Tag Archives: Brisbane

Art Bloggers

Who are the other bloggers writing about the visual arts in Australia? What motivates them to do all this work creating original content for their blogs?

Ace Wagstaff – Dead Hare Melbourne Art Review (started May 2008). The title, Dead Hare is a reference to the Joseph Beuys work “Explaining art to a dead hare” (and also one work by his BFA teacher, Geoff Lowe as part ‘A Constructed World’ entitled ‘Explaining Art to Live Eels’). Ace Wagstaff wants “to document and share events and exhibitions that were and are almost invisible comparatively to the larger commercial and government galleries.” He focuses on Melbourne’s smaller gallery spaces, student spaces and ARI’s.

Steve Gray – Art Re-Sources (started Sept 2008) grew from an idea of a resource for Yr 11+ Visual Art Students. Art Re-Sources features many interviews with artists, as Steve Gray explained: “I wanted to offer students and artists a bit more than the usual fix of art magazine heroes and maybe/wannabees who were the flavour of the month. I had a few contacts and a bunch of questions to pose them in a question and answer format.”

Marcus Bunyan – Art Blart (started Nov 2008) reviews exhibitions in Melbourne and around the world. As a photographer Marcus Bunyan has a particular focus on photography exhibitions, he is often the official photographer for exhibitions and consequently his blog has some great photography along with exhibition reviews.

Karen Thompson – Melbourne Jeweller (started March 2009) has a special focus on jewellery exhibitions in Melbourne. Karen Thomspon started the blog with advice and encouragement from Brian Ward who writes Fitzroyalty. Thompson wanted to write her blog: “to document exhibitions (for future interest, and for others outside of Melbourne to read), explore my own reactions, to expand my language and visual ‘well / bank’, and to open up discussion to invite others to give their opinions (not just on exhibitions but also on topical issues).”

Stephanie Pohlman and Ashleigh Clarke – Brisbane Art Collective (started Aug 2010) write their blog because they “felt in Brisbane especially, a city that supposedly is a ‘cultural wasteland’ in comparison to Melbourne and Sydney there was a lack of critical feedback in regards to the art scene. I guess, fundamentally what we wanted to do was to show people that there is an amazing art scene in Brisbane and offer people a forum in which they could read about it.” The Brisbane Art Collective writes about more than just exhibitions, their posts range across a variety of topics including: street art, silence in the gallery and art history.

All of these people write because they are interested in the subject and the by writing a blog they can connect with the subject and other people with that interest. Writing is an outlet for their curiosity. For Ace Wagstaff and Karen Thompson it is a return to the kind of thinking that they missed after graduating. Karen Thompson notes: “the public readership gave me a framework and a kind of discipline I may have not developed without that framework.”

Karen Thompson, Ace Wagstaff and Marcus Bunyan all balance their own art practices with blog writing. Marcus Bunyan commented about this balance:

“… one practice informs the other, they are not mutually exclusive. I usually make 2-3 bodies of works each year, so that when I am not working on my artwork I am studying for Uni (I am studying a Master of Art Curatorship part-time), reading, working on reviews for the blog. All of these things interweave, are intertextual, one informing the other.”

So why write about art exhibitions? Many of these bloggers want to supplement the meagre coverage of the many art exhibitions. The Brisbane Art Collective put it this way: “basically we write art criticism because we want to give people an objective outlook to the art industry, we aren’t publicists and we aren’t interested in just talking about pretty pictures.” Steve Gray is motivated by his own experience: “I have looked at hundreds of shows over a 30 year period, some years more than others. I would see reviews, see the show and agree or disagree. I would also see shows which had not had an ounce of media attention. There was a chance to chat about some of these things and explore it further.”

When I asked the bloggers “who inspires you?” I was surprised to find how many other bloggers are an inspiration to them.

One point that I was relief for me to know – it might also be a relief for artists too – most of bloggers selection of exhibitions to be reviewed is largely random and personal. Only Melbourne Jeweller is so focused that finding out about exhibitions require searching via reader suggestions, gallery websites and internet searches.

