Tag Archives: Fitzroy

Random Gertrude Street

A walk along Gertrude Street to look at the current exhibitions at Dianne Tanzer, Seventh and Gertrude Contemporary.

At Dianne Tanzer Paper Trails features new work by Victoria Reichelt and Carly Fischer. It is an exhibition of opposites, replicas of the paper products that have either, in Fischer’s work been casually transformed instead of normally thrown away, or, in Reichelt’s paintings, water damaged archived papers. A few weeks ago I’d seen Carly Fischer exhibition, Magic Dirt at Craft Victoria (see my review). Reichelt’s paintings depict the theme of archiving, files in shelves all with a heart sticker on them and its watery perils, split boxes of wet paper. I hope that Angy Labiris, who was exhibiting some very ordinary paintings at 69 Smith Street, ventures up around the corner and up Gertrude Street to see Reichelt’s great contemporary still life paintings. (I went into 69 Smith Street to see the recent renovations to the gallery, the art on exhibition was as ordinary as ever.)

I was about to go into Seventh Gallery when I was recognised. Diego Ramirez introduced himself, I had previously reviewed his exhibitions Happy Summer Tank and Radish. Ramirez has an exhibition A Primitive Movie in Gallery One and his studio is upstairs. A Primitive Movie is not a movie, it is an installation about a movie, Axolotl, another mutant creature from Ramirez imagination. It was a good idea for an exhibition, the movie poster projected onto the wall, a light box and a wooden kinescope screen but there wasn’t to the installation enough for my taste.

In Gallery Two Louise Meuwissen and Lotte Schwerdtfeger, Intense, Intents, In tents. Remember when you made tents with sheets and blankets in your house and how good it was? Intense, Intents, In tents is much better, it is beautiful, magical fun. Combining LED lights with embroidery works beautifully and reminded me of the artistic possibilities opened by this new technology allowing artists to work with light where previously this would have been a fire hazard. Louise Meuwissen was the winner of the Dumbo Feather Award at Craft’s Fresh! exhibition this year also an interview with her.

Gertrude Contemporary had a group exhibition from Gertrude Studios; a good opportunity to see eight artists working in Gertrude Studios. Installations, photographs, painting; Sean Peoples floor work intrigued me, the contrast between the artificial and the natural, and the connection to all the flower arrangements of art. It also reminded me of Duchamp’s Trebuchet, 1917. As an exhibition Gertrude Studios made as much sense as my random sample of exhibitions along Gertrude Street.


Concrete Improvement

I love being proved wrong. Last year I wrote in this blog:

“Although Melbourne has many footpath decorations and a great street art scene writing/tagging in wet cement has not become a street art form. I have never seen anything in sidewalk concrete that could be called art, no matter how broadly you want to apply the term. It is the most basic of text and slogans. Scratching into wet cement is a largely an opportunistic act. (The character of Wanda from the Canadian sit-com Corner Gas is a serial wet concrete graffiti writer, see Season 5, Episode 16 “Coming Distractions”.)”

As I love being proved wrong, I have been keeping my eyes open for art done in wet cement footpaths. The fish scales on the concrete of Ilham Lane in Brunswick were better than average but then on the Fitzroy housing estate, just behind the three giant Matryoshka Dolls, I saw the best incised drawing on wet concrete that I have yet seen.

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It was not by street artists but local aboriginal artists, not old school but ancient traditions. The traditional forms make the work both artistic and relevant in the area. These simple incised drawings shows that traditions can be kept alive in the urban environment and that even concrete paving can be part of street decoration.

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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.

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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.


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