Tag Archives: Collingwood

Search for the Extraordinary

Walking around the gallery district of Fitzroy and Collingwood I am hoping to see the extraordinary, the outstanding or at least something worth writing a blog entry about. Walking between the galleries I am also on the look out for interesting features of urban design, architecture or street art.

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Some of the galleries, 69 Smith St. and Mossenson were closed. Mossenson’s have permanently closed their Melbourne branch and now only operate out of Perth; I had heard that commercial galleries were having difficulties in their finically difficult times. The “artist-run” 69 Smith is only temporarily closed for renovations but ugly rumours have been circulating; many years ago I was on the organising committee and although I am not a member I still communicate with current members.

Port Jackson Press has moved to a new location, further along and on the other side of Smith Street, in March this year. It is an attractive old shop with brass fittings around its windows. I had seen many of the artists on display before including two stencils by Kirpy on corrugated cardboard. Kirpy is one of the best stencil artists in Melbourne (number 3 on my top 10 Melbourne stencil artists).

Sometimes I can see enough from the street to know that I’m just not interested in going inside the gallery. Sometimes I can’t see anything from the street and I have to venture inside. That was the reason I had to go inside Australian Galleries.

“I’ll turn the lights on for you” the woman at the desk said. It appears that even Australian Galleries is economising or green or both.

With the lights on the paintings by Stewart MacFarlane did not look much better. The life study at the end of the exhibition summed it up. MacFarlane’s exploits nudes and nostalgic early 60s Americana in bold brushstrokes. He has found something creepy in the currently fashionable retro-style of this era but why would anyone want these hanging paintings on their wall?

However, I could understand why someone would hang the small, delicate surreal paintings of South Australian artist, Nerissa Lea on their wall. There is a surreal poetry to her paintings and sculptures along with a bit of an obsession with animal headed people and Emily Dickinson. In the small side gallery at Australian Galleries, there was “The Waiting Grounds” by Nerissa Lea, named after the largest painting in the exhibition where a boy walking on stilts across a forest floor covered in red leaves.

Gertrude Contemporary was very contemporary art; 200 Gertrude Street, a site-specific installation by Stephen Bram is a post-minimalist reconstruction of the gallery space. Walking between the angled concertina walls felt like walking between a Richard Serra sculpture. Then there was contrast between back stage construction side and the gallery white walls. It is all about the space, the art space, a common theme in contemporary art.

And so on for some more galleries, of course the extraordinary is exceptionally rare and what is commonly encountered is ordinary, sometimes clever or beautiful but still ordinary. However this is no reason not to continue to search for it.


Then & Now

“Like seeing gnomes out of the corners of your eyes, stencils appear and disappear in surprising and crafty urban nooks and shadows. Replicating like most good ideas tend to do, Ha-Ha, SYNC and DLUX took their obsessed stencil messages off the streets and into a gallery in 2003. Outing the mythical icons and images in Melbourne advanced the opening of the gates across the world. Ten years later and the shadows part once more into a painted world of imagination, humor, and collaboration.” – Russell Howze (San Francisco), stencilarchive.org & author of Stencil Nation

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“HaHa is an authentic street artist and poet of the city . We have worked together during my trip in Australia in 2009 and it was really great to have meet HaHa and his beautiful stencils. ” – Blek Le Rat

“This site doesn’t normally do announcements about upcoming shows, as you will know if you have visited it before. But sometimes I like to put up information about a show that promises great things or is by artists who are really significant in the scene.” – Alison Young, Images to Live By

“Now & Then” at Second Story Studios in Collingwood has to be the most overhyped exhibition of Melbourne’s stencil art; so many people are praising this exhibition as a landmark before it has even opened.

The best part of the exhibition were the collaborative works that brought the three artists and some of their original stencils, along with some new ones, back together again. These works were nostalgic for those who remember Melbourne’s streets a decade ago. They are a condensed version of what happens on the street. The accretion of stencils rather than a single stencil, the mixing of style that is an essential feature of hip-hop, is what makes these works outstanding – I wish there was more of it on the streets.

