the Merri Creek.

Paul Montford, John Wesley, 1935 (4)

6. Paul Montford, John Wesley, 1935, Melbourne Wesleyian Church. I had to look again at this sculpture after the sculptor Louis Laumen told me it was his favourite Montford sculpture, it is very dynamic and lively.

Vikki Couzens and Maree Clarke, Wominjeka Tarnuk Yooroom (aka Welcome Bowl) 2013 (detail 1)

7. Vicki Couzens and Maree Clarke, Wominjeka Tarnuk Yooroom (also known as Welcome Bowl), 2013, Footscray. Rocks spraying fine mists of water remind the public of Aboriginal smoking ceremonies but also provide enjoyment to small children and dogs.

Bruce Armstrong, Untitled (Two Persons Hugging), 1988 (1)

8. Bruce Armstrong, Untitled (Two Persons Hugging), 1988, Footscray. Armstrong the sculptor for the Eagle in the Docklands and on a very quiet suburban street in Footscray there is one of his large sculptures carved out of a tree truck. There are some great public sculptures in Footscray.

Russell Anderson, Apparatus for Transtemporal Occurrence of Impending Space, 2014

9. Russell Anderson, Apparatus for Transtemporal Occurrence of Impending Space, 2014 You probably haven’t seen this sculpture because it so new and you don’t walk along the unfashionable north bank of the Yarra River. (See my post on Steampunk sculptures.)

Steaphan Paton, Urban Doolagahl

10. Steaphan Paton’s Urban Doolagahls, 2011, Melbourne You can’t see the Urban Doolagahls anymore because they were only temporary but they still turn up from time to time.


Marrnyula Mununuggurr @ Gertrude Contemporary

In the late 1980s and early 1990s Gertrude Street in Fitzroy only had only a single gallery on it at 200 Gertrude, the gallery remains although the name has changed, Gertrude Contemporary. A decade ago there were seven galleries on Gertrude Street and now there are only four, Gertrude Contemporary. The artists supply shops are a more stable feature of the street that the transient galleries. Throughout the decades it is the gallery where for contemporary art in Melbourne without any compromises for attendance, popularity or commercial.

Marrnyula Mununggurr, Ganybu, 2015

Marrnyula Mununggurr, Ganybu, 2015

I followed the window washer with his bucket and brushes into Gertrude Contemporary. It is strange to see the window washer at work in the front gallery with all the shavings of stringing bark (eucalyptus tetrodonta) on the wooden gallery floor. It is another world from the street or a gallery, it smells different and smell is something that visual artists rarely capture. The exhibition is Ganybu by Marrnyula Mununggurr.

Walking across the stringing bark, I notice that some of this stringing bark is the same as the pieces on the wall, except that the pieces on the wall have been painted with vertical and horizontal lines. The delicate geometric painted lines on the bark reminded me of post-minimalism with the small parts building up to a greater image. For this not just an arrangement of geometric lines in natural ochers Marrnyula Mununggurr is reproduces her Dajapu clan design of the fish trap and water. The greater image created with all the 252 bark paintings is the Ganybu, a fish trap.

Marrnyula Mununggurr caught me with the fish trap within the fish trap.

At the far end of the gallery, from the same string bark tree, is a larrakitj, a ceremonial pole painted with the same design. It all comes from the same tree, completing the beautiful minimalism of the exhibition.

There is a major difference between the esoteric use of Marrnyula Mununggurr’s clan design and the eccentric painting of David Egan. I was not as impressed with Egan’s Actually Energy Help Light in the main gallery of Gertrude Contemporary, not that I expect to instantly like every exhibition that I see. There was little catch my interest just incoherence. When I read the curators notes I find that five out of the seven footnotes were to David Egan. A couple of the paintings weren’t bad but I don’t have a clue why anyone would care about it, aside from Egan and the curator.

David Egan, Actually Energy Help Light, 2015

David Egan, Actually Energy Help Light, 2015

I forgot to look at Slide, the tiny space at the front door of Gertrude Contemporary. I am always forgetting to look at Slide.


Pentridge – more on prison art

At the bottom of a box of old books, mostly about Africa that my parents brought over to my house I found Denton Prout and Fred Feely, 50 Years Hard, the story of Pentridge Gaol from 1850 to 1900 (Rigby Limited,1967, Adelaide).

It was an enjoyable read although not entirely focused on Pentridge Prison, there is a lot of other details about the Melbourne colony. Sometimes the book lost focus but I wasn’t bored, there is a dramatic short story about a night ride from Geelong to Melbourne that was indirectly connected to Pentridge. Towards the end there is a bit of an examination of nineteenth century penal theory and practice but the book is more about historical story telling than any overall thesis.

There were also a few more anecdotal details about William Stanford, the convict who carved the granite fountain in Gordon Reserve (above Parliament Station) including speculations on who was the model for the boy. However, amongst all these details the authors fail to mention, the crucial detail that Stanford had been an apprentice stonemason before immigrating to Australia.

