Tag Archives: Blender Studios

Warehouse vs ARI

Daniel Lynch posted on Facebook today. “If you have ever been helped out by the warehouse. If u ever crashed there while u found your way. If u ever painted the walls. If you shot a film here or even just came to party, well come hang out today. I got a garage sale all day and I will be working around the place ripping the old beast down.”

Will Coles, cellphone flower, wall of Good Times Studios

Will Coles, cellphone flower, wall of Good Things Studios

I was looking at Facebook as I was thinking about how to reply to an email from an artist about volunteering at 69 Smith Street. The combination started me thinking about arts warehouses vs ARI; so instead of going to hang out one last time as Daniel ripped the studio walls down I thought that I’d write a blog post. I’d been to Good Things Studio on Coco Jackson Lane in Brunswick a couple of times for various reasons since Daniel established it in 2011. (In a 2012 post I call it Coco Jackson Studios I don’t know if it has changed its name or I just misnamed it with its address.)

There are some important art warehouses in Melbourne arts scene: Irene’s Community Arts Warehouse (where I first met some of the Indonesian artists involved in Taring Padi) and Blender Studios.

So how does this compare to ARI? ARI (artist run spaces) emerged in the 1980s; in 1982 Roar Studios in Fitzroy was Melbourne’s first ARI. Aiming to be bridge between the art school and major art galleries, ARI’s became part of the institution of art exhibiting. They look the same as the major galleries only the white walled spaces are smaller. But perhaps they have run their course especially as exhibiting in a gallery space is no longer essential to contemporary art and when even commercial galleries are opening what they call “project space” or dropping the word “gallery” from their name.

Warehouses combining artists studios and other events have been around since the 1990s. Warehouse parties, Warhol’s Factory and the old mystique of the artist’s studio all contribute to the warehouse vibe. The flexible warehouse space provides better matches contemporary art that might be seen on the street or a site-specific location. It allows for both artists who exhibit in galleries and those who don’t. It mixes the arts; musicians, film-makers and visual artists mixed at Good Things Studio. The community of artists working at the warehouse has a more direct influence on the work of the artist’s involved than the opportunity to exhibit.

For a young or emerging artist in Melbourne establishing an arts warehouse is more artistically significant than establishing an ARI.


An Independent Critic

“I’m terrible with words,” Baby Guerrilla said in her acceptance speech on winning Two Years on the Wall at Union Dining in Richmond.

Yes, I know – artist are good with images and often terrible with words (there are exceptions, of course). And this is one reason why I often don’t consider it worth while talking to artist. There are other reasons why I don’t consider artist’s views that important. I don’t necessarily want to get that close – it creates too many conflicts of interest. Just because I appreciate your art I doesn’t mean that want to be a friend or your publicist (if I was your publicist you would pay me). And I can’t be bothered fitting in with artists’ travel, party or nightclubbing schedules – I have my own deadlines and I can’t wait weeks for a reply to my email.

I am an independent critic – for the artists who are terrible with words look up these two words in a dictionary. Many artists and designers have never had anything critical written about their work. For many the media exists solely as a source of promotional puff pieces and they are annoyed when this blog doesn’t fulfill that gushing role. Art critics are not just there to offer their opinions but to extend the conversation about the art. Without critics the limited conversation would go something like this: “Cool art”, “No, it is shit”, “Well I think that its cool”, “And I think that it is shit”, “We have different opinions”, “Yes, we have different opinions, we can agree on that.” The critic’s role is to extend that conversation for as long as possible by bringing in as much additional material to bear on these opinions as possible. To point out the positives and the negatives – it is not the roll of a critic to gush (see my post on Gushing).

Sunday Times Restaurant Critic A.A. Gill said: “The other thing that people you criticise never know and understand is that, like the mafia, it’s not personal. It isn’t about you, or me, it is about the third set of people in the equation: your audience and my readers. One of the great traps for critics is to believe they are part of the business they’re criticising. In the same way that a traffic warden isn’t part of the automotive business, I’m not part of the restaurant business.” (Smith Journal v.5 p.15)

I am not part of the art business and it is not my job to promote your exhibition, gallery or art.

It is inevitable that I will get to know some artists and gallery owners in my time writing this blog. I was at the Blender Xmas Party drinking the organic beer and hanging out with artists – Joel, Factor, Adi and Heesco. It might be fun but I have to ask myself is this a good use of my time as a critic and won’t it influence my next blog post on their art?