It is well over a decade since this Melbourne street art scene started to happen. Late in 2002 Ha-Ha, Sync and DLux first met at the old Blender Studios. In 2003 they had a group exhibition, “Cut It Out” at Hush Hush Gallery in Hosier Lane. No-one was keeping track of exactly what they were doing to begin with because to begin with it was just a bit of fun. Back when the street art started Ha-Ha, Sync and DLux were spraying their stencils everywhere and writing their name up large with rollers on the walls of the abandoned factories around Macauly Station.

A bit over decade later Melbourne’s street art scene has blossomed and become internationally famous. Digital cameras and photo sharing are now ubiquitous and the audacious, punchy appeal of street artists still captivated a still growing audience. New forms have developed, there are more artists, a larger audience, more collectors and more recognition. Ha-Ha is listed in the top fifty street artists in the world.

The artists have also changed in the decade, what was fun has become their life.

DLux has started to paint freehand combining “sunset palette” with “toilet block graffiti” scrawled across it unfortunately his painting technique doesn’t always match these ambitions. Sync has also abandoned stencils to create ordinary and passé abstract paintings; his recreations of his old stencils on scraps of reclaimed wood were selling well at the exhibition.

Only Ha-Ha has kept working and developing his multi-layer stencil technique. He has added to this with the mixing of different faces and now adding “subliminal text” to his images; the words “magic” and “sex” appear in the hair of Ha-Ha’s Marilyn Monroe.

Then and now and the differences are enormous.

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Mainstream & Alternative

On Gertrude Street the passing tram displays an advertisement on its side; the image of the street artist, Rone modelling for the fashion label Uniqlo. Now lets talk about mainstream and alternative culture or, at least, read Paul Harrison’s article “We are all sheep: what Uniqlo and H&M tell us about Australian retail”.

Rone advert for Uniqlo

I can’t remember the last time that I wandered around Fitzroy and Collingwood looking at the streets, the street art and the art galleries. It has been over a year since I last reviewed a gallery in Fitzroy.

I used to regard the area around Gertrude Street and Brunswick Street the alternative cultural centre of Melbourne and although never a resident I used to be a frequent visitor. It has definitely been awhile, things have definitely changed but fortunately other things remain reassuringly familiar. I always pass a street artist up a ladder painting a wall on perambulations of Fitzroy or Collingwood.

Fitzroy is such a mix between the discount and the designer, between the socially vulnerable and affluent and between the mundane and the marvellous. A scruffy guy scuffs twice with his foot at a two dollar coin that some prankster had glued to the pavement and then moves on. How many different Fitzroys are there?

Keith Haring

In Collingwood I was glad to see the Haring mural fully restored and complete with information panels for the public (although the little service hatch door is not the original). It is a major change since I first wrote about it on this blog.

On my walk I managed to see exhibitions. Fitzroy and Collingwood’s art scene of little galleries is another world.

Off the Kerb’s group exhibition of creatures provided enough focus for such a disparate group of artists. This was better than BSG ungainly hanging and mix around their group show, creating a something that was less than the sum of its parts. ‘Body Sex’ was the theme of BSG group show but Off the Kerb’s broader theme of ‘Creature’ made a more unified exhibition. Off the Kerb’s exhibition also had the benefit of Dan Dealy who curated the show. (More taxidermy art at Off the Kerb by Lucia Mocnay and Tul Suwannakit, see my earlier post on Contemporary Art and Taxidermy.)

Next door to Off the Kerb, at Fawn Gallery, ’Analogue Re-Mission’ by Tansy McNally is an exhibition of paintings based on digital television distortions that creates random abstract of the image. The translation of this source material into paint actually did work, like post-impressionism for the digital age.

At Seventh there was Travis John’s FaceSplitter Lauren McCartney’s The Hula Hooping Project and  is described as a “composition, performance and installation existing somewhere between destruction and creation”. It looks like something out of Mythbusters. McCartney had used ppaint filled hula hoops. I’ve seen this idea before executed better by No Mi Che’s Oroborus in 2007 as she could really spin a hula hoop and wasn’t afraid of being covered in paint. McCartney’s paint splattered ‘gallery two’ with the prints and impressions of the artists feet reminded me of the work of Japanese art movement, Gutai because of the expression of primal energy.

