New Mars & Carbon Black

VIP Preview at Mars Gallery, the new Mars Gallery in Windsor; the last time I went to Mars Gallery it was in Port Melbourne. The new gallery has only been opened for four months.

The new Mars Gallery elegant contemporary architect designed art gallery with three floors and a six star environmental rating. In the basement there is the video room, another small gallery space and the stock room which is also has a lift for larger paintings to the main gallery space. Mars’s Director, Andy Dinan emphasised the accessibility of the design; the large glass front that can be completely opened and the main gallery is still wheelchair and pram accessible, one of Dinan’s original desires for a gallery.

Tricky Walsh, The Electromagnetic Spectrum, 2014, gouache on paper (photo courtesy of Mars)

Tricky Walsh, The Electromagnetic Spectrum, 2014, gouache on paper (photo courtesy of Mars)

Tricky Walsh, a Tasmanian artist with a background in architecture makes strange wooden machines and psychedelic paintings. At first it is difficult to imagine the same mind behind both but on closer inspection the detailed connections and architectural arrangements in both become clear. Packed with both factual and poetic content, Tricky Walsh is like a psychedelic version of Tatlin’s artist engineer. The intensity and detail of her paintings cannot be captured with a photography, tiny text reveal that the parts of the images are scientific diagrams about electromagnetic spectrum.

Walsh’s wooden machines are replicas of actual analogue machines, specifically Daphne Oram’s eponymous Oramics machine, along with a waveform scanner and valve amplifier. (See the You Tube video of the Oramics Machine. For those who don’t Daphne Oram was responsible for the sounds in the original Dr Who theme.) However accurate the exteriors of these machines contain the idea that there are tiny people inside machines making them work. Tiny wooden villages take up the space where components would have been. It is all very strange and fantastic.

Also on exhibition at Mars was Alexis Beckett upstairs in the works on paper room. Her exhibition Second Nature is full of beautiful botanical detail in a restrained palette both on paper and an embroidery series and works on paper. In the basement video room there is a three screen video by Brendon Lee about male culture: The Great Divide. It is very long (57 minute duration) so I haven’t seen it all; three screen used very effectively with the two male competitors on the outer screens, separated by the neutral space of the middle screen. Finally in the small basement space there was Jud Wimhurst’s series of skateboards Art Pros. The skateboards are like prop comedy art; I’m not sure if they are commenting about consumerism and art or being more consumer product. On my way to the toilets in the basement of Mars Gallery I spotted Sarah Field, The Aesthetics of Seduction and Disgust standing in the corner.

Sarah Field, The Aesthetics of Seduction and Disgust

Sarah Field, The Aesthetics of Seduction and Disgust

While I was in the area I also had a look at Carbon Black Gallery, a shop front gallery on High Street. It was showing Darren Madafferi’s exhibition of paintings and sculptures: Bush Week.  Madafferi surreal figures inhabit a limited landscape, a small psychic theatre, full of inventive intensity, like Albert Tucker meeting Yves Tanguy in the bush. There was also an exhibition by Carla Gottgens, Hope Longing Loss; I last saw Gottgens stories and photographs of model worlds in MoreArts 2014.


Banksy’s Favourite Criminologist

Going paintspotting with Alison Young around Melbourne suburbs of Brunswick and Parhran is like going for a walk with any other enthusiastic, informed observer of street art and graffiti. Walking around, looking down lanes, camera ready trying to see the splash of aerosol spray paint, the paste-up or, even, street art sculpture.

Except that Alison Young is not just another fan of Melbourne’s street art but the Professor of Criminology at the University of Melbourne and is Banksy’s “favourite criminologist in the world”. (And how many criminologists does Banksy know?)

Alison Young book

Alison Young’s Street Art, Public City – Law, Crime and the Urban Imagination is an academic book, full of citations and an extensive bibliography but don’t panic. The academic nature of this should not put off interested readers, as it is well written and does not require a background in criminology or sociology to understand. The book comfortable ranges in styles from the personal narrative to post-modern philosophy.

Street Art, Public City is not solely focused on the laws that prohibit street art and graffiti or the way that they are enforced. Although there is some old-school criminology in Chapter 5 where Young examines aspects of law enforcement: the appellate process on sentences for graffiti, the lack of distinction in the law between vandalism and graffiti and the political use of James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling’s much referred to “broken window” hypothesis. Young avoids technical language using “the legislated city” instead of ‘nomosphere’ to describe the intersection of law and urban space, while including such technical language in the footnotes.

Street Art, Public City presents a broad view of street art and the city, examining the way that we imagine the city, the issue of public and private space, the multiple uses and versions the city. This is informed by Young’s own exploration of street art in Melbourne, New York, Berlin, London and other cities and her many conversations with street artists. Previously Young, in collaboration with the artists, Ghostpatrol and Miso, wrote Street Studio – the place of street art in Melbourne (Thames & Hudson, 2010) that features interviews with Neils Oeltjen (aka Nails), Tom Civil, Tai Snaith, Ghostpatrol, Ash Keating, Al Stark, Miso, Twoone, Mic Porter, and the Everfresh Crew.