In the ecology of the art world critics are like wolves and other wild dogs, we are not the top predators but nevertheless we are necessary for the environment. We will abandon our kill to the big cats of the art world, the rich collectors and public art galleries (if they buy it we can but skulk around their kill waiting for them to leave so that we can pick over the bones). The effect of critics is grossly over estimated the wild herds of artists, we kill only those that would otherwise have died of disease or starvation within the same season. Sure we could reap havoc on an unguarded herd of dumb domesticated artists but maybe I’m stretching this metaphor a bit far wondering who is the farmer with the gun in this scenario.

Finally there is the right of reply to my posts in the comments section; it doesn’t get enough use.


Baby Guerrilla Wins

‘Baby Guerrilla’ is the recipient of their inaugural art prize, Two Years on the Wall. Two Years on the Wall is a $9000 prize biennial art competition for emerging artists working in mural designs. The winner has their work on the feature wall space at Union Dining Terrace where their work will be displayed for two years, receives a $7500 monetary prize from sponsor TarraWarra Estate and a $1500 celebratory dinner at Union Dining. The restaurant, Union Dining is located in the heritage-listed ‘Union House’ in Richmond.

Baby Guerrilla at Union Dinning Terrace

“The piece I have done for Union Dining Terrace is influenced by life and people around me, as is all my work. The eagle to me represents life, it’s so quick, it’s cruel, but it’s beautiful. I’m the women in the picture, most certainly, but I really trust my subconscious and work very instinctively, so it’s then hard to put into words what the work means to me,” Baby Guerrilla comments on her winning entry.

Two Years on the Wall is not exclusively a prize for street art but street artists have an advantage because of their experience with wall pieces. So it is not a surprise that it’s first winner is a person whose work has spanned both the galleries and streets.

Baby Guerrilla is best known for her paste-ups of floating figures high up on walls. I’ve been watching guerrilla territory for years growing on the walls of the city, Fitzroy and Brunswick. I had seen her paintings on exhibition at the City Library and so in 2010 I knew where the illustrations that started being pasted up around Melbourne’s laneways came from. I had been impressed with her early figurative paintings; her painting was good but her subject matter with references to genetic modification was a bit odd. Still there was the image of floating figure of a woman in the exhibition that is now the central to her work.

Her early paste-ups were very “toy” both in the graffiti sense of the word, as in, someone toying at the scene, and in toy scale: “my first ‘paste-ups were tiny, about 20 cm long”. At the time Baby Guerrilla had her studio at Blender Studios. And as Blender Studios maintains a mix of gallery and street artists had lots of contact with Melbourne street artists and lots of encouragement to work on the streets.

Baby Guerrilla persevered working in the streets; she increased the scale of the figures and was much more daring in positioning her figures high up the wall. (There is a formula here kids – keep working on an image and do it large.) But what really makes the art of Baby Guerrilla is the image that her art presents of a Nietzschean avant-garde artist, full of the will to transfigure the city, bravado, adventure, fearless and indifferent to life or death.

Baby Guerrilla’s prize win is part of a trend of street artists winning mainstream art prizes or at least being in the prize exhibition, like E.L.K.’s entry in the Archibald prize last year.


Doyle’s Subtopia

I am acquainted with Doyle – he is a “friend” on Facebook (whatever that means). “Just call me Doyle,” he said when I first met him in 2008 and he was indispensable in organizing the Melbourne Stencil Festival but for two years – he didn’t know my name and was calling me “punk”. I didn’t care; Doyle calls everyone “punk”. A man about Melbourne’s art world, Doyle is the initiator and director of Dark Horse Experiment (formerly Michael Koro Galleries) and Blender studios in the building behind it, Melbourne Street tours and the Napier Crew. I’ve seen a couple of exhibitions of Doyles paintings, they are good paintings, combining fine art and street art techniques. (See my 2009 blog entry about Doyle’s paintings.)

Doyle – suburban house stencil – Fitzroy

When Doyle told me that he was going to be the subject of a reality TV I felt that this was typical the way that the world was going. (Would the ABC really sink so low? Yes, easily, I thought.) I saw the documentary crew following him around at an exhibition opening at Blender and rough cuts on his computer. It didn’t sound like a good idea,  – Doyle as a representative artist in a reality TV show sounded like a horrible idea. (I could think of worse, like Kevin Rudd curating the Australia’s pavilion at the Venice Biannual, but I had to put my imagination into gear, whereas, Doyle is all too real.) He comes across as a wide boy, a bit dodgy, always talking in self-obsessed but engaging manner  – “we are going to open a gallery and sell all this shit to big end of town.”

