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Tag Archives: artist’s studios

The Nicholas Building Open Studios

The antique elevators have been replaced and their fabulous lift operators, Joan McQueen and Dimitri Bradas, have long gone. The letter drop system near the elevators on each floor no longer works; the system that allowed people on each floor to post letters to be collected somewhere on the ground floor or basement. The tiles are coming off the walls. Threatened with redevelopment. But the Nicholas Building on the corner of Swanston Walk and Flinders Lane continues to be a centre for art and design in the centre of the city.

DSC02265It is a very interesting building just to look at an office building from the 1920s. From the lead-lighting of Cathedral Arcade on the ground floor to the ghost signs on the old office doors. Hand painted gold lettering from another era from businesses that no longer exist: Miss V Synan, Alexander Lau Pty Ltd and others.

The Nicholas Building had an open studio evening on last Thursday 22 of June. It has one every couple of years and although I am familiar with the building, its galleries and some of the studios I had not been to one of its open studios before. There were a few performances, exhibitions and other events were happening that night in the building.

I was pleased to see the studio of book sculptor Nicholas Jones. I had seen his work for many years but it was great to put meet the person behind the work and his studio.

Blindside and Stephen McLaughlan Gallery are the long term survivors in a building that has seen many exhibition spaces. Pigment gallery was followed by Edmund Pearce Gallery a contemporary art space dedicated to photography and now Kimono House a shop selling Japanese textiles and craft occupies the same space.

Open studios are like looking inside people’s homes or at least their offices. The studios of artists, architects, cartoonist, clothes designers, cobblers, jewellers, milliner,  toy makers, writers along with the office of the Bob Brown Foundation were open to the public for the night.

There is a growing sense of history about the building. The late, eccentric and artist Vali Meyers once had her studio on the 8th floor of the building. There is now a small engraved brass plaque on the door frame of her former studio.

I have been writing about the Nicholas Building since I started blogging. The Nicholas Building might be worth a chapter, if someone was going to write about contemporary artists studios in Melbourne as Alex Taylor has done with his book, Perils of the Studio (Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2007, North Melbourne).  Perils of the Studio is about artists studios in Melbourne in the 1890 and early 20th Century. It is a very interesting, well researched and perfectly illustrated book (I know from experience how difficult doing a first book as an illustrated text can be so I am even more impressed by what Taylor has done).

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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.


Studio Visit

The sculptor, William Eicholtz’s studio is at the far end of a graffiti covered back streets of Windsor. He and other artists have shared this former factory space for about twenty years and the idea that the area will someday be redevelop keeps Will awake at night.

As is customary in Melbourne when visiting shared studio, Will took me around to meet each of the artists. Some I had seen some of their work before but had yet to put an artist to the art, or type out their name multiple times in a blog; that does help to imprint it on my mind.

The main studio space is set out like an open plan office where five of the artists worked. There was another room with ceramics kilns, Will’s moulds and two of his sheep that he had carved in marble in China and that had recently sold. As well as, a small store room for smelly chemicals and paints. Only Jennifer Pinder had a separate room; Jennifer was half way through a complex abstract painting of weaving lines that would give an ancient monk a psychedelic trip.

There is Janet Beckhouse who the Melbourne Now Exhibition Guide described as “one of Melbourne’s foremost contemporary ceramists”. Janet, like Will, has a rococo style to her ceramics but her version is much darker; beautiful, delicate and horrifying. There was a moment of terror as we look at her work as Janet’s black cat, Noodle jumped through the handle of one of her vases. It was such a tempting cat shaped opening and, of course, Noodle didn’t touch the vase.

Louise Rippert, a mixed-media artists who was working on a post-minimalism great grids of perforated, painted cardboard squares and transparent plastic. What Louise wants to emphasis is the way that her work changes as the viewer moves.

Rose Agnew was working on small paintings based on Alice in Wonderland for the Linden Post Card Show. She was not the only one in the studio planning to enter the show; Will was showed me some small base-relief, faux or imitation grate covers that he would be entering. Will’s small workspace was crowded with earlier sculptures. A small glass cabinet hanging on the wall with small bronze sculptures, Will’s stock room for studio sales.

