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Tag Archives: Melbourne

Biomorphic public sculpture in Melbourne

Biomorphic surrealism was about making things in the shape of life, often microscopic animal or plant life. Alfred H. Barr defined biomorphism as: “Curvilinear rather than rectilinear, decorative rather than structural and romantic rather than classical in its exaltation of mystical, the spontaneous and the irrational.” It can be seen in the curvy amorphous forms created by modern artists, including Jean Arp and Barbara Hepworth, Juan Miro and Salvador Dali. You might think that biomorphic surrealism was an evolutionary dead-end but it has a surprising number of ancestors, especially in Melbourne’s Docklands.

Adrian Murick Silence, 2001–02

Adrian Murick Silence, 2001–02

The most obvious of these is on the NewQuay Promenade: Adrian Murick Silence, 2001–02. This cluster of white sculptures are clearly influenced by Arp’s biomorphic sculptures.

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John Meade, Aqualung

Aqualung by John Meade in 2006 is like a big black slug or an enormous tube worm with a bifurcating end that stretches through the atrium of the National Bank/Lend Lease tower at 839 Collins Street. “The counter positioning of the sculpture against the utility of the design and function of the building” (artist statement 2006) Melbourne based sculptor Meade was born in Ballarat in 1956 and has a sculpture in the NGV collection and another public sculpture, Riverside Corolla 2011, a suspended sculpture the central atrium in Southbank.

Patricia Picinni, Seats

Patricia Picinni, Car Nuggets, 2006

Patricia Piccinini’s Car Nuggets, 2006 are in the grounds of the Kangan Institute of TAFE’s Automotive Centre of Excellence. Piccinini is famous for her hyperreal sculptures of mutant creatures. In earlier work she made biomorphic mopeds with mirrors like antlers and I took this trio of sculptural seats to be the eggs or pupae of similar creatures.

 

Other biomorphic public sculpture in Melbourne include Matthew Harding’s Fruition 2013 in Royal Park on the corner of Flemington Road and Elliot Avenue. And Alex Goad’s biomorphic Tethya on the corner of Fitzroy and Jackson streets in St. Kilda; Tethya is the genus of some Port Phillip sea sponges. Biomorphic forms are still a fruitful form for many Melbourne sculptors.

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Ten years of Melbourne’s street art and graffiti

Ten years in the history of Melbourne’s street art and graffiti told with a series of artists, crews and events. Rather than another listical of notable street artists this is an attempt at a kind of chronology that points out peaks rather than beginnings and endings. In it there are artists who opened new directions, who could not be ignored, who reinvented themselves or the techniques and the idea of street art and graffiti. There are artists who have persisted along with artists who for a short time made a big impact. It is a list based on my observation of Melbourne’s street art and writing them in this blog.

 

2008: Drew Funk and HaHa

Drew Funk and HaHa are two affable guys, studio mates and friends on the two sides of the aerosol paint use. Drew Funk’s aerosol art and HaHa’s stencil work were once ubiquitous with the Melbourne street art scene.

2009: Ghostpatrol and Miso

The power couple of the emerging illustrative street art scene. Ghostpatrol’s whimsical character illustrations and Miso’s paper cuts were fresh styles and techniques. Neither does any street art now both quickly moving into the fine art and legal murals.

2010: Yarn Wrap and Junky Projects

Both these artists expanded media of street art. Before Bali Portman and Yarn Corner crew there was Yarn Wrap guerrilla knitting. I was sceptical when I first heard about yarn bombing but I was wrong and the technique quickly became a favourite of city councils. Meanwhile, Junky Projects collecting rubbish from the street and transforming it in the most coherent and long term up-cycling project ever.

2011: The Everfresh and the AWOL Crews

The Everfresh crew of Phibs, Rone, Reka, Meggs, Sync, Makatron, Wonderlust, Prizm and the Tooth have been the most significant crew in Melbourne. The AWOL crew of Adnate, Deams, Itch, Li-Hill, Lucy Lucy, Slicer were not far behind and by changing their styles they sprayed their way to more fame.

