Tag Archives: NGV Studio

Reg Mombassa & Mambo

In the late 80s and 90s I remember seeing paintings by Mental As Anything guitarist and artist, Chris O’Doherty (aka Reg Mombassa) hanging at the Melbourne Art Fair. The little paintings of suburban landscapes with a mood of foreboding, the brooding sky hang over the isolated houses set in empty landscapes. They felt like a relief amongst so much large, pretentious and non-representational paintings at the Art Fair.

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Chris O’Doherty considered his work Dada rather than Surrealism but basically he is a popular artist. When he started painting the term “pop surrealism” hadn’t been invented. O’Doherty’s pop surrealism was a cross over hit for rock musician, the high art market, as well as, the rag trade with the surf wear images.

In 1986 O’Doherty joined the irreverent Australian design label Mambo. He was one of the first generation of artists that created fashion from his illustration, a trend that has continued with street artists creating images for fashion labels. Crossover artists have been a feature of the post-modern breakdown of barriers dividing cultures and sub-cultures. O’Doherty’s crossover didn’t impress everyone; the writer, Patrick White, an early collector of O’Doherty’s landscapes didn’t like his Mambo work.

Currently there is are two exhibitions featuring the work of Chris O’Doherty on in Melbourne: Hallucinatory Anthropomorphism is at 45 Downstairs, Flinders Lane, Melbourne and Mambo: 30 years of shelf-indulgence is in the NGV Studio at Ian Potter Centre, NGV Australia in Fed Square.

Hallucinatory Anthropomorphism is a large exhibition of almost one hundred recent works on paper by Chris O’Doherty. Both aspects of O’Doherty’s art are presented: his atmospheric landscapes and his pop surrealism. Many of the works build on his established iconography of three eyed motorcycle riding Jesus, mutant mixes of kiwis and kangaroos and one eyed trees.

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Mambo: 30 years of shelf-indulgence has more work by Chris O’Doherty along with the other artists who worked for Mambo. Curated by Wayne Golding, a former Mambo ‘ideas man’ and t-shirt collector Eddie Zammit. This is not the first exhibition at NGV Studio that Zammit has been involved in; TEES: Exposing Melbourne’s T-shirt culture in 2012 displayed part of his extensive t-shirt collection. There is more than just Mambo merchandise (t-shirts, board shorts, shirts, posters, key chains, belt buckles, stickers watches, patches) and original art work by their designers. The most spectacular parts of the exhibition are the Mambo promotional items, the surf boards and the large sculptures by Hugh Ramage and Peter King based on the drawings of O’Doherty and Jeff Raglus.

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Murray Waldren’s The Mind and Times of Reg Mombassa (2009, Harper Collins) is a workman-like biography of Chris O’Doherty. The large book contains too many details and not enough about his art and music; maybe you just had to be there. I would have preferred more detail about how New Zealand inspired the weirdness in Chris O’Doherty along with many of his compatriots rather than more details of various gigs. Mental As Anything is depicted as an art school band, a typical feature of the 1980s and the band had two art exhibitions as a band. Like Mental As Anything and Mambo surf wear the attitude was to keep on partying until it wasn’t fun anymore. It is hard to tell from the biography if it was ever that much fun for Chris O’Doherty considering the sense of angst in his art.


Street Art Big Time

Five years is a long time, especially with the internet and especially with a new art movement. Five years ago when I started this blog I dreamed of a time when street art would be in major galleries, now it is. There are currently two exhibitions at the NGV of what could be broadly called street art. Robin Rhode “The Call of the Walls” at the NGV International and Ian Strange (aka Kid Zoom) “Suburban” at the NGV Atrium.

On Friday afternoon Professor Alison Young gave a floor-talk at “The Call of the Walls”. Prof. Young spoke about street art moving from fringe to mainstream; the influence of commercial galleries, auction houses, the internet, street art tours and major museums. For some sages this might spell the end of street art, it is certainly the end of fringe phase but that doesn’t mean that all the energy and development has gone.

