Tag Archives: Melbourne CBD

Bicycles in Art

A century ago the bicycle was the symbol of modern freedom and independence and it was also represented in the visual arts. Catalan artist Ramon Casas in 1897 painted a portrait of himself and fellow artist Pere Romeu on a tandem bicycle. In 1913 Umberto Boccioni painted ‘Dynamism of a Cyclist’ and Marcel Duchamp created his first readymade with a bicycle wheel mounted upside down on a stool.

A hundred years later, for environmental and economic reasons, there is resurgence in the popularity of the bicycle. For over a year I have been looking for contemporary art about bicycles but I haven’t seen much until today (I did hear about the Bicycle Film Festival in Melbourne in 2007). Today I wandered into 1000 Pound Bend to see the visual arts program of Melbourne Bike Fest.

Circular Cycle at Melbourne Bike Fest

Part of Melbourne Bike Fest’s visual arts program was a small exhibition of prints, drawings and paintings on one wall. Amongst the works was a woodblock print by Tom Civil of figures riding bicycles, a smaller version of the stencil backdrop to the stage. I noticed that there were works by other street artists, like SnotRag who did three portraits of bicycle related injuries. In another corner there was a confessional style booth for telling and listening to “Bike Story”. But I was most interested in the Circular Bike and Matt Benn’s “Improbable Bikes” as these were such fun as sculptures. These bicycles as sculptures suggest way of life – imagine riding one of them.

Matt Benn Improbable Bike

Matt Benn Improbable Cycle

I ride a bicycle so I am biased in my interest in bicycles in art. For more on bicycle art see Bikejuju section on bike art.


Batman & Fawkner

Standing in the forecourt of 447 Collins Street in Melbourne are two bronze sculptures honouring the founders of the English settlement of Melbourne, Batman and Fawkner. Although they are a matching pair of sculptures, were made by two different sculptors: Stanley Hammond and Michael Mezaros.

Stanley Hammond, John Batman, bronze 1978

Melbourne sculptor, Michael Mezaros created the bronze sculpture of John Pascoe Fawkner in 1978. Menzaros has made several other figurative public sculptures: a war memorial in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, “Spirit of the Skier” (1994) and a life-size equestrian sculpture “Mountain Cattleman” (1996) at Mt. Buller, Victoria. There was another sculpture by Mezaros at the Telstra building, on the corner of Lonsdale and Exhibition streets, but it has been removed with the remolding of the foyer.

In 1990 Michael Mezaros had completely changed his style with the creation of Rainbow, in the foyer of 565 Bourke Street, Melbourne. This 7m formalist abstract work fits perfectly into the modern foyer of the office building even though it is now surrounded by tables and chairs from a café.  Brass squares of sunlight and drops of stainless steel rain.

Michael Mezaros, John Pascoe Fawkner, bronze, 1978

Stanley Hammond, MBE (1913-2000) created the sculpture of John Batman, also in 1978. The sculpture refers to Batman’s diary note about the site of central Melbourne: “This will be the place for a village”. During his long life Stanley Hammond worked on the stone sculptures of the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne and other war memorials in Geelong, Broken Hill and Mont St. Quentin, France. See Heritage Victoria’s “Deep Lead Pioneers Memorial, Western Highway” for more biographical details about Stanley Hammond.

Who now cares about Batman and Fawkner? Their entrepreneurial spirit must have a few supporters in Melbourne’s business district, where their statues are located, however there is little else to recommend their characters. The statue of Arthur Batman tried for war crimes by aboriginal activists. The uninspiring bronze statues would have looked old fashioned even when they were new. The time lag evident in these two history sculptures from 1978 demonstrates that the collective conscious in Melbourne was, in the late 70s, introspective, isolationist and conservative.