It does take encouragement to start a blog and to keep it going. I wish that more people would write blogs about the visual arts in Australia and that more readers would comment on the posts. When Ace Wagstaff considered his doubts and insecurities about writing a blog he then noted:

“I’m reminded of how few people do write about the work that I’m writing about, and how good it is to start dialogues and how affirming it is as an artist to receive feedback, so I swallow my ego and try not to think about whether I am going to embarrass myself with my writing or whether or not I am going to finally expose myself as an art-scene poser, and channel one portion of punk cajones and one part Nike slogan and just do it.”

(Thanks to all the bloggers mentioned for their help in writing this post. There are more bloggers writing about the visual arts in Australia – see my blogroll at the bottom of this page.)


Bloody Awful

For an artist to produce a bad painting is inevitable, it happens all the time. There is even a Museum of Bad Art in Dedham, Massachusetts. The curator of the Museum of Bad Art, Michael Frank says that bad art “must have been created by someone who was seriously attempting to make an artistic statement – on that has gone horribly awry in either its concept or execution.” And a good artist can still create a bad painting – creating bad art is a risk that every artist must accept.

Gordon Hookey “Blood on the wattle. Blood on the palm” 2009

Gordon Hookey’s oil painting “Blood on the wattle. Blood on the palm” 2009 has gone horribly awry in both its concept and its execution. It is possibly the worst painting created in Australia in 2009 and yet it is in GoMA’s collection. I have, unfortunately, seen a couple of uglier paintings last year, exhibited in artist run spaces but none of these had the size, the lofty ambitions nor the important subject of Hookey’s painting.

“Blood on the wattle. Blood on the palm” is a terrible painting because it should have been Australia’s Geurnica. At approximately 3m x 5m, it almost has the size of Guernica. It is intended to be a great history painting to mark the homicidal, racist and unjust behaviour of the Queensland Police Force on Palm Island in 2004.

In 2005 and Robert Nelson (in a review of Gordon Hookey’s exhibition at Nellie Castan Gallery) wrote: “Gordon Hookey has fun with his medium, his ideas and his background.” ‘Fun’ is one of my favorite words for art and I have no doubt that in the paintings that Nelson was reviewing Hookey was having fun for Hookey is capable of having fun with images, as I’ve seen it in his other paintings. Perhaps the horror and injustice of the events on Palm Island are too awful a situation for fun images.

The painting itself has problems from its design of a V shape dividing the mob of kangaroos from the Tazer wielding force arrayed against them. The mix of literal and metaphorical images has been poorly thought out. There is blood dripping from a palm tree but where it has come from is not clear. The mob of kangaroos is well armed with gun/spears and appears a formidable force in tightly packed wedge. These mutant aggressive kangaroos appear to be something out of the comic book Tank Girl. In the foreground there are few menacing figures with their large sparking tasers; why these figures are not shown in police uniforms is a mystery when they are meant to represent the Queensland Police Force. It appears that the painting avoids representing any of the people or any of the events.

Hookey’s painting crudely illustrative style of painting with its dark outlines and bright colours has its inherent risks – it can easily become ugly. The colour in the painting have been chosen for their illustrative quality, the kangaroos are in a variety of different colours of brown to help define one from another. I presume that the kangaroo’s eyes have been painted blue to make them a different colour from the brown.

The didactic panel at GoMA did much more to explain the horror and injustice on Palm Island than the painting. It did not explain why the artist had chosen to represent the events in this peculiar way. I don’t want to blame Gordon Hookey entirely for this very ugly painting; it is not entirely his responsibility that I was exposed to such an ugly painting, it might be decaying in storage. It is the curators and acquisition committee of GoMA that are responsible for its exhibition. I presume that GoMA purchased it for historic references rather than artistic merit.

It is a shame that the events on Palm Island, yet another death of an Aboriginal man in custody, part of the continuing genocide in Australia, is trivialized with a bad painting. If only Hookey had seen Juan Davila’s scathing versions of Australian history paintings. But the first solo public gallery exhibition of Juan Davila in Brisbane only took place at Griffith University in 2009.  Davila’s history paintings are full of transgressive references to art history and Australian history. They are full of details that build a complex of ideas about the historic event and relate it to the contemporary world. Hookey has simplified the history into a ‘them and us’ position; the painting becomes a simple partisan illustration. The title “Blood on the wattle” is a Henry Lawson reference that falls as flat irony in the face of the current Queensland Labor Party government. This is not a rally to insurrection that the line in Lawson’s poem proposes but a way to support the state’s image of being a liberal democracy by having critical art in GOMA.

