Memories of the paperboy

The bronze paperboy is standing at the corner of a park on Hawthorn and Balaclava Roads in Caulfield. His clothes, flared bellbottom trousers, and long hair are clearly from the sixties or early seventies. Now they are antique fashions from another century.

When I first saw the bronze paperboy, I was sitting in a tram going past it. I thought that there had to be a story to the sculpture. Was it a memorial to someone hit by a car as they sold newspapers? I am not the only person to have thought that, but it’s not true.

Melbourne was very dull in the early 80s, and public sculpture was rare. Although it was the first time I saw it, I thought that I would see it again, get a better look, perhaps so regularly that I would be bored with its story. It could become part of my daily commute.

It never did. The next time that I saw it was almost forty years later. Even though I have lived in Melbourne the whole time, the vast city meant that I was travelling different routes. Again I was in a tram, and I again didn’t stop. On the return trip, it was pouring rain, and I didn’t get off the tram to look at the sculpture. My memory was only of one sculpture of the paperboy, but there are a group of statues. How many works of public art are like this? Things seen for a few seconds, once or twice in a lifetime, from fleeting, half-remembered views of a sculpture in a park that you have never stopped to see as you pass by on the tram.

The third time was in the sunshine. I walked through Caulfield Park to look at the sculptures. I am amazed to find that there are three naked bronze figures climbing poles for a garland. How could I have missed them? I was just looking out a tram window on the other occasions. And because the complete scene is more meaningless than just the single figure of a bronze paperboy from my memory.

I have no idea what the whole scene means. It is titled The Paper Boy, Mother and Child and Climbing Boys by sculptor Phillip J Cannizzo installed in 1980. Cannizzo was born in 1945, studied at Prahran Tech and RMIT, and now lives in Italy. He had his first one-man exhibition at Komon Gallery, Woollahra, in 1971, and he has some work in the National Gallery of Australia’s collection.

The more I look, the less sense it makes. Why didn’t I remember the paperboy and not the pole climber? Because the rest of it makes no sense. It is not as if there was an annual naked pole-climbing spring festival in Caulfield in the 1970s. It would be great if there was, but there is no tradition.

In some ways, it is not a bad piece of public art. It is integrated with the corner and the landscaping of the park. Like so many subsequent public sculptures, you could sit on the same bench as the woman and child. The figures are sculpted in a loose, sketchy style with a light touch that was popular at that time. The figures are seated, standing, and climbing poles. Few details and no attribution, a common feature of older public art that I am glad has largely been abandoned. Artists have the moral right to be identified as the creator of their work.


Fantastical Janet Beckhouse

What if I’d reviewed “Fantastical – the art of Janet Beckhouse” Hunter S. Thompson style? Drop a tab of acid. Run the gauntlet of election campaigners at the entrance to the all-white suggestion of a town hall. “I’m not here to vote.” Inside the Box Hill Town Hall, I located Artspace and started to look at the glazed stoneware sculptures as the first notes of Jimmie Hendrix’s Purple Haze play.

The Four Elements, 2004/5

It would have been intense. When every other artist was going minimalist, Beckhouse went the other way. In her Master’s graduation piece, Grotto (1998) realistic lizards, poisonous frogs and fat caterpillars crawl amongst the glazed ceramic foliage. It is all alive and significant, vivaciously writhing with life.

A refined version of fantasy art for stoners with a gothic taste. A snake crawls out of the eye of a skull and worms from the mouth of a corpse buried in a garden. There is ambiguity, are those shells or leaves, worms or twigs. In The Mystery of Love, a woman auto-impales herself with a spike.

Beckhouse’s works are supported by two structures mythology and ceramic forms. Using these structures to compose. Mythology gives structure to her themes, just as ceramic forms structure her work. Some of the pieces look almost practical as vases and platters.

She knew that death is part of life, part of the symbolism of creative and destructive aspects of the feminine. Mythology gives depth and power to her work. The mother of all monsters dwells in the depths of the ocean. There are lots of references to the sea, coral and shells. Why have the flared nostrils of that person grown seashells?

It was then I saw the vase with the bats.

“My work and creative interest have become all-encompassing over the years. I realise I do not wish to do anything else. It gives me peace, comfort and meaning in my life, and to share it is a joy.” Janet Beckhouse (1955-2020)

Beckhouse was Melbourne’s foremost ceramic artist until her sudden and unexpected death in 2020. This is her final exhibition, twenty pieces spanning her career as an artist.