Robin Rhode “The Call of the Walls” occupies two spaces, the children’s room where parents with children were encouraged to draw on the wall. Robin Rhode’s photographs have the quality of break-dance in stop motion. Rhode positions himself in his photographs, influenced by the British body artists of the 1970s who saw the body as another media for sculpture (and spawned the international art phenomena of Gilbert and George).

Although most of the exhibition is photographs and Rhode’s videos use stop motion, which is essentially still photographs, moving images are the code to Rhode’s work. Rhode had a circular collage image titled “Zootrope” in case it wasn’t clear.

Robin Rhodes is from South Africa so there are some comments on the racial divide but he handles this with the same playful manner as in his other work. He does not have a graffiti, tagging, street background. He could have worked in a studio but he chose the street and the street aesthetic of painting or drawing on walls and playing with the urban environment is there in his work.

The opening of Ian Strange’s “Suburban” on Friday night was a big event; hundreds of people from Melbourne’s street art and art scenes having a look, drink and talk. It was an example of the interests and influences cross-pollinating in the NGV’s space: Prof. Young was talking to Rone, HaHa told me he was planning to go Blender’s opening after and I said hello to street art collectors Sandra Powell and Andrew King.

Ian Strange (aka Kid Zoom) is a former Perth based (now New York based) street artist. In this exhibition he has gone up in scale painting whole houses or setting them on fire. It is the complete transformation of a landscape, like Christo but in this case the landscape is the familiar suburban world of detached houses with gardens. All documented in high quality videos and photographs, weeks of work behind each image. The videos have the power and beauty of the potlatch of a Hollywood film where there is a massive explosion in slow motion that destroys everything. And all these houses waiting for demolition that Strange used reminded me of the housing bubble in the USA one of the causes of the current economic crisis.

Now that street art is in the major art galleries and museums there is a new energy and the promise of new types of works in the future. Both exhibitions use photography and video to document urban interventions, although Strange also brought big cut out bits of the houses along with him. And both Robin Rhode and Ian Strange’s exhibitions are an ample demonstration of this new energy and new pushing the envelop of street art that an art gallery like the NGV can bring.


T-Shirts – Design & Fashion

There is so much to say about the t-shirt that a small exhibition is not enough, it is just whets the appetite for more. The small exhibition that I’m talking about is TEES: Exposing Melbourne’s T-shirt culture at the NGV Studio.

The NGV keeps on doing this: small exhibitions in the awkward Studio space on big topics like the Everfresh exhibition and the skateboard exhibition. Meanwhile there is a rather ordinary design exhibition for the Cicely & Colin Rigg Contemporary Design Award occupying the larger Gallery 12 on Level 2 where the fashion exhibitions are normally displayed.

There is so much to write about on the subject of t-shirts that this post will be as superficial as fashion. There is logo busting t-shirts, t-shirt memes (“….and all I got was this lousy t-shirt”) and the whole history of the t-shirt. And the TEES exhibition does cover some of this with some of Eddie Zammit’s collection of over 4,000 t-shirts and photographs by Nicole Reed of local t-shirt designers. Many of these designers I know from their street art: Brendan Elliot of Burn and the guys from Everfresh studio (Rone, The Tooth and Meggs).

I was talking with C. about street art and fashion because I’d heard that he had done some designs for Boywolf. He mentioned the usual names and pointed out that a lot of the stickers around are clothing labels and the NGV’s TEES exhibition included a vitrine of labels and stickers.

Street art was made for fashion. Not since punk has an art movement been so closely integrated with the rag trade. Graffiti and hip-hop culture has added its own style to street fashion and there are so many street artists creating their own fashion labels and their own t-shirts, trucker caps and other fashion accessories, chiefly badges. But the striking thing about this is that it is often fashion made by men for men, decorative, practical and functional at the same time.

I could have mentioned so many other street artists (big shout out to James Bryant of Panic printing t-shirts for all the volunteers the Melbourne Stencil Festival a few years ago). Melbourne street artist Ha-Ha had different approach working both ends of the market he has done silk-screen prints for Mooks Clothing 2004 but was always offering to do a print on t-shirts and other garments for friends who bring him a blank item.