“Like charging a regiment of tanks with a defective sanitary device from 1920.” Wm. Burroughs commenting on John Hartsfield’s photomontages.


Juan Ford

I meet Juan Ford in 1999 over several LookSmart staff lunches when he was doing his masters; his then girlfriend was a colleague of mine. Juan Ford is gregarious and we enjoyed talking about art when everyone else was talking about the internet. I saw many of Juan Ford’s exhibitions in Melbourne, the openings were always packed with people. At first these were at artist run or rental spaces and then major art galleries like Dianne Tanzer Gallery in Melbourne and Jan Manton Art in Brisbane.

The first painting of Juan Ford’s that I saw was his 1999 exhibition at TCB art Inc. “The Way It Is”. The exhibition consisted of a single canvas on an easel that faced away from the small gallery’s shopfront window; on the canvas was a view looking out of the gallery from that spot, it was like a Magritte image brought to life.

After that Juan Ford started to exhibit anamorphic images engraved through the paint onto the aluminium support. Anamorphic images are images that are not their own shape because they have been stretched or otherwise distorted. Anamorphic images are an old painting trick for creating a hidden image; most famously know with the distorted skull in Hans Holbein’s The Ambassadors (1533) and Salvador Dali continued this optical tradition with a few lithographs in 1972 that have to be viewed in a reflecting cylinder, a bottle of Ponche Caballero, to be precise. Ford’s anamorphic paintings are like The Chemical Bros in paint, distorted images are scratched with a groove cutter across portraits of Juan’s friends in a daring display. And the anamorphic images produced a special kind of audience interaction with the paintings as people stood on the extreme sides of the paintings trying to find the viewing point for the anamorphic image.

Ford’s early paintings were full of darkness and chiaroscuro lighting. He put excitement and drama in figurative painting with excellent painting technique and playing with optical distortions. However, this changed with his 2002 exhibition ‘Clone’ where his images were full of a lot more light and informed by a lot more science, like clones, hybridisation and the environment.

In 2006 I saw an exhibition of Juan Ford at Dudespace in Brunswick. Juan Ford was back from a residency in Rome courtesy of the Australia Council to study severed heads. He thought that these would be the severed heads in the paintings of Caravaggio but instead he found himself painting the broken disfigured marble heads of antiquity, heads that have been broken off statues of Neptune, Venus and Hestia, with their missing noses and other chips.

 

TheShaman-1

Juan Ford - The Shaman (Image courtesy the artist and Jan Manton Art, Brisbane)

After that Juan Ford started to paint eucalyptus leaves, or their shadows on people’s skin. Images that are obviously Australian landscapes and baked in sunlight. I asked Juan why he wanted to paint obviously Australian images? Juan Ford replied: “I’m not sure there’s an entirely obvious response to that. I did want to tap into the rich history of Australian painting, but in an oblique way that said something about our times. Also I am conscious that a lot of art strives to emulate the ‘international’ aesthetic of the biennale circuit, or that shown in Frieze or e-flux. I really didn’t want that, I don’t find that kind of approach very interesting at all. I often that work with a local flavor has a greater dimension or depth.”

 

In his latest exhibition Juan Ford continues to paint images of Australian flora and to develop the ideas behind them. Bundles of gum leaves or Banksia flowers bound up in electrical cable, cellophane packing wrap or gaffa tape. The encroaching banality of modern hardware materials on the poetic flora is shown in complex but elegant images.

 

busted-bouquet-(web)-1

Juan Ford - Busted Bouquet (Image courtesy the artist and Jan Manton Art, Brisbane)

Juan Ford wrote about his 2007 exhibition in Queensland that: “The vanitas tradition used the skull to warn the viewer of the work that their soul was forever in danger from their thoughts and acts while alive. Well these are secular versions of that kind of thing, environmentally focused. I want to say that our arrogance can undo us, but life will keep going despite us. We do not own life, and never have – it flows though us, and then moves on. Wanting a 4wd and a huge plasma screen tv is just bullshit; each time this happens we a collective step closer to environmental catastrophe and subsequent annihilation.”