2012: CDH and Baby Guerrilla

Two ambitious artists who made a big impact but are no longer actively making art on the streets. CDH was the mad scientist of the street art scene; trying out new techniques using fire, hydroactivated paint and creating conundrums for the NGV with his Trojan Petition. At the same time, Baby Guerrilla was reaching for the heavens, trying to fill the largest and highest walls with her floating paste-up figures.

2013: All Your Walls & Empty Nursery Blue

Both projects buffed the walls of Melbourne’s graffiti central to good effect. Adrian Doyle painted the whole of Rutledge Lane blue. And, as a curated part of the NGV’s “Melbourne Now” exhibition, the whole of Hosier Lane was repainted by some of Melbourne’s best graffiti and street artists in All Your Walls.

2014: Rone and Adnate

In 2014 year both artists painted very large legal murals of big faces on big walls. Everfresh crew member Rone painted women’s faces and AWOL crew member Adnate painted Indigenous people.

2015: Kranky and Tinky

Kranky was a crazy explosion of assemblages, then it stopped; maybe the supply of plastic toys ran out. Tinky used even smaller toys to make her little scenes Along with other artists Kranky and Tinky revived the street art in Presgrave Place.

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Lush’s work in Richmond

2016: Lush and Nost

The most irritating assholes in Melbourne’s street art/graffiti scene where there are plenty of irritating assholes. These two guys have made it a speciality. Lush does have a trollish sense of humour but he highlights a problem that is essentially for so much street art, especially murals, they are just click bait. Nost is a tagger, an aerosol bomber who hates street art.

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2017: Astral Nadir

The art Astral Nadir encouraged me to look down at the sidewalk and not up on the walls. With so many walls already painted and the backs of signs covered in stickers Astral Nadir artistically exploring a relatively unused area in Melbourne.


Planning a city

“Between the Street and the Sky” describes itself as a “provocation for Melbourne” rather than an exhibition about urban planning. It is at the City Gallery in Melbourne Town Hall. The elegant little display is certainly provocative in putting the gigantic growth of central Melbourne into perspective. More people are living in tall buildings with an ever smaller footprint. However, increases in population have not been met with an equivalent investment by either the city council or businesses.

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“Between the street and the sky”, model by Christopher White/Bates Smart

Planning is currently a hot topic in Melbourne, maybe in the rest of Australia too. This is because the quality of planning in Australia is catastrophic. Consider another example not covered in the “Between the Street and the Sky” exhibition. A major tourist attraction damaged for the benefit of a short term commercial interest. It could be  the impact of the Culture Kings shop on Hosier Lane, it could be the Apple store in Federation Square or Adani coal mine in Queensland potential to destroy the Great Barrier Reef. Take your pick they are all examples of Australia’s lack of planning. It is not just tourism that is threatened but the environment, to culture, to being able to live a good life.

Rather than focusing on one issue I want to know why Australians repeatedly makes these kind of decisions. I will not be blaming one political party for it because that is simply false and the people who do that are part of the problem, as they are trying to get a short term political advantage while damaging Australia in the long term through entrenched partisanship. I am happy acknowledge that this kind of decision making is not unique to Australia if the Australian demanding this will acknowledge that Australia is amongst the best in the world at doing irreparable damage to its own long term interests.

It is a problem of poor planning, avoiding planning and not planning. It is as if many people living in Australia never intended for Australia to be a permanent residence. Even if they never did, most of Australia’s population arrived planning to exploit the natural resources, become rich and return to their home country. This is especially true of the British colonial immigrants who became Australia’s ruling class. Australians often don’t want any other people in the area because this would additional people who will just reduce the amount that they can exploit. This paranoid and greedy reaction to the limited resources drives both Australia’s abuse of refugees and a local defence of the status quo in suburban infrastructure and planning.

Instead of avoiding the difficult issues Australia needs plans.


A gallery crawl down Flinders Lane

I started my gallery crawl at the Spring Street end of Flinders Lane and worked my way down the hill to Elizabeth Street, having a look in the various art galleries. The art I saw varied from the beautiful, fun and engaging through to the why is this even being exhibited.

