Tag Archives: book review

Seven Years With Banksy

This post is about the curious case of Banksy allowing people around him to exploit their relationship with him. For example Mr. Brainwash and his part in the film Exit Through the Gift Shop or Robert Clarke’s book Seven Years With Banksy (Michael O’Mara, 2012). I suppose that Banksy has no choice given that he wants to keep his identity anonymous but to tolerate these exploitations rather than face exploitative exposures. Being an anonymous artist clearly has it drawbacks.

Robert Clarke’s Seven Years With Banksy is a terrible read, even with low expectations. Like Mr. Brainwash and Exit Through the Gift Shop there is more of Clarke in the book than Banksy. Clarke spends two or three chapters just meeting Banksy. He actually has very little and sporadic contact with Robin/Banksy. If Clarke were honest the book’s title would be Seven Years of occasionally meeting Banksy.

I stopped reading the book the first time when Clarke started to recount his dreams about Banksy; it was too self-indulgent. In the words of Wm. Burroughs: “Such dreams radiate a special disinterest. They are as boring and commonplace as the average dreamer.” (Burroughs, My Education: a book of dreams, 1995 p.2)

I put the Seven Years With Banksy aside and read a couple of other books but when I came to the end of Daniel Farson’s Gilbert and George – a portrait (Harper Collins, 1999) the author wandered into a dream he had about Gilbert and George. I started both at the same time and enjoyed reading G&G more – G&G are so charming. And Farson’s occasional meanderings were forgivable because they showed his systematic commitment to the project. There is real content in the book about G&G, the people that they worked with and the people who bought their art.

I thought that maybe I was being too harsh on Clarke, so I went back to Seven Years With Banksy but I think that I should stopped reading the first time as it didn’t get any better. My opinion, don’t bother reading it in the first place. I’ve read it so you don’t have to.


Paul Montford in Melbourne

Book review of Catherine Moriarty, Making Melbourne’s Monuments – The Sculptures of Paul Montford (Australian Scholarly, 2013, North Melbourne)

With his middle name, Paul Raphael Montford was destined to being an artist. He first trained at Lambeth School of Arts and then at London’s Royal Academy of Arts where he was awarded 5 prizes and a travelling scholarship. He had a distinguished career with many commissions in England and Scotland for architectural sculpture. He moved to Melbourne in 1923 and his sculptures adorn the Shrine of Remembrance. Montford came to my attention because he has more public sculptures in Melbourne than any other artist until the 1990s.

Paul Montford, Adam Lindsay Gordon, 1931

Paul Montford, Adam Lindsay Gordon, 1931

Montford’s sculptures were not the first neo-classical sculptures to adorn Melbourne. Nor was Montford was not the first British sculptor to move to Melbourne, others had come before him but Montford does have more public sculptures in Melbourne than any other artist until the 1990s. Montford represents the high water mark of neo-classicalism in Melbourne before the tide of art history turned away from the classical tradition. For years that Paul Montford has been ignored by Australian and British art history and Moriarty’s book restores him to art history.

The high point of Montford’s career was the sculptures on Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance. This gives Moriarty the opportunity to do a scholarly examination of Australia’s nascent nationalism. There are plenty of details about the arts and culture in Melbourne, including the various artist’s clubs that Montford and his wife joined.

The first half of the book is a short history of Montford, in England and Australia.  Moriarty makes the detail of history an engaging read and I reached the end of each chapter wanting more. There is a chapter on his domestic arrangements and his wife was a notable miniature artist. There is also a strange diversion on Montford osteopathy and medicine but it is justified given the interest in osteopathy in Montford’s letters and that in 1938 Montford died of leukaemia as a result of a bizarre medical treatment where he was given large dose of radium for tonsillitis.

Montford's signature on base of Judge Higgenbothen Memorial

Montford’s signature on base of Judge Higgenbothen Memorial

The second half are the annotated letters from Montford to his wife, his brother and other family members. There are also a few letters to Montford including one from the sculptor, and Montford’s professional rival, Bertram Mackennal.

It is this archive of material that gives weight to Moriarty’s examination of Montford.

And along with a detailed catalogue of Montford’s work this book is the complete reference for Paul Montford

Montford’s art is deeply conservative. Robert Menzies assumed that being a conservative artist he would be politically conservative too, appointed Montford to the Australia Academy of Arts. Pacifist, socialist and opposed to the White Australia policy Montford challenges the assumption that progressive artists are both progressive artistically and politically.

With the up-coming federal elections it is amusing to read Montford’s analysis of Australian politics and compulsory voting because the situation has hardly changed since 1925:

“We shall have to vote next July or be fined and what a choice. Nationalist or Labour, both Protection and ultra Australian. Labour being keen on making more money and doing less work. Nationalists keen on making more interest with less trouble. The Socialist ideals simply don’t exist. Labour has none, Communists is that of a Proletariat  – by force leading to a working man’s heaven – very undefined. Yet we must vote – penalty £2 if you don’t.” (p.112)

Moriarty has managed to make a long overdue academic examination of Paul Montford into something more than that; it is an engaging look at life in Melbourne in the 1920s.

Montford, The Court Favourite, 1906

Montford, The Court Favourite, 1906


Land of Sunshine – book review

Dean Sunshine’s Land of Sunshine – A Snapshot of Melbourne Street Art 2010 – 2012, (Brunswick, 2012) soft-back, 300 pages.

Street art does not last forever, it can’t be preserved on the street, only in endless photos and it takes someone with passion to document this huge explosion in art. And Dean Sunshine’s Land of Sunshine is a snapshot, unashamedly a coffee table photography book. It is mostly photographs and lots of them.