Whitehorse City Council has bought two works for their collection of the work of Australian and international ceramic artists. Some of the collection is on permanent exhibition in a small adjoining gallery.

Beckhouse moulded the gods and demons out of the dust of the earth. Using alchemical processes and elemental forces, she turned base matter into lustrous gold. Creating ceramic sculptures seething with the neo-Baroque complexity, transformative drama, and the acid intensity of a Hendrix’s solo.


Confined 13

The gallery in the white neo-classical Glen Eira Town Hall in Caulfield, constructed in 1885, is occupied with an art exhibition by Indigenous people who have been incarcerated in Victoria. I wondered if this symbol of colonial imperialism is appropriate. Maybe it needs to be occupied.

Seeing The Torch’s annual exhibition, “Confined”, I go through similar emotions. A rush as I see, hung from floor to ceiling, hundreds of paintings filling the visual field, 400 artworks from 350 artists. Powerful images of Indigenous culture mixed with less successful work give a mix of highs and lows. The quantity of art is variable. For some, this is their first exhibition; others are regular exhibitors. Each painting tells its own story, but all of the artists have been in prison, which is tragic. The over-representation of Indigenous people in jail is evident in the scale of the exhibition. Then I think of the recidivism rate, with only 11% of those who go through the Torch’s program returning to prison compared with the average Indigenous recidivism rate of 53.4%, which gives hope.

“Because of culture, I believe in myself now and have found who I really am.” – Ash Thomas (Yorta Yorta/Wiradjuri people) Precisely what culture should do. I would prefer that Indigenous people be paid a living wage to connect to their culture instead of doing that in prison.

People want many things from art, and while it was good seeing some new work by artists that I’ve written about in the past. As a writer, I want art to be a story that takes the viewer to current events or a new view of history. We love it when an artist references art or history and doubly so when the two are combined because it gives us more to write about. So for me, two works stood out from the mass of paintings at “Confined 13” in the Glen Eira City Council Gallery. (Full disclosure; I bought two paintings through The Torch a couple of years ago, and one of them is on the wall behind me.)

Big Dom, Koorie Old Style Boxing

Big Dom’s (Gunaikurnai) Koorie Old Style Boxing has a different view of history that I hadn’t seen before. Black figures on a terracotta pot refer to similar images on ancient Greek pottery. I wanted to see more and could imagine vases with other Indigenous athletes depicted. Koorie Old Style Boxing takes the viewer to two. Ancient Greece and the history of Indigenous boxing in the twentieth century when in Big Dom’s words, “they used to travel around doing old style tent boxing to make some money to feed their family and keep fit.”

Deaths in Custody by C. Harrison (Yorta Yorta) is an all too current event, and it is something that the whole of Australia needs to address. Root and branch reforms of the custodial system need to take place. As Harrison points out, “Aboriginal people are 7 x more likely to die in custody than Australian defence personnel in war.” The calmly ordered rows of bodies on a red ocher background. There are forty-four figures in each row by ten columns. Each one painted by hand, an act that does not reduce them to statistics and symbols. The artist is aware that each represents a person who died in custody between 1991 to 2021 and whose family and friends still grieve (the number has gone up since painting).

C. Harrison Deaths in Custody 

Melbourne Street Art May 2022

Notes on Melbourne’s street art. School groups are returning to Hosier Lane, Melbourne’s most famous street art location. There must have been sixty or seventy school kids and four teachers in the lane as I walked down its bluestones to Flinders Lane. There are still two sides to the lane (see my post) — a facile commercial and a sensitive community side. Lots of new paste-ups, people are really going to town with them. There was also some recent work by local street art veterans, including Phoenix, Facter and Manda Lane. 

Although everyone in Melbourne has heard of Hosier Lane, few will know of Baptist Place. Basically, it is a long alleyway between some buildings with a bit of an open node around an entranceway in the middle that had not been buffed in a decade (I could date it from the art). Baptist Place has a street sign, but I’m having problems with it on my photo program’s maps.

There was work by Manda Lane at the entrance to the lane.

Manda Lane is one of those street artists you don’t need to know but probably should. Her paste-up drawings of plants bring foliage to the city’s lanes. These are location critical, giving an impression of black and white plants. I had just seen a painting of local botany by her in Hosier Lane. She is one of Melbourne’s Ninjas of Street Art; others of that middle-class street art crew had left their presence in the Baptist Place. 

