Tag Archives: Flinders Lane

Works on & works from paper

This week I saw two exhibitions of work with paper; at Flinders Lane Gallery there is work on paper and fortyfive downstairs has “Unfold: works from paper.”

In the main exhibition space at Flinders Lane Gallery “Silent Yesterday” by Mami Yamanaka is mostly works on Arches paper (with the exception of two paintings on canvas). In some of the pieces Yamanaka has overlayed two sheets of paper mixing the cut out shapes of birds or butterflies on one sheet with her intense, hypnotic, floral patterns behind it. (In the interest of full disclosure Mami Yamanaka’s partner, Adam Nash was a former colleague of mine at LookSmart.)

In “The Paper Room” at Flinders Lane Gallery there are works on paper by various artists printing or painting on paper. It is not that exciting except for the two etchings depicting twigs and their shadows by Christine Wilcocks where the handmade paper resembles a sandy ground. I didn’t like Marise Maass’s series of paintings on paper as they looked like small versions of Jenny Watson paintings – more crudely painted horses.

At fortyfive downstairs the artists were using paper not simply as a support for the art but as the medium for the art. Curator, Sally McKittrick has done a great job at bringing together 10 artists who make art from paper. The artists have animated, cut, carved, bent, folded, knitted, punched and woven paper. I was particularly taken by the music boxes by Adam Simmons where the punched paper rolls are both elegant sculptural forms and information storage.

The connection between plants and paper features in this exhibition as paper is often made from plant fibre pulp. Lan Nguyen Hoan has a made field of paper grass and has animated it in a video. Claudia Gleave and Sara Nothrop construct imaginary paper plants in glass jars. And Alana Sivell also created plants from paper.

This is just the work on and from paper in two of Melbourne’s galleries. The paperless office may still be a long way off but the paperless art world isn’t even a vision of the future.


Melbourne’s Art World

Melbourne’s art world exists in buildings, on the streets, in the minds, words and actions of people. And these people, however many there are, exist within architecture, in a greater geography and even seasons. Understanding the art world is important to contemporary art because much of contemporary art depends on the art world as a support, like Renaissance frescos depend on the walls of palaces and churches for support.

Melbourne’s art gallery season lasts from late February to November. It is too hot in December and January, along with the disruption of the many public holidays in these months. March and early April is busy but interrupted by Easter and ANZAC Day long weekends. The high artistic season for Melbourne is October, the first month after the football season where several arts festivals compete for the public’s attention. January is often a time for silly art news – a fried Sidney Nolan, paintings by a toddler and other stunts. In November and early December there are many end of year exhibitions by art students or commercial galleries showing collections from their stockroom.

Looking at Melbourne’s art world on a map (such as the ones in Art Almanac) it would appear that there are several clusters of galleries. Most of the galleries are in the CBD, Fitzroy, Collingwood and Richmond. There are a few clusters further out on High St. Armadale, Toorak Rd. and High St., Northcote (Melbourne street names make up for in repetition what they lack in originality). Beyond these inner city suburbs the spread of galleries gets thinner as you move further out from the CBD.

The major visual arts institutions of the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) and the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI), the Victorian College of the Arts (VCA), the Australian Centre of Contemporary Art (ACCA) are located in the arts precinct along the St. Kilda Road spine.

In Flinders Lane there are many of Melbourne’s commercial galleries and rental spaces. Just off Flinders Lane there is the famous Hosier Lane with some of Melbourne’s best street art. There are also galleries associated with tertiary institutions in the CBD especially at RMIT which has strong visual arts and design programs.

Out of the CBD the greatest concentration of galleries is in Fitzroy and some of the most interesting are on Gertrude St. Most of the galleries in Collingwood are on the edge of Fitzroy on Smith St. or the small streets around Australian Galleries on Darby St. In Richmond most of the galleries are along the very short Albert St. High St., in Northcote has several rental spaces and artist run galleries in shop front spaces. And south of the Yarra the cluster of art galleries on High St in Armadale may look impressive but mostly it is the preserves of antique dealers and the blandest of art galleries. There is a slow move of galleries northwest towards Brunswick and North Melbourne due to affordable locations and access to public transport. The spread of art galleries is similar to the Melbourne’s street art with an inner city and inner suburban core that quickly diminishes in intensity and quality at the outer suburbs.