There was another space, a painter, also new to the studio, who wasn’t there when I visited.

After touring the studio I sat down to tea and marble cake with all the artists to talk about all kinds of things, from the balance between doing larger scale work and the limited studio space to the trial of Paul Yore. Was I just working on background information, developing contacts for future articles and blog posts? One reason why I haven’t written about artist’s studios is that the chaotic, communal studio environment is worse than an un-curated group show as far as viewing the art. I wasn’t sure, I was enjoying the conversation so much that I forget to take my camera out and shoot some ‘studio porn’ as Hyperallergic calls it. Finally, the main reason that I’d come to the studio, the commission for the figure of Justice for the County Court but that will have to wait for another blog post.


Melbourne’s Street Names

When I was at university there was a student, I won’t mention any names because he now works as a lawyer, who stole street signs with the name of the person for 21st birthday present. There were a lot of 21st birthday presents to collect and he became very experienced at removing street signs. It eventually backfired when he stole the street named after the birthday boy’s grandfather.

Street signs are the collective consciousness of the city written up as addresses. Melbourne often does have that much imagination when it comes to naming streets, lots of old signs of loyalty to the British Empire or pathetic memorials to old city councillors. How streets got their names is one of the boring subjects that urban historians engage in (for that kind of thing see eMelbourne Lanes and Alleys). I could comment on the recent addition of green historical note signs underneath some of the street signs.

In the late 19th Century Melbourne City Council was often petitioned to change the name of lanes that had acquired a bad reputation, for example Romeo Lane became Crossley Street. In the late 20th Century Melbourne City Council took to renaming lanes as tourist attractions and to celebrate local international stars: Dame Edna Everage (surrounded by bulbs like a make-up mirror) and AC/DC Lane (with lightning stroke). There are some streets still need to be renamed; Coco Jackson Lane in Brunswick needs to be renamed to remove the racist nickname “coco” from the street named after the boxer.

But there are also some amusing street names in Melbourne.

To Punch Lane – doesn’t Melbourne have enough problems with violence?

While I’m on this subject of the history of Melbourne’s street names – locals refer to ‘the Paris End’ of Collins Street without remembering why. It was the presence of the artist’s studios and not the later addition of street planting of trees that lead to the eastern end of Collins Street being called “the Paris end”. Melbourne’s first sculptor Charles Summers started the trend. He had a studio and foundry in Collins Street where he cast the Burke and Wills Memorial in 1865. The sculptor Margaret Baskerville (1861-1930) had her studio in Collins Street. She married the painter and sculptor C.D. Richardson in 1914 and Richardson also had his studios conveniently located in Collins Street. Grosvenor Chambers, a custom built complex of artist’s studios at 9 Collins Street housed many famous Australian artists including Tom Roberts, Arthur Streeton, Clara Southern, Charles Conder, E. Phillips Fox, John Longstaff, Max Meldrum, Mirka Mora, Albert Tucker and Wolfgang Sievers. It was established in 1888 and held artists studios until the mid 1970’s when all but the facade of the building was demolished. Artists still have studios in the city but the Paris End of Collins Street has become too expensive.


Brunswick – Home of the Arts?

A Domino’s pizza has opened in Brunswick at the new development next to the Lebanese bakery where you can buy a herb and vegetarian pizza for $2.50. Alister Karl of Brunswick Arts recommended the bakery too me and I have enjoyed their traditional pizzas for many years now. The opening of franchise next to a Lebanese bakery is an ugly sign of the redevelopment of Brunswick. What was once a working class suburb filled with brickworks and other factories has been slowly gentrified. The gentrification of the Sarah Sands, a venue where my band once had a residency, in between its existence as a strip club and before it’s current transformation in 1993 into an Irish pub, part of the Bridie O’Reilly’s group.