Then I heard that the director, Jacob Oberman was exposing Doyle’s idea of an artist who wants a reality TV show about him, I felt relieved. I was felt more relieved when I found out it was a two-part half-hour documentary. And after seeing the first part tonight on the ABC’s Artscape I was glad that there is a documentary that accurately captures the scene. The meat on the bone of the documentary is the art and the artists at Blender studios; the parts about Doyle and Pia Suksodsai’s relationship are a bit of a distraction and as shallow as suburbia.

Maybe Doyle still believes that it is a reality TV show; Doyle claimed on Facebook that it is “an art work in the medium of television by Adrian Doyle” and that it is “created by Adrian Doyle, Jacob Oberman, Piya Suksodsai,
Renegade Films, and ABC”.

“You’re making a documentary; we’re making a reality TV show.” Doyle says to the camera. I know which one I’d prefer to watch. (For those of you who want the reality TV version since the filming of the documentary Doyle has become engaged to Pia Suksodsai.)


The Conspiracy of HaHa and other tales

Conspiracy theories are kind of scary; like when Regan offers to fill a data stick with conspiracy theory stuff the quantity alone is scary. So I unwrapped and read The Conspiracy of HaHa with some trepidation and I was relieved to find that the The Conspiracy of HaHa was more illuminutty than illuminati. A good laugh is better than a good conspiracy. Coincidentally I have been reading Umberto Eco Foucault’s Pendulum (1989) – the ultimate conspiracy theory book (aside from Robert Anton Wilson’s Illuminati series).

“There exists a secret society with branches throughout the world, and its plot is to spread the rumor that a universal plot exists.” (Foucault’s Pendulum p.317)

The Conspiracy of HaHa is an illustrated book by Kieran Mangan and Regan Tamanui (Silent Army, 2011). The comics vary from Kieran Mangan’s multi and single panel cartoons featuring HaHa as the main character to the punk cartoon scribbles by HaHa featuring Braddock as the main character. As each artist takes turns to take the piss out of the other.

The book has a limited print run of only 200 editions as Regan wanted to keep it exclusive. Exclusive or not it is being merchandised with images from the book on t-shirts and badges available at the Blender Artist’s Market on Saturday.

Artist's Market at Blender Lane

Doyle, the manager of Blender and Dark Horse Experiment appears as a cartoon character in The Conspiracy of HaHa as bathos, he is the abrupt appearance of the commonplace. When I last saw Doyle he asked me why I don’t write about Dark Horse Experiment more? Does he think that I’m part of a conspiracy to ignore him – no; he just wants more online exposure. Then he tells me that inspired by suburban dreams of fame is working on his reality TV show and shows me a rough edit on Vimeo. Reality TV makes UFO conspiracies comforting.

I started to think that I had ignored the connection between comics and street art for too long. Sure I’ve seen all the cartoon characters on the walls but I had thought of them as pop references rather than statements of ambitions. So I while I was at the Blender Artist’s Market I bought a copy of the first issue of Dailies (also from Silent Army), a magazine of comics and illustrations by local artists printed on newsprint in tabloid format. I like the old fashioned style of cartoons on newsprint. There are pieces by many notable Melbourne street artists: Heesco, Civil, Shida, Ha-Ha, Baby Guerralla, Psalm, Kieran Mangan… to name but a few. Along with many other Melbourne cartoonists: Bernard Caleo, Jo Waite (to be expected) and Michael Managhetti (surprising as he does performance art).

Meanwhile in the chthonic lair of the Knights Templars…


Snyder in Melbourne

I meet up with visiting American street artists Snyder in Hosier Lane on his first visit to Australia. If you haven’t heard of Snyder that’s okay it like he is a famous artist. I had agreed to meet as a courtesy to another blogger (Carlsbad Crawl) and out of interest in what a visiting street artists thinking of Melbourne. Snyder knew that I would be writing a blog post about it.

Prior to Melbourne Snyder had been in WA but he thought he had better leave after becoming so notorious for his paste-ups that his photo was up at the local shops. Now he was planning to put a paste-up in Hosier Lane.

“I prefer blank urban walls and usually seek out urban locations void of clutter. I knew getting up high was my only option in Hosier. As we talked in the lane I kept my eye on the flow of delivery trucks which were taking turns driving in and out of the lane. When the one with the highest back apparatus approached us, I made my move.” Snyder told me later.

Snyder talked the delivery truck driver to park close to the wall so that he can do a paste-up high on the wall of Hosier Lane. Then Snyder pulled the rolls of paste-up out of his backpack of tricks, wallpaper glue, a large water bottle. He carefully unrolling paint dripped covered paper. Quickly mixing up the wallpaper glue in a paper drinks cup he smears it onto the back of his drip painted paste-up. Then he climbs on to the back of the truck and pastes up one of his “Rocket Pop Boy”.

