Counihan Gallery Expansion

Twenty years ago the Counihan Gallery was established by Moreland City Council in 1999. In the following decades it has become a cultural hub for Brunswick. The regular exhibition openings bringing people together in a physical space. Now it has expanded and is once again open after renovations.

There has been a small change to the large foyer with the addition of two vitrines both hung with prints by Noel Counihan from the gallery’s collection. It always seemed a shame that there wasn’t any of his art on exhibition in a gallery named after him.

Inside the gallery there is a dramatic change; it is now over a third larger. The new space merges seamlessly with the rest of the gallery. The same flooring, the same curved marine-ply ceiling panels hang in the new space. And, most of important of all, at the end of the new gallery space, there is a large window facing onto Sydney Road bringing natural light into the gallery. Curious people passing by look in, some of them now aware that there is something going on in the building.

There was a launch of this new space and the first exhibitions for a new year on Saturday 8 February with a “Welcome to Country” by a Wurundjeri Elder, a couple of speeches and a performance by Djirri Djirri, Wurundjeri Women’s Dance Group. I was there enjoying a glass of wine, a pumpkin kibbe (shout out to Zaatar’s, a great local cafe, this is a personal endorsement with no quid pro quo received or expected), meeting new people and catching up with acquaintances.

Tyler Payne, KIMSPO and #doitfortheafterselfie

The three current exhibitions:

At first I didn’t really get Histrionic by Marion Abraham, Saffron Newey and Tyler Payne. There were plenty of attractive and engaging works to look at from Payne’s installation with iPads to Newey’s large painting of a great, green, sea monster. Then Abraham’s art historical references in her two large paintings lured me in to deeper thoughts about contemporary life.

Chris Bowes, Monitor

Screen Time is an interactive installation by Chris Bowes with lots of messy black cables contrasting with the clean colour digital images. It looks like the output of high modernism: the cubist break down of the image onto seperate screens, the dots of colour of the pointillists, and the readymade an-aesthetic of the physical installation.

Nusra Latif Qureshi, Balancing Act II

And in the new space there is  f_OCUS; a selection of works by women from the galleries permanent collection. Twenty artists whose names or works should be familiar to anyone interested in Melbourne’s art; Hoda Afshar, Wendy Black, Megan Cope, Destiny Deacon, Emily Floyd, Fiona Foley, Marlene Gilson, Helga Groves, Gracia Haby & Louise Jennison, Joy Hester, Deanna Hitti, Regina Karadada, Carmel Louise, Mandy Nicholson, Rose Nolan, Jill Orr, Carol Porter, Nusra Latif Qureshi and Judy Watson. I remembered first seeing Nusra Latif Qureshi’s post-modern take on traditional miniature painting at the Counihan Gallery’s Women’s Salon.


The Saigon Welcome Arch

It is a strange sight in the middle of the tasteless utilitarian architecture of Footscray’s low rise suburban shopping. Two matching curving arabesques of wings and bird’s neck reaches high into the sky. The forms of the fabled Vietnamese Lac birds The inside of these enormous forms is lined with golden printed metal with an image with a mass of flowers, butterflies and a woman in traditional Vietnamese dress.

On one edge, in clear lettering is “Saigon Welcome Arch”. Footscray is such a welcoming place, or at least it aspires to be, a short distance away there is and Indigenous welcome, the ‘smoking’ ceremony at Wominjeka Tarnuk Yooroom by Maree Clarke and Vicky Couzins.

The Saigon Welcome Arch in Footscray is packed into the intersection of Leeds and Hopkins streets with a cafe one side and a pharmacy on the other. This is about creating a better urban space by making a place out of an otherwise nondescript T-intersection. It doesn’t fit into bland cheap utilitarian architecture of the place, it burst free from it.

But does any of that matter aside from aesthetics how does this public art work? On a large scale of architecture and human interaction the arch is a landmark in Footscray and the Saigon Night Market operates every second a Friday of the month under it and along Leeds Street (I should go, sculptures and public art is different at night). On the small personal scale of comfort for tired legs there are matching curving white seats at the base of each of the arch’s wing.

It was created in 2016 by architects McBride Charles Ryan and local artist Khue Nguyen as part of the redevelopment of the Little Saigon precinct. Khue Nguyen came to Australia as a political refugee in 1988 and in 2010 he was a finalist in Archibald Prize for a self portrait.

There aren’t a lot of gateways in Melbourne but Khue Nguyen has done another on the opposite side of the city for the Springvale retail area. This time it was in collaboration with Hassell Architect. In Buckingham Ave two towers topped with a flat red roof hang large golden banners printed with a Vietnamese design. Springvale, like Footscray, also has a large population who were, or whose parents were, from Vietnam.


