Author Archives: Mark Holsworth

About Mark Holsworth

Arts administrator, artist, musician, philosopher and writer. Writes Black Mark - Melbourne Art and Culture Critic.

Final Post for 2014

This is my final post for another year. May I wish Happy 10th Anniversary to Richard Watt’s SmartArts on 3RRR, the Melbourne Prize, Blindside, Brunswick Arts Space and Trouble Magazine; all of which have made an impact on Melbourne’s art scene in their first decade. Another milestone worth recording is that John Buckley Gallery closed at the end of this year.

Melbourne Art Fair 2014 at the Exhibition Building

Melbourne Art Fair 2014 at the Exhibition Building

Thank you to everyone around the world who has read and has subscribed to this blog. It has been a strange year for me as one of the least powerful people in the art world, an online art critic, an independent writer and researcher, a blogger. I have been trying to be more professional about this doing freelance writing for a number of publications. I have my ABN (Australian Business Number) number now. (See my About page for links to most of these publications and also a few of my oil paintings).

I have spent a lot of time in 2014 in the Melbourne’s Magistrates Court covering the Paul Yore case. I have been out of my depth and out of my areas of expertise but it was important to report on the events. (See my post Are You Experienced?) Although Yore was found not guilty and police were ordered to pay all legal costs it left me with this feeling of dread that this will repeat as Australian culture refuses to learn. That case along with so many other aspects of Australian culture, racism, crimes against humanity, lack of human rights, all make me pessimistic about the future.

Sally Field

Sally Fields installation at the Conspirators

It seemed as if some of the major themes of the year was exhibitions titled Wunderkammer and doing art with the idea of taxidermy. Amongst my favourite exhibition this year were the Conspirators curated by Carmen Reid, Performprint by Joel Gailer and Michael Meneghetti at the Meat Market, and In Your Dreams, curated by Edwina Bartlem and Victor Griss at the Counihan Gallery in Brunswick.

For a summary of Melbourne’s street art in 2014 see my previous post.

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I would like to take a break, have some more time for reading, my own painting and just relax in the summer heat but as I contemplate a break I start to receive the first invites for exhibitions in the new year. Unlike previous years many Melbourne galleries aren’t closed for all of January, there is an opening at Kings ARI on the 9th of January. So I hesitate to forecast how long this break will be.

I am looking forward to 2015 as my book on Melbourne’s Sculptures is now planned to be released in April.

Cheers,

Mark

William Eicholtz, Courage, 2014

William Eicholtz, Courage, 2014


Street Art 2014

Standing on the fourth floor balcony of Emerald House in South Melbourne with a cold beer in my hand watching the sun set from the south-side of the city and contemplating the end of 2014. Around me are many of the luminaries of Melbourne’s street art scene: Factor from Invurt, Luke Cornish (aka E.L.K), Toby from Just Another Agency, Luke McManus, Alison Young, Dean Sunshine, David Russell GT, Mini Graff… enough of the name dropping but you get the picture.

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The occasion is the Melbourne premier of a new documentary on street art, Cutback by Rachel Bentley. Cutback was filmed between 2011-2014 in Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, Berlin, NYC and London this documentary concentrates on the pertinent topic of the acceptance of street art by major art prizes, major galleries and collectors. Cutback is not just a documentary but also a digital platform with more interviews and room to expand.

After the documentary there was a tour of the three story carpark at Emerald House that was painted in 2012 (see my post Melbourne Underground). The paintings are still there and more have been added.

Luke Cornish, Dean Sunshine and Factor

Luke Cornish, Dean Sunshine and Factor

The night before almost the same crew was assembled for the launch of Dean Sunshine’s new book, Street Art Now featuring his photographs of Melbourne and elsewhere. The book launch featured a silent charity auction for a set of large panels by notable artists that were made for Melbourne’s Spring Fashion Week.