Snyder's backpack of tricks

Snyder, Rocket Pop Boy

After that we walked around the laneways of Melbourne, photographing and talking about the art on the wall. It was a great ranging conversation about street art. Snyder had already visited Fitzroy, guided around by Jes Richardson, and said that it reminded him a bit of his own neighborhood.

We stopped across the other side of the city at Dark Horse Experiment. Snyder and me both admired Ben Howe’s paintings – from a recent Metro show? The influence of his stencil art background is still very clear in Howe’s oil paintings. Snyder hung out with HaHa and the guys at Blender Studios for most of his time in Melbourne.

On his return home I asked Snyder to reflect on what had impressed him.

“The amount of high quality street art in Melbourne is amazing. I feel many of the artists I found and met, and the scene as a whole, is underrepresented world wide. In terms of location ‘Baby Guerrilla’ was my favorite. Each piece was high and isolated on urban walls. HAHA’s canvas stencil work is a technique I have never seen before. Truly amazing! I loved the resourcefulness of Junky Project’s work. The work with the cans immediately became a favorite. Shida was one of the most prolific artists I found hitting almost every city I visited from Sydney, Melbourne and even the Gold Coast. CDH encouraged urban exploration which I really dig. AWOL crew’s rendered graf portraits were very impressive. Each and every illustration by Kaffeine caught my eye as well as the animated civilizations of by CIVIL. The amount of lanes and alleys of Fitzroy/Collinwood covered entirely with graf, pastes and stencils surprised me most during my visit to Melbourne.”

On the subject of urban exploration another one of Snyder’s projects during his stay in Melbourne was his Banana Splat Scavenger Hunt. I asked him how his Scavenger Hunt went. “As of now no one has posted a photo of each of the banana splats to my ‘Snyder Art and Design’ page, so there is not a winner. The contest deadline was March 1st, but if someone submits all 5 anytime in the near future, then a painting just might find their way.”

Snyder's Psycho Shower Scene Woman in Blender Alley. Thanks Snyder for the photos.


End of 2011

During the year I have reviewed about 70 different galleries (only about 30% of the total number of galleries in Melbourne) and even more exhibitions. I have tried not to have a favourite gallery; I have tried (unsuccessfully) not to review the same gallery or artist more than once. And there are more to see and write about than just art exhibitions; there is the street art, fashion and other aspects of Melbourne’s culture.

Statue of Sun Yat Sen, Little Bourke Street

I saw a new public sculpture only this week when I walked through Chinatown – a bronze statue of Sun Yat Sen standing in Cohen Place Plaza on Little Bourke Street. Fortunately this is only a life-sized statue and not the 3.7-metre statue first proposed by Melbourne’s Chinese community in 2008. Why a statue of Sun Yat Sen in Melbourne? Well there are memorials to JFK, Elvis, Robbie Burns and General Gordon in Melbourne, so why not Sun Yat Sen? (The name of Cohen Place Plaza is coincidental and does not refer to Sun Yat Sen’s bodyguard “Two Gun” Cohen.)

It is an exhausting activity, all this writing and research – it is sort of masochistic. So I can understand why Deidre Carmichael has decided to stop writing the Art in Geelong blog at the end of this year. It is almost exhausting just reading and looking at what Arty Graffarti and Melbourne Street Art on Facebook add daily. Both have plenty of photographs of Melbourne graffiti and street art on a daily basis and Arty Graffarti does review street art exhibitions.

I met some of the people behind Melbourne Street Art on Facebook at the Blender Studios Christmas Party – that was a great party, art, music, open studios and fantastic people. It was an excellent way to end the year.

HaHa, Stevenson Lane

Between Christmas and New Year most of the galleries in Melbourne are shut but there is still plenty of great art to see in Melbourne’s laneways both the official, Melbourne’s Laneway Commissions, and unofficial Melbourne’s street art. When I was in Chinatown I found Yhonnie Scarce’s “Iron Cross” in Brien Lane. It is a symbolic memorial to the 50 years that her family’s life was controlled by Christian mission where “they were told what to wear, how to speak and when they were allowed to leave the settlement.” This year the Laneway Commissions were all by contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists.

Yhonnie Scarce, “Iron Cross”, Brien Lane

Near the beginning of this year I re-branded this blog to “Black Mark – Melbourne art and culture critic”. It wasn’t a very painful process except when it came to being indexed by PANDORA, Australia’s Web Archive; for some reason the name change caused lots of confusion there. I would like to thank everyone who has read Black Mark and especially Evangeline Cachinero, Peter Symons and Catherine Voutire for their help and encouragement over this year.

Looking forward to 2012. Happy New Year everyone.


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