Melbourne’s art world also exists in the endless talk about art. Talk at gallery openings over glasses of wine, talk in studios over joints and still more talk. And the discussion is continued on websites on community radio, on the very occasional ABC TV show, in the free street papers, in the local art magazines. Melbourne’s public love an art scandal to talk about but the rest of the discussion is more important. And the sum of all this talk – forms and informs people’s idea of art in Melbourne.

How large the art world is a matter of philosophical debate. There is an Arthur Danto’s art world where a relatively few people carp endlessly about art (Danto, The State of the Art, New York, 1987, p.122). Or George Dickie’s more expansive art world that includes “every person who sees himself as a member of the art world is thereby a member.” (Dickie, Art and Aesthetics, Ithica, 1974, p.36). Howard S. Becker goes further than Dickie by including the gallery attendants, the art shop employees and paint manufactures, “all of the people whose activities are necessary to the production of the characteristic works which the world, and perhaps others as well, define as art.”  (Howard S. Becker Art Worlds, Berkeley, 1982, p.34)


Painting Techniques & Subjects

“London Works” by James Cochran at Lindberg Galleries are portraits of homeless men. What is remarkable about these paintings is that they were created primarily with aerosol paint. The faces and hair are made up of hundreds of dots of aerosol paint, each dot with its own small drip. Cochran’s paintings are like pointillism with a spray can. There are lots of drips in the paintings – drips are currently very fashionable in street art. James Cochran (aka Jimmy. C) is a veteran street artist from Adelaide. It is remarkable for how far street art techniques have permeated mainstream art in the last decade.

Cochran’s paintings are obviously clever, technically excellent but superficial and sentimental. These are the kind of paintings normally seen in commercial galleries located in the foyer of five star hotels. Perhaps the paintings could even hang in part of the hotel, a private dinning room; a place where the homeless men depicted in the paintings would never be admitted. The sentimental depiction of homeless by artists over the centuries has not helped changing the conditions that lead to homelessness. I suppose the homeless make cheap models.

You need more than one trick to make good art and technique will only get you so far. The second trick, the right subject for the art, has to work with the technique. At Flinders Lane Gallery there was an exhibition of paintings with more than one trick – Margaret Ackland “Histories”.

Margaret Ackland’s main trick of painting transparent fabric, lace, tissue paper and even plastic wrapping, with light paint strokes. Her compositions on the dark background make the cloth and paper glow like old masters. Some are dynamic flows of fabric are static and meditative. Ackland’s other trick is her references to the history of fashion; her sense of the histories that clothes tell. Not that all her clothes are old fashioned, there is a beautiful painting of an empty plastic dry cleaning bag and clothes hanger. I particularly enjoyed her paintings of pictures partially unwrapped from tissue paper that have a sense of the rediscovery of an archived image.

Both Cochran and Ackland have excellent painting techniques but Ackland does better paintings because of her choice of subjects.


Flinders Lane

Melbourne’s CBD artistic centre of Flinders Lane http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flinders_Lane is slowly being further gentrified. Galleries like Span and Upstairs Flinders Lane have closed, artist’s studios are closing, to make way for more inner city apartments and restaurants.

Flinders Lane has been slowly gentrified since its original incarnation as the garment district of Melbourne. Now there are fashion boutiques like Alphaville, designer furniture and jewellery boutiques. And there are plenty of bars and restaurants along Flinders Lane. The charm of Flinders Lane runs out as it crosses Elizabeth St. after that it is the boring business sector of Melbourne’s CBD.

Milton House - Flinders Lane, Melbourne

The mix of architectural styles along the lane range from the gothic revival of the cathedral, the eclectic style of Australian federation architecture, art noueveau and the international style of glass walled skyscrapers. Look up and see Melbourne’s only glass bottom swimming pool that extends a metre over the lane. There is also AC/DC Lane (formerly Corporation Lane) named after the rock band in 2004 and Melbourne’s only street sign with a lightening bolt through it.

Between 1945 and 1956 the fashion photographer Helmut Newton, was working from a small studio on the 5th floor of 353 Flinders Lane, “Pioneer House” which he rented for 5 pounds per month. The proximity to Melbourne’s rag trade was advantageous for Newton’s career.

Modern art came to Flinders Lane with Gallery A, established in 1959 by designer Clement Meadmore and furniture manufacture Max Hutchinson. It was a combination of a furniture store and art gallery; and it exhibited contemporary Australian modern artists, including Robert Kippel and John Olsen. Flinders Lane has been the location for many of Melbourne’s established commercial galleries, many specializing in Aboriginal art. There are also rental space and artist-run galleries and spaces in the buildings along Flinders Lane. There is plenty of exhibition space along Flinders Lane. The art at the Melbourne City Library foyer exhibition space has been generally disappointing this year. At the very top of the Flinders Lane there is Craft Victoria with information, a shop and exhibition space with excellent, avant-garde, craft exhibitions.