Dean Sunshine has made good on his pledge to put the profits of his previous book Land of Sunshine back into more publishing (the same pledge applies to the current book). This time it is a hard back book with better photographs and a foreword by David Hurlston, Australian Art Curator at the National Gallery of Victoria. The photographs are accompanied by online references for each artist acknowledging how much of the street art scene is online.

Every year, there is the launch of another book on Melbourne’s graffiti street art, this year there was two:  Alison Young in Street Art, Public City – Law, Crime and the Urban Imagination (Routledge, 2014) and Dean Sunshine Street Art Now.

Every year in Melbourne’s street art scene it appears as if there is another existential threat to the street art of Hosier Lane, from the departure of Andy Mac, to the CCTV cameras and now the construction of a multi-story hotel. It is a reminder of the ephemeral nature of street art. It is also a reminder of corrupt nature of Australian politics with the then Planning Minister Guy giving the approval for the project as a kickbacks for political donations to his party.

In many ways this year was like any other year in Melbourne. So what else has happened in Melbourne street art scene this year? Otherwise for street art in Melbourne the main story is that it has been a year of murals lots of new big murals around Melbourne, most notably from Rone and Adnate, and the finally restored, old Keith Haring mural.

Rone murals, Lt Collins Street

Rone murals, Lt Collins Street

As the summer sun sinks below the Docklands high rise I contemplate the question: does all this mean that Melbourne’s street art has ‘sold out’, that it has become mainstream, that it is no longer real?

None of what I’ve noted in this post should be taken as evidence for that. Looking at the great wall of skyscraper rising along the Yarra giving way to older low rise buildings, a few with bombs and tags high up on them, there is no reason to believe that Melbourne’s street art, although it is more widely appreciated, has lost its way (see my post from last year for more on the future of street art). Street art and graffiti are not endangered species, rare, fragile things; in Melbourne it is strong, enduring and pervasive. Writers keep spraying, taggers keep tagging, stickers keep sticking, artists keep painting, haters keep hating, and everyones still posting on Facebook or Instagram.

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Reg Mombassa & Mambo

In the late 80s and 90s I remember seeing paintings by Mental As Anything guitarist and artist, Chris O’Doherty (aka Reg Mombassa) hanging at the Melbourne Art Fair. The little paintings of suburban landscapes with a mood of foreboding, the brooding sky hang over the isolated houses set in empty landscapes. They felt like a relief amongst so much large, pretentious and non-representational paintings at the Art Fair.

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Chris O’Doherty considered his work Dada rather than Surrealism but basically he is a popular artist. When he started painting the term “pop surrealism” hadn’t been invented. O’Doherty’s pop surrealism was a cross over hit for rock musician, the high art market, as well as, the rag trade with the surf wear images.

In 1986 O’Doherty joined the irreverent Australian design label Mambo. He was one of the first generation of artists that created fashion from his illustration, a trend that has continued with street artists creating images for fashion labels. Crossover artists have been a feature of the post-modern breakdown of barriers dividing cultures and sub-cultures. O’Doherty’s crossover didn’t impress everyone; the writer, Patrick White, an early collector of O’Doherty’s landscapes didn’t like his Mambo work.

Currently there is are two exhibitions featuring the work of Chris O’Doherty on in Melbourne: Hallucinatory Anthropomorphism is at 45 Downstairs, Flinders Lane, Melbourne and Mambo: 30 years of shelf-indulgence is in the NGV Studio at Ian Potter Centre, NGV Australia in Fed Square.

Hallucinatory Anthropomorphism is a large exhibition of almost one hundred recent works on paper by Chris O’Doherty. Both aspects of O’Doherty’s art are presented: his atmospheric landscapes and his pop surrealism. Many of the works build on his established iconography of three eyed motorcycle riding Jesus, mutant mixes of kiwis and kangaroos and one eyed trees.

