Tag Archives: artist’s studios

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 coffee shops, like MARS, 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%.

Institutions – Art galleries funded by state government, university, local councils or even privately (like 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 on Museums and Collections , State Galleries & Politics 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 Kozminsky.

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).


Francis Bacon’s Studio

The most important thing that I can think of seeing in Dublin is Francis Bacon’s Studio. Not that Francis Bacon is an Irish artist – he left the country when he was 16 and never returned. And his studio was in London but it has been moved, posthumously to Dublin City Gallery. Bacon is, in my opinion the most important post-war painter, his use of paint to create images are powerful with progressive and experimental techniques.

On a rainy Sunday, at 10:45 I am standing with one wet shoe at the door of Dublin City Gallery, the Hugh Lane Gallery, although it is actually at 22 North Parnell Square. Addresses in Dublin are so confusing, streets will change their name every block, although why this should be confusing for someone from Melbourne where a street will change name when it goes into a different  suburb or just have two different names, I don’t know. Actually the gallery is named after its founder, Sir Hugh Lane, not a street by that name.

15 minutes later I am let into the gallery, there is no queue, just me and three French women and one Irish man.  I go to the bathroom to dry my wet Dunlop tennis shoe and the sock on the hand-dryer. I fear that I might kill the machine before it dries outs the shoe but it does.

Then I go upstairs to see the Francis Bacon studio. The studio is behind glass, you can look in through the door, the two windows and two new viewing holes that allow close up views of paint on the wall and paint brushes. The studio is still a mess, Bacon never cleaned it up his studio (he did keep the rest of his small flat tidy), but every object has been documented by a team of archeologists. So as well as, looking at the actual studio I spent time looking at the computers with the documentation of the studio. Of interest to the street artists who read this blog Bacon did use Krylon and Humbrol spray paints, as well as, basic stencils of arrows and the head of Bacon’s lover, George Dryer.

There are photographs of Francis Bacon and his friends in another room; and unfinished Bacon paintings on exhibition in other rooms. It is a powerful experience and after looking at Bacon’s studio the rest of the gallery seems to be designed around Bacon’s art. The raw canvas of Patrick Scott’s “Large Solar Device” (1964) or Edward and Nancy Kienholtz “Drawing from ‘Tank’” (1989) with empty tin cans, photos etc. All the rough paint, all the drips or splatters, all seem to be influenced by Bacon, of course, this is not true but the effect is that powerful.

Other exhibitions in the Hugh Lane gallery, a room of Sean Scully paintings with their large, rough, geometric brick shapes of paint, and a surprising number of paintings by Canadians. There is an exhibition of portraits of artists by artists: “The Perceptive Eye: Artist Observing Artists”. Whistler paints Sickert and many self portraits, including a late, unfinished self-portrait by Bacon (1991-92). And an exhibition of Ellsworth Kelly “Drawings 1954-62” – Ellsworth Kelly is my least favorite artist, he is so boring but at least his drawings do not take up as much space as his large minimalist paintings.

This entry has been done on the horrible Microsoft Word a program that should never be used by anyone with a brain.


Gustave Moreau Museum

Every time I have visited Paris (all 3 times in my entire life) I have visited this small museum, a favourite of the French Surrealists, the home and studio of Gustave Moreau. Visiting the museum is a great experience and an education for any painter. The Surrealists were the first to recommend the museum but their advice wasn’t popular. When I first visited in the winter of 1984, there were prostitutes working the street and I was the only visitor at the museum. But now the area is more sedate and the museum is even crowded with groups of art students.

Moreau’s symbolist paintings may be less out of fashion now but his fantastic visions of Biblical and classical scenes are still strange. His paintings are bejewelled, ornate, detailed and full of strange symbolist psychological overtones. For this reason his paintings are sometimes included in books of fantastic art but Moreau is a conventional late 19th century painter, a professor at the Paris’ École des Beaux Arts, who lived a comfortable bourgeois life.

In his formal parlour, located underneath the two floors of studio. There is his own art collection, works by Tournour, Burne-Jones, Berchere, along with a portrait of Moreau by Degas. There is also his collection of butterflies, tiger cowrie shells, stuffed birds, a few books, medals and his personal effects. The clutter and extravagance of late 19th Century taste. You can even use his neo-classical toilet with pull-chain to flush; the original ceramic bowl and hand basin are still functional. It is a unique toilet experience.