Street Art, Public City is focused on the situation that the art is presented, the affect on both the artist and the viewer. The focus on the situational aspect makes Young’s approach, including her explorations of cities, almost Situationalist especially considering her conclusion of learning to live with the paradoxes that street art generates. The actual street art is not really discussed in the same depth. That said the influence of the art galleries and the art market are examined in some detail.

After so many books on street art that are basically eye candy, picture books with more photographs than words it is a relief to actually read a book about street art. There are fifteen colour photos at the front and a few more black and white photos scattered in the book’s six chapters. Photographs of street art only tell part of the story as there are aspects of street art that cannot be captured in a photograph. Photographs cannot show the duration, very important with ephemeral street art, nor the motivation of the artist and the reaction of the public. Photographs do not explanation the situation and it is the public situation where street art is created and displayed. Street Art, Public City gives the reader more to consider about street art and the city than simply more images.

Alison Young, Street Art, Public City – Law, Crime and the Urban Imagination (Routledge, 2014)


Moreland Summer Show 2014

The Moreland Summer Show is the annual exhibition of “creative City Moreland”. Fifty artists exhibiting fifty medium sized works: paintings, photographs, prints, collage sculptures, assemblage and video.

Some of the artists are art students. Others are regular faces of the Moreland art scene like Peter Hanford and Julian Di Martino. And others are emerging or established artists represented by galleries like Dianne Tanzer, Fehily Contemporary and Stephen McLaughlan. They are all either residents of Moreland or artists with “strong connections” to Moreland, like Janelle Low, the resident Counihan gallery photographer and winner of the 2013 National Photographic Portrait Prize.

Many artists have been attracted to the Moreland area because of cheap rents for both living and studio space; the former light industrial areas providing many warehouses for studios and galleries. However, with the rise of rental prices and the construction of apartment blocks the attraction is fading. Urban growth in the area was a topic for several artists and their artwork along with the hot political issue of the proposed East West Link. With these development this exhibition may prove to be the high water mark of Moreland’s creative tidal surge.

The work were selected primarily on their approach to the theme of this year’s exhibition of “speak out”. The political edge to the theme is typical of the Counihan Gallery. Brunswick, and by default the City of Moreland, has long been a centre of alternative politics and free speech from Noel Counihan to Barricade Books, an anarchist bookshop in the 1990s. (Neither Counihan nor Barricade Books were welcomed in Brunswick at the time and Barricade Books moved to Northcote before closing.)

For me the highlights of the Summer Show are Jenny Loft’s glass and shadow, mixed media sculpture, Shiva Lord Of The Dance: I Miss You and Stephanie Karavasilis’s installation Witness (in the silence). Karavasilis’s Witness (in the silence) is poignant, beautiful and unsettling; it uses text from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse on plaster casts of folded sheets that were scattered amongst the found furniture and objects (old suitcase, children’s shoes and books). Jenny Loft’s Shiva refers to the stolen Shiva Nataraja that the National Gallery of Australia returned to India in September. Combining the old and new materials, the shadow and object elegantly portrays the contradictions of Shiva’s dance of creative destruction.

However, I must qualify my opinions by noting that I was using the preview and the opening of the Summer Show to meet as many local artists as I could and I don’t think that I really looked at all fifty works on exhibition.


On the streets

Eight of my recent photographs along with notes and comments about paste-ups, aerosol pieces, street art sculpture, stencils, stickers and yarn bombing that I’ve seen on the street in the last couple of the months.

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Walking around Coburg I spotted Chromatovore putting up this paste up; he was pushing a baby buggy containing his two kids and paste-up materials. Excellent placement and a cool way for a busy dad to do street art.

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Thanks for the ‘warning’ Whop Taps (also in Coburg). Do people read? Do people think?

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Although these funky sci-fi street art sculptures (there are two of them) are hanging on the railway Ansty Station in Brunswick they have not been removed by the railway staff.

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A great aerosol piece in Brunswick – this skull wears the crown. Along the Upfield bike path just up from Brunswick Station, next to a very old face by Mic.

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Stencils in Hosier Lane by PD027. You don’t see that many stencils around Melbourne anymore.

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Radical cross-stitch and yarn bombing by Yarnonymous. I hope that the Australian government is convicted for their crimes of against humanity.

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Inviting comments on Gertrude Street, Fitzroy: “Before I die I want to…” I assume that the cafe provided the chalk.

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I have to ask is this old piece in Collingwood a portrait of Geoff Newton, the director of Neon Parc gallery, because if it isn’t then we have found his long lost twin.


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 finally found the preserved mural by the aboriginal artist, Elliot Ronald Bull (1942-1979) in a yet unnamed lane, between Pentridge Blvd and Sentry Lane. 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) 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


Federation Square & the Melbourne Prize

There is plenty to see and do in Federation Square; someone could probably write a blog and post nothing except all the stuff happening at Federation Square. There is a lot happening all the time both officially and unofficially: music, art, dance, food, videos and that is just what is happening outside.