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Mambo: 30 years of shelf-indulgence has more work by Chris O’Doherty along with the other artists who worked for Mambo. Curated by Wayne Golding, a former Mambo ‘ideas man’ and t-shirt collector Eddie Zammit. This is not the first exhibition at NGV Studio that Zammit has been involved in; TEES: Exposing Melbourne’s T-shirt culture in 2012 displayed part of his extensive t-shirt collection. There is more than just Mambo merchandise (t-shirts, board shorts, shirts, posters, key chains, belt buckles, stickers watches, patches) and original art work by their designers. The most spectacular parts of the exhibition are the Mambo promotional items, the surf boards and the large sculptures by Hugh Ramage and Peter King based on the drawings of O’Doherty and Jeff Raglus.

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Murray Waldren’s The Mind and Times of Reg Mombassa (2009, Harper Collins) is a workman-like biography of Chris O’Doherty. The large book contains too many details and not enough about his art and music; maybe you just had to be there. I would have preferred more detail about how New Zealand inspired the weirdness in Chris O’Doherty along with many of his compatriots rather than more details of various gigs. Mental As Anything is depicted as an art school band, a typical feature of the 1980s and the band had two art exhibitions as a band. Like Mental As Anything and Mambo surf wear the attitude was to keep on partying until it wasn’t fun anymore. It is hard to tell from the biography if it was ever that much fun for Chris O’Doherty considering the sense of angst in his art.


Readymade in 3 Minutes

I guess that Alan Adler retired this year. Alan Adler was the man who ran the photo booth business in Melbourne for forty years. His analogue black and white photo booths are no longer at Flinders Street Station.

Photobooth

In September 1925 in New York City on Broadway Anatol Josepho opened the first photo booth machine. (Näkki Goranin American Photo Booth (W.W. Norton & Company, 2008, New York). The photo booth was a common modern experience that inspired many people in the pre-digital world to play with portraying their identity.

My own relationship with photo booth goes back more than forty years. I was just two when I had my first photo taken in one. My parents took me to a department store in Canada and inside the automatic glass doors, next to the gum ball machines was a photo booth. It made a profound impression on my young mind. I thought: “Modern.  Everything done by machine.”

Since 1984 I have been working on a project using photo booth machines, documenting my life with a strip or two of black and white photos every year. It started fooling around in London; the machines were everywhere because a weekly tube pass required a photograph.

Mark Holsworth, 1984, London

Mark Holsworth, 1984, London

I was aware of the history of art and photo booths: the Surrealists, Francis Bacon and Andy Warhol.

Francis Bacon’s photo booth photos are reproduced in David Sylvester Interviews with Francis Bacon 1962-1979 (Oxford, 1980) (p.42).

In 1990 Warhol exhibited several hundred photo booth photos at the Robert Miller Gallery in New York. In a review of the exhibition Hilton Als wrote, “What these photographs do suggest is what gesticulating – smiling and relaxing – into the void looks like.” (Artforum March 1990)

Louis Nowra “Grins to silent screams: the influence of photo booths” Art and Australia V44 #1 2006

HatBagUmbrellaMark, 1991

I delighted the strip format, like a comic book panels, in the limitations and the errors made by the mechanical processing. What you can and can’t control. Curtain or no curtain? How do you dress and position your body with in the confines of the small booth.

The photo booth photo is always taken on the way to or from somewhere, it is a pause on a journey. You step out of the public space into a private booth, draw the curtain, insert your coins and pose for the photo before stepping out into public again to await the finished results three minutes later. I went to the photo booths at Flinders and Spencer Street Railway Stations to take photos on the way to friends, to Geelong, Bendigo.

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Now my project has come to its natural, or rather, technological end.

Lindy Percival reported on Adler and his photo booth machines two years ago in The Age.  Local artist Marty Damhuis has a blog, flyingtale about his photo booth work; I wish that I’d seen his and Nadine Allen exhibition of photo booth photos at Platform in August 2009. See photobooth.net for more about photo booths including some of the artists who have used them.

P.S. Actually the remaining black and white photo booth has simply moved a few metres further along Flinders Street station near the entrance to Platform 1.

Interior of Photo Booth at Flinders Street.

Interior of Photo Booth at Flinders Street.