It is not that Dean is a photographer – he photographed it all on his “crappy little digital camera.” (Not that you can tell the price of the camera from the photographs in the book.) Dean Sunshine is Melbourne’s equivalent to New York’s Jack Stewart or John Naar. Dean loves Melbourne’s street art and it was this passion that drove him to document it.

The artists selected in the book haven’t been featured in any of the previous books on Melbourne street art: Adnate, Be Free, CDH, Deb, Drab, Heesco, Kaff-eine, Makatron, Phoenix, Slicer, Suki and Urban Cake Lady. There are plenty of great Melbourne street artists to fill a book but this is a good representative selection of the variety.

The individual artists fill half the book – the other half is full of Melbourne walls, paste-ups, exhibitions, international artists visiting Melbourne and installations. It is great to see that street art exhibitions that have featured notably in the scene in recent years. As I wrote, it is mostly photographs but there is an introduction by Fletch of Invurt and the last word goes to Dean.

First there was Dean Sunshine’s photo collection, then the blog Land of Sunshine and now the book – I am green with envy.  Street art has been a boon to publishers filling many a book. Dean’s passion is the difference with this book; he knows Melbourne’s street art and has diligently ensured that most of the images are correctly attributed in the index.

Two curly haired aficionados of Melbourne street art – Andrew King and Dean Sunshine.

Next came to the book launch a major event in Melbourne’s street art scene. The book was launched in a laneway and studio space in the Melbourne suburb of Fitzroy. The space was decorated with a massive day of painting on the weekend before by Kaff-eine, Lucy Lucy, Adnate, Conrad, Fletch, Shida, Choq Mcp, Junky Projects and other artists. Food and drink for the opening was provided by a plethora of sponsors, DJ Jason Digby was laying down the beats for the evening and the guest list was limited to a couple hundred people. An occasion to meet those unfamiliar faces that you know by name from their art on the street and to catch up with other people who document Melbourne’s street art scene like Vetti, Alison, Lorraine, Fletch and Dean.

Heesco’s Shaman @ the Land of Sunshine book launch


Graffiti 365 – book review

I borrowed Jay “J.Son” Edlin Graffiti 365 (Abrams, 2011, New York) from Coburg Library. Graffiti 365 has 365 entries on graffiti in alphabetical order. It is a thick book, like a brick of photographs, art and text.

Another book on street art, it is impossible to keep up with all of them – so why read or review this one? (After all later this month I will review Dean Sunshine’s book Land of Sunshine.) In the foreword by Andrew “Zephyr” Witten” introduces the author Jay “J.Son” Edlin (aka Terror) as a NYC graffiti artist. “Imagine The History of Rock as explained by Jimi Hendrix, if that helps.” Zephyr writes.

And Jay Edlin does write, each entry has a photograph and three or four paragraphs of well-written prose. It is a well-rounded reference book, looking at the whole 360 degrees of the subject. As well as, lot of artists there are entries about collectors like Ivory, documenters like the Wooster Collective and opponents like NYC’s Mayor Ed Koch, Lt. Steve Mona and The Splasher. There are pages on media: fat caps, fire extinguishers and acid etching. Pages on locations: abandoned stations, heavens and Fun Gallery.

But most of the pages are about artists; there are pages on street artists and graffiti writers from all decades from the 70s onwards. There are graffers who specialize in painting trains and street artists doing urban interventions.

As well there is the usual glossary of terms and a solid index, which is almost redundant given the alphabetical structure. If anything wrong with this book it is the classic bias in the book towards NYC (a very understandable bias given the author) but the book does include are artists from around the world from A1 in Iran to Jace on Reunion Island (find that on a map). And there are pages on Australian artists: Dmote, HaHa, Anthony Lister, Merda, Phibs, Rone and Vexta.

NYC managed to save itself as the international art capital with street art and graffiti. In the late 80s and 90s when London and Cologne were fashionable it was looking doubtful if NYC was the international art capital but all along it was working on a comeback. I’m hoping to see it for myself next year.


Written on the City

Axel Albin & Josh Kamler Written on the City: Graffiti Messages Worldwide (How Books, 2008)

This is a book about the basics: taking graffiti back to the writers. The techniques, stickers, stencils, marker pens, etc. are not as important as the text on the wall. The content (lots of photography) is mostly focused on the west coast of the USA but with images from around the world. I notice that A1one from Iran is amongst the many writers credited in the  “acknowledgments”. Translations are provided for non-English text. And the book does have a geographical index of all the images (there are 3 from Melbourne and 2 from Sydney).

Written on the City is a book by designers; this is acknowledged in the “acknowledgments” at the start of the book. “It is a funny thing that designers aren’t considered authors. Because there are three designers out there who deserve an author credit”. Nobody deserves an author credit for this book; that would be an insult to all hard working authors. The book’s actual text is very limited, haphazard, irrelevant and plagiarized – copying pages of the “New York City Administrative Code” relating to graffiti may not be a copyright violation but neither is it original content. This is a pity because there are issues about graffiti messages that are worth writing about. The spontaneity or planned messages and the media employed. Then there is the dialogue between different writers, the crossing out of words, the augmentation of the text and the replies.

I borrowed the Written on the City from Moreland City Libraries; I’m glad that I didn’t buy it. The website version http://www.writtenonthecity.com/ is better because there is more photos and less trees die. There are so many books about street art that are rushed into publication to exploit what the publishers believe is going to be a brief fad. And as the decades of street art go by I am still waiting to see a book that deals with the breadth of street art in depth. I will probably have to write it myself.


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