The scene: Haring & Basquiat

This to-do list by is  Keith Haring is a massive name drop even though mostly only first names are used: Whoopi, Jean Michel, Debbie … It is exhibited as part of the documentary part of the exhibition “Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat – Crossing Lines” at the NGV. It shows the vibrant artistic scene that Haring and Basquiat inhabited.

The scene, the geographic-social environment that an artist lives and works in. The loose association that both inspires and documents them. Often appears as interesting as the artist themselves – Warhol’s Factory scene, the Dadaist or the Surrealists.

I wonder how the geographic-social environment contributes to an artist’s development and success or failure? How much their art is a product of a network of people talking, dancing and otherwise moving around (depending on the type of transport)?

Or is it all about the unique talent of the ‘great man’ independent from the city and its society? If it is all about the person then it is very surprising that two or more great artists, like Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat, would emerge at the same time and place.

Even if it is unique talent of the individual that created it is the social environment that gives meaning to the art. Without the gay club scene Haring would not have created his dancing figures or his art about AIDS. Without his black identity Basquiat would not have attempted to write art history. These topics were not so much chosen by the artist as determined by the scene.

Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat were living in a particularly fertile art scene, that produced many other artists including the street artists, Jenny Holzer and Kenny Scharf. A self-selecting scene, volunteers who had congregated because they wanted to be artists and New York was the place to do it. It was a geographic and social circle that included various clubs, art galleries, flats and people from Madonna to William Burroughs.

The exhibition catalogue for “Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat – Crossing Lines” does much to document their scene. It has many interviews, including one with Jenny Holzer and Patti Astor. And a map of lower Manhattan shows the tight geography where everything was within walking distance or a few subway stops. (I can’t emphasis enough how important a walkable geography is to a vibrant arts scene.)

This is the second of a series of posts about the “Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat – Crossing Lines” at the NGV International. See also Haring/Basquiat @NGV and Under the Influence (Thanks to the NGV for the tickets to the exhibition.)


Hosier Lane January 2020

“I can draw anything you like. 10 min $15 draw” His sign said. In Hosier Lane yesterday there were two people occupying two of the alcoves selling their drawings. The next step will be for a caricature  artist set up a stall to sell portraits to the tourists in the lane.

I am not going to be hysterical and apocalyptic and declare that this is end of Hosier Lane when there are so many more clear indications of doom in the world (the climate catastrophe). There has always been a commercial aspect to the paint in Hosier Lane; graffiti writers and street artists have all these commercial projects — t-shirts, leading walking tours, exhibitions and commissions. And a few metres up the lane, the shop Culture Kings has made a massive hole in the lanes famous walls to provide access for buyers of their shit.

That said, an attractive piece of commercial art was being painted opposite the entrance to Hosier Lane on Flinders Lane. George Rose was just finishing an attractive mural commission celebrating the Lunar New Year.

George Rose, Have a Grand Lunar New Year

Although the lane was, as usual for a weekday, full of tourists, the walls were not looking their best. There was a lot of text in marker pen written across many of the pieces by someone who thought that they had unique insight (it happens). There is a lot of bland work about current events. Many of pieces with an @Instagram rather than a tag showing that their creators are focused on getting ‘likes’ above everything else. A couple of relevant political pieces struggled to find space on the walls. The tourists didn’t care as they were focused on taking selfies of themselves in front of the paint covered walls.

I was pleased to see what I took for the work of an Indigenous street artist in the lane as I don’t see enough of this. Reclaiming their country and culture by painting walls. Dot painting with dots of aerosol paint.

If you want to see more whoring for Instagram ‘likes’ there are Lush’s work in Higson Lane a few corners further up Flinders Lane. About half a dozen huge celebrity faces randomly exploiting the popularity of anyone from Baby Yoda to Julian Assange.

Lush, Julian Assange

Working in a different direction is the increasing street art in Presgrave Place. This started in 2007 when was a couple of picture frames with art prints still in them glued onto the wall of this circuitous lane. The picture frames are still glued to the wall but the quantity of art keeps growing focused on the creativity of art rather than aerosol of popularity. 


Faces – the survival of street sculpture

A face emerges from or sinks into the aerosol paint covered walls. A person merging with the structure of the city, a skeleton of metal, a body of bricks and concrete and a skin of paint. Features register underneath the layers of paint, the hint of a smile. There are more faces on the wall… It is the same face? Is it a portrait?

Street art sculpture still interest me on because it is such a difficult medium. The sculpture has to survive the conditions on the street. Public sculpture criticism needs to be modified by a difficulty rating. Just as the aesthetics of sculpture is modified by a difficulty rating for moving large pieces of metal or stone around, public sculpture has the additional difficulty rating for being exposed to drunks and dickheads. And street art sculpture has the added difficulty multiplier for being done without permission.