 

misunderstanding-everything-1

Juan Ford - Misunderstanding Everything (Image courtesy the artist and Jan Manton Art, Brisbane)

 


Stuck on Stickers

Stickers are a type of communication, a self-adhesive media. There are stickers all over the city, political, religious, advertising promotions, stickers that are peeled off and reapplied by accident or design and street art stickers. With all of these stickers it is difficult to spot the street art amongst the commercial, political and promotional. It is like finding a poem on a noticeboard.

Street art stickers or sticker art have been created to be small graphic works of art with self-adhesive backs. They are quick to apply and can fit on the backs of signs, poles and other surfaces in the city.

Stickers are another form of tagging, especially the ubiquitous “Hello my name is:” stickers with a tag written on it with a fat marker pen. Like tags stickers are often linear, that is they follow a line, along a street, applying a sticker to every suitable pole.

Arrowsoul Warriors in Singapore

Arrowsoul Warrozz (Singapore)

No matter how tough the city authorities are about other kinds of graffiti stickers are around.  Stickers thrive in anti-graffiti environments like Singapore.

Back of sign in Fortitude Valley, Brisbane

Back of sign in Fortitude Valley (Brisbane)

Although Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley is not an anti-graffiti environment like Singapore, stickers also thrive on the back of the street signs in the area. A lot of these Brisbane stickers, especially those of Loki One, Mzcry and ZKLR are created using stencils and aerosol spray cans. I have seen some of the best street art stickers on the back of street signs on Brunswick St, Fortitude Valley.

Stickers are the most collectable aspect of street art because of their size. I have a very small collection of stickers, especially when compared to Michael Anderson who has collected about 40,000. Mostly I just photograph them. So here are some more of my photographs.

Happy - Graffiti Colour My World in Brunswick

Happy – Graffiti Colour My World (Brunswick, Vic)

Happy’s “Graffiti Colour My World” parody of the Crayola Crayon advert and slogan. This is one sticker that I do have in my collection but the photograph is of one in its natural state beside the Upfield train-line.

Still Life in Spraypaint (Fortitude Valley)

Still Life in Spraypaint (Fortitude Valley)

There are many self-referential street art stickers that is self-conscious about its status, or not, as art. I don’t mean self-conscious in the sense of awkward and shy, but self-conscious of its own conditions, media, and quality. It takes street art to a new level, not of quality images, but in the depth of thought. Yes, this is a heavy philosophical way of looking at what is often the lighter side of street art. It is funny because it is deep rather than superficial.

God Has a Plan to Kill Me (Melbourne)

Lister – God Has a Plan to Kill Me (Melbourne)

I like street art stickers, especially the ones with a witty message like “God has a plan to kill me.”


Viva Brizvegas

Readers may be aware from my last two entries that I have just returned from Brisbane, or Brizvegas as it is called. “Brizvegas” was first used in print in a 1996 edition of the Courier Mail in reference to the opening of the new casino and the popularization of poker machines in Brisbane’s bars and clubs. The commercial sex of Fortitude Valley sits alongside the art galleries, bars, cafes and discount clothing stores.

I only go to Brisbane, Queensland when accompanying my wife, Catherine to her conferences. When she at her conference I fill in the day looking at art and photographing street art. There is not a lot of joy for a tourist interested in art in Brisbane. You could fill in a day if you went to all the major galleries on the South Bank. If you were really determined and wanted to see galleries for a second day, you could see all the galleries in Fortitude Valley along with the street art. Catch a train to South Bank station and see the gallery at Queensland College of Arts (QCA) and walk across the Goodwill footbridge across the river to the Queensland University of Technology Art Gallery. I was fortunate – at the QCA Gallery there was an exhibition of Juan Davila’s work on paper – Graphic!. I managed to stretch this out to three days by repeat trips to GoMA and looking at the exhibitions at the Queensland Centre for Photography and Jan Manton Art.

