Tag Archives: Fitzroy

Courage

In Whitlam Place, a small park in Fitzroy on the corner of Moor and Napier Streets, just across the road from Fitzroy Town Hall there is a new sculpture Courage by William Eicholtz. It was just installed last week.

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Standing on a lighted disco floor, lit by LED lights after dark, the young man is removing the Cowardly Lion costume and looking back at a theatrical medal for ‘courage’. What does the medal mean to him?

The sculpture captures the neo-baroque moment of transformation, being aware that the whole world is changing their costumes. There is so much movement in this sculpture, the costume is falling, the man’s torso is twisting and the lion’s tail curls, it makes other statues look static. The sculpture also has the baroque qualities of a sense of the dramatic that adds to it’s polemical content.

Eicholtz is already a notable sculptor winning the 2005 Helen Lempriere Outdoor Sculpture Award,  the biggest art prize for sculpture in Australia; it is like winning the Archibald for a portrait painter. He has long yearned to have a permanent public sculpture in Melbourne; he told the public in an excellent floor talk at the Counihan Gallery on February 2, 2008 as part of the exhibition, Chaos & Revelry. Eichotz’s vision for the urban/suburban environment that most excited his audience; a playful vision of a world where art exists throughout the built environment, a world where humans live in more than just well designed environments.

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“This sculpture will commemorate and recognise the LGBTI and queer communities’ courage to be themselves.” Eicholtz told Matt Akersten reporting for Same Same.  The bronze plaque on the plinth records that it is “also dedicated to the legacy of Ralph McLean (1957-210) was Australia’s first openly gay Lord Mayor (City of Fitzroy, 1984)”. Public recognition in the form of a public sculpture is important to many the communities who were marginalised and ignored in Melbourne while the conservative establishment was erecting statues for themselves. A public sculpture serves as a permanent public reminder of their presence in the collective consciousness of the city.

(Incidentally Frank Baum the first children’s writer to have a transexual main character Tip/Ozma of Oz in 1904.)

Not that the sculpture is just for Melbourne’s LGBTI community. The figurative sculpture humanises the area bringing the suggestion of movement and life to the park and making a corner into a hub. As I am photographing it a mother with a little girl in a stroller pass: “The Cowardly Lion,” the mother says, “A man taking off the Cowardly Lion costume.”

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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.


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.

 


Mr Poetry

Peter Corlett’s sculpture Mr. Poetry (1994) on Brunswick Street Fitzroy is based on poet and performer Adrian Rawlins. Peter Corlett is Australia’s leading figurative sculptor but at the time his career was just taking off.

Peter Corlett, Mr Poetry,  1994

Peter Corlett, Mr Poetry, 1994

The Fitzroy City Council advertised three times in the newspaper for applications for commissions and each time the money offered went up. The final price was enough to cover the foundry costs and Peter Corlett made an application as he always wanted to have a sculpture on his “local high street”, Brunswick Street, Fitzroy.

In the early 1990s Fitzroy City Council commissioned various sculptures to revitalise Brunswick Street and firmly place it as Melbourne’s boho hipster location. Brunswick St. Fitzroy had became established as an alternate cultural centre in the mid-1980s with galleries, pubs with bands, bookshops and moderately priced restaurants. Recognising Brunswick St. Fitzroy as a cultural centre and using Federal Government money in 1992 a number works of public art were added along the street. There are a number of sidewalk mosaics, mosaic covered chairs, decorative eccentric sculptural shop signs and the odd statue.

The life-sized laughing fat man sits precariously balanced on the edge of one of the tallest plinths that Corelett ever has used. The tall deliberately misaligned plinth is intended to be plastered with band posters.

Corlett relates that shortly after receiving the commission he was in Mario’s Cafe on Brunswick Street. In the cafe at the time were some local rock musicians and one of them remarked that they would blow it up. Corlett wasn’t sure if they were serious or joking; Adrian Rawlins was not that popular.

The sculpture was not blown up but it became a Saturday night ritual to set fire to the layers of posters and watch the flames surround the statue. I haven’t seen this happen myself but I have seen the scorched evidence around the plinth.

Adrian Rawlins had made his reputation by being around Melbourne’s small art scene of the 50s and 60s as an actor. He briefly ran a jazz club in the 1960s and in 1970 he was the MC at Australia’s first rock festival. He then co-compared the 1972 Sunbury Rock Festival. According to some sources, Rawlins really made his reputation by selling marijuana to Bob Dylan on his Australian tour. I briefly shared a house with Adrian and found that he was both lazy and  greedy (and he never provided me with any ganja). Corlett tells that Adrian wanted to charge double the usual modelling fee so Corlett agreed and halved the time.

When Corlett made the statue it was not memorial, it has now become one. With the addition of another larger bronze plaque dedicated to the model Adrian Rawlins (1939-2001) the sculpture is transform into a memorial.


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.


Street Art Renaissance

I keep on seeing all these similarities between street art/graffiti and the Renaissance most obviously because both are painting on walls. Walking around the graffiti covered walls of Brunswick factories in the late 1990s I discovered my own Scrovegni Chapel of wall-to-wall painting divided into separate panels.

Adnate of the AWOL crew on wall in Rose St. Fitzroy

Adnate of the AWOL crew on wall in Rose St. Fitzroy (photo by Hasan Niyazi)

People have painted on walls since we lived in caves but what made the Renaissance especially similar to the street art/graffiti of today is the potential change in social status that being an artist brought with it. Unlike their ancient counterparts the Renaissance and graffiti artists can become famous across the city and intercity and to freely enjoy the change in status that this fame brings.