Artists are finding the rent in Brunswick too expensive and the old warehouses that house many of their studios are being redeveloped into apartments. In mid 2009 Moreland Leader reported that the area was both too expensive and that there were more professional musicians living in Brunswick than anywhere else in Melbourne.

“In time, artists and the creative industries that surrounded them would be credited with having been directly responsible for the redevelopment of Shoreditch. In many ways artists were the storm-troopers of gentrification, the first wave of individuals who could be counted on to take over the most basic industrial units and bring them to life.” (Gregor Muir Lucky Kunst, 2009 p.176)

Property redevelopment is a typical symptom of contemporary art; artists in New York, London or Melbourne discover a long neglected suburb (Shoreditch in London or Brunswick in Melbourne) with affordable spaces to turn into studios and galleries, this brings the suburb to the attention of more people and eventually the property developers. And the pattern is repeated in a different location. In Michael Thompson’s Rubbish Theory, (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1979) – Thompson describes the chaos mathematics of the forces operating that depopulated inner city suburbs and make them attractive places to redevelop.

Contemporary artists are the property developer’s friends for discovering locations worthy of redevelopment. There are other similarities between contemporary artists and property developers, besides their interest in spaces and locations; both are in the business of selling an expensive and limited product.

Although Brunswick has long been the residence of many artists and the location of many artists studios attracted by cheap rent and proximity to the city. But, unlike the boho Brunswick St. in Fitzroy, Brunswick it did not had many cultural institutions of its own until the last decade. There have not been many pubs with a notable reputation as band venues, alternative cinemas or theatre. Now there is the Cornish Arms and the Retreat Hotel along with the move of community radio station, 3RRR to a building in Brunswick.

Cities are never static systems and a suburb that remains the same dies.


Everfresh @ NGV Studio

At the NGV Studio in Fed Square the Everfresh crew: Phibs, Rone, Reka, Meggs, Sync, Makatron, Wonderlust, Prizm, The Tooth, and “special guests” are giving a taste of the awesome work that they have been doing on the streets of Melbourne for a decade. The exhibition is worth seeing for anyone at all interested in Melbourne street art; the art presented at NGV Studio is worth seeing and shows the range Everfresh’s art on the streets. And it is always fascinating to see artist’s studios. But there is something wrong with the way the NGV is presenting this exhibition/residency.

Everfresh's studio in the NGV Studio

The most obvious thing was that there is no curatorial information from the NGV on the exhibition or any of the art in the exhibition. The 5 Ws are not covered: who are Everfresh? What the NGV Studio residency is about? Where Everfresh is based? Why they are in the NGV Studio? And how the exhibition work? There aren’t even any labels to identify the artist and work – Everfresh, or the “special guests”? There is information about Phib’s exhibition at Hogan Gallery as if it was all a publicity stunt for that exhibition.

The exhibition runs out around the corner next to the disable toilets – I wanted more. It seems to running out before that as there are 2 display cases still wrapped in plastic standing empty in the space.

It is “a selection of artworks from over the last 10 years, plus a whole heap of other stuff from the studio that kind of makes it what it is.“ (Everfresh website) The exhibition makes it look like Everfresh are already history and their paint splattered shoes, rubber gloves and homemade mops are in a vitrine – and they are at the exhibition. I have seen the archeologically preserved remains of Francis Bacon’s studio in Dublin (see my post about Bacon’s Studio) and Brancusi’s studio in a glass box next to the Pompidou Centre. Both Bacon and Brancusi are dead but I know that the Everfresh guys are still alive and working, they have a lot of other stuff going on right now. There is no music playing, even the video game machine was silent – it was as quiet as the grave or an art gallery when I visited. So there is this feeling hyperreality about the whole exhibition and the “residency” at the NGV studio. Adding to the hyperreality is the Everfresh “Graff Mobile” with a giant fluro marker on the roof rack.