Lisa Seward “A thousand kisses deep”

Lisa Seward’s “A thousand kisses deep” at Forty-five Downstairs

Most of the commercial galleries were closed last Thursday for various reasons. Two, Arc One and Anna Schwartz were installing new exhibitions, Lesley Kehoe Galleries in 101 Collins Street was only open “by appointment” and it was too early in the day for Stephen McLaughlan Gallery to be open.

The only commercial gallery that I saw was FLG (Flinders Lane Gallery). It had two wall hanging sculpture exhibitions by the sculptors Richard Blackwell and Dion Horstmans. Blackwell’s curvy op-art sculptures are mesmerising and Horstmans’s look like the graffiti outlines with colour fades.

There were two exhibitions at Forty Five Downstairs. Mike Nicholls exhibition “Bird as totem” features both his wood carvings and works on paper; Melbourne sculptor Nicholls was a founding member of Melbourne’s first ARI, Roar Studios. And Lisa Seward’s “A thousand kisses deep”, an exhibition paintings, etching and installations. The only problem with Seward’s exhibition was that with 58 works it was a bit too much, too obsessive repeating a whimsical surreal thought about parachutes and jellyfish.

At Blindside, Majed Fayad “Fly, Sky High … Dubai” explores the neutral space aesthetic of airport passenger lounges with their bland aesthetics and complete surrender to international commercial interests. In Blindside’s second gallery there is a neon work, “Shift (corner)” by Meagan Streader and Genevieve Felix Reynolds painting on curved aluminium looks like a badly hung poster. There was also a video work, “I’m a steamroller baby” by Kray Chen from Singapore.

Miranda Jill Millen solo exhibition of paintings and ceramic sculptures My Kath & Kim was all boganfreude (a word coined by Brigid Delaney of the Guardian meaning “meaning the thrill you get from reading about bogans behaving badly”). The images based on the tv series Kath and Kim are so close to a copyright violation that only the legal fees are separating it. I think that the City Library can and has a responsibility to do better than simply having a publicly owned space for hire on a monthly basis that doesn’t take commission.

The ceramic cigarettes in Millen’s exhibition were similar to the textile versions of objects in Pimento Mori: Life and Desk Lunch by Chloe Smith at Mailbox Art Space at 141 Flinders Lane. However, unlike Millen’s work, Smith’s fantastic little exhibition is not laughing at outer suburban bogans, like Kath and Kim, but at everyone who has ever eaten at their desk. Smith’s round pimento shaped and coloured invitations were a perfect added detail.

And that concluded my gallery crawl down Flinders Lane and I wanted sushi for lunch.


Laneway tributes to rock legends

Bursting through the bricks of the wall is a giant rock god with shoulder length curly hair singing into a microphone. To make the figure more identifiable he is wearing, unlikely for Bon Scott, an AC/DC belt buckle. This new sculpture was unveiled on Tuesday 6 March. It was widely reported around the world due to the popularity of Bon Scott’s band AC/DC; one of the best reports can be found in Stack.

Makatron, Bon Scott, Melbourne

Makatron, Bon Scott

Why is a twice life-size, Bon Scott should be breaking out of brick wall? Why has he got cracks in him? Why Bon Scott? when there are two aerosol tributes on the opposite wall to AC/DC’s recently deceased guitarist, Malcolm Young. We may never know the answers because I don’t think that anyone has thought beyond ‘cool idea’.

Makatron’s base relief sculpture of Bon Scott in AC/DC Lane is the Melbourne’s first commissioned public sculpture from a street artist. It might be Makatron’s first public sculpture too, as he is more famous for his 2D aerosol murals than 3D work. It is not the first sculpture of Bon Scott; there is one by Greg James standing on an amp shaped plinth at the Fremantle Fishing Boat Harbour in WA, and another holding bagpipes in Scott’s hometown of Kirriemuir in Scotland. None of these sculptures are particularly tasteful, none are nuanced nor deep but then, neither was Bon Scott.

There is plenty of good, even tasteful, intelligent and nuanced street art to see in AC/DC Lane and more was being added when I visited. Makatron is not the first street artist to install a sculptor in Melbourne; there are plenty of un-commissioned examples some can be seen my series on street art sculptures.