Stanford Fountain, Melbourne

Stanford Fountain, Melbourne

“Stanford was allowed the use of a shed for his work. The magistrate also supplied him with a kit of tools, and when the artist wanted a model for the eagles which were to ornament the rim of the fountain , he arranged for a stuffed eagle hawk to be sent to Pentridge from Bendigo. Mr Paton also came to Stanford’s aid when he wanted a child to act as model for the nude figure forming the finial of the work – a youth holding up a basket of flowers. Stanford, it is said, made many request to the warders to allow one of their children to pose for the nude, although the warders were willing their womenfolk had other views.” (p.139-40)

The vast site of the old Pentridge prison continues to be rehabilitated and redeveloped into a housing estate. However, apart from the residential development and a few eateries there is little going on in the area. I notice that people keep on searching for ghosts in the grounds of Pentridge prison but it appears rather soulless in the daylight. The old carved granite bluestones retain character but the development appears lifeless. Stone work was a major feature of Pentridge’s prison regime in the early years of the prison, some of it perhaps carved with William Stanford himself.

Elliot Ronald Bull, Pentridge 1

Elliot Ronald Bull, Pentridge 2

Walking around Pentridge Village, as it is now called, I thought that I had finally found the preserved mural by the aboriginal artist, Elliot Ronald Bull (1942-1979) that I heard about. Like Stanford, Bull already had already studied painting before being sent to prison. In 1960 (or 1962 or 1964) Elliot Bull painted the mural with ordinary house paint in “F” Division. (See my post on Prison Art @ Pentridge.) Although Bull’s mural at Pentridge is his most important surviving artwork (S. Kleinert, ‘‘‘Blood from a Stone”: Ronald Bull’s Mural in Pentridge Prison’, Australian Journal of Art, 14, no 2, 1999, p 93).

I was wrong Bull is not the artist responsible for this painting. The unnamed artist  in a yet unnamed lane, between Pentridge Blvd and Sentry Lane. Now I think that it might have come from the Jika Jika Division exercise yard, as it has steel reinforcing bars embedded in the concrete. There was nothing about its history and it probably adds less to the lane than it did to the prison yard.

Elliot Ronald Bull, Pentridge 3Elliot Ronald Bull, Pentridge 4


Concrete Improvement

I love being proved wrong. Last year I wrote in this blog:

“Although Melbourne has many footpath decorations and a great street art scene writing/tagging in wet cement has not become a street art form. I have never seen anything in sidewalk concrete that could be called art, no matter how broadly you want to apply the term. It is the most basic of text and slogans. Scratching into wet cement is a largely an opportunistic act. (The character of Wanda from the Canadian sit-com Corner Gas is a serial wet concrete graffiti writer, see Season 5, Episode 16 “Coming Distractions”.)”

As I love being proved wrong, I have been keeping my eyes open for art done in wet cement footpaths. The fish scales on the concrete of Ilham Lane in Brunswick were better than average but then on the Fitzroy housing estate, just behind the three giant Matryoshka Dolls, I saw the best incised drawing on wet concrete that I have yet seen.

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It was not by street artists but local aboriginal artists, not old school but ancient traditions. The traditional forms make the work both artistic and relevant in the area. These simple incised drawings shows that traditions can be kept alive in the urban environment and that even concrete paving can be part of street decoration.

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P.S. Even better on a suburban street in Coburg, Melbourne.


Antique Guide to the NGV

Cleaning up her piles of books that belonged to her aunt Catherine discovered a guide to the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) from 1968, the year that it opened the St Kilda Road building. (Well, it is not yet an antique, but it soon will be.) This piece of ephemera is a portal to another time of art in Australia.

NGV Guide 1968

NGV Guide 1968

The guide is small booklet with a purple paper cover, stapled binding and 32 pages with black and white illustrations. Printed by the Aldine Press Pty Ltd., a commercial printer specialising in book and periodicals, still operating in Prahran. There is no price on the booklet but the cover does fold out to include a membership form for the Gallery Society.

The purple cover has the stylised image of the roof of the gallery with the three central courtyards. In the plan of the gallery the courtyards are named both by the architect and after the donors: the oriental courtyard, named ‘Coles Court’; the sculpture courtyard, named ‘Lindsay Court’ and the ‘playhouse courtyard’ named ‘Keith Murdoch Court’.

It starts with a dry introduction from Eric Westbrook, the then director of the NGV, mostly about the gallery’s benefactors. There are maps of the two floors of the gallery, showing the original layout of the exhibition space.

The rest of the publication is an introduction with illustrations to the main areas of the galleries collection. It is interesting to note what is missing from the text. The term ‘ethnic art’ is used instead of ‘aboriginal art’. Reading about the European art collection it is remarkable to notice how much is about English art and that France is not mentioned, although the Impressionists are.

“Highlights of the European twentieth century are works by Modigliani, Rouault, Delaunay, de Stael, Tapies, Soto and others.” (p.23)

The description of Australian art, then housed on the second floor of the St. Kilda Road gallery, clearly shows Australia’s ‘cultural cringe’.

“Australian Art is essentially a colonial art drawing its stylistic impetus from the metropolitan centres of the world. Originally English traditions were paramount while in the later nineteenth century, French influences predominated. To-day, the styles of Western European Art have become universal and interacting. American abstract expressionism and the kinetic experiments of the French Groupe de Recheche d’Art Visuel mingle with traditions of the School of Paris and have their influence there. However, the particular life of this country and the individual attire of its people, flavour the work of its artists creating a distinctive Australian art. Though the idiom has brome international, the accent remains Australian.” (p.27)

Many aspects of the NGV have changed but I did note that the galleries collection of William Blake drawings remains a consistent feature of the galleries exhibition of Prints and Drawings department; Blake’s “The Whirlwind (Angel Crossing Styx)” is illustrated on page 11 and his drawings were on exhibition again this year.


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