You can understand the synergy – if graffiti is all about getting your name up then why not have your own brand – have it on t-shirts, trucker caps, have it everywhere. Aside from the t-shirt there is also the rise of collector and custom sneakers – I’m not big on this scene I just wear Volleys – but Sekure D discusses it in a regular column in the Bureau magazine (cheers again Matt – I’m getting good value from the free copies that you sent me).

There is so much more – Arty Graffarti recently wrote about “Read It and Weep is an awesome Melbourne based clothing label with heavy ties to the street, graffiti and tattoo culture.” (And their own zine, the subject of Arty’s post.)

T-shirt design is worthy of a major exhibition and the NGV has failed give it the space it deserves.


Play Game

“Game/Play” at the NGV Studio is a long over due exhibition of games in a major art gallery. Why are there games in the NGV? As, the project curator, Paul Callaghan states: “what it (games and play) can show us about the human condition.” Games are cultural artifacts; the game pieces, the printed cards, the game boards or the computer graphics are all designed to be attractive as well as functional. Games belong in an art gallery in the same way that furniture and fashion belong.

The exhibition at the NGV Studio has a selection of board games, five computer games and lot of computer art associated with game design. Along with a program of associated events has plenty of game sessions for the public.

What was missing from this exhibition was a fully painted Warhammer 40K army, that would have looked good, or a selection of gem like geometric dice from the role-playing games. Well, as an old gamer, a lot of things were missing from this exhibition but it was good to see it because it is so long over due.

The history of culture rarely focuses on the creators of games and toys. The origin of many games is lost in myth. The ancient Greeks believed that they were only remembering far older competitions when they added new events to the Olympic games. In the past games were an alternative to the real thing, a practice, and a heuristic devise for training. A culture does not require that many games until all position for games in that culture have been filled. One or two running around games, a target game, a strategy board game and a couple of gambling games will suffice, any more diversity is simply competing for player’s leisure time. So games like chess lasted for centuries and were able to successfully colonize game players in other areas.

Games as entertainment do not have a long history; their development is often smothered by their popularity. Increased leisure time afforded more time to play and more variety of games. In the 20th century the variety of games has increased; there is now a lot more games than chess and playing cards.

Just after looking at the “Game/Play” exhibition I ran into my friend and gamer, Sean Doyle, who works at ACMI. Sean was telling me about being up in Brisbane installing an exhibition of computer games. In past discussions, Sean Doyle compared the time line of computer game development to the development of movies. The first 20 years of computer game development are comparable to the first 20 years of movies. Computer games, like movies, were a novelty and not to be considered art. ACMI regularly exhibits computer games involving moving images; it is good to see that the NGV are catching up with “Game/Play”.


Everfresh @ NGV Studio

At the NGV Studio in Fed Square the Everfresh crew: Phibs, Rone, Reka, Meggs, Sync, Makatron, Wonderlust, Prizm, The Tooth, and “special guests” are giving a taste of the awesome work that they have been doing on the streets of Melbourne for a decade. The exhibition is worth seeing for anyone at all interested in Melbourne street art; the art presented at NGV Studio is worth seeing and shows the range Everfresh’s art on the streets. And it is always fascinating to see artist’s studios. But there is something wrong with the way the NGV is presenting this exhibition/residency.

Everfresh's studio in the NGV Studio

The most obvious thing was that there is no curatorial information from the NGV on the exhibition or any of the art in the exhibition. The 5 Ws are not covered: who are Everfresh? What the NGV Studio residency is about? Where Everfresh is based? Why they are in the NGV Studio? And how the exhibition work? There aren’t even any labels to identify the artist and work – Everfresh, or the “special guests”? There is information about Phib’s exhibition at Hogan Gallery as if it was all a publicity stunt for that exhibition.

The exhibition runs out around the corner next to the disable toilets – I wanted more. It seems to running out before that as there are 2 display cases still wrapped in plastic standing empty in the space.