Street art in Fortitude Valley

Street art in Fortitude Valley

The street art in Brisbane is mostly in Fortitude Valley and mostly in the form of stickers. There are stickers on the back of every street sign along the street. Stencil art is still strong in Brisbane’s street art scene and I recognized several artists, Mzcry and ZKLR from my work with the Melbourne Stencil Festival.

I had dinner in the West End with my old housemate Ben. Ben recommended dinner at the 3 Monkey’s. Ben had the lasagne, Catherine had the haloumi platter with pita bread and Greek salad, and I had a gourmet pizza. Ben and I both had a slice of cake for desert. Looking back it was amongst the best food that I had in Brisbane. The food on the South Bank was mostly over priced rubbish in small portions. Surprisingly the other good food was at the conference dinner. It was very good but not as good as the after dinner speech by writer Nick Earls. He was excellent and the perfect dinner speaker for a conference of medical librarians from around the world.

Stefen's Skytower

Stefen's Skyneedle

But I digress and I want to return to Brisbane’s West End. Brisbane is a small city where a flamboyant hairdresser can still make a big impact. Stefan’s Skyneedle is the largest gay erection in Brisvegas – a piece of fantastic, pointless architecture in Brisbane’s West End. At night the globe flashes with light, multi-coloured fluorescent tubes make patterns and spotlights span the sky – it is quite a show. The Skyneedle is an 88m tower that was constructed for the World Expo ’88. At the end of Expo’88 hairdresser Stefan Ackerie bought the Skyneedle and moved it to his company’s headquarters in the West End. It had another sculpture in the car park when I visited.  Massive blocks of unfinished white marble form the plinth for a marble Janus eyes, that looks both ways.

Stefen's Eye

Stefen's Eye

The base around the Skyneedle is derelict. There are improvised stairs going up to its tiled hexagon base. Underneath the brass awning/collar is a wooden box painted silver enclosing the base of the tower with a locked door. The light show must be on automatic, as it didn’t look like the door was unlocked frequently.

Base of Skyneedle

Base of Skyneedle

Brisvegas appears like a left-over; a left-over from the expo, the capital city of a former tropical fascist state on the mend, a work in progress with footpaths closed for building works. However, I did also see some great new public libraries in Brisbane with beautiful architectural design, so there is reason to hope for Brisvegas.


“Modern Art” in Brisbane

The modern world started at different times in different places in different disciplines. In philosophy the modern world started in 1600. In the visual arts it is a few centuries later; modern art starts sometime in the mid 19th century and continues to around 1965. Contemporary art, is the current term used to describe galleries showing art created post WWII. But in Queensland, one of the more conservative states in Australia, the term “modern art” appears to still be with us.

I was under the misapprehension that GoMA, which opened in 2006 in Brisbane, was a contemporary art gallery. It looks like a contemporary art gallery. GoMA has three floors of contemporary gallery space and cinemas around a rather empty main foyer space. It has a dedicated children’s art area, an important feature of any new art gallery. There are also reading spaces, a reference library, and elegant outdoor balconies.

GoMA has contemporary art by Gilbert and George, Julian Opie and Ron Muerk in its collection. I didn’t see any art there created prior to WWII; that was all over in the QAG (Queensland Art Gallery). But when I looked I realized that GoMA stood for “Gallery of Modern Art”. So why is it still a “gallery of modern art”? Perhaps it is a slavish imitation of New York’s MoMA, established in 1929.

But it is not just GoMA with that is behind the times hanging on to the term “modern art” in Brisbane, there is also the Institute of Modern Art (IMA) in Fortitude Valley. And, like GoMA, the Queensland Government funds IMA. It is even stranger because IMA is in the same building as the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts. There is no modern art at IMA; it shows contemporary art exhibitions.

You would have thought that someone would have said that the term “modern art” is not the correct term. Just next door the State Library of Queensland when I visited was showing the touring exhibition “Modern Times: the untold story of modernism in Australia”. For this exhibition modernism in Australia was defined as between 1917 and 1967.