Some of the walls of Baptist Place have been recently buffed with a mustard yellow paint making more room for new work. Painted out, buffed pieces by Night Krawler still visible under the single layer of paint made way for new black and white stencil works. These are Night Krawler’s black and white stencils of retro-occult scenes. Stencil images that exist as multiples, so the loss is no loss. In other lanes, I see more pieces by Manda Lane, Night Krawler, paste-ups and stencils by Sunfigo, a freehand painting by CDH, and paste-ups by Mr Dimples and others.

Stencil art started my interest in Melbourne’s street art and involved me in running the Melbourne Stencil Festival/Sweet Streets. There used to be so many people doing stencil art. Still there is always someone doing aerosol spray paint in Melbourne’s street art scene. And generally, they are pretty good at it, with multi-layer stencils, politically conscious with a sense of humour.


Half a century of sculpture

Cleaning up the house, I found a Bicentennial Schools Memento belonging to my wife, a kind of medal, like a large silver coin. It was given to all Australian school students in 1988. The obverse was designed by M. Meszaros and the reverse by M. Tracey. I don’t know who M. Tracey is, but I know of M. Meszaros.

Michael Meszaros (b.1945) is a sculptor with half a century of work and an extensive portfolio of making public sculptures and medals. Sculpture is a tradition in the Meszaros family. His father, Andor Mészáros (1900-1972), was a sculptor and medalist, and his niece, Anna Meszaros, is also a sculptor. Michael Meszaros is still working in the same studio in Kew that his father built.

I have seen many of his public sculptures around Melbourne and some of his other medals at the Melbourne Museum. Making medals have been a constant feature of his career, the earliest was in 1963. His medals are somewhere between sculpture and jewellery, between coins and plaques. His design for the Bicentennial memento has a group of people moving to the horizon under the southern cross; the group of people is repeated in many of his sculptures. Groups of people and the connections between people are a significant theme in Meszaros’ art.

Michael Meszaros, Elected Representative, bronze, 2017

I haven’t seen his small private sculptures before the retrospective exhibition; “50 Years as a Sculptor”. The exhibition includes free-standing sculptures, wall-mounted medals, wall-mounted portrait medals, commissioned medals (including the Bicentennial Memento) and photographs of commissioned sculptures.

In August 2021, due to the last Covid lockdown, the exhibition at the Hawthorn Arts Centre to celebrate Michael Meszaros’ 50-year career closed after 3 days. The show could not reopen, but it was installed on Level 11 at Owen Dixon Chambers East in 2022. Meszaros’ sculptures were an appropriate scale for the wide corridors lined with lawyers’ offices and overlooking the dome of the Supreme Court.

His abstract sculptures were often made from brass and copper, trying to resolve the long tail of modernism in Australia. His most recent works, bronze trees, are an elegant compromise between his figurative and abstract work.

There are plenty of versions of interlocking figures on exhibition representing politicians through to lovers. The interlocking figures join the repeating patterns of fish, horses, sailboats, and trees. His work ranges between minimal elegant visual communication and obvious kitsch sentiment. Would I look at it if this was a drawing and not a sculpture?

How to access a lifetime of sculpture? Meszaros has thought of this: two small brass staircases in brass, one narrows at the top, the other at the bottom – Success and Failed Ambition.

I was surprised by how many exhibitions there were at Owen Dixon Chambers when I visited. I don’t normally look at art in legal chambers and here were three exhibitions. For as well as Meszaros on Level 11, there were two more in the lobby. There was a temporary exhibition by French photographer Mohamed Bourouissa (part of the Photo 2022 festival) and a permanent exhibition of portraits of lawyers by some notable artists, including one by Juan Ford and a video portrait by Sean Gladwell.

Portrait exhibition in lobby

A visit to Adelaide

I was recently in Adelaide, where I visited the Art Gallery of South Australia, Carrick Hill and two historic artist studios. I was aware that I was coincidently continuing my research into art crimes as I was visiting the scene of some historic art thefts, photographing windows, and retrospectively casing the joints.

A painting by Paul Gauguin that was stolen in a robbery from Carrick Hill

The Art Gallery of South Australia the gallery’s collection has been wholly rehung in a vast improvement from the traditional hanging I remember seeing on my last visit over a decade ago. Indigenous artists repainting the white colonial arches, paintings hung on patterned wallpaper, items juxtaposed, works placed high and low. The binaries of European and non-European art and historical and contemporary are ignored to give thematic coherence and more for the eye to find.