 


Melbourne’s Favourite Drink

It gets hot in Melbourne, hot enough that the tar on the road bubbles and your eyes dry out. Walking around the city you need a drink and the all time favourite drink in Melbourne is water. With the ubiquitous bottled water you might think that there are no drinking fountains in Melbourne but there are drinking fountains all over the city, from the antique to the ultra modern.

The Duke & Duchess of York Memorial Drinking Fountain, 1901, corner of Elizabeth and Victoria St.

The Duke & Duchess of York Memorial Drinking Fountain, 1901, corner of Elizabeth and Victoria St.

I’ve been looking at Melbourne’s drinking fountains; researching the history of Melbourne’s drinking fountains, testing which ones are still working and surviving without a water bottle. There is more to it than taps and bubblers, there are decorative drinking fountains and strange organizations like the Independent Order of Rechabites and the Anti-Sweating Labour League of Victoria.

Since ancient times a city’s prestige has been measure by the quality of its public fountains. The fountains tell a history of the city.

In the 1850s the Melbourne City Council was loath to erect drinking fountains, as publicans dominated the council. The earliest drinking fountain in Melbourne is the Victoria Fountain, opened 9th August 1859. It was erected in the centre of Collins and Swanston St. surrounded by bluestone kerbing and iron railings and was used by both people and horses. In the 1860s the lamp pillars in the city had water taps and ladles. Horses had their own drinking troughs and there are still a few operating water troughs around the CBD.

Horse trough in Melbourne's CBD

Horse trough in Melbourne’s CBD

The earliest of Melbourne’s proper drinking fountain still in use is the 1876 Wilkinson Memorial Drinking Fountain at Nelson Place in Williamstown. It is a rare surviving example of an imported cast-iron ornate drinking fountain manufactured by Walter Macfarlane & Co of Glasgow.

Henderson Memorial Drinking Fountain, North Melbourne

Henderson Memorial Drinking Fountain, North Melbourne

The only other one other cast-iron drinking fountain known to still exist in Victoria is the Henderson Memorial Drinking Fountain in North Melbourne. It was presented by the former mayor Thomas Henderson and was originally sited at the intersection of Errol and Queensberry Streets. In 1889 it was moved to make way for the cable-tram tracks and it moved again in 1917 to the footpath. In 1972, a vehicle collided with the fountain, badly damaging its canopy. In 1973 it was moved to its current and safer location outside the North Melbourne Town Hall and in 2001 a duplicate of the canopy was added – including the small figure of a kangaroo.

Changes in Melbourne’s traffic have had a big impact on drinking fountains making them less ornate. The granite Thomas Ferguson Memorial Drinking Fountain from 1912 was originally six meters high and far more elaborate than it is now. It was erected “In recognition of faithful service rendered by Thomas Ferguson, Secretary Melbourne Total Abstinence Society 1868-1904″. It was located in the centre of Russell Street opposite the Temperance Hall but was badly damaged when a truck hit in 1947. It is now in a much reduced form and safe from traffic in the middle of University Square, Carlton.

Australians think of themselves as big drinkers and the impact of the temperance organizations on local politics have almost been forgotten. The memory of the Total Abstinence Society, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union of Victoria and the Independent Order of Rechabites survive in their drinking fountains. The Melbourne Temperance Society building is now a cocktail club.

The various temperance organizations erected many of the more elaborate drinking fountains in Melbourne. In 1901 The Women’s Christian Temperance Union of Victoria presented the Duke & Duchess of York with a Memorial Drinking Fountain, located in Victoria Square (corner of Elizabeth and Victoria St.) It is a stone drinking fountain enclosed by four turned marble pillars and granite canopy with painted gothic arches; on the top of the canopy there is a marble figure holding an anchor.

Detail Duke & Duchess of York  Memorial Drinking Fountain

Detail Duke & Duchess of York Memorial Drinking Fountain

Andrew Brown-May in his history of Melbourne Street Life notes “although the ‘decent working people’ formed a theoretical clientele in the minds of the temperance reformers, many of the taps were the favorite haunts of groups of boys.” (It makes you glad that children today have better things to do.)