Art history definitions aside, it is very difficult to understand the difference between the QAG and GoMA except that they are different buildings on Brisbane’s South bank precinct (another example of Brisbane’s slavish copying). The same artists are exhibited in both galleries: Ah Xian has art currently on exhibition in both. Both share the same website. QAG appears to have simply extended into another building with a silly name. QAG is more of a modern art gallery than GoMA with modern artists like Tatlin, Miro and Picasso in its collection. Typical of modern art galleries, QUG has a history of art sampler collection with example work, second or third rate, collected to illustrate the history of art. This historical approach to the collection at QUG is in contrast to the contemporary style of themed exhibition of GoMA’s permanent collection.

I don’t know why Queensland still uses the term “modern art”. Art is not an important feature in a state where beach holiday tourism, sugar cane and horse racing have always been more important. The QAG is the major state art gallery but only had a permanent home in 1982. Perhaps there is still “modern art” in Queensland because of the belief that “a better future” can be made in Brisbane. Or maybe the Queensland’s politicians are too parochial, stupid and ignorant to the listen to anyone else.


Fortitude Valley Art

I have just got back to Melbourne after spending a few days Brisbane. Most of the commercial galleries in Brisbane are located in Fortitude Valley and most of the galleries in Fortitude Valley are located along Brunswick Street (Australia has such a repetitive way of naming streets). “The Valley”, as it is known in Brisvegas, is a mix of strip clubs, pubs, clubs, restaurants and cafés. There is a small pedestrian mall with al fresco dinning occupying most of the space. There is a lot of street art in the area, mostly stickers on the back of every street sign, generally by Loki One, Mizcry or ZKLR.

Jugglers - Fortitude Valley

Jugglers - Fortitude Valley

This was not the first time that I have been to the galleries in Fortitude Valley however this time when I visited many were closed. It must have been the wrong time of the month; they were hanging exhibitions in Gallery 2120 and Jugglers. A lot of decorative leather masks were being taken into Gallery 2120 so I probably didn’t want to see it anyway (there are a few other ceramic and glass galleries around but I wasn’t interested). I was interested in Jugglers, and disappointed that it wasn’t open, as I had seen two of their murals along the train line on my way to the Valley. Libby Edwards Gallery looked like it had been gutted for some major renovations. I don’t know why the Fort Arts Hub was closed, but again I was disappointed, it had some street influenced art in the window.

Jan Murphy Gallery and Philip Bacon Galleries were open; they are in the same building. Philip Bacon was showing an exhibition of Ray Crooke island scenes, bland South Pacific scenes with a flat thin paint, and their stock paintings including works by Donald Friend, Brett Whitely, and Roy DeMeister. Philip Bacon Galleries also had a selection of ordinary but expensive jewellery. Jan Murphy Gallery had an exhibition of David Band paintings. Band’s abstract forms and abstracted still life are cool but a bit formulaic and passé. The colours and shapes are attractive but unexciting.

Finally in Heiser Gallery I see something worth taking a second look.  Heiser Gallery a small commercial gallery further down Arthur St. from Philip Bacon Galleries. It was showing Inside Out, an exhibition of oil paintings of rooms by Kristin Headlam. These cool interior scenes are thinly painted, almost a sketch in oils. The atmosphere in these rooms that Headlam creates with confident brushstrokes is palpable. In some paintings the rooms are empty in others there are figures. There is even a history painting, “Handover” depicting the meeting in the Lodge between Mr and Mrs Rudd and Mr and Mrs Howard after the election.

The best of the exhibitions in Fortitude Valley that I saw were at IMA (Institute of Modern Art) – I will be writing a whole blog entry about the parochial use of term “modern art” in Brisbane. At IMA there was The Declaration of Resemblance and Fluid Insurgents by Jemima Wyman. Her intense photo-collages, video and fabric creations of patterned textiles, featured the ubiquitous plaid shirt. This pattern combined with black ski masks that are decorated with false eyes and toothy mouths, conjured images of a lost tribe of urban fringe dwellers.

Also at IMA was Taryn Simon’s photojournalism exhibition An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar taken between 2002 and 2007 was a different look at America. There were some of the now familiar images of hidden America, the body farm in Tennessee, Klansmen and death row, but there were also some unfamiliar sights, the piles of stuff removed by quarantine at JFK airport.

The commercial art scene in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley does not appear very strong and the decorative arts are the major part of that art market.


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