In contrast, the “2022 Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art: Free/State” (at the Art Gallery of SA) was hung in the now traditional manner for contemporary art. Basically, one work or artist per room. This safe approach applied to its curation, which was fun enough without anything new. There was a diversity of contemporary Australian artists, from Abdul-Rahman Abdullah to Reko Rennie. It was also good to see the work of the former Melbourne street artist known as Miso, now doing contemporary art under her name Stanislava Pinchuk.

Stanislava Pinchuk, The Wine Dark Sea, 2021

I had been warned about the cafe at the Art Gallery of South Australia by a random lady on a bus, but I ignored her warning about my loss. If you fail to fill a coffee order, you fail as a cafe.

Carrick Hill, the former home of Australian ultra-rich couple Bill and Ursula Haywood now open to the public. The mock-Tudor house is a Frankenstein creation bringing to life parts from a demolished English manor. The odd contemporary sculptures have since been added to the estate’s expansive gardens but not enough to call it a sculpture park. The wealthy art collectors were purchasing safe options. Their tastes were conservative and uninspired but expensive. A Turner, a Gauguin, several works by Augustus Johns, about ten busts by Jacob Epstein and other works of English, French and Australian artists. The Gauguin and a Boudin were stolen in a break-in just after the house was open to the public but were fortunately recovered shortly after.

In a bucolic setting out of the city, just outside the town of Hahndorf, are the historic studios of Hans Heysen and his daughter Nora Heysen. The landscape, even some of the same trees from his paintings, can still be seen close by. There are very few historic artist’s studios open to the public in Australia; the other is Brett Whitely’s studio in Sydney. Historic artist’s studios are an opportunity to see the artist’s actual materials, tools, brushes, palettes, easel, collection of art books, and even some incomplete works. Again a few contemporary sculptures have since been added to the rural property but not sufficient to call it a sculpture park.

The nearby Hahndorf Academy had a couple of art exhibitions by some contemporary artists, some historical exhibits and a couple more drawings by Hans Heysen. Heysen had donated more pictures to them, but they had been stolen in a break-in decades ago, uninsured and never seen again. Except for their frames which were found discarded in someone’s backyard on the way to the airport.

I would have liked to have seen the Samstag Museum of Art at UniSA but ran out of time on my brief visit to Adelaide.

detail from Marguerite Derricourt, A Day Out, 1999, Rundle Mall, Adelaide

Askem Graffiti

“What’s his name?” Ask ‘em.

Looking at a fresh, old-school, hip-hop style piece on a wall by local graffiti writer, Askem. Breaking it down into its constituent parts. Starting with a utilitarian brick wall in a laneway in a light industrial area of Brunswick. It is rarely used, judging from the weeds growing between the bluestone pavers. The wall has been buffed rose pink with house paint on a roller in preparation. Next, clean lines sprayed with a steady, precise hand. Guerrilla decor with aerosol paint in a laneway that would be poorer without it.

It is almost a bomb in form, but there are many more colours to the piece. The background is minimal; there is barely a cloud and no supporting characters. The letters are larger than the red cloud, but the small red cloud behind the letters makes both the green and blue of the letters pop.

The old-school design of each fat sans serif letter. Solid bubble letters outlined in black and blue projecting out from the cloud. The letters are not kerned with even spaces between them; they are alive, jostling together like buddies in a group photo.

The green fill of colour in the letters goes from an avocado through leaf green to dark olive. It is not really a fade but a mashing of these colours, which bubble and drip together. It is a combination of colours close to the ugly side of look-at-me.

The shines, bubbles and fake drips of green paint in the fill are some of the best parts. The outline of letters echos this with a few bubbles and spurts over the cloud.

Askem includes two shoutouts; to “MrR” in the S and “SDM” in the M. In acknowledging them, Askem shows that he is part of a larger social group reading graffiti. Even though getting his name up is the main thing, it is not the only thing.

This is not the first, best or the most significant piece of graffiti by Askem or Askm that I’ve seen. I’ve seen pieces by him in the area for over a decade, but I’ve never met, spoken to, had drinks with him, and couldn’t pick him out in a lineup. It is not that kind of relationship (an art critic doesn’t need to personally know the artist). Nor have I read any “artist’s statement” from Askem about why he does graffiti, his influences, and what he hopes to say through his art. It is not necessary with graffiti writers; it is all about style over content. Not that I have anything against spending time with graffiti writers (see my post Piecing in Burnside), and I’d be pleased if any local writers contacted me.


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