Between 1901 and 1939 memorial drinking fountains were popular in Melbourne, There are various memorial drinking fountains erected for city councilors although many are no longer functional. On of the last of the memorial fountains is the 1937 Samuel Mauger Memorial Drinking Fountain on Victoria Parade (near the Eastern Hill Fire Station) in East Melbourne. Samuel Mauger was a former Post Master General, a founding member of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade and the founder of the Anti-Sweating Labour League. The Anti-Sweating Labour League was not against perspiration, it campaigned for minimum wages and other working conditions in sweat shops.

Elaborate drinking fountains ended with the era of the temperance movements and the increase in traffic. Post-1930 the taste in memorials turned to memorial fountains or pools and drinking fountains became less ornate; just a masonry pedestals supporting a basin and a Danks bubbler tap. The occasional memorial drinking fountain are still being installed, like the one commemorating a popular black swan named ‘Cookie’, who lived in the Alexandra Gardens and was killed in 1973.

In 2007 Water campaigner, Patrick Jones raised the issue of a lack of drinking fountains in Melbourne again. This time the motivation was a green campaign against bottled water. Bottled water is basically pollution; transportation, packaging, disposal or recycling of water bottles all produces various types of pollution.

Drinking fountain in Collingwood

Drinking fountain in Collingwood

Good sense prevailed and new drinking water fountains were installed around Melbourne. In the Bourke St. Mall and elsewhere you can conveniently refill you bottle at a filtered water dispenser beside the drinking fountains. And the quality of the water is excellent although at Federation Square some fathead has left their McDonalds drink-cup on top of one of the drinking fountains.


Retro Style

Checking my mailbox there was an email from a publicist about five permanent larger-than-life original artworks by a Melbourne artist Steve Rosendale on the façade of the “YOU AND I” apartment precinct, a Collingwood residential development on the northern end of Smith Street. The name of the artist, Steve Rosendale, wasn’t initially familiar but on further research I found that I had reviewed an early exhibition, “Silhouettes” by Rosendale at Brunswick Arts in 2006 in my old blog. I had some vague memories of the exhibition and I was impressed at the targeting of the publicists email.

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It is always interesting to see how artists have developed over the years and Steve Rosendale’s painting technique has greatly improved. What I remember of his 2006 exhibition was the 60s pop style and cinematic style. Now Rosendale has developed this theme into a figurative retro style depicting scenes of 1950s Americana.

Orbit Architecture, the architect of the new development plan to incorporate Rosendale’s images in both perforated metal screens and an unusual technique of curing graphic concrete that will recreate one of Rosendale’s pieces in bas-relief.

Looking at Rosendale’s recent painting made me aware that there are a lot of retro artists around deliberately painting figurative images from the 1950s. Along with Steve Rosendale’s painting, there are Dianne Gall’s atmospheric 1950s interiors and Kathrin Longhurst’s sexed-up Soviet Realism. (Both Gall and Longhurst are represented by Catherine Asquith Gallery and Rosendale is represented by Libby Edwards Galleries.)

Retro styles have been a big feature of art, design, fashion, music and popular culture since the 1980s. The post-modern mix of kitsch, camp and conservative elements in these retro styles make me think that the baby boomers love the recreation and repetition of their history but also – what happened to the future?


Play Money, Radish & other exhibitions

On Thursday night I went to the opening of “Play Money” at the Counihan Gallery in Brunswick. The exhibition examines ”the anxiety surrounding the acquisition of real estate and the legacy of land ownership in Australia”. It is pertinent subject especially in Brunswick where houses prices are rising in the wake of the artistic revival; Gregor Muir described artists as “the storm-troopers of gentrification.” The irony of the welcome to country at the opening was not lost at either.

Curated by Jane O’Neill “Play Money” is good as far as it goes but it is taking up valuable real estate with an exhibition that didn’t fill up all the walls. The suburban subject is very current in Melbourne art; the Ian Strange exhibition at the NGV Atrium came to mind (see my post) along with the art of Jason Waterhouse and Adrian Doyle. I wanted more.