Pop up Garden

I visited the Pop-up Patch, a vegetable garden in the middle of Melbourne in part of the disused carpark at the end of the Federation Square. There are patches used by restaurants and other people, including a planting of hops by Little Creatures brewery. It is a great little vegetable garden overlooking the Yarra River.

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I normally don’t write many blog posts about Federation Square, I spend more time on Sydney Road, Gertrude Street or Hosier Lane. This is more a case of overrated (and consequently over-reported) and underrated rather than an idea of an authentic Melbourne location. This week I have been exploring Federation Square, walking around looking at the finalists work in the Melbourne Prize for Urban Sculpture 2014. (See my post Installing Ursa Major.)

The six finalists for the Melbourne Prize for Urban Sculpture have work installed in Federation Square but don’t expect to see things of bronze, wood or stone on plinths. Juliana Engberg, Artistic Director of ACCA, said that the sculpture prize “reflects a shift in thinking, a long way from plonk space.” Another one of the prize judges, the sculptor Callum Morton, pointed out that the sculpture can be “propositional, monumental, performance based”.

Geoff Robinson, 15 locations/15 minutes/15 days

Geoff Robinson, 15 locations/15 minutes/15 days

Geoff Robinson was very happy to win Melbourne Prize; the $60,000 cash prize would make most artists very happy. His work 15 locations/15 minutes/15 days is a sonic sculptural event using the space and time of Federation Square. Robinson thanked the hundreds of volunteers who are ringing federation handbells, courtesy of Museum Victoria at the 15 locations each marked with a multi-coloured pole.

On the subject of sonic sculptural work, I have to mention the exhibition of The Instrument Builders Project (IBP) at NGV Studio. I love exhibitions of musical instruments, especially when I can use some of the instruments. IBP is an experimental collaborative project between Australian and Indonesian artists and musicians. It is also fantastic fun, with plenty of instruments that you could play on. Pedal power synthesisers, combinations between strings and percussions, foot pumped horns running on air power. Music as installations driving water and lights. There is a beauty in both the sculptural form of musical instruments along with the awareness of sonic potential in the object.

Back to the Melbourne Prize awards…

Kay Abude was completely surprised to win the $10,000 Professional Development Award. She had just been working in the Atrium, casting plaster ingots and painting them gold, before the Award presentation and was still wearing her work shirt and shorts. She didn’t think that she would win and hadn’t invited her parents.

Kay Abude, Piecework

Kay Abude, Piecework

Aleks Danko was the recipient of the Rural and Regional Development Award.

As I was leaving Federation Square on Thursday evening I saw a woman with a red plastic typewriter and a sign: “Free a Letter” sitting on the plastic grass. She was offering to type what you want to say. I wished that I could have found out more but I wanted to catch the 7:41 Upfield train and couldn’t hang around for another twenty minutes.

As I wrote at the start, there is plenty to see and do in Federation Square.


Picasso Who?

Writing about the scandal of the current Picasso Museum in Paris, there are several Picasso museums around Europe, Jonathan Jones raised the question of how relevant Picasso is in contemporary art. (The Guardian “Nightmare at the Picasso Museum” 16/10/2014).

I was considered this question. For me Picasso is definitely overrated, it is not that I dislike Picasso, although mostly I prefer George Braque’s cubist work. Often Picasso’s works look like preserved relics, hastily done and looking aged before their time. Too look at it more objectively turned to my blog. After writing hundreds of post about the visual arts this blog for seven years how often have I referred to Picasso?

Only nineteen times; compare to the number of times that I’ve references to Andy Warhol (16), Salvador Dali (10), Joseph Beuys (6), Nam June Paik (4), Jackson Pollock (3) and Henri Matisse (2). I am biased and there were too many references to Marcel Duchamp, about 75, even as I restrain myself from mentioning him, to compare him to Picasso as Jones suggests.

MaxCat, Brunswick, 2009

MaxCat, Brunswick, 2009

Of the nineteen references to Picasso only twice have I written about seeing the influence of Picasso on an artist: Maxcat and Juan Davila. “Maxcat’s innovative use of lines and the sense of poetry with the bird on the figures head reminded me of Picasso.

There have been two negative remarks about Picasso but only one was by me and that was more about Picasso being overrated in the popular media. Black Mark: “I never want to see another documentary celebrating the life of Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt, Van Gogh or Picasso” The other one was from Singaporean artist, Kamal Dollah: “My view is, you can bore these kids with Picasso and Rembrandts.”

Most of the other references to Picasso have been largely because he is an extremely well known artist; one of the references is about a sculpture of him at an apartment building in Singapore. He is mentioned three times regarding his sculptures from recycled material and his collage. There are three more references to the 1986 kidnapping of Picasso’s Weeping Woman from the NGV by the Australian Cultural Terrorists. One reference to a Picasso painting in a gallery’s collection, one reference to his dealer, Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler and one quoting the song by Jonathan Richmond and the Modern Lovers.

In the room the women come and go, talking about Picasso – “What an asshole. Just look at his paintings.”


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