Toilet at Gustave Moreau Museum

Handbasin at the Gustave Moreau Museum

The studio is hung salon style full of finished and unfinished paintings. It shows every stage of the development of his paintings. You can follow the development of paintings from plaster casts and preparatory drawings, through the rough studies, clay or wax models to sketch figures from, half finished and on to the finished full sized paintings of the same composition. I am particularly interested in his underpaintings that are often wildly different in technique from the carefully finished work.

unfinished painting by Gustave Moreau

To visit the studio is an education in 19th century painting techniques. His importance as a teacher continues after his death in this museum; during his lifetime he taught at the École des Beaux-Arts.

In many it is clear that Moreau starts his paintings on canvas onto which he draw the outline in charcoal or pencil. He then adds the basic colours of the underpainting in a bold manner, although light areas remain untouched to allow the white gesso to reflect light back through the semi-transparent oils. After this he adds his black line drawing, or a white line if the background is very dark, fills in colours and glazes, working from the background to the foreground. However his technique varies between detailed classical colouring in of ink underpainting to loose impressionist brush and palette knife work. In these variety of techniques there are the beginnings of all kinds of modern figurative techniques. It is worth considering that his most famous students were Henri Matisse and Georges Rouault.

There is so much to see in this small museum that it would take days to see all the drawings, to take in the meaning of huge clutter of objects, to absorb the painting techniques. It is part of rare type of art gallery that is the work of one person: in London the equivalent is the Sir John Soane’s Museum (amazing architectural ideas), in Milan the Fondazione Artistica Poldi-Pezzoli (with collections of art, lace, watches and more) and in Dijon the Musée Magnin (home of a family of art collectors). These former residences show art in a more intimate manner, surrounded by period furniture and other collections. They show a particular tastes and interests and not the work of curatorial committees. They may not contain the most famous works of art in Europe but they are amongst my favourite museums.


Gulag @ Counihan

In September 2004 the Counihan Gallery had an exhibition, “Pracitice in Process” that looked at studios in the Moreland area. The catalogue for the exhibition described Gulag studios, amongst the other spaces that were not included in the exhibition as “a private studio housing 4 artists”. It is evident, from the Counihan’s current exhibition “Gulag”, that Gulag studios has grown since 2004, at least in the number of members.

Phe Rawnsley wrote in the catalogue for Practice in Process (2004): “The social psychology of communal studio life shares much in common with that other workplaces. The dialogue, interaction and sharing of ideas that can take place within smaller studio complexes has its social counterpart in the meeting rooms of smaller business organisations. The preservation of past traditions and technologies by artists manifests itself in the heavy printing tables and piles of oil-soaked rags that can be found in many studios. Examples of artists with similar methodologies banding together to share resources are widespread, particularly where that methodology requires the use of large and expensive equipment.”

There is little sign at the Gulag exhibition of shared tradition or technologies or methodologies amongst the artists. Although many of the artists use digital or print technology, there are also a lot of paintings and works in other materials. From the exhibition Gulag studios appears to be occupied by a truly diverse group of contemporary artists.

Some of the artists at Gulag are working with new technology. There is the John Waller’s elegantly simple, prize-winning digital work “Green (breath)” from 2003, Damian Smith’s stereoscopic photographs and Karen Casey’s brain wave generated media. Between the high tech and traditional techniques is Martin King’s etching and hand drawn animation video.

Many of the artists at Gulag work in painting, drawing and printmaking. The paintings by Gary Willis are particularly powerful; in his “Dig” (2001) a green black figure, presumably the artist as he is holding a paintbrush, looks up in desperation from a book. Full of painterly power and set against a burnt orange landscape and sky, this is a great Australian image.

And there are still other artists working in directions as different as Sam Fisher modelling his perspex shirts and other strange garments to Samaan Fieck, Eric Demetriou and Andrew Turland’s “Vent Assemblage 1” (2009). This impressive multimedia construction of DVD, air pump bubbling in an iron tank partially full of water and the longest audio tape loop that I have ever seen or heard. The audiotape looped around a corner of a cell of iron bars and two reel-to-reel tape machines. “Vent Assemblage 1” feels redolent in references to the US detention and torture centre at Guantanamo Bay.

Curator Dr Sheridan Palmer has done a fine job assembling and organising these diverse art works. Evident in the exhibition is the artistic changes that each artist has made in their studio practice at Gulag studios as each of the artists is exhibiting an earlier and current work. 


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