Tag Archives: Gertrude Street

Gertrude St. Culture

There are many art galleries (a few years ago there were 7, hence the name of Seventh Gallery), art supplies, bookshops, boutiques, cafes, restaurants and antique shops spreading along the street. Rose Chong Costume Hire has extravagant window displays and Arcadia Café has exhibitions on their walls. Most of the activity is concentrated in a few blocks north between Smith St. and Brunswick St. is a microenvironment of greater cultural significance than its size.

Seventh Gallery, Gertrude Street

At the corner of Brunswick St. the housing commission flats start, part of a slum reclamation by the state government, at Gertrude St. The high-rise housing commission flats have not been as successful as the gentrification that the arts brought to the area. Here, as elsewhere in Fitzroy, there is a slow gentrification going on.

Life, like the numerous pubs along Gertrude St. ranges from down-and-out to up-market. The two sides of the street are distinguished by housing commission flats on one side and on the other, rows of 19th and early 20thcentury shops, post office and pubs. Preserving the turn of the 19th century buildings with their eclectic style architecture are a mix of charities and boutiques continues west. The gentrified area is slowly spreading – initially from the Collingwood end – oddly creating a quiet area closer to the city. It started from Australian Print Workshop established in 1981 and a cluster of galleries around the corner on Smith Street that moved the focus to this end of the street. Darren Knight Gallery, now located in Sydney, was originally just around the corner on Smith St. along with Australia Galleries. Back in the 1980s the sculptors Geoffrey Bartlett, Augustine Dall’Ava and Anthony Pryor shared a studio on Gertrude Street.

Australian Print Workshop, Gertrude Street

Gertrude St. is the one place in Melbourne where there is a strong Koori presence. The old Post Office building on Gertrude St. that was once painted the yellow, red and black of the Aborigine flag has been painted white and turned into a restaurant. On the corner of Gertrude and George Streets three thin bronze figures with aboriginal motifs on their torso stand. They are  “Delkuk Spirits”, 2002, by Kelly Koumalatsos, a Wergaia/Wamba Wamba woman from the northwest of Victoria and a graduate of RMIT.

Kelly Koumalatsos, Delkuk Spirits, 2002, bronze

On Lt. Napier Street, the laneway next to the old post office, there was some Koori street art by the Bellamah Tribe in 2006: the use of ochre colours, images of goannas, lines and track marks set this wall apart. There were great sprays of paint, black brush marks and tags. It has since been covered up with other pieces since. The Bellamah Tribe wall was an impressive and distinctive and I hoped to see more of the Koori street art but apart from Reko Rennie, that has yet to come. In 2012 the AWOL crew did do a tribute the original owners of this land, who were never asked permission to construct Fitzroy and Collingwood.

AWOL Gertrude Street

I always see something interesting on my walks along Gertrude Street; what was the most interesting thing that you saw there last?


This Is Not A Book Review

The most amazing things that I saw walking around Fitzroy today (and there are many amazing things to see on Gertrude Street alone) was in the window of Artisan Books – the 7th Annual Artist Book Exhibition. There are more artist books inside; but these are three-dimensional (if not more considering the contents) objects and white gloves are provided for closer examination. There were 29 participating artists and slightly more books on exhibition (beautifully displayed – the elegant shelves of Artisan Books providing the prefect installation).

I was enchanted by the “Adventures of the Not So Well-Known Four” by Liz Powell brings back memories of Enid Bylton books (and the Comic Strip Presents “Five Go Mad In Dorset”). Also on display at Artisan Books is her “Tales of Daring Do”; the detail in these works and the collage of different elements makes them so appealing. Liz Powell is a NSW based a mixed media fibre artist and teacher. She who makes wonderful books complete with book boxes.

Melbourne-based artist, Sai-Wai Foo’s “The Early Bird Gets the Worm” is a magnificent example of paper cutting. I have seen many similar works by Nicolas Jones, a couple of years ago at Platform.

There are many other quality works in this exhibition; enough to appeal to many different tastes.

Image of book by Keira Hudson courtesy of Artisan Books

Image of glass book by Janis Nedela courtesy of Artisan Books

Around 2006-2007 I saw a lot of art made from old books. Old books have been stacked, folded and cut into new works of art. It appeared as if art made from old books has become a new genre; from Duchamp’s experiment, “Unhappy Readymade” (1919), a geometry book destroyed by the Parisian weather, repeated with variation until it become a genre. It was a wedding present to his sister Suzanne, who painted a picture of the book. Art from books was not a trend isolated to Melbourne – it is an international trend. At San Francisco Public Library in 2003 there was the “Reversing Vandalism”, an exhibition of over 200 original works of art created from the damaged books. There is now a book about it The Repurposed Library by Lisa Occhipinti  (published by Stewart, Tabori & Chang). And “Extended Shelf Life” by Megan Johnston reports on creative ‘upcycling’ of old books in the Sydney Morning Herald (7/1/2012)

I haven’t seen as much art from books since 2010 Stephanie Hick exhibition “A Short Season” at No No Gallery featured wreaths of paper flowers made from pages from old children’s books. Now that I know about Annual Artist Book Exhibition I hope to see a lot more.


Ephemeral & Street Art

On Gertrude St. sidewalk, in an ironic reference to Arthur Stace, the “Eternity” man, someone had stencilled in yellow chalk powder, in a copperplate font, “Optimism”. Chalk was Stace’s medium and it will be washed away with the next rain. An irony that Stace seemed to miss – his eternity was only temporary.

Optimism on Gertrude St.

Optimism on Gertrude St.

Across the road in Dianne Tanzer Gallery there are two exhibitions with a close relation to street art. Dianne Tanzer Gallery is an established commercial gallery, so this is clear evidence of how street art techniques have influenced the contemporary art. Matthew Hunt’s “Pure Gut Feeling”, in Dianne Tanzer’s ‘Project Space’, has a punk street art feel. Statements like “Odd Ball” and “Solid Gold Turd” are statements drawn in crude blockbuster style on paper. Hunt is recreating the aesthetics of adolescent art, the kind of drawings that are done on the cover of a school notebook, a feeling close to many young street artists.

In the main gallery there is Hannah Bertram “Now They Are Gone”. The main gallery looks empty but on the polished concrete floor are 2 very large stencils in water and ash. Bertram specializes in transfiguration of the commonplace materials into art. The stencils are neo-barque roundels with a variety of floral motifs from carpets or wallpaper. Or are they mandalas, like the Tibetan Buddhist sand mandalas that are destroyed after completion to symbolize the transitory nature of life. Using ashes as the medium is also symbolic of all that is left after death and destruction. When I visited the gallery a few footprints had damaged the edge of one of these ephemeral works. At the end of the exhibition they will be gone, washed away.

Art was once believed to be for eternity, for the future; it seems a strange belief now. Street art is full of deliberate ephemeral words and deeds. The point is to say something with style. To write something to relieve the boredom, to state that ‘I was here’ even though, ironically, I have already moved on. The ephemeral nature of street art aspires brief attention, “instant fame” as Happy says in his paste-ups, and not eternity. Street art is not forever – it is for now.


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