Sweet Streets – Week 1

This week at the Sweet Streets festival of urban and street art there was the exhibition opening at Brunswick Street Gallery. My mind was on preparations for the Thursday film night for most of the week. Organizing the film night has been my public bit of the festival, aside from all the secretarial duties and other little things. (My interest in the Sweet Streets festival has been stated.) I have only heard about the workshops and the live spraying events going on during the festival.

On Wednesday at 1000 Pound Bend a large temporary wall was being undercoated in preparations were being made for Secret Wars.  Secret Wars, for those who don’t know, is two street artists covering several square metres of black wall in competition with each other and in front of a paying audience. It was not officially part of the Sweet Streets festival but 1000 Pound Bend had booked it in for Wednesday night anyway.

Bandos Earthling at Brunswick Street Gallery

Wednesday night was also the opening of Sweet Streets exhibition on the top floor of Brunswick Street Gallery. It was part of their “Urban Art” series of exhibitions (see my review of previous exhibition in the series). Although Tessa Yee curated both the Sweets Streets exhibitions at 1000 Pound Bend and Brunswick Street Gallery the exhibitions are a distinctly different. Under the broader category of “urban art” this exhibition has more illustration, comic book, photography and stencil art. It is a broad category that includes everything from Heesco’s fantasy illustrations to Debs aerosol paintings. But the street was not far away, even in, Jo Waite’s paintings of four panel comic strips that showed a vision of Melbourne with Spanish instead of English graffiti in the background. Bandos Earthling made an appearance in costume, carrying a large blank speech bubble made of cardboard and posing for photographs (I’m meant to catch up with him sometime during the festival). There were also some small Ben Howe’s stencils at the foot of the stairs at Brunswick Street Gallery. Last year Howe was highly commended emerging artist in the 2009 Melbourne Stencil Festival’s award exhibition.

Besides my own biased view you can read what other bloggers wrote about Sweet Streets. James Donald writes a long thoughtful researched review of the Award exhibition and The Earth Died Screaming has some bad iphone photos of the Award exhibition opening. Images to Live By wrote about Dscreet’s film “Dots” at the festival’s Thursday Film night. And Invurt wrote about Sweet Streets@BSG & Secret Wars.


Sweet Streets Award Exhibition

I’ve been involved in preparing for the Sweet Streets festival for over a year. There is still a lot to do and I’m very tired, so I’ll keep this brief.

 

Junky Project, Don't Shoot, 2010

 

The opening Sweet Streets Award Exhibition at 1000 Pound Bend kicked off the festival. The Melbourne Festival was also opening that night and the Melbourne Fringe Festival is still going and even though Sweet Streets was competing with a two larger festival for the attention of Melbourne’s public 1000 Pound Bend was packed with hundreds of people.

I had been around the award exhibition earlier in the afternoon with Fletch who writes the blog Invurt. It was the first time that I’d met Fletch, although we had exchanged emails before. We were both amazed at how affordable the prices were with very few works over $1,000. Expanding the festival to more than just stencils appeared to be a good move; the exhibition had a lot more variety with sculpture, illustrations, painting, soft toys and yarn bombing. Although without as many stencils there were only a few works with political messages.

The judges for the award show were: Alex McCulloch (Metro Gallery), Din Heagney (editor Un-Magazine and the Art pimp) and Luke Matthews (director/founder of Gorker Gallery). Din Heagney announced the winners: Highly commended (with a $300 cash prize) were Junky Projects, Ben Ashton-Bell, Jonathon Fischer and John Koleszar. The winner of the $1000 Sweet Streets Award Exhibition prize was Jussi TwoSeven for “Go East” a work of spray paint stencil on stickers, incorporating two forms of street art in one piece. Congratulations to the winners. The prizes are not a lot of money compared to many other Australian art prizes but the Sweet Streets festival did not have any sponsors providing cash for these prizes.

It was good start to the festival – another 15 days of exhibitions, workshops, films and other events to go.

 

Apeseven applying the finishing touches before the opening.

