Tag Archives: Laneway Commissions

Courtroom Artists

Courtroom sketch artists go back to nineteenth century in an on again, off again relationship with printing technology and the courts permitting cameras. In Australia cameras are generally banned from the courts, so in order to have a picture of a defendant appearing in a trial courtroom sketch artists are employed by the media.


One of Wendy Black’s courtroom sketches

Melbourne painter and silk screen artist, Wendy Black has worked as a courtroom sketch artist for Network Ten and other media outlets. I interviewed her about this intersection of art and crime.

Black explained the job. “It is a bit like extras work, you stand around and wait and wait for hours and then you have three minutes of intense action. It is the same with this. You are just given one name and there could be thirty people going through the court that day and you just have to listen for that name. So you are looking very intently at everyone. When that name comes up you have to intensely draw for three minutes and remember what colour eyes, ties and shirts if you haven’t drawn enough in three minutes.”

There are a small band of court artists in Melbourne, about half a dozen courtroom sketch artists working on a freelance basis. Black started working for newspapers and moved to television when in 2005 she rang Network Ten to tell them she had just drawn the accused in a high profile murder at the time, Joe Korp, the husband of the women in the boot story.

In the UK courtroom sketch artists cannot draw in court but must work from memory and notes to produce their drawings outside the courtroom. In Australia and the USA artists are permitted to sketch in the courtroom. There is no restriction on the media that courtroom sketch artists can use. Black had a lot of time to explore different media. “I got very fond of coloured pencil, I must admit.” But there is a limit to what you can bring into court because of security. “I really had to change from Stanley knifes for sharpening very fine points on pencils to going to the dreaded pencil sharpener which I couldn’t bare but now I’ve sort of come back to liking it.”

After the sketches have gone through the media cycle, the artist can keep them or sell them. People and institutions collect these sketches; the National Museum of Australia that has 182 courtroom drawings by Veronica O’Leary of the 1982 trial of Lindy and Michael Chamberlain.

In 2007 Black had an exhibition of her sketches in Langs Lane, part of the Laneway Commission “Three Minute Attention Span”. The exhibition involved her drawing in the Magistrates court for sixteen weeks everyday.

She prepared for this with lots of life drawing. To be a courtroom artist you need to stay in practice with life drawing to keeping your hand in. For budding courtroom sketch artists Black recommends the life drawing sessions where you do the one minute, three minute, five minute drawings before you get into a longer pose.

Monsters, Divers and More on the Street

Walking around Melbourne on Thursday I saw a variety of art on the streets from street art to public art, along with some art in an art gallery that referred to the street.

In Federation Square Theo Jansen’s “Strandbeest” were walking around delighting young and old. The two walking machines made of PVC pipes held together with cable ties are a combination of art and mechanical engineering. Although the larger one is meant to wind powered, that was in short supply on Thursday and pneumatic power was being used instead.

Another, and in my opinion the best yet, tribute to the destroyed Banksy’s Little Diver has been placed in Cocker Alley where the Banksy once was. This is stencil piece contains many references to Melbourne street art including Ha-Ha’s Ned Kelly, Phib’s hand with an eye, Hugh Dunnit’s Pinocchico, and the infamous CTCV capping.

I spotted a couple more of Steaphan Paton’s Urban Doolagahls prowling around the laneways and drinking coffee. (For more on Steaphan Paton’s “Urban Doolagahl” see my recent post: An aboriginal art walk.)

There were fashion shoots in both Duckboard Place and AC/DC Lane; given the use that Melbourne’s fashion industry (along with the wedding industry) makes of Melbourne’s graffiti covered lanes it makes me wonder if they are doing anything to support the street art scene or if they are just exploiting it. I assume that Melbourne City Council charges for the right to close down the lane for a photo shoot (more exploitation of street art).

Further up Flinders Lane I saw Pamela See’s exhibition “White Wash” at fortyfivedownstairs. “White Wash” refers to buffing in Beijing and Brisbane. Brisbane based artist, Pamela See has made paper cuts and cut stainless steel versions of the white brush marks used to cover up unauthorized material on the street. The paper cuts of the brush marks complete with cut paper drips reminded me of Roy Lichtenstein’s enlarged abstract expressionist brush strokes.

An aboriginal art walk

In my peripatetic study of Melbourne’s art this turned out to be an aboriginal art walk. I walked down the neglected north bank of the Yarra River to Enterprize Park to see “Scar – A Stolen Vision”. I had seen the poles from the train many times before but I wanted to see them up close.