Lush, Malcolm Young

Lush, Malcolm Young tribute (not to be implied that I am endorsing Lush’s work as tasteful)

 

There is another Melbourne laneway tribute to a rock singer with Amphlett Lane off Little Bourke St, near Spring Street. The school uniform hanging up is a tasteful tribute to Chrissy Amphlett of the Divinyls; the stack of road-case using the door from the buildings sprinkler-booster box.  Amphlett’s stage costume of a girl’s school uniform was inspired by Angus Young’s stage costume of a boy’s school uniform.

unknown, Chrissy Amphlett tribute

unknown, Chrissy Amphlett tribute


The life and art of Ronald Bull

In 1960 in a corridor of F-Divison in Pentridge Prison a young 19- or 20-year-old artist was painting his largest and most important artwork. The young Gunai (Kurnai) artist was Elliot Ronald Bull, known as Ronald Bull. Nobody is sure about why Bull was in prison; it might been for nothing as F-Division was used for both remand and short-term prisoners. He may have been in and out of there a couple of times for minor offences.

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Detail of Ronald Bull’s mural in Pentridge

While Bull was in prison painted a mural that is still visible today. In it he depicted an idealised Aboriginal camp scene with three lean and muscled men. In the background there is a variety of trees and other vegetation. The landscape has hidden images of kangaroo heads; something extra in the painting for those with time to look. Hidden faces and bodies in the landscape were a feature of Bull’s paintings.

In the mural, Bull depicts an idea of life before European colonisation. It was not a scene that he was at all familiar with, but rather an idealised traditional life. Bull was a member of the Stolen Generation; he had twice been removed from his family, who lived at the notorious government-run Lake Tyers Station. The first time he was taken he was only four months old; in the legal process of this removal Bull would have acquired his first police record, one that would influence all later interactions with the courts and police. He was returned for primary school only to be sent to Tally Ho Boys Training Farm, a Methodist Church institution in Burwood East when he turned 12. At the age of 15 he was fostered out in Melbourne. Along the way he became very interested in art.

pprisonmuralrbull

His 3 metre long and 2 metre high mural in Pentridge is painted with ordinary house paint on a terracotta orange background that also serves as the sky. The other colours stand out against this orange background and, along with the confident painting technique, shows that Bull, although young, was no self-taught painter. Indeed, Bull hadn’t learnt to paint in prison; prior to his incarceration he had studied painting with Melbourne painter Ernest Buckmaster and exchanged letters with the Adelaide-based landscape painter of great eucalyptus trees, Hans Heysen.

Bull’s mural was followed by others in K- and G-divisions at Pentridge. Based on their content, they all appear to have been painted by Indigenous artists, although none were as talented a painter as Ronald Bull. Although it is not currently on public display, Bull’s mural was preserved after Pentridge Prison was closed in 1997. The mural is on the Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Register and protected under the Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006, as well as the Heritage Act 1995, because it is on the Victorian Heritage Register as part of Pentridge Prison.

 

Ronald Bull’s first exhibition was at Morwell in 1965. In 1966–67 he exhibited with Keith Namatjira, the fourth son of Albert Namatjira. In 1973 he sold a landscape painting for $1,150 at the Melbourne Art Show. By the 1970s Bull was exhibiting regularly in Melbourne galleries with notable, non-Indigenous artists, including Ernest Vogel and Pro Hart. I have been able to piece together information about his career from newspaper advertisements.

In 1975 on Sunday afternoon 25 October, Sir Douglas Nicholls, a Yorta Yorta man, footballer, pastor and Aboriginal rights activist, opened An exhibition of Paintings by Ronald Bull at Kew Gallery on Cotham Road. At the time Bull was not called as an ‘Aboriginal’ artist; an advertisement in 1981 described him as: ‘Australia’s greatest Native artist’.

A 1976 advertisement described the ‘the tranquil paintings by Ronald Bull from $95 regarded by many as one of the finest and most gifted landscape artists of the present time’ ($95 then is worth about $550 today). In the ads Bull’s paintings were claimed ‘To Increase 100% in Value’. This all seems over the top given that Bull’s paintings were not expensive to start with; a 1979 advertisement offered Ronald Bull paintings ‘from $65’ (that’s about $280 today and you can buy one for under $300, they have just kept pace with inflation).