 


Sweet Streets

This is not the insides story of the Melbourne Stencil Festival 2009, I haven’t got time for that, not with the Sweet Streets festival about to start. But briefly, after the entire previous committee resigned and imploded the Melbourne Stencil Festival 2009 was run by a small emergency committee that included Phil Hall, Tessa Yee, Anna Briers and myself.  We put the festival together in three months with almost no budget and only in-kind support from sponsors. It needs to be said to dispel any idea that it was being run by paid administers in an office with lots of sponsorship dollars. After managing to put together a festival last year the new committee became even more ambitious for the 2010 festival.

This year the festival is called Sweet Streets and it is bigger and better than in previous years. It is now a real arts festival with a program of events and multiple exhibitions with multiple curators in several locations in Melbourne, Fitzroy, Collingwood and Abbotsford.

There was an obvious need to re-brand and redefine the Melbourne Stencil Festival this year to include more than just stencil art. The festival’s initial focus on stencil art came in 2004 at a time in Melbourne when stencil art was very popular and there were a lot of stencil art on the street. Since then street art in Melbourne has expanded, new techniques and ideas have come along like yarn bombing and street sculpture. So the Melbourne Stencil Festival became Sweet Streets – a festival of urban & street art. The use of the subtitle “urban & street art” was used to sidestep the debate about street art in the gallery (see my entry about this debate).

Fortunately this year we have had a lot longer to plan and more than just an emergency committee and a few volunteers to help put it together – we had a few more volunteers. And we could do with a few more. We still don’t have an office and we still don’t have any sponsorship dollars, just generous in kind support.

My role as the secretary for the festival is not the most glamorous of jobs – lots of emails, typing minutes of meetings, organizing meetings, finding meeting venues and other mundane or bureaucratic matters. On a more interesting note I have been organizing a night of short films at the festival hub, 1000 Pound Bend, 361 Ltl. Londsdale St. on Thursday 14th October. There have been so many documentaries made or are currently being about Melbourne’s street art scene. My selection of films is aimed at showing the diversity of approaches and voices.

Melbourne Stencil Festival Inc. presents

Sweet Streets - A festival of urban + street styles

8th to the 24th October 2010

Follow the Sweet Streets festival on Facebook.


September 2010 @ Blindside

I’m thinking about how to write art reviews/criticism as I consider how to review the two exhibitions at Blindside: Amanda Airs “Beach Box Blue” and Jacque Drinkall “Weather Underwater”. Should I bother to review bad exhibitions when I could just use my energy to write about the ones that I liked? But if I were to only review one of the two exhibitions at Blindside it would imply that I didn’t like the other without exploring the reasons for this choice.

Karen Thompson, Melbourne Jeweller wrote in her blog: “I find I can be affected by reading other reviews and media before seeing or writing about an exhibition, such that my reaction can sometimes be unconsciously formed a little by what I read. I counter this by usually not reading anything before seeing the show and writing my initial response, to be sure I understand my own opinion, and then find it really interesting how that can change with further reading etc. So, I’ll write my initial response before doing any research into the exhibition, and then write more after doing some more reading.”

I agree with this approach; in doing further reading I will first try to find out what the artist has done before this exhibition. I will further investigate the ideas behind the art, where it fits into the history of art and what it means to a culture. I will then read other critics opinions on the artist. So where does reading the artist’s statement fit into this program?

Blindside has been providing single A4 sheet folded catalogues with all of their exhibitions this year. Along with a couple of colour images of the work and exhibition details there is always a statement by the artist in these catalogues.

Jacque Drinkall’s artist statement for “Weather Underwater” is pointless nonsense, as opposed to nonsense with a point, like satire, parody, Dada or Surrealist nonsense. It is mental diarrhea – incoherent and messy. Like her exhibition the initial attraction of the photographs, videos and sculptural objects quickly breaks down on realizing that there is little connections between them. It appears irrelevant, so why bother trying to read Jacque Drinkall’s mind when all indications suggest that it is scrabbled?