Enterprize Park, Melbourne

Enterprize Park is in a small park area between two railway overpasses. The sculpture is well located the 30 recycled wooden pier posts transformed into giant fishing spears, funeral poles and history milestones. “Scar – A Stolen Vision” was produced by Kimba Thompson in 2001 with the artists Karen Casey, Craig Charles, Glenn Romanis, Maree Clarke, Ray Thomas, Ricardo Idagi and Treahna Hamm. It was first displayed in City Square in March 2001was relocated to Enterprize Park in 2003. The poles interpret the history of aboriginal life, from before colonialisation, to enduring the horrors of mission life and genocidal government policies. The title refers to the tradition of tree scaring, left by removing the bark for shields or canoes, as well as, to the healed tissue of a wound.

detail of poles in “Scar – A Stolen Vision”

The posts fit in with the river gums and the pillars of the railway overpass. Trains, trams, skateboarders and tourists pass by the park that is occupied only by a flock of seagulls on the grass, a homeless man sleeping on a nearby bench and me.

Steaphan Paton, “Urban Doolagahl”, 2011

On the way there I encountered one of the “Urban Doolagahl” created by Steaphan Paton, part of the Melbourne City Council Laneways Commissions 2011. The Urban Doolagahl with its red eyes was eating sushi with chopsticks in Tavistock Place. Doolagahl’s like raw fish so the cuisine of the Japanese restaurant would not be problem for this aboriginal spirit creature. It is a super placement of the figure. It is on the same level to the low relief sculptures of the Fletcher Jones men on the next building. These urban pipe-smoking men look like Bob from the Church of the SubGenius (and is Fletcher Jones a secret founding members of this cult?)

When I first saw it from across the street I though that it might be a new work by as street artist (Junky Projects sprang to mind) but on closer examination I saw that it was made of bark. Now that I’ve found it I’m going to have to track down the other 5 who are hiding in various laneways around the city. I know that I walked past one in Flinders Lane later that afternoon but I didn’t see it. I was distracted by a couple of paparazzi photographing some tennis player who was doing some shopping. These Urban Doolagahl are elusive hard to spot creatures.

Having walked up and down Flinders Street I decided to rest my wear legs, sit on a bench and feast my eyes on some of the central desert aboriginal art at the NGV in Federation Square. If I had want to continue the aboriginal art theme of my walk I could have gone further up stream on the north bank of the Yarra to Birrarung Marr. There I would have seen “Birrarung Wilam”, 2006 by Vicki Couzens, Lee Darroch and Treahna Hamm. And “Eel Trap”, 2003 by Fiona Clarke and Ken McKean, a plate-steel sculpture based on the form a traditional eel trap.

Paradigm Shift in Public Art

Walking around the city on Thursday I saw parts of the current Laneway Commission and parts of a previous Laneway Commission. And it reminded me of the words of Ruper Myer, the Chair of the National Gallery of Australia, at the opening of the “Space Invaders” exhibition art RMIT, when he said street art was creating “a paradigm shift in public art”.

Heffernan Lane with Evangelos Sakaris,“Word and Way”, 2001

detail of Evangelos Sakaris, “Word and Way”, 2001

The series of signs by artist-poet, Evangelos Sakaris,“Word and Way” is still up in Heffernan Lane from the first Laneway Commission in 2001. I’ve seen some street art blog that mistaken thought that the signs were part of a street art urban intervention, yes, it is street art but it was officially commissioned.

Reko Rennie’s “Neon Natives” 2011

Reko Rennie’s “Neon Natives” installation in Cocker Alley, a favourite location for Laneway Commissions. “Neon Natives” looks like advertising. The neon tubes and yellow and black zigzag background pattern are all familiar urban images. The background pattern made me want to look to see where the entrance to the multi-story carpark might be and then where all the animals might be.

public art project by Nails, Twoone and Al Stark

I also saw the Graffiti Wall, a public art project part of the “Space Invaders” exhibition at RMIT. The wall is by Nails, Twoone and Al Stark – I’m not sure if it is completed or partially complete (the weather has been very wet). It is opposite RMIT Gallery, in a laneway off Little LaTrobe Street.

The Laneways Commissions in the city and the more recent MoreArts Show along the Upfield train line are evidence of the paradigm shift in public art. This paradigm shift requires a shift in understanding what is public along with what is art. Hopefully this will be an improvement on the bronze statues of historic heroes or the modernist public sculptures of big pieces of metal or stone. The new paradigm for public art may have some problems in its transient and ephemeral nature. What will the city be left with when the temporary art has faded from memories? (I’m sure that it will be well documented – unlike some sculptures and some urban interventions in the past). Permanent public art can create an identity for a location whereas temporary public art can only subvert the identity of the place, like the fake road signs of Evangelos Sakaris’s “Word and Way” – although this work has survived a decade. What do you think about this new paradigm?

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