Some of this history aspect to the exhibition is good, like the cartoon design for the massive Fitzroy mural. Or 5yncRone’s cardboard stencil thick with red paint, mounted as a negative. Or the dense display of little photos, postcards, stickers, toys, little drawings and other stuff. Or the old boards thick with tags, paint and other marks. Along with all the items riffing on the Everfresh label.

But I keep asking the question is this exhibition history or is this fresh?


Types of Art Galleries

What is an art gallery?

Yes, it is a simple question but as there are currently about 8 or 9 different types of art galleries in Melbourne, there is no simple answer. There are also combinations of these different types, commercial galleries with cafes or rental spaces with stock rooms.

Almost all art on sale is sold on consignment with commissions between 10 – 60%; for those of you who consider this high remember that ordinary retail mark-up about 30% to the wholesale price with bookshops marking up to 50%.

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Institutions – Art galleries funded by state government, university, local councils or even privately (like Ten Cubed in Melbourne or MONA in Hobart) with permanent and/or temporary exhibitions and perhaps a permanent collection. They are called a variety of names: museums, institutions, collections or galleries. Some are very large like the National Gallery of Victoria whereas others are small like the Gallery @ City Library.  The larger ones are well staffed with professional curators and gallery attendants. As these galleries receive funding the choice of art that they exhibit is not dependent on sales. Sometimes they charge entry fee, otherwise there are nothing for sale except at the gift shop/coffee shop. (See my posts: Institutional Art Galleries in MelbourneMuseums and Collections , State Galleries & Politics, Private Collection Public Exhibition and 2Do @ Art Museum.)

Art Dealers – These galleries are selling art purchased for on selling; they may also, sell on consignment from collectors and artists. Their exhibition does not change except for sales or to rotate stock, for example Charles Nodrum Gallery or Louraine Diggins Fine Art.

Commercial Galleries – Feature a program of temporary exhibitions from artists represented by the gallery, for example, Australian Galleries or Niagara Galleries. The ACGA (Australian Commercial Galleries Association) represents many of the major commercial galleries in Melbourne. Commercial galleries will have a stock room of art on consignment directly from the artist. Most commercial galleries will have one or two staff at work. (See my post about Commercial Galleries.)

Rental Spaces – Art galleries that are rented to the artist for temporary exhibitions. The gallery does not represent the artists. Rental space galleries are the most common type of gallery in Melbourne. (See my post about Rental Spaces).

Artist Run Initiatives – (ARI for short) Galleries (or other spaces, like the advertising cabinets at Platform or the mailboxes at Mailbox 141, both are ARIs) run by artists. Some are basically same as rental spaces except run by a group of artists, for example Brunswick Arts or 69 Smith. Other ARIs have a more alternative program and aspire to be small institutions of contemporary art, like TCB, Seventh or Westspace. Some ARIs do receive a small amount of government support. (See my post about Artist Run Initiatives – ARI who?)

Both rental spaces and artist run initiatives aspire to appear the same as commercial galleries, so it is hard to tell them apart and the lines are not that clear. Some institutional and commercial galleries rent their space exhibitions.

Studio Gallery – Galleries continually exhibiting the work of a single artist with exhibition space attached to the artist’s studio, for example, Krista Stewart gallery and studio in Brunswick. Art warehouses with multiple artists studios often have open studios, exhibitions and other other events. (See my post Warehouse vs ARI)

Online Galleries – webpages with art for sale, these are not really galleries because there is no interaction, aside from sales, between the gallery and the artist or the gallery with the public. (See my post about Online Galleries.)

Art Boutiques & Craft/Gift Shops – selling t-shirts, magazines and collectables along with prints and original art by graffiti artists, illustrators and other ‘low brow’ artists. They may have a small area with temporary exhibition but otherwise it is an exhibition of stock. (See my post about Art Boutiques).

Non-Gallery Exhibition Spaces – cafes, furniture shops, private houses, vitrines in public libraries, temporary exhibition spaces, laneways have all been used for art exhibitions. (See my posts about Alternative Exhibition Spaces and Art Squats).

For some specific examples of different types of art galleries read my post about the types of art galleries in Flinders Lane.


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