“The culture and aesthetics of telepathy and psychic life permeates the ‘everyday’. My art works creatively with telepathy to better understand and change the world.” – Jacque Drinkall (“Weather Underwater”, catalogue)

Amanda Airs exhibition statement for “Beach Box Blue” was both coherent and expanded on what was already visible in her exhibition. She has located her work within the history of art (Bridget Riley and op art), she has explained her technique (spatial distortion through colour and the illusion of movement “through the use of contrasting colour and repetition of line and angle”) and, finally, she has added her personal experience of optical effects.

“Beach Box Blue” is a post-minimal installation of colored threads creating optical effects. I have seen other artists in Melbourne using thread to divide up spaces but “Beach Box Blue” is the most intense and optically satisfying of these works due to Amanda Airs choice of colors and painting the gallery wall to emphasize the contrasting colors.

I don’t think that artist’s statement should be included as a matter of course for all the art exhibited. My advice to most artists is not to write artists statements. Artists are often not the best people to write about their own art – how many media do you expect them to master?


Ghostpatrol @ No Vacancy

Opening night crowd at Ghostpatrol's exhibition

On a cold and wet Thursday night in Melbourne a large crowd of people quickly fills No Vacancy gallery at the QV. It is the opening of Ghostpatrol’s first solo exhibition in Melbourne “warp points and seed vault save points”. Amongst the crowd of people there are many men with beards, one of them, a young man with a beard, neck length hair and hooded jacket is Ghostpatrol.

Ghostpatrol first came to the public’s attention on Melbourne’s streets. His particular aesthetic and illustration style making him stand out from the rest of Melbourne’s street art scene. Ghostpatrol’s illustration style meant that he also rode the wave of illustrations that rolled into Melbourne’s galleries in recent years. His coloured ink drawings of children in animal costumes are not realistic; they have the style of children’s book illustrations. His figures are engaging because they are engaged in mysterious activities.

Ghostpatrol’s particular aesthetic of childhood imagination, like the book “Swallows and Amazons” by Arthur Ransome. It is the aesthetic of the tree house, cubby houses, reading books by electric torch light in a tent made of blankets. It is full of the magic and make-believe of childhood exploration. Ghostpatrol’s style and aesthetic translates well into a variety of media from drawings, paste-ups, street art, textiles, video, paper cuts and installations. It is an escapist aesthetic that is retreating into childhood games, even the exhibition title, “Warp points and seed vault save points”, sounds like a video game.

Inside Ghostpatrol's tent

In the gallery Ghostpatrol has made a large tent. Inside the tent there is a pile of cushions, made of fabric printed with his figures, on a rug before a triangular, like a psychedelic altarpiece of framed drawings, paper cuts, a video and objet trouvés. It is like many bedrooms in shared houses that I’ve known. There is a wall painting and a few other works outside the tent; Ghostpatrol told me that he set the exhibition up early last week and spent part of this week sewing and drawing in the warp point tent.  The found objects, like a brass paper knife with a monkey handle set on a triangle of wood, pinecones and plants growing in a book. These objects are not for sale, except for “Two approaching”, the bundle of sticks with two tiny figures painted in the cut surfaces of two of the sticks. As in other exhibitions Ghostpatrol is creating the exhibition as an installation to leave the exhibition visitor with an experience. It seemed like the gallery was only a third full of works by Ghostpatrol, including the objet trouvés (found objects), like a contemporary scatter style exhibition. It leaves me wanting more.

Ghostpatrol's installation style

I asked Ghostpatrol why he hadn’t had a solo show before? Ghostpatrol replied that he’d actually had his first solo show in Adelaide earlier this year, but that the real reason was that he enjoyed the experience of collaborating in group exhibitions too much because working with other people improves his techniques. I also asked Ghostpatrol about translating his work into textiles. He told me that he had fun doing the textiles and breaking away from his usual techniques. (See Invurt for a longer recent interview with Ghostpatrol.)


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