On my Thursday afternoon gallery crawl I was impressed with “Radish” by Diego Ramirez at Seventh Gallery. The two videos in the installation contributed to the sad story of a radish headed man. The videos had great production quality overall but especially the make-up and prosthetics. I was wondering if the radish headed man finally found a home buried in the back room of Seventh Gallery as the radish top was poking out from the gallery floor.

I also enjoyed seeing Penny Pekham’s “A Taxonomy of (Art) Cats”. A series of prints upstairs in a small room at 69 Smith St amidst some bad and ordinary art, including Pekham’s series of paintings based on Leonard Cohen lyrics. The lino-cut prints reproduced cats by famous artists (Hiroshige, Toulouse Lautrec, Steinlen, Beardsly, Manet etc.) arranged in grids. Simple but effective and combining cats and art history is a way to my heart.

I saw Little Woods Gallery for the first time. It is a small gallery space that is part of the Jesuit Social Services on Langridge Street. Lauren Dunn’s “We are all friends” a series of photographs of Lauren’s friends. The larger than life photographs were too close, both intimate and a bit intimidating. There was some attempt to trace the connections between these faces and Dunn but not enough was made of that.


Person of Interest – Keith Haring

The art of Keith Haring first came to my attention when he visited Melbourne (see my post Keith Haring in Melbourne). Haring was like a pop star, except that he was doing visual arts rather than music. I didn’t get to see him in Melbourne but he was everywhere for the next few years; I saw him on TV and in magazines and not just the art magazines.

Peat Wollaeger, Keith Haring Stencil, 2008 at Collingwood Technical College

Peat Wollaeger, Keith Haring Stencil, 2008 at Collingwood Technical College

In the early 1980s Keith Haring along with other East Village artists, like Jenny Holzer and Barbara Kruger used ‘wall-posters’ (paste-ups/wheat-pasting). Haring’s paste-ups were fake news headlines like as: “REAGAN SLAIN BY HERO COP”; cutting up headlines was a strategy adopted from William Burroughs. Haring also used stencils in his early street work stencilling “CLONES GO HOME” on sidewalk borders in the Village. This early flowering of what would later be known as street art heralds an art movement.

“The galleries at that time were still dominated by people over thirty and mostly Conceptual and Post-Minimal art.” Keith Haring commented on his influences (Notes from the Pop Underground, Peter Belisto, p.99) Haring went the opposite direction, appealing to people under thirty, like me at the time, and creating art that didn’t depend on art galleries for their meaning. Haring’s line drawings worked on subway walls, t-shirts and even Grace Jones’ naked body.

In 1986 Haring collaborated with Brion Gysin in “Fault Lines”; Haring’s art is connected to Gysin’s tagging calligraphy (see my post). In 1988 Haring collaborates with Burroughs for “Apocalypse.” The great centipede with a television head in the Collingwood mural is an image clearly inspired by Burroughs who writes about giant aquatic centipedes in many of his novels.

When Keith Haring died in February 1990, followed by the death of Jean-Michel Basquiat, it felt like the art of the 1980s had died. Both Haring and Basquiat were, what we would call today, street artists who had become international art superstars. Street art would have to wait another decade before its full flowering.

After that I would look out for Haring’s wall every time I went that way in Collingwood. Now, finally after decades of inaction there preservation work has started on the site. It is a difficult issue, preservation or restoration, both will have loses – a restoration would lose the authenticity of Haring’s brushstrokes and preservation loses the vibrancy of the original but better either than the loss of the whole mural.

“I just want to be taken seriously. I would like to think that someday there will be drawings next too a Lichtenstein, or beside a de Kooning drawing in a museum.” Keith Haring said. (Belisto, p. 111)

This year Keith Haring is finally receiving the recognition that he richly deserves. There is a major retrospective “Keith Haring, the Political Line “ at the Musée d’Art Moderne in Paris and a very small exhibition about his 1988 Tokyo Pop-Up Shop at the New York Historical Society. (It was a very small, just a display case, a painted lantern and video shot of Haring discussing the lighting for the Tokyo Pop-Up Shop.)


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