Mailbox 141 must be a difficult space to fill; the fifteen small glass fronted former wooden mailboxes in the small tiled foyer of 141 Flinders Lane do not make it easy for the artist. It might be the smallest art gallery in the world. However, it frequently has surprisingly good exhibitions.

Street art is featured just off Flinders Lane, on the famous little Hosier Lane (a street name from the area’s garment district days). With all of the street art Hosier Lane is now a popular location for wedding and advertising photographs, as well as, tourists and school groups who take more photographs.

Looking up Hosier Lane to Flinders Lane

The Nicholas Building on the corner of Swanston Walk and Flinders Lane is still a living cultural centre. The late, eccentric and artist Vali Meyers once had her studio on the 8th floor of the building. But the antique lifts still work and the upper floors are full of studios, art galleries (Pigment, Blindside and Stephen McLaughlan Gallery), clothes designers, the Victorian Writers Centre and Collected Works Bookshop (the best bookshop for poetry and literature in Melbourne).

The high point of Flinders Lane’s part of Melbourne cultural may have passed but there is still a lot of life it. If you are going to visit Flinders Lane I recommend getting off at Parliament Station and walking downhill towards Elizabeth Street, as it will be easier on your legs.


Paintings @ Flinders Lane

I saw several exhibitions in galleries along Flinders Lane yesterday; there were a lot of paintings. So this entry is a brief survey of paintings currently on exhibition in Flinders Lane.

The best of these was Kate Bergin’s “Table Top Variations” at 45 Downstairs. I’ve seen Kate Bergin’s beautiful oil paintings before but this was the first time that I’ve seen a whole exhibition of her work. These are fun paintings as well as beautiful paintings that combine neo-baroque manner elements in still life and animal paintings. Bergin plays with the images: an angry penguin with a pistol tied around its neck, a rabbit sits on a fox, a kookaburra laughs at an angora goat. Bergin has some kitsch interests, part of her neo-baroque popularism, exemplified by the flying duck against red wallpaper or the kitsch objects included in some of the paintings. Kate Bergin’s signature is always on a trompe l’oeil tag tied to something in her paintings. There are a few minor problems with these magnificent paintings, as the cut and paste images appear too unreal, betraying the beautiful illusion of her paintings.

Also at 45 Downstairs is a group exhibition of painters – “So the World Appears: Australian Visions of the Land”. There are paintings by Drasko Boljevic, Dorothy Napangardi, Polly Ngale, Mark Stewart and Andrew Trahair. It is an exhibition of Aboriginal and European painters, a rare thing in Australia until this year. There are dot paintings by Polly Ngale and Dorothy Napangardi. Andrew Trahair’s abstract expressionist paintings with a few Pro Hart influences in his smaller canvases. Drasko Boljevic’s lurid, spray-painted scenes have references to European old masters. Mark Stewart’s cloudscapes with their grid of blocks are very beautiful and calm paintings.

Flinders Lane Gallery, “Exploration 9”, is a group exhibition of emerging artists including several painters. David Bradley’s abstract paintings on silk achieve a wonderful relaxed blurred quality to his rhythmic use of colours. Michael Staniak exhibits both an otherworldly sculpture lite from beneath by florescent lights and a large painting of an alien based on elements from the sculpture. Ben McKeown, takes dot painting to a minimal and child-like extreme with a dot outline of a house.

At Gallery 101 Anne Marie Graham’s “Exotic Queensland” appears influenced by Rousseau’s foliage. Graham paints helliconia, pandanus palms, bromeliads and other plants of Queensland. However, her muted colours, carefully designed and artificial nature sucks the life out of Graham’s gardens.

Michael Porter (aka Mic) is well known for his large painted expressionist faces high up on the walls of Melbourne. Michael Porter has an exhibition at Until Never where he works in a variety of media and scales from bronze figures, painting, etchings, ink on paper, carved wood and even burnt and drilled masonite. Unfortunately Mic’s image is almost the same in every case, the same over-worked face and body. The single bronze skull is a relief from this constant repetition, as are the pin bumps on all of the larger bronze figures, a reference to the points used to scale up a sculpture.

I will write about Lyndell Brown and Charles Green’s four paintings at Arc One in a separate entry.


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