The sculptures survive under multiple layers of paint. In graffiti intense environment, like Melbourne’s Hosier Lane, a street art sculpture will need to still work underneath aerosol paint.

There are a cluster of Will Coles crushed cans at the entrance of Rutledge Lane (now a stub off Hosier Lane blocked at both ends by building work). Further along there on a ledge are the vandalised remains of a Will Coles sculptures that someone broke trying to steal it. Nearby are cast sea shells, the faces and pieces with raised lettering. I suspect, because of a couple of tags in raised letters, that the raised letters could be the work of Anthony Lister except the letter style is different.

I have no idea who did the faces. There are many other similar works, like Mary Rogers cast faces for a footbridge in Moreland. They are also similar the work of the French artist Gregos but it is not his face and therefore not his work.

Having a particular focus on street art sculpture and don’t feel compelled to photograph every piece of street art that I see. My photography teacher always emphasised being focused.


A sculpture, a garden and a library

There is a quote from Cicero engraved into the paving stones on Dawson Street in Brunswick:

“If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.”

Now there is a garden and a library there.

The garden plugs Saxon Street shut near the corner of Sydney Rd and Dawson Street. A new micro-park with a sculpture, trees, shrubs, a couple of benches, lot of paving and rocks has turned a dull lane beside Brunswick Library into a place for people.

The sculpture is a bronze column like a twisted rope stands. On its base there are the words “bring us together’, in part referring to the strands of its rope-like form. It is Anton Hasell’s most recent sculpture, Where We Have Come To, 2019.

As a sculptor Hasell has learnt to keep things simple with public art. His early sculptures were so full of meaning you couldn’t unpack them without a tool box and manual (see WTF Corner). Now he is focused on combines sight and sound with circles. Hasell makes circles beautiful, meaningful and strong.

The circular twisted column of Where We Have Come To is about the twisted place that brings us together. And it makes a sound.

I didn’t get to the launch of Anton Hasell’s sculpture Where We Have Come To. According to the launch invite the sculpture “represents the many diverse cultures that give strength to the community of Moreland.” The plan for the launch of the sculpture on Thursday 5 December was described as a “celebration of Moreland’s multiculturalism”. After the Mayor of Moreland’s opening remarks and there was a community musical event playing Hasell’s tubular bell sculpture and Federation Bells. I don’t know if it went to plan, because I wasn’t there. I wonder what it sounded like.

Hasel has always been interested in the sound that sculpture makes when you tap it; bronze sculpture are hollow. Then he started to make bells: the Tilly Aston Bells, the Federation Bells, lots and lots of bells (link to my post Hasell with Bells).

When I went to see his new bronze column I neglected to bring along a pencil or something suitable to tap it. What sound does the sculpture produces? Perhaps it sounds as if it is similar to Hasell’s Twisted Bell located on the Yarra River main trail next to the Yarra River between Yarra and Darling Street in South Yarra but I haven’t seen or heard it yet. I must get around to listening to some more sculpture.


Street art 2019

Walking around my neighbourhood, Coburg, one of Melbourne’s inner northern suburbs, I am seeing all these augmented street signs. I’ve seen the NO STANDING “but squatting…” text in several places around Coburg and Brunswick. Is this a trend or is it the same prolific person?

Thinking that street art was much the same this year as previous years; same artists, same locations, same styles. Although a well executed graffiti piece or a good stencil will still interest me I am not enough of a fan boy to want to rush to photograph a fresh wall.

I certainly haven’t written as many blog posts about street art this year. This is because what I want is something new to write about, a new style, a new technique; but that’s just what I want, what people want from Stormie Mills or Adnate is more of the same. I did get to see some new styles this year. The super-flat work of Seam and Rashe and the Indigenous inspired graff of LSDesigns.

What will still make me turn my head on the street is a collection of stickers; even though you can’t tell from many stickers if it is a street artist, graffiti artist (although the handwritten tag on the “hello my name is” sticker is one sign), a band (post-punk group Pinch Points have a very interesting choice of sticker location around Coburg) or advertising a dog walking business. Maybe this variety of purposes is one reason that I keep looking.

I am interested in more than wall; the street is the paradigm of communication and variety. Street art of all sizes from the murals the size of a five story wall to the smallest sticker. The stuff scratched on the concrete footpaths to the aerosol art.

Walking around my neighbourhood I am pleased to see a couple of pieces by Discarded amongst some guerrilla gardening. Discarded makes figures assembled from ceramic casts of discarded rubbish. I don’t know if these are new or if they have been there for years and I have just found them. Perhaps it is the process of discovery that interests me more than the art itself? Perhaps it is the walk rather than the destination.


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