Collingwood graffiti 2009

Collingwood graffiti 2009

There are many ways that the practice of street art is similar to the Renaissance with people up ladders painting a wall. Only the media has changed from fresco to aerosol. Fresco was the fast art medium of the Renaissance, the plaster could only be painted on when it was still wet. The works are designed in cartoons and then enlarged on the wall. Often he patron who bought the paint and commissioned the work is represented in the piece off to one side, as in a Renaissance altarpiece. Although all of the surviving Renaissance frescos are inside but exterior walls were also painted (an elephant remains on a portico wall at Castello Sforzesco in Milan) along with other ephemeral artwork. Renaissance painters worked in the summer when the plaster could dry, in the winter they would work on their designs, like the graffers drawing in their black books.

In graffiti slang a “piece, referring to a large complete aerosol work, is short for a ‘masterpiece’. It indicates a degree of a writer’s proficiency, as in the final work of a journeyman apprentice doing throw-ups. There is less of the master and apprentice in graffing for today the organization of society is much less formal, but there is more of a culture of master and apprentice in graffiti, where skills are learnt from assisting or watching masters rather than the formal education of modern artists. Collaborations between painters are common in both graffiti and the Renaissance.

The following is an email about painting a legal wall in Richmond. I want to point out that this email it is the street art equivalent to a commission for a Renaissance fresco.

On 09/03/2013, at 10:53 PM, CDH wrote:

We’ll be painting on Monday.

Location is 53-55 Burnley st Richmond. We’re painting behind the bike shop.

Meeting at midday.

Theme is yellow. Colour palette is black, white, grey and yellow.

As always, anyone and everyone is welcome. Hit me up if you’re

interested. Should be a good day for it: 34 deg.

Cheers,

Chris.

CDH

www.CDH-Art.com

Unlike the open invitation in CDH’s email a Renaissance commission was a longer legal document specifying a particular artist and a payment. Like CDH’s email it might specify the colour palette but this generally concerned with the weight of blue lapis lazuli and other expensive pigments.

There are, of course, many differences. The monetary value of the art produced is the biggest difference. Capping in the Renaissance was out of the question because fresco belonged to someone who was rich and powerful; the Medici would not have tolerated anyone damaging their property. But the insult of choice for both Renaissance painters and street artists are homophobic; the street artists will call the work of others “gay” whereas the Renaissance painter will denounce others as “sodomites”.

AWOL in Fitzroy 2012

AWOL in Fitzroy 2012

Various crews have replaced the painters’ guilds, but even the most hardcore crew can’t compare to the murderous Cabal of Naples who controlled their territory with brutality and fear and no one else was allowed to paint in Naples. The Cabal of Naples are early Baroque rather than Renaissance painters, but they are a classy example. Melbourne’s graffers and street artists, in comparison are a passive lot and we live in a much less violent time.

(I want to thank Brain Ward of Fitzroyalty and especially Hasan Niyazi of Three Pipe Problem for their thoughts on the subject that has greatly improved this tenuous idea.)


Fantastic Space

When I go looking at art galleries, I am looking for something really marvellous, simply being good and competent works of art is not enough for me. Sometimes I’m disappointed even after visiting multiple galleries. Today I was not disappointed, if Rosalind Atkins collaborating with Ex De Medici in an exhibition of prints and a large watercolour featuring gasmasks, bullets and birds at Australian Galleries wasn’t fantastic enough to make my head spin there was Neon Parc at Gertrude Contemporary.

Dan Moynihan, Lost in Space, 2013

Dan Moynihan, Lost in Space, 2013

What am I talking about? Neon Parc is a small alternative commercial gallery on Bourke Street. What is it doing in Gertrude Contemporary? It is Melbourne artist Dan Moynihan’s “Lost in Space”. It was two third scale replica of the outside and interior of the gallery built in the front gallery space at Gertrude Contemporary.

In 2011 I saw Moynihan’s installation “The Warm Memorial: The Dan Moynihan Experience”, part of the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art NEW11 exhibition. If you saw the exhibition you would remember the large installation of fake palm trees and skeleton wearing a Walkman on a beach.

Moynihan creates immerse environments; you could go inside Neon Parc and feel what it was like inside. You couldn’t forget that this was in another gallery as one of the walls was the window of Gertrude Contemporary. You could look out the window on to Gertrude Street and see a different space.

The view from Gertrude Street

The view from Gertrude Street

The building that houses the actual Neon Parc looks like a symbol of failure on so many levels, like the failed little businesses underneath with their old advertising. It is a red brick failure of a little rectangular modern building built in a failing location next to a multi-story carpark. (The possibility of failure is something that should be close to contemporary art.)

People in Melbourne’s gallery scene often talk about the aesthetics of a gallery space. Neon Parc does not have any, from the terrazzo floor to the fluoro strip lighting; it is an anaesthetic kind of space. I have climbed the stairs to Neon Parc too many times to count but I’ve never climbed them in two-thirds scale, the feeling was uncanny. There is no art in the replica gallery space but there on the wall just inside the door where Neon Parc always has the information sheet is Dan Moynihan’s panel. The detail is spooky – except the office space with its old green lino floor is empty except for the air-conditioner. I am lost in a replica of a familiar space in an Alice in Wonderland moment as the world shrank or I had grown – a marvellous experience enough to make my head spin.


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