It is “a selection of artworks from over the last 10 years, plus a whole heap of other stuff from the studio that kind of makes it what it is.“ (Everfresh website) The exhibition makes it look like Everfresh are already history and their paint splattered shoes, rubber gloves and homemade mops are in a vitrine – and they are at the exhibition. I have seen the archeologically preserved remains of Francis Bacon’s studio in Dublin (see my post about Bacon’s Studio) and Brancusi’s studio in a glass box next to the Pompidou Centre. Both Bacon and Brancusi are dead but I know that the Everfresh guys are still alive and working, they have a lot of other stuff going on right now. There is no music playing, even the video game machine was silent – it was as quiet as the grave or an art gallery when I visited. So there is this feeling hyperreality about the whole exhibition and the “residency” at the NGV studio. Adding to the hyperreality is the Everfresh “Graff Mobile” with a giant fluro marker on the roof rack.

Some of this history aspect to the exhibition is good, like the cartoon design for the massive Fitzroy mural. Or 5yncRone’s cardboard stencil thick with red paint, mounted as a negative. Or the dense display of little photos, postcards, stickers, toys, little drawings and other stuff. Or the old boards thick with tags, paint and other marks. Along with all the items riffing on the Everfresh label.

But I keep asking the question is this exhibition history or is this fresh?


A February Afternoon of Exhibitions

The Hare Krishnas were parading along Flinders St. this afternoon with drums, finger cymbals and chanting mixing with the peels of bells from St. Paul’s Cathedral further down the street. I haven’t seen Hare Krishnas on the street since the early 1980s.

I was in the city to look at galleries. Platform was the first, as I exited Flinders St. Station. The Sample cabinet with Rebecca Agnew’s stop motion animation and dead roses is well worth sampling. Carrie McGrath’s “Hitting the Jars” in Vitrine and People Collective in the main Platform cabinets are both a bit average.

I went to look at the NGV Studio, a glass fronted space in front of the NGV in right down the far end of Fed Square. Previously the space has been used for a design gallery and a children’s gallery but it has never really worked because of its location. This year the NGV Studio has been featuring a lot of work from Melbourne street artists. Behind the glass is a long partition wall painted with cut away letters spelling out “graffiti always wins”.

Shida painting

Across the road in Hosier Lane, Shida was up a ladder painting the wall at the entrance to Until Never. Upstairs in the gallery Shida’s exhibition “Crystals of the Colossus” is spectacular. Savage subjects and terrible beauty; Shida’s figures are all sharp teeth and claws. However, the fantastic subject matter is absorbed by Shida’s drawing technique. I was particularly enchanted by the mixed media paintings with the resin coating that looked like stain glass. Some of the works reminded me of Matisse or Wifredo Lam with the long arcing lines; Shida is definitely influenced by cubism. And unlike old-school street artists Shida has a light touch. Shida was still painting when I came downstairs, this time with a brush and very diluted acrylic paint, his sweeping curved lines repeating on the large wall. Street art, in entering the gallery, has become very mannerist. It is all about the artist’s particular style, their hand and their signature manner of creating images.

Shida painting

Detail of earlier Shida piece in Hosier Lane

Almost beyond the hand and the gestural is the abstract modern art of Dale Frank. Paint is what Frank’s paintings are all about; the waves of paint mix and interact for puddles of colours, flow down the canvas and drip across it. Dale Frank currently exhibiting at Anna Schwartz Gallery. The gallery has been specially decorated for the exhibition; the catalogue even mentioned the “oak-leaf green” gallery walls. It makes the gallery a calm dark space with the pale canvases lit like jewels.

Then at City Gallery in Melbourne Town Hall was “From Public Figures to Public Sculpture”. It is a great little exhibition; well worth a look if you are interested in public sculptures in Melbourne. All the maquette (models) of familiar Melbourne sculptures are there: “The Public Purse”, “The Echo”, “The Monument to Burke and Wills” and many others. Seeing the models made of plaster, balsa wood or other materials always makes sculpture appear less daunting than the large finished work made of bronze or stone.


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