Melbourne’s art world was far less sophisticated in the 1970s and early ’80s. It’s hard to imagine buying one of Bull’s paintings from a private sale in Surrey Hills along with paintings by Heysen, Bell and Streeton; or purchasing them from the 1983 Brighton Art Exhibition, a classy affair with an opening night preview hosted by celebrity chef Peter Russell-Clarke and featuring a chicken and champagne supper and a body painting demonstration.

In 1979 Bull was not a well man; ominously a clearance auction of his art was held on Saturday morning 30 June 1979 in the Plaza Arcade in the run-down eastern suburb of Clayton. On 8 September 1979, Ronald Bull died of hypertensive cardiovascular disease at his home at Mont Albert.

Bull’s art was almost forgotten as two new wave of Indigenous Australian artists emerged during the 1980s. Conventional European landscape paintings, like those of Albert Namatjira and Ronald Bull were out of fashion, replaced by Central Desert dot painting by the likes of Michael Jagamara (also spelt Jagamarra or Tjakamarra) and Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri. It was the popularity of these Central Desert dot paintings that would develop into a generic Aboriginal ‘prison art’ style. At the same time, there were urban Indigenous artists, like Gordon Bennett, Lin Onus and many others, who were continuing Bull’s practice of using European media and techniques.


Editorial 2018

A century ago, in 1918, a local reporter reviewed a 14 year-old Salvador Dali’s first group exhibition in the vestibule of the Teatro Principal (now the Teatre-Museu Dali) in Figueres. The reporter wrote of Dali: “He will be a great painter”. (J.L Gimenez-Frontin, Teatre-Museu Dali, trans. Anthony John Kelly, 1999, p.12)

Black Mark at Sweet Streets

Black Mark at Sweet Streets auction.

A century ago, in age of multiple daily papers, there was a lot more room in the papers for regular columnists and reporters who covered a particular beat. The recent decline in newspapers is generally blamed on the internet but would it be more accurate to blame hedge funds? Still only a very local paper would write about a group exhibition with a 14 year-old artist in it.

Maybe that unnamed local reporter wrote that about every young artist he saw hoping that history would remember his one success and forget the many failures. Maybe the unnamed reporter didn’t exist but is a figment of Dali’s self-mythologising. Still I want to be that reporter.

It is now eleven years since I started writing this blog. Eleven years of hoping and trying to be that reporter. The vainglorious aspect of this quest is tempered with the knowledge that arts writers, especially reporters and bloggers, are currently amongst the least powerful people in the arts world. Still I think that it has been about the best use of my time as I could find.

The role of a blogger is not central to visual arts or culture. I suppose it depends on how you want to rate John the Baptist; there is a heresy that claims that he is more important than Jesus, the Johannite or Mandaean heresy, and Tom Wolfe claimed the similar thing about art critics in his 1975 book The Painted Word but I don’t believe him. The quality of the role of the art critic is as debatable as is the quality of any part of art and culture.

I do not only write about exhibitions that impressed me because that would imply that if I didn’t write about an exhibition that I didn’t like it. I don’t write about every exhibition that I see and I do write negative and mixed reviews. I try to write mixed reviews because, in accordance with basic statistics, most exhibitions that I see are average. I believe in kicking up, not kicking down, and that pointing out the flaws of a good exhibition is more productive than those of a poor exhibition.

I to want to continue to provide a view of Melbourne’s visual arts and other aspects of culture. This view is different from connoisseurship, the refined appreciation built up from obsessive repetition and a fandom experience that is over-explained and over-valued. Rather I hope to write about an exploration of the variety, an understanding based on analysis of a larger sample. I want to cast a critical eye on the whole for Melbourne’s visual arts from the major galleries to the ARIs and alternative spaces, from public sculptures to the street art, from art history to fashion.

Perhaps that is more than the un-named reporter a century ago aspired to with his review of Dali’s exhibition but it is right for me.


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