Preston Public Sculpture

Frequently when I mention that I’m writing book on the history of Melbourne’s public sculptures, someone will mention Ron Robertson-Swan’s Vault. The year long controversy is burnt into the psyche of all those in Melbourne who lived in 1980. Reg Parker’s Untitled 8/73 is never mentioned. It is the earliest abstract sculpture paid for with public funds in Melbourne; earlier abstract public sculptures were all owned by corporations, like Clement Meadmore’s Awakening installed in 1968 at AMP Building.

Reg Parker, Untitled 8/73

Reg Parker, Untitled 8/73

Reg Parker’s Untitled 8/73 is out the front of the Preston Library. Parker’s sculpture is an important example of early Melbourne formalist sculpture that was accepted by the community, unlike Ron Robertson-Swan’s Vault. I wouldn’t have known about its significance if I hadn’t been researching the history of Melbourne’s sculptures.

A librarian friend, who once worked at Preston Library told me, after I had mentioned going to see the sculpture that she liked it. It was the size of the sculpture that made it feel in scale with the building. Certainly the current Preston Library staff were very helpful when I made enquires about it.

Melbourne’s northern suburb of Preston is not known for its sculptures but I bicycled over to Preston to see Untitled 8/73 and I saw several more sculpture on the way.

Memorial to Lebanese Migrants

Memorial to Lebanese Migrants

The giant green man in the Ray Bramham Gardens is a memorial to Lebanese immigration. The memorial fits in to my theory of a patchwork Melbourne where every group has to have a statue of their hero as a permanent marker of their existence. (See my blog post Heroes of Every Nation) The folly of this green statue overshadows Bush Projects Three Follies 2014, four brick arches that are installed also in Ray Bramham Gardens.

Michael Snape, The Connection

Michael Snape, The Connection

Michael Snape’s The Connection is out the front of the Preston Town Hall on the corner of High and Gower Street. It is similar to his sculpture at the Docklands, Continuum 2005, a curved steel form with shapes cut out. At the launch of Continuum on February 22, 2006 Snape’s said: “’Continuum’ is essentially about the dance between people; the pleasure of weight and gravity, movement and rest, spatial relationships that grow out of human interaction. Our interconnectedness, the shapes that conspire out of those meetings are not often applied to sculpture. Western figurative sculpture has focussed on the heroic individual. Apart from depictions of war or religious narrative the multi-figure composition was more part of an Eastern tradition of art. Perhaps it is because we are acknowledging that, that we are part of Asia that I am able to devise such a picture now.”


Free Books

The little Free Library in Coburg is along the Upfield bike track between Reynard Street and Moreland Station. It is a very well done; a neat little red school house style with a pitched roof and glass doors

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The setting is completed with a matching red seat, a sign and a small garden, wedged in between a fence and the bicycle track. Guerrilla street architecture is practical way to help the whole community; public seating may be a useful as free books.

The sign reads: Little Free Library – Borrow, donate or exchange – Have fun – In memory of David J. Cumming – “Uncle Dicky”

I’ve no idea who David J. Cumming was but the little library is fun tribute to his memory.

little free Library

The collective noun for books is a ‘library’ and, although the Little Free Library is not a circulating library that circulates its collection by lending books, nor a research library that holds a collection, it is still a library. It is a street distribution/exchange library, that informally distributes books between people privately without records. Imagine encountering a free library a couple hundred of years ago, or in a totalitarian regime, an anarchic intellectual paradise.

It is an interesting cultural note that books are becoming increasingly difficult to sell new or old. New forms of book swapping are emerging: Book Crossing, Book Mooch and Little Free Libraries. http://www.bookcrossing.com http://bookmooch.com http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_swapping

According to Little Free Library Map there are also ones in Seddon, Kingsville and Hawthorn, and Thornbury. I didn’t find the one that was, according to the map, on Kendall Street in Thornbury near the Merri Creek. I wasn’t surprised, I’m sure that some come and go without being recorded, like many things on the street. http://littlefreelibrary.org/ourmap/


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.


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